The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Waccha PriMagi! ?
What is this?
Middle-school first-year student Matsuri Hibino loves festivals, and she dreams of one day being able to star in "PriMagi," a magic-like form of stage entertainment borne from song, dance and fashion. That day arrives when the hyper-spirited, trouble-making magician Myamu arrives from the magical realm and scouts Matsuri for PriMagi. Together, the two compete with rivals to rise to the top of PriMagi.
How was the first episode?
I have to admit that I've never liked the Pretty series half as much as I do Precure. That's largely because the Pretty shows, of which Waccha PriMagi! is the most recent, feel more blatantly commercial as well as vaguely exploitative of their young protagonists. Both of those things are still true here, but the exploitative angle at least seems a bit toned down from other entries in the franchise. Yes, there are still adults looking to basically rope young girls (and maybe boys this time) into performing on their proprietary stages and turn them into the equivalent of social media stars, but this time there's also a new angle: magic users, who somewhat egotistically call themselves “Treasured,” must pair with non-magical people (“Earthly”) in order to gain more power. Okay, now that I type that out, it still sounds exploitative, but at least it's a different approach.
Matsuri, our Earthly protagonist, is paired with Myamu, one of those characters you wish came with her own separate volume control. Myamu appears to be one of the Treasureds' problem children; we first meet her trying to steal a PriMagi lookbook from the head of her magic academy. We're meant to believe that she's super ambitious and perhaps aware of how talented she is; she comes off as being very, very spoiled and annoying. But she's definitely determined to succeed, and that's what she aims to do by recruiting shy Matsuri as her partner. As a Treasured, Myamu needs a partner who can sing and gather audience approval and enthusiasm, or “waccha,” which the Treasured then collects. In a different franchise, there might be a sinister angle to this, and honestly, I'm not sure that there won't be here – the adult Treasureds don't feel entirely trustworthy.
As with other shows for similar intended audiences, this is manically bright, albeit in a very different way from Muteking the Dancing Hero – it's more like the girls' section of a toy store barfed on the screen. It's fun in its utter dedication to all things sparkly and frilly, more so because it manages to restrain itself for the most part when Matsuri and the other PriMagi singers aren't onstage. Yes, her school uniform has a pink blazer, but otherwise her outfits are believable; it's the magic users and the magic-based performances that go full frill. And even then Matsuri's first performance outfit just looks like a standard girl idol getup from your choice of anime. Myamu's look is much fussier, but so is she, and it's offset by the fact that she sits like a normal human being rather than artificially proper. It's probably intended to show her free spirit, but it's nice to see a kid sitting naturally rather than with her knees together at all times.
I'm not 100% sold on this, but I'll definitely give it another episode. It's bright, energetic, and could be a lot of fun. I do still dislike the more blatantly commercial and exploitative angle, but I'm also not seven years old anymore and could be way overthinking that. It's no Precure, but it has potential.
One thing adults really like to complain about in children's media is how repetitive and formulaic it can get. They're not wrong, but what they tend not to realize is that it doesn't stem from a lack of creativity, but the fact that young children like things to be formulaic. For one thing, they don't have dozens of years of media consumption under their belt, so they don't recognize all the reused tropes and tricks. For another, knowing on a basic level what will happen – that the hero will defeat the villain, that the main character who they relate to will win – makes them feel safe and comfortable. Developmentally speaking, predictability can be a good thing.
This is what I told myself as I watched Waccha PriMagi!, the newest entry in the fashion and idol-driven Pretty magical girl franchise, which is unrelated to Pretty Cure. It's a kid's show through and through in a way that I can't see having a lot of appeal to adults other than diehard magical girl fans. The story starts at the start of the latest PriMagi competition, when magic users who call themselves the Treasured team up with humans, who they call “Earthlies,” to “create glitz and glamor through the power of magic” and grant a wish to a winner. The gremlin catgirl Nyamu teams up with ordinary middle schooler Matsuri to enter, but has had her magical powers sealed due to fucking around and finding out.
To be honest, this is my first encounter with the Pretty franchise, though some cursory research tells me this is the first time they've included a magical girl element, and historically it's more about fashion and idol music. (Though I could be wrong. There's a lot of spinoffs and it got kind of confusing.) The first thing that struck me was just how gaudy a lot of the outfits were; which, if you've ever seen a five-year-old playing dress-up, underlines how this is meant for young children without cheeky nods to an adult audience. It has the plot beats of basically every rote idol-series-comma-competition-variety, including yesterday's Selection Project. It's fine if you've never watched an idol series before, or specifically enjoy that plot structure, but if you're like me and never really cared for the genre to begin with, there's little appeal here.
Even beyond the idol costumes looking like a rainbow got sick in a craft store, it's just kind of an ugly show. The CG dancing actually isn't terrible, but every time 3D and 2D interact, the compositing is just awful. The animation is middling at best, with characters often staring into space instead of looking at each other while talking. Plus there's just something off about the designs that I haven't quite put my finger on; maybe it's personal taste or maybe it's something else. Who knows.
I'd say PriMagi wouldn't be bad viewing for a six-year-old, but there's kind of a conundrum here: nowadays, magical girl series in the US are treated as niche and rarely receive the dubs that would make them accessible to their intended audience. That is, unless they are advanced enough readers to keep up with subtitles, which is pretty darn advanced. So instead, I'll just say this is for hardcore genre fans, and other adults need not apply.
To start, I've never seen a Pretty series before—as it is safe to say I am far outside the target young girl demographic. I don't know what the core aspects of the franchise are or how this one differs from the past iterations of the series. So while this isn't exactly a sequel as far as I can tell, I still found myself playing a lot more catch-up than one would expect for a series aimed at kids.
What I gathered is this: in a world very much like our own, there is an idol competition. However, it's not exactly your normal singing talent show. Rather, each singer is paired with a mage (who can, of course, transform into a cute animal mascot) that handles all their lighting and effects. They also get fairies from collectible cards that do makeup and wardrobe. So basically, it's a magical singing competition.
The story follows our pair, Myamu and Matsuri. Myamu is a mage who dreams of becoming the best magic user in the world. To do this, she needs to get the spell book associated with the singing competition. The problem is, she must become someone's partner to get it. Enter Matsuri.
Matsuri is the audience proxy—the girl who watches idols on TV and dreams of becoming one. However, unlike Myamu who knows exactly what she wants in life and isn't afraid to tell the world, Matsuri is much more unsure and reserved. She has a dream but can't really put it into words. More than that, she's afraid to even give it a try out of a fear of failure. Honestly, this is a dilemma everyone faces—not just little girls.
Thus, the episode's moral is to believe in your dreams no matter what everyone else thinks. If you don't go after them you'll never accomplish them. It's a fantastic moral—especially when Matsuri decides that her dream is basically to become the best version of herself she can be. To her, that means becoming fulfilled as an idol but for the rest of us, it encourages us to go after whatever makes us happier, more fulfilled people.
Myamu also gets a little moral lesson this episode. She is so caught up in attaining her dream that she sees little else. This causes her to ignore other people's personal boundaries, steamrolling over them to get her way. By the time the credits roll, she learns the importance of saying “sorry” and “thanks”—a lesson I feel that more than a few adults still need to learn.
All in all, while I doubt I'll watch any more of this series, if I had children, I wouldn't feel bad having them watch it. Nor would I say I would be bored watching it with them. It's got a good moral core and delivers its lessons in a way a child can understand.
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