“I ordered a magic learning kit online but I had no idea what to do with it. I don’t really understand the basics all that well . . . “
-Akko Kagari, Little Witch Academia, Episode 1
Part of the craft in creating a magical world involves the mundane. Magic and fantasy worlds are created in contrast to the comparatively dull world in which we live our everyday lives. This contrast is important in selling a magical world to a reader or viewer of a specific fantasy franchise, whether it’s by forcing these two worlds to collide, lengthy and involved world-building that induces total immersion, or a protagonist who is new to the magical world in question and discovering it along with us. Last year, Flying Witch used Japanese rural life as a backdrop for witch-in-training Makoto Kowata. We discovered the wonder of pastoral Japan through the eyes of Makoto, and the wonders of her magic through the eyes of her young cousin, Chinatsu Kuramoto.
The most obvious, and popular, example of this is the titular Harry Potter of the Harry Potter franchise — now a veritable empire with facets upon facets of the wizarding world to discover. Even without Harry himself to take our hand and lead us from the mundane muggle world to the magical, Harry Potter already encourages complete and total engagement due to its attention to every last detail.
Although Harry is a wizard, he was raised as an average muggle — cupboard beneath the stairs and emotional abuse aside — and doesn’t discover his powers or the wizarding world until he turns 11 years-old. This allows us to explore the wizarding world through Harry’s eyes, our own eyes widening in awe at lengthy descriptions of moving staircases in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, ghosts, moving pictures, and what it feels like to fly on a broom or levitate a feather. By contrast, Harry Potter gives us Draco Malfoy, or, for someone closer to Harry himself, Ron Weasley who have lived as wizards their entire lives.
Stuck somewhere between Harry Potter and Ron Weasley is Little Witch Academia‘s Akko Kagari.
“Speaking of awful, I heard a rumor about the new students. It seems one of them isn’t of witch blood.”
-Luna Nova witch at the Leyline Terminal, Little Witch Academia, Episode 1
Akko is an odd case. There’s no Luna Nova letter, no dramatic moment where a half-giant tells Akko that she’s a witch — she simply chooses to become one.
Through her, Little Witch Academia strikes out on its own with a somewhat unique approach to mixing the magical and mundane. In the world of Little Witch Academia the series, the average person is aware of magic and is either unconcerned with it or views magic as a tourist attraction — seasoned witches are heard complaining about tourists at the Leyline Terminal. They also introduce the concept that witches are bred through a bloodline, not learned, although Akko was accepted to the prestigious magical academy Luna Nova despite her commoner blood.
In the Little Witch Academia OVAs, Akko is looked down upon by Diana and company not for her lack of magical blood but for her idolization of Shiny Chariot, who is thought to be somewhat of a fraud in the magical realm. Friction between natural-born witches and learned commoners like Akko will presumably remain in the background throughout the series’ run — especially with the upcoming introduction of Diana Cavendish — an interesting addition to the world of Luna Nova.
The opening scene of Little Witch Academia shows a young and eager Akko at Shiny Chariot’s magical show. This inspires her to become a witch, in the same vein that attending the Boston Symphony Orchestra at a young age inspired me to take piano lessons and learn music — despite the mentions of bloodlines, magic also appears as an available talent that seemingly anyone can pursue. For me, at that time, the thought of playing Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” was magical. For Akko, Shiny Chariot’s magical show places her on the path towards learning actual witchcraft.
When introducing herself to Sucy Manbavaran, Akko reveals that she tried to buy a magic kit online but didn’t know what to do with it. She meets Lotte Yanson after attempting to climb the vines on the sides of the Leyline Terminal to Luna Nova, doggedly trying to make her way forward without the necessary broom to fly her there. Luna Nova doesn’t give her help because she wasn’t born a witch — Hogwarts, for example, provides even muggle-born students with a list of required items — Akko comes to the terminal without even the basic knowledge of what a Leyline is, or how to get to the school. Although Akko is presented as a warm-hearted but self-centered dunce, she has a lot of catching up to do that involves no small amount of hard work and training.
The idea that magic can be learned rather than born into is a subtle difference that makes Little Witch Academia unique. It additionally serves as a way for Akko, and us by extension, to be continuously wowed by her new magical surroundings. If the opening sequence is anything to go by, Akko will figure out how to fly on a broom just as well as her peers eventually. The question is of how she’ll get there.