Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto – Natsu no Sora
June 3, 2010
This is a review of Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto – Natsu no Sora, a show about a girl who goes to Tokyo to study Magic. Although I offer my “final thoughts”, I have attempted to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. I address the question of genre, and remark on the artwork. This was a short series, so I can recommend it with some caveats, especially to those who enjoy drama, some romance, and can tolerate slow pacing (“slice of life”).
I would call MTnTnK: Natsu no Sora a work of romantic drama. I think it is worth considering other possible genre classifications, to explain better what I mean. First, this is a show about a girl who uses magic; despite this, it certainly is not in the mahou shoujo genre. Such shows generally feature the magic much more prominently, the character’s use of magic makes them special, they typically use the magic to fight (in some sense), and there is typically a transformation sequence, in which the heroine becomes more than an ordinary girl. Here magic use is carefully constrained by society, so we have a show about magic users who very rarely get to use magic (making them very normal kids in most respects), Sora, the lead character does study magic, but the story could almost be about a girl going away to study about any topic (e.g. civil engineering).
It might be tempting, therefore, to consider this show a “school life” show, and that wouldn’t be completely wrong. The main characters are students, and some of the challenges of school life are explored. However most “school life” shows are comedies, which this show isn’t. Even more importantly, this show avoids the host of iconic “school life” activities that are the real signature of such shows. Club selection, sports day, culture festival, selecting the class rep, hanging out on the roof, buying melon bread for lunch, physical exams, Golden Week … there’s a long list of such activities that typify the “school life” genre. Despite the school setting, MTnTnK: Natsu no Sora is principally about things that are more fundamental in the human experience.
One could say that, in part, this show is a pretty good representative of the “slice of life” genre, except that I have decided that the phrase should be abandoned. Perhaps it never really had any meaning, or perhaps it simply has been misappropriated, and thus rendered useless. At one time I actively tried to articulate a useful meaning for the term (which emphasized setting or the description/visualization of processes over plot and character, as in this comment), but I have to admit that the phrase has been adopted for another meaning entirely. In its current usage, “slice of life” refers to a character-driven show, that is the plot is de-emphasized in favor of the enjoyable antics of the characters. Such shows tend to be comedies, because funny characters can do just about any activity and the result is amusing. One can complain that this is a subversion of the original intention behind the phrase all one wants, but communication involves using terms as you know they will be understood. Therefore, MTnTnK: Natsu no Sora is not “slice of life”, at least not in the contemporary usage of the phrase. The reader should be aware, however, that the show is very deliberate in its pacing, for example Sora doesn’t get to the magical academy until the second episode, and a fair bit of the series is burnt up wandering around various places. In the final episodes it becomes clearer why so much care was put into representing these everyday events.
The artwork is not spectacular. The technique obviously combines photographs with drawings. Occasionally the effect is jarring. Fortunately much of the show looks pretty decent, but this is not a show piece for animation. I tend to consider the artwork an important part of the shows I watch, so, if I were rating this show, I would probably knock off a star. On the other hand they did a decent job with the characters. Some of the character designs are pretty good, but most, and notably Sora and her friends, are not impressive. However, I think the very average characters might have been intentional; Sora and her friends are fairly normal, meaning they seem like realistic students, instead of the beautiful or quirky designs one often sees. At any rate, this show prioritizes story over cute character designs.
I enjoyed the OP (see above), which was a light pop-rock number that matched the show’s themes (especially remembering happy times). The show also featured a number of insert songs, that were shown being sung by a street performer. Personally I wouldn’t go out and buy these songs, but they did a decent job of evoking certain emotional responses as appropriate to the events in the story, and also being an indication of the character of life in the city, as a contrast to rural life in Hokkaido, where Sora is from.
I watched MTnTnK: Natsu no Sora without having seen its predecessor, released in English as “Someday’s Dreamers” (Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto), which takes place in the same “universe”. Since that show was produced by the eminent J. C. Staff, I would like to check it out some time, but I had no problem following the story, because at its crux, MTnTnK: Natsu no Sora really was about the challenges that normal people face. As such, for those people who enjoy drama, including romantic drama, I would recommend seeing this show. At 12 episodes, it isn’t a great investment of time, and what seems as slow pacing can be appreciated later, when some of the reasoning for the deliberate pace becomes evident.