What They Say:
More Misadventures with the Magic User’s Club!
The Magic User’s Club is a group of five well-meaning misfits who do more than card tricks – they can use actual magic. And with that magic, they managed to defeat a giant ship from outer space! But their close encounter left an enormous cherry blossom tree right in the middle of the city. It’s so big that it blocks out the sun!
Takeo Takakura, the club’s noble (but perverted) president, calls a special Sunday meeting to take care of the tree. It seems simple enough, but when magic is involved, nothing ever goes according to plan… What’s more, there’s a ghostly figure hidden among the branches, watching their every move. Who is this silent specter, and what does he want?
Contains all 13 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 airing in 1999, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The thirteen episodes are spread across three discs in a five/four/four format. 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. It’s less than the OVAs by a good margin, but it’s still present enough for those sensitive to it. 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 three discs with hinges inside and the back wall. The front cover artwork is fantastic as we get a great visual of the main cast in their magical user 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 blue with less material in the background itself and provides for the main characters together with Akane in the foreground that works well. 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 blue field to the right. Each disc uses a different group of characters together and it’s all bright, colorful, and definitely engaging. 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 simple but fun as we get the related commercials for the series, the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences, and the cute short film that highlights the property well
Similar to the OVA set, 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, they are on the disc. When the final episode on each disc episode finishes out, it goes to a minute long English translated credits sequence. When that finishes, it goes blank for a moment before loading the various 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)
After the success of the 1996 OVA series for Magic Users Club, it was no surprise that more was put into production. At the same time, we had a few other forms that were coming out to tide fans over – at least in Japan. With a four volumes manga series and a four volume light novel series, both of which wrapped up before the TV series, there was a lot to like. With the TV series, bringing back mostly the same crew, we also ended up with a three volume manga series that ran for about a year. Sadly, none of this side material ever made its way over here, depriving fans of that extra experience. Luckily, we get the TV series back in print, cleaned up with the new translation and soft subtitles throughout, and that’s definitely worth celebrating.
One of the best things this TV series did that a lot of other OVA to TV series projects didn’t do is that they continued right on where they left off instead of remaking it and expanding it. With a bit of time between the two projects, we get good references and nods early on to what happened in the OVA before moving forward. Admittedly, there’s not a lot of real plot in this series but it does build upon things well. The core of the group continues on, we really don’t get new additions to the club itself or the cast in general, and it’s just a bit of forward character progression to tell the tale. This results in a solidly expanded set of characters rather than big and epic stories, and in the end we have something that’s more personal and engaging. Not every story has to be an end of the world event. It can just be about the people and what they’re going through and that’s all right.
The carryover from the OVA is nicely done in the first episode as we get the gang going to the remains of the Bell area and work their magic to bring it to life, temporarily, so that it essentially becomes a giant mobile cherry blossom tree that’s looking for someplace new and out of the way to take root. It’s a great use of the kid’s magic and abilities as well as just letting us enjoy the wonder of it all. The surreal aspect is nice of it striding across the landscape looking for its new home as is the view from inside with the gang. It’s one of those sequences that’s so well colored that you just have to enjoy it for that side of it and the regular smiles we get. Considering the way the world turned normal so quickly after the arrival of the Bell, things go back to normal even more quickly here and it’s not a surprise in the slightest. And that allows the cast to dig into the main event itself.
And that’s getting to know the characters. We got the core of them in the OVA, but here we get to see them going through their days, their school lives, and some of the fun outside of school as well. It’s not deep story material but it works to allow us to connect with them in a better way as we see who they are, what they’re interested in, and the things that define them. There are moments of magic to be had as Takeo does his best to keep them learning and understanding more from the grimoire, and there is a larger story of magic we’ll get to in a minute. But we get this kind of good character material without the presence of threats or in a rush as it digs into the simplicity of it all in their lives and just the nature of who they are.
The fun for me here is that character material. Akane was a character that we had only so much of before and was just flighty and superficial. Here, we get to dig into the issues with her mother and the acting/modeling side of her life. She really does just want to have fun but it’s rooted in the problem of how her mother has worked her for likely most of her life. There’s still a feeling of a disconnect between her and the others in the club, though she’s always fun to watch in how she torments Aburatsubo from time to time. Akane gets a really good episode where she has Sae and Nanaka come in to audition for a role in a new film and while there’s a trick to it, it’s good just for them to see what Akane is actually going through all this time so they can understand her more. It never feels like all three girls are truly close, but there are some good moments where they do feel comfortable with each other.
Sae and Nanaka are definitely the ones with the strong bond, similar to Takeo and Aburatsubo, as we see in an episode early on where Nanaka is so frustrated with her mother that she runs away and lives with Sae for a while. You get the feeling it happens often and there’s a comfort to that. It works best in showing us what Nanaka has to struggle with and just how embarassing her mother can be – so much so that I doubt I’d live it down – and you easily understand why Sae backs her up like she does. Admittedly, Nanaka doesn’t always come across the best in this and other areas as there’s an almost isolationist/selfish element to her, but you do see often enough that she really does care for those around her and just shows it in less than usual ways.
The heart of the series, as it gets to it over the course of it, is the relationship between Sae and Takeo. It’s been obvious since day one that he’s into Sae and is just terrible at getting his feelings and interest out there. Sae, for her part, is interested in the magic and all but realizes along the way that she has feelings for him as well. It’s made a little more complicated by them being in different years, but they spend plenty of time together through the club and there’s a whole host of awkward yet cute moments between them. Watching this slow burn of a mild romantic interest play out throughout the series is nicely done, especially in marathon form, and there’s a sense of just enough payoff in the old school sense at the end to make it worthwhile. You’re not expecting rockets and fireworks with big passionate moments or anything and it doesn’t deliver that. It gives us the understated approach that fits the style of the show so well.
When it comes to the magic side of the series, this is where the show stumbles for me a bit. While we get some fun bits throughout it’s the introduction of Jinno later in the show that just doesn’t work. A mysterious figure that’s in the background in many places earlier in the show, his arrival as a new transfer student that joins the magic club and teachers Takeo a number of things is off-putting and really makes the dynamic weird – especially as we get the group splintering for various reasons. There’s a bigger aspect to Jinno that’s revealed in the finale and it works well enough, but it didn’t really connect with me and just felt too easy. Magic is poorly defined here and has been from the start so I don’t expect too much, but the personification of it through him and its origin just felt hollow. There’s a calm sense about him that makes him easy to be around but the way he was used and moved throughout it just felt like he was manipulating things in a nefarious way and when you get the reveal it just felt like it undercut everything. It’s not horrible or a game changer as it was just the characters themselves that drew me to the series, but it weakened the more serious aspects of the ending arc.
Magic Users Club is a series that holds a special place in a lot of fans hearts and for good reason. It’s an utterly charming little series that does some fun stuff and engages us with the characters in some very good ways. This release brings us a very good version of the show compared to what we’ve had in the past and I’m glad it includes everything I wanted out of it, even if it had to be with a wink and a smile. This is the kind of series that I wish we’d get another sequel for just to see what it could be like with a little more time and style of storytelling changes brought into the mix. Magic Users Club is a wonderful little delight.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Special Short Film, Clean Openings and Closings, Commercials
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: April 5th, 2016
Running Time: 325 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.