Reviewby Theron Martin,
Matoi the Sacred Slayer
Episodes 1-12 Streaming
14-year-old Matoi Sumeragi, whose mother disappeared 10 years earlier under mysterious circumstances, has only recently returned to living with her policeman father Shingo, an awkward situation for both of them. She also helps out as a shrine maiden at her best friend Yuma's family shrine. When a human possessed by a higher-dimensional entity called a Night attacks the shrine, Yuma's attempt to use an old scroll to become an Exorcist Girl inadvertently turns Matoi into one instead, through a process called a Divine Union. Matoi isn't too keen on this, since she just wants to live as an ordinary girl, not to mention that she becomes naked when the god-cloak wears off. However, increased activity by the Nights leaves her unable to ignore her divine calling. The arrival of Clarus, a dedicated Anti-Creed (i.e. Night-fighter) from the Vatican-sponsored Fatima organization, stirs things up further, as does the arrival of special agent Haruka, who is investigating the Nights for a different group. Fortunately, Matoi's appearance changes enough in Exorcist Girl form that Shingo doesn't recognize her, but how long can she keep deceiving him? And does all this have anything to do with where her mother went?
This 12-episode series from the past fall season is the first original anime production by Studio White Fox, but it unfortunately made a negative first impression for a number of reasons. Its first episode showed little potential to be anything more than a run-of-the-mill magical girl battle series, its artistic effort was very mediocre (especially in its character designs), and an early scene intended as fanservice comedy raised viewer eyebrows in a bad way. Thankfully, that scene proves to be an aberration rather than a sign of things to come; the series is surprisingly tame, with even the plot point of girls ending up naked when their transformations expire becoming a non-issue in the long run. Matoi the Sacred Slayer turns out to be more than an ordinary magical girl series overall, even if the first episode wasn't putting its best foot forward.
The mechanics in play here are a little more complicated than usual. In this setting, gods and the seemingly-evil Nights aren't supernatural beings but rather entities from higher dimensions of existence who have descended into ours for various reasons. Both can attach themselves to humans, but whereas Nights do it forcefully to the harm of their hosts, gods only bond benevolently to those who have affinity with them, becoming the battle garb of an Exorcist Girl. When not serving as battle garb, they can manifest as silent entities only visible to the spiritually empowered. By passing through higher dimensions, an Exorcist Girl with sufficient power can teleport, but having encounters in those higher dimensions is also possible, with the power of the god acting as the chief limiter on how high an Exorcist Girl can travel through dimensions. Matoi's story uses quasi-physics to try and define how magic works in the series. It's not exactly a cutting-edge idea, but it's certainly more ambitious than normal magical girl series get. Of course, it's all still grounded by more typical magical girl elements, such as an Exorcist Girl's conviction in her wish translating into her power level.
However, the true difference comes from the heart and soul of the series. Fathers who have a visible, active presence in a teenage protagonist's life aren't common in anime these days, and the series enhances the effect of Shingo's presence by establishing that the relationship between Matoi and Shingo has clearly been strained by distance and the absence of mother/wife Shiori. The two spend nearly the entire series feeling each other out on an emotional level and learning how much they can trust one another. While this aspect of the series is a slow burn, it does eventually culminate in some emotional moments late in the series, as we see that each is trying to protect the other in their own way, and that there's much left unsaid between the two that remains implicitly understood. Yuma and Clarus also have their own issues to work through, though those are less complex and more typical. Even so, the series shines brightest when it boils down to its emotional core and how that can affect the way Exorcist Girls use their powers.
The plot and supporting cast beyond Shingo are nothing world-shaking. Shingo has a derpy partner used mostly for comic relief (as are Yuma's parents), and Haruka is the sexy adult agent from a mysterious organization. Yuma's grandfather and a couple of shrine maidens associated with Shiori also come into the picture later on, as do a succession of villainous Nights. The involvement of the named Nights in the second half of the series is the series' weakest point beyond its first episode, as the script doesn't do much with them or delve into their motives, but one of them does carry the series' biggest and most shocking twist at the end of episode 10. The scenarios where Matoi, Yuma, and Clarus must battle Night-possessed foes are also fairly typical, though never a disappointment.
Visuals are a decidedly mixed bag that pull inspiration from several different sources. The actual character designs are on the rough side, among the least attractive of the Fall 2016 season, and their transformed versions aren't much of an improvement. The spiritual forms of the Nights have creepy, nightmarish appearances that are also on the rough side but still effective. (One of them is a definite rip-off of Cowboy Bebop's Mad Pierrot.) On the other hand, the intricate design of Matoi's god is a marvel that conveys an ominous yet not exactly threatening presence. Background art is also fairly ordinary for the regular world, with higher dimensions being portrayed as myriad explosions of color somewhat reminiscent of the alternate space in Yuki Yuna is a Hero, including some kaleidoscopic effects used late in the series. The actual animation isn't bad, at times accomplishing some truly dramatic and beautiful effects, especially later in the series.
The most consistently strong aspect of the series is its soundtrack, courtesy of Tatsuya Katou, the same composer who previously produced great work on titles like Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya, World Conquest Zvezda Plot, and Yatterman Night. The underlying score, which is a mix of orchestration and piano numbers with a rare insertion of rock guitar, is highlighted by a signature number sometimes done with violin and sometimes with wordless female vocals, which gives a perfect punch to the more emotional content. An opener influenced by classical Japanese instrumentation provides a good lead-in to the series, while the closer is an entirely ordinary melody. Japanese vocal performances are solid but unremarkable.
Ultimately, love is a major factor in the story without coming off anywhere near as trite as it does in many magical girl series, and the finale delivers a palpable sense of emotions as the guiding force behind everything all along. Its entirely self-contained story leaves little room for follow-up, but that's perfectly fine. Matoi the Sacred Slayer had a story to tell that was executed to completion and satisfaction. It will probably never be remembered as a great series, but it definitely ended up a lot stronger than it started.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : C+
Music : A-
+ Strong emotional core and musical score, occasionally beautiful imagery, satisfyingly complete story
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