What’s it about? Aya Asagiri’s life is a living hell: she’s bullied endlessly at school, ignored by her parents, and abused by her older brother. One day she receives a gun with a heart-shaped barrel from an eerie website promising her magical powers.
CONTENT WARNING: Graphic violence, child abuse, physical abuse (beating, drowning, cutting), emotional abuse, and animal death.
About a quarter of the way through this premiere, the frail, put-upon protagonist stumbles upon a cute stray cat, which is her only friend. “I wonder how long it’ll be til that cat dies,” I thought idly, because that’s the kind of show this is.
Five minutes and four seconds. The impressively long time frame before the kitten winds up a smear on the train tracks is because we have to watch Aya be physically abused to the point of vomiting by her brother first.
I can’t lie, I kind of had hopes for this one—there have been a few dark magical girl shows I liked, and sometimes they make me laugh—but the actual result is just too unpleasant to qualify for so-bad-it’s-good.
Over the course of this episode Aya is beaten, held down in a toilet bowl until she passes out, has her kitten murdered, has a box cutter stuck in her mouth, and is assaulted and almost raped. Hell, our first glimpse of Aya is her internal monologue that “every day, all I think about it dying” as she imagines stepping out in front of a train.
This “pile on the misery” approach to plotting (“her mom is dead—no wait, she’s an orphan! With an eyepatch! And she HAS A PAPERCUT”) has been rife for unintended comedic appeal before, as it usually crops up in shows that have little to no grasp on how to powerfully portray even one traumatic event in a moving way, much less six all at the same time. But that kind of show generally relies on a certain level of technical incompetence and an eliding of detail that strives for the punch of horrible plot beats without actually wanting or knowing how to showcase them (see: School Days).
Magical Girl Site has no shortage of detail. It delights in showing the lines of exhaustion under Aya’s eyes, her bruises, the vomit and spit and tears every time she’s pushed down or hit. The moments of grimdark hilarity, like magical girls crying blood, are few and located far between the long sessions of wallowing in watching a young girl suffer.
This is a shounen horror series, and an irritating reminder of the industry mentality that the way to make stories about young women appeal to men is to make them cry and suffer—a mentality stemming from a genre-shifting work that strolled in and said “Hey, what if this genre that’s been pretty exclusively for women was also a thing that men could have, actually?” (and boy is Site doing a hack crib job: Aya’s future totally-platonic-bestie has time-stopping powers). There’s something unspeakably unpleasant in seeing Aya get magical girl powers only for them to make her more miserable, when the genre was historically a source of positive escapism.
And that’s the trick of it: dark magical girl shows aren’t ugly because they’re dark, disturbing, or horrific (Site‘s ending is actually the best part of it, employing some Babadook-esque paper cutout imagery and real actors), but because their central focus is on breaking their heroes down rather than driving them to overcome. I went so far as to check out a few spoilers to see if Aya would at least be getting revenge on her horrible brother any time soon, but no, that would be too cathartic.
Women, enbies and trans folk are tormented and harassed without any way to fight back on a daily basis. I don’t really need to see it marketed as a selling point to male audiences.