A lot of attention has been paid to the 26-minute theatrical short Little Witch Academia, which in some quarters is being reported as it being part of Anime Mirai 2013 and the Young Animator Training Project. That, however, seems to be neglecting the fact that the YATP is now in its third (non-consecutive) year and this kind of response was not matched by the shorts for Anime Mirai 2012 or 2010’s Project A. The truth is, the government-funded project to give young animators experience isn’t at the centre of this anime’s popularity. The attention comes from the fact that this is – not counting that one mecha-tastic episode of The IDOLM@STER – the first anime of a decent length to come from Trigger, the studio set up by Gurren Lagann and Dead Leaves director Imaishi Hiroyuki upon his leaving Gainax.
Of course, being part of the Young Animator Training Project, it only makes sense that the animators are not the most immediately recognisable names. But if you imagine that the project would be made and helmed by unknowns, that’s not really how it works – the young animators are trained and funded, but the resultant shorts are not made solely by them. The director here was Yoshinari You, who is in his 40s, like Imaishi worked on Evangelion and did the distinctive character design for Gurren Lagann. This is very obviously his baby – the character designs are reminiscent of the peripheral characters in the Gurren-dan, and like Panty and Stocking skirt the line between current-norm anime prettiness and Western comics, to the point that to the uninitiated this looks ‘not Japanese’. Movements are exaggeratedly cartoonish and physiognomies are malleable, but the animation is lush and fluid and the whole thing brings with it an air of exuberance.
Indeed, this reminded me of Arusu in a lot of ways. The experimental, loose animation. The three central young witches who are not quite like their peers but end up centre of attention. The odd creatures and the huge, impressive dragons. But Arusu had a little more seriousness to it, and Academia is more overtly cutesy and light-hearted.
Academia has proven quite a hit. Certainly it has eclipsed any of its fellow YATP shorts (thus far). And if it establishes a house style for Trigger, the variety will be very welcome. But I’m not going to join the voices crying for a full season. If one comes, I shall likely watch, but it really doesn’t strike me as new ground or something I desperately must see more of. Aside from Arusu, I feel like I can see very similar ground trodden by reading Soul Eater Not! or even Puchimon.