What’s the first word that comes to your mind when you think of the word “hero?” Justice? Vigilante? Strong? Empathetic? Undefeatable? Inspirational?
A hero can embody many many traits, and as a result, can come in all sorts of sizes and shapes. This year’s list clearly represents this with a diversity of them.
Akko Kagari embodies many of the characteristics that makes the ‘underdog’ kind of hero work - she’s new to the field, initially lacks the aptitude and polish that makes one shine, and consistently has the cards stacked against her at every turn. In that sense, Little Witch Academia is an underdog story, following many of the typical cues of one, as we watch Akko progress from a newcomer at magic to one that can practice it, following in footsteps of the one that inspired her. In many ways, she’s similar to Izuku Midoriya, who also is an underdog in My Hero Academia. However, there are a couple of important differences that, I feel, makes Akko stand out from the rest.
The first difference is what makes Akko an endearing and inspiring hero at the same time: her commitment to personify her ideals and never give up. One of the main focuses in Little Witch Academia is the slow decay of magic in a world ruled by cynicism and advanced technology. Akko herself is not a pure witch, and instead paid to get her way into the school. Despite these circumstances, what she believes in is the magic that inspired her: a kind of magic that can be less considered as a subject or old practice and more as a modernized way of fun and imagination. Despite being teased by the classmates and teachers around her, Akko never gives up on her dream of becoming someone like Chariot, even as she stumbles and fails. It’s one thing to see a hero bounce back after moments of weakness, but Akko consistently battles failure with a headstrong personality. It’s this same trait which compels her to persistently heads face-on into danger to save her friends.
This brings us to our second difference: unlike anyone on the list, Akko is flawed throughout the show. I don’t mean that she’s too kind, too self-sacrificing, lacks self-confidence or is afraid of trusting people; no, Akko’s weaknesses actually combat her strengths while being an essential part of them. She’s determined and bold, but those traits equally lead her to become short-sighted and foolish. She rushes in without thinking. She’s short-tempered, stubborn, and judgemental. Her attitude can almost come off as obnoxious when she fails to think of how others will react. This is unlike the other candidates’ qualities, which are usually portrayed as positive weaknesses. While Akko’s problems do improve throughout the series, they never fully go away, because that’s how real life development works: gradually growing and fighting our selfish habits to become better. Akko from the end of the series is a very different Akko from the one at the beginning, but she’s in many ways still the same impetuous individual, running into things and mindlessly forgetting important details.
Perhaps that’s what makes her growth so magical. I originally found Akko to be annoying, or rather, the show’s use of her to be annoying - she was a stand-in for comedy because of her failures. Little Witch Academia and Akko with it stole my heart, however, with the immense progress Akko makes throughout the show. The third, and what I feel is the most important difference between Akko and the rest of these candidates, is that Akko doesn’t actually become the best at what she does by the end of the series. She continuously fails. By the finale, Akko has only learned one spell properly and has just started to ride her broom.
She’s not the best. She’s not even remotely close to Chariot’s level, and she no longer has the Shiny Rod to aid her in times of need. You could almost argue that in the span of 25 episodes, Akko barely passed any substandard magical proficiency tests. That is, if we measure heroism and development through merit. But what Akko chooses to see, and what we inevitably see at the end, is hard work and commitment. I would argue that out of all the candidates we see for Best Hero this year, it’s Akko who has worked the hardest, even if she hasn’t succeeded all the time. I would even go as far as to say that it’s because she’s failed, that she’s the real Hero for me - a continuous inspiration and message that hard work, belief in one’s self, and the courage to pursue dreams with serious commitment, are the keys to ‘success’ - not defined by societal standards and academic achievement, but by personal growth and satisfaction.