Mahou Shoujo Site

So, I was recommended to watch Mahou Shoujo Site as a joke by one of my buddies under the pretense that it’d essentially just be an edgy garbage fire. You’re most likely familiar with the show’s original source material without even realizing it, since the protagonist Aya Asagiri is in fact the character featured in the “please stop saying dumbass things” meme template among various others, I figure that’s probably the most recognizable. In fact, that image is often used in conjunction with the “Kaneki profile picture” meme originating from Tokyo Ghoul, which is going to make my soon-to-be comparison between the two shows even more relevant than it would’ve already been. Looking around on the internet, it’s not hard to find that not only did the anime adaptation of Mahou Shoujo Site not perform particularly well, but it was largely glossed over as being little more than a grimdark, edgy rip-off of Madoka Magica with little in the way of substance, and that’s a damn shame because I genuinely think Mahou Shoujo Site is a very solid and enjoyable show. I’m not even going to bother talking about Madoka Magica at any length since it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the show and I don’t have much good or constructive to say about it (I’m honestly considering re-watching it in the near future since I shit talk it so much), but you might recall that I just recently watched another show that I criticized in a rather direct and straightforward manner for being edgy and misanthropic—that’s right, Tokyo Ghoul ladies and gentlemen. The fact that Tokyo Ghoul succeeded and this anime failed is a fucking crime—but let’s back up a little bit and discuss something important. What exactly does it mean when something is labeled as “edgy”? The term “edgy” is often used in reference to anything tonally dark, but it has a lot of other meanings—things trying too hard to be cool, pessimistic worldviews and philosophies towards life, etc. In general, when I think of things that are edgy, I think of people who don’t care about anything and assume the worst in everything, misanthropic anti-humanists with high opinions of themselves, people who cry about the unfairness of life and want others to validate their hatred for it, and a general disdain for the world itself—an inability to see the good in anything or anyone. Most people go through this to some extent in their teenage years only to eventually mature and grow out of their childishness, which has been my personal experience, but others aren’t so lucky. Let’s be real for a second—yes, life isn’t always fair, and bad shit happens in the world, but anybody who’s so much as played Persona 5 or watched Inside Out (which is a lot of people) should be able to understand the concept that good and bad cannot exist independent of one another. Just in case you need to hear it for whatever reason, your life has value! So does mine, and so does everybody else’s! The bottom line is that Tokyo Ghoul’s rejection of this philosophy and poor attempt to push a misanthropic message on its audience is what ultimately made me dismiss it as being extremely edgy and pretentious. So, why exactly is it that Mahou Shoujo Site has been so widely criticized as being the same? To understand that, let’s get into the show’s premise; Mahou Shoujo Site (quite literally translated as “Magical Girl Site”) is a show about girls who’ve led extremely misfortunate lives being given magical abilities through the mysterious “Magical Girl Site”—quite literally a website turning people into magical girls. The show stars Aya Asagiri, a schoolgirl who is constantly being mercilessly and cruelly bullied at school while also leading a miserable home life in which her older brother physically abuses her in order to relieve the stress of trying to live up to their father’s unrealistic expectations for his future. All she thinks about every day is killing herself, but no matter how hard she tries she’s unable to go through with it. Eventually, she discovers the Magical Girl Site and initially assumes it’s nothing more than a sick prank, but the next day she finds a magical heart-shaped gun in her locker at school, being unwittingly recruited to become a magical girl. The show centers around Aya trying to find out the dark secrets behind the Magical Girl Site and the real reason she was turned into a magical girl, etc. From the premise, I’m sure you can immediately see why the show was dismissed as being edgy. I mean, a protagonist who thinks about nothing but killing herself every day? Everything I just rattled off is written in the show’s synopsis; in all honesty, I initially assumed that this would inevitably be a setup for an honest-to-god edgy story about why humanity is evil and deserves to be wiped out, or something within that same vein. But the truth for anyone willing to give the show a genuine chance is that it takes the concept of Madoka Magica and turns it on its head, an absolutely brilliant bait-and-switch where what the viewer initially assumes will be a grimdark copycat that’s shocking just for the sake of being shocking instead becomes a genuinely thoughtful and engaging deconstruction of the entire Magical Girl subgenre focusing on themes of humanity, friendship and finding happiness and a reason to live even in the most dire of circumstances. If that sounds at all interesting to you, I’d honestly recommend you stop reading this review and go watch the show right now because the less you know about it before watching it, the better. On the surface level, Mahou Shoujo Site is extremely dark and even over-the-top with those dark themes, especially towards the beginning of the show. But unlike Tokyo Ghoul, all of the topics discussed and themes used here have a point to them and are often approached with a surprising level of maturity—on the whole, the show expertly uses its own extremely dark themes and its dismal tone as a way to starkly contrast the message it’s trying to convey to the viewer. When you take a closer look at the narrative and put everything under the microscope, you suddenly realize that Mahou Shoujo Site’s ultimate message actually isn’t all that different from what we see in a lot of other magical girl shows, but it’s conveyed so much more effectively here because of the nature of how its portrayed! Our protagonist, Aya Asagiri, is not just a whiny edgelord who curses the world and the people around her as being wrong. No, she’s a genuinely good person and likeable character with an incredibly strong will despite the horrible and traumatic nature of what she’s gone through, someone who can see the good in other people and has the capacity to love others despite what they’ve proven themselves capable of doing to her, even loving her brother despite the physical abuse he’s routinely subjected her to and genuinely believing that there’s still good within him. The writing of Mahou Shoujo Site and the character development of Aya Asagiri works because Aya Asagiri is the catalyst of her own eventual happiness—it’s not becoming a magical girl that saves her, and it isn’t fate, but instead her own good nature and belief in the goodness of other people that eventually give her and the people around her a reason to live—this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you write a strong female protagonist the correct way. I absolutely loved this, it was a welcome breath of fresh air and a very pleasant surprise considering I assumed this whole experience would be a further exploration into the depths of my own morbid curiosity. Speaking of breathing fresh air, dear God the music in this show is on a whole nother level—the original soundtrack here composed by Keiji Inai is absolutely fucking gorgeous, inspired and downright brilliant with its own unique identity and motif, so fucking good that it actually outshines the show itself! Even if you have no interest in watching Mahou Shoujo Site, please go and give its soundtrack a listen, it’s fucking awesome. Getting back to the review, these specific character traits and themes are not flukes and have a light shined on them intentionally, with Aya’s forgiving nature contrasted heavily against her brother Kaname’s god complex and hatred for the people around him; speaking of Kaname by the way, his voice actor puts on a seriously impressive performance, I hope that man got paid extra. Still, Aya is far from being perfect; she struggles with depression and self-loathing, hurling herself into harm’s way heedless of the danger in order to protect others and lacking any sense of self-worth or confidence. Yet despite all that, she can’t bring herself to actually commit suicide; despite her poor opinion of herself and her miserable circumstances, deep down she still wants to go on living and knows her life has meaning. Even if it’s in jest, people often like to muse about the material insignificance and meaninglessness of human life when compared to the vastness of the universe, but the truth of it is that importance is relative and meaning is subjective; there’s no use in taking the whole of the universe and using it as a point of comparison for why your existence is somehow irrelevant, which I can assure you is not the case. Despite its over-the-top dark themes and characters that seem irredeemably evil on initial inspection, Mahou Shoujo Site plays with the idea that there is no such thing as pure evil or good and even the worst of humanity have it within them to change, many of whom are often a byproduct of their circumstances. Of course, that doesn’t make their actions any less terrible or any more justified than they would otherwise be. I think that in general, the plot of Mahou Shoujo Site will be a lot more gripping for people who are more easily willing and able to forgive. Honestly, I’d argue that one of the show’s most noticeable missteps lies in the redemption arcs of some of its less immediately likeable characters like Sarina or Rina for example, Sarina in particular—her behavior earlier on in the show is so egregious that I think most people will find it difficult to sympathize with her later on despite the fact that her turn to the good side is actually rather believable. Personally, I think that Rina is actually more difficult to forgive precisely because her past transgressions are glossed over too much and she remains a little bit too sadistic even towards the show’s end, but both she and Sarina have enough depth and reasonable enough backgrounds that it does all make sense. The issue doesn’t lie in believability, but the viewer’s capacity for forgiveness; now, I’m an Akechi kind-of guy so I enjoyed these characters, but I’m sure most people probably won’t be so kind. Even still, Mahou Shoujo Site is far from perfect. As far as characters are concerned, most all of the major ones are likeable and interesting but too many of them are introduced too quickly around the halfway point in a somewhat lazy way, making it difficult for the viewer to keep up and turning some of them into side characters who get hardly any screen time. The show’s length works against it—the ending is relatively solid but still doesn’t tell the full story and becomes a bit less satisfying when you realize how little of a difference the final battle actually made in the grand scheme of things. I don’t think this is the result of poor storytelling and I really enjoyed how the end connects seamlessly to the beginning—despite the climax’s lack of significant weight on the larger plot happening in the background, it’s conclusion for the character arcs of both Aya and Tsuyuno is fantastic and really well done. The writers honestly just needed more time—I think they probably would’ve been able to tell a more complete story and avoid having a cliffhanger ending if they’d had the go ahead for a 24-episode season, rather than a 12-episode one. I’d love to see a second season of this, but the likelihood of that actually happening is doubtful to say the least. Another issue—probably the show’s biggest one—is that it intentionally betrays its own serious tone with ridiculous anime spectacle. Now, this isn’t all bad. Part of why this is the case is because it’s trying to feed back into its own magical girl theme, which I understand; the contrast between Aya’s heart motif and ability against the gruesome situations she has to use that ability in is fantastic, for instance. Even still though, it can sometimes be too much and take away somewhat from the overall narrative when it gets too silly for its own good. There are some other minor issues of course, but I’d say those are all the main ones that stuck out to me and had a noticeable impact on my viewing experience. Despite all that, though, none of it is anywhere near enough to ruin the show and for the most part my time with it was very positive—it immediately hooked me in at the start of the first episode and kept my attention all the way to the end. The artwork is stylistic and unique looking and the animation is solid. There are some cool action scenes but the show doesn’t rely on having flashy action sequences in order to hold your attention. I especially liked how they approached the various abilities of the different magical girls, most all of which work in a very specific way with the magic system as a whole finding a happy middle ground between loose and defined. Magical powers are limited to specific magic sticks, and anybody who obtains a stick can use the power associated with it which creates a very intentional separation between the magical abilities and their users. The show’s pacing is relatively consistent and never bothered me, things move forward at a nice steady pace and there’s a good balance between somber and quiet versus intense and pulse-pounding. Every scene feels like it has a point and the screen time the writers were given was utilized to the best of their ability. The show actually uses real-world actors for its ending sequences each episode which was absolutely bizarre—mostly because the real-world actor equivalents of the show’s characters look almost nothing like them—but it’s not entirely unwelcome, to be honest while the original soundtrack is amazing I found myself consistently skipping the ending songs (the opening song was pretty decent though). All in all, I thought Mahou Shoujo Site was an excellent twist on the Magical Girl genre and just a really good show overall in its own right, I would definitely recommend you give it a watch provided you aren’t sensitive to the various touchy subjects discussed and depicted within it and are in the market for a bit of a dark and serious story. Oh, and before I forget, apparently there’s a couple of extra recap episodes for this, one of which is narrated by Kizuna Ai—and before you ask, yes Kizuna Ai as in the VTuber. I looked around a bit but couldn’t find them anywhere, considering they’re just recounting the story up to about episode 10 I’m sure you can safely ignore them though I hope to find and watch them at some point. Anyways, it’s 6 in the morning and I’m tired, for Aya’s neutral special she wields a gun haha funny jokes.

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