Becoming a magical girl isn’t always easy. Not only is it a challenge, but it’s also a competition, and you have to win that competition before you’re even allowed to travel to Earth to take up the position. Yes, that means all Magical Girls are aliens, but we’ll go ahead and gloss over that fact. Padudu, an innocent, kind-hearted preteen girl from Sea Heaven, has just moved to the world of Sweetland to face these challenges, so that she can live out her dream of going to Earth and spreading happiness wherever she goes! Alongside her in this quest is her loyal familiar Oukochi, a giant hollow fish that she wears as a coat and occasionally feeds on. She also winds up traveling with Pipin, a girl with a bunny as her familiar/backpack, and MyuMyu, and older girl who’s familiar is a pair of cats that she wears as a bikini. Did you bring the drugs? Cool.
Along their quest as both friends and rivals, they’ll have to compete in bizarre challenges where they protect small areas of territory from sumo-driven catastrophes, eat the most food, grant the most wishes, survive as flat minorities in a 3D CG world, make the most money and more as they fend off attacks from the underhanded Queen Pirilun and her useless minion Zucchini, a twelve year old boy with a sunflower around his neck and a fetish for physical pain. Also pursuing them are two police officers, a veteran named Ketchup and her rookie partner named Mustard, but fear not, for the silent wanderer Nonononn is on their side to protect them… Whenever she happens to be around. At the forefront of their path to destiny lies a battle for dominance in a Wonderland so bug-nuts that even Alice would give up and go fetal.
Magical Play was produced by Anime International Company, otherwise known as Studio AIC. This might sound a little polarizing to those of you familiar with them, because AIC is somewhat of an unpredictable producer. They’ve put out several great looking anime before, such as Now and Then Here and There, Bamboo blade, Kotoura-san… Shows that look simple at first glance, but had generous budgets poured into them. They’ve also been known to take on really artistic projects, like Humanity Has Declined, where the focus is more on eye-catching visuals and ambiance than expensive movement. Then the majority of the work, particularly the ton of ecchi titles they’ve put out, were made as cheaply as hell, and have no problem showing it.
Magical Play was originally released on the internet as a series of twenty-four short-length episodes that were pretty much designed to fall into obscurity. I can’t imagine AIC intended to impress anybody with it, which is why I expected it to fall into the third of those categories… Oddly enough, it seems to have fallen equally into all three. The animation has a very cheap aesthetic, and it can look really awkward in the beginning, but the budget management does seem to get better through the course of the series. It starts out with a lot of frozen talking heads and static backgrounds, but before long the motion has improved to the point that they were able to use full-blown walk cycles and everything. It looks as decent as it needs to, never really going out of it’s way to impress anybody… Except for the CG scenes.
Yes, every so often, there’s 3D animation in this show. It’s sparse for the first few episodes, and is removed enough from the real story to not be too distracting… But in the beginning of episode four, there’s an entire mini episode where Padudu and MyuMyu have mysteriously walked into a 3D land, despite the two of them being two dimensional. I guess I should say right now that this is early 2000s Japanese 3D animation, so it looks a lot like RWBY but with better looking hair and quality control. The juxtaposition of two flat-as-paper characters walking around a 3D rendered world is a surreal image that I don’t think I’ve seen very often, outside of one episode of Gravity Falls, and while I would complain about how awful the 3D animation actually is, the episode itself already makes ruthless fun of itself, complete with animation glitches and a scene where somebody literally crashes reality.
There’s a common misconception… Well, common among the people who’ve actually heard of this show… That it shares a creator with Azumanga Daioh. While it’s true that Kiyohiko Azuma did work on this, he didn’t really do all that much… He was the character designer, and nothing more. The humor and animation are obviously not his style, but the rounded facial structures and familiar hairstyles are so similar to his iconic work that once you notice it, you’ll never not be able to. And honestly, the character designs are one of the best things about this series, so kudos to him, he clearly put a lot of imagination into what the outfits of a bunny, cat, and fish-based trio of magical girls would look like, and Nonononn’s shark design is absolutely stunning. It’s even mentioned in the commentary that the heads of MyuMyu’s cat bra look very similar to the mysterious dream character Chiyo-daddy.
The music is fairly standard and forgettable, made up of a lot of plinky, upbeat slice of life music with that all too common hint of whimsy thrown in for good measure. The opening is your typical bouncy children’s tune with a video full of easy-going visuals, the characters moving across the screen and smiling… And some near nudity followed by a nose-blood-splurt with the power of a rocket. The opening, in other words, is a perfect representation of the show, but we’ll get to that later. The English dub is… well… It’s awful from just about every angle. None of the actors seem to have been blessed with any talent, and about three quarters of them perform their roles like the director was sitting right outside the booth with a gun saying “LOUDER! MORE SCREECHY! EITHER THE GLASS BREAKS, OR YOU DO!”
Most of the so-called actors in this thing are unknown names, with the one exception being Larissa Wolcott, who’s only really known by ADV snobs. You may remember her as the actor that took on the role Excel Saga’s title character, who was only able to match her predecessor in terms of pace, and was otherwise a dreadful replacement for a renowned power actor. Aside from her, there’s somebody who played a minor character in Fairy Tail, a bunch of people who only did enough anime voice roles to be counted on one hand, and the girl playing Pipin, who sounds voice-wise like Hillary Haag, but is such a bad actor that comparing any further than there would be borderline sacrilegious. I would say the only saving grace with any of these performances is that they do sound accurate to the Japanese performances.
The writing in the dub, on the other hand, is anything but accurate, as entire exchanges are rewritten to the point of abandoning the intent behind them entirely. For an early example, Padudu encounters Pipin in the desert, and the hyper bunny girl says “You’re lucky I allowed you to rescue me… now I’ll do one favor for you!” When in the dub, she says “How dare you show your face to me! Let’s fight!” Or something along those lines. It’s bizarre, because at no point in the series can I decipher the reason that any of the dialogue was changed as drastically as it was. I mean, I guess some of it was removed because Japanese folklore would be inaccessible to American audiences, but the stuff they replaced it with is rarely any better. Whether you watch this show in Japanese or English, it’s equally as baffling, so just pick whichever one sounds better to you.
Off the top of your head, I’d like to hear what you think the most random anime of all time would be. You’d be forgiven for picking FLCL, as it switches styles on a dime, features a borderline incomprehensible story. You might have picked the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie, or perhaps Excel Saga and it’s spin-off Puni Puni Poemy. Sorry, guys, but Magical Play beats them out. FLCL may be insane, but it has a primary setting and a sense of continuity, with interwoven themes between the episodes. It has a beginning and an end, which Magical Play doesn’t. Utena’s movie held several deep themes and is loaded with symbolism, which Magical Play isn’t. Excel Saga may have attributed each episode to a different genre, but there was structure there. Puni Puni Poemy, as well, had a sense of direction and focus.
The anime that comes closest to Magical Play’s level of insanity is Humanity Had Declined, which is a non-linear story revolving around the human and elf(?) races, between whom no bizarre stunt is too crazy to work as an episode, but there’s a sense of development as we learn more about our heroine and her little friends. Magical Play doesn’t even do that. It takes anything the viewer may have learned about story-telling, throws it out, and tries instead to emulate the Oscar winning short Rejected. Okay, it’s not AS random as Rejected was, but there was no moment in this show where a swarm of ticks bursting out of somebody’s nipples would have felt out of place.
The plot of the series is thus; In order to become a magical girl, you have to win fight, complete tasks and succeed in competitions, through all of which you win Flower Marks, little stickers that we’re going to be calling Star Chips, because that’s basically what they are. Padudu falls from the sky and lands on Pipin’s head, taking her out right after she won a fight, thus stealing her victory. She wins Pipin’s star chip, earning herself a lifelong rival. She then meets MyuMyu, who decides to use Padudu as a patsy and human shield. That’s where any semblance of a plot ends, and from then on out, the whole Star Chip thing just serves as a backdrop for everything our three main characters do to fill out air time. That end of the plot, by the way, isn’t even halfway through episode 1.
From then on, the series is essentially a collection of sub-plots and running gags intermingled with each other. Padudu is always eating meat from her fish-coat, Pipin is always complaining about her lost Star Chip, MyuMyu cheats and manipulates them, MyuMyu’s bikini cats wander away to embarrass her with out-of-frame nudity, the Dandelion boy atempts to attack her and Nonononn but is always foiled by either his ACME equipment malfunctioning or MyuMyu’s boobs giving him a nosebleed, the cops suck at being cops, and the three main girls do random stuff that is at best half-assedly connected to a message. As far as pay-offs go, nobody ever wins another Star Chip, Pirilun’s beef with Nonononn is never resolved, and the hapless cops never catch a break. The only resolution we ever reach is with Oukichi, who is sacrificed for a massive feast just so the sadistic Padudu can find out what’ll happen when his meat gets depleted.
We get two backstory episodes, which is the only real derivation from the running gags and sub-plots, but neither of them are particularly important. The first one deals with Padudu’s life in Sea Heaven, how she met Oukichi, and how she first started to eat his insides. The other one goes into the childhood friendship of Nonononn and Pirilun, and while I’ll admit that it’s a surprisingly somber tale without much laughs, it ends up meaning jack shit in the long run, as it doesn’t connect to anything that happens afterward or before. I’ll give the show some serious credit for only being four episodes long, because otherwise it might have lost it’s shock value and become dull like Hare + Guu did, but still, it’s hard to come away from it feeling anything other than empty. It has it’s moments, of course, and I particularly loved the segment where an attempt to grant wishes went overboard and caused Armageddon. But overall, there’s too few laughs to be a comedy, and no real depth to justify it’s slow, casual insanity. At least it made for a good AMV Hell 3 clip.
Magical Play is available from ADV Films, now known as Sentai Filmworks. There are two different DVD collections available, one that was released in 2004, and a more recent one from 2013, and while I don’t know quite what the difference is, the 2004 one can be found ridiculously cheap online. There’s a fifth episode that doesn’t fit into the canon of the first four, and it’s an all CG tale where Padudu teams up with Nonononn to fight a fat, dancing Jamaican woman, and if that sounds appealing to you, it’s available on both releases. It’s also available, like the main show, to be viewed for free on Crunchyroll. In addition, there’s apparently two manga adaptations, but I can’t find information on either one.
From what I’ve said thus far, you’ve probably guessed that I have a negative opinion of this show. In a way, you’re right. There aren’t a whole lot of positive things I can say about it, apart from it having decent looking characters and some funny moments. It’s not a good show, but I just can’t help recommending it. It’s so bizarre and bat-shit crazy that, if nothing else, it’s worth watching for the experience alone. I’m not gonna lie, the second I saw on the DVD cover that the main character wore a sentient fish coat that she ate pieces of meat from, it was as good as purchased. There is no better anime to showcase just how weird and random the medium can be, so I feel like watching it at least once is something every anime fan should do, like School Days and Garzey’s Wing. It’s a bad show, but it’s just the right kind of bad to be ironically important. I give Magical Play a 4/10.