In Japan, the government funded Young Animator Training Project grants money to companies for the express purpose of passing on animation expertise to the next generation through on-the-job training with novice animators working with more experienced talent. One of the projects that were created under this program was Little Witch Academia, a charming and well crafted short film that has met with a lot of positive reaction from the fans. A sequel is being created, partially funded through a kickstarter campaign, and if that one is a success there's talk of a TV series. The original has been released on Blu-ray in Japan on a region-free disc with English subtitles in a very nice package. It is a bit pricey, but die-hard fans will sure to appreciate it.
Akko has wanted to be a witch since she was a young girl and saw her idol, Shiny Chariot, at a live performance. Though her parents had no magical ability, she's made it to the academy where witches are trained, and things aren't quite what she expected. The classes are either boring (magic history) or terrifying (broom riding) and all of the cool young witches look down on her because she's a Shiny Chariot fan. (They believe the star is just a hack who gives people the wrong idea about witches.) Even with these problems Akko has managed to make some good friends including Sucy (pronounced "Susie" in the show) who likes to experiment with potions and is willing to try them on her roommates and Lotte, a quite, shy girl who worries a lot.
Things get a bit exciting when the teachers send their students on a treasure hunt. The open up the deep subterranean vault and teams of young witches compete to see who can bring back the most valuable treasure. There's a three hour time limit, and the deeper you go the more dangerous it becomes... but the treasure becomes more valuable. Akko is determined to beat her rival, Diana, but the snooty witch is pretty good at slinging spells (a skill that Akko lacks) and is very competitive herself. When Diana finds a sealed casket she ignores the warnings and releases a cute baby dragon, which soon grows to gigantic proportions. Could the staff that Akko discovered really be the same as Shiny Chariot's, and even if it is, will it be able to subdue an out of control dragon?
There's a lot to like about this show. In just half an hour the creators were able to establish the setting and populate it with likable characters. Yes, some of the students are a bit stereotypical, but it's nearly impossible to flesh out a supporting character in just one half hour show.
More than the characterization and story, the show has a lovely design. The opening sequence alone rivals the animation at many big-time studios and the whole program has been lovingly crafted. The action scenes are smooth, and the creature designs are very good. It's easy to get pulled into the show and when it's done you'll sigh that there isn't any more.
For North American buyers the price will probably seem a little steep as anime costs a lot more in Japan than it does in the US. At 6000 yen, about $60 American, it is a lot of a half hour show. The extras do go a long way toward taking the sting out of the price however and hard core otaku will want to own a copy of this attractive set.
This release includes more than just the movie... it's a very attractive set that comes with a Blu-ray disc and the CD soundtrack in a beautiful book-like case as well as a 112-page art book. See the extras section for more details.
The 1.78:1 image looks amazing. The colors are bright and vivid, the lines are tight, and there aren't any compression artifacts. The level of detail is also very good. It's an impressive looking short film.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is equally impressive. The disc comes with the original Japanese soundtrack (there is no dub track) but there are a slew of optional subtitles including Japanese, English, Spanish, Chinese, German, French, and Italian. The battle scenes are enveloping with the full soundstage taking part and there are sections that will really make you appreciate your subwoofer. The dialog is crisp and there aren't any audio defects.
This set comes with some cool bonus material. One the disc itself is a making-of featurette that runs over twice as long as the anime itself (66 minutes verses the 26 minute run time of the film). The only subtitles available are for an English translation, but that's suits me. The documentary takes viewers through the creation of the film, from the storyboards and bringing on the new animators to the final product. It's very interesting, especially if you've ever wondered how an anime show is produced.
In addition there's also a very nice art book. The 112-page tome is printed in color and has literally hundreds of images from character sketches to rough drafts of sequences and much more. The text is only in Japanese, unfortunately, but it's still amazing to look at even if you can't read the text.
Packed in the attractive book-like case are both the Blu-ray disc and a CD with the soundtrack of the show.
The show itself is really great and well worth tracking down. Whether it's worth the price for the Japanese import is hard to gauge. On one hand it is a bit pricey, but on the other this probably won't be released in R1 in any other format any time soon. The extras do go a long way toward taking the sting out of the price however and hard core otaku will want to own a copy of this attractive set. Recommended.