Earth has been invaded by aliens, but it's not what you think. No one even knows what they look like. After annihilating our defences in about half an hour, they've settled down to mind their own business in a cylindrical spaceship called The Bell as they occasionally send out mysterious robots to keep an eye on things. They're polite. They obey traffic laws. Nevertheless, all things considered, mankind would prefer not to be living under extraterrestrial domination and would appreciate it if they'd be so kind as to go back home.
Who you gonna call? It's the Magic User's Club at Kitanohashi High School! You know how schools have chess clubs, jogging clubs and so on? All their schoolfriends assume they're just a bunch of stage magicians. Nope.
This anime is one of the happiest, sweetest shows I own, with everything in it being the perfect pick-me-up for when you're feeling down. The OVAs are perhaps more fun than their sequel, if only because you've got to love their aliens and robots, but I appreciate the fact that the TV series didn't simply try to clone or reboot the original. All nineteen episodes hang together as a complete story, which is getting rarer these days. It wasn't what I'd expected, though. The synopsis had led me to expect a story about aliens, but instead it's all about its characters. The first episode has absolutely no story, but in a good way. It's fun and funny. Admittedly it's one of those shows where everyone has a crush on everyone else, but fortunately it's not for the sake of harem nonsense. There's no convenient happy ending waiting in the wings. Instead we simply have the criss-crossed feelings of a full cast, pretty much all of whom have an unrequited crush on someone else who has an unrequited crush on... etc.
That's what stops the show from being saccharine. If it hadn't been for that bittersweet touch, an entire generation of anime-watchers might have died of diabetic cuteness overload. The art is slightly unusual, reminding me of Steve Parkhouse at his more cartoonish. That's a compliment, by the way. Obviously it looks especially lovely in the OVAs, with characters who can be adorable in a natural, unforced way. Even the sexpot, Akane, is oddly innocent. By only the second episode I was already in love with the look of the show.
I'm terribly fond of the characters. The club president is a hopeless nerd and grandstander. He has one obsession (i.e. the club) and one problem that has a tendency to overload his little mind (i.e. girls). His facial distortions are hilarious. The only level-headed, sensible and competent member of the club is Ayanojo Aburatsubo, who also happens to have a screaming crush on Takakura and loves draping himself all over him. Those are the two boys. Of the three girls, Nanaka Nakatomi thinks the club is full of dorks and freaks. She's always on the point of finding something better to do. Akane Aikawa is gorgeous but slightly reality-resistant. Then finally Sae Sawanoguchi is a scatterbrained klutz with no self-confidence, but underneath she's more powerful than all the others put together. It's just that her abilities don't tend to be well directed.
Crucially the show takes these people seriously and doesn't let them fall into ugly caricature, except for the first episode of the TV series. Aburatsubo is cool! Furthermore Nanaka doesn't look like a brain-dead mutant for being sweet on him, despite his sexual preferences probably being visible from space. She's not stupid. She just can't help how she feels.
Then there's the magic. We have aliens, playful action sequences and girls who fly broomsticks in mini-skirts. I won't pretend that it's a deep or intellectual show, but it's hard not to respond to its simple joy in the art of the impossible.
And of course it's funny.
That's the OVA. The TV series starts with a clunky first episode that re-establishes everything by falling into Stereotype Land as everyone becomes a parody of themselves. Things quickly improve after that, but the lack of aliens is a problem. They disappeared at the end of the OVA. Instead the TV series introduces an antagonist called Jinno, who eventually becomes almost sinister in his smiling androgynous soft-spoken way. He's mysterious rather than evil. As a result, he and the series together take our heroes on a more personal journey than they'd faced before. It's about their daily lives. The OVAs had big, flamboyant stories. The TV series, with a few random exceptions, doesn't.
In the end magic itself has become the problem, or more particularly our heroes' relationship with it. We have rubber-reality episodes and some potentially scary magic in places, albeit mostly played for laughs.
This is a gentle story with bad guys who are enigmatic rather than villainous. It's always focused on its characters and its balancing act is trickier than it looks, with a combination of seriousness and light-heartedness that could easily have tipped over into either angst or idiocy. I'm particularly impressed by the fact that they resisted the temptation to pair everyone off at the end, despite obviously trying so hard to be a feelgood show. It's not a hard-hitting series, but why should it be? Oh, and I adore the OVAs' opening theme. (Notice the lack of sound at the start of the title sequence, reflecting the fact that space is silent! How often does one see that in films or TV, eh?) A delightful show.