Magical girls have it tough. You'll have a daft costume, a talking animal sidekick and a speech you say after each of your slightly worrying transformation sequences. Sasami doesn't want any of that. Whoops.
This show is deliberately stupid. It's parody, you see. Admittedly the nearly identical OVAs
were parody too, but this takes it further. It's not even taking itself seriously, only becoming a proper magical girl show for the closing stretch and even then only being dramatic occasionally. This show takes the mickey out of everything, playing fast and loose with its internal reality. The first time I watched the show, this annoyed me. I'm a Sasami fan. She rules. She's a child in the adult world of Tenchi Muyo, managing the idiots all around her and more than pulling her weight even against heavyweight opposition. She's brave as hell and utterly selfless, but moreover unlike Tsukino Usagi has the brains to know what she's doing. Sasami's the reason why I bought this show, but that's part of why it wound me up.
However the second time I watched it, I knew what to expect. Occasionally an entire episode would be nonsense from beginning to end, but for the most part I could enjoy the ironic tone. It's a good show. In the opening run of episodes the magical girl parodies are fresh and the jokes are still funny, while the last third of the show has an actual plot and cool stuff. Sasami saves the world and I went away with a smile on my face.
The problem is that it's parodying magical girl shows. Great idea, surely? Unfortunately if you've sampled some of the shows they're parodying, you'll realise how far out of its league it is. Nothing here is inappropriate for children, while the uncut Sailor Moon
is practically guaranteed to make Western audiences burst a blood vessel. Wildly absurd monsters? Camp extremes of girliness? Pervy transformation sequences? Check out Go Nagai some time. To outdo all that you'd to be doing either Wedding Peach or hentai and I don't think anyone wants to go there. In comparison, this show feels tame. In episode 15, little girls grow to maturity without bursting out of their school uniforms! Yes, I know. Unthinkable.
Thus unable to compete in all the ways that matter, Pretty Sammy's angle is self-awareness. Characters break the fourth wall and are aware of genre cliches, such as questionable fashion, posing and dramatic speeches. Despite OVA Sammy's variety of magical attacks, here her only weapon is a gigantic pink heart that flattens everything within a hundred yards. It's called the Pretty Coquettish Bomber and it's the magical equivalent of an incoming tornado. Meanwhile the flamboyantly stupid Pixy Misa is goofing off every week and can massacre two languages: Japanese and Engrish. Is her magical incantation "Calling Mystics" or "Calling Mistakes"? Well, either way it's funny.
However this ironic tone means that certain characters and scenes come with a wink to camera. They're outdoing Sailor Moon
in the only way they can, being deliberately bad as they let us in on the joke. Sometimes this can be clever. For example I normally hate fourth wall gags, but Pixy Misa makes them work since she's so bonkers that this becomes yet another way in which she'll leave the other characters slack-jawed. However on the downside, Sasami's father Ginji made my eyes bleed. The "joke" (ahem) is that he's Superdad, played with all the realism of a 1930s adventure serial Ming the Merciless. He's supposedly cool. I think he poses for the camera. Maybe this had seemed like a good idea several rewrites ago, but in practice he's a new category of annoying. He's the black hole of comedy, so unfunny that he'll wreck scenes and even whole episodes through his mere existence. Wow, did I hate Ginji.
The ending isn't everything it might have been either. Episodes 18-19 are the strongest, with their emotional mini-climax about the relationship between Sammy and Misao. That's heartfelt. It works. However the final run of episodes is merely about a villain trying to blow up the world, which has its moments but doesn't have the courage of its convictions. The scripts are better than the episodes. They should have felt dangerous and dramatic, but in practice they've been turned into candy-coloured kiddie stuff. I enjoyed them, but I should have loved them.
I enjoyed one thing about those last few episodes, though. As Juraihelm's power fades, we see a derelict version of the Masaki house. The Tenchi Muyo universe is bleeding in. Earth and Juraihelm apparently used to be one planet until they split, which makes me wonder if this entire reality was another Tenchi crew cock-up. We've had cameos from all of them peppered through the series, but the climax gives us Azaka, Kamidake and a very familiar spaceship. The show's regulars include Sasami, Ryo-Ohki, Tsunami, Washu, Mihoshi and Kiyone, but the guest appearances are:
- Episode 10 - Katsuhito, Nobuyuki and Achika (!)
- Episode 12 - Tenchi
- Episode 16 - Chihiro (i.e. Sasami's Karaoke Mum from the OVAs)
- Episode 21 - Ayeka and Ryoko
There are also gag references to El Hazard
, Cutey Honey, Space Pirate Captain Harlock
and undoubtedly more. Washu is as lethal as ever, blowing up classrooms and feeding potions to her students. Tsunami is airheaded. Mihoshi and Kiyone are teachers, the former apparently quite a good one (if scatterbrained) whereas the latter seems to think she's running the Hitler Youth. Underneath her control freakery though, she's an insecure loser with a hang-up about not having a man. Kiyone's endless frustration with Mihoshi worked when they were police officers, but by now it looks a bit sad, really.
However the weirdest cameos involve Tenchi's mothers. There's both Chihiro, still singing her favourite song, and Achika from the first Tenchu Muyo movie! That's a surprisingly dark bit of continuity. Achika is one of the few non-comedy characters in the entire franchise, having given her life to save a son who wouldn't even grow up being able to remember her. Here she appears alongside Tenchi's father and grandfather, which somehow gave a silly and trivial episode far more weight than it deserved.
Visually this is the worst-looking Tenchi show to date. It's watchable, but cheap. I got a "hey, it's for kids" vibe from it. Surprisingly the adult Sasami we briefly see is neither pretty nor the spitting image of Tsunami. Oh, and Pixy Misa's clothing in the same episode must be of industrial strength given that even at ten years old, she looks to be about a C-cup and dresses like a Las Vegas stripper. I should also mention the music. I like one-and-a-half of the two closing themes, but the opening theme is a horror. I eventually battered my brain into liking it, but it peels paint off walls. As is often so in anime it's sung by the voice actors, which alas in this case means Chisa Yokoyama (Sasami) and Etsuko Kozakura (Ryo-Ohki). The accompanying animation doesn't help either.
Oh, and my arse is this called Magical Project S. That's the name they released it under in America since the OVAs hadn't sold well there, but the titles still say "Magical Girl Pretty Sammy" loud and clear. You can read Japanese, can't you?
I'd have preferred to be able to take this show more seriously, but that doesn't mean it's shallow. On the contrary, the four-way relationship of Sasami, Misao, Pretty Sammy and Pixy Misa is bizarre and surprisingly deep, with Misao in particular getting a lot of character development. She's a latchkey child with a mother who treats her like an employee and a father she hasn't seen in years. She's physically weak and so reliant on Sasami that she sometimes looks like a stalker. The word I want is "fragile", but her evil alter ego is the complete opposite. Meanwhile Sasami is just as sweet, but tougher. She's protective of Misao and embarrassed by Pretty Sammy. Ryo-Ohki producing her magic baton can make her react as if she's seen a snake.
Sasami's most interesting episode is the one with Tenchi, with understated romantic feelings taking her somewhere emotionally that you won't find in the rest of this series. It avoids being creepy, but Misao gets jealous!
This show is cleverer than it looks. It's self-aware and playing to different audiences simultaneously. The DVDs also include seven three-minute Bonus Theatre mini-episodes, featuring gags too silly even for the regular show. Those are good too. At the end of the day, what I like about this show is the real relationship between Sasami and Misao underneath all the silliness. No, make that several criss-crossing relationships, once you've factored in their alter egos. However this is one of those shows where I envy the non-fan. Having no prior emotional investment in Sasami perhaps might have let me enjoy this better. It's witty and confident with lots of good episodes, but it wasn't quite what I'd been hoping for.