Magical Girls (Majou Shoujo) have been a beloved trope in the world of anime and manga for decades. The story typically begins when a young girl, who appears to be an ordinary middle school student, is informed by an adorable animal that she possesses an amazing power. What follows is essentially a female-centered superhero story, wherein the girl transforms into wearing a cute outfit and fights against the forces of evil. Sometimes the girl is a solitary fighter, but often she is joined by a team of others who have similar abilities. In 2011, Puella Magi Madoka Magica deconstructed this genre with a dark interpretation of the consequences that might accompany the role of Magical Girl. Puella Magi Kazumi Magica is the latest spin-off in this franchise and, even by the standards of its predecessor, Kazumi delivers a storyline that is intense and shocking.
A companion to Madoka’s story, Kazumi begins as the titular character wakes up naked in a suitcase with no memory of her identity or circumstances. After a confusing side story involving an attempted bombing and a disgruntled restaurant chef, Kazumi is claimed by two girls who say she is their roommate. Eventually it is revealed that these young women are part of a team of Magical Girls who call themselves the Pleiades Saints, and Kazumi is one of them. From here, the reader travels down a strange rabbit hole that will ultimately break some hearts. I am convinced this heartache is what made Madoka so beloved, and it is also likely to entice readers to Kazumi.
Like Madoka and her friends, the Pleiades Saints have made a contract with an incubator. Incubators appear as adorable catlike creatures who approach young girls, offering to make them Magical Girls in exchange for granting one wish. As Magical Girls, they must fight evil witches who throw the world into despair. Fans of the series will know there is much more to this premise, as the incubators have their own dark agenda. While Madoka made a contract with the loathsome Kyubei, the Pleiades are contracted to Jubei. Through Kazumi’s eyes, the reader is dropped into the middle of the Pleiades’ story. With her, we experience the horrors that bound other girls together—and it is Kazumi’s very existence that will challenge everything that fans of the Madoka series already know about the world of Magical Girls.
The artwork is lovely. Using intricate imagery, the bizarre labyrinths that foretell the appearance of a witch are rendered as beautiful as they are horrifying. With checkered flooring as a running theme, each calls to mind a nightmare world with a landscape designed as a collaborative project between artists M.C. Escher and Gustav Klimt. However, the space is inhabited by menacing-yet-cutesy creatures that could easily have been rejected by Sanrio Studios.
Each of the Pleiades have a very distinct look, both in their everyday clothes and their Magical Girl costumes. For instance, thick-browed Kaoru has bangs which frame her face like a helmet. She is the athlete of the group whose costume resembles a short sports jersey. Doe-eyed Saotomi became a Magical Girl after wishing she could talk to animals. Her costume includes a cat motif, but her general appearance almost resembles Disney’s Snow White. Childlike Mirai’s cloud of hair is as plush as the stuffed animals she carries at all times, which are also incorporated into her fighting costume. Kazumi herself might have the most generic appearance. Though she is cute with short, wispy hair, she fails to stand out among her sisters. While the other girls wear their personality quite literally on their sleeves, Kazumi is likely designed to be the “everyman.” The viewer does not know the nature of the wish that brought Kazumi to contract as a Magical Girl, and as we discover the secrets of her past along with her, perhaps this is why she is not meant to shine.
The first two issues start off a bit slowly. The amnesiac theme, which is popular in anime, can feel like a major eye roller—but once the truth is revealed, this plot device will be forgiven. Another quibble I have is the use of fanservice; panty shots and skimpy costumes are unnecessary in this type of story. One of the things that made Madoka so wonderful was that it didn’t need to sexualize its characters in order to seem edgy, so I was disappointed to see Kazumi use this tactic. Like its predecessor, Kazumi’s target audience is more mature, but this has less to do with the amount of skin shown and more to do with violence and the psychological darkness of the story.
As Kazumi eventually ties into Madoka’s story, I would recommend that any library considering this title should have the first Madoka manga on hand. Kazumi is a fantastic supplement to the foundation laid by Madoka, but without the original story to keep readers abreast of things to come, it will likely be confusing.
Puella Magi Kazumi Magica: The Innocent Malice, vols. 1-5
by Masaki Hiramatsu
Art by Takashi Tensugi
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9780316250962
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9780316254250
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9780316254267
Vol. 4 ISBN: 9780316254274
Vol. 5 ISBN: 9780316286770
Yen Press, 2013-2014
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen (16 +)