Management: I’m aware I basically plot out the most standard possible genre piece here. The point was not to outline something potentially groundbreaking, it was to illustrate the amount of work a first episode generally has to do regarding narrative structure. A really great first episode would require a much larger infusion of creativity than the structural hack job I perform here.
Little Witch Academia was awesome! Do you think it could be turned into a full series?
It was great, but it was also solidly self-contained – it told a fun, breezy story that doubled as a metaphor for that “showy entertainment is needed to inspire the young” theme (words on that if you’re interested), and everything was written/characterized to the extent needed for this one thing. It answered all narrative questions it raised and fully articulated its thematic intent – I think it’d have to be quite different to work as a series.
Can you elaborate on that? What made the OVA unsuitable as a first episode, and what would have to be changed to make it work?
Well, the main problem is that like I said, it basically answered all of its own questions, which is something a first episode generally doesn’t do (though this obviously isn’t a rule, and I’m not the story police – for instance, Cowboy Bebop’s first episode is virtually entirely self-contained, though it does actually raise the core theme of the difficulty of escaping your past identity and choices). Anyway! The conflicts Little Witch Academia raised were:
- The protagonist gaining acceptance and respect at her school.
- The protagonist proving the legitimacy of her idol.
- The protagonist resolving her specific conflict with her rival.
- The treasure hunt/dragon fight.
Additionally, the thematic point that I’m fairly sure this show as trying to make was:
“Ostensibly low-art popular entertainment like the flashy shows of this protagonist’s idol are actually not just entertaining, they are incredibly important as inspiration for the next generation – as an example, here is a story of that actually occurring within a piece of this kind of entertainment created by a group of people who were in this way inspired.”
The OVA resolves every one of those conflicts entirely (she saves the school, thus resolving 1 and 4 – she does it by using the wand of her idol, thus resolving 2 – she ends the series by being rescued by and bonding with her rival, thus resolving 3). While doing these things, it acts in its entirety as the thematic argument I outlined. This is all great storytelling, and I think the piece totally works on a surface and thematic level because of it.
However, if I were to make a full series of this, I feel something like this would act more as “proof of concept” than a first episode – you can’t really have the first episode of your show not leave any suspense, or unanswered questions, or possible new avenues for conflict, or not-fully-explored themes.
How would I go about fixing this?
The world would certainly have to be a bit broader – the current cast/characterization would possibly work for a very simple monster-of-the-week thing, but seeing as how we’re trying to make a good series here and the OVA has already displayed the creator’s interest in actually raising interesting thematic arguments, I’d like to aim a bit higher than that.
Currently, a decent bit of runtime in this OVA is dedicated to articulating the various beats of the thematic argument (the initial performance, arguments both with her rival and with her friends about her validity, all the business with the wand, the final reconciliation) – in a full series, I wouldn’t recommend this, and would probably just have a hint or two of this thematic concern.
The surface conflict would probably have to be shaved a bit and tuned down as well – having our hero save the school from a dragon probably works better for a one-episode OVA than a series that’s supposed to rise in tension throughout, plus having her save the school immediately too easily resolves the conflict of her finding her place at the school as someone who hasn’t come from a classic wizarding background.
Instead, we’d probably want a little more runtime dedicated both to characterizing her friends and rival a little more deeply, perhaps providing first glimpses of a couple more secondary characters for future conflicts, and probably providing a more full picture of daily life at the school. I feel one of the main strengths of this material is “Harry Potter but as an anime with vivid, humorous animation,” and one of the main strengths of Harry Potter was, in my opinion, how entertaining they made life at the school seem even in the absence of any crazy tension or dark forces. Again, since we’re stretching the darker stuff across a greater number of episodes here, I feel the first episode would probably be lighter in tone in general, and ride more on its humor than its adventure-adrenaline rush, as more pieces of the starting template are set in place.
That’s not to say there wouldn’t be a conflict, though – my first instinct would be to have our Protagonist’s desire to prove herself result in some disastrous consequences, with some theatrical conflict that would hopefully complicate the rivalry between her and Rival, possibly accidentally unveil a hint (perhaps only to the audience) of some larger, darker conflict to come, and likely clue the Protagonist in to the possibility that her Idol exists somewhere at the school. This would hopefully offer plenty of opportunity for the story to go in a variety of directions and hints of things to come while still offering immediate entertainment through humor, likable characters, immediately understandable rivalry, the first steps in exploring a very imaginative world, and a fun, brief dose of action to top it off.
Anyway. Those are my first thoughts on how I’d go about converting this to a series.