Little Witch Academia (I+ II) – more than Harry Potter: The Anime

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Studio Trigger
Genres Action, Drama, Slice of Life, Supernatural
Source Original
Episodes 1+1 (both OVAs or films, or whatever)
Season Winter 2013 + Autumn 2015
Director Yoh Yoshinari
Music Michiru Oshima

     My case with Trigger anime has been quite a weird one. At first  I was very annoyed by the countless ads of World Trigger anime on Crunchyroll – at some point it seemed that there were virtually no other ads out there. It’s quite a shame that I managed to confuse a name of an anime with an entirely unconnected name of a studio. The ads certainly didn’t pique my attention, but then I learned of Kill la Kill, and that did. Yet, I researched it rather poorly (at first confusing it with Akame ga Kill, dammit) and stopped after quite quickly getting an idea that it’s only a weird ecchi show that doesn’t interest me at all. Knowing that Trigger branched of Gainax did give some brownie points but experiencing a short by Hiroyuki Imaishi in Nihon Animator Mihonichi (ep. 14) I was just disgusted by the sheer vulgarity of it. Despite all these things eventually I decided to try some rather neutral Trigger stuff, as Little Witch Academia has been praised by a lot of people and it seemed no way that it could be a hentai. Yet…

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     Just kidding. It’s definitely not a hentai (though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has made some hentai after LWA). Stupid jokes aside, to clear some points, this post concerns only the original LWA as well as its successor LWA: Mahoujikake no Parade and not the (currently airing) TV series. Now fairly popular franchise began with “Young Animator Training Project” (aka “Anime Mirai” at some point), which also was the reason for Death Billiards (and consequently Death Parade) among other stuff to come into being. As it was a success, a launched Kickstarter project – pretty unusual for an anime, eh? – became funded in no time (to be more precise under 6 hours) and so we got a sequel to the first OVA. And even later came the TV series, but that’s not the topic today. Why is LWA interesting? For starters, there aren’t many anime whose stories have so little in common with anything Japanese. Name the heroine otherwise and you have a script for a Disney production. Well, if you can imagine the world of Harry Potter genderbendered and made into an anime, you would get the general atmosphere pretty well. To be frank, even some story elements have similarities – for example the adversary of the good kids is a white-haired person from a family with a long lineage. It’s not only that. Near the end of the second LWA there is something straight from Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. The creators themselves acknowledged that they had various influences that made LWA what it is. Should it bother a random viewer? Definitely not, as even if LWA isn’t the most original piece of art (though such a story in anime is pretty novel), it was made with love and watching it is nothing but fun.

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What is it about then? A young girl Akko after seeing a really impressive (no kidding) performance of magic by one particular witch, becomes infatuated with the stuff you can do and energetically (as always) decides to go to a magic school. Her problem is that she has no knowledge and obviously isn’t as skilled in all of the witch-y things. Getting a protagonist to overcome such problems is a basic premise of many shounen anime, but what makes LWA stand out is the execution. Especially the first OVA is incredibly tight paced – every single frame is thought out and couldn’t be removed by any means. The creators already confessed having to cut lots of stuff due to the expected limited length. Still, the OVA doesn’t last even half an hour (which passes in an instant) but you feel that the material could have been spread out into a full feature film using a more relaxed and therefore probably less charming approach. The second film continues the doings of Akko and her friends, expands the universe, but isn’t as entertaining as the first one. The story becomes less tight, there are fewer new exciting locations, the characters start some inter-conflicts and that slows down everything quite a bit. After all, it’s almost inevitable that a sequel isn’t as unique as the original material. Still, even if it doesn’t manage to reach the heights of the first LWA, for every fan of the franchise (and not only) it’s much recommended.

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    About the characters of LWA I have written a bit here. To think about them in a broader scale, they don’t really stand out. Especially in the first film, when the pacing lefts almost no space for a breather, the girls are presented really quick and then only their actions speak for them.  You have the enthusiastic Akko, who loves magic with every cell in her body but often screws up only because, being from a non-magician family, she has no idea how things work. Akko’s sidekicks Lotte and Sucy, being a normal girl and a pretty typical witch respectively, provide some character dynamics and catalyze some drama in the second film. Diana, whose family is apparently very proud of their ancestry with many generations of witches, acts as an antagonist in the first film, but sadly doesn’t retain any more prominent role in the second, which is a shame. The second film also introduces three more girls that have some minimal impact on the story, but don’t do anything special. When you think about it, the character aspect of both shows may be a bit lacking, but after so much that happens you just don’t care about it. Also, another perspective was provided by the director himself – Akko symbolizes a new animator coming into the business, without a clear vision of the real work he has to do, and that not always is as interesting and easy as he thinks. Everyone, with Diana acting as an embodiment for them, despises such a carefree attitude, but ultimately Akko finds her place in the community. Sure, this allegory isn’t apparent if you don’t know about it, but it‘s a nice little touch, giving the franchise a new meaning.

Excerpt from LWA: Mahoujikake no Parade; animation by Yuuto Kaneko

    Doubtless the animation is the most enjoyable part of both of the films. You can only wonder how much passionate work was put into every single scene and how effectively everything came out to be. The director Yoh Yoshinari is known for being a perfectionist to the bone so working under him probably wasn’t the least stressful work on Earth, but despite that the end result is nothing but gorgeous. It’s easy to recognize Studio Trigger behind the work because of the character designs and especially character animation. Such exaggerations in it not always work well with me, but this time I was only astounded how well it reflected the characters and their emotions. Forget the usual anime trend of only lips flapping – there everything is moving and characters are as expressive and dynamic as anywhere. You can probably make a whole sakuga guidebook just from the first LWA. The animation wasn’t the only thing to stand out in the department of visuals – Studio Pablo did a wonderful job (as always) providing backgrounds – vibrant, colorful, and beautiful beyond any doubt.

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     The soundtrack is another aspect linking LWA to the Disney productions very tightly, and at the same time being close to Ghibli soundtracks. That’s no wonder since the composer is Michiru Oshima, who usually handles orchestral music very effectively. Just look at her portfolio that contains FMA (the first one), Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei (that is Tatami Galaxy) or Akagami no Shirayuki hime. Orchestral pieces provide an airy atmosphere with enough quirks to mirror the misadventures of Akko. Having a full orchestration also gives a feeling of something removed from your daily life, just like a fantastic fairy tale with a usual “once upon a time”. A more minimalistic soundtrack (maybe just usual piano and strings) would have made everything look way more familiar, but now there’s a sense of wonder and also curiousness how anime girls can be mixed with classical Disney atmosphere, and the most important thing is that the mix really works.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Chariot's Theme' by Michiru Oshima

    At this moment the new TV series is still ongoing but I think it’s safe to say that the short length of the previous installments to the franchise was a positive attribute. Of course, there have been many anime shorts that waste the time they’re given, but LWA is not the case. When the creators have thought out the universe and the story that they want to tell really well, and it turns out to be longer than intended, as painful as it might be, generally cutting some material works way better than having to stretch everything out. Also it’s notable that TV series has a whole different timetable so not very satisfying strategies as outsourcing become inevitable. I guess it’s just my slight concern that the TV LWA so far isn’t doing anything more impressive than its predecessors (though it also has its moments). Knowing that the first and second LWAs look even more beautiful, full of freedom and devoid of limitations makes them a really enjoyable experience.

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 I believe, this anime is

 3
Good

     I think that for any anime fan LWA (especially the first one) is a must watch. I can’t remember when was the last time that so much fun was so tightly packed and delivered with amazing animation. Well, it’s Trigger at its best. If you have been burned out because of too many boring anime or just want to reignite your love for the “Chinese cartoons”, LWA is as good an option as you are ever going to find.

Suisei no Gargantia – a mix of everything that, well, quite works

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Alternative title Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
Studio Production I.G
Genres Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Slice of Life
Source Original
Episodes 13
Season Spring 2013
Director Kazuya Murata
Music Taro Iwashiro
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     Would you be hyped if Production I.G announced a new anime that has a giant robot? Not enough? What if the composition of the series and some scriptwriting would be done by Gen Urobuchi? I believe many, if not the majority of anime viewers would at least check it out. Yet, the spring season of 2013 also had Shingeki no Kyojin, Hataraku Maou-sama! and Oregairu to offer among others, so it’s not really a surprise to see that Suisei no Gargantia hasn’t created a large fanbase and isn’t the show to be talked about very frequently. So, is it worth checking out?

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     Behind the two lead characters in the key visual of the series looms a giant robot so naturally many people  thought that Suisei no Gargantia would definitely be just another usual mecha show, maybe, knowing Urobuchi’s involvement, many characters will die horrible deaths. The first minutes of the show didn’t surprise anyone – massive space battle where no viewer can understand what’s going on wasn’t offering anything new. Well, at least the animation was decent – it’s Production I.G after all. Nonetheless, as our main character soldier Ledo woke up from artificial sleep after some trans-galactic travel (the battle didn’t go very well), all the mecha-ness disappeared. By the end of the first episode Ledo finds out that he and his robot Chamber have arrived to planet Earth – long lost to the civilization that Ledo is from.  The Earth is quite flooded – everyone lives in fleets made of many connected ships and boats. So ended the first episode that managed to unnerve many people – some loved the first part with the mecha battle and complained about nothing happening towards the end of the episode. Others conversely preferred that more peaceful and atmospheric part while murmuring about almost senseless beginning. It turned out that as the parts of first episode looked like day and night, the whole series also had some segments that screamed of either slice of life or action. Slice of life segments came first, as Ledo (and Chamber) tried to adapt to the living in the fleet named Gargantia, while trying to grasp the differences between his own very organized and strict civilization and this happy-go-lucky style of life that local people like the lead heroine messenger girl Amy led. At first it may seem quite pointless to throw away precious time that could be used for mecha fights and stuff, but in the end the peaceful time spent on Gargantia was crucial to Ledo’s decisions in the later episodes when all the action and drama began. It could be argued that even in terms of slice of life the show uses its time inefficiently – there is an episode (and a bit of another one) that is just filled with mild fanservise. It’s possible to think that it was meant to show Ledo’s development from a Rei Ayanami type of person to a more humane one, who is able to feel at least something when some girls start dancing in the attire that is quite revealing. Everything just boils down to personal preferences, but clearly the amount of fanservice was a bit bigger than the plot needed. That aside, a big praise must be given to the creators who thought that after Ledo arrived to the Earth he would need some time to learn the local language. Such details really add to the realism of the whole story. The later part of the series focuses mainly on action with some twists, but it’s nothing really Urobuchi-like as the amount of dead characters doesn’t reach your typical Urobuchi level. It isn’t unheard of to make a story that doesn’t belong to just one genre and changes throughout the season, yet it isn’t such an easy job to make everything run smoothly. I believe the transition from the first action sequence into the peaceful slice of life environment was done pretty well, but the opposite didn’t look that effortlessly to me. Still, both parts were quite enjoyable and, even if some things in the story aren’t that original or unguessable, everything was executed pretty well.

     As far as the characters go, the cast isn’t that big and diverse. The main focus of Suisei no Gargantia is to show Ledo’s development from soldier that knows only war and drill to a decent and humane person. Also, there is Chamber. Normally a robot wouldn’t be considered a proper character, but it just happens to grow and change throughout the series as well as his pilot does, even if it’s barely noticeable. There’s nothing really exceptional about all the supporting characters (who actually look pretty flat and aren’t that developed through the series, though it doesn’t really grab much attention as a negative trait and sometimes might even work as a contrast to Ledo’s changing) – we have some girls (suitable for fanservice, how else?), some wise old men, just everyday workers and one particular character who caused me many a headache for being an idiot. Well, I can believe that in the whole enormous fleet there should be some idiots around but when the idiot starts giving orders out of the blue that go against the basic common sense and everybody has absolutely no problem with that and just happily complies, I start to lose patience. Also, there’re some inconsistencies like changing the view whether killing could be justified, or simply conveniently forgetting that people that didn’t mean anything good at first place later shouldn’t be trusted.

Excerpt from the ED; animation by Yoshimichi Kameda
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     If there are some problems with the story and characters, there hardly could be any complaints about the visuals. The character designs look really refreshing after all the high-school stuff that just overflows the market. The colorful clothing that sometimes resembles some Native American trends, sometimes goes with the full Hawaiian look, looks well with the whole setting and vibrant backgrounds. If I have to condense all the artstyle into just one word, it would definitely be ‘colourful’. Sometimes bashing almost all the colors together looks like a true nightmare, other times it can turn into the absolutely amazing gem that Mononoke (not that Princess one) is. Suisei no Gargantia manages to use all the means and effectively make a pleasant almost heaven-like atmosphere. When it wants, it can transform and do a great job representing darker themes and more complex character emotions than just happiness. Still, at times I just began to ask how the same show can capture such a great shot one time and some episodes later look like there was no effort put in drawing faces. Nonetheless, more times than not animation was done really well as far as I can tell. The Mecha parts (yes, there are some, but clearly not enough to call the show full-mecha) done by CGI also didn’t look like abominations from hell, and that is something even in this day and age.

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     Another thing that is crucial to the success of the show is music, though sadly it is often overlooked. Even when the story of Suisei no Gargantia wasn’t going that well, the music kept me just glued to the screen (well, actually to the headphones). Taro Iwashiro, who hasn’t done that much anime work, managed to capture the right atmosphere perfectly, be it a battle theme or just a calm breeze of the wind. Not to mention that a symphonic orchestra used to its full potential is a rear sight in the fields of anime soundtracks. I believe that the music of Suisei no Gargantia can rightly be called the best part of the whole show, and would not be shamed after comparison with even the best live-action film scores or works by Yuki Kajiura or Youko Kanno.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Before Proceeding'
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Excerpt from the OST: 'I Like the Ocean Breeze'

     Gen Urobuchi’s name attached to the show may have done more wrong than right, as this isn’t your normal UroButcher series. Suisei no Gargantia tries to combine slice of life elements with some action later on and even if has some mecha elements, they are really not the center of the story. After all, it was quite a fun ride, not to mention that it was wrapped pretty well, and even if the show isn’t flawless and pacing clearly isn’t the strongest part, Suisei no Gargantia was entertaining enough, and in the end that’s all that matters.

     I believe, this anime is

 2Decent

     There are shows that are certainly better. Also, the themes and the whole changing of the style thing might not be for everybody, but I think it’s worth checking out, at least for the soundtrack and beautiful scenery.