Mahou Profile #003: Himitsu no Akko-chan [Script]

Mahou Profile #003: Himitsu no Akko-chan [Script]

[The following is the script of episode 3 of the Mahou Profile series, viewable on YouTube here. This post to be updated with an accurate video transcript with citations in the future.]

Hey there all and welcome to Mahou Profile: A History of Magical Girls! I’m your host, ErynCerise, and… man, there are a lot of images that come to mind when someone says “magical girl”: wands, frilly outfits, lockets, ribbons, animal sidekicks, rainbow laser beams, creepy sexual undertones… Uhhh… Hnn, uh, th– well, okay, let’s put a pin in that last one for later videos maybe…

Um. Anyway! I would argue that if there is one specifically magical girl thing that has propagated in wider pop culture, it’s this: transformation sequences. When other works visually reference or parody magical girl anime, the reference that ends up getting used more often than not is that of a transformation, usually based on Sailor Moon’s iconic transformation from ordinary high school girl to superpowered fighter in a cute outfit.

[clip from Right Now Kapow: A magical girl goes through a stereotypically long and elaborate transformation sequence. Two other characters, Dog and Moon, stand by waiting for her to finish as villain-driven chaos goes on around them.

Dog: Is she done yet?

Moon: I can’t even a little bit tell what’s happening.]

While transformation in magical girl anime hasn’t always been quite like we see it in Sailor Moon, it has been around since the genre’s inception in some form or another. We see a bit of it in Sally the Witch, mostly in that Sally can change her clothes with magic. We even see a bit as far back as Tale of the White Serpent, with Bai-Niang and Xiaoqing transforming from animal to human and back a couple of times. But the first “proper” magical girl transformation? One that can be done and undone at will, uses a specific magic phrase, and requires a special magic item to channel power? That would undoubtedly belong to Atsuko Kagami, the heroine of the anime and manga Himitsu no Akko-chan (a.k.a.: Akko-chan’s Got a Secret!). 

Atsuko, or “Akko” for short, is an elementary school student living with her mother in Tokyo. Her story, at least in the anime, begins the day her favourite hand mirror is broken (it happened off-screen but trust me, it did). Akko loves this mirror so much that, rather than throw it out, she makes a grave for it in her backyard. Then later that night, the spirit of the mirror rises from the grave and thanks Akko for her kindness, explaining that mirrors treasured by humans become stars in the sky. As the spirit says their farewell and ascends to the heavens, they send Akko a compact mirror with an inscription inside reading: [Akko reads aloud in clip]  “Tekumaku mayakon”. By reciting this phrase in front of the compact, Akko is able to transform into any person or animal she wants, and can transform back with the words… [Akko calls out in clip] “Lamipus lamipus lu lu lu lu lu”. The spirit of the mirror makes Akko promise to keep all of this secret and makes it so that the transformation spell only works if no other humans are watching. 

Akko initially uses her new power for selfish acts (which we’ll get into the details of in a bit), but eventually she begins using it to help others out with their problems, showing the audience that while she is still a kid with natural selfish kid desires, she is ultimately a compassionate and heroic person at heart. From there, most of the series goes on in an episodic format, with Akko solving problems and learning life lessons through the people she meets and the forms she takes on.

Along for the ride is a lively cast of supporting characters, mostly consisting of other kids from Akko’s school. There’s Akko’s best friend, Moko, who is similar to Yoshiko from Sally the Witch in both looks, personality, and love of green shirts. We also have Kankichi, Moko’s bratty little brother; Chikako, the delightfully devious neighbourhood snitch; and Ganmo, a boy from a tofu-selling family who always dresses in traditional clothing. 

The most memorable supporting character, though, has got to be Taisho: a heavyset boy in Akko’s class who cares little about schoolwork and would rather just play all day. He fills the bully role of the series, teasing Akko and company with his gang of friends and ruining their fun as it suits him. However, he does have some morals, too: he’ll sometimes help Akko and friends out with a problem if it’s something really important, or something they’ll both benefit from. Later in the series, he and Akko are even on friendly enough terms that they’ll just hang out together like it’s always been that way. Heck, they even go to space together at one point! …Well, okay, that episode was just a dream, but still. 

The supporting cast is rounded out by a few adult characters, including Akko’s teachers Mr. Sato and Ms. Moriyama; Akko’s stay-at-home mom; and her dad, a ship’s captain who is not often home. There are also a couple of other characters that run in Taisho’s circles, including his younger brother Shosho (who is a baby/toddler and yet speaks perfect Japanese for some reason) as well as his cat Dora, who has a crush on Akko’s cat, Shippona. And… oh my god, I have some words about the cats in this series, but that’s a tangent I’ll save for a little later.

Okay, so! Plot and characters out of the way: do you want to see it? Do you want to see the very first magical girl transformation sequence in history? Yeah?! Okay! Get hyped! ‘cause here it is! Magical mirror powers ACTIVATE!

[clip: Akko’s transformation from child to princess is a short wipe from one form to the other framed within the compact mirror]

Ooo… fancy…? Yeah no, it’s pretty underwhelming as magical girl transformations go. Even Sally’s simple clothing dissolve is a bit smoother than this… awkward wipe thing. 

Still, don’t be too quick to write it off. This was the 60’s after all and this style of anime was still in its infancy, so cut the animators some slack.

And besides that, while it may be simple, this short sequence of Akko transforming in front of her compact still represents the core fantasy of the show: being able to become someone or something else, just like that. It’s a fantasy that can appeal to just about anyone — kids wishing to be adults, adults wishing to look like models or celebrities, animal lovers wishing to be their favourite creatures for a while. This core concept is a big part of why the Akko-chan franchise has lasted for decades, and why so many other magical girl series incorporate transformation in some form or another.

In a 2014 poll of adult career women in Japan, Himitsu no Akko-chan was voted the second most popular magical girl anime of all time, ahead of Sally the Witch at #3, and just behind Kiki’s Delivery Service at #1. Quoting from the Crunchyroll article about this poll: “A 30-year-old government clerk commented that she remembers wanting the ability to transform like the heroine, while a 31-year-old IT work[er] recalled loving the magic words like ‘tekumaku mayakon’”.1 This stuff really affected girls all across Japan. Like I said last episode, power fantasies for girls can really be, well, powerful. 

So yeah. Keep all that in mind when looking at this series. It may look old and slow and janky, but what it represents to the people who grew up with it and the many works it would inspire is not to be taken lightly.

Alright, so, before I talk more about the anime, let’s go back to the origins of the story for a bit. Last episode I introduced Fujio Akatsuka, the creator of the Akko-chan manga. Again, this manga predates Sally the Witch by a good four years or so, technically making Akko the first magical girl. However, because Sally was quicker to the punch in getting animated, and because most people (including myself) tend to talk anime when they talk magical girls, Sally still tends to get listed first in standard magical girl chronologies, hence why I did my Sally episode before I did this one. 

Anyway, yes, manga. The first run of the Akko-chan manga also begins on the day Akko’s favourite mirror breaks, this time by way of a stray baseball throw. However, this version of Akko doesn’t make a grave for her mirror as she does in the anime. Instead, she gets angry, picks up the baseball, and lobs it back out the window, accidentally beaning a passerby in the head. After Akko apologizes for the head trauma and explains why she’s upset, the passerby introduces himself as a “Man from the Mirror Kingdom” and conveniently presents her with a new full-sized mirror as a replacement. Again, this mirror grants her the power to transform into anyone she wants, but only so long as she keeps the power secret. It’s a little less momentous than it is in the anime, but still: sweet deal! 

From there the manga is fairly similar in tone to the anime, with the main difference being that the size of the mirror makes things understandably awkward. Not exactly the kind of thing you can easily sneak around to places when you’re eight. Apparently later in the run, the large mirror breaks and the mysterious man returns to gift Akko with a compact like the one in the anime. Practicality wins the day even in the Mirror Kingdom, it seems.

The first Akko-chan series ran in Ribon magazine until September 1965.2 It was a massive hit and its popularity only increased after the anime started airing in January 1969. The manga went through several subsequent runs during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s — some produced to run in conjunction with anime, others as special one-offs or series printed for elementary learning magazines.3 As of this recording, the most recent version is a currently ongoing web manga called Himitsu no Akko-chan µ (which I’m sure is… aµsing to those of you who got into my channel through Love Live). The current manga obviously isn’t by Akatsuka, since he passed away in 2008, but it’s still nice to see the series continuing in some form to this day. Also, fun side note: the current manga is done by Futago Kamikita, a pair of twin sister artists best known for their work on the Pretty Cure manga! Nice! Way to keep it in the magical girl family!

Anyway, even considering the success of the Akko-chan manga, Akatsuka is famous for far, far more than that. While he got his start doing girls’ manga, he is much better known as a master of gag manga, depicting everyday Japanese life with a sense of absurdity and wackiness that’s hard not to smile at. He created so much beloved work in his lifetime that, like his contemporary Osamu Tezuka, it’s hard to fathom how one man could even produce it all (hint: the man had a solid system of assistants and production processes to help him along). 

Also like Tezuka, Akatsuka utilized a “star system”, meaning he had a stable of recognizable characters that he liked to “cast” across all his works, much like a director would with their favourite actors. This helped tie all his works together more and cemented his characters and jokes in the minds of Japanese readers for decades to follow. Akko herself was no exception to this star system either: her character design was also used for the character Totoko from one of Akatsuka’s other famous works, Osomatsu-kun. If you’ve seen the modern sequel/reimagining Osomatsu-san, you know her as the love interest of the Matsuno brothers who wants to be a fish-themed idol. [clip of Totoko] What can I say? It’s never been clear if Akko and Totoko are supposed to be separate entities or just a single person playing multiple roles in the star system. Still, either way: it’s neat to see his system at work even to this day! If you think you’ve never seen Akko-chan before, but you have seen Osomatsu-san, then technically you kind of have seen her and just never knew it! Coolness!

I could easily write a whole episode about Akatsuka, so I won’t go into much more detail on him here. For now, let’s move on and talk a bit more about the Akko-chan anime. When I say this show came after Sally the Witch, I mean right after. Both series were produced by our old friends at Toei, and Akko-chan took over Sally’s timeslot as soon as that series finished. I could only find a still image of it, but it looks like the broadcast version of Sally’s last episode even included a short segment at the end where Sally introduced her “new friend” Akko, so that kids would know to expect a different show the next week. 

With a connection that close, one can’t help but draw comparisons between the two shows. I’ll try not to lean too heavily on the comparisons, since a TV series should be able to stand up on its own merits. However, I do want to at least compare the main characters. Remember how I described Sally as sometimes mischievous but largely a role model type? Akko is interesting in that kids can learn lessons by watching her… but usually it’s by watching her do something wrong and learning from her mistakes. Differences like this in how viewers relate to the characters are typical of two broad magical girl archetypes we’ll be seeing a lot of from here on out.

Starting with Sally: she comes from a life of magical privilege. She is born into magic, born into wealth, born into being an heiress to a kingdom, and her story — to the extent that there is an ongoing story — is one of her maturing into her privileged position through her experiences on Earth. She has flaws and struggles to overcome, yes, but overall young viewers are meant to look up to her and fantasize about having her stupidly cool and magical life. As well, like I explained last episode, her outside perspective is often used to reframe aspects of everyday life and make the viewer think about them in new and interesting ways. 

All of this sets up what some fans call the “Sally” archetype for magical girls. For clarity’s sake, I’m going to call it the “Magical Princess” or “Magical Outsider” archetype. We see this kind of princess figure again and again throughout the history of magical girls, especially in the earlier days of the genre. Examples include shows like Megu-chan, Lalabel, Minky Momo, Persia, Shamanic Princess, Mermaid Melody, and even western magical girl shows such as Star vs. the Forces of Evil. [clip: “I’m a maaaagical princess from another dimension~!”]

By contrast, Akko is just a normal Japanese kid. A bit privileged, sure — her house is big by Japanese standards — but compared to Sally, she could be any random schoolchild running down the street. And like most schoolchildren, Akko often doesn’t know what to do when trouble starts. She makes mistakes, says things she doesn’t mean, gets impatient, throws tantrums, plays pranks on people who have been mean to her, cries when she doesn’t know how to handle things, and sometimes stumbles into solutions through sheer force of will rather than doing anything clever. Again, Sally did some of these things sometimes too, but we see it with Akko far more consistently and from a perspective the intended audience is more familiar with. This emphasis on fallibility and lack of magical privilege helps set another — and much more common — magical girl archetype. Again, I’ve seen it just called the “Akko” type, but in this series, I’ll call it the “Homegrown Heroine” type. These magical girls are not born with powers (or if they are, they never realize they have them until they’re older), and they almost always rely on gifted or found items to perform their magic. Magical Princesses like Sally are more fantastical, awe-inspiring figures overall, while Homegrown Heroines like Akko tend to be more relatable since they’re regular humans with regular human problems in addition to being magical girls. Probably why Homegrown Heroines have outpaced most Magical Princesses in popularity by this point, to be honest. 

We can see Akko’s flaws on full display in the first episode of the anime. Immediately after getting the hang of her powers, you know what her first instinct is? She transforms into her father, approaches her mother and says: “Oh! Hi honey! Golly, I know it’s been such a long time since I was last home, but I just dropped by to say that I think we should raise Akko’s allowance, starting right now. Sound good? Yes? Okay good! No time to talk now sweetiebuns gotta head back out to sea, hope you give our amazing and wonderful daughter the allowance she deserves byyyye~” Then Akko transforms back to herself, leaving her mother wondering whether or not she hallucinated the whole exchange. Way to go, Akko. Way to put your poor mother into shock and emotionally manipulate her with the face of the man she loves because you wanted a few extra yen per week. Outstanding.

It gets better, too. The next day, Akko starts out doing something that’s seemingly helpful, transforming into Ms. Moriyama to discourage Taisho from teasing Moko. However, while transformed, Akko runs into Mr. Sato, who tells her that he has a pop quiz planned for his class that day. Akko takes advantage of this knowledge and tells her classmates back at school about it. Then she transforms back into Ms. Moriyama in the hopes of getting her hands on the quiz answers. Our heroine, everyone! Saving the day by cheating on tests! 

Where things get really fun is when Akko loses her magic compact, meaning she can’t transform back until she finds it. Cue madcap chase around the schoolgrounds looking for the compact while keeping up the Ms. Moriyama act and also trying to avoid the real Ms. Moriyama. On top of that, Taisho seems to have a bit of a crush on Ms. Moriyama, and so he orders all his minions and the neighbourhood cats to get “Ms. Moriyama”’s missing compact. Needless to say, hijinks ensue. [short montage of clips with Benny Hill-esque music] Man, this kind of thing is actually kind of great to see, because at least in western TV shows and cartoons of this vintage, you don’t often get to see major female characters participating this fully in the slapstick. It holds up pretty well, to be honest!

After all that though, Akko still can’t find her compact, and thus she is faced with the possibility that she might actually be stuck in this body forever. This is a surprisingly effective moment of horror as the implications of this hit both Akko and the viewer. Where would she live? How would she eat? How would she get a job with the real Ms. Moriyama still out there? Heck, even if Moriyama weren’t an issue, Akko hasn’t even finished primary school yet. Not exactly great for interacting with the adult world in any meaningful way. If Akko stayed like this, she would essentially be robbed of her childhood, which is rightfully treated as a horrifying prospect. We get a nice melodramatic sequence of Akko-as-Moriyama wandering around town at night as her family and friends start to worry about her and make calls to the police, driving home the seriousness of the situation. 

Of course, we wouldn’t have a series if this didn’t resolve itself, and eventually Akko does find the compact. The band of cats found it earlier, and Tora is trying to use it as a gift to woo Shippona. And… okay, these cats, man. Can I do my cat tangent now? In addition to the plot I just described, a decent chunk of the first episode is devoted to this cat gang trying to help Tora score with Shippona. Like… a really decent chunk. And that’s in addition to the slapstick bits at the school I mentioned. There are also multiple subsequent episodes that are focused almost entirely around cat antics, including episode 9, where we see things from the cats’ perspective and hear them speak in human language to each other. [clip from the episode in question] What I’m saying is that these cats are not a small part of the show. If you want to watch Himitsu no Akko-chan, then I really hope you like cartoon cat shenanigans, because by god has this show has got you covered.

Anyway, Akko gets the compact, changes back to normal, and then runs back crying to her poor mother (who’s suffered emotional shock twice in one day now). It’s a sweet moment and wraps up an episode that’s emblematic of the series as a whole: wacky and outlandish in the way that Akatsuka is best known for, but also emotional and melodramatic in just the right amounts. It’s no wonder this show struck a chord with young female viewers when it did. 

From that first episode on, like I said, the show is mostly episodic, often featuring one-off characters for Akko to get involved with while also featuring lots of funny antics with the supporting cast and all those darn cats. For whatever reason, a lot of these one-off characters are angry little boys who are hostile as heck towards Akko for whatever reason but are also secretly sad about something, and then eventually they become friends with Akko after she helps them out with their problems… and then none of them are eeeeever heard from again. Toodles, kid! 

Yeah, this show is not without faults, and one of them is that these irritating one-off characters sometimes feel like they’re in the way of Akko’s story. An example would be an episode where Akko’s dad makes a rare home visit. You’d think this would be an opportunity for learning more about her dad and seeing how he and his daughter interact, maybe go into how she feels about him being away all the time, that kind of thing. Instead, the episode moves the focus to one of these random angry boys and his daddy issues, pushing Akko’s time with her father to the sidelines. I mean heaven forbid Akko just have an episode to herself and her family! She always has to get involved in some random dipstick’s problems who isn’t even going to stick around and appreciate what she did for them, razafrazaurgghhh…

Thankfully Akko does get a few good episodes that focus more on her and her family life, and one of these is perhaps the biggest bombshell of the series. It starts with an assignment for students to report on their given names and why their parents named them what they did. Akko realizes she doesn’t actually know why her parents named her “Atsuko”, and later when she asks about it, her mom is suspiciously evasive. Eventually Akko makes a trip out to the country to visit her grandmother and ask if she knows the story. And it turns out? [gasp!] Akko was not the first “Atsuko Kagami”. [audio: “Dun dun duuuun!”] You see, a year before our Akko was born, her mother was pregnant with another daughter she intended to name Atsuko. However, due to complications, the baby was stillborn, and the remains were buried on Grandma Kagami’s land. Her parents were grief-stricken and kept this from Akko until now because… well really, how do you explain that to an eight-year-old? This is heavy, especially for a kid’s show from 1969, jeebus. 

Anyway, the whole thing understandably drives Akko to a crisis of identity. She transforms into an older version of herself, possibly how she imagines her sister would have looked if she’d lived, and wanders town for a while, running into Grandma Kagami again and hiding her face while talking to her. Eventually she makes it back home. Her emotional distress causes her to transform into a baby and cry, which her mom recognizes back from when she really was a baby. Akko changes back before her mom notices, but the thought of that crying still gets her mom thinking about the past. She talks to Grandma Kagami about how happy she and Akko’s father were to have her. Heck, Akko’s dad was so happy to hear about her birth that he literally jumped ship and swam away to see her! Overhearing all this, Akko of course makes up with her family and hugs her mom and it’s super sweet and [sniff] I think someone’s cutting onions over here you guys… [sniff] 

Moving on to less sad topics: Akko’s transformations throughout the series are pretty creative and varied, ranging from useful disguises to animals to fantastical figures like angels and fairies to OH HOLY HELL WHAT EVEN IS THAT? [clip of psychedelic shamisen cat] The compact also has a few other abilities that come in handy in a pinch, such as the ability to replay images it’s seen, similar to the Lapis mirror from Steven Universe. She can also still talk to the mirror spirit when needed, and later on we even get to see what the spirit looks like. On occasion, the mirror breaks or goes on the fritz, similar to episodes of Sally where she temporarily loses her powers, but there’s always some way back from that in the end. Still, even when Akko’s powers are working, the magic elements of the series can be quite subdued, sometimes frustratingly so. There are several episodes where the problem of the day could easily have been solved without magic and which only feature a token transformation or two. It’s irritating when that happens, but it’s not a huge problem at least. No, if you want to see a series where inconsistent magic is a problem, just you wait for the next one, yeesh…

Himitsu no Akko-chan ended up running for 94 episodes and finished on October 26, 1970. The final episode features Akko saving her father’s ship from a raging storm by calling all the world’s mirrors to shine a beacon that leads it to safe harbor. This drains the compact’s magic completely, and after that, Akko is never able to transform again. She’s sad about this of course, but says it can’t be helped and leaves things at that. This is a bit anticlimactic, but probably not due to lack of trying (more likely just due to declining popularity and a rush to move on to the next show). The main series screenwriters, Masaki Tsuji and Shun’ichi Yukimuro, were both talented creators who worked on a ton of major shows both before and after Akko-chan, and both received major awards for their creative work later in life. Both also worked on just about every Toei magical girl series from here to Lalabel, so their ideas would help shape a huge chunk of the genre’s development throughout the 70s and early 80s. 

Also still on board at Toei was Hayao Miyazaki, who was working there alongside his friend and future Studio Ghibli partner, Isao Takahata (who unfortunately passed away about two months ago as of this recording). Takahata, if you’re not familiar with his work, directed a wide range of films in his lifetime, including the light-hearted family comedy My Neighbours the Yamadas, the emotionally subtle nostalgia piece Only Yesterday, a gorgeous, painterly rendition of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and his most well-known and critically hailed piece, the heart-wrenching war story Grave of the Fireflies. In 1968, Takahata and Miyazaki were finishing up three years of work on Takahata’s debut feature film — Horus: Prince of the Sun. Upon Horus’s release in July of that year however, Toei kept the film in theatres for just ten days, ensuring its failure and resulting in Takahata being demoted to working on television productions, including Himitsu no Akko-chan. Ryan Lambie writing for Den of Geek posits that Toei scuttled the film’s release as a form of punishment for the pair’s involvement in the animators’ union, which had fought against the studio’s demands for increased output with very little pay. [image: Article about poor treatment of Japanese animators] Oh the more things change, the more they stay the same… 

Takahata is credited on Anime News Network as the assistant director for Akko-chan. It’s not exactly clear how much creative freedom that granted him with it, but given the circumstances, it probably wasn’t much. Still, it is nice to watch the episodes with the knowledge that his emotional and empathetic directing style is at work somewhere in there. The series certainly shows those qualities in all of its best scenes, so I like to think that that’s his touch shining through. Rest in peace, Takahata-sensei. You will be missed.

Anyway, after the original anime, there were two remake series for Akko-chan: one in the 80s, and one in the 90s. The 80s series is remarkable enough in its own right that it’ll have its own episode when I get to it in our timeline, so I won’t go into much detail on it here. Needless to say though, like Sally the Witch 2, it boasts much better animation, more expressive characters, and designs that play more into merchandising and product placement opportunities. It also has an ending credits sequence that’s total catnip if you’re a movie person, with homages to the likes of Superman, Beverly Hills Cop, Star Wars, Back to the Future, and ET. See kids? Akko-chan did the Ready Player One thing decades before it was cool (and with way more charm in my opinion).

The 90s series is a lot less remarkable from what I can tell. It was made using early digital animation and the production quality has not aged well — which is saying something considering how the 60s version looks. Unfortunately I was not able to watch much of this version, so I can’t really form much of an opinion about it beyond how cheap it looks. It doesn’t seem like Japanese audiences had much of an opinion either, since merchandise sales for this version were pretty much dead on arrival. Oof. Sorry, 90’s Akko. Your outfit was cute at least?

The last major adaptation to date was a 2012 live action movie starring Haruka Ayase and Masaki Okada. Somehow, despite being the most modern and polished product, it is perhaps the worst of the four adaptations.  That’s not for being a terrible movie necessarily (though it sure isn’t great either), but for straying furthest from the spirit of the story. In this version, Akko is obsessed with makeup and wishes desperately to be grown up, traits she never has in any other version of the story. Now, personality changes alone wouldn’t be the biggest deal… except these new traits pull the story away from transformation hijinks with Akko and friends, aka: the entire reason the series got popular. Instead, we get Akko using just one transformation for the majority of the movie: a 21-year-old version of herself who gets a job at the prestigious makeup company Akatsuka Cosmetics (hahaha yes I see what you did there). This makes the story less Himitsu no Akko-chan and more 13 Going on 30, with Akko bumbling through the adult world for most of the runtime and reminding all the working stiffs around her about the simple childhood values they’ve forgotten. Even that wouldn’t be the super worst… except a big focus of this adult Akko plot? Is a budding romance between Akko and a man who works at the makeup company. [questionable clips with alarm music from Kill Bill playing, ending with onscreen text: “NOT OKAY”] Eww. Just. No. 

[sigh] To be fair, the movie never actually “goes there” with these two, because everyone working on this thing knew damn well how wrong that would be. But the romance is so heavily implied and framed throughout the entire movie that the technicalities really, really don’t help. Ugh. UGH! Gross. 

Alas, Mahou Profile is about anime, not live action movies, so I will refrain from ranting as much as I’d like to on that front. I will say that the movie does some things right, like the casting of Akko and friends, the transformation effects, bits taken from the manga like the Man from the Mirror Kingdom, and the acting by people playing transformed versions of Akko. I mean, come on: an adult actor pretending to be a child pretending to be an adult will never not be funny. [clip of one of the adult male actors playing Akko] For the most part though, this movie just doesn’t seem to get the core appeal of the franchise, and it isn’t even that good a movie in its own right. What bright spots there are just highlight wasted potential more than anything else. 

Okay, last odds and ends before we wrap up. When the movie came out, we got a few tie-in Flash animations featuring Akko working as an office lady and trying to help out her co-workers with various problems. They’re just gag shorts, but still pretty enjoyable. [clip of the Bieber/Beaver gag] Them being gag shorts is pretty in the spirit of Fujio Akatsuka’s gag manga legacy too, making them more accurate and respectful than the film they’re cashing in on even. 

Sadly, like Sally, no version of the Akko-chan anime has ever been released in English, and I could only find the first episode fansubbed, so your options for watching this one yourself are limited. But! A little bit of the 80s manga was once translated officially as Akko-chan’s Got a Secret! Though the books are long out of print, chapter scans are still floating around the internet, so you can chase those down if you’re interested in reading some of the series for yourself. I mean, really, a new official English release of the manga would be ideal, hint hint to any Vertical Inc. or Drawn & Quarterly-type prestige manga licensors out there… But yeah, limited other options at the moment. 

Phew! Okay, I think I’ve said plenty at this point. I hope you enjoyed learning about this early magical trailblazer with me. While it can be a bit slow and stilted by today’s standards, the original Himitsu no Akko-chan is still an interesting mix of comedy, melodrama, and fantastical elements for a show from this time period, and that still shines through even if you’re not into the pacing or art style. 
Next time, we’ll be diving into Toei’s third magical girl series and the first to star a teenage protagonist: Mahou no Mako-chan, a.k.a.: Mako the Mermaid. It’s… an interesting one to say the least. See you guy then~!

Mahou Profile #002: Sally the Witch [Transcript]

Mahou Profile #002: Sally the Witch [Transcript]

[The following is a transcript of episode 2 of the Mahou Profile series, viewable on YouTube here.]

Hey there all and welcome back to Mahou Profile: A History of Magical Girls! Last episode, I talked a bit about Osamu Tezuka and his most famous creation, Astro Boy. In 1952, when the first pages of Astro Boy debuted, the manga world was hugely different from the one we know today. Most manga in the late 1940’s and very early 50’s were light-hearted stories targeted at children, since manga was cheap to produce and children were in sore need of cheerful entertainment in the years following World War II.1 Tezuka tends to get credited as a key manga creator of this period thanks to his stories having more exciting stakes and mature pathos than was typical at the time. He is also highly praised for his lively, Disney-esque art, cinematic panel compositions, and “star system” of frequently recurring characters.2

However, while it’s easy to point to Tezuka’s influence in the world of manga, and we’ll definitely be coming back to him again when we talk about Marvelous Melmo, there were plenty of other influential manga artists working in the 50’s and 60’s that don’t get nearly as much credit as they should. Tezuka was hardly the only creator trying to tell different kinds of stories with manga, either at that time or previously. Two such creators are going to be important to us in this episode and the next: Fujio Akatsuka and Mitsuteru Yokoyama. Both were men, as were most major girls’ manga artists prior to the mid 1960’s.3 Female manga artists existed before then, of course (and they deserve lots more recognition as well) but on the whole, manga societies were not super open to lady artists at this point. [Onscreen: Images of female manga artists and their works, including Toshiko Ueda, Hideko Mizuno, and Masako Watanabe]4 Still, both Akatsuka and Yokoyama were undeniably instrumental in the birth of the magical girl genre.

Starting with Fujio Akatsuka: he was the creator of the manga Himitsu no Akko-chan, a.k.a. Akko-chan’s Got a Secret! We’ll go more into Akatsuka in the next episode when we talk about the Akko-chan anime, but it’s worth bringing him up now in the timeline because Akko-chan was the first magical girl manga, debuting in July 1962 in the girls’ manga magazine Ribon.5 Ribon itself goes back to 1955 and is still publishing to this day, focusing on manga for ages 9-13.6 This magazine has been home to a lot of manga that spawned anime we’ll be covering eventually, including Nurse Angel Ririka, Hime-chan’s Ribbon, Full Moon wo Sagashite, and the subject of today’s episode: Mahoutsukai Sally, a.k.a. Sally the Witch.

Mitsuteru Yokoyama, a creator usually more associated with titles aimed at boys (such as Giant Robo and Tetsujin-28), debuted the manga version of Sally the Witch in July 1966, four years after the Akko-chan manga.7 The idea for writing a series about a witch came to him after seeing the American sitcom Bewitched, which aired in Japan as Oku-sama wa Majou, a.k.a.: “My Wife is a Witch”.8 [Onscreen text: “SIDE NOTE: An additional influence on Yokoyama was the 1932 British children’s novel ‘The Magic Walking Stick.’ This story + the popularity of Bewitched made him think a story about a little witch would be popular.”]9 Yokoyama had originally conceived of his series as “Sunny the Witch”, but ended up changing the name due to the Sony Corporation having copyrighted the name “Sunny”. So “Sally” it was.10

The manga was short, only lasting one year and later being released as a single volume.11 Before that short run was over, though, Yokoyama licensed the series to Toei Doga — the same company who produced Tale of the White Serpent, which we covered last episode.12 And in December of 1966, the first episode of Sally the Witch aired, making it the first bonafide magical girl anime. Heck, it was the first anime aimed specifically at girls, period! Nice!

The story starts with a child witch named Sally who is the princess of a magic kingdom. One day on a whim, she decides that she’s bored of studying magic and wants to visit the human world instead, so she skips out on studying and does just that. When her parents find out she’s gone, they send another magical child named Cub after her to try and convince her to come back home. The parents don’t go after her themselves because… they’ve got stuff to do? I guess? They’re busy. Anyway, it’s too late: Sally has already made friends and she’s decided that she likes the human world so much she wants to stay in it. She creates a home for herself — literally, she conjures a super swanky house out of thin air — and then sets up Cub to pose as her younger brother, carving out a life for herself as Sally Yumeno, the quirky rich girl down the street who always lends a hand to those in need, from cake making to babysitting to grassroots advertising campaigns to fighting organized crime. Y’know, as eight-year-olds do. All the time… [clip of Sally terrorizing yazuka with magic barrels] (Y’see she does it [laughs] look at ‘er go!)

So yeah, those are the basics of the story. It’s not that similar to its influence, Bewitched, aside from, well, the whole witch angle. Bewitched is for the most part a domestic series about suburban adults living suburban adult lives with magic thrown in to mix things up for comedy. Sally on the other hand follows manga trends of the period and aims itself very squarely at kids. As such, it leans a lot more on cartoon slapstick than on the domestic or verbal comedy of Bewitched.

Another major difference is that there is that, unlike the witch Samantha, who actively tries to suppress and hide her magic—

[clip: Bewitched

Darren: You gave me your word no more, uh—

Samantha: ~stuff~

(audience laugh track)]

—so that she can be the best little suburban housewife she can (why hello 1960’s patriarchal values)—

[clip: Bewitched. Samantha uses her magic to clean the kitchen instantly. Audience laugh track.

Samantha: …Maybe I can taper off.

(Big laugh track.)]

—there is no one Sally is trying to please other than herself and her friends. She does nominally have to hide her magic from humans, but her major goal in the series isn’t to resist her magic side. Sally loves being a witch and takes full advantage of her powers whenever she can. She rarely seems to suffer any consequences from using magic either, and in fact her magic is more often than not an unambiguously good solution to a problem, as opposed to something that causes unintended trouble.

In this way, young viewers—especially young girl viewers—are allowed to indulge in a magical power fantasy through Sally without much (if any) implicit judgment for enjoying themselves. This kind of power fantasy is important for young kids to experience for self-confidence building, so Sally normalizing this kind of fantasy for young girls in Japanese pop culture early on is, in theory, a big positive. We’ll get into the nuances of that idea in practice as Mahou Profile progresses, but for now: yay, Girl Power™!

Anyway, no, the trouble in this show usually comes less from magical consequences and more from other characters actively trying to cause trouble. Mostly it’s Cub who causes trouble. Actually almost always. Yeah, Cub? He may look cute, but he is actually an unbelievable dillhole. The tricks he plays on Sally and company often go way past childish pranks and right into straight-up villainy.

For example: there is an episode where Sally and friends are trying to help out a classmate with a fortune telling stand. Cub is so annoyed that he’s not the center of attention that he tries to ruin the classmate’s reputation. Another time, Cub tries to get Sally’s neighbours, the Hanamuras, thrown out on the street because he’s having a tiff with the Hanamura triplets. And another time, when Sally goes on a class picnic without him, Cub plays pranks on the girls, follows them around despite Sally repeatedly telling him no, and then (get this) he teams up with a royal servant from the Magic Kingdom to create a severe thunderstorm, endangering Sally’s entire class and injuring one of her friends. And THEN both Cub and the servant transform into dinosaurs and have a full-on magical creature battle with Sally, which Sally only manages to win with help from her mother. All because someone didn’t get to go on a stinkin’ field trip. [inhale, frustrated exclamation]

And may I remind you: Cub is NOT a villain in this show. He is a major supporting cast member, and is portrayed sympathetically in most episodes. Yet he pulls these awful, annoying stunts all. The time. Yeah. Yeah, Cub is pretty much the worst.

[sigh] Similarly mischievous but much more enjoyable are the aforementioned Hanamura triplets. They cause a lot of trouble of their own, but seeing as they are normal human children, unlike whatever Cub is supposed to be, they never quite sink to the sheer levels of spite that Cub does. They’re more along the lines of lovable scamps who, yes, play pranks and cause problems, but you can see enough heart to them that you can’t help but like them despite that.

This is especially apparent in the way they treat their older sister, Yoshiko Hanamura. Yoshiko, or “Yocchan”, is one of the first people Sally meets in the human world, and she becomes friends with Sally pretty quickly despite being initially freaked out by things about Sally she can’t explain. Yoshiko is the eldest of the Hanamura children and despite having a laid-back and casual attitude, she’s a very responsible girl who takes care of her brothers to the best of her ability in the absence of their dead mother. And her brothers for the most part are respectful of her for that and behave themselves when she’s around. …Usually. [clip of triplets pranking Yocchan]

The second episode shows pretty well how the four of them stick up for each other. Like I said before, the Hanamuras are in danger of getting thrown out of their house, specifically because their father is late on paying the rent. It’s Yoshiko’s responsibility to go and get the rent check for the landlord, and the triplets stall for time for her by demanding the landlord show proof that their father promised a decision about the rent by a certain date. (Dang, these kids are savvy about real estate contracts!) When the landlord comes back with the proof, they continue to defend their father and sister and refuse to leave the house, even working together to move furniture back in that the landlord is trying to get moved out. And of course Cub teleports furniture back out again so he can expedite the process of getting them thrown out because Cub is awful and the worst and ;GLAJKSGDLAJ

Anyway, this episode in general is pretty fun and a good intro to these supporting characters. There are other members of the cast as well, like Sally’s other friend Sumire, a baseball-playing classmate named Ken, and another witch girl named Poron who shows up much later on and actually rivals Cub for the title of Most Awful Hellchild on Earth. Plus of course Sally’s parents are still around from time to time, with her dramatic pointy-haired dad being particularly fun to watch. Plus there’s… Go…d? I think he’s Sally’s grandpa. He’s lovely.

With all these colourful side characters, we should expect our heroine to be just as fun and lively to match. And… well yeah, a lot of the time she is! Like I said, Sally loves being a witch and the joy she takes in using her magic is pretty hard not to be charmed by (pun 100% intended). She isn’t just a one-note role model protagonist as I feared she might be. She is largely sweet and pleasant, sure, but like Cub and the triplets, Sally can also be mischievous, she can be cheeky, she can be ticked off and even just a little bit spiteful herself.

[clip: Sally the Witch. Sally is chasing Cub, who is making fun of her. Sally uses magic to bring two trees to life and spank him for his misbehaviour. Sally and Cub speak Japanese, and their dialogue is translated in the following joking way by onscreen subtitles:

Sally: So? How do you like THEM apples you little ass-monkey?

Cub: Damn it!

Sally: Say you’re sorry and I MIGHT spare your life~!]

Like… Okay. Teaching the school bully a lesson through magical hijinks is fun and all. It’s always great to see a jerk get his comeuppance, I get that. But seriously: when you’ve got the kid up a tree at your mercy, literally begging you for his life, and you’re sawing the trunk in half beneath him for the express purpose of CRUSHING HIM? That’s just a little further than most kids take their revenge, Sally, good god. She is just straight up Terminator here.

[close up on Sally cutting down the tree with fire effects superimposed] HASTA LA VISTA, BULLY. [Terminator sting]

Attempted murder aside: Sally is usually at her most interesting when the show focuses on one of two things. The first is her youth and inexperience—the “girl” part of magical girl. Like I said earlier, usually Sally’s magic goes off without a hitch for the sake of whatever the plot requires, which creates the base power fantasy for the show. However, sometimes you’ll get episodes that highlight how much Sally has yet to master, which keeps the show from becoming a dull string of constant successes.

Take episode 6 for example: by this point, Sally’s parents have more or less accepted that their daughter isn’t coming back for a while. However, they at least want to make sure she’s still keeping up with her magic studies. To that end, they send in Sally’s grandmother (a strict, grouchy old witch) to act as a magic tutor. Here we get to see Sally fail at a couple things for once, like not being able to walk through a wall, getting the ingredients for poison apples wrong, causing an apple tsunami, creating abominations of nature that are horrified by their own existence, y’know? Mistakes anyone could make. This does a nice job reminding the audience that Sally still has a lot of growing to do despite how powerful and accomplished she seems, and it sets a precedent for the inexperience and awkwardness of youth being a staple part of the magical girl genre.

The other thing that makes for an interesting Sally episode is a focus on her otherworldly nature—the “magical” part of magical girl. Sally looks and acts human for the most part, but sometimes the show reminds viewers in no uncertain terms that she did not grow up on Earth. Heck, she may not even have the same biology as Earth humans.

Episode 11 is a really good example of this. Sally’s teacher talks about tears and what makes people cry. Sally reveals that she has never cried before. Not once, not even as a baby. She may not even be physically capable of it. After realizing that her friends think it’s weird and disturbing that she never cries, Sally spends the rest of the episode trying to understand tears, wishing she had them herself. She eventually tries using magic contact lenses to simulate them, but this gets predictably awkward results. Then things come to a head later when the class finds their goldfish dead one morning, and the only one who doesn’t cry about it is Sally. The other children find this suspicious and accuse her of killing the fish. Sally runs off, but then overhears the teacher defend her to the other students. Touched by his actions and the acceptance of her classmates after that, Sally finally sheds real tears. Admittedly I find this a bit of a cop-out since it would have been nice to see Sally being accepted 100% as she is, tears or no tears. Still, it’s a sweet moment all the same.

The whole episode is just really effective, especially for a show this old. It operates on a principle that’s common to most good fantasy and speculative fiction: using an otherworldly character or situation to draw attention to or reframe something about the human condition. In this case, Sally being unable to cry may make young viewers think about what being able to cry means to them, how it makes them feel, and how it connects them with other people. It’s a simple narrative trick in this case, but it works like, well, magic.

Shifting gears a little bit: the last couple episodes I’ve highlighted have been in black and white, but you may have noticed some colour clips earlier on. Sally started its run in black-and-white, but starting with episode 18, the series switched to colour production, making it one of the earliest TV anime to adopt colour. This was in line with Toei’s continuing ambitions to be the top animation studio in the country (remember our friend Mr. Okawa from last episode). It’s questionable how well they maintained that title, considering they eventually ended up bleeding staff left and right due to unsatisfactory compensation and working conditions. However, it is at least true that Toei helped create almost an entire new generation of animation talent through their “Toei University” training system, so a lot of the old guard in anime are thankful to the studio for that at least, if still somewhat disgruntled.13

In any case: from episode 18 onward, Sally the Witch continued broadcasting in colour until the end of its 109 episode run. Yep, you heard right: 109 episodes. Hoo boy. You’ll excuse me if I didn’t watch every single episode for this video, especially since only a handful have been fansubbed. Unfortunately the series never saw an English release of any kind, either, so there is no legal way for English-speaking fans to watch this series short of owning an all-region DVD player and importing the boxset.

Thankfully several other countries did get dubs of the series, including Mexico, Italy, Poland, and several South American countries, so if you speak Spanish, Italian, or Polish, you may have luck finding episodes out there you can watch. Frustratingly, there was one dub that aired in Canada… but it was in French. [clip: Minifée opening theme]14 Ah, c’est le Québécois.

Still, it’s a shame for English-speaking fans, because while it’s not the most dramatically riveting series, Sally the Witch is still a charming little show. I was honestly surprised by how much of its cuteness and humour still hold up despite the cheap animation and old-fashioned sensibilities. It has the same kind of charm as an old Disney or Tom and Jerry cartoon, plus it has the added bonus of being a little more complex than most old western cartoons, which is really nice to see for a kids’ show from this time period.

Speaking of old western cartoons: due to the influence of imported Disney cartoons during the post-war occupation15, there are a lot of Disney references in Sally the Witch, such as this scene where Sally’s grandma talks about poisoned apples while dressed like the Evil Queen from Disney’s Snow White. [side-by-side clips] Or there’s this scene where Cub is waving his fingers back and forth to make a broom dance and walk, much like a certain magical mouse did in Fantasia. [side-by-side clips] Most striking is probably the last episode, where — *GASP* SPOILERS FOR FIFTY-YEAR-OLD ANIME — Sally and Cub finally return home to the Magic Kingdom in a flying carriage… [clip: Grasshoppers turn into pegasi to pull the carriage.] …which looks a heck of a lot like a mix of two carriages from Disney’s Cinderella. [side-by-side clips of the carriages] And if the reference wasn’t obvious enough for you, Sally and Cub leave as the clock chimes midnight, their house vanishing into the aether like the last of Cinderella’s magic. [clip: Sally and Cub depart, waving goodbye to their friends]

There are lots of other references I could point to, both obvious and more subtle, but really, finding all the Disney influences and references in Sally could probably be its own video. So for now I’ll just say that this strong influence is very interesting to look back on with modern eyes. Disney-esque representations of princesses, jewels, carriages, castles, talking animals—heck, even witches—are all things that we see not just in Sally, but in many magical girl series to follow. So this is definitely a topic we’ll be touching on again in future episodes.

Another topic we’ll be touching on again for sure is the connections some of the staff on this show have to other magical girl shows, and to the wider history of anime. There isn’t really much to say about the writing or direction of the show since those duties were all shared by multiple people from what I can find. However, a lot of the voice talent we’ll definitely be seeing again later.

Michiko Hirai, who played Sally, we’ll see playing a mother role in Mahou no Mako-chan. Sachiko Chijimatsu, the voice of Cub, we’ll see again as Mieko in Sarutobi Ecchan, Twin Panther in Cutie Honey, and other bit parts in shows like Mako-chan, Megu-chan, and Tickle as well. Fuyumi Shiraishi, the voice of Poron, would later be the talking cat mascot in Lunlun the Flower Child. And Kenji Utsumi, Sally’s Dad, didn’t do many other magical girl series, but he did have a HUGE decades-spanning career, and fans today probably know him best as ShenLong from Dragonball Z, Raoh from Fist of the North Star, and Armstrong from Fullmetal Alchemist. Oh yeah and there’s also Masako Nozawa, the voice of the triplets and Sally’s mom, who’s done y’know, a few bit parts here and there, few parts in Limit-chan, Akko-chan, Chappy, and oh I don’t know, Tetsurou in Galaxy Express 999, Kitaro in GeGeGe no Kitaro, and mo***f***n’ Son Goku in mo***f***n’ Dragonball Z aw shiiiiiiiii— [airhorns, music: “Turn Down for What”, dank meme images of Masako Nozawa and Goku]16

However, the most well-known staffer on this show was not a voice actor, writer, or director, but a lowly animator who was making a name for himself as the head of the Toei labor board: a promising young upstart you may have heard of named Hayao Miyazaki. Yes, Mr. “Anime Was a Mistake” himself worked on Sally the Witch. He originally wanted to work for Toei after being inspired by Tale of the White Serpent, which we discussed last episode. The scale and wonder of the film left a huge impact on him, and he even admitted to having fallen in love with the character of Bai-niang.17 That’s right: you have a proto-magical girl in part to thank for bringing about Totoro, Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, and many, many high quality memes.

The Anime News Network encyclopedia lists Miyazaki as a key animator for episodes 77 and 80 of Sally the Witch.18 While I can’t say for sure which sequences he worked on, I can say that in productions this old, it was a lot more common for key animators to handle most of an episode or even entire episodes by themselves, so I would not be surprised if the bulk of these episodes featured Miyazaki’s work.19 Episode 77 especially has a lot of standout animation moments such as this sequence of Poron shrinking down the triplets in a car, followed by them driving among giant leaves and underground tunnels. These shots have a surprising amount of detail and try for some interesting perspectives, such as when this mole chases a shrunken-down Sally through the tunnels. Some of the car shots with the triplets seem like precursors to future works as well, with the dynamic animated backgrounds and wild driving choreography echoing scenes like the opening car chase from Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. [clips from both Sally and Cagliostro] Even if it turned out that none of this was Miyazaki’s work—and I highly doubt that, because that is TOTALLY a Miyazaki mole [screenshot from Sally episode 77]—this is all some stellar animation work for a weekly show from the late 60s, and it’s interesting either way to see that this was the kind of production Miyazaki cut his teeth on.

Okay, so that’s about all I have to say about the 1966 Sally series. I would say that wraps us up, but I still want to touch on a few related things that came out after the original anime. First is another series called Sally the Witch that lasted 88 episodes from 1989-1991. Despite having the same title as the first series, this is not a remake or a reboot, but a direct sequel. For that reason, the series is often called Sally the Witch 2 to distinguish it from the 60s anime. In it, Sally is preparing to be crowned Queen of the Magic Kingdom when she finds out that Yoshiko’s father has been hurt in a car accident, and that his taxi — the family’s livelihood — is going to be junked. Sally, alarmed, tries to sneak out of her coronation with help from Cub and Poron, only to be discovered by her mother. Continuing the tradition of being a remarkably free range parent, Mama lets Sally go to her friends, giving her a new magic wand to help her. After saving the Hanamuras, Sally puts down roots on Earth again and the series continues in much the same way the 60s anime did, with Cub and Poron following Sally to Earth and the whole group having more adventures together.

The difference between the two series is obviously that Sally the Witch 2 had a higher budget and more modern animation techniques to work with, allowing for flashier magic, smoother motion, and more character expression than the original series. It also worked in a lot more tropes that had become staples of 80s anime and especially 80s magical girl anime, such as a colourful animal sidekick, a suspiciously marketable magic item, and lots of stereotypical 80s villains and plots.

In addition to the main series, there were also two TV specials and a short theatrical movie made in this period. All three involve some kind of bad magical woman sowing evil and discord, usually by kidnapping one or more children; and then in the end, the bad woman realizes she was in the wrong the whole time and comes to her senses. Everyone goes on their merry way, the end. If you’re curious about Sally the Witch but don’t think you’d be able to sit through the old black and white stuff, I recommend tracking down the movie for sure. It’s very short (barely longer than a TV episode), it’s been fansubbed in English, and it’ll give you a nice one-and-done taste of the franchise. Granted, it’s a bit more high fantasy than most other Sally stories, but still, if you’re only going to watch one Sally thing, it’s a pretty enjoyable thing.

Anyway, last couple things I want to mention before we finish: first is a 2015 song and music video by the idol group ANGERME. Er, wait no it’s… an-ju-ru-mu? ahn-jhehrm? Oh my god, idols, stop it. ANYWAY. This group released a song called “Mahoutsukai Sally,” and what do you know, it’s a revamp of the original Sally theme song, and a dang catchy one at that. I can’t play it here due to fear of YouTube’s ever-present copyright bots, but trust me, it’s a major earworm. I recommend looking up both it and the theme songs of the 60s and 80s anime to compare it to, as the evolution of the song is pretty interesting to hear.

Last but not least: there is one more notable appearance Sally has made in anime, and it’s… not as Sally, but as Sunny. Remember that Yokoyama originally wanted to call his witch Sunny? Well in the 1990s, there was a direct-to-video series called Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, which was nominally an adaptation of Yokoyama’s Giant Robo manga. However, due to a big complicated mess of copyright I won’t get into, the staff working on this series could not actually use any of the characters from Giant Robo except for the main character and the robot itself. So instead, the director of the series, Yasuhiro Imagawa, populated the supporting cast with characters from Yokoyama’s other manga series, including Tetsujin-28, Water Margin, Babel II, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and of course Sally the Witch.20

The whole series is massively fun even if you’re not at all familiar with Yokoyama’s works, with a lot of influences from Wagnerian opera, expressionist and noir film, and the sheer balls-to-the-walls craziness that is super robot anime. It’s only seven episodes long, yet the series took almost ten years to make, so each episode is filled with astounding levels of animation quality. It’s one of the most sincere love letters to a manga creator’s work ever put to screen, and even though Sunny/Sally’s part is small, it’s extremely satisfying to see her and all these other “rescued” Yokoyama characters play off one another in this grand story. Definitely check it out!

And of course: again, if you can find the original Sally the Witch in any way, shape or form, I highly recommend checking out at least a couple of episodes of that as well. You’ll get a taste of what anime was like back at the dawn of the medium; you’ll get to see the groundwork this show laid for many series to follow; and most importantly, you’ll get a cute, funny little show about magical hijinks that’s still fun to watch today. And in the likely event that you can’t get a hold of it? I hope this video at least gave you a good impression of what the show is like.
That’s all for today! Next time, we’ll be moving on to the second major trendsetter of the genre: Himitsu no Akko-chan, the first transforming magical girl anime. See you all then!


1. Holmberg, Ryan. “The Bottom of a Bottomless Barrel: Introducing Akahon Manga.” The Comics Journal, 5 Jan. 2012.
2. Kosaka, Kris. “The life of Osamu Tezuka, Japan’s ‘god of manga’.” The Japan Times, 6 Aug. 2016.
3. Toku, Masami. “Shojo Manga! Girls’ Comics! A Mirror of Girls’ Dreams.” Mechademia, Volume 2, 2007. p. 22-23.
4. Thorn, Rachel M. “Before the Forty-Niners.” Committee for the Revival & Promotion of Shojo Manga – The Blog of Committee Chair Rachel Matt Thorn, 12 June 2017.
5. “Akko-Chan’s Got a Secret!” Fujio Akatsuka Wiki.
6. Chapman, Paul. “‘Ribon’ Magazine Celebrates 60th Anniversary with ‘Box Quest.’” Crunchyroll, 30 May 2015.
7. “Sally the Witch.” Wikipedia.
8. Saito, Kumiko. “Magic, Shōjo, and Metamorphosis: Magical Girl Anime and the Challenges of Changing Gender Identities in Japanese Society.” The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 73, no. 1, 2014, pp. 147–148.
9. Wikipedia citing Dogao vol. 2, Super Majokko Taisen, 1997, p26.
10. Drazen, Patrick. Anime Explosion! The What? Why? & Wow! of Japanese Animation. Stone Bridge Press, 2004. p.247.
11. listing for the Sally the Witch manga.
12. Ladd, Fred, and Harvey Deneroff. Astro Boy and Anime Come to the Americas: An Insider’s View of the Birth of a Pop Culture Phenomenon. McFarland & Co., Inc., Publishers, 2009. p.155.
13. Clements, Jonathan. Anime: A History. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. pp. 223-226.
14. Minifée opening theme
15. Clements, Jonathan. Anime: A History. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. pp. 171.
16. All voice actor information taken from Anime News Network’s encyclopedia.
17. Saitō Tamaki. Beautiful Fighting Girl. Translated by Dawn Lawson and J. Keith Vincent, Commentary by Hiroki Azuma, University of Minnesota Press, 2011. pp. 87-88
18. Anime News Network: Sally the Witch
19. Ettinger, Ben. “Solo Animators.” Anipages, 19 Aug. 2004.
20. Egan, Toussaint. “25 Years Later: Remembering Giant Robo.” Paste Magazine, Paste Media Group, 22 July 2017.