What’s it about? Saki is a (failing) teen idol who wants to get closer to her crush, the airhead Mohiro. She gets the chance when a yakuza claiming to be a magical girl mascot shows up at her house to scout her. Her transformation not only gives her magical powers—it also transforms her into a totally ripped AMAB dude.
Editor’s Note: There’s no non-exhausting way to talk about a cis-swapping show made by cis people, so during the course of this review I’ll be taking the show on its own terms: that Saki “becomes a man”—i.e., a person with a penis—though she continues to think of herself as “she” throughout, more or less.
“Anime comedy about genderplay” is a phrase that raises about eight billion red flags, and for good reason: that particular subgenre is frequently rife with gender essentialism and making queer and trans folks the butt of the joke. I can’t say that Magical Girl Ore is entirely a refreshing break from that shit tradition, but there’s enough here to get its hooks in me.
(Also, shout out to Crunchyroll for doing the right thing and correcting the first terrible and low-key offensive title choice, “Magical Girl Boy.” But I can’t believe they passed up the chance to call it “Magical Bro.”)
The premiere opens with an extended parody of the traditional magical girl setup, throwing out a lot of meta-jokes in the vein of last year’s Anime-Gataris. The monster of the week turns things colorless (making it much easier for the animators), the cute mascot warns about viewers calling in to complain, and they comment on the heroine’s special attack utilizing low-cost optical effects. These jokes seem to be an attempt to get out ahead of the fact that this is a darned cheap-looking production, with no dedicated opening or ending animation (though it does, bizarrely, have a live-action music video to close out the premiere). Fans of sakuga are probably not going to find a rich vein here.
A little over four minutes of the 22-minute premiere continue in this vein, complete with Mohiro as a Tuxedo Mask ripoff, until the series reveals that this has all been a dream sequence (it’s good that they released two episodes at once, because there are some truly bizarre pacing issues at work here). Then the show stands up, squares its shoulders, and says, “You think that’s parody? We’re gonna be way weirder than that!”
And I can’t say that declaration doesn’t yield some of the show’s best content. The actual magical girl mascot is a yakuza goon who winds up recruiting Saki because Saki’s mom, the previous neighborhood magical girl, threw out her back. Said yakuza doles out guns with unlimited ammo and pretty staffs that are only good for beating enemies to death, and is just as encouraging as can be (dammit). Saki’s idol duo has a lead single that sounds for all the world like a knockoff of the Cutie Honey theme (sung off-key), and her love interest is so airheaded I half-expect him to ponder whether there’s more to life than being really, really ridiculously good-looking.
Those are the moments when the show hits what I’ll eloquently term “good weird.” They speak to a bizarre, outlandish sense of humor, and while they aren’t all the hottest of takes (there’s a whole essay to be written about how the “what if magical girls were messed up actually” trend is by-and-large in service of making the genre more appealing to men), they are done with a flourish that makes the audacity fun to watch.
If those jokes are bizarre and bizarrely sweet, then the show’s forays into gender are the sour undercurrent that threaten to ruin the whole affair. Saki is a fun protagonist during her day-to-day life—the animators aren’t afraid to let her be ridiculous, ugly for the sake of a gag, or to indulge in her blatantly sexual thirst for Mohiro. In a world of horny teen boy protagonists, it’s a nice change of pace to see the reverse.
Unfortunately, when Saki transforms, her endearing traits get traded out for an exhausting “bewildered straight man” gig. While everyone else around her fully embraces her transformed body (Mohiro’s downright into it), Saki is given the tiresome duty of squawking about how weird and gross all of this is. It’s unpleasant, unnecessary, and kills the fun the show generates when it’s just going with the flow.
It’s at those moments that MGO starts to feel lazy if not outright mean, falling back on cheap jokes: Kokoro the yakuza mascot comments that the buff transformation is because “men’s bodies are more suited to fighting”; a tentacle monster is pulled out in Episode Two solely on the assumption that tentacle cheesecake shots are automatically funny if they’re replaced with beefcake; and there’s a prominent crotch shot during the first transformation so you can be really sure this is a muscled penis-haver.
Those moments are going to be an automatic deal-breaker for some, and I don’t blame them even a bit. They’re sparse here and surrounded by other things I like, but it’s a precarious balance that could crash and burn at any moment.
Two things have me hooked for at least another episode. First is the supporting cast who, as previously mentioned, are totally on-board with this premise. Saki’s idol partner Sakuyo is already embracing beefcake status herself by Episode Two (the better to protect her beloved Saki); her mom has been through all this before (though that mean streak shows up again to make fun of how ridiculous she presumably looks as a grown woman in a magical girl outfit); and Mohiro is quite earnestly crushing on the buff mystery magical boy.
I’m even endeared by the fact that buff-Saki’s costume is made to fit in a flattering way rather than going for a “bursting out/wrong body” effect, though there’s no getting around the fact that on some level this is a “har har man in dress” gag. If the show leans into that “go with the flow” mentality and backs off of Saki being the “relatable,” “normal” one who’s weirded out by ambiguous gender and sexuality, it could nudge its way to being a problematic but memorably surreal comedy.
The second thing keeping me around is the smartly sharp edge the show displays in paralleling magical girl-dom with the idol industry. Saki is repeatedly informed by her manager that she has to uphold an image, including not having a boyfriend under any circumstances; and Kokoro offers her a written contract for the magical girl gig that contains the downright brutal provision “to not complain about any emotional or physical damage I sustain.” When the writing shows its teeth in service of critiquing the industry, it hits the mark in a surprisingly incisive way.
If the series can direct its sharp edges so they punch up instead of down and balance its queer-all-over love triangle in a way that’s actually kind to all parties involved, this absurd comedy might find its footing yet.
…Hey, the season’s just starting. Let me be an optimist on this one.