studio trigger

Little Witch Academia on inspiration (again), Panda and the Magic Serpent, and Episode 22

“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. 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, creator of Little Witch Academia in an interview with AnimeStyle (2013)

I’ve never personally felt betrayed by by a piece of media, but I can identify with the feeling of being inspired by something that just isn’t good.

Most recently, I experience this feeling after returning to Digimon Tri.  Disappointed, the latest episodes prompted me and a friend to return to the original series, where we made a shocking discovery as lifetime Digimon fans.

The first two episodes of Digimon . . . just aren’t good.

There is barely any animation, and what little animation these episodes do have — along with still frames themselves — is often recycled within that same episode. No, this isn’t an English dub or fault of U.S. distributor Saban Entertainment, it’s a reflection of how low-budget this series was when it first aired.

This is to say nothing of the story’s merit — and Digimon will always have a special place in my heart as the first online fandom that I really became involved with — but the actual animation is awful. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed how bad it truly was when I first watched it, and I’m not certain that I’ll be able to watch it again.

Little Witch Academia‘s emotional narrative is centered around the strongest iteration of this exact feeling.

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Little Witch Academia and “a big bad” (or lack thereof)

“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.

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Little Witch Academia on “magic (anime) is dying.”

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“Luna Nova is reaching the end of its usefulness anyway. All I want is to collect on it before its value drops to nothing.”

-Fafnir to Akko Kagari, Little Witch Academia, Episode 5

How many times have we heard the phrase, “anime is dying?”

How many times have we heard its sister phrase, “anime was a mistake?”

Both of these memetic sayings have been repeated ad nauseam, accompanied by the latest screencaps or bits of dialogue from currently airing series, across various forms of social media. The latter is a misattributed quote to legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki, subtitled over scenes from the 2013 documentary on Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.

Although “anime is a mistake” is a false line, Miyazaki has continuously and cantankerously expressed derision towards the modern anime industry — among many other things — in interviews and his own memoirs. His attitude is not a recent shift, but an opinion reiterated and repeated over time. “Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people, you know,” he said in an interview for Golden Time (translated here on rocketnews24). “It’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans. And that’s why the industry is full of otaku!”

Yet the inspiration of so-called lowbrow anime to a fledgling animator is what Little Witch Academia is all about. “There is the story about Hayao Miyazaki entering the anime industry because he was moved by Panda and the Magic Serpent,” Little Witch Academia director Yoh Yoshinari said in an interview about the original OVA. 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.”

This will be a bit of a stretch for some, but another framework through which to view Little Witch Academia is a continuing celebration of the anime fan.

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Indulging our lowbrow influences — Little Witch Academia

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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.

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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)

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