Dai Mahou Touge (Magical Witch Punie-chan in North America) is an action comedy which initially just comes off as a crude parody of the magical girl genre to those who have not watched it. (Un)fortunately it is also quite a bit more.
A lot of the farce is derived from the deadly seriousness of the characters, and of course the various requisite personalities that play off of each other. You’ll have the “spirited” Punie, delinquent Ane-go (we never get to learn her real name), and the clueless Tetsuko. There is also an interesting use of complete opposites in Punie’s world, where a bright, cheerful country is filled with depravity and hate. This is disparity is somewhat personified in Punie’s “good luck mascot”, Paya-tan, who often switches between a high-pitched, cute sidekick to a mature, hardened criminal/war veteran.
From what little I know of the mahou shoujo genre, there seems to be very little biting commentary on tropes common to the parodied genre, instead we get a lot of violence to fill in for dialogue and development, although it is often tightly enough integrated with the episode’s plot to not be superfluous. The high levels of brutality (but no gore) could turn people off from the series but I did not feel it to be excessive and the viewers quickly become accustomed to what to expect. Earlier I described the series as being “crude” and that mainly stems not from the violence (although that contributes) but from its overuse of colorful expletives – especially from the twin younger sisters of Punie. While it was done for amusement (it almost seems like they are making a theme out of juxtaposition between image and behavior), it was one aspect I did not enjoy as much.
Interestingly, there is very little “fan-service” in this show, or to be more specific, any scenes with underlying sexual connotations or that explicitly highlight sexual aspects of any of the characters. As the series was only 4 episodes long and probably makes most of its money through DVD sales, I had expected more “fan-service” to act as an additional selling point. I quite was happy to see that not only was there almost none, but that I didn’t even think about its absence until the writing on this quick review – the series simply did not need it. From a more cynical standpoint, might I have just become so desensitized from lighter forms that I am saying this?
The seiyuus (voice actors) involved in this show were quite surprising to me as they were put into rolls that I have never seen them do before, but were done very well regardless. First we have the angry, foul-mouthed Ane-go, who was voiced by Kawasumi Ayako. If I had not seen her performance in the Shana-tan specials, I would not have even known Kawasumi could pull off such a rough, unapologetic bad-girl role. I don’t feel it’s necessary to divulge too much on the topic of seiyuus as most people won’t care, but there was one performance which was so unexpected I cannot but help mention it. Mamiko Noto is in the series, but sounds absolutely nothing like any of the other characters she has done in other animes (which almost all sound the same). This may not come as a surprise to those who have played Super Robot Wars: Mugen no Frontier, but it makes me wish for a world where Noto is actually put into characters where she can use some of that vocal stylistic range for once. I won’t say which character she voices should a reader want to guess at it while watching the show.
Regardless of the fact that I wrote this review with no specific details, the reader will generate a conceptual model of the show with which they would decide whether or not it is worth their time. Understanding that, I still wanted to simply reveal some general points to pique interest but not raise expectations. While there are no sweeping statements or deeply layered plots, Dai Mahou Touge is an easy watch and doesn’t leave a strong after-taste (for better or for worse). Anyways, I enjoyed Dai Mahou Touge very much, and considering how far below the radar it seems to be, would at least like for more people to be aware of it.
Addendum: Dai Mahou Touge is being released in North America on October 21, 2008.
Major Update (20OCT2008):
It was an OVA. That means it made all of its money through DVD sales.
Unfortunately SDB seems a bit quick in his criticism (I will admit I totally forgot about the twins’ fanservice) as Dai Mahou Touge did play on TV… and at least once. I’d confirm how many times but my Japanese is rather bad. It also has manga series and a figure, but I don’t know how much those really make. Regardless, he seems to have felt my review was rather negative and lacking, so I guess my efforts to be objective backfired?
But it is true that there is much more to say on Punie, so to set things straight I’ll say some more things here to balance things out:
There are quite a few novel scenes which I enjoyed greatly, but didn’t want to spoil when I originally made the above review. Anyways, if you don’t like spoilers, stop reading now. Right now.
The sports festival is easily a fan favorite, and the many cultural references are educational. I also greatly enjoyed the antics of Punie’s vegetable familiars and their gruesome sacrifices – it has been a while since an anime managed to make me laugh that hard. The comedy here is especially powerful as it does not rely as heavily on current events as Lucky Star or Colbert Report; I wouldn’t be surprised if it is just as funny ten years from now as it was three months ago when I watched it. (But the Initial D jokes might be lost).
I also didn’t talk about the twins, which SDB seems to really like – pretty much all of his Dai Mahou Touge screenshots feature them. Although I didn’t like the twin’s characters much, they really drove Punie to new heights of awesome as she overcame their obstacles. Punie herself was able to draw people in with her facade and absurdly submission everything from ancient gods to cute, killer mascots. “Submission is a Princess’ Way!” And as SDB so aptly said:
Besides which, how can you not love a girl whose magical transformation begins when she says, “Lyrical Tokarev, kill them all!” or whose motto is “Anything that has joints can feel pain”?
Sadly, while looking for some other bloggers to cross-reference my update with, I wasn’t able to come up with anything! Whats up with that?
Note: looking back at my update, I wonder to myself why I didn’t include any of this originally in my review (with spoiler tags). I guess I still have a looooong ways to go in writing these things.