Our retrospective on TRIGGER’s Little Witch Academia with Dee, Caitlin, and special guest Miranda Sanchez!
Date Recorded: 29th April 2018
Hosts: Dee, Caitlin
Guest: Miranda Sanchez
0:02:34 Personal experiences
0:08:11 Differences from the OVA
0:18:48 Magical classism
0:22:05 Source of magic
0:24:07 Old vs new
0:31:22 Magical traditions
0:35:00 Racial diversity
0:49:26 Ursula & Akko
0:57:04 Final thoughts
DEE: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. I’m Dee Hogan, the managing editor at AniFem. I also run the anime blog The Josei Next Door, and you can find me on Twitter @joseinextdoor. I’m joined today by Caitlin and Miranda. If you guys would like to introduce yourselves…
CAITLIN: Hi, I’m Caitlin. I am an editor and a writer for Anime Feminist, as well as having my own blog, I Have a Heroine Problem—”heroine” with an E.
CAITLIN: Always have to add that. And I also have started contributing regularly to The Daily Dot, writing about anime there. And you can find me on Twitter @alltsun_nodere.
MIRANDA: Hi, and then I’m Miranda Sanchez, back on to be a guest, very excited. I’m a senior editor at IGN, and I run a lot of our anime content. I like to say I only run the good stuff, because some things happen without me knowing, and that’s fine.
MIRANDA: But yeah. So, I’m very happy to be back and chatting about some good anime.
DEE: Yeah, and today we are going to be talking about the Little Witch Academia television series. It’s a show that a lot of our readers have asked us to talk about or give our opinions on, but because it ran on Netflix and we didn’t get it until it was all dumped on us at once, the timing just never really worked out for us to have a podcast about it. We weren’t able to do them for our season check-ins or anything like that.
Thankfully, Caitlin and I sort of independently and accidentally ended up finishing it at about the same time, and we thought, “Hey, let’s do a podcast while it’s fresh in our memories.” And I had been listening to the Kill la Kill podcast, which Miranda had joined us on and was a very good sport about. One of your favorite shows, and Vrai was lukewarm on it and Amelia did not care for it.
But at the end of it, I heard you talking about how much you enjoyed Little Witch Academia and I was like, “We should thank Miranda for being such a good sport and bring her back to talk about a show that’s a little bit easier to discuss from a feminist perspective.” More positives, I think, to this one. I like to call Little Witch Academia “What If Trigger, But Without the Bullshit?” And—
CAITLIN: [laughs] That seems accurate.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] The dream, right?
DEE: Yeah, no, it’s great. I think most of this podcast will be us speaking pretty glowingly about it because I think all three of us are pretty pleased with the show itself, which actually is a good segue for us to talk about our own personal history with this series. Miranda, you’re our guest. Would you like to go first?
MIRANDA: Yeah, for sure. So, one of my friends, who’s from Australia, visited and said, “Hey, Miranda, there’s one anime you really need to watch. It’s called Little Witch Academia. It’s just an OVA right now, but you should watch it,” and I said, “Okay.” And then I waited two years and then watched it, and I was in love immediately. Magical realism’s one of my favorite things, so The Ancient Magus’ Bride is just straight up my alley. And then finding this was just something so awesome, and then I heard about the sequel OVA. And then I watched the Netflix series when it came out. So, it’s very good.
DEE: Great. And Caitlin, you finished this one pretty recently like I did, correct?
CAITLIN: Yes. It’s been on my radar for a really long time because I did have friends who watched it when the OAVs first came out, and they drew fan art and talked about it a lot. And I was like, “That sounds cool,” and then I never got around to watching it. And then one day, I was about to be on a fairly long flight, a cross-country flight, and I was like, “You know what would be really good to watch? Little Witch Academia.”
CAITLIN: [chuckles] So, I watched the OAVs then. And then one time, my friend and I decided we were going to watch all of the gay anime available streaming.
DEE: Okay. A noble goal.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] My friend chose Little Witch Academia because she’s like, “Well, I don’t know if it’s actually gay, but I know that the shipping is very strong.”
CAITLIN: And we watched that for a while, got sidetracked, and then when I started writing for The Daily Dot, the editor was like, “Hey! Would you like to write sort of a beginner’s guide to Little Witch Academia, since you said that you’ve watched some of it?” And I’m like, “Yes!” So then, I just slammed the rest of the series around when Dee was watching it herself.
DEE: Yeah. I saw the OVAs around about when they came out. I had a friend who told me about ‘em, kinda like Miranda did, and brought ‘em over, and so watched them together. And I enjoyed them. I thought they were fun, but it wasn’t anything I got really excited about. So, when the TV series came out, I was looking forward to it, and then Netflix was like, “Well, we have it, so who knows when you’ll ever get to watch it?”
DEE: And it wound up on my queue, but again, I got sidetracked with other new shows coming out and wasn’t able to get to it right away. I checked out the first few episodes a few months back—so, six months ago probably at this point, so my memory on those is probably gonna be a little bit fuzzy today. I liked it, but it was very episodic, so it wasn’t something that I felt like I had to keep coming back to quickly.
So, I got distracted by a couple other things and then finally had some time to go back to it again, and the second act is a lot more plot-focused, and I just binged it. I got completely caught up in the story and the characters and had a really good time with it through to the end. So, yeah, just wrapped it up a few weeks ago at this point.
MIRANDA: So, it’s definitely far more fresh for both of you than for me, but…
DEE: It’s a memorable series [unintelligible due to crosstalk], especially in terms of the overarching ideas, and the characters are very… They stand out, so I think we’ll be all right there.
DEE: I did this a little bit backwards, but it just kinda worked out this way. We should probably provide a little bit of an overview about Little Witch Academia itself. Caitlin, did you want to go ahead and tackle that?
CAITLIN: Sure. So, this is a very, very basic sort of overview. The first OAV of Little Witch Academia was made when Studio Trigger had just broken off of Studio Gainax. Brand new studio, made as a way to help train some of the new animators that were coming in. And it totally blew up on YouTube and Nico Nico Douga, the Japanese equivalent of YouTube.
People loved it, and so then they decided they were going to Kickstart a second OAV. The Kickstarter was a wild success. They actually managed to use the momentum from that Kickstarter to double the length.
And that was it for a while. And then they had Sucy and Akko make cameo appearances in Space Patrol Luluco, and at the end of Luluco, they were like, “Hey, we’re gonna make more Little Witch Academia!” And everyone was like, “Yay!” And then the rest is history.
MIRANDA: Yeah, that’s a great way to kick that off, too, because Space Patrol Luluco was very much “Let’s celebrate everything Trigger has done up until this point.” And then finishing it off with something that people loved from Trigger—that was so different from what we usually expect from Trigger especially—it’s just such a nice, rewarding thing to find at the end there.
And, wow, I was looking at the wiki for this, too, and the original short came out in 2013. It’s kind of crazy how long it’s been.
DEE: It has been a while, yeah.
CAITLIN: I don’t like talking about the passage of time.
MIRANDA: That’s totally fair.
DEE: [crosstalk] It’s so scary! So, yeah, in the TV series… For folks at home who are wondering, we’re not really gonna be covering the OVAs. I don’t think any of us have seen those in a very long time—
MIRANDA: It’s been a hot minute.
DEE: Yeah. And they kind of exist in their own canon. My memory of it is the characters are a little bit different and it’s not super clear on where they’re placed within the TV series itself. Is that fair to say, do you think?
MIRANDA: Yeah, the animated series—the full one—is more focused and kind of refreshes all these characters, while they have a lot of the same traits as they did in the OVAs. For instance, Diana’s a lot less antagonistic. She’s just doing her own thing in the TV series, where in the OVAs she was more so “Queen of the Mean Girls” and she—
CAITLIN: She was more the Malfoy to Akko’s Harry Potter.
MIRANDA: Yeah. And then in the full series, she’s still the queen of two very not-great ladies, but isn’t perpetuating their behavior. They just kinda do that without her direction, whereas in the OVAs she does more of that. So, there’s a lot of different things, and a lot of people ask, “Should I watch those first?” I think yes, because it’s just nice to have that extra context for this world and to see them in their original forms in a way, and because they’re both available, and then watch the full series.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, I would say it’s not necessary. It’s not something you should feel the need to do, but it’s not something you should avoid. It’s just like, why not? They’re cute. They exist.
MIRANDA: And both are very good.
DEE: Yeah. But for the purposes of this retrospective, we will be focusing just on the TV series and what went down in that, just to let folks know. Which gets us into talking, just overarching, about the show itself. One of the things that struck me about it—and I kinda thought I would lead with this—is: what genre would you call Little Witch Academia? Because a lot of the time we approach anime from the sense of “Oh, it’s a shounen. Oh, it’s a shoujo. Oh, it’s a sci-fi. It’s this, it’s that.” What do you think Little Witch Academia is? How would you categorize it?
CAITLIN: In terms of the shounen/shoujo/et cetera demographic breakdown, I would call it—and I know that this is an oxymoron—shounen for girls. [chuckles] I mean, not for girls but—
DEE: Targeted at girls. Is that what you mean?
DEE: Because obviously boys can enjoy it, too, and people of any genders, because it’s a very nice show. But I know what you mean.
CAITLIN: But yeah, in terms of its structure, in terms of its themes, in terms of its character dynamics, it is very, very, very shounen. It has more in common with series like… I mean Harry Potter is the obvious one, but series like Naruto or like… what are some other…?
DEE: Well, I’d say the structure is pretty close to My Hero Academia, especially with the outsider character who’s a little bit behind with everybody else as far as their powers go, working through it with determination and hard work, which are very shounen qualities.
MIRANDA: Yeah. And having that mentor there to guide them through their adventure.
CAITLIN: Right, exactly. To go back to that same comparison, Akko personality-wise bears a lot more resemblance to Naruto than pretty much any other character that I can think of, personality-wise: very brash, kind of overconfident, picking fights with the top student when she’s nowhere near their ability level…
MIRANDA: And just incredibly determined, for sure.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And just very determined. The way that I put it in my Daily Dot article was “The source of her power is stubbornness.”
DEE: [chuckles] I think that’s fair. And I think in Little Witch Academia there is a large focus on self-confidence, and I think that’s something you see in shoujo—in stories targeted for girls—but it tends to be more about the character not really having any self-confidence and then needing to build to that.
Whereas in Little Witch, Akko just starts off overflowing with maybe unearned self-confidence at times. It causes her some problems, but it’s also part of her strength, that she is just so determined. And she has moments where she doubts herself or gets discouraged, but she still picks herself back up and keeps running forward.
I agree with you. I think it has a lot of shounen elements. I also kinda keep seeing it as sort of a magical girl series.
DEE: Because I think there’s very much that focus on friendship and emotions really driving a lot of the changes. The whole thing with the Shiny Rod and unlocking the powers is [that] you have to feel the words; you can’t just say ‘em. So, it’s not just about learning a new technique. It’s also about “Because Feelings.”
MIRANDA: Yeah. And evolving yourself as you discover and understand new things about the world and yourself and relationships.
DEE: Yeah. And so, one of the things that I really enjoyed about it was the way it blended these two genres that a lot of the time we think of as being quote-unquote “for girls” and “for boys” and merging them together and blurring the boundaries.
And I like seeing shows where those demographic lines get played with a lot. And I think we’re seeing that more and more, where saying something is a “shounen” or a “shoujo” is meaning less and less over the years, I think, and I think Little Witch is very much a series that wants to challenge those supposed constraints.
CAITLIN: I agree. And, you know, it’s interesting because I feel like most of the time when you have guys that are taking a genre that is traditionally aimed at girls, and whether or not they’re like, “We’re gonna make this for grown men,” or whether or not they’re like, “We’re gonna make this for boys,” they do tend to add certain unsavory elements, whether or not—
DEE: Fanservice, especially.
CAITLIN: But, you know, it doesn’t—
DEE: That is a direction that a lot of male writers have taken the magical genre, especially in recent years. I totally agree with that.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So—
MIRANDA: I think it helps that this was written by a woman, so—
DEE: Little Witch was? Yeah. Definitely.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] A good part of it.
CAITLIN: Yeah. That probably helps.
DEE: It does, for sure. But then there’s also—in terms of the direction, the storyboarding—there’s very much a sense that they sure could have inserted some upskirt shots and they never do, thank God!
Because, again, this is Trigger; they have a bit of a reputation. I watched the first few episodes like, “This feels very family friendly,” and just always on guard waiting for that shoe to drop. And it never did, and by the end of it, I was like, “I could show this to my eight-year-old cousin, and that would be awesome!”
CAITLIN: Yeah! And you would never feel like you would have to explain something.
MIRANDA: That just feels so rare in anime, too, just having a show that you can default to. I always get people asking me for recommendations, and sometimes people will be like, “Hey, I have a 13-year-old or a 10-year-old and I really want to show them anime. Which should I have them watch?” And I’m just like, “Uh…” [laughs] And now I finally have an easy answer, which is Little Witch Academia, because it is so pure and just good-hearted and good-spirited, too.
DEE: Going back a little bit to what you were saying, Caitlin, about the dark magical girl shift recently, one of the things I really enjoy about this show is—and I don’t know if this was intentional or if it’s just part of playing within the genres, that you accidentally will touch on these things—I felt like the series in a way was commenting on that and rejecting it, with Croix’s whole thing about collecting negative energy from people to fuel magic and save magic.
And it was that idea of “The only way to save this genre is to go dark.” And the series completely rejects that and goes the other way and says, “No, this genre is powered by hope and inspiration, and believing in yourself and others and friendship!”
CAITLIN: Yeah, absolutely. I never really thought of it in those terms, but that totally makes sense: the temptation to say there is power in suffering and sadness and just going Sadstuck with it—and rejecting that.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, and it’s not like there’s no struggles in Little Witch Academia. There are serious moments and there are difficulties the characters have to go through, but it’s always followed up by that undercurrent of hope and believing in yourself and trying hard. And I think that’s really nice to see.
MIRANDA: When we talk about shows being accessible to younger audiences, it’s always, I think, worrying to some people because they think the themes or the show itself will be diluted to match that audience. And I think that’s one of the strengths of Little Witch Academia, is that it isn’t like that—much like Steven Universe—where it’s willing to tackle these bigger things and sadness and why maybe using the power of negative energy is not a great thing or being failed by someone you really admire. And a lot more things, too, about acceptance of yourself and your personality and learning to be close to other people that may have rejected you previously.
There’s just so many really great themes in Little Witch Academia, and so I just want to reiterate that even though we say this is accessible to younger audiences, that doesn’t mean it tones itself down in any way.
DEE: Yeah, I think there are some things that are targeted at kids that are very simplistic, and I think the best family-friendly or kid-friendly—however you want to word it—media usually is a lot more sophisticated than people give it credit for. And I think Little Witch Academia absolutely falls in that category where there’s a lot here that someone of any age can enjoy for different reasons, and I really like that about it.
I mean, gosh, there’s an entire undercurrent about class and privilege in the education system, which I thought was really great because in high school—and this was a long time ago, so I’m sure the research has changed a bit—
DEE: But I did a piece on the No Child Left Behind Act and how it was terrible, partly because a lot of the tests are very catered to assuming an audience that is of a higher socioeconomic status. And so they assume knowledge that you wouldn’t necessarily have unless your family had money, basically, and how that automatically gives certain kids a leg up on these questions that are supposed to be “fair and balanced” or whatever.
And I liked that Little Witch kinda tackled that with Akko being someone who hadn’t come from a witch family, and they were really hostile towards her at first about that, so she starts so much further behind everybody else just because she hasn’t had the tools that everybody else has had up to that point.
CAITLIN: Right, and everyone treats her like she’s totally useless, but it’s just that she doesn’t have the building blocks.
DEE: Well, and then you do kinda find out that she has the magical equivalent of a learning disability.
DEE: But then at the same time, Diana had the same situation, but because she did have those tools and that family who did know about magic, she was able to work on those things before Akko was.
MIRANDA: Right, she’s able to overcome it because of her resources, where Akko never had that chance.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and it’s a little bit unclear… They talk about how magic is disappearing from the world, but it’s a little bit unclear, I think, to me about how everyone has potential to do magic or whether it’s something that’s inborn like Harry Potter or if…
MIRANDA: Oh, yeah. I think I understand where you’re going with this. It kind of seemed to me that there are families that have stronger magic maybe because they’ve always been practicing it and keeping it alive and believing in it, whereas a lot of people, when they stop believing in magic and stop having that as a practice, then it fades faster.
CAITLIN: Right. Like Lotte’s family. They’re the only magical family in town. Her mom’s the only witch in town, but they rely on her magic. Does no one else in the town have the capacity for magic? Is she the only person in the town who ever learned it, and no one else is really interested in going down that path?
MIRANDA: It could be a good mix of both. Maybe people having untapped resources that they don’t really know about, and also them just losing it over time. I could see that as being a thing that if you don’t use it, you lose it.
DEE: This might be a segue into another topic, too. It does seem to be something that only women can do. We see these witch families, and presumably they sometimes have boy kids, and they’re not involved in the witch school at all. Which I think ties into the magical girl genre, but I also think it gives the show kind of an interesting angle in terms of the power of femininity or being a woman.
Not even necessarily “femininity,” because the girls at the school aren’t all feminine. Amanda’s very much a tomboy character. I think there’s definitely some fair criticism that could be made for the complete lack of trans people in a show that is trying to talk about female empowerment and the magic within women and that sense of… [changes directions slightly]
The thing I really about Little Witch is that you do have all these teachers and these older witches who continue to have this magic, because in magical girl shows, a lot of the time after adolescence you lose that power. So I like that this is a show that says, “No, you have that core uniqueness within you your whole life,” and I thought that was a nice touch, especially when they are literally fighting The Man at moments, with the government, who are noticeably all dudes. Everyone in that room at the end is all men. So, I do think the show is trying to make some kind of low-key statements about gender and female empowerment.
MIRANDA: It totally is.
DEE: Which, again, I think all those conversations can be sort of inherently non-inclusive at times, and I think that’s a fair criticism of Little Witch.
MIRANDA: Yeah, I think you see that a lot with anime. It’s changing, but not very fast.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, Dee, are you saying that they believe in magic in a young girl’s heart?
DEE: Yes. That is exactly what I am saying, Caitlin. Thank you.
CAITLIN: But do you think the music can free them whenever it starts?
DEE: Do you want to just get the song out of your system here?
CAITLIN: No, that’s all I know. [laughs]
DEE: Okay! [laughs] So we’re done.
DEE: Oh, it was a lovely two lines. Thank you for that.
MIRANDA: Okay, so let’s get into some of the other themes of this show, because obviously we have a lot written down; lots to talk about.
DEE: We do, yeah. Miranda, I know you wanted to talk about the traditional versus the new magic, and the old ways of thinking and then the newer ways. Did you want to lead into that?
MIRANDA: So, I think that’s a good segue into us talking previously about the difference in magic, in that you can kinda carry that with you, no matter what age you are. Obviously, with Little Witch Academia magic is kind of dying, and there’s a big worry about that. And there is one very talented witch, who is now an adult, and she’s like, “Hey! There is a way to fix this. Technology!” And it’s this whole idea of embracing all of it.
But she goes full in. She’s like, “Technology is the key to saving everything.” And Croix, she’s really cool in that, but the way she goes about it, too, is obviously in a way kind of like Akko: of being the only one trying to do something where everyone else is pushing against her. And so, I like that parallel there and how it deviates between them, too, of course.
Because Croix, she’s a little antagonistic about it, as well, and I understand why, because she’s trying to push this new innovative thing and everyone of course said, “No.” And then, so, she goes off and does her own thing, kinda like Chariot does when Chariot was like, “Hey, I think we can keep magic alive this other way, which is celebrating it and making it a fun thing,” and they’re like, “No, you’re embarrassing us.”
And so, both of them are trying to find their own ways of finding that “new thing,” whereas the school itself is very traditional. And the younger generation of characters that are actually the stars are finding out how to do both. And it’s just such a great theme to see that struggle, because obviously what Crow—I think it’s Crow, Croix? Croix? I don’t know.
DEE: Croix is how they were saying it. I watched the dub because I’m a filthy casual! [chuckles]
DEE: No, I put it on and I was like, “This just feels like a show that would be on a Saturday morning cartoon slot, so I’m going to watch it in English.”
DEE: And it was a good dub, so…
MIRANDA: Yeah! Okay. Well, good. So, Croix. I couldn’t remember. I had it written down somewhere and I forgot where. Anyway, just having her fail with that and then understand what that failure was through this really awful mistake she made, and then eventually integrating that to be a more healthy relationship was really interesting.
Because I look at how schools are now and how they use technology. It’s like, hey, even though we have auto-correct for everything now—it’s so easy to make a mistake and have something fix it for you—it’s still really important to teach spelling. You have to know how to spell your words because there’s gonna be a time when you don’t have those tools and you still have to write everything by hand and you don’t want to look like an idiot.
CAITLIN: Right. And, you know, I’m a toddler teacher, and most of the schools I’ve worked at have been like, “No screens. Don’t put videos on for your kids.” But my friend used to work at this school that was all… They had a smartboard. So, they had two-year-olds sitting down, trying to make two-year-olds sit down for 20 minutes to look at this smartboard and playing videos with them. A little bit of technology integration in the classroom isn’t bad, especially with older kids. I mean, a lot of these kids, they just go home and they play on iPads all day.
MIRANDA: [chuckles] Yeah.
CAITLIN: So, school is honestly a time to get away from that for them. But this other school, they actively don’t want the teachers to lead the kids in songs and activities that don’t involve the smartboard. And it’s like, yo, technology can be a useful tool, but it’s not the end-all, be-all of education.
MIRANDA: Or the solution to a dying medium, right? Which is kind of—
CAITLIN: Right. Like, don’t throw out all the paper notebooks and give everyone laptops to type on, because writing by hand is still an important skill and spelling is still an important skill.
MIRANDA: Yeah. So, basically with magic and, as you see, with Croix’s tablets, they just cast all the spells and make everything easier. And so, I think them hitting on that point in the second half was really, really good—and interesting just because it is such a big struggle.
Even modern day, it’s like, “How much social media is too much?” and “Where does it end? Like, why don’t you guys think for yourselves anymore? And you guys aren’t actually talking to each other!” And it’s like, “Well, we are! We’re talking to each other more than we ever have!” And all these different things. And I think, in addition to all the other things they tackle, this one’s just a good, interesting point, and seeing how, of course the younger generation finds that balance.
CAITLIN: Yeah. That also ties into… When I lived in Japan, when I did my semester abroad like ten years ago, people were already talking then about how the younger generation is losing their ability to remember and write kanji because they were all using electric dictionaries to look up what the kanji was that they needed to write down. And they could still read it, but they couldn’t generate it because they would just rely on the dictionaries to memorize it instead of just sitting down, remembering the kanji, writing out drills, et cetera, et cetera.
MIRANDA: Yeah. So, it’s a cool theme that I liked a lot in it, as well.
DEE: And as you pointed out, Croix and Akko are both trying to do new things. Akko is this upstart who shows up out of nowhere and has these different ideas about what she wants to do that are inspired by Shiny Chariot, and that’s not how things are done.
And so, it’s not like this show is completely anti-progress. It’s very much like, “No, you do need to find new ways forward so that these traditions and these things that are important can continue to exist.” But it’s also very careful about “But there is a right way to go about it, and exploiting people’s negative emotions, maybe not the right way there, Croix.” So, I think Croix’s a really good antagonist because she’s very sympathetic.
MIRANDA: Yeah, she’s just trying to better themselves and further… It’s like, “Hey, why are we ignoring this massive resource that the rest of the world has? Maybe that’s why magic is dying.” And I think her heart’s in a good place mostly, but because she’s spurred by vengeance, obviously it goes very wrong.
DEE: Yeah, and at the end she realizes she’s wrong and she goes out to try to take care of her mistakes. And so I like that the show gave her that ending, because when she showed up, I was like, “She has the coolest character design I’ve ever seen.”
DEE: And then I was like, “Oh, God, please don’t be a bad guy.” And then she was a bad guy, and I was like, “Damn it!” [laughs] So, I was glad that they kept her—
CAITLIN: [crosstal; laughs] You can tell because she’s got all those straps on her costume.
DEE: Yeah. And that cool cape and the swoopy hair, and I just really liked her character design.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Her hair’s so good. She’s very unique.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] She stands on the little robot to fly instead of flying because she lost her ability.
MIRANDA: Yeah. Aww!
DEE: But yeah, and her friendship with Ursula, I thought they handled that really well, to allow that balance to exist there.
CAITLIN: And this is a little bit of branching off what we were just talking about, but one cool detail I noticed was that a lot of different families seem to have their own magic traditions. Lotte’s is about the “magic within” thing and animism. Lotte’s is based on animism, and [chuckles] Sucy’s all about the poison and the potions.
And Diana is English, and presumably Luna Nova is in England—certainly seems to be the case—and she excels in all of the traditions that the school has because that is her magical cultural background. And Akko comes in without any sort of magical traditions of her own, and she just has to come up with her own way of doing things.
DEE: Yeah. And it’s inspired by Shiny Chariot, so she kind of has her own school, but it’s not anything that’s been established over time.
MIRANDA: Right. It’s something she adopted, and it’s not what people want her to adopt, either.
MIRANDA: That goofiness of being an entertainer and sharing the joy of magic with everybody.
DEE: Yeah. But tying into what you were saying, Caitlin, I think the show does a pretty good job of giving you a lot of different kinds of students at the academy with different personalities and ways of doing things, and for the most part—this might be the one place where I give the show some criticism—for the most part, I think it doesn’t really judge or mock them for having different ways of going about things.
You talked about Lotte and Sucy, who are Akko’s closest friends, and so, obviously, they play a big role in the show, but then Amanda gets that great episode where they infiltrate the boys’ school and she kicks everyone’s ass.
DEE: I really—
CAITLIN: [through laughter] Amanda’s really good!
DEE: Amanda’s really fun.
I really liked the Constance episode. I’ve definitely seen some folks online read Constance as both a mute character or as a nonverbal autistic—and I can’t speak to that personally, so, folks in the comments, please do let us know if you relate to her in that aspect—but I have seen people talk about that.
But she is definitely a nonverbal character, however you want to read that, and the show does a really nice, positive job of not making her out to be some kind of weirdo or “Why can’t you just talk normal?” The other students work with her with that. And Akko’s very overly friendly in a way that kind of annoys Constance at first, but then they come to appreciate each other’s strengths, and I like that a lot about them, too.
CAITLIN: Well, isn’t that how Akko is with everyone?
DEE: Oh, absolutely.
CAITLIN: [through laughter] She kind of annoys them at first! [laughs]
DEE: Yeah. I think the two places that I wish Little Witch had done a better— Well, I mentioned the lack of trans characters, obviously, is a bummer. We have that really good—I think her name’s Wagnari maybe? She’s the brown student who’s their announcer. And she’s got that wild orange hair, and she seems so cool!
MIRANDA: Yeah, Wangari.
DEE: And we never really get anything with her, other than that she’s just the school’s announcer for all their events.
MIRANDA: Yeah. For it being set in England, it’s a little disappointing that there’s not a little bit more diversity in their students. There’s a lot of background students that are diverse, but none of them actually have good speaking parts aside from Wangari.
DEE: One thing that’s very interesting to me about anime is [that] they tend to be better about remembering to populate the crowd scenes with people of diverse colors more so than American shows are a lot of the time. It’s like they go, “Well, yeah, this is set in America and there’s lots of different people in America, so of course the background will have lots of Black and brown folks in it, in addition to white people.”
But at the same time, you don’t necessarily see that many characters taking a starring role, which is unfortunate. I’ve been reading The Promised Neverland, and it also takes place in this diverse population, and there’s a lot of the little kids who are people of color, but the main cast is predominantly white, so that’s kind of unfortunate. And then the other thing is— Sorry, what were you gonna say?
CAITLIN: Sucy is Filipino.
DEE: She is?
DEE: I did not know that.
MIRANDA: I’m actually on the Wiki, and it’s interesting seeing what officially has been confirmed. So, Wangari’s from Kenya. And… I’m trying to see what else they have.
DEE: She’s Filipino? That’s really cool.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Yeah.
DEE: That is neat. And that is one thing I always have to be kinda careful about—and we’ve rightfully been criticized for this—is we’ll talk about a lack of characters of color in anime, and technically every Japanese character is a character of color. And so, a lot of the time, when I say that, I mean more outside of Japan or outside of—
MIRANDA: Right. Especially when it’s set in a location where it allows itself to have a more diverse cast.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, most of the characters have canon nationalities. Akko is Japanese, of course. Sucy is Filipino. Lotte is Finnish. You can tell because there’s Moomin references in her episode.
CAITLIN: And then, I think other than—what’s her name, the announcer character?
CAITLIN: Wangari. She’s Kenyan, and then the rest are, I think, just various European countries. Jasminka is Russian. So, yeah, most of them do have canon ethnicities, and so, of the main three, two of them are Asian. I think that that was really cool because I remember people getting really excited that there was a Filipino main character in this show.
DEE: Yeah, I had not realized that at all, so that’s awesome. Yeah, I hadn’t caught that with her name. I think I heard “Susie” and just figured, “Oh, she’s also from Europe.” But, yeah, that’s good to know. I had not realized that. I still think that a show set in England could have more Black and brown folks, but I do think that that is good and I don’t want to downplay the fact that there’s a Filipino character in the main trio, for sure. I think that’s great.
And the other area— Really, my biggest groan with Little Witch is Jasminka.
DEE: Because the characters don’t mock her—they’re all very nice and she’s part of the group—but at the same time, she is solely defined by eating, and she is the slightly chubby character. So that’s an ongoing issue with anime that I feel like we should at least mention, because it’s not great.
MIRANDA: Yep, every single time. It’s just like, “What if you don’t do that, though? That’d be cool.”
CAITLIN: Yes, can we not?
DEE: And because they do such a good job with the other characters with giving them these multi-layered personalities, and so her only thing being that she likes food is more noticeable and obnoxious, I would say. But overall, they’re good classmates, which is maybe a good place to move into some of the other students.
We’ll probably spend a lot of time with Diana and Akko and Shiny Chariot here at the end. So, before we get into that, we haven’t mentioned Andrew at all and I really like Andrew, so I’m curious as to how you guys feel about Andrew.
MIRANDA: Yeah, I like him a whole bunch.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] He’s fine.
MIRANDA: He’s a good skeptic that kind of warms up to ‘em and is obviously working to, also, defy his father because his father is garbage.
DEE: Yeah, I really liked him. I loved his arc in the story, because I think he ends up being a really good example of a good ally. Because with the witches all being women and the folks in government all being men, there’s definitely, again, an undercurrent of gender commentary here.
And so, Andrew starting off as just a parrot to his father and then through his interactions with Akko—which, thank God… I mean, I think there’s some good ships in the series, and we can definitely talk about that, but I’m really glad the show doesn’t really have an actual, explicit romance because I think that Andrew being “changed for love” is shitty and kind of cheap, and so I like that it’s really just: he is inspired by them and sees what they can do and appreciates and comes to respect them because of that.
And then, my favorite thing is in that last episode, when The Man is trying to shoot down the rocket and they’re gonna screw up everything—and, again, this is the dub, so the subtitle script might be a little bit different—he basically says, “No, what we need to do here is get out of their way and support them.” And I was like, “Yes, Andrew! You are a good ally. Well done!”
So, I really appreciated his role in the story at the end, and I think it did a really good job of showing how boys can support women and it doesn’t have to be about coming to their rescue. It can just be believing in them when they tell you something.
MIRANDA: Yeah. Also just being a friend. Obviously, him and Akko had a weird relationship to start with, and everyone’s like, “Oh, my gosh, Andrew’s so handsome,” which he is, but them coming around, it’s like, “Hey, you can have a friend that’s conventionally attractive… and be friends. And that’s fine.”
CAITLIN: [chuckles] I remember, before I watched this show, seeing the discussion online, everyone was actually really, really down on Andrew. They were just kinda calling him boring a lot of times.
DEE: Aw. I like him, though. Quite a lot.
MIRANDA: His arc is really important, too. The first few times you see him, you’re just like, “Okay. You’re fine.” And then as he grows and goes on to support Akko and all the witches at Luna Nova, I think he becomes a lot more interesting that way.
And I think he finds himself, too. That’s the thing: he is boring because he just does what he’s told. That was his whole life: “I just do what my father needs me to do because I have to take his place eventually.” And that was his whole point. And then growing out of that made him so much more interesting as he found his own self.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I agree. And I think (A) he’s kinda boring because he’s not meant to have the spotlight at any point; he’s supposed to be a support character. But also, I think a lot of it is the antagonism, like, “Oh, he’s a decent person. What, does he want a cookie?”
But I think it’s important to have narratives of people who realize that they were wrong and that they were jerks, and even if everyone’s not totally nice to him about it, he learns that he was being crappy before, because that arc is really important. And I think that it’s important to have people who are supportive allies from the start in fiction, but seeing the personal growth mapped out…
DEE: And, again, if you’re going to have a show that is about women in positions of power and being treated with respect—which is a lot of what Little Witch is sort of hinting at with the witches and, again, the government not seeing a purpose for them—you need to have the conversation about the other side of that and some of the toxic masculinity that Andrew’s dealing with, with his father forcing all these expectations on him and doing things exactly the same way Dad did and going, “No, we can do it differently, and we’re going to.”
So, I think it’s really good, because a lot of the time you get these stories about all-girl schools, and it’s just like, “Boys don’t exist in this world. They are nowhere.” So, I’m glad that Little Witch acknowledged that “No, there are boys in this world, and this is how they can have a place in this.” And how feminism affects everyone positively, because I think Andrew’s a lot happier by the end of the story.
MIRANDA: I think, also, a lot of times with these all-girl schools or all-girl environments, sometimes you’ll also see just one man in charge leading everything, and that makes things awkward as well. And I think this does a good job of saying, “Well, obviously, there’s political differences here and they are very important,” and showing the difference there and why things weren’t working well is really important.
CAITLIN: Yeah. “We hate magic.” “Why?” “I don’t know. We just do.”
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] “’Cause… it’s old. I don’t know.”
CAITLIN: “Because women.”
MIRANDA: “Yeah, because women.” Yeah. So, he’s a good boy.
DEE: I like him. I avoid fandom drama, so I don’t know if there’s love triangle nonsense with him and Diana and Akko, but we may as well talk about Diana now as another character who functions as part of that…
CAITLIN: Personal growth.
DEE: Yeah, the personal… And then, I was thinking in terms of that main triangle of the kids who are trying to move society forward. I think it’s Andrew, Akko, and Diana. And the way they team up and join together in different ways at the end and the conclusions they come to are all really important.
I really love that the anime subverts that concept of Diana as the bitchy, shallow, stuck-up rival. Akko perceives her that way early on, but Diana’s never really snubbing her nose at Akko. It’s more that she feels like Akko isn’t taking things seriously.
MIRANDA: Yeah. And I think with as much focus as Diana has and her responsibility to her house is such a big thing, and to see someone like Akko come in just like, “Oh! Magic! Yeah, I’m gonna learn it. I’m gonna be great.” And then, she’s like, “Why are you like this?” Kinda disrespectful almost, too, and I understand that and her perspective of that. Diana also had to work so hard to get back to where she was, and so I could see her being a little offended by Akko’s behavior at the beginning.
CAITLIN: Right. Yeah, it’s nice because the show doesn’t feel the need to throw Diana in as an antagonist just whenever—we go whole episodes without seeing her—because it could easily have been like, “Oh, Akko wants to do a thing, but that thing is not how she’s supposed to do it,” and Diana comes in and is all like, “[grumbles] This is how we do it,” and then everyone fawns over her. But they didn’t make that part of the formula for the episodes, which is good.
One of the things that I like about their dynamic early on is that, while Akko has decided that Diana is her rival, Diana honestly does not think too much about Akko, it seems like.
DEE: That’s very true.
MIRANDA: It’s not really revealed until the end that she was concerned for Akko because they came from such similar places of lacking something with magic, but also, like you said, tries not to concern herself too much, too, because she has her own stuff to do.
CAITLIN: Akko annoys her sometimes, but most of the time Diana is just doing her own thing while Akko’s getting into these misadventures. And I think that’s interesting. Yeah, and it’s revealed that, yeah, she was concerned about Akko, but when she says, “I never thought of you as my rival,” it’s supposed to be like, “Oh, she just doesn’t think of her.” And it turns out that’s not the case, but either way, if she’s not thinking of Akko as her rival, then she’s not going to come along and insinuate herself every time that Akko is getting up to something.
DEE: Yeah. Diana has her own concerns. She’s not by any stretch obsessed with Akko. But then, watching their relationship develop in the second half of the series was so great. They’re very good together.
And again, I like that Little Witch Academia is not a show that really has any explicit romances because I think those stories of mutual respect and inspiration between that central trio of people who are going to be pushing this world forward, I think that hits harder if it’s not just about impressing the person you like. But at the same time, they are a very good ship and I totally get why people are behind them.
MIRANDA: Oh, there’s definitely hints there, too, that there could be romance between them.
DEE: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Not to say that people—I can definitely see it, but I think it is important that in a show about inspiring change in others, that you downplay that “Well, it’s because I’m in love with you” aspect, because I think that kind of cheapens it.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] It’s honestly really refreshing not to have a focus on romance at all, just completely absent of it. There’s maybe flirting and stuff, ideas of it, but it never becomes a focal point. It’s not about that. It’s about these characters learning to grow and better their world.
DEE: Yeah, and these two very different but also very similar people—because Diana was also inspired by Shiny Chariot, you learn, and had that tamped down over time. And so, the two of them finding these areas of common ground and also using their differences to team up and save the day at the end. The finale with the two of them. God, that was such a good—
MIRANDA: [crosstalk; fondly] Aw, that’s so sweet!
CAITLIN: Aw, so good!
MIRANDA: I was, like, sobbing. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: “We’re not so different, you and I.” [chuckles]
DEE: Yeah, it’s a very good emotional climax. And that kind of brings us to the conclusion. We are coming up on the hour here.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It flew by.
DEE: We haven’t talked a ton about Ursula and her relationship with Akko. Otherwise, I think we’ve covered a lot of the main points. Was there anything else you guys wanted to talk about here at the end?
CAITLIN: I mean, I’d be happy to talk about Ursula. I like Ursula a lot.
DEE: Yeah, then let’s get into her and her relationship with Akko and that hero role that shifts into a more grounded mentorship role. I really like that idea of “an idol is someone you can pursue from a distance, but a mentor is someone who can actually teach you and help you learn the specific things you need to know to achieve those goals.” And something you mentioned earlier, Miranda, was the idea of “Your heroes will let you down.”
MIRANDA: Yes. Oh, man! It’s such a sweet relationship, but it’s also so sad when you find out why Akko has such a hard time learning. And it sucks because it wasn’t intentional. It was a thing that Ursula, when she was Chariot, was conned into, almost. And so, to not speak so vaguely about it, Akko lost part of her powers because of Shiny Chariot’s grand performance, which actually stole the magic from the children that were watching the show. And she had no idea.
And seeing her go undercover and go back to being Ursula, as opposed to being Chariot, and mentoring these students and trying to find any way to give back is such a noble thing. And it’s kinda sad because you see her pushing so hard because she feels so guilty about it. But it’s kinda great to see her also learn to overcome that guilt and be better and be better for the students that she failed.
CAITLIN: Yeah. As a teacher myself, I love Ursula. Just on a personal level, I love that she is a teacher and a mentor but she is also a hot mess.
MIRANDA: Yeah. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: And it’s not just the guilt she feels over Akko losing part of her powers because of her, but also, she sees a lot of herself in Akko. There’s a lot of parallels between the characters. Ursula is very sweet, and she really wants to do right by her students, but she’s kind of a mess of a teacher. She’s not a bad teacher, but she’s just kinda struggling to stay on top of things a lot of the time, which I relate to.
DEE: And it’s her first year, so she’s definitely getting her feet [under her]. I think, as the series progresses, she becomes a better and better kind of mentor-figure for Akko. I really liked at the end when Akko confronts her about the stuff with Shiny Chariot and is like, “You know what? I want you to keep being my teacher. I like what you’ve done for me. You don’t need to be this untouchable idol figure anymore. We can keep working together in this more real relationship.”
MIRANDA: One thing I really like about that, too, is that they train [you to understand] that, when you have an idol or you really admire somebody like your hero, they’re flawed. And it’s really important to recognize and understand that those people are flawed, too, and that you can’t hold yourself up to what imaginary ideals you’ve set for them, and it’s also unfair to them to believe that they aren’t without flaws, as well.
CAITLIN: Right. And once you learn those flaws and you learn who they are as human, you can be disappointed, but at the same time it doesn’t have to ruin your relationship. It changes your relationship. Akko idolized Chariot, and she learns that Ursula takes interest in her because she knows this, but I don’t know if Akko really saw Ursula at the same level of a mentor as Ursula wanted to.
And then once Akko learns the whole truth about Ursula and Chariot and the magic show, there’s this period of anger, but then she can put things together into the whole picture. This is her idol, but this is also her teacher. She hurt her, but she also helped her. She also inspired her. And it’s a more complete vision of her as a person, but it doesn’t ruin her respect for her. It just makes it so that they can relate better on a more human level, which I really love about their relationship.
DEE: Yeah. I think that was very well put.
MIRANDA: I also like that it’s very obvious who Ursula is. The show doesn’t skirt around it. They’re like, “Yeah.” And then they use that to their advantage in certain narrative beats, too, which I like.
CAITLIN: Oh, the dramatic irony.
MIRANDA: [laughs] It’s like, “Akko. Akko! We know who it is! We know where she is!”
MIRANDA: “She’s right in front of you!”
CAITLIN: Yeah. [laughs] I really love Ursula, because teaching is fucking hard, man. And my first year as a lead teacher was not a complete disaster, but pretty close. So, there was a lot of very relatable teacher feelings going on for me there. So, yeah. She’s just really great. I wanna make a cosplay of her.
CAITLIN: But [laughs], yeah, she’s very good.
DEE: Yeah, I agree. I have nothing else to add. I think you hit all the points there.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Yeah, I think we’re kind of wrapping it up here.
DEE: Yeah, I think we—
MIRANDA: Little Witch Academia has a solid cast of characters, and they all have very interesting lessons to learn throughout this show. And especially with the first half, it’s so much about the main trio, and then the second starts expanding more and more into the other students and has a core antagonist in a really good way, and it’s just nice to see how it evolves.
CAITLIN: Yeah, although I would like more Lotte and Sucy in the second half. They kinda got left by the wayside, which was a bummer.
MIRANDA: Yeah. Gosh, their standalone episodes are so good, like Lotte talking about internet trolls. It’s so good!
DEE: Oh, God, everything with the Nightfall series, that was the moment I knew the show was a treat. I was like, “Okay, this is wonderful.” That whole episode was great.
MIRANDA: Don’t be ashamed for your young adult literature. It’s so good.
CAITLIN: And I was actually really touched by Sucy’s episodes, where she is rejecting like, “This is who I could be, but this is not who I am. What if I wore mascara? Gone! Nope. Not who I am.”
And the infinite possibilities within teenage girls—and all teenagers in general—but, you know, teenage girls and the necessity but also the sadness of having to prune who you are so that you are a coherent person and you’re not trying to do too much and be too many people. But you are also rejecting sincere desires that you have. I can definitely see my teenage self in a lot of that.
MIRANDA: And she wants to read the Nightfall books, but she also does not want to be seen with them.
DEE: [chuckles] The eternal struggle.
DEE: Okay. Yeah! Any other final thoughts here? Again, we are at the hour now, so I think this is one of those shows where we could probably go through every one of the episodic episodes and talk about some story beat or character moment that resonated or meant something awesome. It’s a really good show.
Again, I love how family friendly it is. I love that undercurrent of optimism and hope. I don’t really feel like there’s any caveats other than, again, I think Jasminka is a bit of a wince. But otherwise, it’s just a nice show about nice kids, and I love the way it all comes together.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I think your descriptor of “Trigger without the bullshit” is really accurate because I love the energy that Trigger has, but most of the time it’s really hard to get past a lot of the fanservice and Imaishi’s forced transformation thing, because that’s definitely something that he is into, I feel like, and that’s kind of grody. [chuckles] But having that energy and that passion and that flair and that style, all of it, and then just not having to deal with tits in your face all the time…
CAITLIN: It really is just something special. I hope Trigger makes more series like this.
DEE: God, me too.
CAITLIN: Because I feel like some of the series where Trigger was like, “Okay, we’re gonna do something different” kinda failed. I think anime fandom has collectively, rightfully forgotten that When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace existed.
DEE: Oh, yeah.
MIRANDA: There’s some—
CAITLIN: Or that it was a Trigger—
MIRANDA: Yeah! Yeah, it’s one of the few things they’ve done where it was an adapted work because they try to do their own original stuff, so I really do hope that they give Yoh Yoshinari a chance to direct something again and lead another project, and I think they probably will. Obviously, with the success of Little Witch Academia, I don’t think that they would want to shy away from that.
CAITLIN: But, yeah, I think when they’ve tried to branch out and do something different, it sort of lost what makes Trigger, Trigger. But this brings that Trigger style, what everyone loves about Trigger, and none of the stuff that people hate about Trigger, and I think they should embrace it. They should do more of it. And they can be horny sometimes, but not all the time! Horniness is a sometimes food.
DEE: And one thing I will say in Trigger’s defense is… I don’t know if you watched Space Patrol Luluco, Caitlin.
CAITLIN: I did! I love Space Patrol Luluco.
DEE: I enjoyed that one because I thought that was one time when Trigger did a pretty good job of… Because so much of their horny stuff is just so one-sided that it gets very exhausting and feels like they’re playing into a lot of gendered stereotypes, so I liked that Luluco was this really thirsty kid who had this crush on this guy who was very, very boring—nothing going on, really. But I thought that was a fun show, and it had a little bit of the Trigger bullshit in it, but it was another one where “You guys can be very inclusive and fun and inventive, and just do more of that please.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. The Luluco thing just had the forced transformation where I was like, “Imaishi, you’re enjoying this a little too much. Aren’t you forcing this teenage girl to turn into a gun when she doesn’t want to?”
DEE: I did see some women and girls on Twitter talk about how that really resonated with them, though, in terms of the awkwardness of puberty and having things change, like suddenly getting your period in class and things like that.
CAITLIN: [reluctantly] Yeah…
DEE: So, while I totally see where you’re coming from, Caitlin, I do think that there were elements of that that resonated in that particular context.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] That’s fair.
DEE: So, again, if there are folks out there who like Little Witch, I would not show Space Patrol Luluco to your eight-year-olds, which I would show Little Witch to your eight-year-olds.
DEE: But it is more in line with that Trigger style with a little bit more… what’s the word? I don’t know. A little less bullshit, I guess. I guess I’ll just keep coming back to “without the bullshit.”
DEE: Okay, if you guys are happy with that… “Go watch Little Witch Academia,” I guess is where we’re all ending this one on.
MIRANDA: [crosstalk] Yeah, I hope you’ve already watched it, because we did get on to some spoilery things, but if you haven’t, it’s still worth watching.
DEE: If you somehow got through this whole thing, yeah, show it to your friends and family. It’s a good show.
CAITLIN: This is definitely a show that is really easy to enjoy even with spoilers.
MIRANDA: Yeah, I had so many spoilers because it was out in Japan, obviously, before Netflix, so [chuckles] that’s so infuriating! But a story for another day.
DEE: But it’s a good one, for sure. Okay, yeah, I guess I’ll go ahead and wrap us up then, since we are all finished up getting our good witch feelings out of the way.
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Okay. Thanks again for listening. Go forth and make some magic happen.
MIRANDA: And friendship!
CAITLIN: The source of your magic is a believing heart!
MIRANDA: Oh, yeah. Yeah!
DEE: Yeah, what is it? “Believing in yourself is your own magic!”