Magical Project S: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
My sister surprised me with both DVD box-sets of the complete Magical Project S anime series. Magical Project S is a spin-off from Pioneer’s Tenchi Muyo! anime series and a pretty cooky one at that. The series uses characters from the Tenchi Muyo series but completely recasts them into a semi-parody of a “Magical Girl” series.
In the series, Sasami (the little girl from Tenchi’s “harem” in the proverbial “harem comedy”) is a normal 4th grader who is given magic powers by Tsunami who is the leading candidate to become the ruler of a world called Juraihelm. Sasami is to assume the identity of Pretty Sammy and is helped along by Ryo-Ohki (the cat-rabbit/cabbit, who in this series is a boy rather than a girl) and faces off against cartoony and zany “Love-Love Monsters” summoned by a rival magical girl Pixy Misa in order to restore the balance of good and evil on Earth (which is the last requirement for Tsunami to become queen).
Unbeknownst to Sammy, Pixy Misa is actually her timid best friend Misao under the control of Tsunami’s rival Ramia (called such in the subtitles, despite being called “Lamia” by everyone in the show) who wants to become queen herself. The series also involves other children from Sasami’s and Misao’s class, Lamia’s unwilling lackey, her little brother Lumiya (Rumiya) and the teachers of the school as well as a colourful array of one-of supporting characters.
- Sasami & Tsunami: These two were effectively the same character in Tenchi Muyo! but in Magical Project S they are two completely different people. Sasami is a normal human girl and not initially too excited about becoming a magical girl. Sasami is kind and energetic but also slightly more whiney than in Tenchi Muyo (though she always does the right thing in the end). Tsunami is a lot more ditzy, but then again she barely appeared in Tenchi to begin with.
- Mihoshi, Kiyone and Washu: Mihoshi, Kiyone and Washu are all recast as teachers at Sasami’s school. Mihoshi is Sasami’s home-room teacher and just as ditzy as before. Sadly, Mihoshi doesn’t do much of anything other than add occasional comic relief (and fan-service). Kiyone (from Tenchi Universe) is her bad-tempered colleague and actually the star of one episode. Her rotten personality, frankly, makes her very unsympathetic. Washu retains most of her personality, being an insane inventor who goes to Japan to study Pretty Sammy. She plays a big role in a lot of one-of episodes but also in the finale which was sort of cool. However, here she’s literally just a young mad genius.
- Ryoko & Ayane: Ryoko and Ayane make recurring supporting appearances towards the series end but are called Oryo and Romio (yeap, it’s just as silly as it sounds). Ryoko seems really cool but unfortunately she really only plays a big role in one episode. Ayane’s recasting is far more drastic but I wont spoil it if you wish to see the series for yourself.
- Tenchi, Young Yosho, Old Yosho & Tenchi’s Dad: Funny enough, the most central members of the Masaki family make appearances as one-of characters on the show. Tenchi is the central character of a really moving mid-series episode, while both a young and old version of Yosho (Tenchi’s Grandfather) actually appear in the same goofy one-of episode involving ninjas and cowboys.
+5 The Central Cast – I have to say that the most central cast of the show was really lovable and fun. Sasami and her goofy parents provided a lot of comic energy, Misao’s dysfunctional family provided a lot of drama (especially in the latter half of the season) and Lamia’s villainous insanity was just a lot of fun to watch. While there were some episodes where I felt the main-cast got unfairly ignored, whenever these characters were in the spotlight they carried the whole episode.
+4 The Story – I was surprisingly impressed with the story-telling in the series. I seriously wasn’t expecting the plot to be as good as it turned out to be, especially concerning Misao. I also love how the series managed to bring the story back to Sasami and Misao’s friendship and never lost this theme. I also feel that adding Lumiya’s little pathos over his guilt of forcing Misao to transform was a brilliant touch. If there’s anything wrong with the story is that it takes a while to get going yet ironically, I feel the story arc concerning Misao concluded a bit too soon and left the finale of the series without a good narrative backbone. While it lasted, the story was excellent though.
+3 Mid-Series Episodes – With most series you usually see a strong opening followed by a slight teetering into mediocrity before (hopefully) rising back up to a solid finish. Magical Project S though went through a slightly different arc. The series’ opening episodes were honestly a little rough, with some being down-right awful – but once the main players of the story were set the show suddenly peaked towards the middle of the series. Ironically, I felt the series peaked both comically and story-wise at the middle with the half-point of the series having a rip-roaring hilarious line-up of comedic one-of episodes, followed then by the dramatic conclusion to the Pixy Misa story arc. Admittedly, this then had a slightly negative effect on the series Finale.
+2 The Recastings – One of my biggest fears going into this show was that, being such a huge fan of the original Tenchi Muyo, I’d be really distracted seeing familiar characters completely recast. However, after the first five episodes, I wasn’t bothered and by the time more familiar faces got thrown my way, I actually welcomed them (especially Tenchi’s sudden appearance). I even got used to the fact that this version of Ryo-Ohki talked (in full sentences) and actually found him to be even more adorable because of it. I felt the show managed to make its own original characters (Lamia, Lumiya and Misao) work really well which is why I didn’t start missing the classic Tenchi characters so much. If there’s one improvement they could have done here, I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of Oryo (Ryoko) and I wish Mihoshi could have been the star of at least one episode.
+1 Love-Love Monsters – Though they were a bit of hit-or-miss affair, the Love-Love Monsters were also the comedic salt of the show and I felt most of them were really hilarious. I especially loved the episode “The Island of Love-Love Monsters”. It was the one and only episode reappearance for most of the creatures seen in the show’s first half. It’s nice that the creatures weren’t being treated as just expendable, though ironically of course none of the Love-Love Monsters seen past this episode got reappearances. One other thing, the fact that all the Love-Love Monsters had a set “X Girl” name structure (Manga Girl, P.E. Girl, CD Girl, Fake-Sick Girl etc.) gave them a nice Mega Man feel which is also why I liked them.
-5 The Songs!! – Random musical numbers in anime always get a mixed reaction from me. I don’t mind a well-edited musical montage so much, but Magical Project S really overdid it at times with the song numbers (especially ones at the ends of episodes that made me want to skip to the next episode). Why on Earth did Washu need to carry around a guitar!? To be fair, not all the songs were terrible, I quite liked Pixy Misa’s corny introduction song as well as Tsunami’s “panic dance” when Sammy suffers her first true defeat. However, they were unnecessary and just dragged out the show when there wasn’t enough plot to fill out an episode’s running time (I felt the same way about the song numbers in Nuku Nuku).
-4 Most of the Supporting Cast – Sasami and Misao’s classmates were quite an unimpressive collection of anime clichés. There’s the sporty, generic shojo anime kid whom is teased to have a crush on Misao (frankly, I rooted for Lumiya from the get-go) and an annoying girl who tries to force her affections on him. Konoha, the annoying girl, at least added some comedic value and even starred in one episode but was probably the most overdone gag character on the show. The sporty kid’s closed-eyed friend with a mildly pervy vibe added really nothing to the show (except a considerably disturbing daydream sequence with Kiyone). By far my least favourite supporting character was Eimi (Amy ?), the tone-deaf school rules nazi.
-3 Start and End-Series Episodes – Magical Project S suffered from some of the most erratic writing quality I’ve seen, both in the cases of comedic one-of episodes and the serious, story-driven ones. As discussed in The Good section, the series peaked towards the middle and I’m shocked how badly the gag-episodes at the start of the series were handled. The series kick-off two-parter was actually decent (though flubbed a little towards the end) but I think the show lost sight of its purpose, where it was supposed to start off as a parody of a dumb magic girl show and actually turned into one from time to time. As for the finale, I believe the narrative climax (where Misao has a near mental breakdown realising that she actually is Pixy Misa) just came way too early. The final five-episode story arc was just a load of dead weight and unfulfilled potential. We did get most of the things I wanted to see // Spoilers! Ryo-Ohki as a human and Lumiya (sort of) confessing his feelings to Misao // but it all felt incredibly rushed for some reason (considering they took FIVE FRICKIN’ EPISODES).
-2 Doshite! WHY!! (The Engrish) – I don’t know if the summer of 1996 was just a period where talking in heavily Japanese-accented English was just trendy, but there sure is a lot of it in this show and I’m not sure if it was all necessary. I kinda hated that this was Pixy Misa’s go-to running gag but at least it worked from time to time. It was when other characters did it spontaneously and for no good reason that I started grinding my teeth. However, I will admit that the few instances of Washu bluntly crying out “Jesus!” made me chuckle.
-1 Odd translation (Lovely = Sexy) – In relation to the over-abundance of Engrish, I also have to point out the rather odd wording used in the subtitles for the show (there is no English dub as far as I know). With the Engrish being so prominent, there was a lot of subtitling of English words and phrases that didn’t really need to be translated, which by itself was odd enough. But once we had the entry of the Team Lovely Madams (Sexy Onna) is where I started to notice an odd trend. For whatever reason, the translator avoided ever using the word “sexy” even though it was clearly being said by characters in the show and replaced it with “lovely”. Conversely, Sammy repeated using the word “pretty” was left unmodified. I can understand that the subtitler might have felt a twinge of fear using the word “sexy” in the subtitles of a show where most of the cast were prepubescent girls – but I think this move was unnecessary when YOU CAN CLEARLY TELL THAT THE CHARACTERS ARE SAYING THE WORD.
Magical Project S left me with rather mixed feelings. Over-all, it’s a fun show. The comedy at its best was seriously hilarious (and really cringe-worthy at its worst) and I even found myself genuinely invested in the show’s storyline (as clichéd as it might have been to a degree). The animation quality was consistently excellent (even if the transformation and attack animations were recycled in practically every episode) and honestly, I found myself looking forward to each episode, after the slightly rocky start.
I can at least recommend this to fellow Tenchi Muyo fans and it’s even a serviceable parody of the magic girl genre. The quality is a bit uneven, but if you can make it to “Mid-Summer Santa”, I think you’ll enjoy the rest of the series as well.