The Summer 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Magical Sempai ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
The basic premise here is that a boy finds himself getting roped into club activities by a sexy, over-the-top girl who's woefully incompetent at what she's trying to do (namely, magic) but she's hot enough that the boy can't help himself. To some degree this sounds like the premise of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but this series of 12 minute shorts is nowhere near on that level of sophistication, nor is it trying to be. It's aiming for nothing more than to be a simple comedy series with a fan service chaser for good measure.
Whether or not it actually works even in that limited capacity is another story. The content of this episode, which is broken up into four vignettes, is only sporadically amusing and more commonly just pathetic. The “incompetent magician” shtick, as well as the whole stage fright routine, is already starting to get old by the end of the episode, and the light doses of fan service are not enough to compensate for that. If the series manages to incorporate in more about how legitimate magic tricks work then that might help keep the series afloat, but at this point I am not terribly optimistic.
Actually, the opener and closer both suggest one possible solution: expand the cast. Both of those indicate that at least two more female students will become regulars, as well as a second male character. That could very well be the injection of life that this series needs to survive, as right now it needs some additional angles to pull its gimmicks from. Both of other female characters are also sexy in their own way, so that will also supplement the visual appeal.
I'm not giving this one a rock-bottom rating because it did elicit at least a couple of chuckles from me and doesn't actually look bad, but this one is a hard pass from me unless the second episode shows a lot more verve.
There's a healthy amount of comedic potential in a magic show going completely off the rails. By feigning incompetence, a talented performer can provide plenty of entertainment by subverting the audience's expectations and keeping us guessing as to how each trick will deliberately backfire. Magical Sempai seems to be going for this type of humor, but its first episode doesn't quite have the comedic technique and timing necessary to pull it off. Even with a single half-length episode broken up into shorter segments, I found my interest dropping off near the end.
As far as I can tell, this show has two problems at the moment. The first is that by always going for the easy punchline, it's making each sketch too predictable. The key to making a format like this work is to have the magic tricks fail in surprising ways; instead of taking the obvious route of having Sempai get stuck in the box during her disappearing act, we needed to see her reappear in an unexpected place. Each segment is also structured in more or less the same way, with the trick of the moment always failing in a way that leaves Sempai in a mildly suggestive situation. Having an element of fanservice in a comedy series is fine, but it loses its impact when it happens every single time.
On the upside, there's still some hope for this series. Assistant makes a decent, if unremarkable, comedic straight man, and the script spreads the awkward moments between the two main characters evenly enough that it doesn't feel like all the humor is coming at Sempai's expense. The opening theme suggests that there are a handful of supporting characters waiting to appear, and a larger cast could provide some much-needed variety. Magical Sempai is a vaguely watchable fanservice comedy at the moment, but it will need to expand its repertoire if it's going to take a step up and become legitimately enjoyable.
Going into this show, I somehow thought that it was about a sempai who actually used magic (in the magical girl sense), not a stage magician. As it turns out, it's about a high school's stage magic club and the totally inept purple-haired sempai who appears to be its sole member, making it much closer to other school gag stories like This Art Club Has a Problem! than anything. I use that specific example because this is a club with that one specific focus and members who have a somewhat unique take on it, at least as of this first episode. While a lot of the jokes definitely revolve around the eponymous sempai's voluptuous figure, that feels like more of a sidebar to the actual gags: that she's the world's most inept magician.
That means that even if you're not necessarily into jokes where the heroine ends up stuck in a legs-spread position, this is pretty funny. It isn't breaking any new ground, but it is covering the old in amusing ways. If you've ever tried (and failed) to handle a bird, the heroine's pigeon problems are definitely funnier, but even if that's not something you've done, the idea of the poor girl getting a pigeon down her shirt is still amusing, as are most of her other screw-ups and the “assistant's” deadpan reactions to them. While the animation and art aren't fabulous, they do work with what the show's trying to do, and this was overall just a pleasantly silly surprise. I hadn't picked up the manga this is based on yet (Kodansha is releasing it), but after watching this episode, it's been added to my to-read pile. I think that's probably the best compliment I can give Magical Sempai.
Magical Sempai is a low-stakes, half-length short anime that knows exactly what it's about: offering magic trick-oriented pratfalls that inevitably result in a scandalous fanservice pan across its titular sempai. This first episode introduces our two leads, who aren't even referred to by names - there's just the Assistant, the largely personality-free straight man, and the Sempai, an energetic, incompetent, and big-boobed amateur musician. Across a series of quick skits, Magical Sempai repeatedly demonstrates its one trick, as Sempai continuously fails at magic, and inevitably ends up falling over, tied up, drenched in milk, or otherwise perfectly posed for a big fanservice punchline.
That's pretty much all there is to this one, to be honest. The show's production values are middling and its characters don't really have much personality, but neither of those weaknesses really dampen the show's lighthearted/horny appeal. The Magical Sempai herself is overenthusiastic, but not in a way that comes off as shrill or aggravating, and the show gives her a pretty wide range of amusing expressions. The Assistant doesn't really have much of a presence, but he hits the correct sweet spot of “aggravated by sempai's shenanigans, but still ultimately supportive of her endeavors.”
On the whole, Magical Sempai strives for a balance somewhat similar to Dagashi Kashi's “slice of life gags plus niche topic plus incidental horniness” combination, but with less of that show's strong atmosphere, and a much greater emphasis on the fanservice punchlines. I wouldn't recommend Magical Sempai, but it's a breezy and relatively harmless production.
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