Reviewby Theron Martin,
Magical Girl Site
Episodes 1-12 streaming
Middle schooler Aya Asagiri's life is so miserable that she has often contemplated suicide but can't bring herself to do it. Her timidity led to her being relentlessly bullied by her classmates, and she can find no comfort at home, where her parents largely ignore her in favor of her exemplary older brother, who secretly uses her as a literal punching bag for stress release.
When she discovers a website called Magical Girl Site, she's offered a chance to become a magical girl by receiving a magical “stick” in the form of a gun with a heart-shaped barrel, which teleports its targets instead of directly harming them. Use of the stick in a dire situation leads to the unintended deaths of her tormenters, but it also brings her to the attention of Tsuyuno Yatsumura, another magical girl who teams up with her and helps to change Aya's worldview. That's important because there are many other magical girls out there, and some of them definitely aren't friendly, to say nothing of the threat posed by the masked Administrators and the mysterious upcoming event called Tempest.
The manga that this Spring 2018 series adapts is a spin-off of the manga Magical Girl Apocalypse. However, you don't need to have any familiarity with the original in order to fully understand this story, as it seems to be entirely self-contained.
What you do need is at least some degree of tolerance for the recent spate of dark magical girl series, as this is easily one of the grimmest entries to date and makes that point abundantly clear right from the start. In fact, the first episode is so over-the-top in its attempts to establish the extreme misfortune of protagonist Aya - including depictions of extreme bullying, attempted rape, and a brother gut-punching his sister – that it practically begs for visceral rejection. That contributed mightily to its first episode being one of the lowest-rated of last spring's Preview Guide.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the series is unwatchable. The second episode, despite continued exaggerated cruelty, is nowhere near as off-putting as the first, and it gives further indication of the series' saving grace: the relationship between Aya and Tsuyuno. Tsuyuno at first seems to be using Aya because she needs an ally to help combat the more dangerous foes of the magical girl system, but over the course of several episodes, their relationship steadily becomes something more. While they do protect each other physically, far more impactful is the way they save each other's souls. Tsuyuno's backstory is every bit as horrible as Aya's, but she became far nastier and more ruthless as a result. Her association with Aya eventually pulls her out of a pit where she was living only for revenge and makes her appreciate life again, while Tsuyuno provides Aya with her first true supportive friend. Whether or not they're trending in a romantic direction by the end of the series is a matter of interpretation; the series doesn't explicitly go there but provides enough context to read that into their relationship if the viewer is so inclined.
The rest of the magical girls introduced are very hit-or-miss. The “hits” are generally the characters that the series actually puts some effort into establishing beyond what power they gain from using their stick. One of the most interesting cases is the pop idol who secretly has severe anger management issues, but a couple of the more villainous ones come off better in the long run too. The “misses” are a handful who get introduced midway through the series but never get developed beyond the periphery, especially the sword-wielding yakuza heir, the broomstick-riding heiress, and the superhuman athlete; we never even get a hint as to why they were unfortunate enough to become magical girls.
The villains are also hit-or-miss. It's hardly a spoiler to reveal that Aya's abusive brother eventually becomes one of the villains. He's more of a caricature of evil than an appreciable character, however. The series puts a lot of effort into making the masked Administrators creepy and threatening, but this is only half-successful with Nana's stilted speech style being more annoying than disturbing; I am very curious to hear how that will be handled if the series ever gets an English dub. Ultimately the Admins are just your basic secret organization manipulating the magical girls for their own dark purposes.
The way that events play out is also fairly standard for this kind of series, with various characters popping up and getting killed off in creative acts of violence as the girls go about trying to solve the mystery of the Magical Girl Site and the upcoming Tempest. Anyone familiar with this branch of the magical girl genre will recognize all kinds of story elements being borrowed for any number of predecessors. The series instead aims to distinguish itself much more with its visuals, especially the altered pupils when the magical girls are engaging their powers and the random bleeding that each girl experiences as a consequence of using her stick. (Aya bleeds from her eyes and Tsuyuno from her mouth, for instance.) However, the girls never seem to have any health consequences from the bleeding (although using their magic does take a toll on them in other ways), so it more commonly comes across as cheap and distracting window-dressing.
Otherwise the technical merits are decent, about on par with the standard visual quality for this genre. Character designs provide a wide array of standard anime girl types, and a typically dark and red-hued color scheme plays up the story's grimness alongside detailed run-down locales. Expect lots of blood, graphic violence, and graphic imagery, but no sexual elements beyond the brief attempted rape scene in episode one. The animation effort is nothing special, either. The musical score is stronger, as it pushes hard to play up the suspense and tension of the darkest content, but it's appropriately mellower in lighter scenes, with an unremarkable opener and closer.
The series doesn't reach the apocalyptic Tempest event that everything is building toward by the end of its 12 episodes, but at least it finds a reasonable stopping point and finishes with an epilogue that will be either repulsive or satisfying, depending on your definition of karmic justice. On the whole, the series takes magical girl stories into darker territory than they've ever gone before, but its failure to do anything fresh in the process will restrict the breadth of its appeal to established subgenre fans with a strong stomach.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Relationship between Aya and Tsuyuno, lots of bloody fun for subgenre fans
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