Falling between Magical Fairy Persia and Magical Idol Pastel Yumi is Magical Emithe third of Studio Pierrot‘s early magical girl titles, and while the former hasn’t been released in English as of this writing, Magical Emi is notably stronger than either Creamy Mami or Pastel Yumi. That’s not because it varies the formula all that much – elementary school student Mai still transforms into a teenage version of herself, like Creamy Mami and Fancy Lala, and there’s still an older boy who could serve as an object of her affections present. She also gets her powers from a random supernatural being who happens to be passing through, in this case Topo the mirror fairy, who, upon granting Mai her transformation powers, promptly possesses the nearest cute animal to serve as the show’s adorable mascot. But Mai lacks any sort of rival character and her conflicts are almost entirely internal, making the story about overcoming her own insecurities and learning how to rely more on herself than on magic powers. The result is a more grounded magical girl story, and if, like many of the other children’s shows of the era, it has more of an overarching premise than an overarching plot, that still doesn’t take away from the character’s growth and the satisfactory conclusion.
The story follows Mai Kazuki, a fifth-grader who lives with her baker parents and younger brother Misaki. Her grandparents and their apprentices live next door; they’re stage magicians with a moderately successful troupe known as Magic Carat. Mai wants nothing more than to follow in their (and her mother’s, before she retired) footsteps, but she’s got the patience and coordination of a typical ten-year-old, so she’s a long way from being able to hold her own on stage . All of that changes when, while moving into her new house, she sees a bright ball of light. This turns out to be Topo, a mirror fairy, who can use his powers to grant the wish he sees reflected in his mirror. Naturally what Mai wants more than anything is to be an excellent magician, just like her idol, an (in-world) early twentieth-century American stage magician named Emily Howell. With the magic watch Topo gives her, she’s able to transform into a teenage super magician version of herself, and taking the stage name Emi in honor of her hero, she takes the magic world by storm. She’s so good, in fact, that when she’s performing with Magic Carat, she manages to land them a regular TV show at the local station run by Mai’s friend Musashi’s dad.
From this point on, Mai has to try to balance her life as Emi with her regular one, and she often forgets that not everyone knows that she is, in fact, playing two roles. (That everyone is willing to accept that a ten-year-old is the only person who can contact Emi is perhaps the hardest bit of the show to swallow.) There are hints that her grandmother may suspect that Mai and Emi are one and the Same, although those are inconsistent at best, and Shou, the sixteen-year-old boy living with her grandparents while his family is overseas, does seem to be at least partially aware of Mai’s dual life. Shou is one of the more interesting characters in his relationship with Mai. He’s an aspiring boxer, which makes him the odd duck in his family who are also stage magicians, and his steadfast refusal to give up the sport helps Mai realize that someday she wants to do magic on her own without Topo’s supernatural help. This is a thread that runs through the entire thirty-eight episode series, and while it’s subtle, by the final three episodes we can really see how it’s been sticking with Mai until she was ready to realize it. The opening and ending themes try very hard to make a case for a romance between Mai and Shou, but there’s little evidence that they’re anything more than friends. In fact, Mai, Shou, and Misaki have a very nice relationship, and one that’s used fairly realistically throughout the story.
One way that this happens is in the sibling rivalry Mai occasionally feels for her three-year-old brother. As with Pastel Yumi, there’s a bit of sexism floating through the plot, with the “gag” of Mai not being good at home economics even though she’s a girl. This is certainly ironic when we look at her dad’s profession as a baker and the numerous times we see her grandfather or his male apprentices sewing, but it also comes out in cases where Misaki is praised for something while Mai is put down for the same, or how Mai is occasionally put down to build her brother up. Despite this, no one ever tells Mai that she can’t be a stage magician because she’s a girl, and her father dreams that he “made” his wife quit when they married. (She finally tells him that it was her decision and that he didn’t force her into or out of anything.) There is an uncomfortable bit of exploitation when it comes to Emi, who is meant to be sixteen, because the TV producer Mr . Koganei is desperate to keep her in the money-making spotlight. In episode eleven he tricks her into making a documentary about his version of her life, something Mai was very clear she did not want to do when Koganei initially proposed it. That he ignores her and manages to attempt to trick her into it anyway is skin-crawlingly gross, and his determination to keep Emi on the air definitely crosses the line more than once. Mai does continually outsmart him, though, which does keep things safely on the right side of that line.
While this isn’t the best looking show – there are persistent keyframe issues and the animation is more serviceable than spectacular – it does have memorable music in the form of the opening theme and a late-season insert song when Koganei decides that Emi ought to sing as well as perform magic. There are some interesting artistic touches, such as the detailed male nipples in one episode and the inconsistency of whether we see Mai’s underwear whether or not, as well as Topo looks more like a real (purple) flying squirrel or one with visible seams. (He possessed a stuffed animal.) Subtitles do have some odd word choices, such as “live stream” for “on air” and “hieroglyph” for “character,” and there are also a fair amount of typos, with one particularly entertaining one where Shou says that he’s going to go pee in a dressing room rather than peek. This is mainly an issue because Magical Emi is only available (as of this writing) on Retro Crush’s paid tier, and we’d hope for better quality on something that costs money.
On the whole, Magical Emi is better developed than Pastel Yumi or Creamy Mamiand it has a much more satisfying ending than any of the other early Studio Pierrot magical girl shows currently available, including Fancy Lala. It’s very much of the 1980s, which may give it an added nostalgia bonus for some viewers, and it combines character development with a warm family dynamic and mostly fun adventures, and, of course, magic. It’s Saturday morning cartoon fun, and one magical girl fans really ought to give a chance.