I watched the first episode of the Little Witch Academia and became interested in its history. This post is a brief summary of my findings and impressions.

Most of you probably know that studio Trigger (Kill la Kill) was formed by former Gainax (Evangelion) animators, but the details are quite interesting.

This video by The Canipa Effect provides a good overview of the studio Trigger history.

The story of brothers is especially fascinating to me. They learned a lot by themselves and mostly experimented while attending animation school.

When you look at great artists, be it more traditional painting or animation, a few personal characteristics are always present: infinite curiosity, constant learning, cross-training. For example, Yoshinari studied many different animators extensively, Yoshitoshi Abe studied classical painting at a university, and Ryuichi Sakamoto took breaks during composing to listen to something completely different. That determination is one of the key attributes of the Little Witch Academia’s protagonist.

How did it all start? The following is an excerpt from a 2013 interview with You Yoshinari. He is talking about the original work and now we have the TV series. Highlights of some words and sentences are mine.

Oguro: Changing subject, let’s talk about your latest work, Little Witch Academia. Is the story also an original idea of yours?

Yoshinari: For the idea, yes. We discussed about it to decide of the direction we would give it. Since Anime Mirai is a project to raise young animators, we wanted to make the story in line with that concept. So we wondered if we couldn’t transpose the story of a new animator to something else. Then the first idea was something about a wizard’s apprentice.

Oguro: To ensure that animators participating could identify with the protagonist?

Yoshinari: That was the idea. 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.

Oguro: Oh I see.

Yoshinari: But we also wanted to show that kind of admiration is important. There is the story about Hayao Miyazaki entering the anime industry because he was moved by Panda and the Magic Serpent.

Oguro: About the fact that he admired the heroine?

Yoshinari: 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.

Oguro: That’s the thoughts you placed in Akko’s character.

Yoshinari: Right. Akko’s like someone who joined the industry out of passion but without actual technique, so she can’t draw clean lines for in-betweens. Yet she has that egocentric confidence about being able to draw good key frames despite that. We wanted to transpose that idea in a wizard story, but it doesn’t really appear in the final product.

Oguro: This time, you supervised the whole story while creating the general imagery, and in the meantime you were also coaching younger staff, by repeatedly making them correct their own key frames for example.

Yoshinari: Right. As a matter of fact I shouldn’t have corrected their keys. That’s something they had to do by themselves. But I’m not really qualified for that either.

Oguro: For teaching them?

Yoshinari: Well, I’m not alone in that case. In fact I think most animators don’t know about their own technique since they don’t need to systematize it. They just draw according to a method they elaborated somehow. They don’t have the opportunity take another look at their own work, unless they write manuals like Kogawa-san. That’s why when they’re suddenly asked to explain, they can’t tell concretely how they draw like they usually do. As a way to deal with that, they could draw something, and then ask themselves why they drew it like that, why this works and not that. They need to evaluate their own work and to question it again. That’s the reason why it took me so much time.

Oguro: You need to prepare your own reasons in order to direct other people.

Yoshinari: Exactly. That’s why it’s so time-consuming even to point out futilities. To explain things like “The character is here, so it’s not normal to see her there like this”, I needed to stick sheets together and check layouts one by one, and it happened to me to wonder if that’s actually correct while doing so.

Oguro: So that’s completely different from doing it on your own.

Yoshinari: When I’m on my own I just draw by intuition. The workload would be unbearable if I had to evaluate it each and every time.

Oguro: Because then you would have to phrase it.

Yoshinari: That’s right. I’d have to explain the entire process leading to it, realizing I’m actually doing a very complicated, annoying thing. It would take me time to do all of that, and even if they get introduced with the theory, they still would have difficulties with some points.

Oguro: But it seems like talented people were gathered, even if they’re young.

Yoshinari: That’s what I thought, but each one had his own flaws. If you think about it, really talented animators wouldn’t even need to participate in Anime Mirai (laugh). That’s why I think all new people who participate are facing some kind of difficulty.

Oguro: It’s the first time you have drawn a storyboard as long as this, isn’t it?

Yoshinari: Indeed, even if it’s only about 30 minutes.

Oguro: Yet there are almost 400 cuts.

Yoshinari: It may be a bad habit I got as an animator. I tend to focus on unnecessary things. It didn’t fit into the set length, so we had to cut as much of it as possible… So I’m not at all in position of telling young people what to do. I still lack experience and have far more things to learn than them for now.

Oguro: Although, when I saw your storyboards, I thought you had a clear aspiration for entertainment.

Yoshinari: Sure thing since I made it under Imaishi-san’s supervision (laugh). Of course I want to entertain viewers, but I don’t watch current anime anymore, so I think my sensibility’s become old.

Oguro: So you don’t watch latest anime aimed towards young people?

Yoshinari: No, I don’t. Same thing for those which aren’t for young people. I’ve not even watched A Letter to Momo or Raibow Fireflies which are must-sees for sakuga maniacs. I don’t know why, I’m not interested.

Oguro: Maybe the time for taking new information in has ended.

Yoshinari: No, not really. I think it’s just that it isn’t new.

Oguro: Ah, I see.

Yoshinari: The only hunch I have is that it would certainly be like something which already exists. Well, if I start saying that, I’m even more repetitive myself. But you know, it’s not a problem since there are many things which stimulate me aside of anime.

Source: Yoh Yoshinari Interview

I watched the original work before the first TV episode. Probably, that is a good plan because you’ll be able to compare certain scenes. The very first scene is especially interesting because you can see a certain other important character there. For the TV version, they even went as far as to grey out everyone in the audience except these two characters to make it even more obvious. As for who these characters are, you’ll have to find out yourself 🙂 Also, it is an interesting study of re-imagining a scene. If you had to do it, what would you do?

Michiru Oshima composed the music for TV and movies. Initially, I felt the music was a bit too overbearing in the film, but was adjusted and seemed to work well in the TV version.

I don’t watch many anime these days due to limited time, but I’ll make time to watch this one!

Keep learning, be it anime or anything else. Keep pushing your boundaries, be it science or art. Keep dreaming and reach for the stars! A believing heart is your magic!

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