Witches — basically the national symbol for Halloween. When it comes to the spookiest day of the year, how can anyone not think about these robe-clad, wand-waving, potion-brewing women? Moreover, how can any anime fan participate in writing for a spooky-themed month and not talk about LITTLE WITCH ACADEMIA?
LITTLE WITCH ACADEMIA (LWA) follows Atsuko “Akko” Kagari and her adventures at Luna Nova Magical Academy, a school for young witches. Think HARRY POTTER, but with less teenage angst and more charming whimsy. The first half of the series plays out like a magical slice-of-life — each week, Akko gets up to some wacky new antic and she and her friends try to figure out a solution. The second half dips into a more serious plot, as Akko must simultaneously search for a way to unlock the Grand Triskellion, a “world-changing magic,” and prevent mass destruction. It’s a bit of a tone shift, but one thing remains true throughout the series: the clever and consistent use of mythology references.
From thematically-significant numbers to various folklore, LWA doesn’t hold back when it comes to creating a world rich with all sorts of myth and magic. Combining different legends and cultures into a single story, whether as plot devices or Easter eggs, makes for an exciting watch even beyond LWA’s basic premise.
The spirit of Halloween is in the air and with it a longing for myths, folktales, and magic. Aren’t we blessed to have an anime filled to the brim with all of those things? Let’s kick off AniManga’s first themed month right!
The Claiomh Solais, a magical staff in LITTLE WITCH ACADEMIA with the ability to break the Grand Triskellion’s seal, has seven crystals on it. It also requires seven words, which its owner must discover, to unleash its power. Characters in the series call these words the Seven Words of Arcturus
Seven is a holy number, extremely significant in numerous religions. For example, in the Old Testament, God created the world in seven days. The number appears several more times throughout the Bible as well: seven days of Passover, seven virtues, seven deadly sins, etc. Seven also holds importance in Hinduism, Islam, and Taoism. Known and revered universally, this number works well in relation to the key to a magic that can literally change the world.
Other numbers besides seven carry thematic weight in LWA, too. In-universe, a famous legend that is passed throughout the witch community is that of the Nine Olde Witches. They were the founders of Luna Nova, and the ones who sealed the Grand Triskellion centuries before LWA takes place.
Nine is especially relevant in Asian and European cultures. In Chinese culture, the number is often associated with dragons, which are signs of magic and power; extremely fitting for a story centered around those exact themes. The Chinese also consider it a lucky number in general, due to its pronunciation sounding similar to the word for “long-lasting.” This relates to the legacy of the Nine Olde Witches, whom, centuries, later witches still remember. Furthermore, in Norse mythology, which the series also leans on heavily, the universe is divided into nine worlds. I’ll discuss Yggdrasil, the World Tree that connects these nine worlds, in the next section.
Norse and Gaelic Myths
The Claiomh Solais is directly lifted out of Gaelic folktales. Translated as the Sword of Light, it is often depicted as the main weapon of the story’s hero and emits a shining light when drawn. LITTLE WITCH ACADEMIA’s Claiomh Solais is a staff instead of a sword. However, its crystals sparkle when activated and it can take the form of several different weapons (on top of other non-offense-oriented tools). Akko even refers to it as the Shiny Rod, perhaps a joke of its more traditional translation.
As mentioned prior, there’s an abundance of Norse mythology throughout the series. In LWA’s world, Yggdrasil is still a grand tree. “Back in the day,” one of Akko’s teachers tells her, “Yggdrasil’s branches encompassed the entire world… and held even the stars and planets in place.” But similarities to its Norse version end there. This Yggdrasil is the source of all magical energy where witches draw their strength. By the time Akko and her friends are in school, Yggdrasil’s power has greatly depleted and, as a result, so has magical energy in general. Only the power of the Grand Triskellion can restore it to its original state.
The Wild Hunt
The Wild Hunt, a folktale/superstition that appears in various European mythologies, also appears in LITTLE WITCH ACADEMIA, albeit as a one-episode plot device. In mythology, the Hunt is a supernatural group of huntsmen doing what they do best. If a person spots them, it’s thought a precursor to that person’s death, or at worst a type of catastrophe. Other interpretations involve the witness’ abduction to the underworld or fairy realm. Basically, the Hunt is a bad sign.
In LWA, however, the Wild Hunt is an annual event to entertain denizens of the magical community. In it, Hunters pursue and capture wandering ghosts for twelve days. The Hunters are experts who trained specially for the event, although anyone else with magical power can get a permit to participate. The Hunt is such a big event that Luna Nova organizes special viewings for its students and teachers to watch it. Notably, people without magical power are completely incapable of seeing the Hunt happen — at most they’ll notice a gust of wind if a Hunter passes by them.
Nods to Astronomy
Outer space has always held mythical connotations. Various stories surrounding stars and constellations float around nearly every culture. In LITTLE WITCH ACADEMIA, there aren’t so many hard references to these stories as there are shout-outs.
First, each crystal in LWA’s Claiomh Solais represents a star in the Big Dipper constellation. The Seven Words of Arcturus, which unlock the Claiomh Solais’ power, refer to the star Arcturus, the brightest in the northern celestial hemisphere. Additionally, Luna Nova Academy holds the Big Dipper Arch, which leads to the Fountain of Polaris. In-universe, legend says that the Fountain will grant the power of the stars to any witch with tremendous inner potential. Polaris is another name for the North Star, often used to help travelers find their way. It’s a fitting namesake for an object able to guide the path for those it deems worthy.
Finally, several characters’ names follow a celestial theme. Akko’s teacher, Ursula Callistis, is named after the Ursa Major constellation and the nymph Callisto, from Greek mythology. Similarly, the mysterious magical entertainer Chariot du Nord shares her name with the French term for the Ursa Major. Contrasting that, another teacher at the Academy, Croix Meridies, is named after the French term for the Southern Cross constellation.
Ursula even has a crow familiar named Alcor, which shares its name with the star at the handle of the Big Dipper. The show goes the extra mile with this one by giving the crow a four-pointed star on its stomach.
Alcor is only one of many creatures in LITTLE WITCH ACADEMIA’s world, and far from the most mythological. Other magical beasts litter Luna Nova Academy, and sometimes even beyond the school grounds.
For instance, Alcor isn’t Ursula’s only animal pal. She also has a pet bear-like creature named Arcas, who doubles as the guardian of the Fountain of Polaris. Fun fact: in Greek mythology, Arcas is the son of the nymph Callisto, who, you’ll remember, is partially the namesake of Ursula. Another example is the unicorn, the patron animal of the Cavendish family. The Cavendishes are a prestigious line of witches that hark back to the time of the Nine Olde Witches. The current heir to the family, Diana Cavendish, is the top student of Luna Nova with the skill to even summon a unicorn. She pulls this off flawlessly during a school festival one episode.
Goblins, fairies, and spirits are also present within the school. They work as groundskeepers, cooks, cleaners, and all sorts of other menial labor. Serving as both maintenance and utilities, they’re basically the secret backbone of the school. It’s no small wonder that, when they go on strike one episode, the academy is just about ready to fall apart.
Magical showman Chariot utilizes transformation magic to entertain her audiences. Her transformations so far have included centaurs, mermaids, harpies, and phoenixes. All of these are famous magical and mythological creatures, although their actual species don’t make appearances in the show.
And, of course, what would a magical beast section be without mention of dragons? In the world of LWA, dragons are mighty but rare. Only two dragons appear in the series, and while one of them is more like a grumpy old man, the other is literally bent on destruction. Good thing Akko and her friends are always around to save the day.
Into the New Magical World
Combining all these references from all over the world into one single series might make LITTLE WITCH ACADEMIA sound like a big mess. It can also seem culturally disorienting — Yggdrasil and Claiomh Solais in the same plotline? But luckily, Studio Trigger, as always, makes it all work.
There may be lots of ideas bouncing around, but there isn’t a single point where the show starts falling apart because of it. Trigger anime are famous for their loud creativity and larger-than-life concepts. And most of all, Trigger is famous for making them good. You stop caring about the details and start focusing on the fun. If anything, squeezing so many references just makes the experience more enjoyable. After all, who doesn’t love a good dosage of mythology in their stories?
By tapping into the myths and folklore of our world, LITTLE WITCH ACADEMIA is able to effectively build and flesh out its own. Each reference has a purpose, whether to progress the plot, contribute to worldbuilding, or just provide a cool piece of trivia for viewers. LWA doesn’t restrain itself to the limits of each myth either. Rather, it takes the core concept of each piece of lore and builds something more from it. Something that can fit in its own world however it wants it to. Something it can shape into whatever idea is cool enough for the next plot point.
And that’s really what it is — something cool to appreciate and watch. Isn’t that what we’re all here for anyway? So do yourself a favor this Halloween. Try out this charming show full of witches, magic, and a whole lot of fun. It may not be traditionally spooky, but I think it captures the Halloween spirit pretty well.
Featured image screenshotted from Netflix.