The Spring 2022 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Healer Girl ?
Community score: 3.8
What is this?
Those that use "voice medicine," the ability to heal injuries and cure illnesses with song, are called "healers." There are three apprentice healers working at the Karasuma Voice Treatment Center. Kana Fujii, an energetic girl who sets the tone, the strong-willed lady Reimi Itsushiro, and Hibiki Morishima who is caring but firm. These three first year high school girls are training after school to become full-fledged Healers. With the addition of Sonia Yanagi, a returnee who is a certified C-level healer, the girls are singing songs of healing as they work towards their dreams.
How was the first episode?
While the first episode of Healer Girl is an enjoyable enough introduction to our typical cute girl trio—i.e., the well-intentioned screw-up, the calm one, and the overly serious one—what really captured my attention was the world they exist in. Healer Girl is a world in which singing is an accepted form of medical treatment with results on par with Western medicine. This is a fun idea—it's basically a form of magic being incorporated into everyday society. More interesting still is that natural talent is apparently a prerequisite for healing through singing—though even recordings of these healers will give at least some relief. As a person who loves hard magic systems (i.e., magic systems with concrete rules on how and why they work the way they do), it was a blast to learn about the girls' singing powers.
At the same time, however, the central conflict of the episode doesn't make sense. The show is structured around the conceit that magical singers are basically doctors. As such, they can't heal without a license. But why? The reason doctors need licenses is that, when dealing with invasive medical procedures or dangerous medications, an ignorant person could do far more harm than good. But can a magical song hurt a patient? We see no sign of this as, according to the character dialogue, the only downside of poor singing is that it makes the treatment less effective.
I'm guessing that what Kana did in the climax counts as first aid rather than healing, but it made me wonder where exactly the line is. (It also made me wonder if a normal first aid kit in this world comes with a non-prescription MP3 player to help in emergencies.)
If it comes off like I dislike the show, let me assure you that I'm not. It's the opposite, actually. I enjoyed the show so much that I am invested in the world it is trying to build—that is why these issues stand out. I want this world to feel as real as possible.
And as for the music, while I wouldn't call the songs bangers, they were decent enough. But what I absolutely loved more than the songs themselves was the extensive use of diegetic music. When the girls break into song in public, they are actually singing and the people around them act accordingly. And, due to their profession, their constant singing makes total sense. (As a onetime musical theater/choir kid, let me tell you, randomly singing at your friends is actually rather normal.) It adds yet another layer to the world-building and makes it feel even more, well, real. And while it has some plot holes that need filling, it's a world I am loving spending time in.
Oh wow, a musical anime! I hope it'll be just like my favorite anime, Lost Song!
Just kidding. Lost Song has never been and never will be anyone's favorite anime. Healer Girl, on the other hand, stands a pretty chance of becoming beloved by at least some and, if it keeps on track, maybe even many. This sweet little musical series, with its bright, colorful aesthetic and strong direction with dynamic camera work by industry veteran Yasuhiro Irie, has presented a strong premiere, even if it's not totally my thing.
While I wasn't particularly drawn in by the character writing – Karin is a pretty typical overenthusiastic but gifted newbie with her two best friends to corral her – the world fascinated me. Musical healing exists right alongside Eastern and Western medicine, and is presented as empirically effective. A kid has a scraped knee, Karin sings to him, his knee heals, all is well. Not a lot of room for skepticism there. I have so many questions, but in a good, “I'm curious about this worldbuilding” way rather than the way of “this makes no sense if you think about it for ten seconds.” Why would people choose the more invasive forms of medicine over musical healing? Clearly this form of medicine has its limits, since their instructor sent their client, an old woman with respiratory problems, to a hospital. What are they? Is there an in-universe reason for why all the healers are girls?
My biggest issue lies in the music. Plainly put, it's bland. It's like the most boring, forgettable Disney soundtrack ever conceived, and I'm not convinced that it can carry the show. Oh sure, the number where the girls start singing to each other about why they want to become healers is kind of fun, but it's unfocused and there doesn't seem to be much reason for it to be a song. It's more like an opera's libretto than anything you'd find in the standard structure of a musical.
Still, I doubt that'll be enough to put off most of the people who will be drawn in by this.
I freaking love musicals. One of my longtime dreams has been to see a studio produce a big-budget, no- holds-barred Broadway-style musical. I'm not talking about an idol series or a show about a rock band, or an episode of a slice-of-life anime where the kids put on a concert for their culture festival. I'm talking about the pure, undiluted cheese that comes from regular characters interrupting the story to break out into perfectly choreographed dance numbers, belt their hearts out, and then move on as if nothing completely insane has just happened. Does anyone here remember Galavant? That show rules. I basically want an anime Galavant.
Healer Girl is not anime Galavant, sadly, but it's the closest we've gotten to the dream, gosh darn it, and it made me extremely happy anyways. Our main trio are all well-drawn, both literally and as likable character archetypes, and they all possess the nearly unbearable levels of sincerity it takes to make it as the leads of a musical, not to mention some incredibly toned diaphragms, and the whole “Being able to magically heal the wounds of the sick with nothing but the power of music” thing. The show looks good, it's cute and charming when it needs to be, and most importantly, it's got the tunes it needs to back up its premise.
Now, if I'm being honest, the style of singing we get in this premiere is just a bit treacly for my taste, and I was a little put off by some of the strange mixing choices—not only are the girls' voices auto-tuned to heck and back, but the universe provides a somewhat tinny and perfectly synched backing soundtrack whenever Kana and her friends open their mouths. In short, it both looks and sounds less like the characters are themselves singing, and more like they're all lip-syncing to some poorly mixed audio already in progress. And yes, I know that technically I'm just defining how voice-over works in animation, but I'm talking about the effect of the production. It often doesn't quite feel like the music and the characters are operating on the same aural plane of existence, if that makes any sense.
Still, I won't complain too much, because it was very fun to watch the girls get to know each other and show off their vocal skills, and some of the banter we get is the closest that I've ever seen an anime get to a Broadway styled patter song. Plus, we get to spend a half-hour in a world where, when a little kid's grandmother collapses on the floor, she really can be saved with the power of a good show tune. That's the kind of world I want to live in, if only in weekly chunks of about twenty-three minutes each. Healer Girl may not be quite the full-scale song-and-dance production that I've been waiting for, but it's a damned good time for anyone that needs an extra dose of musical healing this season.
We get a lot of music-related anime – mostly idol shows – but it's exceedingly rare that we get a full-on West Side Story-style Capital-M Musical anime. While Healer Girl doesn't go all the way into that territory, it gets pretty darn close, and the result is a vibrant and earnest little treat. You're just going to need a stomach for unerringly saccharine sentimentality to get through it.
Make no mistake: if you're the kind of person who starts to grimace when characters snap their gaze into the middle distance and start singing their feelings, you will find nothing but pain here. Healer Girl is such a bubbly show in tone, aesthetic, and presentation, that it has no place for a concept so cynical as cringe. It's dancing forward down the street, humming a pop ballad too loudly with its airpods on full blast, and you can either trot along to its tune or hastily cross the street to avoid it.
Me, I love musicals, even if this show's audio sensibilities aren't really my jam. But that's more than made up for by the wonderful, colorful, constantly expressive animation that brings these characters and their songs to life. The way each of them moves, especially in their flowy “Healer” robes, is just a delight to take in. The characters themselves are likable enough, though not particularly deep or novel. But the way they're characterized through movement, how they physically interact with each other and the world around them, is just so charming that it overrides any writing deficiencies.
And because there's not a speck of cynicism in Healer Girl's body, that all manages to make Kana and her friends really fun to just watch, whether they're healing the sick or goofing around to avoid filling out paperwork. My favorite scene is easily the one where Kana asks her fellow apprentices why they chose to be Healers, and they all start spontaneously singing their motivations. It's campy, silly, and caps off with Hibiki getting so caught up in singing about her admiration for their teacher that nothing can stop her. It takes what could be a by-the-books bit of character exposition and turns it into something with way more personality, and if the rest of the show can add touches like that, I think this will turn out to be a wonderful little show.
There are most certainly people who will be put off by the chord this show is striking, and I totally get that. Healer Girl is prancing right on the line between earnest iyashikei and irritating pabulum, and no amount of stellar production is going to make you like something you find annoyingly pwecious. But at least for this first episode, I'm happy to sing along with this sugary sweet bubblegum bop.
It's not exactly a secret that singing can sometimes help to calm you down or otherwise affect your mood, and I'm not just saying that because my mother took The King and I's advice about whistling a happy tune to forget you're afraid pretty literally. (Because who doesn't want terrible musical accompaniment on a harrowing boat trip?) Healer Girl may be taking the concept a bit too far, though, with its fancy third branch of medicine and an apprenticeship program to train girls into fully-fledged musical healers. Do male voices not work as well? Are there no accredited musical medical schools? Who knows? It's a musical, pesky things like serious questions aren't necessary here.
And this really is a fairly classic musical. While there's singing to heal a variety of ailments, we also have a couple of instances where people just burst into song to explain things like why they got into musical healing in the first place, and before we know what's going on in that opening scene, Kana walking down the street singing at full blast and the stunned facial expressions of the folks on the street certainly looks like something straight out of a self-aware musical. Even the basic plot of Kana's inability to wait until her training is complete before she heals people feels a bit like the stuff of Broadway, or at least the Disney Channel, especially since there aren't any real repercussions for her doing so twice this episode. It's just fortunate that she's as talented as she is enthusiastic, because otherwise the whole thing with Yui's grandmother could have gone downhill fast.
How much you will like this is absolutely going to hinge on your ability to suspend your disbelief. Not that it's any less ridiculous than any number of other plot premises we've seen over the years; it's more the way that it's executed. I do very much appreciate that we don't get a lot of long-winded explanations about what the whole musical healing thing is, and that Karasuma and Shoko (the masters to the girls' apprentices) go to what is clearly an academic conference is an important bit of world-building because it establishes musical medicine as a real and serious profession in the story's world rather than a fringe belief. But at the end of the day it's still a story about a very perky, nearly TSTL high school girl singing at people to make their boo-boos go away. And it is worth mentioning that all but one of the cases that we see in this episode appear to be scrapes and scratches, even those treated by Karasuma. Possibly this is to save up the drama for Grandma's collapse in the end of the episode, which isn't a terrible plan, but it does feel a little odd, since normally a scrape is more a trip to the pharmacy than the doctor.
I'm not sure I'm interested in watching more of this. Kana's naivete is a bit much, watching Reimi pant after her teacher isn't as funny as it wants to be, and the episode didn't really sell me on the lure of musical healing. But I'm also not really a music or a musical person, so if those things are more appealing to you, I think this could turn out to be pretty fun.
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