As far as stories go, these days I find myself gravitating toward the fluffy, the cheesy, and the sweet. Maybe it’s because real life has been feeling pretty stressful lately, or maybe it’s because summer feels like the right time for lighthearted, low-stakes fun—whatever the reason, slice-of-life, upbeat stories are where it’s at for me right now. That’s why when I ran across the Little Witch Academia, watching it felt exactly right.
The world of Little Witch Academia first came into existence in the form of a short film in 2013, with a second short film released in 2015, but the series itself just aired in Japan during the first half of this year. I can easily count on one hand the number of anime series I’ve started watching so close to their release, and I’m really enjoying jumping on the bandwagon from the get-go for once, instead of my usual MO of being (extremely) late to the party. Getting into a series early on can have its downsides—as of now, only 13 episodes of the 25-episode first season are available in the US, via Netflix streaming. However, I’m crossing my fingers that the rest will be coming soon. I really like what I’ve seen so far, and I can’t wait to keep going with this series!
The story primarily follows a teenage girl named Atsuko Kagari, who goes by Akko; in Akko’s world, magic is real, if viewed as a bit old fashioned and unnecessary in her time. As the story begins, we see six-year-old Akko at a flashy, exciting magic show starring her idol, a young witch known as Shiny Chariot (whose name renews my love for the goofy names that in-story anime celebrities always seem to have). Awestruck by Chariot’s powers and showmanship, Akko vows that she’ll be just like her someday. Cut to 10 years later, and Akko is headed to magical school Luna Nova Academy so she can start making her dream a reality.
After some trouble figuring out the ley line system that is the only means of traveling to Luna Nova, plus an encounter with some nasty young witches who have zero time for the new girl, Akko makes it to the academy just in time for the opening ceremony. She is enchanted (sorry) with the school as soon as she arrives and can’t wait to start learning everything she can about magic, but there’s one problem: Akko is not a natural magic user, and there’s not a single witch in her family, so she’s starting completely from scratch when it comes to magic. As a result, most of her attempted spells either fizzle like dud fireworks or blow up in her face, usually with hilarious results.
In addition to Akko’s struggles mastering magic, she finds that Luna Nova Academy, while still imposing and full of history, is not the place she expected. Though it has existed for centuries and was once a prestigious academy, it’s since started to fade into obscurity, even being scorned by some as being totally out of date and out of touch with the progress the rest of the world has made. As a result, the school is losing money fast and is mostly viewed as a joke by the outside world. The professors and students at the academy still believe in the importance and power of magic, but as Akko soon learns, they seem to be fighting a losing battle, however valiantly. Our protagonist’s fervor for the world of magic remains undimmed, but will the school be around long enough for to overcome her magical difficulties and make her lifelong dream come true?
In what I’ve watched so far of the series, the story has thus far mostly revolved around the day-to-day antics of Akko and her two roommates, Lotte and Sucy. The three girls are very different—Akko is focused on magic almost exclusively (trying to learn it, confronting her struggles with it, and just generally fangirling about it); Lotte is a mild-mannered nerdy type who would rather read the latest book in her favorite series than worry too much about her magical technique (in other words, she and I would get along nicely); and Sucy is mischievous and a little maniacal, with a borderline-unhealthy fixation on deadly mushrooms and other various poisons. As one might imagine, the combination of these personalities in one small space leads to some pretty crazy shenanigans.
The series feels like your typical high-school drama transplanted into a fantastical alternate-universe setting, complete with a reckless, fish-out-of-water protagonist and a lot of delightful nonsense. Though there’s a bit too much nonsense sometimes—so much so that even a couple of the earlier episodes feel a little like story filler—the kooky stuff tends not to overstay its welcome, so it’s pretty easily forgivable. Other than that, I have few criticisms for the series. As I mentioned, the stakes of the plot aren’t particularly high most of the time, and even when they are, it isn’t in a stressful way. Add to that the fact that the cast is a group consisting of 95 percent cute and/or crabby witches who are constantly passing the Bechdel test, and you have a series that has pretty much everything I want out of a story right now.
I’m looking forward to finishing up the rest of the episodes of Little Witch Academia that are currently available and seeing where the story goes from here. Will Akko master magic and become like Shiny Chariot the way she dreams? Will the academy ever regain its former place in the world? And what’s Akko’s role in the big picture? I can’t wait to see how it all plays out, and I know I’ll enjoy the journey in the meantime—both its meanderings and its revelations.