Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of President Dog Takes On... Summer Anime 2013. Recently a certain prominent critic, or guy who plays the character of a critic depending on your view, took a look back at the quintessential icon of the magical girl genre of anime, Sailor Moon. Granted, it was the hacked-to-pieces English dub DIC Entertainment produced (and mostly just the first episode for some reason), but between this, the supposed remake of the former series coming this winter and the subject of today's review, Fantasista Doll, I've been in a bit of a mood to talk about this staple genre of the medium.
For those unfamiliar with the archetype genres of anime, magical girl anime tend to center around a middle-to-high school age girl who, through either an encounter with a magical being or object, is endowed with special powers which they use to fight evil and right wrongs. For such a simple premise, there have been countless variations on the basic formula, adding psychological drama, tragedy, satire, parody and more in with the original elements that make up a show of its kind, though for the most part staying lighthearted and palatable for a variety of ages. In other words it was the fluffy, ineffectual genre looked at mostly as kids' stuff. I do admit that even as a male in his mid 20s I have watched my fair share of this genre and I dare say a few of them were some of the most influential to me in getting into anime as a whole. The previously mentioned Sailor Moon was a staple of my after-school viewing from its days on Cartoon Network's Toonami block and the English version of Cardcaptor Sakura was also high on my radar during its run.
However, a lot of the more wholesome elements flew right out the window with one show from 2011: Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I won't go too far into the details of it, as just the shock of thinking 'This is actually happening in a magical girl anime?!' is worth the price of admission, but it significantly darkened the genre into something, quite frankly, it shouldn't have been and other shows have since followed suit, leaving me to wonder the fate of the traditional magical girl anime. I'm all for expanding the boundaries of a time-worn genre, but sometimes I just want the genuine article and I don't believe there's anything wrong with making a show like that as long as it has personality and doesn't bore me to death or get me angry watching it.Referring back to the original guide from Kotaku I have been using as inspiration for my choice in this review series, there were three new series of this type: an alternate universe to the Fate/Stay Night series (I'm not familiar with the base series, so that was out), Daybreak Illusion, which looked to me like something along the Madoka Magica line of overly dark and trying to be mature in both subject matter and art style, and Fantasista Doll. Thankfully, the final of the three was just what I needed to scratch my itch, though with a slight, but not too off-course twist.
Unlike my previous entries in this series, Fantasista Doll doesn't come from a big name production studio, which in and of itself could be a blessing for the show. Instead it comes from the relatively recent Hoods Entertainment, which only has a few shows under its belt such as Mysterious Girlfriend X and few scattered OVAs, though they will be producing the upcoming BlazBlue anime in the fall, so it's certainly a group to keep an eye on for the future. For now, let's jump into their most current work.
On a stormy night we find a young girl watching a horror movie, though not really enjoying herself too much and looking pretty scared, clutching a pillow. This is our main character Uzume, who will find out much more about after the opening scene. Meanwhile, in a mysterious building, we see a figure opening a cabinet revealing a row of glowing cards with silhouettes on the faces of them. Interspersed with more of Uzume watching her movie, the figure runs and drops the cards, spilling them onto the dirty floor and giving the viewer a better look at the silhouettes, revealing the outlines of female figures on them. Now between the juxtaposed scenes here, only one is actually important to the show and it's not too hard to guess which, though the scene with Uzume running scared from the movie into the bathroom and screaming after running into her sister was pretty funny. Can't say that something similar hasn't happened to me personally, though with was never as a result of a movie.
Oh, these figures couldn't be anything important, could they?
Anyway, onto the opening sequence and along with it, the first thing that really grabbed me about this show: the theme. I have to say, I'm a bit of a sucker for choirs in opening themes for anime, even if the contribution is minor. The choir part of the opening for Sunday Without God was the only part that I enjoyed of that theme and it fits the tone of that show overall. In this theme for Fantasista Doll, it's really the hook to its chorus (and the first words of the song) that, at least in my case, gets me excited for the show to come. It's a simple as saying the name of the show, but it's effective. The song from there has a slightly harder edge than your typical upbeat magical anime, with a well-placed guitar riff mixed into its core that lifts it up back into that earworm of a chorus. I admit it's not profound music by any means, but it's just an infectious sound that sets a fun tone for a show of this type. Throw in a few nice action scenes and even what looks like a little Sailor Moon tribute at the end and it's a nicely well-rounded opening.
We start out the first episode proper with a small flashback to a young Uzume playing a card game that bears a striking resemblance to Magic: the Gathering (a personal pastime of my own) in a big tournament and landing the deciding play to win. But in the current time, our heroine has overslept in typical magical girl heroine fashion and runs to get ready and head out the door to another day of school. Of course getting dirty looks from rude businessmen and getting squished like a sardine on the train don't make for a pleasant morning either.
Uzume, it could be a whole lot worse for a girl your age in this situation. Just grin and bear it.
However, on that train a stranger grabs Uzume's bag and pulls it back into the train cab, but we never see who or what happens to it and neither does she, so she lets it slide until she finds an odd, ornate cell phone-looking device in her bag.
During one of her classes, the image a of a blonde haired girl appears on her notebook out of the corner of her eye and we see other girls of different colors around other parts of the classroom, though no one else can see them. Uzume thinks she's just seeing things again and goes on with the rest of her day, getting asked to join a card game club in the process by one of her classmates, citing her tournament prowess and dropping a fun, more direct reference to Magic.
I love little nods to things like this, though it always makes me wonder what a MTG anime would be like.
Later on, as she's getting ready for a tennis game, Uzume is startled by a rattling of the locker room door and a mysterious hand trying to grab her. She dashes off in fear and hides in a closet, calling out for help. Just then, an unknown, somewhat robotic voice calls out that it could be of assistance and out of desperation, Uzume accepts, though for some reason this 'entry process' requires everything from the typical name and blood type information, to favorite foods and the age when she had her first crush.
But after all that, a light flashes from her pocket and the newly acquired phone device and from it a girl appears, calling Uzume her master. This is Sasara, the first of Uzume's newly acquired team of Fantasista Dolls and well... she has a little bit of an attitude problem. Of course I'd be irritated a bit as well if I was just in my skivvies for the first meeting of this kind, but that's beside the point.
After that, another girl, dressed in the same school uniform as our heroine, enters, summons her own ninja-like doll and attacks Uzume and Sasara, the latter trying to protect against the ninja doll while Uzume tries to escape. The chase leads to the school gym where Sasara finally gets equipped to fight after teaching her master how to properly summon her dolls. Apparently inside the card collecting phone device they keep all of the clothes and equipment for the dolls in giant bullet trains. Go figure.
Anyway, with Sasara fully equipped, we really down to business into an excellent, but short fight scene, between her and the ninja doll. Flips, dueling on top of a balance beam, flying kicks into one of those vault horse thing (I seriously don't know the proper name of it), it packs in a lot of action in a short amount of time. Uzume even gets in on the action, inadvertently, by headbutting the ninja doll out of panic.
After defeating the girl and the ninja, Sasara explains that there are evil forces out to get her and the rest of her group of dolls and that as her master, Uzume is their only hope to keep them out of harm's way. Obviously this is a lot for a young girl to take in all at once, so she's hesitant at first and asks for more time to truly decide. Later that night, Uzume meets the other dolls under her service, though they make it kind of tough for her to take her bath, as they all want one too. One thing to keep in mind with the dolls: they aren't just holograms or digital representations of beings. When summoned they take on physical forms, though they are somewhat tethered to the summoning device of their master. However, even though they're meant to serve their master, they won't do everything on command and have a certain level of free will, such as Sasara coming out of the summoner at will and the dolls giving some resistance when Uzume wants to use them to do her homework and clean her room.
But after some talking out their misunderstandings and filling in the gaps of the whole master/doll relationship that Sasara neglected to mention during the entry process, Uzume thanks her for coming to her defense and risking injury for her sake. This touches the dolls deeply; they had never been directly thanked for their actions by their master before, though they thank Uzume in return for allowing them to be free once more and under the guidance of a master again. Just then, she receives a phone call from a strange man named Lord Rafflesia, congratulating her for forming a bond with the dolls and tossing a bouquet of flowers to her from her bedroom window. We then see another mysterious figure, this time all in white with a cape standing on top of a telephone poll. Apparently, he is the one who bestowed upon Uzume the summoner and the dolls in hopes that she would become a great master. Plus I can't help but mention he bears a resemblance to Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon, just needing a bunch of roses to really seal the look.
Beyond the first episode, the series the goes on to give each of Uzume's dolls a focus in the next handful of episodes respectively, which gives us time to get to know their personalities and abilities more in depth than what we ever could have in the opening episode. I personally enjoy when shows take this level of time to dedicate to character development, most notably when Soul Eater did it for each of the main groups that made up their ensemble cast, which in essence is what we have here as well. Along with the spotlight on each doll, Uzume gets a lot of growth as a character too, starting as a bit of a scaredy-cat in the beginning but growing more and more confident as things go along, as well as getting more knowledge on the world of her dolls and others that have them. For those main reasons, I didn't want to go too much further into the show from the first episode, despite the fact it leaves this review a little shorter and less detailed than previous entries. I encourage you to go farther and look at the next five episodes if this show sounds appealing; by then the cast is much more fleshed out, the plot ongoing and the setting more three-dimensional. I will say that the dolls have a nice mix of energy and personality and are thoroughly pleasant to watch, whether just being funny, experiencing the world around them or getting into brawls with other dolls. The animation's solid once again, no real complaints on that front, but nothing too spectacular. It does get points for being so crisp from a relatively new production company (roughly 3 years old as far as I can find), but it's nothing that will set your world on fire. Echoing my sentiment on the opening, the music when noticeable is solid as well, though the ending theme may be slightly too sugary sweet for most people as well as the visuals that go with it. I can forgive that since it's a very female-heavy show in its cast and all, but it is worth giving a heads-up just in case.
Overall, if you took Cardcaptor Sakura, modernized it and threw it in a blender with a Magic: the Gathering deck, you'd probably end up with Fantasista Doll... and a very nasty, gummed up blender. I give the show a 3.5 out of 5 though it can go up closer to a 4 depending on how much of a fan of the genre you are and how deep you like to get into knowing the characters. It's not truly remarkable by any means, but it's very solid for what kind of show it is and sometimes that's all I really want in a show. Fantasista Doll airs its simulcast on Sundays at 2:30 PM on Crunchyroll. Next time, it's going to take more than a clue and your best Phoenix Wright impression to escape this school alive. President Dog Takes On... Danganropa: The Animation.