Little Witch Academia (リトルウィッチアカデミア) (2013)


It’s a stormy October afternoon in Hong Kong, and I’m housebound as a typhoon rages outside. Perfect time to watch whatever is next in my Netflix queue, which happens to be Little Witch Academia. This anime short is one of my few brushes with the genre so I don’t have much for comparison, but I found it a breezy little film that satisfies the Hermione Granger in me. I won’t be rushing to see the sequel, The Enchanted Parade, also on Netflix, but I appreciate this compact package about a girl who learns to have confidence in herself.

The message is wrapped in a story about witches and dragons and superstar chick magicians. A young Akko discovers witchcraft when her parents take her to see Shiny Chariot, a glammed up witch who puts on dazzling shows that leave her audiences in awe. When Akko is older, she enrolls Luna Nova Magical Academy, a muggle in a class full of magic-born girls. Though she has a few close friends, Lotte and Sucy, she is often mocked by the other students for her poor grasp of basic witch skills, like broom riding. She is teased most mercilessly though for her idolization of Shiny Chariot because while Akko is enamored with her conjurations, the wizarding world dislikes Shiny Chariot’s low-brow appeal to the masses. Akko’s classmates argue that her idol gives witches a bad name by relying on attention-grabbing illusions rather than real magic. But what’s real and what’s fake in the witch world? When a treasure hunting exercise results in the accidental release of a dragon, Akko relies on Shiny Chariot’s mantras to try to save her school.

There isn’t anything spectacular about the animation. I wanted the school or the cave where they are looking for treasures to evoke something mysterious and otherworldly, but the artists stuck with boilerplate images. Luna Nova is a single towering column rising above a forest, and the cave is, well, a dark hole. But while that doesn’t bother me, I have always been disturbed by the way girls are depicted in anime. I can practically see up Akko’s school uniform, which stops pretty much where her butt does. Akko’s main nemesis is Diana Cavendish also intrigued me. Brainy, beautiful, blond, and more a woman than a girl, I couldn’t figure out if she was the stereotypical mean girl or the stereotypical hot girl.

Akko is a relatable, bright-eyed heroine though. She’s surprisingly well adjusted; though she knows she’s an outsider, she accepts that role and tries to get on without letting it bother her. Despite the other girls’ disdain for Shiny Chariot, she still knows what she believes. She just needs to put it to better practice. And that would make any Hermione Granger smile.

Released: 2013
Prod: Naoko Tsutsumi
Dir: Yoh Yoshinari
Writer: Masahiko Otsuka
Cast: Megumi Han, Fumiko Orikasa, Michiyo Murase, Yōko Hikasa, Noriko Hidaka, (English Dub) Erica Mendez, Stephanie Sheh, Rachelle Heger, Laura Post, Alexis Nichols
Time: 26 min
Lang: Japanese/English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

Stormy Night (あらしのよるに)

stormy night

Stormy Night joins a long list of films about forbidden friendships and, despite its origins as a children’s book, is surprisingly philosophical and well suited for adults and kids. The movie runs a little long and lacks a distinctive animation style, which is a little disappointing considering the many landscapes used. It also opts for some mechanical and clichéd Looney Tunes gags, but it’s a touching story that proudly wears its heart on its sleeve. When a goat Mei and a wolf Gabu begin to grow close after taking shelter in the same barn one stormy night, they don’t realize how much their friendship will test their loyalties to each other and to their pack or herd, not to mention Gabu’s stomach.

The traumatic opening scene, rather than being a bad start with the promise of better things to come, sets the film’s complex emotional tone. That the animated story involves a pint-sized goat and furry wolf shouldn’t fool you into thinking this is a lightweight tale. It’s a life or death existence for both friends and their fellow goats and wolves, and the two barely get any respite from the realities they face. Mei and his herd must be remain vigilant lest they become goat chow while Gabu and his pack are on a constant chase to fill their stomachs, especially as winter approaches.

The movie tries to put predators and prey on equal footing, but the wolves still come off needlessly evil. Anyone who’s seen The Lion King will recognize the pack leader’s distinctive eye scar, and Gabu’s dim, yappy friends are exceedingly hyena-like. Even Gabu doesn’t seem all that friendly, though few things do compared to Mei’s dewdrop eyes.

Having found a playmate in one another the two vow to remain firm friends, but it’s not long before they are discovered and chastised for this unnatural friendship. Mei’s herd are convinced he’s been tricked by a wolf so clever he doesn’t even need sheep’s clothing. They tell him that Gabu is only feigning good will in order to better track the herd’s movements. At the same time, Gabu’s wolf pals relay with equal certainty their belief that Mei’s fondness for him will turn to hatred once he realizes that his herd have been eaten by the wolves. Both are sent on a mission to exploit the friendship and uncover the real intentions of their enemies.

The suspicion and animosity that threaten this innocent relationship can be difficult to watch. I didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed as Mei and Gabu waxed lyrical about true friendship, though in doing so I easily recalled any number of real-world hostilities in which the simplicity of two people being together is rendered impossible. While kids may not be thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they will at least begin to understand that life is fraught with bitterness but also that love goes a long, long way.

“Star” – theme song by Aiko:

Alt Title: Arashi no Yoru ni
Released: 2005
Dir: Sugii Gisaburō 杉井儀三郎
Writer: Yūichi Kimura 木村祐一
Cast: Nakamura Shidō II 二代目 中村 獅童; Narimiya Hiroki 成宮 寛貴; Takeuchi Riki 竹内 力; Yamadera Kōichi 山寺 宏一; Hayashiya Shōzō IX 九代目 林家 正蔵; Kobayashi Maya 小林 麻耶; Bandō Eiji 板東 英二; Ichihara Etsuko 市原 悦子
Time: 105 min
Lang: Japanese
Country: Japan
Reviewed: 2015