Content Warning: gun violence, internment camp imagery
What’s it about? In 2008, government agents began rounding up all otaku in the name of “protecting” them. In the three years since one brave rebel, known as Otaku Hero, has led a resistance out of Akihabara alongside some ragtag fellow survivors and the magical girl Anarchy-chan.
Y’all, it’s been a long week. Can I go ahead and shortcut this one a little?
Alright, fine. Imagine a world in which Otaku are oppressed. Not just stigmatized—it’s worth acknowledging that “otaku” still has more negative connotations in Japan than the extremely normalized idea of the nerd in modern Western culture—but oppressed. Like, the most oppressed. “On the verge of quoting Martin Niemöller” oppressed.
If you, like me, also picked up a newspaper today and read an article about how your human rights are being argued against in the legislature, maybe that concept made you do a little sigh until your organs deflated and your bones poked through the tissue remnants of your skin, because nobody tells you that thick skin still wears down over time. Maybe you went outside and pet a dog. You’re smarter than me.
Magical Destroyers is simultaneously A Lot and very little at all, perhaps the natural endpoint of having to generate an entire show from a creator who is primarily used to working in brand and apparel art rather than longform narrative mediums. It’s full to bursting with a checklist of Things That Were Cool in an Anime One Time, from little throwbacks like characters getting frizzy afro hair after an explosion to that one cool scene that gave you goosebumps where a character made a cool stand in front of the enemy, yelling through tears.
Magical Destroyers has all these things, dumped onto the table with all the finesse of a child showing you their cool toy collection. What it lacks, despite help from a proper screenwriter and a well-seasoned director, is any sense of why these things work. It doesn’t mean anything to me when Otaku Hero declares that he’s ground down by all this war or Anarchy-chan fights exactly one battle as leader before breaking down in sobs because she really wants Otaku Hero to be in charge instead (gag me). I don’t know who these people are. I barely know what they’re simulacrums of. It’s like being trapped in a car with a play-by-play of the finale for a show you’ve never watched by someone who’s already beers in.
What I do know is that despite the opening monologue about how otaku were seized regardless of their area of interest, this vision of otaku rebellion has less gender parity than Otaku no Video did in 1991. The only women to be found are a shady villain in excellent Evangelion cosplay and the magical girls Anarchy and Blue, who are cleverly avoiding a lawsuit from Studio TRIGGER by having the longhaired girl with the bow be the one who’s obsessed with sex. They’re figures of literal fantasy, bringing magic to the battlefield while everyone else uses guns and technology. There are no rank-and-file women in Otaku Hero’s rebellion. There aren’t even any ladies in the hordes of otaku we see freed from “protection camps.” It’s a fantasy of oppression that blatantly tells on itself by who it excludes.
It also just looks off in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. This is the first anime-original project for Bibury Animation Studios, which has mainly done unmemorable adaptations, and they seem thoroughly unsuited to the era Magical Destroyers wants to evoke. Some of the background art is downright breathtaking and there’s an incredible surreal breakdown during the credits, but Anarchy in particular feels composited out of a different show entirely, and the animation lacks the stretchiness that would compliment the over-the-top facial expressions she’s called on to make. Then again, it really doesn’t help that her lines swing wildly between foul-mouthed bluster and weeping fits that need comfort from Otaku Hero the second she gets to take charge. Fairouz Ai is giving her all to the vocals, but you can’t inflate a punctured balloon. Even the Imaishi-reverent onscreen text lacks punch because of how stitched together the whole affair is. I am watching an anime of someone Sweding their favorite YouTube Poops, and I would like to get off this carousel.