On Studio Trigger and Inspiration: Yoh Yoshinari’s Little Witch Apprentices

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“The theme was about a young animator who joins the industry looking up to a -sorry for the term- lowbrow late-night magical girl anime. So he’s mocked by people around him.”

-Yoh Yoshinari on Little Witch Academia, interview with Animestyle (2013)

Whenever I think of Studio Trigger, the first thing that comes to mind is a line from Ryuko Matoi. The conclusion of Trigger’s Kill la Kill essentially boils down to Ryuko facing off against  Ragyo Kiryuin, allowing both women to shout their respective philosophies at each other — most of which appear in the bold, red lettering that the series is so fond of for emphasis.

They both fiercely believe in their individual outlooks to the point where Ragyo finds it impossible to digest Ryuko’s assertion of an indomitable human spirit. “What is this nonsense?!” Ragyo screams, to which Ryuko simply responds, “Nonsense is our thing!”

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To some, it may be a cop-out that absolves Studio Trigger from having to explain exact hows and whys. However, one person’s nonsense is another’s meaning. All of Trigger’s original series — Kill la Kill, Kiznaiver, and Space Patrol Luluco — wear their influences on their visual sleeves, especially when said influences are from their own catalog or former studio GAINAX.

A criticism — at the very least, a comment that causes friction — of anime today is that the animators themselves have been influenced by anime only, rather than real life. Legacy animators like Hayao Miyazaki have credited what they see as anime’s derivative nature and lack of creativity to the fact that animators are drawning on their experience with anime, not actual life experiences. In a 2013 interview with Animestyle, Little Witch Academia creator and Studio Trigger (née GAINAX) animator Yoh Yoshinari talks about his own experiences with Osamu Tezuka’s works and how Tezuka is impossible for animators to escape in their drawings — another testament to how consuming a certain aesthetic over time will leave its mark on your own art regardless. At the same time, Yoshinari asserts that no artists at the time were drawing Tezuka’s work correctly.

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Yoh Yoshinari wanted to create a story that fit the idea of a young animator entering the scene whose inspiration came from low-brow anime rather than more esteemed media or real-life experiences. In Little Witch Academia, he gives us not one character who represents this viewpoint but two: Atsuko “Akko” Kagari and Diana Cavendish.

Akko is the obvious dunce, the would-be sorcerer’s apprentice who acts before she thinks and tries to skip steps two through nine on her way from one to ten. Her idol is a witch performer named Shiny Chariot. When Akko was younger, she saw Chariot perform in an outdoor venue — much like a casual summer concert, just a step up from a street performance — and Chariot inspired her to become a witch.

“Akko’s like someone who joined the industry out of passion but without actual technique, so she can’t draw clean lines for in-betweens. Yet she has that egocentric confidence about being able to draw good key frames despite that.”

-Yoh Yoshinari on Little Witch Academia, interview with Animestyle (2013)

Clinging to her love of Shiny Chariot, Akko enters the prestigious Luna Nova Academy despite her lack of a magical bloodline. Once lessons start, she laments that classes on magic can be boring and dull. The magic she knows is Chariot’s — flashy and made for a large stage. Since she is an average human with no magical descent, she will have to work even harder to become a witch, yet studying is the last thing for which her personality is suited.

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“Magic is cultivated through the accumulation of lasting traditions and assiduous research. It’s not something that those prone to temporary diversions can learn.”

-Diana Cavendish, Little Witch Academia, Episode 2

Diana Cavendish is presented as Akko’s opposite. She is diligent, learned, and has a renowned magical birthright. However, Diana was at the same performance that inspired Akko, with presumably the same stars in her eyes.

In Little Witch Academia‘s second episode, Diana shows that even their temperaments may not be so different. Akko is known for skipping steps and thinking that she’ll be able to get by on sheer belief and force of will. Meanwhile, Diana is studious, but her position as the school’s idol and great hope of the magical world has made her overconfident. Diana presses on with what she assumes is right, even if she comes to the incorrect conclusion, like seeing the Papilliodya chrysalises as parasites.

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In Yoh Yoshinari terms, Diana would be a well-trained, up-and-coming animator who insists that her admittedly gorgeous key frames fit within the director’s vision, even if they visually do not. This isn’t exactly like Akko, who just jumps into the fray with no thought, but they do share an important influence — the low-brow, all flash and no substance magic of Shiny Chariot.

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11 comments

  1. LWA’s animation expresses more character building than the script itself. It’s quite amazing that such formulaic characters have a wealth of potential in terms of character development. Anyways, this was an enjoyable read.

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