Thoughts on Little Witch Academia (TV)

lwatv-3

Oh, yeah. I was watching this at one point, huh?

For those who need a little refresher (I did, too), my Early Impressions post will be linked to fill in some context as to what made me put this on-hold for so long in the first place. Well, it’s not entirely the reason, but it casts a shadow much larger than what many would expect.

Its so-called “blandness” is a vast generalization of what the series entails. Its chaotic animation and the subsequent style it presents makes it a bouncy title well worth its fantasy premise. This is not, however, something of a Kill la Kill presentation, where characters are literally breaking the laws of physics and common sense. A “controlled chaos” sort of presentation, carefully picking its moments of whimsical rambunctiousness. More than the common series, it’s underwhelming for a Trigger-animated show. Not that I necessarily hold that against it, but it’s a thought.

lwatv-1

In all honesty, the “Disney-esque” quality of the series—that never goes away—is the primary fuel for my empty entertainment gauge. It feels standard, predictable, formulaic, and the characters are primarily one-note personalities that are only acknowledged as role-takers, save a few major characters. How everything splendidly fits into every detail, every affordable moment… when the moments only ebb sporadically as the writer remembers a character hasn’t been given an episode arc. Sucy’s a pretty cool character, huh? One episode of development. How about Lotte? One episode of development. How about Andrew, the formal son of the pride-obsessed Colin Firth look-a-like? About two episodes of development. He gets little squirts here and there throughout later episodes that accumulate into about two full episodes. Those with more than a glance of development are Diana, Akko, and Chariot; Akko’s the main character.

There was one time where I watched a video of Trey Parker and Matt Stone (creators of South Park) explaining the specifics of good storytelling. They mocked the idea of linearity in a story—this happens, then this happens, then this happens, and so on. What they felt was more important in an immersive story was how the behavior of one character affects another, and the situation of the narrative as a whole, while another character goes through various circumstances of their own in the same timeframe (essentially how most South Park episodes are structured). Little Witch Academia, as I’m sure many could assume upon me telling this small aside, falls into the former category of their argument of “This happens, then this happens, then this happens…” In this case, it makes the continual production of Akko’s time as a witch and the misadventures along the way feel too isolated from one another, and wholly too inconsequential as her character barely develops along the way. Not until the last three of four episodes did I feel at all caring towards the ever-passionate characters involved, and even that is vanquished by the final episode’s horribly uncreative example of THE POWER OF EMOTIONS!!!

lwatv 4

One could make the guess that at this point in the post, I’m leaning towards a negative score for the series’s overall quality. That is incorrect. Despite how ordinary I find the process, it is a process filled with spirit and strangely humorous tidbits. Chum Lee is in this anime. What the fuck is Chum Lee doing in this anime? Why are there so many random references in this anime? What kind of drugs is the production staff on to think up some of the things that take place in this series? I make it sound insane, don’t I? Unfortunately, most of these are very small in weight, and do little towards the serious aspects of its story or characters. They are, in some respect, little bones placed within the meat of the steak.

At the same time, its technical qualities are fairly good, whether it be animation, vocal performances, or the validity of the events that transpire. True, some leniency is involved with fantasy, but nothing within the series felt too much like the carpet effectively being yanked out from one’s skinny jeans. Only extravagantly ordinary in its execution of high-octane emotional fervor. Giving this series a negative score would require me to almost hate this series, which I don’t by any means. Doing so would imply that this series has any drastic flaws—ones aside from personal preference and occasionally formulaic clauses.

lwatv 5

What can one expect going into Little Witch Academia? The unexpected, when it comes to humor and the manner in which a situation is “resolved” for the structure of a specific episode. Otherwise, a toned-down animation explosion by means of Trigger Studios, with a heavier focus on fulfilling the basic evoking of human passion and dream-chasing. This kind of thing seems up my alley, and yet the series is one I can’t help but find myself disappointed with. When all’s over with, it does little to distinguish itself from others, who similarly provide the same mission of bombarding one with gleeful enthusiasm, though admittedly with half the charm. Trigger can produce some wacky stories, but it may be a while before it can make anything as incoherently amazing as Kill la Kill again.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Day Sixteen: Mononoke Hime (MotM 2017)

princess mononoke 1

It’s about time. After nearly falling asleep with Spirited Away and only bordering the line of magical entertainment with Kiki’s Delivery Service, Studio Ghibli has finally managed to crack open my world of imagination with Mononoke Hime, or Princess Mononoke. What it lacks in subtlety and good vibes it more than makes up for in an exciting and sobering atmosphere. If I may describe it in popular video game terms, this is the Twilight Princess of Ghibli’s library.

Right off the bat, there’s a notable lack of depth with the characters and the narrative. Some may consider it cliché, and they’d probably be justified for it. It’s a relatively straightforward story of blurring good and evil, with a heavy focus on environmentalism and a Man vs. Spirituality angle coming in about halfway through. It’s not something that will win awards for its writing, nor is it something that will blow the minds of anyone who’s read any story ever. While Studio Ghibli isn’t typically noted for amazing stories, after seeing spirited Away, I leave with the hindsight that Princess Mononoke could’ve done more.

princess mononoke 2

Still, the film survives through its grim outer shell. It was around the time the male lead decapitated a man with a single shot from his bow and arrow that I perked up in my seat. This is the kind of imagery one can expect. Slicing, dicing, bloodshed, and oozing, demonic tentacles. There’s nothing wrong with being family-friendly or magical through means of naivety and whimsy, but something about Ghibli’s use of animation and the “epicness” of narrative grandeur feels so much better under Mononoke‘s direction. A clear focus, the quest to dissolve it, and finding all new conflict along the way has a way of making things more interesting without relying on the depth of the overall story. In a sense, my Legend of Zelda reference describes this film in more ways than one, as the magic of adventure is very much present throughout.

Someone on Twitter predicted I wouldn’t like the characters in this film (You know who you are). Looking at them objectively, they’re not entirely round, but not entirely flat. Development flatlines for most upon their initial introduction, though some have a different side revealed through interaction with others. Had I needed to grade it, it would probably be in a ‘C’ range, with characters doing what they have to do to keep things interesting, but not enough to make them impactful or memorable long-term. No characters stand out from one another, though the male and female lead have a natural chemistry based on one discovering more about the humanity she has that she constantly rejects. The male lead… well, his only admission is that he finds the female lead “beautiful.” Men, am I right?

princess mononoke 5

Comparisons to other Ghibli films aside, Princess Mononoke on its own has more depth to it than, say, epics told by word-of-mouth. Environmentalism is present quite a bit, with attitudes toward the forest (which translates to most of nature) directly relating to a character’s personality and ambitions. Some, such as the female lead and her wolf family, hold the forest and its spiritual beings to high esteem, warding off all who dare to encroach. The Ironmakers, a group of workers directly under an ambitious female leader, are more practical, seeing the forest and its spirits as roadblocks to their desires. This could almost be seen as a new-look Manifest Destiny, a slogan used by olden settlers as an excuse to expand the United States as far as possible for their means of power and productivity. The groundworks of a decisive divide linger in the background, reinforced by the repetition of characters accusing the male lead of choosing sides. Said male lead, try as he might to be neutral, ends up favoring one side more than another, which suits his role in the argument.

princess mononoke 3

An issue I have with the sort of “gray” approach the film tries to have is that it eventually settles to one side. The ending creates an ambiguous happy ending for all those involved, immediately after facing the wrath of going against one particular “side” of the argument at hand. One can pass this off as a teaching of moral lessons, but at what point does a moral become an opinion? Environmentalism isn’t necessarily a clear-cut evil aspect along the lines of rape or murder. Just to reiterate, it’s not that it promotes environmentalism, but that it takes a fictional setting and works it into a moral message that isn’t entirely accepted and promotes it as “the right or wrong choice.”

On the discussion of endings, Mononoke’s ending felt somewhat anticlimactic. It’s one thing to have all the conflict go away, it’s another to have it all literally dissolve on top of the characters. And such little time to think over everything that happened! The final resolution comes to fruition and then the movie ends after a couple lines from the surviving cast. What a minimalist way to rush the end. I would’ve expected something a little more insightful, something that felt as though it simmered the ingredients to bring them to a thorough state. It felt more like flipping pancakes.

princess mononoke 4

It’s by and large my favorite Ghibli film thus far. How ironic that a viewer who normally indulges in symbolism and subtext wrapped in flamboyant characters could find such amusement with a relatively tame story with semi-flat characters. I suppose it’s the type of simplicity that works when all other aspects are competent enough to work, with a strong emphasis on the way its presented. Needless to say, Princess Mononoke has amazing animation and design. Personally, I think it’s the best movement-wise of all the Ghibli films I’ve seen. The perfect wrapping for a film that entertains more than it impresses, but has enough vitality to make up for it.

Final Score: 8/10

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!