The Winter 2016 Anime Preview Guide
Nurse Witch KOMUGI R
How would you rate episode 1 of
Nurse Witch Komugi R ?
What is this?
Komugi Yoshida is just your average aspiring idol/actress/magical girl middle-schooler, with two color-coded best friends and a hyperactive mascot companion named Usa-P that join her in the adventures of everyday life! It's a hard job running from concert to acting gig to monster battle every day, but she'll never be able to perform her nurse-themed pop hits at the Tokyo Skydome if she doesn't shoot for the stars! What's more, if she doesn't collect all 108 monster cards under her contract to Usa-P soon, she'll turn into a cockroach! What's a cute little marketable girl to do? Let's Komugication! Nurse Witch KOMUGI R is an original anime work based on Tatsunoko's Nurse Witch Komugi characters and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 3:25 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Oh Love Live, what have you wrought? This throwback to a barely remembered, high-energy spin-off of an almost equally forgotten mecha series opens with Komugi in the midst of an idol performance. Tatsunoko Pro is reinventing the “nurse” part of this show, a trendy fetish from the early 2000s, to give it a more modern equivalent. This opening sequence could have been pulled from any number of other anime attempting to hop on the idol bandwagon.
Nurse Witch Komugi R gave the impression in its first half that this was another attempt to ride on the coattails of Bandai's moneymaker, leaving its high-energy magical girl parody roots behind. Fortunately, a rabbit with underwear on its head shows up to imbue the pink-haired teen with magical powers and things get quite a bit more fun.
Komugi gets cornered into battling the episode's enemy, a camera-headed humanoid introduced while sitting on a toilet. He begins terrorizing a film studio by transforming people into other Tatsunoko characters, or in one particular case, a cardboard cut-out of the original Yatterman villains into their Yatterman Night counterparts. Magical girl tropes are spoofed when a serious-toned narrator explains in detail the ridiculous technicalities behind both her transformation and her attacks. Komugi quips in her customary pre-battle intro that the only way to defeat evil is to kill it, despite also referring to herself as a magical nurse. The idol aspect is also lampooned when it's revealed that Komugi is nothing more than an image girl for a local pharmacy. She has exactly three dedicated fans and they're all geriatric.
It takes Nurse Witch Komugi R a bit of time to reveal its parody roots, but once it gets into the groove it's full speed ahead. The jokes themselves are hardly the height of wit, but it manages just enough to not take itself seriously and garner a few snickers.
I'm frankly not sure I understand the audience for this one. Nurse Witch Komugi R is a revival of a spinoff of a show from the early 00s, but apparently you don't actually need knowledge of the original to watch this one, because it's a self-contained origin story. That's great, but… why? There's pretty much nothing about this show that demands existence - it's a harmless and largely flavorless magical girl vehicle played largely straight, with only a few self-aware jokes and basically no hook outside of its weird origins. It'd almost seem like a children's show, but honestly, most children's shows have more thematic gravity or at least direct messages than this one seems to. What is the point?
Not that I'm really offended by its existence. This first episode might be best described as “inoffensive,” in fact - it moves perkily through an introduction to Komugi and her first magical girl battle with basically all the beats you'd expect from a generic magical girl show, from her big stage dreams to the slowrolling of the two girls who will eventually join her team. There's an inoffensive first meeting with her magical companion (which contains one of the episode's few jokes that actually landed for me, the familiar describing her job as transforming into an “incomprehensibly embarrassing outfit”), a brief idol concert, and a battle with a classically bizarre first magical girl enemy (which contains one of the other good jokes: “you can treat your wounds with medicine, but only death can cure evil”).
Aside from those jokes and maybe one or two others, most of the humor here is too generic and inoffensive to have either bite for an older audience or giggles for a general one. Many of the bits here feel almost like dad jokes, the sort of hyuk hyuks you more roll your eyes at than actually laugh (which, to be fair, still puts them above a significant percentage of modern anime humor). And the aesthetics are fine enough, but nothing special - Komugi and her familiar are relatively expressive, but the early CG idol performance looks pretty janky, and the backgrounds don't bring much personality to the world. But what could even stellar direction or backgrounds do with material this non-existent? Nurse Witch Komugi R feels like the template of a story before an actual writer gets their hands on it - it is Default Magical Girl Origin Story, no frills or faults to be found. That makes it better than an aggressively bad show, but also not something I see any reason to watch.
Looks like everything old is new again! I wasn't dying for a return to the early 2000s, but between Pandora in the Crimson Shell and this new premiere, that might just be where we're headed! (Saints preserve us.) All the same, Nurse Witch Komugi should definitely inject some energy into this low-key season. The original OVA series was the kind of hyperactive pseudo-comedy that really got otaku riled up in the old days, back when dropping references to nerd things still seemed fresh enough to substitute for actual jokes. Komugi was one of the first characters to speak directly to a budding internet culture with her antics, and while I wouldn't want that approach to fanservice/comedy to return unevolved in 2016, I was eager to see how Tatsunoko would revamp the character and her antics for a modern otaku audience.
So I waited...and I waited...and I kept thinking to myself that the episode would drop the other shoe and show its true colors as a parody or gag series or just display some kernel of enthusiasm along the lines of last season's Hackadoll the Animation, but it never did. After the halfway point of the episode had come and gone, I'd sat through a lot of completely sincere idol marketing for the character amongst a passel of references to Tatsunoko properties old and new, but this was sadly not the bolt of energy I had hoped it would be. In fact, Nurse Witch KOMUGI R plays its hand so safe, it comes across downright cynical and desperate.
If this was just Komugi-rebranded-as-idol-because-idols-sell-right-now, that would be different. But Komugi's roots as a frenetic comedy haven't been completely expunged here, and the show's blend of sugary sincerity and lukewarm self-awareness comes out watery and disappointing. Jokes about the genre mashup at the heart of the show's premise are delivered from basically every character in the episode, including Komugi herself, but the gags are so infrequent, tame, and halfheartedly murmured that it's impossible for them to elicit any laughter. Being tongue-in-cheek is all well and good, and anime could always use a little more dryness in its comedy, but if you hide your tongue too deeply in that cheek for fear of making the Love Live-esque aspect of the show unmarketable, the whole thing's just going to come across like it's being played straight. As it turns out, Nurse Witch Komugi played straight is really bland.
The best example of this unsatisfactory in-between approach comes during Komugi's magical girl transformation. If you were to mute the show, it would just look like any other mahou shojo costume changing scene, but the narrator goes into a laborious scientific explanation for exactly how magical girl transformations work, in an attempt to make a joke out of the scene that doesn't really land. The idea doesn't go far enough to be laugh-out-loud funny or even memorable, but it's just distracting enough to take away from what magical girl fans might want from the show.
I don't know exactly what I was expecting from Nurse Witch KOMUGI R, but I was definitely anticipating more passion of some kind, whether it be wacky, sugary, or even just a conventional anime comedy. I definitely wasn't expecting a flavorless, cynical commercial that doesn't really offer anything to anybody outside of lightning-fast Tatsunoko references that even the show seems ashamed to dwell on. This series should have been something more like Hackadoll the Animation from last season. That's a short, not a full-length series, but you should just watch that instead if you're disappointed by the total shrug of Nurse Witch KOMUGI R and want to see the concept done better.
Nurse Witch Komugi-chan R is continuing the recent trend of making sequels or reboots for franchises no one ever expected to see the light of day again by reviving the joke spin-off of the dark early 2000s series SoulTaker. But don't worry – knowledge of that series really isn't required to enjoy this one, which is a fluffy little parody of pre-Madoka Magica magical girls with some visual references to other shows, from the early days of anime up through 2015's Yatterman Nights. It may not be likely to be the Next Big Thing, but it certainly has the potential to be a lot of fun.
While this episode has clear elements of parody right from the get-go with Komugi's idol dream being interrupted by monsters who look like a combination of kaiju and old monsters of the week on the original Sailor Moon, but the really good spoofs (for me at least) begin when Komugi stumbles upon a cat beating up a weird pudgy bunny thing. Komugi, a doctor's daughter, patches the creature up and for her troubles is offered the position of magical girl, or rather legendary girl, Tombo-E. Despite being less than enthused by the promised “super embarrassing outfit,” Komugi eventually gives in and discovers that not only is the bunny-themed confection of a “uniform” to her taste, but that there is no way in hell she's going with a dumb name like Tombo-E Girl. Her renaming of her magical alter ego (and attacks) pokes pretty good fun at the often nonsensical magical girl names (looking at you, multiple incarnations of Pretty Cure), but even better is the sudden narration wherein a man describes the scientific reasons behind her attacks and transformation in stentorian tones. Also, in case you were kept up nights wondering, a magical transformation takes .02 seconds.
Komugi is clearly not going to be the only magical girl in her group for long, and how her overly talented, yet terribly sweet, friend Kokona and high schooler Tsukasa join the ranks will hopefully be as silly as Komugi's own transformation. There's only light fanservice, most of which appears to involve Komugi opening her legs (there's a weird closeup of this as she gets out of bed); the focus here is really more on humor than eye-candy. If you're in the mood for something light, frothy, and silly, this episode really fits the bill. It isn't amazing but it makes for a great brain-break, and sometimes that's all a show needs to be.
Review: The original Nurse Witch Komugi-chan was a five episode OVA spin-off (with a later two episode sequel) of the early ‘00s series SoulTaker, in much the same way that Pretty Sammy/Magical Girl S was a spin-off of the Tenchi Muyo! franchise. However, this new TV series version is made with an entirely new potential fan base in mind; not an ounce of familiarity with either its earlier incarnation or the source series is expected. In fact, the first episode does something that the original OVAs never did: provide an origin story for Komugi's magical girl form.
The original OVAs were a playfully stupid parody of various anime franchises (from Gatchaman to Neon Genesis Evangelion to, naturally, SoulTaker) and conventions, but the first episode actually shows little sign of parodying anything outside its own genre. It is quite self-aware about things like how embarrassing magical girl costumes could be, how silly any description of how the magical girl powers actually work would sound, and that the enthusiasm with which attack names are delivered matters a lot more than what you call them. (Favorite joke? The comment in the explanation of the transformation that it actually takes only .02 seconds to complete even though it may take half a minute of screen time to play out.) It does retain one of the OVA version's biggest running jokes, which manifests near the end of the episode in what is easily the winter season's most sputter-worthy moment to date even if you have an inkling of what's likely to be coming. Also watch for some brief references to other Tatsunoko Productions properties.
Like the OVAs, the series is far from a masterpiece in a technical sense. Both the visuals and the animation are, in fact, pretty mediocre beyond the lavishly-animated idol concert scene at the beginning. It hardly needs to be pretty to be funny, though, and it does studiously avoid opportunities to engage in cheap fan service. None of the vocal cast members from the OVAs return; in fact, this is only the second anime role (and first major one) for Kei Tomoe, the voice of Komugi, but she is pitch-perfect in both the singing and acting parts of the role.
Really, there's little advantage to having familiarity with the earlier OVAs, as so much has been changed or added on; for instance, the blond-haired girl who looks and dresses in boyish fashion is an entirely new character and the original Koyori has been entirely replaced with near-lookalike Kokuna. Certainly that will not affect the humor value of the first episode, which is not a raucous affair but should still draw at least a few chuckles. Unlike recent magical girl spinoff Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya, this one does not look it has an ounce of intention to ever take itself seriously, either. Accept it as a silly little diversion and it should entertain just fine.
discuss this in the forum (428 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history