When I was younger, I consumed books. Every Saturday morning was spent pouring through another story after breakfast until I was kicked outside by my parents to do yardwork. When I fell ill — this happened fairly regularly — books would pile up underneath my pillow. I slept flat, without a pillow or on my arm, because the pillow concealed books from my parents. After they checked in on me before going to bed themselves, I would turn my nightlight on, curl up, and continue reading.
To this day, I don’t sleep on a pillow. To this day, my parents still believe that I was afraid of the dark until I was well into high school.
In fifth grade, I was inspired to play the piano after seeing the Boston Symphony Orchestra play Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” A renowned, and generally well-liked work, there’s no shame in saying that “Pictures at an Exhibition” was an inspiration. It makes for a cute anecdote— one where an elusive sense of so-called good taste is implied.
There’s far more shame in saying that you were inspired to become a writer from Ann M Martin’s Baby-Sitter’s Club series, RL Stine’s Goosebumps series, or Michael Stackpole’s Rogue Squadron — the latter of which skirts fanfiction territory, inviting even more derision. Inspiration is something that’s deeply personal, regardless if your impetus for picking up writing comes from Stephenie Meyer’s twilight or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
Whenever I write about Little Witch Academia, I return to this quote from an interview with director Yoh Yoshinari.
“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. But we also wanted to show that kind of admiration is important. There is the story about Hayao Miyazaki entering the anime industry because he was moved by Panda and the Magic Serpent. Then he watched the movie again afterwards and was disappointed by how bad it was (laugh). Yet, even if it’s actually not enjoyable at all, it can be irreplaceable for that person. What’s important is the feelings you got from watching it, and the fact that you had admiration for it. That’s the theme we were looking for.”
-Yoh Yoshinari on Little Witch Academia, interview with Animestyle (2013)
Little Witch Academia is, among many other things, a series about our influences and inspiration. The series’ protagonist, Akko Kagari, is famously known for her idolization of Shiny Chariot — a flashy witch who is looked down upon by the magical community. Little does she know that Luna Nova’s top student and idol, Diana Cavendish, was also inspired by the same, “lowbrow” witch.
“night fall is a series of novels that have been a huge hit all around the world! A literary epic encompassing every genre imaginable and presented as a historic fiction novel for girls!”
-Lotte Yanson, Little Witch Academia, Episode 4
The series expands on this idea further in Episode 4, revealing Lotte Yanson as a night fall superfan. Little Witch Academia‘s version of twilight, night fall is an amalgamation of Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling vampire series and a long-running shounen manga. With a whopping 365 volumes, night fall is written by Annabel Creme, a witch who has been writing the series for the past 120 years.
Unlike Akko, who is instructed by her idol, Shiny Chariot/Professor Ursula, at Luna Nova but none the wiser, Lotte comes face to face with night fall‘s elusive author, Annabel. After winning a night fall quiz, Lotte is given a special pen and confirms Annabel’s secret — the current Annabel Creme is the twelfth Annabel. Furthermore, this Annabel is not a witch, but was chosen as night fall‘s next author by a magical fountain pen — one that Lotte herself nearly inherits.
“I understand why you want to be Chariot, but I never wanted to be like Annabel. She can do things that I can’t. I enjoy cheering people on like that.”
-Lotte Yanson, Little Witch Academia, Episode 4
In Lotte, Little Witch Academia presents a different facet of inspiration. Lotte admires Annabel and firmly believes in her abilities. She credits Annabel for what makes night fall such an inspiration, but unlike Akko, doesn’t want to become the next Annabel.
Both Akko and Lotte are unashamed in their devotion. Akko, who is already written off as a failure and a commoner by most, continuously shouts her love of Shiny Chariot, ignoring Chariot’s poor standing in the magical world. Unlike Diana’s lackeys, Hannah and Barbara — one of whom couches her love for night fall in the tried-but-true fashion of “let’s go to the event and see just how dumb it is” — Lotte is fully open about her love of the series.
The story she describes sounds like a mess, but it’s her mess and she genuinely loves it. This love convinces the twelfth Annabel to return to writing, despite continuous hate from vocal subsections of her fanbase. Annabel admits that it was her own love of night fall growing up that inspired her to become an author of night fall.
This skirts an interesting discussion of inspiration in anime that’s been going on for a while. Many write off a lot of series as derivative and devoid of inspiration. Little Witch Academia isn’t arguing that anime series are not these things, but making a case that the feelings experienced and emotional resonance is precious, even if the work itself is not good. As Yoh Yoshinari says, “Even if it’s actually not enjoyable at all, it can be irreplaceable for that person. What’s important is the feelings you got from watching it, and the fact that you had admiration for it.”
I still have admiration for The Baby-Sitters Club, even though only 60-80 of the 213 novels were written by Ann M Martin herself. It’s not high art, but I remember those feelings fondly.