Version reviewed: Japanese audio with English subtitles.
Some may rush to judge the Netflix original anime Little Witch Academia as an uninspired cute-fest at first glance, but those that do so would be writing off a truly splendid spectacle. This is because despite its appearance, Little Witch Academia flawlessly avoids the trap of becoming a predictably mundane magical-themed anime, instead offering up a twenty-five-episode-long helping of genuine delight.
Atsuko ‘Akko’ Kagari desires nothing more than to be a competent witch, despite having non-magical parents. Regardless, her enthusiasm and endearing “never give up” attitude spurs her into enrolling at Luna Nova Magical Academy, the school at which her idol, Shiny Chariot, had previously studied. After a turbulent first day, Akko befriends two of her fellow classmates: shy and sweet natured Lotte Jansson, and likeable oddball Sucy Manbavaran. These three central characters, and the development of the relationships between them, are truly the beating heart of Little Witch Academia‘s greatest moments. With all three of them boasting uniquely charming personalities, seeing them tackle their various magical endeavours is nothing short of smile-inducing fun. With this in mind, it is unfortunate that Little Witch Academia implements the decision during its latter half for Lotte and Sucy to step away from centre stage to create room for the (sometimes rushed) development of supporting characters.
Whilst Little Witch Academia begins in a lighthearted tone, it progressively grows more sinister, raising the stakes for our beloved characters while gradually implementing various elements of legitimate threat. Even from the very first episode, which features a desperate escape from a rampaging cockatrice, it is established that Little Witch Academia is more than happy to find the occasional time for a frantic and satisfying action sequence.
With animation tackled by Studio Trigger, the talented team responsible for the lightning-fast animation of Kill La Kill, it’s safe to say that Little Witch Academia‘s visuals are in safe hands. Boasting a minimal-but-clean style, seeing animated witches zap spells at stuff whilst riding broomsticks never looked so good. Unsurprisingly, Studio Trigger has done a knock-out job. Little Witch Academia‘s two opening and ending themes are also deserving of praise, and whilst they don’t quite reach the unfathomable heights of catchiness of the aforementioned Kill La Kill’s soundtrack, they’re still uplifting earworms that perfectly match the joyous tone of Akko’s adventure.
One definite fault of Little Witch Academia however is its pacing. With certain episodes being wildly entertaining, flaunting a perfect balance of plot and character development alongside exciting set pieces, some others feel sluggish and almost unnecessary. The show doesn’t necessarily possess blatant filler content, but at the same time it is somewhat hard to justify the necessity of certain episodes. With some important plot details being lightly brushed over, and frequent shifts in tone throughout the series, Little Witch Academia walks along a thin tightrope, attempting to balance an eccentric mixture of varied elements. As a result, it inevitably stumbles from time to time.
Fortunately, the show redeems itself from its faults tenfold as a result of its fabulous final five episodes. Overflowing with emotionally-charged exchanges, shocking twists, and white-knuckle adrenaline, the finale to this magical adventure is wholly rewarding. By successfully answering lingering questions, concluding plot threads, and delivering an edge-of-your-seat confrontation throughout its closing episode, Little Witch Academia brings down its final curtain to rapturous applause.
Little Witch Academia offers up a great time overall, and despite its pacing being uncertain on occasion and its underutilisation of Lotte and Sucy during its latter half, it stands tall as an enjoyable way to get a healthy dose of magic.