Reviewby Casey Brienza, Jan 2nd 2009
Sasami: Magical Girls Club
DVD - Season One
Sasami Iwakura, fifth grade daughter of a children's book novelist, has a secret: She can do magic! And though her parents admonish her not to reveal her powers to anyone, a twist of fate reveals her to the new school nurse, Washu-sensei. And as it turns out, Sasami isn't the only girl at school with supernatural abilities. Fellow female students Misao, Makoto, Tsukasa, and An-An all have surprising latent magic of their own. So, with Washu-sensei as their advisor, the five girls form the Magical Girls Club and begin learning how to control and harness their magic. They are descendants of witches, and it is up to them to become liaisons between the humans and the witches. Nevertheless, most important of all is the friendship and trust growing between them.
Sasami: Magical Girls Club is an alternate universe spinoff of the Tenchi Muyo!, also known as No Need for Tenchi!, franchise, and apparently there is in fact no need for Tenchi—because he does not appear at all in the 13-episode first season! Instead, it is Sasami Iwakura and her quartet of adorable, youthful compatriots who take the center stage of this predictable yet inoffensive magical girl anime.
Given that this show is a spinoff of a spinoff (Sasami and her friends got their first starring roles in Magical Girl Pretty Sammy), you would be forgiven for thinking that the result would be an irony-laden monstrosity where all of the genre codes are delivered with postmodern scare quotes. This, however, would be a grievous misconception. But let's be clear first: Sasami: Magical Girls Club has an extremely limited list of new ideas to roll out and openly parodies magical girl/sentai mashups such as Sailor Moon once in awhile. Trotting out a list of all the things borrowed from other shows is a waste of time, but suffice it to say that if you have been around the block a few times, you will see plenty. If you haven't, you won't…and for newcomers to the genre or the medium, this is key: The creators seem to have reached the conclusion that irony is dead. And so: No panty shots whatsoever and only one pair of bouncing boobs (which make only brief cameo appearances). Yes, antisocial, potentially creepy male otaku are the intended audience in Japan, but it is so faithful to the magical girl genre that you should feel entirely safe allowing your six year old girl to watch it. And I lay odds she will be thrilled.
Indeed, sincerity would be the watchword, and themes include friendship, triumph over adversity, and faith in the fundamental goodness of the world. Nevertheless, the scope of the characters' achievements, despite their ability to use magic, is surprisingly narrow and banal. For example, in the first episode, “Sasami and Misao,” Sasami befriends her class's shy, gloomy outcast. They later cement their relationship in the next episode by accompanying each other to the school bathroom. This is an important moment for them (for a number of reasons), and the fact that it is important shows you just how low the bar is being set in this show. (By the way, readers of the male persuasion should know that girls like to go to the bathroom together. Don't ask me why, but it's true. Nothing perverse there.) Further modest adventures include seeing that their club advisor Washu-sensei does not get fired, selling Misao's beautifully crafted jewelry in the playground, and helping a little girl get over her parents' death.
The visuals match the sincerity mandate of the story to a tee. Vibrant colors and frequent use of natural light give add to its warmth. Sasami's world is a craftsman-style, larger than life universe, which complements the benevolent, nostalgic feel nicely. Animation seems about average for a television series, with occasional lavish expenditures that bump it up a half notch once in a while. A brief close up shot of the girls with their heads out the window in episode five is quite lovely, and computer-generated cinematic scenes through tunnels and the like add pizzazz. Overall, things look reasonably consistent throughout, though I could not help but notice that red spots appear out of nowhere on all of the girls' cheeks halfway through the final episode.
Naturally, each of the five characters are “types” with the addition of a quirk or two. They do not seem particularly complex, but it could be argued that fifth graders in general aren't, and at least their character designs are instantly distinguishable. So are their heights, thanks to frequent long shots that include all five girls, and their voice actors, thanks to good performances from both the Japanese and English casts. Still, there are occasional irritations. Probably the most annoying recurring interaction is An-An's puppy love infatuation with Tsukasa. Since it never goes anywhere—Tsukasa is a sleepy-headed cipher—it grates on the nerves. Also, there is a recurring gag involving Sasami's moronic, backwards-leaning run…and she runs a lot. Like the panty shots this show does not have, never an opportunity to make Sasami run is allowed to pass by, and it gets old very quickly.
The soundtrack is a bit of mixed bag. The opening and ending themes are bubbly pop confections that will appeal to people who like those sorts of things. (If you do like those sorts of things, you should appreciate the inclusion of textless opening and ending songs on the second of the two discs in this set. They are the only bonuses on offer.) The “Song of the Earth” that plays whenever the girls are in the land of the witches is of an entirely different order, soothing and beautiful, sung in classical soprano and accompanied by a harp. On the other hand, some of the background orchestral themes, especially the bagpipe music accompanying episode titles, feel vulgar and unnecessary.
Season one ends in a cliffhanger, and if you like silver-haired bishounen in bondage, you will probably want to stay tuned. Chances are, though, you know how it is all going to end, so maybe, on second thought, you will not feel the need. Just don't try tearing that six year old away.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ A sincere and reasonably attractive addition to the magical girl genre that is safe for the kids.
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