Thursday, 22 May 2014

おジャ魔女どれみドッカ〜ン! / Ojamajo Doremi Dokka~n!

Though of course it can’t compare with how the kids who grew up watching this series felt, I was sorry to see Ojamajo Doremi end. It couldn’t have lasted as long as fellow Toei animation One Piece of course, and nor should it have, but I actually hold it in higher esteem than predecessors like Sailor Moon and Digimon. Ojamajo Doremi had so much heart it was deeply touching, and if ever there’s a revival, possibly adapting the still-ongoing light novels, I will certainly be there for it.

Unlike Mo~tto, I didn’t rush through Dokka~n, partly because the translators were still working on it (and their work is much appreciated!), but also because I was a little resistant to finishing the show and knowing there was no more of this sweet, relaxing series for little girls.

Previous series have in large part relied on the introduction of new witch apprentices to mark the start of new eras. Dokka~n does this too – sort of. In the beginning of the series, little baby Hana, heir to the throne of the witching world, decides she is fed up of being a baby and uses magic to make herself an eleven-year-old. A stubborn baby, she thus must learn to fit in with the structures of Japanese elementary school society alongside the other girls while of course still having the mind of a toddler – and some formidable magic powers. Doremi and the gang must care for her – and at the same time continue to work to free the former queen’s predecessor from her enchanted sleep by delving into her past.

The series is paced very slow, but that is no negative point. After all, this series is at its best when it is focusing not on progressing the main plot – though there are very lovely moments in it, not least the point where the curse on magical frogs is lifted – but on peripheral stories. Aiko and her parents’ broken relationship continues to have the series’ heaviest punches, but begins finally to shift towards a happy ending now. New focus falls on classmates like the one with social anxiety and the one who loves to write books about the people she knows, which make for very sweet asides. Cuter still are the little episodes of puppy love, and the not-quite-confession in the last episode is one of the cutest I’ve ever seen. Perhaps I’d like more of Akatsuki and the FLAT 4, who are barely seen this time, but they are perhaps distracting from the more interesting real-world stories the girls face. Onpu has to face failure for the first time. Hazuki knows that going to a specialist school is the best for her, but has promised Doremi she’ll go to middle school with her and is now in a difficult situation. Momoko is faced with the prospect of going back to America, and even if things go Aiko’s way, that may mean returning to Osaka. There are a lot of goodbyes to be said – and if they all decide to become witches after all, the girls must leave behind the human world altogether.

Of course, all this builds up to that staple of Japanese series about friendship between students – the tearjerker graduation episode. Doubled, because there’s also the ‘graduation’ of witch apprentices to full-blown witches to consider. As graduation episodes go, this is one of the best ones, a superb mix of melancholy, dramatic gestures and humour. It makes for a very powerful episode, and one that made me smile throughout.

Weaker parts of the season include the need to have another ‘shop’ gimmick, and having run out of things like flowers and cakes, the girls decide to try making tapestries, which is not the most dynamic or identifiable of activities. Then there is Hana’s pet baby elephant Pao, which is occasionally cute but mostly annoying, and solves the pecuniary problems of the Maho-Dou by...well, upon vacuuming up dark energy released by the former queen’s predecessor through its trunk, pooping out little golden pellets. That’s...that’s charming, that is.

But Ojamajo Doremi does one of the things that is a staple of why I love anime: it starts with the big premise, the girl who stumbles upon a witch and ends up having to become a witch apprentice, and then after being given plenty of time to breathe and develop, becomes about having to separate from your friends, learning parental responsibility, coping with your parents’ divorce and early romances. That’s not something you see in many cartoons, and it’s to be treasured.  

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