The second season brings to resolution the things that were teased during the first as it shifts to becoming more of the Sasami and Misao show.
What They Say:
Sasami has an amazing secret: Magic courses through her veins! But the spunky fifth-grader is not alone, for all over the world girls and boys are awakening to their powers. Under the guise of the Cooking Club and with the guidance of Miss Washu, Sasami and her friends will learn to harness their newfound abilities and come to depend upon one another through thick and thin. From homeroom to the highest mountains of far distant realms, their journey will be one taken hand in hand. Welcome to the Magical Girls Club, where strange spells and the mysteries of the unseen are everyday thingsâ€¦ And friendship is the most wonderful gift of all!
What We Say:
Considering the general appeal of the series, it’s somewhat surprising that the show did receive an English language dub but I’m certainly not complaining about it. The release features a pair of decent stereo mixes encoded at 192kbps which service the material well. Sasami plays to a pretty standard design as it’s mostly focused on dialogue while providing a few mildly bigger moments here and there when it comes to what’s going on. Both mixes have about the same feel to them and come across well even if they don’t stand out all that strongly in the grand scheme of things. In listening to both language tracks, we didn’t notice any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series sort of defied my expectations as the thirteen episodes are done across two discs as a 7/6 format. The opening sequence in particular has a strong bitrate to it, mostly sitting in the nines, and it maintains a very good sense of solidity and depth. The main episodes themselves are much the same though the bitrates are certainly more variable. It helps that there are a lot of good static backgrounds with big bold colors and character designs that are straightforward and also kept to basic bold colors. There’s some noise to be found throughout, but it’s hardly noticeable on a 70” set for the most part. This is a very good looking show through and through and simply a pleasure to watch with all its colors and design.
This double disc release is packaged in a standard single sized keepcase in which the right interior side contains both discs laid on top of each other. As mentioned with the first set, I prefer the keepcases that have the discs set on either side of each other instead of on top of each other. The artwork used for the cover lets you know exactly what you’re in for, in case you weren’t sure by the “Magical Girls Club” subtitle on it. The core cast of characters is here in their bright and colorful uniforms with plenty of hearts, stars, light colors and other little wing dings strewn about. It’s very colorful and appealing and there’s a good mention along the top that it’s got thirteen episodes across two discs. The back cover carries through with the light soft background on top of which it features several vibrant shots from the show and other character artwork. The summary does a good job of going over what to expect while there is another good prominent mention of the episode and disc count. The keepcase is a clear one and the reverse side has lots of pinks and other girlish colors as it mixed in character artwork along with the episode number and title listings. This is a good reversible cover as the spine and the lower section of the right main panel features the original Japanese logo for those that want to have something even more girly and “authentic.” No inserts are included with this release that are related to the show itself.
FUNimation has again done something rather nice with this release, though it’s kind of small and something that I’m not sure really makes any difference with the fanbase. On the back cover, there’s a little circle that points out that this series is a Tenchi Muyo spin-off. I like that they’re working to tie things to a larger franchise, but anyone who has seen a Tenchi show will likely know that just from looking at the front cover with the name, right?
The menu design for Sasami is similar to the cover artwork in that it goes for the cute and girly with no restraint. Each menu features a piece of character artwork as a cutout along with other pieces of paper around, some with additional artwork on it or elements that add to it, such as the hearts listing what season and disc it is. There’s also a cute recipe card included with it that gives it a little more relevance. The menu has a decent forty-eight second loop that has a bit of instrumental music playing to it but nothing that’s really upbeat that will set the mood properly. Submenus load quickly and access times are nice and fast but the disc, as usual, doesn’t read our players’ language presets and defaults to English language with sign/song subtitles.
The extras are included only on the second disc and the only things that are actually included here are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sasami continues to be the most enduring character from the Tenchi Muyo franchise as she’s had a number of specials and series while the actual other characters have seemingly faded further into obscurity. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the people that have worked on the Sasami series have managed to keep the character fresh, fun and free of the heavy drama or back story of the actual original series. Sasami, quite simply, continues to be fun.
This particular incarnation of Sasami proved to be a lot of fun with its first season set where we got introduced to the world where Sasami is magical girl. Over the course of it, we were introduced to other magical girls that started to appear in this part of the world (as well as magical girls appearing elsewhere in the world according to the news) who then found themselves under the tutelage of Washu, a “Storyteller” from the world of witches where magic reigns supreme. The witches have lived peacefully there for quite awhile after a self imposed exiled from Earth. With the appearance of all these magical girls, something is most definitely afoot.
The first season revolved around the introduction of the group of magical girls that befriended each other in the school and worked hard to learn what they were capable of. They were also able to make their way to the Magical Realm where they got to meet many other magical girls and boys and to get an idea of what the big picture is all about. And during that time, Sasami found herself falling for one of the boys she met there in secret and fell in love for the first time. Amitav, an ethereal kind of young man, isn’t seen by anyone else and continues a strange and very calm relationship with Sasami who responds in kind as they keep it from everyone.
This season takes the show on to its logical progression where the elements hinted at before come to light and the revelations are slowly brought into the light. What’s interesting is that they way they bring it out is to manipulate the girls a bit. Sasami as the title character is of course the one that the Chief Sorceress is after and she’s utilizing the Shining team in order to get to her. She’s not exactly subtle about it, but she is dealing with fifth graders so it’s understandable in her approach. Her opening move of getting all the girls to come to the Magical Realm for a special summer camp is pretty blatant and even Washu starts to call them on it. With the hints of what Sasami is capable of with her Light Magic, Washu is wary of what those in the Magical Realm will really want to use her for.
The best way to get to Sasami is through her friends however, and the Chief Sorceress isn’t below going that route. She takes advantage of Misao’s nature where she’s so uncertain of herself and her relationship with everyone else to convince her to leave her friends and come to the Magical Realm permanently for training. Her powers are significant enough themselves, so there’s additional reason for getting her there. This causes a sizable rift among the girls as they can’t imagine why she’d go and Misao is upset that they can’t understand why she’s upset. Naturally, life on the other side has its own problems as well, including some that are exactly the same as she was getting with her true friends. Misao’s taken for a ride pretty easily here and she’s being manipulated by just about everyone other than her real friends.
This series of events covers quite a few episodes as everyone tries to come to grips with what everyone else is doing. The story that’s playing alongside it is what the Chief Sorceress is planning with Sasami. The history of the witches is explored a bit more as we get a better understanding of the Great Cauldron where the evil of the Magical Realm was sealed in the heart of someone pure. That person is still there – and hung rather publicly at that – and eventually becomes the crux of matters. But it’s the Chief Sorceress’ plans to purify the human world even if it means destroying everything by using Sasami’s powers. Unfortunately, her reasons for doing so are never really given in a very clear manner beyond a natural dislike of the human world. It’s easy to understand her reasons, but they’re never presented in a compelling way since she’s generally rather laid back and friendly with most everyone. At best, she comes across as mildly manipulative with how she tries to gain control of Sasami, but even there she never does it in a way that comes across as vicious. Though she’s supposed to be the main villain for a lot of this, a hidden villain at that, she never really feels like one. The Chief Sorceress is simply someone that you want to smack for being so basically misguided.
Some of the magic of the first season is lost here in this second season. A lot of that is in the way that a lot of the magical girls are kept to the sidelines during this. They’re all present throughout, but it’s not a real ensemble feel anymore. The first season naturally gave time over to each of them as they were introduced but even after that they started to work together in a way that gave them all plenty of time. This season, most of them tend to fall to the sidelines as the focus is returned mostly to Sasami and Misao when it comes to the group. Some of the adults get better exposure this time around, such as Washu as she tries to protect the girls more, and Sasami’s father becomes more relevant because of one of his past roles, but many of them are basic ciphers throughout such as the Shining team and even Daimon feels reduced.
The upswing is that Misao and Sasami’s friendship is one of the central pieces of the series. The two of them are my favorites overall and watching them struggle through the challenges they face is certainly a lot of fun to see. I’ve always liked Misao the best and that meant I rather enjoyed her story arc in this season since it had her really having to deal with something that’s been lurking in her heart. After the girls had all worked so well together towards the end of the last season, watching it all fall apart here so easily and without anyone realizing for awhile felt like it was pretty spot on. The emotions that both Sasami and Misao present feel earnest and real, which is helped because they have the time to actually portray it for more than a few seconds.
In the end, I have to admit feeling somewhat ambivalent about this season, something I didn’t feel with the first set. With the show not having to focus on character introductions, it had the space available to really work through a good story involving this “magical girls club” to its fullest. Instead, it seemed to want to marginalize them and leave them back in their predictable archetype roles. There’s no real growth or development of any of them outside of Misao and Sasami. The larger storyline is one that works, but that suffers from a lack of really strong development as well. And with it capping off two episodes before the end so they could focus on the Amitav issue, it came across as relatively unimportant in the end and almost forgettable. The series as a whole has been a lot of fun, but this season didn’t leave me as near as happy as I was with the first one, and that’s disappointing. There’s a lot of good fun in here, but the episodes weren’t used judiciously with the plot they had and the characters they had. It could and should have been so much more.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 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.