It Doesn’t Take a Madoka Magica

I was recently asked about why I don’t seem to like Puella Magi Madoka Magica nearly as much as other anime fans, bearing in mind the degree to which the show seems to garner an extremely devoted, I might even say evangelical fanbase. “Have you not seen Madoka Magica?” they ask.

While I think it’s quite a good show, even excellent in a number of respects, my opinion is that unlike so many others Madoka Magica did not open the world to me. It is not the greatest magical girl anime I’ve ever seen, let alone the greatest anime, and rather than showing me that it’s possible for such a genre to be full of rich depth and interesting ideas it just reinforced my already existing beliefs in that regard. So, yes, an excellent show and a fascinating twist, but something I always knew was possible (in a good way).

What I’ve kind of noticed is that the people who seem to be the most awestruck by Madoka Magica are the fans with little experience actually watching magical girl anime, and so when they discuss what makes the darkness of the series so special, it always feels less like people are talking from actual experience with the genre and more with just their idea of the genre from watching some Sailor Moon. Or if not Sailor Moon, their experience is comprised primarily of watching the genre exceptions, such as Revolutionary Girl Utena and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.

This is not to deny the legitimacy of other people’s watching experiences, as telling someone that they don’t have the right to enjoy a show without x or y prerequisites is pretty ridiculous. However, I feel as if many people who think the world of that show and have an opinion on how it’s done so much with the magical girl genre, while in some ways right, have only experienced the “darkness” of mahou shoujo without being familiar with the “light,” in other words the shows which manage to achieve genre highs without falling into themes like subversion or dark parody. Even in the past decade or so you’ve had shows like Heartcatch Precure!, Ojamajo Doremi, and Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san which are able to achieve a lot without flipping conventions all the way upside down.

It doesn’t take a Madoka Magica to realize the potential of the magical girl genre, which is something I hope more and more people come to learn.

It Truly is a Smile for You: Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san

When listing the tropes of the magical girl genre, certain traits come to mind. Shows are generally targeted towards mainly a female audience. Romance is usually a focus. Magic is used in some manner of wish fulfillment, either by the characters or the viewers or even both. Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san, a 2001 anime about an extraterrestrial princess with the power of the stars, can easily fit these descriptions and more, but none of them quite do justice to young Princess Comet and her story. Comet-san defies its own categorizations without betraying any of them in the process.

All stars have their own radiance, their own personalities, their own lives. And in the vast sea of the universe there are those who understand and communicate with these stars. One of them is Comet, a young princess of Harmonica Star Country, who is set to marry the prince of the neighboring Tambourine Star Country and unite their lands for the sake of their peoples. When the prince runs away to Earth, Comet is tasked to follow him and ask for his hand in marriage personally. Comet is quick to accept her mission, though what no one other than her mother knows is that she doesn’t care one way or another about chasing princes or fostering peace between nations. Comet is a girl full of curiosity and enthusiasm, eager to see what life is like on a new planet far away from her home.

Comet-san has a certain magnetism to it. While many magical girl anime are very episodic, or have a focus on the daily lives of normal girls (albeit with magical powers), very few of them can match the (ironically) down-to-earth nature of Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san. Rather than Cardcaptor Sakura or Shugo Chara, the pacing of Comet-san is closer to that of shows such as Kino’s Journey or Aria. The show pulls you into its own deliberately slow pace, and you may find yourself being dragged along willingly. Each episode finds Comet-san learning more and more about life on Earth. People, plants, animals, customs, weather, art, love, anything and everything is a joy for Comet to experience, and every day is a new opportunity for discovery.

Comet-san is a show that is blessed with strong characters all around. The primary rival, a short-tempered princess from Castanet Star Country named Meteo who is far more interested in finding the prince, provides a nice foil for Comet, though it is Comet’s even-handedness that frustrates Meteo more than the other way around. A young life guard reminiscent of Li Shaoran named Keisuke provides one of many potential romances for Comet. Comet has her requisite animal mascot in a bear-like creature named Rababou (a take on “rubber ball” due to his elastic body), who is there to remind Comet of her true goal, but is also a valuable friend and at first her only companion from home. Comet’s host family’s children are fraternal twins named Tsuyoshi and Nene. Their nickname for Comet is “Komatta-san,” with komatta meaning “troubled.” They are two of the most endearing and non-irritating child characters in anime all the while while having the maturity one expects of children.

Comet herself is an inspiring main character whose personality could probably be best described as “subdued enthusiasm.” Comet shows a wide range of emotions, some of them completely new and unfamiliar to her, and expresses them in a way that can be very cathartic to watch, especially because of her pleasant voice, courtesy of Maeda Aki. In the end, nothing contributes to the slow pacing of the series more than Comet.

This is not to say, however, that the show is without progress or continuity. The feeling of the show is such that often times I found myself thinking that all it would take is one big twist to turn it all upside down, and most likely this twist somehow involves the fact that no one knows what the Tambourine Star Country’s prince actually looks like.

Sadly, that is all speculation from me, as less than half Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san is available subtitled, and the fansubbing group that has been slowly plugging has been doing so since 2002. If there is an end, it is way off in the distance. I hear that this show was actually dubbed into English as “Princess Comet” though, and broadcast around the world, so it may be possible to obtain it in that form more easily. That said, even with completion nowhere in sight, I urge anyone and everyone to watch a few episodes and see if life doesn’t start looking a little brighter.