I love the dumb, yet incredibly clever humor of gdgd Fairies–style humor. Typically combining incredibly cheap animation with a cleverly absurd dialogue, a splash of improv comedy, and willful ignorance over their own premises, these anime always bring a smile to my face. The team behind gdgd Fairies has since gone on to do a variety of shows in that vein, including one about robot girls trying to discover humor, a Transformers series, one about personified Sega consoles, and now we have come to their most daring (and perhaps low-budget) work: Mahou Shoujo? Naria Girls.
Though technically a background story exists, it really doesn’t matter. Three young girls get magic powers to rescue a far-off magic kingdom, but it just so happens that every monster of the week’s scheme “coincidentally” resembles an improv skit like what you’d find on Whose Line Is It Anyway? It’s the kind of show where the girls transform from their school uniforms… to their school uniforms, with no discernible difference.
Unlike the other series mentioned, which are very simply animated using programs such as Miku Miku Dance and Flash, Naria Girls actually uses motion-capture, directly translating its actresses’ motions onto 3D anime-style models. Motion capture can be a finicky thing, and it can take a lot of careful work to not make character movement appear unnatural or to avoid tiny mistakes that come from trying to automate such a process. Naria Girls does not care. Its use of mocap is very rudimentary and constantly exposes its flaws, but then I think that blatant disregard for what is supposed to be a “professional quality work” is what makes the show kind of charming in the first place.
The other appealing quality of the series, though I must warn that it is paradoxically what makes it difficult to watch as well, is that it takes the improv element of the gdgd Fairies-style show to the extreme. If Seha Girls is one end of the spectrum, where all the jokes are scripted and planned out, then Naria Girls is the opposite. From start to finish through each 8-minute episode, all of the jokes are clearly made up on the spot. If that wasn’t enough, the show was revealed in June for a July broadcast, and they were still auditioning for cast members.
The result is that the show can be funny, but often times isn’t, namely because the actresses themselves are not particularly good at improvising. Even eight minutes is hard to maintain if the comedians themselves aren’t experts at it. However, the Russian Roulette element of watching Naria Girls, where you truly cannot tell if the show will be amusing from one moment to the next, is why I enjoy it. When a joke works, it’s a cause for celebration. When a joke falls so utterly flat that it’s like humor itself has been sucked into a black hole, it somehow comes out the other side still being an interesting artifact.
Naria Girls isn’t as good as its predecessors, but it is its own exciting experiment and adventure. That’s why I’m on board.
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Personally I think the best, most unnoticed gem in the rough out of all these live improv MMD shows is Tesagure! Bukkatsu-mono, which I think scared a lot of folks off with the awkward title and uninteresting looking surface description it usually gets. I think it took all the best lessons from gDgD and improved upon it in a way none of the other similar shows have quite done as well since. Some episodes get particularly meta in their dissection (evisceration?) of anime and manga tropes–even in the opening animation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2NHwqqaGpU
I just started watching Tesagure as well, and I have to agree that it’s amazing. The actresses are really on-point, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
A couple episodes in and I said to my wife, “I don’t know if this is good or not, but I’m pretty sure I’ll end up watching the whole season.” Thanks for putting my feelings into words better than I could.