ADV Films // 2001 // 150 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // September 9th, 2004
General wackiness ensues!
I did not relate to Magical Play at all. Although I found some good moments in the series, I couldn't connect with the characters or the story well enough to be pleased overall.
Padudu is the heroine in the story. She lives in Sea Heaven, and one day she goes to Sweetland (by falling from the sky) in order to compete as a Magical Girl. In the competition, she fights other Magical Girls and collects special stamps. Once this is complete, she will be known throughout the land, and her face will be used to sell merchandise and services. This is her dream, and she will do whatever it takes to achieve it. On the way, she will meet other girls who may or may not help her in her quest, but the innocent and naïve Padudu will have to find out their intentions on her own.
All of the Magical Girls wear special outfits made of living creatures and use weapons specific to their magical power. Padudu wears a fish named Uokichi and uses a fish bone weapon; Pipin (the unfortunate girl she lands on when she falls to the ground) wears a stuffed rabbit and uses a weapon made from its ears; and so on.
Magical Play originated as a thirty-minute completely 3-D-generated animation, with a short original animation video (OAV) series of four episodes produced afterward in traditional 2-D animation. The OAVs retell and expand on the original story, making the original production a stand-alone piece. Oddly, instead of presenting them in the order of production, this release features the four OAV episodes on Disc One and the original 3-D feature on Disc Two.
Among the things that didn't work for me, Padudu's mistreatment of her fish costume is a standout -- I'm sure this was meant to be funny, but I became physically ill every time she tore a chunk of flesh from his body to eat ("Meet my friend Uokichi -- he's a fish, and very tasty!"), left him out in the hot sun while she played in the water, negligently put him too close to the fire so he slowly cooked, and so on. All the while, the poor fish is moaning, screaming, and jerking in terror and pain. If we are to buy the idea that the suit is alive, a more symbiotic or caring relationship would make it easier to watch the show. I found myself wincing through scenes, hoping that some fresh horror would not be leveled against the fish suit.
Aside from this, I wasn't too impressed with the story. Yet another commercialization of anime characters -- girls who want to gain popularity so they can sell products. Yawn. Plus the tired cliché of nefarious doings underneath all the competitive merriment and old rivalries that are hinted at but not fully fleshed out until almost the end. Add to this the obligatory costume malfunctions, lechery as costumes function, and enough nose blood to keep the Red Cross in business for years, and you have a completely formulaic plot. There is nothing new here, no spark that makes it worthwhile to watch in spite of its unoriginality.
Despite this, I cannot fault the voice acting for either the Japanese or English soundtrack. ADV's English-language voice actors have once again turned in enthusiastic and skilled performances, making for the few shining moments in the story. Much of the innate humor is lost in translation, with difficult cultural references translated as best as possible for a Western audience, so the performances help inject humor into even the weakest scenes.
Video transfer is very good, with a clear picture that shows off bold colors and clear shapes. The source material (especially the 3-D episode) does betray some softness and edge shimmer, but it isn't too bad. Overall, the 3-D animation is fascinating to watch -- it alternates between beautifully done scenes and scenes that resemble a Final Fantasy video game more than anime. Extra 3-D characters are packed into the backgrounds of every scene, swaying slowly in exactly the same revolution while the main characters do their thing. It's distracting and disappointing, a temptation that I hoped the makers would avoid indulging for this episode. Sound quality is excellent, with clear background noise, ambient sound, and multichannel usage.
Aside from clean opening and closing credits and a gallery, the sole extra is a commentary for episode four of the OAV. This is basically three of the voice actors having fun, cutting up, and not really talking much about the scene-by-scene goings-on. This isn't a bad thing, but it's not a very useful commentary from the point of view of those who want to know a bit about what motivates them during their acting session or what they were thinking to get in character. But it's fun to listen to.
Those interested in 3-D animation may want to check out this series. Otherwise, stick with Slayers if you want the adventure-humor angle, or one of the countless other magical girl series that offer well-rounded characters and compelling storylines.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)
* English (signs only)
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Clean Opening and Closing Animation
* English Voice Actor Commentary for Episode Four