Well that was just adorable. Little Witch Academia is a short one-shot anime about a little girl that wants to follow in the footsteps of a performing witch. She gets herself into a prestigious academy for witches, where she she struggles to keep up academically. On top of her problems in class, she learns that the rest of witch culture has a very low opinion of her childhood idol. When a classmate accidentally unleashes a terrible menace from underneath the school, she gets a chance to prove herself and maybe redeem her hero a bit in the process. Good stuff.
Back in January of 2011 a show that held just about zero appeal to me aired. It had a dog-choking Japanese name that meant nothing to me, was clearly about a pink-haired magical girl and what looked like a cat with rabbit ears hanging out of its cat ears. Why on Earth would I watch such a thing, I thought. So I didn’t. Turns out I was missing out.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica isn’t your father’s magical girl fare. It’s not a lighthearted tale of some Mary-Sue heroine saving the world repeatedly with the power of love and friendship, though it takes careful pains to look like it is. Here we get the tale of Madoka, a first-year junior high student that is warned by a mysterious stranger not to accept any wishes granted by odd creatures, and definitely not to become a magical girl. What an odd thing to we warned about, as there’s no such thing as wish-granting creatures or magical girls so far as Madoka knows. Enter Kyubey, the aforementioned mutant-cat creature that, predictably, offers her a wish as payment for her becoming a magical girl.
What follows is a gritty, sometimes shocking story of hubris, betrayal, tragedy, loss, personal sacrifice, and perseverance. Clocking in at twelve half-hour episodes and of a unique visual style, I highly recommend giving this title a chance.
Hyouka revolves around a boy named Oreki Houtarou. He’s very average. What distinguishes him from other average-joe main characters in Japanese animation is that he is very intentionally average. He doesn’t like to exert himself or get excited about things, so he only does enough studying to pass his classes, he doesn’t get involved in sports or club activities, and has no discernible hobbies. Rather than pursuing the rose-colored life that every other anime protagonist dreams of, he seeks a calm grey existence. All of this ends when he receives a letter from his pushy older sister, who is up to something-or-other abroad. She insists that he join the Classics Club, of which she had been a member, to prevent it from being discontinued by the school. Figuring it is less effort to fill out a form and be a member of a club with no other members than to put up with his sister, he capitulates.
Lo, he ends up not being the only member. Enter Chitanda Eru, the aforementioned high-class girl. She is Oreki’s opposite in many ways, and quickly finds herself pestering Oreki into actually doing… anything. Eight episodes in, the general plot formula goes something like this: Oreki shows up to class or the Classics Club’s room, one of the ancillary characters brings something up that gets Chitanda’s attention, Chitanda cannot figure out something about whatever it was, and she pressures Oreki into figuring it out for her.
Hyouka has the production values we would expect from Kyoto Animation: very good. The character designs are distinctive without being over-the-top, the animation itself is expressive and thoughtfully done. The hand-held camera work from Episode Eight works quite well; it took a few moments for me to notice how good it was, which is generally a good sign. You don’t want these things to stand out too much, right?
Eight episodes in, and not a dud yet. Highly recommended, go see it.