What They Say:
This Magic Club can do a lot more than card tricks!
Exactly one year ago, aliens invaded Earth. But it wasn’t the kind of invasion you’d expect. After descending from space and destroying any opposition, the giant spaceship known as The Bell just… sat there. For a year it’s been floating silently over the ocean, quietly observing how Earthlings live. Everyone’s pretty much used to it by now.
Everyone, that is, except the Magic User’s Club. They’re a small band of misfits who can do actual, honest-to-goodness magic! Their leader, Takeo, doesn’t trust the aliens to stay peaceful. He wants to fight the alien menace, but it’ll be a tough task when his club consists of a perverted president, a flamboyant VP, a flaky princess, a bumbling new recruit, and her temperamental best friend! Can this motley crew pull it together and save the world?
Contains all 6 OVA Episodes
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track as well as the previously created English language dub. Both tracks are in stereo and are encoded at 192kbps, which is fairly standard for material of this age and what it’s capable of. Though the show has some really nice action moments along the way, it is primarily a dialogue driven piece with some nice incidental music and sounds that lifts it up a bit more. But it’s not a show that’s going to stand out in a big way with its design. The series works really well with both language tracks as there’s a certain nostalgia for me with this dub, but the show is one that works more of a simple design with plenty of center channel moments or just a full feeling for the sound effects and action elements. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in 1996 and 1997, the transfer for this OVA series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The six episodes are spread across two discs with all the extras found on the second disc. Animated by Triangle Staff, the show has an appealing look and design about it with some great traditional animation elements that gives it some warmth and charm that can be hard with modern shows with their slicker look. While nostalgia does factor into things a bit, the show is certainly struggling with its source material that make out better than the encoding we got years ago but are still not great. There’s a fair bit of noise to be had throughout it, noticeable in many of the blue backgrounds, but also a good deal of cross coloration. That’s more prominent in the first episode but it’s also a factor of becoming used to it as it progresses and not noticing it after a bit. This is simply baked into the materials that are available so encoding won’t change anything unfortunately. It’s not a make or break situation for me but it’s not the magical upgrade some might have hoped for.
The packaging design for this release brings us the show in a simple standard DVD keepcase that holds the two discs against the interior walls. The front cover artwork is fantastic as we get a great visual of the main cast in their costumes set against a bright background that gives the whole thing a lot of pop. With lots of primary colors to be had here, combined with older character designs that look unique compared to today, it’s a very eye-catching and upbeat piece that works well, especially with the logo kept simple but cute along the lower right as opposed to dominating the top in an oversized form. The back cover carries over the red with less material in the background itself and provides for the three main girls to get a little time here. The shots from the show are nicely laid out and the staffing aspect is given a good nod since there are names of note here for longtime fans. With the premise well covered in a clear and more detailed than usual way, we also get a good breakdown of the extras and a simple but effective technical box that covers everything cleanly and clearly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus for this release are pretty nice if simple as it carries over the concept from the cover design where the left side uses the cover artwork, zoomed in nicely, and a mostly solid red field to the right. That has the logo in a bigger form here that has a nice comical pop to it while the navigation is below in a simple and easy to use form. The layout is certainly well done as it brings all the right elements here, especially in creating something that feels upbeat like the cover. Navigation is quick and easy and everything functions smoothly.
The extras for this release are pretty nice and largely capture what we’ve seen before. We get the fun karaoke clip and a brief six minute or so look at the Studio Triangle offices where they’re working on the show, making it clear that nothing has changed in twenty years outside of the brightness of the office and the clearer view of it with the cameras. The clean opening and closing material is here as are a collection of commercials and the main promotional video for it.
When the release details were brought out previously, fans lamented at the lack of the dub outtakes being ported over from the previous release as those were definitely a draw for fans. While they’re certainly not listed on the packaging or on the menus, as you can see from our link above, they are on the disc. When the third episode finishes out the first disc it goes to a minute long English translated credits sequence. When that finishes, it goes blank for a moment before loading the nearly five minute long series of dub outtakes. So you have to put in a little effort to find this magical gem of an extra.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Magic Users Club landed in 1996 as a six part OVA series that certainly garnered a lot of attention. Coming at a time when it had such talents such as Junichi Sato directing and Chiaki Konaka writing most of it, as well as some really great design work and animation from Triangle Staff, the show provided the right kind of odd little blending of science fiction and magic as well as magical girls (and boys) of a sort. The property was one that worked even better overseas and was a quick pickup from Media Blasters at the time, giving them what was then a pretty solid prestige title that felt like it took the usual concepts and elevated it up a few notches because of the more laid back approach. While it took a while to actually see all six episodes, something like a year and a half, the end result is one that some twenty years later still holds up pretty well – if you look past the source materials themselves for the transfer.
The show works a background plot of a strange and massive alien ship that arrives in Tokyo that’s called the Bell by humanity. While it does very little and says almost nothing to the residents of the world, it’s stood ominous for the past year after its arrival and after all attempts to communicate with it or attack it resulted in nothing happening. You get that kind of lull and normalization that occurs because of it, turning the odd drones and the like that it sends out into the city and surrounding areas to be little more than traffic updates when you get down to it on the morning news. The Bell is a looming presence for most of humanity, but one that can be compartmentalized into the background. The use of this approach isn’t new, but it was one that was done several times in shows from the 90’s after the barrage of aggressive alien invasion series of the 80’s.
While this is ever present, the show focuses on the human element in the form of a Magic Club at Kitanohashi High School. This club is actually able to use magic and the club president, Takeo, is intent on them keeping their skills in top shape should they be needed to help out with the Bell if anything happens. So he works regular training with the group that’s made up of longtime friend Aburatsubo, who is actually deeply in love with Takeo. The two third-years have been together for some time but the club has taken on a few new members with first year Akane, a spoiled rich girl that’s talent and a natural at magic but is more focused on living the good life. We also get Sae, a second year who is your standard clumsy type with great ability and Nanaka, her childhood friend that’s only involved in all of this because she’s watching out for Sae. It’s certainly a familiar grouping but it works well because the dynamic between them feels natural and fun with a mix of genuine heart and some playful silliness.
What’s interesting is that in the view of other people, those in the club basically perform parlor tricks. They don’t see the members actually flying around on brooms, doing transformations, and other events along the way. Takeo’s been able to do all of this because of a grimoire that he found and the wands that he duplicated from the original that allows them all to work this angle. It’s a little bit of a cheat and you do wonder how people don’t figure out that there’s more going on here earlier, but that’s not the focus. The focus is on working the group into a tight bond so that when the Bell does take notice of them as something unique in the world, a potential threat, they’re able to work together to deal with it. With this being just a six episode series you can see how they’ll hit things with minor character focuses and a simple but effective compressed push forward to the big finale.
While not a deep series in a lot of ways, Magic Users Club is fun because it gets down to the core of the characters and works them well. The TV series that comes after this works to flesh it out more and it does that job well. But here, we get something that we don’t get often these days with an OVA series. There’s a familiar flow to the pattern of it and it really does handle it well. This is definitely a product of its time and it’s one that still holds up well today in terms of story and design. Nozomi does the best they can with the materials here as there are problems with the source but a lot of it does become less noticeable as time goes on simply because you adjust to it. With this series out of the market for far too many years overall, getting a new compact edition back in play is definitely welcome. There’s a lot to like with this charming show and those charms are still strong twenty years later.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Magic User’s Club Karaoke Clip, Behind the Scenes at Studio Triangle, Special Promotional Video, Clean Openings and Closings, Commercials
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: April 5th, 2016
Running Time: 180 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.