The Spring 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Magical Girl Site
How would you rate episode 1 of
Magical Girl Site ?
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How was the first episode?
If ever a show needed a content warning, this is the one; if you're sensitive to depictions of attempted suicide, sexual assault, or graphic abuse of any kind, then stay as far away from Magical Girl Site's premiere as possible. It took me a long time to figure out how to approach writing up this preview, because my own reaction to this episode was nothing short of visceral disgust. This is a series that begins with its protagonist, a girl named Aya, almost killing herself by jumping in front of a train, and then over the course of the next twenty minutes, we get to watch her be emotionally and physically tortured by school bullies, viciously beaten by her psychopathic brother, and nearly raped by an upperclassman (while her bullies snicker and watch). Then, after a mysterious website grants her the abilities of a magical girl, we see the bullies die their own terrible deaths.
Even if you aren't turned off by such a deluge of nihilistic misery, there is absolutely nothing worth recommending about this as a work of horror-fantasy. This show features ugly character designs occupying a flat and lifeless world, colored in with only hideous shades of grays and browns and sickly reds. Regardless of whether this off-putting aesthetic is artistically intentional, it's a pain to look at regardless of the repugnant things that Aya is forced to go through. By the time the magical girl elements finally come into the story, they feel like an afterthought, the horrid result of someone watching Madoka Magica and thinking that the show would be improved by stripping it of any emotional depth or artistry and slathering on as much torture porn as possible. From a purely technical perspective, Magical Girl Site is a total mess.
I cannot recall the last time a series was so ugly both aesthetically and narratively that I had a hard time even finishing it. The people of this universe are little more than ugly parodies of human beings, vile caricatures that only exist to make Aya's life as much of an over-the-top nightmare as possible. It's ironic, because the world is so single-minded in its devotion to depicting tragedy-porn that it ends up being too cartoonish to take seriously at all. At the same time, it's so self-serious that all you can do is wallow in Aya's misery and try to count the number of clichés the premiere throws around in its desperate attempt to be edgy. By the time she encountered the cute little cat that had been abandoned underneath a bridge, my stomach was already turning, because I knew the only reason this creature would be introduced was so it could get horribly murdered, a blood sacrifice in service of Aya's psychological undoing. It only took Magical Girl Site a few more minutes to prove me right.
There's a place for exploitative and trashy horror in anime, but there must be some human core, some kernel of empathy underneath all the blood and grime and suffering, or else it just becomes a two-dimensional snuff film. Magical Girl Site has no recognizable human core; it takes too much sincere pleasure in torturing its protagonist before reveling just as much in the bloody deaths of her abusers. Even disasters like Hand Shakers and Big Order were produced with the intention of entertaining their audience, even if they failed miserably in their goals. Magical Girl Site seems like it's out to provoke rather than please in any way, and that self-indulgent nasty streak kills this show in its tracks. Kudos to anyone that can get something more out of this premiere; I hated every wretched second of it.
This anime is in some dire need of content warnings. It's been marketed as a “dark magical girl series,” but that doesn't even begin to capture the range of disturbing content shown in the first episode, including graphic violence, attempted rape, and familial abuse. Don't expect anything but the most sensationalist and exploitative depiction of the show's dark subject matter here. If these topics are sensitive to you, I recommend staying away from this series altogether.
Besides the shock factor, the story has little else going for it. Its attempts to build sympathy for the protagonist Aya are extremely heavy-handed to say the least. It's one thing to depict her as a victim of bullying, and quite another to have her bullies kill the cat she adopted or invite their senpai to rape her for no apparent reason. Then there's Aya's brother, who masquerades as an honors student by day and chokes his sister half to death at night. These characters don't necessarily need a “reason” to bully Aya to be believable, but when Aya's suffering is this crass and over-the-top, it comes across as parodic more than anything.
It doesn't help that the “dark magical girl” theme isn't as fresh as it may have felt a few years ago, and the anime doesn't have the visual personality to make it stand out either. There's some attempt to make the show look distinctive with ominous shadows that fill every corner of the scene even in mundane scenes, but this isn't applied consistently enough to maintain the feeling of dread. Cookie cutter character designs and an over-reliance on grotesque character expressions to convey horror keep the anime from ever rising above “average” aesthetically.
So overall, this episode doesn't give off a great first impression, but that doesn't mean that the anime doesn't possess any appeal. My impression from reading the manga was that the beginning is the weakest part of the story. Things get more interesting when the plot is strictly concerned with magical girls fighting each other rather than tackling issues like bullying and abuse. For all its trashiness, Magical Girl Site is a compulsive page-turner. With the right kinds of expectations, this anime could prove to be moderately entertaining.
Magical Girl Site is based on a horror manga. That should be understood up front, as a fair amount of what the first episode shows is horrific. The problem is that what the first episode shows is horrifying in one of the most viscerally disgusting ways I've ever seen for a series' first episode, and I don't mean in terms of blood and guts.
No, this series' special brand of horror comes from how it treats its protagonist. A certain amount of suffering is certainly expected for a character in this kind of story, but this series goes so over-the-top in heaping suffering on Aya that it can't even work as unintentional comedy. She gets intensely bullied at school by three girls, who ultimately decide that they're bored with regular fare like graffiti on her desk, nasty slop in her chair, tacks and razor blades in her slippers, dousing her with water, or pushing her face into a toilet with their feet. So what's the next step? Call up a thug to rape her in front of them, of course! One of them finds out that she's been feeding a stray cat, so of course that signs the cat's death sentence; just somehow arrange for the cat to wind up on train tracks at a bad time and then flick the collar in the girl's face as she's about to get raped. When things go bad for the bullies, stick a box cutter in her mouth with intent to permanently scar her. Home life is no better, as her “perfect” brother uses her for stress relief by tying her wrists behind her back and punching her in the stomach hard enough to make her throw up. (He apparently has trouble managing his stress if he doesn't use her as a punching bag.) The real kicker is that the episode makes a joke about this in the epilogue.
This is obviously being dumped on Aya to justify her suicidal tendencies and frame the bullies' deaths as some kind of karmic justice. However, the suffering and anguish needed to set this up is just too harsh. This isn't just being grim, this is closer to torture porn. To make matters worse, magical girls apparently bleed from some body part when they use their powers: Aya experiences bloody tears, while the blonde girl drips blood from her mouth. Frankly, it looks dumb, and I hope there's some justification for it.
I was actually looking forward to this series and want to like it, but this first episode is too much. Maybe I'll watch more if upcoming episodes prove less ridiculous.
I'm all for a dark magical girl series, as long as it's done well. Adding elements of suspense or horror to a normally lighthearted genre can open up some interesting narrative paths and allow a show to examine uniquely heavy ideas. Heck, I'm the guy who signed up to review Magical Girl Raising Project back in 2016, and I liked that show just fine. That should hopefully provide some context when I say that the only reason I sat through the entire first episode of Magical Girl Site was because it was my job. It was genuinely, physically unpleasant to watch.
When the pitch for becoming a magical girl is delivered by an absurdly creepy website instead of a talking animal mascot, I'll grant that you need to give the protagonist a pretty compelling motivation to accept the offer. The early scenes of Aya being bullied at school would have been more than enough to provide that motivation, but for some reason the series doesn't stop there. It also piles on domestic abuse, animal cruelty, and attempted rape, the majority of which is depicted as happening solely for the amusement of the people doing it. Not only is this excessive, it's devoid of any meaningful narrative significance. It goes so far beyond what's necessary from a storytelling perspective that it feels like an ill-advised attempt at shocking the audience into paying attention.
Aya does eventually get a magical weapon with which to fight back against her tormentors, but that doesn't do much to improve the story. Its immediate effect is to heap more misery onto her head, eventually leading to her first encounter with another magical girl. I wouldn't go so far as to call Yatsumura's arrival a rescue, though; the casual manner in which she kills off Aya's suddenly helpless tormentor is just as unnerving as the rest of the episode. Instead of depicting her as an edgy anti-heroine, it just makes her seem like a violent sociopath. Not exactly what you'd call an ideal candidate for a new best friend.
Gore, violence, and cruelty all have their place in fiction, especially in deliberately dark stories. The catch is that these things need to be used with a purpose, and only as much as necessary. Magical Girl Site adheres to neither of these guidelines, instead packing its premiere full of awful stuff without any reasonable restraint or any hint of thematic depth. It would take one hell of a series to make this episode's content feel justified, and I honestly doubt we'll get anything close to good enough from Magical Girl Site. Even if you normally enjoy titles in this particular niche, steer clear of this one.
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