“The show is getting boring. I still like it, but there’s no big bad.”
Naturally, this is paraphrased. Yet a common complaint of the first half of Little Witch Academia‘s television run was that there was no true antagonist. Akko Kagari wasn’t improving fast enough in her magic. Watching her fail episode after episode was becoming tedious. Diana Cavendish wasn’t Akko’s adversary as much as she was her rival. Even then it was a one-sided rivalry. Akko failed most of the time while Diana continued to garner acclaim from her peers and teachers alike.
Episode 13 marked the end of the series’ first half and the end of Akko’s complete failure. With her magic at the Samhain Festival, Akko stepped up and became the witch who impressed her peers and teachers alike. Even the visiting alumni were dazzled.
The series has now entered its second half and a presumed “big bad” — at the very least, a true antagonist — has appeared: Professor Croix.
Yet, I maintain that she too is not a true antagonist. And that Little Witch Academia doesn’t need a big bad to be compelling.
The stakes of Little Witch Academia are high, but difficult to easily define.
Magic — which can stand for anime, animation, or art, among other things — is dying.
What once was a glorious and respected art has neutered itself over the years, becoming obsolete. It’s an object of ridicule to those outside the walls of Luna Nova, drudgery to most inside it. The backdrop of every Little Witch Academia episode is one of an archaic world well in its twilight era.
Like most large-scale problems, different people within the world of Little Witch Academia have varying ideas of how to best carry on the tradition of magic. The most toxic of these is the attitude of Professor Finnelan.
Professor Finnelan is necessary to the narrative but thoroughly unlikeable and unsympathetic due to her role. At every turn she values discipline, order, and appearance over actively nurturing talent. She’s the type of teacher who would turn away a student that genuinely wanted to learn if they didn’t look the part and has shown that she will blatantly favor students who meet her specific qualifications. Witches like Finnelan are feverishly grasping to the old ways of magic, unable to bend the rules one iota even if the passage of time or a specific situation renders those rules obsolete. Little Witch Academia has had no qualms about figuratively pointing at Finnelan and saying, “This is the problem. People like her are the problem.”
Alongside Finnelan there is the staff of Luna Nova, most of whom adhere to the same traditions or are generally incompetent. Headmistress Miranda Holbrooke goes with the flow. For most of the Little Witch Academia this means that she generally follows tradition because that’s what has always been done. Over the course of the series her shortsightedness has cost the school money and resources. In Episode 14, she is immediately enchanted by Professor Croix’s modern magic and brandishes her new magic tablet in Professor Ursula’s face by the end of the episode. Headmistress Holbrooke is kind-hearted — and voices support for Akko despite the troubles she causes — but incompetent. The rest of Holbrooke’s staff aren’t much better.
Episode 14 also introduces would-be villain Croix. We don’t know her precise goals yet — they could be as abstract as advancing magic by any means possible to destroying Luna Nova entirely — but she represents modern magic, or the fusion of magic and modern technology.
Croix is also presented in opposition Chariot. The two know each other, presumably from their own time at Luna Nova, and are pitting against each other visually in the opening, like Diana and Akko. This points to the two being foils not necessarily enemies.
Thus far, Croix is painted in a harsh light. She is manipulative and uses her skill to effectively trick the Luna Nova staff into implementing her system of magical robots. Yet, it’s difficult to imagine Little Witch Academia using the character of Croix to denigrate techonology. Finnelan is still a far worse adversary for magic than Croix — clinging to tradition while ignoring possibility.
Little Witch Academia‘s most celebrated character is that of Shiny Chariot. Chariot was not naturally talented but remarkably passionate. All she needed was hard work and dedication to get her to where she wanted to be. Although Chariot has been discarded by the magical world, she affected multitudes of people with her showmanship. She brought the figurative magic to literal witches’ magic.
Now Akko looks to follow a similar path.
Akko was always a stand-in for a young animator who underestimated how much hard work, practice, and yes, dull repetition, transforms a person with raw passion into the best in their field. In the words of Yoh Yoshinari, “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.”
Solving the problem of magic dying isn’t something that can be accomplished by one person alone. Magic cannot be saved with an attitude like Finnelan’s, nor the wishy-washy agreeable nature of Holbrooke, nor solely relying on technology like Croix. Like any art, learning tradition is important but not everything. Using new techniques or technology isn’t everything.
Even passion isn’t everything.
No one thing will save magic. Both tradition and innovation are important. They shouldn’t oppose each other. Rather, they should support each other with passion driving a person forward. Little Witch Academia isn’t finally getting to the plot, that same plot has always been the backdrop. With Croix, the series gives us not a big bad, but another viewpoint to add to the larger picture.