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Friendship Never Dies: Ojamajo Doremi 16

doremi16

A sequel is a curious thing, beholden to the expectations created by the original. If you stay too close to what came before, then the work runs the risk of being a pointless retread. Stray too far, and the spirit that made the work special can fade away. Across multiple year-long seasons, the magical girl anime Ojamajo Doremi, managed to never grow stale. Between its lived-in world, genuine respect for its young audience, characters both central and supporting who truly grow as human beings, and a sharp sense of both drama and humor, it’s an example worth holding up.

But what happens when the next sequel is not only removed from the elementary school days of the anime, but also in another medium entirely? That question is what brings me to the main topic of this review: Ojamajo Doremi 16, the first in a series of light novels that shine the spotlight on Harukaze Doremi and her friends in the exciting new world of high school.

At the end of Ojamajo Doremi Dokkaan!, Doremi and her classmates graduate from elementary school. However, rather than continuing on into middle school together, Doremi and her closest friends all go their separate ways in pursuit of their dreams or in support of their loved ones. At the same time, while they had spent the last four years as witch apprentices, they ultimately decide to forego their abilities as they stood on the cusp of becoming full-fledged witches, preferring to live as humans. Three years have passed, and now high school is on the horizon. Doremi discovers that her old friend Senoo Aiko is in town, having moved back from Osaka, and together with Fujiwara Hazuki have reformed their original trio. Not surprisingly, their reunion also becomes a new encounter with the Witch World they had left as kids.

One of the challenges of the light novel comes in how to convey that these are the same characters as the ones from the anime, only older. To this end, the vocabulary of the first-person narrative of the light novel, Doremi’s that is, effectively conveys the idea that she’s matured quite a bit. At the same time, it is clearly Doremi speaking, as her voice sounds very close to the same girl from back then, whose clumsiness belied a special talent for inspiring others. The other characters share similar changes. It can be hard to imagine them as their current selves and not just picture their smaller selves from the anime, though the updated character designs from Umakoshi Yoshihiko (who worked on the Doremi anime originally) certainly help.

Another sign of this change comes in the form of romance. Love for the main cast was never much of a focus for the Doremi anime, and even in this light novel it doesn’t play the most major role, but it underlies many of the other stories that take place. Hazuki’s close friendship with misunderstood delinquent and (bad) trumpet player Yada from their elementary school days has blossomed into a full-on relationship. Aiko is mentioned as having had some boyfriends, but is currently single. Kotake, the boy who began the series picking on Doremi but clearly fell for her by the final TV series, has grown tall and handsome, as well as becoming the star of the high school soccer team, and their being 16 potentially allows them to communicate in ways that they could not as immature kids.

While there are plenty of differences, the actual feel of Doremi 16 in terms of how its stories are told feels right at home. Rather than try to tell one grandiose plot in the span of its 300-odd pages, the light novel tells many smaller stories that both stand alone well and build off of each other to varying degrees, creating the sense of connection between characters that Doremi as a series is so good at. One of Doremi‘s greatest strengths was its excellent side cast, and in Doremi 16 you get to find out how they’ve also grown, whether because they’re the focus of these new stories, or because they simply exist as part of the world.

Fiction-loving Yokokawa Nobuko became a successful manga creator in middle school alongside artist and friend Maruyama Miho. Segawa Onpu, idol and former magical girl antagonist, has struggled with the transition from child star to full-blown actress. Doremi 16 brings you right back into their stories, and it feels immensely satisfying catching up with them, and it never gives the impression that the light novel is simply asking its readers to wax nostalgic purely for its own sake.

At the same time, however, I have some doubts as to whether someone could approach Doremi 16 without any prior experience with the series. I do think it’s excellently written in general, but it relies heavily on a cast of characters that have been previously established through years of anime. While I believe that the light novel quickly sums up its characters well so that you can get an immediate sense of who they are, I’m not sure how much it would matter to a complete newbie to the Doremi universe that Nagato Kayoko, who once suffered from a crippling fear of going to school, has now actually won awards for academic excellence. New characters are established, but the return to the town of Misora where Doremi and the others live is a significant factor in this book’s appeal.

That might appear to contradict the notion that Ojamajo Doremi 16 isn’t just for nostalgia, but it would only truly be a nostalgia-focused work if its story simply dwelled on the good times of the past. Instead, Doremi 16 actively builds on the paths that the girls of Ojamajo Doremi take towards the future, and it encourages readers to similarly reflect on their own lives. Although the three years from elementary school to high school isn’t nearly as long of a wait as the seven-year lull prior to the light novel, I can imagine that the high school world of Doremi 16 is a reminder that time brings about change, and that friendship and discovery are on-going processes whose magics are well worth exploring.

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