Tatsumi Kagura is a young college student who had a promising career as a professional athlete ahead of him… up until he injured himself, and had to leave school. He gets a job working at a publishing company in a boring city called Wonderland, and finds a new home at a nearby boarding house. It’s here that he meets Ureshiko Asaba, the granddaughter of the house’s manager. She’s older than he is, but she’s kind and gentle, and he soon begins to fall for her. But little does he know what kind of tightly guarded secrets are standing between them.
Now, on the surface, this may seem like yet another schmaltzy little fanservice-fest, a borderline harem with the barest ghint of a will-theyp-won’t-they plot to hold some semblance of a story together, and that the magical girl element is only there to justify a bunch of highly sexualized transformation sequences. But the truth is, this well runs surprisingly deep.
For starters, Ureshiko is 26 years old, at least ten years older than your typical magical girl, which makes the transformation sequences significantly less creepy than they could have been. Directly related to this is the fact that a much younger, more traditionally aged magical girl has come to Ureshiko’s territory to force her into retirement and assume her position. And for some reason, this girl has little to no regard for the safety of non-magical people.
Oh, and that kiss thing? It isn’t just some silly little tension builder. There are actual consequences to it. See, the other thing about Ureshiko that prevents her from loving Kagura is the fact that she’s still married to another man, to whom her marriage actually crumbled due to her inability to kiss him. They’re separated, but not divorced properly, and yes, he’s involved with another woman.
Yeah. Didn’t expect THAT out of your harem romp, did you?
Okusama had a moderate animation budget, but it was managed extremely well… Still frames are used sparingly, where they mostly won’t be noticed, so that the bulk of the budget could be dumped into some amazing action scenes and hilarious motion cycles. It’s fluid and graceful when it needs to be, but never goes too far overboard, placing every single yen where it belongs.
The artwork is just that… It’s art. The backgrounds are highly detailed, to the point that every single landscape… Even those that are only on screen for seconds at a time… Appears to have taken hours to complete. The blend of colors is elegant and precise, giving an impression of almost gritty realism to it. The character designs are also colorful, attractive, and well thought out. In short, this anime looks really pretty.
I’m afraid I can’t talk about the dub, because after nine years, there still isn’t an English dub to speak of. The subs sounded great, though my American ears aren’t entirely reliable. I can tell you, if nothing else, that the seiyou for Ureshiko and her estranged husband give performances that were nothing short of perfect. Everything else sounded like typical anime voicings, so I guess no comment is a good comment.
But as pretty as it may be, no anime can stand on it’s own without good writing… Well, except for Angel Beats, but that’s another review. Anyway, when it comes to Okusama’s writing, the first thing about it that really strikes me is how mature it is. I don’t mean mature as in ‘tons of adult content,’ I mean mature as in… Mature. The characters are mostly adults, dealing with complex problems that a lot of similar anime wouldn’t even consider as possible topics. They grow and develop in ways that don’t become evident to the viewer until after the fact, and yes, all of our noteworthy characters have gone through some very distinct changes by the end of it’s thirteen episode run. There’s no true villain to this story, just opposing viewpoints that clash endlessly with no true compromise in sight. nobody is completely right, nobody is completely wrong, and as you learn more about the situation brewing between them, you’ll find yourself constantly shifting between sides. The romance is also handled really well, developed at a steady pace, with just enough reasonable doubt to make the end result feel a lot less predictable than it should have felt.
I don’t want to give away any serious spoilers, but the plot evolves and develops just as gradually as the characters do Every single twist is delivered naturally, without a hint of exposition, and as each layer is peeled, it’ll reveal just enough information about what’s going on to leave you hungry for the next one. Although this could also be considered Okusama’s biggest downfall, as several really important questions are dangled in front of us for a really cruel amount of time without ever being answered.
Okusama carries a very strong theme about growing up, and how difficult it can be to leave your former self behind in the process. This is explored not only through the perspective of the individual giving up her old responsibilities to a younger generation, but also from the perspective of that younger generation, as she takes on the pressure of the older generation’s responsibilities, leaving behind all sense of ego as she does so. It teaches that time doesn’t wait for anyone, and that as long as both generations can trust and respect each other, they may just be able to live together in harmony.
Okusama wa Mahou Shoujo… Or the literal translation, Madam is a Magical Girl; Bewitched Agnes, is a very obscure anime series from 2005. It’s never been licensed for an English distribution, so I unfortunately cannot recommend watching it in any kind of legal way. It took me a long time to find a sub that wasn’t in French, and it wasn’t even a very well translated one. Trust me, if there was a legal way to watch it, I’d be recommending that instead. You can also buy the Malaysian bootleg off of Ebay, but the quality of those things are always a gamble.
Bewitched Agnes… Which is the name I’ve come to assign to it… Is a very mature, well written show that offers a surprisingly gripping experience. It falls apart towards the end, starting with a somewhat insulting deus-ex-machina event, and slowly losing all sense of the dark, pyschologically complex reveals that it could have easily reached. It’s a fun ride, but we never learn anything substantial about the magical world, or about Wonderland’s relationship to it, or how this bizarre system came to be in the first place. And that’s a pretty big blight on an otherwise perfect series. Some people won’t mind this, but for me, it drops the show down by about two points to an overall score of 8/10.