Magical Princess Sky
When you have a genre like magical girls that’s gone on long enough to be slammed full of tropes, you can approach making a new work in a number of ways. You can play it straight without any innovation and become cliche. You can poke fun at it and lampshade. You can subvert those tropes and twist them in new ways. Or, in the case of Magical Princess Sky, you can wholeheartedly, unironically embrace every trope with love and still create something magical. And maybe a bit candy-filled, too.
In the present, Sky is just an ordinary girl attending the prestigious Cloud Prep School, spending time with her friends, crushing on the cute boys in her class. But the past of her planet, Rabufru, is marred by a war, a war she participated in as the Magical Princess. And peace never lasts for long.
Sky encounters the aliens London and France from the Empire of Kanarr, who consider Rabufru the next target in their conquest of the galaxy. Like most magical girls, Sky must navigate and balance her personal relationships with her fight to keep her planet safe and keep much of it a secret.
At first, this series seems to require the same suspension of belief other magical girl manga do. Sky’s main attack is summoning candy, which suits the Kanarr fine, as they’re trying to conquer Rabufru for its candy. With the exception of Sky and her love interest Storm, the cat-eared Rabufru are named for food, while the duckfoot-tailed Kanarr are named for cities. And some of the silliness is left silly, keeping the reading a lighthearted fluff. But the story turns, and digs into why the villains are named after cities and what they personally are after.
Sky wavers in her fight, but not because she’s afraid or reluctant to return to the magical girl world. She wavers in her fight, because her past is stained with enemies she’s killed. And unlike many series, the government knows about the existence of the Magical Princess and how they deal with their savior is not simple. It’s when digging into these little bits and twists the series shines.
Allie Malott’s art is clearly inspired by shoujo manga and the magical girl genre, so much so it wouldn’t feel out of place in a Japanese bookstore. Everything from the chibi moments, the anime expressions, to the shapes of the profiles and style of eyes brings me back to CLAMP, to Arina Tanemura, and to Naoko Takeuchi. The sketch-like lines, primarily on the characters, really makes them pop and brings them to life, but sometimes it comes at the expense of the backgrounds or the edges, leaving pages occasionally feeling like there should be just a bit more to ground the characters in their setting. But Malott’s excellent use of panel layout to frame the characters at every angle, using the same patterns and placement I see in manga to speak to moods and feelings, makes me hardly care about the backgrounds. Malott’s coloring is a deft use of airbrush without coming off as airbrush-y, combined with pop comic-esque dots and patterns.
The series, thus far, is available in five collected volumes and one omnibus containing all five in an inch-thick paperback. The omnibus features each chapter with a different pastel color overlay, as well as extra 4koma, commentary, and a bonus story. Malott’s asides, talking about the creation of the story itself, tidbits about the characters, and about her own life, remind me of the dorky, heartwarming asides like Yumi Tamura’s Tam-Tam Time or Arina Tanemura’s 4koma and asides.
But cuteness and humor aside, what they reveal is telling. Malott put a story out in the world that is unreservedly her, distilled heavily from what she wants to see in a story. She unabashedly, wholeheartedly loves her characters, and that love shows on the page and brings such a wholeness and a tension to even their little struggles that I can’t help but fall in love with them, too.
Magical Princess Sky is a self-published work. There are no other writers, no team of editors, no proofreaders or colorists or letterers, only herself. Is this work as polished as it could have been? Probably not. There’s a few typos, a few awkward bits of lettering, a couple of poses that feel a bit off. But I can’t think of any ways a team would’ve significantly improved this work. In fact, I think it would’ve stripped the extremely personal, cozy feel this work has. Fans of magical girl manga will enjoy this work, written by someone who loves the genre as much as they do.
Volumes 1-5 as well as the omnibus are available on Malott’s website.