Magical Girls! We love them! Of course we do! And with a very senshi summer looming, this is the perfect time to look at some current magical girl output. What’s your favourite? What do you wish we would look at? Be it manga, OEL, webcomics or fantastic hardback printed-to-last graphic novels, we (and you!) should talk more about them. To start the push, I talked to Angela Long — also known as Sono — the artist on newly minted Magical Intern Pretty Risa. I first got in touch with her about Kamen Rider analysis podcasting, and in the course of discussion discovered by chance that she could talk Magical Girls like most people can breathe. When it turned out she also works on a magical girl-inspired webcomic, I knew she would have a lot to say behind the scenes.
Looking at MIPR, the obvious influence is Magical Girls of all sorts. Tell us about your background in Magical Girl fandom!
I’ve been watching Magical Girls as far back as I can remember. I was seven when Sailor Moon first aired in the US, and my cousin and I watched it religiously for pretty much the first or three seasons. After that we got a lot of bootleg VHS tapes of the episodes subtitled and gained access to the internet and at that point here was no turning back.
This was around the time that a few companies began really licensing and bringing stuff over to the US. Our local Suncoast and Borders had really small anime and manga sections that we browed regularly and the small local anime fandom really started booming when I was eleven or twelve and those sections grew from one or two small shelves into one or two full cases, and then grew into full sections. It was kind of a point of pride for us to watch it grow.
But I’m deviating …
I really started with Sailor Moon, first the terrible DiC dub and then the original material, and CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth. Both have had a huge impact on me and it’s probably still really obvious in my work even with everything else I’ve consumed since then. Guimo really did a lot to expand my knowledge of magical girls when we met during my years in college. We hung out often and in my last couple of years I practically lived with him. He showed me a lot of old 80’s and 90’s OVA Magical Girl shows (Nurse Witch Komuga, Wild Cardz, Project A-Ko, Voogie’s Angels, to name a few) and also introduced me to Cyber Team in Akhiabara, which I swear I’ll finish one of these days. We really bonded over our love of the genre and I think that’s why we’ve had so much fun working on Risa together.
I definitely don’t hear people mentioning Cyber Team as much as I’d like, though I think the OVA for Magic User’s Club is really underrated. I haven’t watched the full TV series, but I watched OVA probably in Middle School and then again a few years ago and it’s this great mix of heartwarming, ridiculous, and really sweet. It leans a little on the perverted side in a lot of jokes, though so I guess watch out for that?
But honestly one of my fondest memories is sitting down a group of maybe twelve or thirteen people who had never even heard of it, and had them watch the first episode and the transition from the cold-open to the OP song.
Give the first episode a shot and you’ll see what I mean there. I’m a little more picky when it comes to contemporary magical girls, but Trigger’s Little Witch Academia is fantastic and I can’t wit for the sequel. I think Subaru sponsored a one or two episode OVA too a while back that I thought was cute. Really, if I think it has good designs, I’ll give it a swing. (Like VividRed Operation, which is good, but not fantastic, but has the most top-notch designs I’ve seen in years.)
Are there specific visual cues in Risa’s outfit that a seasoned MG fan would recognise? What sort of thoughts went into your design process?
There aren’t any intentional cues in Risa’s outfit, though there are probably a lot of influences on it from my years of looking at other magical girls and anime. Though looking at it now, I seem to have unintentionally incorporated a lot of Nia from Gurren Lagann in the design.
Our plan for Risa’s outfit, and Risa in general, was to be as generic and bland as we could. We wanted it to look sort of “off the rack” and not like she’s meant to have any specific theme or stand-out element. Originally we had planned to give her a different costume for each internship, but I think we’ve scrapped that idea as a little too distracting and confusing.
But we’ve sort of dialed Risa toward as generic as possible and I think ended up making it a little full circle in that she does have some really stand-out visual characteristics. There’s a page later in chapter two where Risa and Charlie talk about the colors of Risa’s costume, so I don’t want to say too much on that yet, but we definitely landed so-generic-it’s-unique, I think. There’s a scene in the beginning of chapter one where Risa is in the waiting area of the advisory office and there’s a few other magical girls there, and I definitely tried to give a few of them more noticeable cues of other magical girls. There’s a girl who I went a little Utena with, and one in a more traditional “sailor fuku” outfit, and there’s a poster for a club made of “witch” themed Magical Girls … The school emblem itself, a star inside of a heart with wings, was definitely supposed to be a call back to other magical girl symbols. My whole plan there was to mash as many generic things as I could together so it felt as “magical girl” as possible.
Do you think your nationality will affect the story in obvious ways? Why is that?
Yes and no. The comic itself isn’t about Japan. It could take place anywhere. I think that’s true of Magical Girls like Sailor Moon or Tokyo Mew Mew too. The country itself isn’t a focus. There are, of course, certain cultural aspects, since that’s where they originate from, but the story itself isn’t really all that affected by it. Neither of us are Japanese, and that will definitely have an effect since the comic itself is very clearly and definitely set in Japan, so of course there is a culture gap there. But we both respect the culture, have Japanese friends we can ask for help in understanding things, and are both familiar with how “Japan in the context of Magical Girl Fiction” works, and I think that probably goes a long way. Given the nature of the comic, where the monsters Magical Girl’s fight and companion animals and all sorts of other things exist simultaneously as regular citizens, that has it’s own effect on daily life and culture so I think we’ve given ourselves a lot of room to play there.
Do you intend to create a pastiche in tribute to the genres you enjoy, or are you and Guimo intending to tell a fully original story using the aesthetics of established genres?
Risa is very much it’s own story, and our intention is to create something of our own, but there are very clear nods to bits of the genres that we’re essentially writing a love letter to. Magical Girls and Tokusatsu run on certain formulas, no matter how far you deviate and we’re looking to work from the same core as the stories we love, and then see how far we can tug that line. When we’re planning we’re generally asking “Would this be funny?” or “Would this be interesting?”. Those are our main goals. We’re not really asking “How can we incorporate this thing from this show?” we’re playing more with the ideas than picking out bits and pieces directly from established stories. There are definitely little homages here and there, but Risa’s story and the stories of the people whose lives she stumbles into, is all her own.
Readers may be surprised to find Tokusatsu-style masked heroes in the same stories as magical girls. Is this truly a new idea, or are they more of a natural fit than somebody with a general grounding in each genre might assume?
It’s actually not really all that far-fetched for Magical Girls and Tokusatsu to cross lines. Pretty Cure has been airing with Kamen Rider and Super Sentai for a while now. And you’ve got Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, which is considered Tokusatsu, isn’t it? And just last year, Kamen Rider Wizard‘s half of Movie War Ultimatum centered around a Magical Girl. Both Magical Girls and Masked Heroes are hero shows, and they draw a lot from the same well, so putting them into one universe together isn’t really all that far-fetched. Originally we didn’t intend for Cyclone Akira and the whole Rider group to be as big of a thing as we’ve ended up making it. There was only going to be Akira as far as Riders went, but then I started watching Kamen Rider and Super Sentai to research how those things tend to play out and fell head over heels for the genre and we ended up expanding on it. The Super Sentai plot line was always a major factor of the second arc of the story, but we’ve ended up incorporating a lot of it into the first arc too now that I’ve gotten really into it.
We have three major arcs planned, and we have pretty much the entire first arc plotted out by chapter. We have a good outline for the second arc, and the third arc is still mostly concepts. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. Over all, we know where we want the story to go and what all of the major points and twists are going to be. It’s shaped up to be a really fun story and I’m proud of how far we’ve taken it. Guimo pitched Risa to me entirely as a joke, just tossing me the title and the basic idea of magical girl internships and I asked him to let me draw it. Within a week, we’d fleshed out Risa’s world and had started planning. This was immediately after I’d graduated college, so life sort of got in the way for a couple of years, but we’re really excited to have it rolling now.
Do you plan to print your comic at any point?
We definitely plan to do print books and some merchandise (Logo keychains, maybe some school sweatshirts, ect.) in the future, but right now we’re still getting our feet under us as far as keeping the comic moving on a weekly basis goes. Once we’re ready for sales, we’ll definitely make it known on the main site.
Thanks so much for the questions. We’ve got a lot more to come that we’re excited to share!