The direct-to-video animation market in Japan used to be a hotbed for up-and-coming animators to be able to spread their wings and show off the full extent of their talents by either creating their own independent short films or adapting comic and novel series'. From the eighties to the mid-nineties, video stores were flooded with many different genres and styles of Original Video Animations (OVAs). Some of my favorites from this era include The Guyver (1989), Riding Bean (1989), and M.D. Geist (1986).
Unfortunately, with the turn that the Japanese economy's taken since then, animation studios have become much more averse to taking any risks. These days, the only DTV animated features being released in Japan are either TV show tie-ins or pornography. Thankfully, an annual project conceived two years ago, called "Anime Mirai", in which the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs funds on-the-job training for new animators, has been resulting in more independent OVAs being released lately. The short film that I'm writing about now, Little Witch Academia, is 2013's entry from Trigger, the animation studio that brought us the amazing Inferno Cop.
After attending a magic show by the dazzling Shiny Chariot, a brash, starry-eyed young girl named Akko enrolls in an academy for witches, but soon discovers it's not as easy as she hoped. She falls asleep in class, her spells backfire on her, and she's bullied by a girl named Diana, who both looks and acts like she might as well be Draco Malfoy's younger sister. When Akko tells her friends that she wants to be like Shiny Chariot, they say that she has a reputation for giving off the wrong impression of what witches do, and is probably a fraud. When it comes time for an exam that requires the students to navigate a labyrinth and seek out treasure, Akko jumps at the chance to both prove her worth and vindicate her idol.
Little Witch Academia sports a nice, safe story that doesn't break any new ground whatsoever, but it's competently written. The plot's solid, and it gives the audience enough of a reason to cheer on its hero. However, an original story was not the intended goal here, since it was created solely as a way for a young artist to put his talents on display, which it greatly excels at. The character designs are original, the colors are vibrant, and the animation is very fluid, which makes it really stand out from what's considered the norm for anime these days.
This was what the OVA movement was all about: letting artists showcase their talents by allowing them to take risks and not feel the need to conform to the industry standard in order to sell home video copies and merchandise. Little Witch Academia oozes that sense of artistic freedom, and in doing so, feels like a breath of fresh air. At only twenty-five minutes, it's able to maintain a good pace and doesn't drag on at all. I recommend it to those who like independent animation and want to show their support for it.