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Mahou Shoujo Site
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(All episodes watched):
The term 'magical girls' summons forth images of plucky, idealized girls taking on stereotypical villains and defeating them--although, obviously, nobody actually gets hurt. Well, it quickly became clear that Mahou Shoujo Site is definitely not your usual magical girl anime. Before I watched episode one, I was very tired and almost went to bed without watching it. Afterwards, I was so on edge as a result of the rampant brutality and sadism that I couldn't go to sleep until I had watched another innocuous anime to calm myself down. At one point Aya nearly gets raped, and the tone of the show had been so disturbing up to that point that I really believed that it might happen. And yet, this turned out to be one of the most gripping and intriguing shows I had yet seen during the season. It's extremely cathartic when Aya first makes use of her magical power and turns the tables on an attacker. She has been hurt so much that it feels good when she finds a way to fight back. Also intriguing is her discovery that she's not the only girl who has been granted magical powers. But at what cost? One cannot help having misgivings about a website that has a cadaver-like avatar, and whose 'magic' causes blood to drip from your eyes. So, episode one left me with little idea where this show would go next, but I was confident that it would be fascinating--and that I would have to endure a good deal of highly realistic brutality as well. The cruelty of ordinary humans to one another is more horrifying than anything ghosts or zombies might possibly do.
I steeled myself for a second episode which I assumed would be just as disturbing as the first, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't nearly as harsh. It was more about learning the basics of how the Magical Girl Site works, what the costs of employing magical devices, called 'sticks' are, and that other magical girls are not necessarily your friends. We meet Tsuyuno Yatsumura, another magical girl who hopes to team up with Aya for the sake of their mutual self-defense. Tsuyuno is a gruff, cynical girl, but she has every reason to be that way. I got the feeling that the personalities of the characters would not be all that deep; as of yet Tsuyuno seemed distant and hard to sympathize with. The two girls are told that an apocalyptic event, the 'Tempest' is coming, but at the moment they (and we) have little idea what that might portend. Aya's fight against bullying will not be the biggest problem that must be solved. MS Site is a sort of dark parody of conventional magical girl shows; the girls who are usually paragons of virtue are depicted as struggling with one another in a kill-or-be-killed situation. Perhaps the purpose of episode one was to make it clear that this story is not taking place in some idealized alternate reality where the good guys always win in the end.
In some ways episode three excited and intrigued me, and in others made me worry. I'm uncomfortable with Aya's brother discovering the MS website and with one of the bully girls running into the creepy person who (presumably) operates it. It suggests that she'll become a magical girl herself, and I'd rather have clever writing than an unstoppable force versus immovable object type battle. Perhaps I was looking forward to Aya taking revenge on her tormentors, and these events suggested that that wasn't going to happen. But all-in-all, this remained one of my favorite shows of the season and I looked forward to additional episodes.
But the overall story has a rough, unfinished feel to it. You sort of get the feeling that the author tended to chose second-best plot points; good but not great. Or that maybe he/she was in a hurry as the writing was done. Just as I had feared, I really hated a particular scene in episode five. Basically, a magical girl has a Stick so powerful that it ultimately causes a building to collapse, and uses it to attack Aya at point-blank range--and she can't do anything more than give her a minor scratch. Come on! Suspension of disbelief isn't unlimited; you have to make certain that each bizarre event is semi-plausible, not just the first few. Perhaps the problem is that when each girl has a weapon that is virtually as powerful as an atomic bomb, how do you keep them from wiping out everything when they use them, and keep the story believable as well? Aya seems to be the only magical girl who hasn't gone insane to one degree or another, and even she isn't untouched by all the trauma she has endured (which is revealed in one very good moment in an otherwise deeply disappointing episode). But this show was starting to leave me feeling so dismayed by what I was seeing that the thought would occur to me "why didn't they ask me to fix these problems?! I could have done a better job than they did!'.
I had feared that the whole show might fall to pieces after that lackluster episode, but episode six was a good deal better. We learn something important about the Tempest and the MS Site, and as a result the alliances between friends and enemies is reshuffled somewhat. It wasn't brilliant--Tsuyuno makes an unlikely change that largely annuls the dark secret we had just learned about her, others are also happy to make abrupt 180 degree turns in their attitudes, and things become somewhat confusing: if the site(s) have been tricking and manipulating the girls all along, can we trust the claims they have made about an impending apocalypse? You might say that this is the second time the show has shifted into a new direction from what I was expecting; the first was when it became a good magical girls versus bad ones series rather than a grim story of Aya's persecution in episode two. Aya's almost comically sadistic brother has yet to make his move, and I pray that when it comes it will make some sense.
I'm not sure the plan the girls come up with to abduct a site 'administrator' and force her to tell them the truth about the Tempest makes a whole lot of sense; these are the people who hand out Sticks after all, so will they be subject to them just like anybody else would? They don't exactly seem to be human, for one thing. But what else would they do? And if the world is liable to come to an end soon, the life-threatening properties of Sticks aren't all that big of a deal.
In general, there are shows in which you have a vague but pleasing feeling of where the story is going. It makes sense, there's enough unpredictability for it to be novel and intriguing, and as a result you enjoy it. Basically, such shows tell you no more and no less than you need to remain interested without becoming either bored at what seems a predictable plot or frustrated with what seems an incomprehensible one. With MS Site I found that the show was verging on being too confusing and irrational for me to fully keep track of what was going on. Stuff which doesn't seem to make sense is discarded by my memory. But I kept watching it, after all. Characters have been developed for episodes without playing a major part until now, which is a sure sign of discipline and pre-planning in the storytelling. The question was whether the story as a whole would make sense when it reached a climax.
Episode nine, in which Aya's brother finally makes his move was very intense, though not entirely in a good way. The images and lines brother speaks definitely made me hate his guts and want him to die an agonizing death. His Stick seemed to be all-powerful and the girls seemed helpless, which was (what's the word?) exasperating. Don't give up and let this mother ----ing bastard win, girls! Watching this episode was sort of like listening to fingernails screeching on a chalkboard. I wish the trick the girls used to beat him had made a little more sense and been a little more original, though. This episode and the one before make it clear that well established characters sometimes die in this show. I definitely want to see how this story ends, but getting to the climax can sometimes be discordant and unpleasant.
In episode ten the story widens as the police get involved and a character we haven't seen for a while reappears. As usual the story was rough and far from perfect, but still gripping. The plot contains few genuine surprises. The emotions made sense in some ways, little sense in others. Didn't it occur to Aya that if she took on the Custodians single-handedly with all the Sticks she might lose and everyone else would be screwed as well? I was still not completely convinced that the whole Tempest business made sense. And surely Administrators, being capable of supernatural tricks, will be invulnerable to ordinary girls, even if they are armed with Sticks? But no, in the end it was clear that they weren't all that tough. Still, I had no intention of quitting.
By this point it was clear that the personalities of the characters--even Aya herself--would never be polished and complete. That hampered the climax, because as a result the epiphany Aya undergoes didn't seem completely convincing. Still, it was a better conclusion than I had come to expect. Poor Aya is a much stronger person and has learned some valuable lessons. I didn't know whether the story was really over or not, which was frustrating. Most of the Administrators are still in business, and hint that they will be coming after Aya at some point, which robs us of the feeling that this can really be counted as a happy ending. And I wish a certain shocking discovery--Administrators are girls too? had been expanded on. The suggestions are that a second season must be forthcoming, yet given the not exactly brilliant overall quality of the show it seems hard to believe that that will really happen. Aya's brother gets some of what he deserves in an ugly yet quite appropriate scene at the very end. I guess the basic problem with MS Site is that the way various threats are fended off aren't all that rewarding. There's not all that much pleasant catharsis to make the ugly stuff worthwhile in the end. So, you pay a heavy price for modest quality.
Last updated Sunday, July 15 2018. Created Tuesday, April 17 2018.