「私、神懸かってます」 (Watashi, Kami Kakattemasu)
There has been a great resurgence in magical girl anime this season, or at least an uncommonly large representation of the genre, perhaps because it’s the 20th anniversary of Cardcaptor Sakura and somebody has realised that the kids who enjoyed the show then are now adult nerds with disposable income. Soushin Shoujo Matoi is but one of these offerings, but before we actually talk about it, I think it would be best to unpack the genre a bit first. ‘Magical Girls’ is of an old school of anime with its own set of conventions, and some shows may expect viewers to know them in advance before they play with them. So, very briefly and very generally, let us talk about classification. Roughly—very roughly—I would group magical-girl-esque anime into one of three forms:
- Classical: Old-school stuff. A normal girl is given magical powers to accomplish some arbitrary task. Always coming of age stories, targeted at younger audiences. While there’s plenty of old magical girl shows, and Sailor Moon Crystal is still of recent memory, I would say that Cardcaptor Sakura, while not actually that old, is now seen as the archetype. Something of an exhausted genre, but with surprising longevity. How much Precure is there now? I can’t even begin to count.
- Action-lesbians: My personal, unfairly derisive name for the shows that come out of the Nanoha school of magical girls. The natural result of trying to attract more of the male demographic, with more focus on action. Basically a marriage of transforming heroes and cute girls.
- Cynical: The ‘dark’ magical girl shows, of which Madoka Magica is not even the best one (#hipster). Bloodier, much less idealistic, and generally allowed to rack up a body count (I’m guess Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku is itching to get killing). I was going to call this ‘Deconstruction’, but that would not be entirely accurate. A cynical show is not necessarily a deconstruction. Heck, it’s not even necessarily more realistic. Darker is simply darker.
From the looks of this pilot, it seems that Soushin Shoujo Matoi, despite an opening sequence that with only slight modification could have been from Hellsing, intends to evoke the ‘classical’ magical girl, starting with the protagonist Sumeragi Matoi (Suwa Ayaka), the traditional normal girl with no aspirations outside of her normal life. If we were to compare Soushin Shoujo Matoi to common genre conventions, it would seem that it plays almost everything straight. The normal girl stumbling into magical powers accidentally. The rival. White vs black. We’ve all seen this before, right? Even the art and animation (which while not stellar, was passable) is strangely reminiscent of a kid’s show (but then the deliberate and obtrusive fanservice… eh). Point is, Soushin Shoujo Matoi really wants you to know that this is a magical girl show, to the point of perhaps being generic. At least it does seem to be somewhat self-aware about it.
That doesn’t make for the most impressive start, sure, but 1) if you were nostalgic for old magical girl shows, this may actually be what you want and 2) establishing this traditional framework as a starting point allows them to play with it later down the line. It depends largely on what they do with the show’s central gimmick, about exorcising demons. The demonic possession scenes were a rather stark contrast to the overall light-and-fluffy atmosphere of the show, so there’s potential there. Or maybe the demons will just be an excuse for action, which while unambitious is still fine. I’d rather believe in hidden potential, for now. For starters, writer Kuroda Yousuke is plenty capable of delivering a stronger script that this. And there’s already a lot he can potentially work with. For one, it’s obvious that Matoi has Complicated Family Circumstances (from the missing mother, from the way she addresses her ‘father’, from the ED), which is drama territory if I’ve ever seen it. And there seems to be more behind the mechanics of the magical girls, seemingly a neat juxtaposition to the demonic possession.
So there is something interesting here, even with the soft start. It’s worth giving Soushin Shoujo Matoi a chance with a couple more episodes, at least. Most likely, though, you’ll have to be someone who enjoys the magical genre in the first place. And if you were itching for modern anime to stop messing around with the poor girls and just play things straight for once, well. For now, it seems like we’ve got one for you.
ED: 「My Only Place」 by スフィア (Sufia)