Review for Matoi The Sacred Slayer Collection
When it comes to anime reviews, I’d prefer to start the year as I mean to carry on, with something spectacular, a fan favourite, something with credibility and weight. My first anime of the year is Matoi the Sacred Slayer, a show I’ve never heard of, a first time production from a brand new studio. Then again, it could be the shock hit of the year, despite its well worn and oft-used premise. If it all falls apart, I’ll cite the delays it’s had on the way to release and comfort myself with the thought that it’s actually a 2017 anime release, pushed back at the last minute to 2018. It hasn’t even been a paragraph and I’m already borrowing trouble. So much for starting as I mean to carry on!
All that Yuma Kusanagi wanted was to inherit the legacy of her family of priests and shrine maidens, and gain the god power of an exorcist as well. Seeing that it isn’t her name in the title of the show, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when she performed the ritual of summoning, the god power went to her best friend Matoi Sumeragi instead. All Matoi wanted was a normal, schoolgirl life, but now she’s transforming into a powerful exorcist (being left naked when transforming back), and supposed to fight dark beings called Nights, which come from higher dimensions to possess unwitting humans on Earth with deleterious effects. And seeing that there is already an organisation, the Fatima group from the Vatican whose duty it is to fight the Nights, things are going to get very complicated indeed.
The thirteen episodes of Matoi the Sacred Slayer are presented across three DVDS as follows. The show is also available on Blu-ray.
1. I’m Possessed
2. I Clad Myself in a God
3. God’s Playing Dumb
4. Her Resolve and My Reason
5. A Special Kind of Ordinary
6. I’m Sorry
7. The Sea, The Hot Springs, and Sometimes Evil Spirits
8. A Little Wish
9. Thank You
10. The Open Gate
11. See You Later!
12. Being Ordinary’s the Best!
OVA. Nights Busters, Inc.
Matoi the Sacred Slayer gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer on these discs. The image is clear and sharp, with no signs of visible compression. It has adequate detail, and strong consistent colours. It’s a shame then that the animation itself is of such variable quality. It looks like a show ten years older than it is, with simplistic character designs, the minimum of animation in conversation scenes, a tendency to drift off model, and a flatness of colour that makes a 2D animation seem perversely even more 2D. What’s worse is the line art is so weak, prone to jaggies and stair-stepping; it looks as if it was animated at less than 480 lines of resolution. There’s even shimmer on fine detail. It looks that bad on DVD, I hesitate to think how the show will look on Blu-ray. Having said that, some of the CG work, when it comes to the various ‘Gods’, the different dimensions, and the Nights, is really well done, and Matoi puts its best effort on the screen during the action sequences, of which there are plenty. This is a show that could have looked a lot better.
This is a subtitle only release, DD 2.0 Stereo Japanese, and even on the DVD, the subtitles are locked during playback. The audio is pretty decent, offering a nice degree of spacial separation to bring across the show’s action and music. The dialogue is clear, and the actors are well suited to their roles, delivering spirited and engaging performances. Matoi also gets some strong music, and while the theme songs may be forgettable, the incidental music is grand and theatrical when required, really living up to the epic and emotional nature of the story. The subtitles are timed accurately, but I did notice a couple of typos towards the end of the series.
The discs present their content with static menus, jacket pictures, while each episode is followed by a translated English credit reel.
Disc 1 has the textless credits, 2:53 of Japanese Commercials, 7:19 of Japanese Promos, and trailers for Amagi Brilliant Park, Kokoro Connect, Valerian & Laureline, and My Love Story!!
Disc 2 has another textless opening.
Disc 3 has the bonus episode (separate from the OVA episode listed above). This lasts 23:23, and is basically a recap episode for the whole series, as narrated by Yuma. It’s a little odd, as recaps usually happen in the middle of a run, when deadlines are missed, and episodes can’t be delivered on time to the broadcaster. This one is a recap of the whole series and was obviously made after the run. It also means that Matoi is bookended by disappointment, although you have no compelling reason to watch this as the conclusion.
Bookended by disappointment! You can ignore the bonus recap episode, but there’s no getting away from the start of Matoi the Sacred Slayer, which is deceptively naff. It’s here that the quality of the animation is at its worst, although while it improves over the series, it never gets to what you would expect from modern anime. More significantly it’s here that the story is at its weakest, a rather clichéd magical girl set-up, some questionable humour, and an emphasis on fan service that thankfully is confined to this one episode. There’s only so much time in the world, and a whole lot of anime, and plenty of people have a tendency to give a series just one episode to hook them, before ditching it as a bad deal. If you were like that when Matoi the Sacred Slayer was streaming then you really should give it another chance, as while I haven’t seen too many Magical Girl shows, I have to say that this is one of the best that I have seen.
The premise itself, well in many ways it’s window dressing, the particular jargon and worldview that separates it from all the other magical girl anime, and which get you investing in this particular one, make it your favourite. This particular anime world is one of multiple dimensions, with reality inhabiting the lowest four. Beings from the higher dimensions, so called evil spirits come down to Earth to wreak havoc, possess people, and try to make their plans come to fruition. There are other higher dimensional beings, ‘gods’ that form ‘Divine Unions’ with compatible girls, and those girls can then transform and fight the evil spirits, the so-called Nights, and drive them back from whence they came. Of course this means flashy costume changes and plenty of visual effects.
There are three factions on Earth battling the Nights, the shrine maidens of the Tenman shrine and related shrines who achieve Divine Union spiritually, and of whom Yuma and Matoi are members, the Fatima group from the Vatican who achieve Divine Union through technological means, and who Clarus represents, and the IATO group who are investigating these incidents, and as the story begins, they aren’t exactly affiliated.
It seems that Magical Girls always come in threes, and this show is no different in that respect, with three very different characters driving the series. The title character, Matoi Sumeragi is the reluctant hero. All she wants is a normal life, having recently been reunited with her father Shingo, and having grown up without either of her parents, her mother Shiroi having left when she was young. The last thing that she needed was Yuma’s incantation going wrong and the ‘god’ joining with her instead. And she’s got the most powerful Divine Union going, which means that even more emphasis is on her doing battle with the Nights, as well as the embarrassment of winding up naked every time her powers wear off.
Yuma Kusanagi wanted the powers that got given to Matoi instead, because she’s blessed with an up-and-at-‘em attitude and an ambition to be heroic and famous. Thankfully she’s a good and supportive best friend to Matoi, even if her support can be too enthusiastic. And she eventually gets rewarded with a Divine Union of her own. Clarus Tonitrus is the career magical girl, been raised to fight Nights by the Fatima group and the Vatican, and with an emotionless, businesslike attitude, a denial of pleasure, and all driven by a desire for revenge. She doesn’t think much of the other two at first, who apparently got their powers by chance, and who in the case of Matoi doesn’t even want them. Of course as the story unfolds, the three wind up working as a team, and eventually become strong friends.
Matoi the Sacred Slayer benefits from excellent characterisations, and perfectly pitched writing. This is a show that really does grab the viewer attention and keeps them hooked for the duration. But its masterstroke is that it really isn’t about the flashy exorcisms, the Nights, and the magical girls at all. The central arc of the story turns out to be about a young girl’s relationship with a father who has been absent too long from her life, and how both of them have been affected by the disappearance of her mother. Matoi the Sacred Slayer is a show about family, and when you’re telling stories, it is the most fundamental things that people relate to most. I don’t mind saying that Matoi the Sacred Slayer got me in the emotions, and it had the best possible ending to the story. And then they go and make an OVA episode that is a hilarious Ghostbusters parody...
For the second time in recent anime reviews, I’ve had to work my way through an aesthetically unsatisfying visual experience to get the most out of a story, and just like Ajin, it turns out that Matoi the Sacred Slayer really is one of the good ones.