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Getting Some "Magical Play"

Every so often, there’s a worthwhile low-key anime release that just doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Perhaps it’s because there aren’t any bodacious babe mascots or blood and gore, or maybe it simply didn’t have good luck. Whatever the reason, these releases are hidden gems, just waiting for you to pick them up cheap and enjoy them in the comfort of your own home. Magical Play is one such series, and it’s a 2-disc set to boot!

ImageIn a surprising twist, Magical Play tells the same story two different ways. The basic plot for both versions involves a young girl named Padudu, with her fish-suit/partner/companion Uokichi, traveling from Sea Heaven to Magical Girl Land in order to become a Magical Girl and head down to Earth, where she’ll be rich and famous. Oh, and protect the people from evil and stuff. Unfortunately, there are lots of obstacles standing in her way. The first disc (which includes 4 episodes) features her arch-rival Pipin, a bunny girl, who claims Padudu stole a Flower Mark (20 of which gets you Magical Girl-hood) from her. Another traveling companion is Myumyu, a sexy seductress whose only real piece of clothing are two very flat cats, who literally have a mind of their own. Queen Purilun’s lackey, Zucchini, constantly chases after Myumyu, as she is a threat to the Queen’s rule, but Zucchini melts in front of Myumyu’s perfect body, rendering him practically useless. Occasionally they meet Nonononn, a bad-ass fighting chick who seems to have a history with the ruler of Magical Girl Land, Queen Purilun. She’s being chased by your two typical incompetent-but-always-trying cops Ketchup and Mustard, though they don’t get much screen time.

That’s the first disc (the 2D section). The second disc contains one fully 3D episode that, according to the insert, actually came before the 2D part. Padudu is still new in town, though instead of being dropped by a strange bird in the 2D series, she floats down a river. She is quickly captured and meets the mysterious criminal Nonononn and confronts the Mayor of the town, Cofy. There, Padudu must fight for her life against a powerful demon panther, or she’ll die before her dream comes true.

The two versions are extremely different. The 2D version is cut into five short vignettes. In one segment, Padudu, Pipin, and Myumyu participate in a contest where they throw wishing stars through a lake and towards Earth, making people’s wishes come true and helping people in need. Of course, they tend to go overboard, destroying Paris and New York in the process. Another adventure has the gang in a treetop trying to survive an earthquake caused by a bunch of sumo wrestlers. In a special three-parter, the gang decides to open up their own shops so that they can make tons of money and get a flower point in the process. Unfortunately, their business is being overshadowed by the bishoujo group known as the Sister Princes (think your typical anime pretty boys from series like Weiss Kruz and Gravitation, except female). To combat this deadly threat, they call in the Brother Princesses (think big, beefy guys in skin-tight jumpsuits with curly southern hair), the Sister Princes’ arch-enemies, who have the powerful Yaoi Attack on their side.

It takes a bit of time for the series to hit its groove, but the end result is hilarious. The characters have great chemistry, even if they aren’t all present on-screen together very often. The funnier segments include a magical girl deciding whether to reveal her powers to normal folk or to suffer quietly alone, Pipin revealing exactly what is in her backpack (named Sekine), and seeing what happens when you can buy anything you could ever want, including money. However, the entire series isn’t just one comedic gag after another. Some of the episodes (particularly anything having to do with Nonononn) are more serious, adding an extra layer to the overall plot. It’s not surprising everything blends in well, what with talent like Hikori Hayashi (director of El Hazard! and the original Tenchi Muyo! OAV), Kiyohiko Azuma (character designer on this series and creator of Azumanga Daioh), and Satoru Yoshida (producer of Armitage: Duel-Matrix and Armitage III) behind it. The only real problem I can find with the plot is that the story is incomplete. The series ends after Episode 4 with no resolution whatsoever, and just when things were getting good. All of the characters are enjoyable to watch, except for Zucchini. He’s essentially a one-liner that just falls flat after a while, though his spotlight episode includes his funniest scenes, since they rely on old Looney Tunes clichés involving cannons rather than the everyday anime fare.

Unfortunately, the 3D episode isn’t nearly as enjoyable as the 2D section. For one thing, it’s much darker. Though there is one cute scene with Padudu showcasing what she will do when she becomes a professional magical girl, the rest of the episode is an action-adventure story that is more suited for Toonami than anything (and that’s stretching it, considering a panther gets slashed in the gut and one of the people in the world is shot in the skull). It might be considered a parody of the usual super-cute magical girl shows, but it doesn’t really feel tongue-in-cheek. Instead, it feels like a serious attempt at an action show starring a super-cute young girl in a fish-suit, an idea that just doesn’t work.

Speaking of fish-suits, this series features the biggest case of animated animal cruelty ever, that of poor Uokichi. Not only is this fish forced to drag itself along as Padudu travels, it is forced to watch helplessly as Padudu recklessly tears off a piece of its flesh every so often to have as a snack. Journeying through a desert, Uokichi is stretched as far as it can go as Myumyu and Pipin scramble for cover inside the fishie. Myumyu’s carnivorous cat-suit doesn’t help matters. At least he can fly, that’s something.

Visually, the 2D animation has bright, happy colors that blend pretty well together. There are some 3D shots, mainly flashbacks with Nonononn, as well as a short where the 2D Padudu and Myumyu (who are paper-like, kind of like Parappa the Rapper) enter a 3D version of Magical Girl Land, where they have to face off against Mustard and her deadly “Copy and Paste” attack (even though she doesn’t have that much processing speed). The 3D used in that short is anti-aliased, so it looks much like claymation, and works decently well, although it’s not as good as, say, Ghost in the Shell. The actual 3D episode uses cel-shading and has better animation overall than the anti-aliased short, but the mouth movements just don’t work on the series and looks very out of place. Transfer is quite good, as usual for digital animation, though ADV didn’t replace the Japanese text with English text.

Audio-wise, both series are pretty decent. The background music fits, with bright and happy music during the majority of the 2D episodes, and typical video game action music during the 3D episode. “Pa-Pa-Du-Wa” is the typically bright and catchy opening song. The ending song is your typical inspirational and has a pretty nice beat with a good singer that will make your ears happy. Unfortunately, the opening and ending of the 3D episode, while decent, just don’t match up to the 2D episodes’ songs. The English dub is average ADV high-pitched cuteness, though the fact that Hilary Hagg is nowhere to be found is surprising. Fans of previous ADV “cute” anime will like the dub for this series in its full 5.1 Surround Sound. The Japanese dub is fine, though it’s only in 2.0 Stereo.

The main extra feature is the single commentary (an ADV-staple) on Disc 1. The strange part is that the commentary is for Episode 4 rather than Episode 1. What’s even stranger is that the commentators (Tiffany Grant, Kira Vincent Davis, and Greg Ayres) have nothing to do with the dubbing of this show. Hell, they didn’t even know this show existed until they sat down to watch it. Most of the time, this would amount to a crappy commentary not worth listening to, but remember that this is the ADV crew we’re talking about here. All three continually ponder what exactly the plot is, even though they know neither the VAs nor the characters’ names. When the gang isn’t pimping Azumanga Daioh, they’re wondering if the characters are going to be sold into white slavery to work on Kathie Lee Grifford’s commercial, asking where Justin Timberlake is whenever Myumyu is on screen, and revealing that Chris Patton goes nuts whenever he hears the word “Pazuzu.” OK sure, it doesn’t give any behind the scenes info whatsoever, but it’s still pretty hilarious. While not nearly as awesome as the commentary, the other extras include a clean opening and closing, character bios with an art gallery, and DVD credits. The only extras on Disc 2 are credits and trailers, kind of a waste of a second disc, really. There’s the aforementioned booklet, which tries to create some dramatic backstory, and a couple of Japanese reversible covers. Unfortunately, there are no hooks to keep the insert in place, so you have to be careful that it won’t fall out when you open the case. It couldn’t have cost ADV that much to just spring for a 2-disc Amaray case, could it?

Overall, this is a release I would highly recommend for anyone who enjoys “cute” comedic anime and on a tight budget. However, you’d be better off sticking with the 2D episodes, even if the story is incomplete. I guarantee you’ll end the episode with a smile on your face.

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