Spectacle and Service — Little Witch Academia and the purpose of magic

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How useful is floating a teapot in the air to serve hot tea?

Although both tea and wine have tannins — in varying amounts depending on steep time and prior to separating grape juice from the stems and skins in the case of wine — the former hardly needs to be aerated. Height is not necessary in the pour. And even if it was, a human could do the same with an equal amount of training.

What is the exact purpose of Diana Cavendish floating her teapot over to her teacher other than to pass her exam? Does she offer a service that couldn’t be provided by human hands?

No, she does not. The action is essentially useless.

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Little Witch Academia has made it clear that magic is a dying art. This idea was in the background of the series since Episode 1, and moved slowly to the forefront come Episode 6 with the Earl of Hanbridge and Andrew Hanbridge’s visit to Luna Nova. Although it may never die out completely — especially with people like Akko Kagari and Diana around — it is well into a twilight age of usefulness. When Andrew asks Akko to prove magic’s worth, she’s unable to do anything aside from a haphazard transformation of his ears, which serves no purpose whatsoever.

Even if Andrew were to pose the same question to a more competent witch, like Diana — with whom he has a childhood history and has seemingly argued this point to a stalemate — there’s little that we see Diana do that would prove useful in the real world beyond spectacle. She excels in all things easily and puts in tremendous amounts of effort on top of her natural talent, yet what purpose does transforming a mouse into a horse serve? Sucy Manbavaran’s concoctions are potent, but don’t provide anything by way of attacks that a physical weapon wouldn’t, and their other benefits are novel but hardly useful aside from experimentation and embarrassment of others.

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“How are lessons about magic this boring?! Isn’t magic supposed to be flashy and all about dreams and miracles?”

-Akko Kagari, Little Witch Academia, Episode 2

Known as one of the best magical institutions in the world, Luna Nova is steeped in austerity. It’s a rigidness that has visibly led the school more quickly down the path to becoming obsolete. In an odd way, Little Witch Academia has this theme in common with another currently-airing anime, Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju — ideas on how to continue a dying art result in conflict between various practitioners, some of whom debate whether it should be continued at all. Luna Nova is on a precipice. The visit from the Earl of Hanbridge — who ensures that the school is in his debt — is sure to be a deciding factor in pushing them over that edge.

There’s also the problem of resources. Magic is not a finite resource, but is also not readily available outside of a power source. Leylines and magically-charged objects like the Sorcerer’s Stone, Shiny Rod, and Shooting Star serve as examples of how magic works within the Little Witch Academia world. Witches can’t simply use magic wherever they want, whenever they want.

Accompanying this framework is an added layer of bureaucracy. The school’s Sorcerer’s Stone is stolen by dragons not as part of an evil plot but as a way of collecting on an overdue loan. Lotte Yanson wants to work with magical tools and summon faeries to fix things, but in order to have that job she requires a magical maintenance license. Despite summoning faeries since she was younger, Lotte still has to go through the proper channels. She remarks that many people press her family to move away from using magical tools. Within the scope of the series, Lotte’s faeries have only done one thing that a human couldn’t — summon the spirit of Annabel Creme’s magical pen, a very magic-specific task with no real-world application.

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In the thick of things is Akko, who loves magic for magic itself. She understands very little about its history or prestige, but wishes to be like her idol, Shiny Chariot, who used flash and show to dazzle and inspire audiences with magic. Both Akko and Diana were influenced by Chariot despite hailing from completely different backgrounds. They’ll end up doing different things with their lives, but ultimately both were inspired to practice magic by Shiny Chariot at a young age. The purpose of magic doesn’t matter much here, but the art of it certainly does.

Returning to Lotte’s faeries and Annabel’s pen, Lotte manages to share her love of her favorite books, night fall, with the current author, thereby inspiring the writer to continue with the series. It’s an action with little purpose outside of art, this time not solely magic, but writing as an art as well. With the myriad of similarities that can be drawn between magic in Little Witch Academia and the anime industry, it’s no surprise that they move beyond anime, encompassing art as a whole. The real world application of Shiny Chariot’s brand of entertainment matters little if it can inspire someone like Diana. That is its purpose, if one has to be assigned at all.

What purpose does magic have?

What purpose does art have?

Although Little Witch Academia will side in favor of the arts emphatically, I’m looking forward to what it has to say en route to that conclusion.

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6 comments

  1. If you seek an answer to the question “What purpose does art/magic have?”, I recommend “The Science of Discworld II” written by the late Sir Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen.

    They ask, what is necessary to make humans human and they come to the conclusion, that “imagination” is an essential part, our ability to tell stories! They also argue, that “magic” and “art” are related to each other. Painting, singing, dancing, they may have started as rituals to share stories between us and with these stories we learned to understand the world.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Science_of_Discworld_II:_The_Globe

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