The city is beautiful, full of elegant, dreamlike architecture. But at night, it is invaded by monsters. Keeping them in check are the city’s magical girls: young women with the ability to transform into adorably-costumed superheroes. These girls attend a special school by day, then patrol the streets by night to protect the city.

Team Alchemical is a group of magical girls—and friends—with element-themed powers. Leader Tessa is the strongest, controlling a force called aether, while her friends fight using fire (Sally), earth (Gwen), air (Sylvia), and water (Undine). One night, after an argument over group leadership, Tessa decides to sit out patrol—and tragedy strikes. In the aftermath, Undine and Tessa’s lives are forever changed.

Now Undine—insecure Undine, always a support player in Team Alchemical—has to step into the spotlight. Wracked with guilt and unsure of whether she is strong enough to fight alone, she must decide where to go from here. Another magical girl, Heartful Punch, throws her a lifeline when she offers to team up, even though Heartful Punch famously fights solo. Could this be a way forward for Undine? But then, it’s hard to move forward when she keeps looking back at what she’s lost… and wondering it was due to bad luck, or something more sinister.

Like the Madoka Magica franchise, Sleepless Domain takes the cutesy aesthetic of magical girls and contrasts it with a grim storyline. The girls’ powers are linked to their colorful, adorably-attired alter egos, which adds to the feeling of wrongness when their stories involve violence and tragedy. The shift from a team-based story centered on Tessa to a story that mostly follows Undine is an interesting early twist—and the surprise factor is clearly intended, as the creator’s notes at the end say that Tessa was supposed to have a look that “screamed “typical main character.”

This story, which collects the first four chapters of an ongoing webcomic, is clearly the beginning of a larger arc. In the end, Undine still seems adrift. She has connected with Heartful Punch, but the two have made no formal plans to keep fighting together, and Undine is still looking for other teams she might be able to join. Tessa, now a supporting character, mourns and worries. Meanwhile, a mysterious enemy lurks. To be continued!

The art of Sleepless Domain is vividly colorful and has all the cute costumes, glowy magic, and dramatic transformation sequences that fans of the magical girl genre will expect. We see a lot of magical girls at the special school they attend, and even out of their costumes, they have a variety of appearances, with different body shapes, skin tones, and hair colors and textures. The unnamed city setting features elegant, whimsical architecture. The monsters are suitably creepy. The girls themselves, and certain elements of the setting, are drawn in detail, but the rest of the art is kept simple, though not jarringly so. Lighting is used to dramatic effect in many scenes.

Despite the deaths of several major characters, there is very little on-page blood and no gore. Most of the violence is magical, and is used against monsters. There is a small amount of swearing, but no sexual content and only the briefest references to romance.

With emotional complexity as well as monster-fighting adventures, all set against the pretty backdrop of a city full of magical girls, this book will appeal to fans of Madoka Magica and Magical Girl Raising Project.


Sleepless Domain, Book One: The Price of Magic
By Mary Cagle
Art by Oscar Vega
Seven Seas, 2021
ISBN: 9781648276507
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)

  • Nic

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Wake County Public Libraries

    Reviewer

    The child of two artists, Nic grew up loving art, reading, and those oh-so-special books that combine the two. Nic got her MLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her thesis was on the best shelving scheme for graphic novels in public libraries; the proposal won an Elfreda Chatman Research Award. She spends her free time reading, drawing, blogging, and writing fiction. She is a Youth Services Librarian at the Wake County Public Libraries in Raleigh, NC.

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