“I have so many things to do today! Go home early, eat snacks, and finish the rest of my game.”
-Usagi Tsukino, Sailor Moon
Such is the busy, active life of a reincarnated Moon Princess whose after school time is also dedicated to fighting monsters that are trying to take over Earth.
Sailor Moon was a formative anime experience for me, and one that provided an easy escapist fantasy. Usagi Tsukino was a average junior-high girl, just as I was an average junior-high girl. Her problems of having to study for exams while wanting to relax with her friends or search for that perfect romance were also my ordinary teenage girl problems. After watching the first two series, I searched online and discovered the rest of the Sailor Moon universe. I begged my parents to drive me to the closest bookstore chain to pick up the manga, which I would devour on the car ride home. I wished for something magical and tragic to happen to me, in order to selfishly prove how wonderful I was. I wanted to be Hotaru Tomoe.
However, when I think back to the things I actually valued in high school – warming up before cross country practice, passing notes in English class, pigging out on pizza and taking turns playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for my 16th birthday – they were all very ordinary moments with friends. If I had somehow acquired Hotaru’s power to destroy the world, I unwittingly would have used it to protect those whom I cared for: my family, my friends, and my much-maligned ordinary life.
In spite of being reincarnated royalty and a future beloved queen, Usagi Tsukino – in her time on my television screen or on the worn pages of my manga volumes – valued her ordinary life above all. She was not given a choice whether she wanted to be Sailor Moon, or Neo-Queen Serenity; however, the immediate secondary-school self that Usagi displays is one that remains relatively unencumbered by her stated destiny. Usagi transforms, defeats the enemy, and then quickly heads home, deftly avoiding finishing her homework while Luna yells at her for procrastinating. The magical part of her life is an important piece, but not the whole of who she is. Usagi fights to protect her ordinary life and, were we to assign an “endgame” for her – in spite of knowing that she will be a revered queen in the distant future – it would lie in the average, stereotypical dream of spending time with her friends and her boyfriend.
“Don’t worry about those things. Have you reviewed for tomorrow’s grammar quiz? I’ve meant to say so for a while, but tests in that subject always seem to give you trouble. It’s not difficult if you review the material. Or do you have trouble even after reviewing? Either way, if you’re going to worry, it should be about things like that. That’s the world I’m trying to protect, after all.”
-Ayaka Kagari to Honoka Takamiya, Witch Craft Works, episode 2
Witch Craft Works has a similar outlook on magic as a tool to protect the deceptively valuable mundane. The town may suffer larger and larger explosions as the series progresses but, as Kagari states as early as the second episode, it’s all for the protection of an ordinary life. Her charge, Honoka Takamiya, houses a wealth of power in his body; however, in her mind, this should not be as high on his priority list as worrying about their next school exam. When Takamiya prods her about becoming an apprentice to support her, she brushes him off and tells him to focus on the every day. Although this highlights her overprotective and stifling nature it also reinforces what the series finds most important: ordinary high school life.
It’s easy to initially immerse a viewer in a fantasy or magical world. In an attempt to keep that attention, there are two ways that series typically go about their narratives, the first of which I already touched upon with Usagi Tsukino. The second eschews elevating the mundane in favor of continuing down the magical path and making it the goal. The hero or heroine of the story is irrevocably changed by a specific supernatural event, like Takamiya in Witch Craft Works, but never returns to the “real world” again.
For example, as soon as Koyomi Araragi catches Hitagi Senjougahara as she falls in the opening scene of Bakemonogatari – in spite of having previous experience with the supernatural prior to his time on our screens – his life becomes thoroughly rooted in oddities. Following this miraculous catch, the series shows Araragi discussing the upcoming cultural festival with classmate Tsubasa Hanekawa. This is one of the few times that the series shows Araragi in the school setting doing typical high school student activities. Naoetsu Private High School, along with the entire town, becomes just another set for Araragi to pursue his supernatural life. As the series progresses, Araragi descends deeper into the world of the supernatural, without a true mundane counterpart. It’s entertaining to watch, and I personally love watching, but Araragi and his counterparts are, for the most part, wholly unrelatable. Without returning to something I recognize as important, Bakemonogatari packs less of a punch.
Kagari’s statements are like a mother dog picking up a series like Bakemonogatari by the scruff and saying, “Not so fast.” In this way, Witch Craft Works indirectly states that magic possessed by the witches within the series is, much like Usagi’s powers in Sailor Moon, are ultimately best used to preserve that which we viewers know all too well, the joy and despair of the mundane. Periphery characters are shown at random intervals singing karaoke, taking tea, and playing chess. The first five Tower Witches enroll in school – presumably to further their goal of capturing Takamiya – and become thoroughly engrossed in living their high school lives to the fullest. While trapped in a dungeon, Kagari takes the time to remind Takamiya of the wonderful things that lie ahead of them, like being on the student council. The endgame of Witch Craft Works is not rooted in the magical, but the everyday. Forgive me for being selfish, but I rather enjoy that idea.