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The Fine Print
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All images for Jin-Roh © 1998 Mamoru Oshii/Bandai Visual/Production I.G.
Wouldn't you join? Power is in the hands of youth in this series of magical adventure, teen comedy, and adolescent angst. By Auden Reiter
We all remember school clubs from high school and college. My friends and I started one for all the geeks who wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons and Battletech at our East Coast podunk high school. Normally these hobbies made us targets, but getting our picture into the senior yearbook was enough social validation to make up for all the years of rotten teenage mocking.
The Chess Club, Drama Club, Computer Club, etc. All of these organizations got us away from the drudgery of high school class work and allowed us to socialize with our peers of similar interests.
So let's pretend that magic does exist. That it can be focused into a usable force by our wills and used to change the world. There'd be a club for that, right? But what would hormone-crazed teens do with such power? The answer is seen firsthand through the kids in Magic Users' Club (Japanese title: Mahô Tsukai-tai!, a multilayered pun that boils down to something like "The 'I Want to Use Magic!' Club," or more colloquially, "The 'We Wanna Be Witches' Club").
As practitioners of the arcane arts, most folks see members of this club as crazed losers with delusions of granduer. Only, in this universe magic is real (or at least more prevalent then our world). This gives the main characters the chance to, not only face their own social stigmas and adolescent doubts, but possibly save the Earth from an alien invasion...if they can show up to club meetings on time.
Magic Users' Club began animated life as a six-part OAV(original animation video) produced by Bandai Visual in 1996; these are the episodes now available from Media Blasters under its "Anime Works" label. Mahô Tsukai-tai! has also been animated as a 13-episode TV series (broadcast on the Japanese satellite station Wowow starting in 199X) that picks up where the video series left off.
While most anime spawns or is spawned from a manga, Magic Users' Club has the distinction of having two manga series based on it. The first, by "Sham Neko," published by Kadokawa Comics, was released around the same time as the original OAVs and is geared toward a younger guy audience (what's called "shônen" in Japan, or alternatively, "lads" in the UK). A more recent manga version, by Tammy Ohta, published in Asuka Fantasy DX, a gals' (shôjo) magazine. There is also a four-part novel series. Whew!
The first OAV episode opens with an alien invasion. The aliens (called the Tsurinage), like many of their literary companions, posses far superior technology. Their initial fight with the Earth's military forces is a technical slaughter. Technical because the aliens leave all of the opposing forces alive, simply "erasing" their war machines from under them. However, after the terrible defeat, instead of taking over the world, the alien machines fall in peacefully with the societies around the globe, their gigantic cylindrical mothership traveling city to city, observing our daily life with its huge yet polite (they obey traffic laws!) spherical probes.
All this would be well and good if it weren't for the daydreaming, glory-chasing attitude of Takeo Takakura. As leader of the overly eccentric Kitanohashi High School Magic Users' Club, Takeo found a purpose for his club and a way to get the attentions of the female members by declaring war against the alien forces. What begins as a simple cry for attention turns into an exploration of magic, love and alien motivations.
Our hero Sae Sawanoguchi is a naive, clumsy young lady, more than willing to go along with her sempai (upperclassman) Takeo and his plan--more because she has a crush on him than because she thinks that it's a good idea. As the story progresses, Sae learns more about magic and realizes the power in herself.
Following along behind Sae is Nanaka Nakatomi. A seemingly normal young lady whose only quirk is her friendship with the peculiar Sae. Nanaka is also infatuated with a the vice president of the club. In fact, most of the members of the MUC seem to be obsessed with someone, creating entertaining love polygons.
In addition to the alien machines, the MUC has another rivalry in the Heathers-esque Manga Club, with whom they share a room. The head of the manga club, Mizuha Miyama, is an enormously egotistical and busty young woman who looks more like a boy's "hot for teacher" fantasy than a high school student. She takes great lengths to shame Takeo and the MUC as a whole. The manga club is backed by a teacher who would rather push his philosophy of love than actually solve problems between club members. This means that our kids in the MUC are on their own.
The aliens of MUC are represented only by their machines and come in several varieties, each created for a specific purpose: observation, capture, close examination, etc. The propeller-headed humanoids remind one of the robots from Laputa: Castle in the Sky or the Lupin III episode, XXXX. Compete with suggestive tentacles, the alien machines complete the etchi (risqué) feel of the series.
While not based entirely on rude humor and sex, several elements of Magic User's Club remind us that these are teenagers, with all of their drive and simplified ambition. Takeo, for instance, has a problem with his overactive daydreams about all of the female magicians suddenly disrobing and throwing themselves at him. What can you expect from a guy whose facial features occasionally rearrange themselves to reveal his inner thoughts in writing (you have to see it to understand)? Ayanojou, the club's vice president is a particularly effeminate young man whose heart is dead set on seducing Takeo. And then there's Akane Aikawa, a new member of the club. Her magic abilities are quite strong, but she would rather go on a great number of dates in skimpy clothes. Sounds like high school, all right.
The shenanigans of the MUC eventually catch the attention of a local reporter, Minoru Minowa & and his photographer sidekick, Yoshito Yoshimoto. In their efforts to hunt down any secrets behind the otherwise passive Tsurinage, they end up helping and being helped by the MUC. Together they all find, more or less what they are looking for, as well as a few things they weren't. And those are just the goings-on in the OAVs.
MAGIC AND SCHOOL CLUBS
Magic Users' Club deals with two important things: Magic and school clubs. The clubs we've covered above--regulars to Japanese entertainment will be familiar with this recurring theme. Like many other schools around the world, collages and high schools in Japan have their fair share of clubs. Unlike in the states though, these are often seen as the background of your favorite animation or comic, such as the Nekomi Motorcycle Club from Oh My Goddess!, instead of a teen angst television (you could probably say that Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a kind of an unofficial club).
In the MUC, magic works by chanting, spells, and using a wand to focus your will. Metaphysically speaking, the idea of using foci--an object upon which to focus your powers--to impress your will onto reality is the essence of magic in and of itself. The use of foci ties into the concept of ritual: by having something familiar and magically appropriate to what the caster is trying to do, casting the spell becomes easier. This is probably why Sae finds it so easy to use her "Jeff-Kun" stuffed teddy bear as a focus of her power.
Modern practitioners of magic (and you could say this of religion as well) agree that the kind of ritual seen in Magic Users' Club is one of the most significant aspects of creating magic. Each person reacts differently to rituals, thus Magic User's Club's suggestion that each person has a type of ritual circle that works best for them is a conceptualization of the individual nature of magic.
Incidentally, the original Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide had some pretty good examples of the classic magic circle: Two concentric circles with runes in between, the thaumaturgic triangle (Takeo's circle with a triangle in it.) and that most maligned of symbols, the pentagram. There are lots of other circle-based or circle-related symbols across nearly all societies throughout history--the circle is a basic and powerful shape. Perhaps it's precisely because it is so simple that it is so very encompassing.
A lot of anime has a very positive message for youthful outcasts. It seems to say: "Be true to your heart and the world is yours." Many anime heroes, even though they are usually outcasts (a result of the writer's self-image, no doubt), are young folks with decent morals, a good work ethic and a good amount of bravery. These heroes, despite their outcast status, come out on top in the end, often complete with the love interest. Magic Users' Club is no different. Yeah it's also a little lecherous at times, but then again, so was high school.
What the MUC kids do with their power is the basis of the story. Suffice it to say, they act like teenagers. They experiment, they doubt, they explore boundaries. In essence, they grow. That's what those years are all about.
Special thanks to LSkinner and her Sae's Magic Hat fan site (INSERT URL HERE) and to Gareth Storm for his insight to all things mysterious.