Disclaimer: The following has a number of spoilers for Little Witch Academia, a show which wrapped up just now. Be advised. Also, watch Little Witch Academia.
I loved Little Witch Academia.
I know my articles have focused quite a bit on Japanese pop culture as of late (and with my huge post on Persona 5 on the way, let me say you’re not out of the woods just yet), but hear me out. Studio Trigger routinely produces some high-quality stuff, from anti-fashion slobberknocker Kill La Kill to heartwarming sci-fi drama Kiznaiver, but it was their first in-house production, a short film called Little Witch Academia, that turned a lot of heads. Recently, Academia was turned into a 25-episode television series, and aired its final episode this week, and it was good. Damn good.
There’s a lot I love about this show. I love all the cues the animation team took from western animation, and the distinctly Looney Tunes-esque feel of some of the humour. I love the swells of the music and the art direction, and I can’t wait to track down any art book that spawns from this production. I love how much of a goof the protagonist Akko is, and how she’s both loud and obnoxious with all the grace of a winged hog but also driven and deeply compassionate. I love how she never comes off as completely annoying, and how I ended up rooting for her as early as the first episode. I love how the girls aren’t sexualized. I love how diverse the cast is, and how –
What? Oh, yeah, you read that right: the girls aren’t sexualized. Okay, sure, the skirts on the uniforms aren’t exactly regulation length, but Little Witch Academia steers clear of the gross tropes found in any other anime series featuring an all-girl school. There’s no moment where potential love-interest and Justin Trudeau-lookalike Andrew Hambridge walks in on Akko in the changing-room. There’s not an onsen or a beach episode in sight. There aren’t any jiggle-physics or panty-shots or leering camera angles on the girls as they slept or lounged around. It’s not a creative decision I expected from the same company that made tits-akimbo slap-‘em-up Kill La Kill and its thong-clad protagonists.
All these elements are Good and Great, but what I really like about the show is what it has to say about idol worship, celebrity culture, and inspiration.
Our premise is simple enough. Atsuko Kagari, AKA Akko, is an aspiring witch attending the illustrious magic academy Luna Nova. Akko stands out because she’s not only the sole Japanese student at this school, but also the only one who doesn’t come from a family of sorcerers. Akko was inspired to become a witch because she loves magic and is a huge fan of witch-turned-performer Shiny Chariot, whose stage shows she attended when she was younger. However, Akko struggles with magic, and seems unable to properly perform it.
After her first excursion to Luna Nova goes south and Akko finds Chariot’s old wand in the middle of a forest, Akko becomes more driven to accomplish her dreams. Despite her difficulties with mastering the mystic arts, from her inability to ride a broom to her comically clumsy attempts at advanced magic, Akko still plans to become a witch who can make the world smile as Chariot once did.
What Little Witch Academia makes clear is that there’s no point in becoming the next iteration of the person you idolize. Not only are your experiences radically different from the people you want to be like, but if you were to meet your idols and express that desire then they’re likely to tell you that’s a bad idea. The series does, however, say that your relationship to your passions should be unique to yourself, and if you wish to become like someone you admire in the career you want to be in, then maintaining your identity is integral.
This is demonstrated as early as the fourth episode, when Akko’s friend Lotte is given the opportunity to write future iterations of her favourite book series. Rather than take up the torch, Lotte admits it’s best for her to remain a fan of what she loves rather than be a contributor, because rooting for the people you admire means more to her. Then, in episode 11, Akko is offered a prosperous future by a spirit, identical to Chariot’s in every way, but in exchange for Akko’s past and memories. Akko then refuses this offer and exclaims that she does not want to abandon her identity just so she can become another Chariot. Later on, Akko learns that attending Chariot’s magic shows actually hindered her ability to use magic, and that while she does have the passion and commitment needed to be a witch, her obsession with her idol ultimately hobbled her.
This is crucial because celebrity culture – particularly in the arts – is obsessed with this idea of the next generation of entertainers. Recently, for example, I came across articles that pondered whether Mahershala Ali was the next Idris Elba, or whether Tomi Adeyemi or Samantha Shannon were the next JK Rowling. In the eyes of the public, an artist is not allowed to stand by their own merits. They have to be compared to another household name.
Little Witch Academia, meanwhile, explicitly rejects that idea. It makes it clear that Akko’s passion for magic and a bright future should not be confused with her obsession with her idol. The fact that the ultimate symbol of Akko’s magical hobbling is her ability to fly hammers this point home. Comparing yourself to your heroes weighs you down, and you’re not able to reach your potential if that happens. She does take many cues from her idol, especially in the final battle with a demonic missile the main antagonist fires when she puts on a Chariot-worthy light show for the world to see. However, by giving it what I would best describe as an Akko-worthy spin, it’s as much her own thing as it is a tribute to her idol, and in the closing credits we are treated the moment we’ve been waiting for since the very first episode – Akko’s first flight on her broom.
For Akko, her journey is not about becoming the next Shiny Chariot – it’s about becoming the first Atsuko Kagari.
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