Utakata is a dark magical girl show from 2004, which, coincidentally, places it in a time period before dark magical girl shows were considered cool. Unfortunately, this was also before Aoi Yuuki was considered cool, and Utakata was not one of the few lucky pre-2009 shows to get her in its cast. Utakata was directed by Keiji Gotou, which is a little weird since he mostly did animation work. But the fact that its director was an experienced animator actually makes a lot of sense when you consider what makes Utakata stand out from other shows. I mean, beyond the fact that it’s a dark magical girl show.
There are moments in Utakata with extremely smooth animation. It’s so smooth during these moments that not only did I originally consider the possibility that it might have been extremely well-disguised and well-used 3D, but it just looks plain unnatural and otherworldly. Of course, the scenes that Utakata uses this crazy smooth animation in are scenes that should look otherworldly; namely the transformation sequences and certain scenes involving non-human characters. Considering how wonderfully this is used for effect, it’s a little disappointing that the rest of the animation in the show is so bog standard.
One really neat thing Utakata does with its concept is how each episode involves a different djinn (beings that the main character gets her magical girl powers from). This means that each episode, there’s a different transformation sequence, a different outfit (and each outfit is designed by a different guest designer), and different powers. There isn’t really any stock footage, at least for the main. Every time she invokes her powers, it’s like opening a present. You don’t really know what you’re going to get and that’s exciting.
Those are also the only moments where Utakata will have music worth listening to, because there’s pretty much only one noteworthy track in its soundtrack. And even then, I only recall the song in question playing in the magical girl sequences of later episodes.
Utakata is not a fighting magical girl show. The main character does not punch people to deal with things! The magical girl powers are used to solve problems, because that was the cool thing to do before Sailor Moon tried to pretend (and somehow actually convinced everyone who watched it) that it knew how to make entertaining fighting scenes.
Now, there is a problem Utakata has that I have difficulty explaining. I would be really interested in finding out what age/gender demographic group it was actually aimed at, because my mindset clashing with what I’m being presented with seems to be the source of the problem. The main character is 14 and has motivations that any 14 year old girl would understand and sympathize with, but adults would find rather silly. So it must be aimed at little girls, right? Except it’s so dark, and even deals a little with concepts like suicide and rape.
There’s also the fact of completely out of place fanservice during serious moments… I can handle fanservice (even in serious moments!) if I’m prepared for it, but Utakata does everything it can to make sure I’m not prepared for it, so it leaves me confused, and sometimes even annoyed. I think they were trying too hard to appeal to everyone, without realizing how some of these elements naturally clash with each other. This isn’t as big of a problem as you’re probably thinking, with how much I’ve written about it. It just feels really bizarre sometimes. That’s all.
The story is an aspect that I have very mixed feelings on. On the one hand, it’s really dark. I like dark. I like seeing how people are affected by the situations fictional stories like to put them into, and when that situation is as depressing at Utakata’s gradually gets, it definitely keeps my attention, if nothing else. On the other hand, pretty much every single subplot is barely even existent, and many of the events in episodes almost seem to get completely forgotten about, even when they were kind of a big deal at the time.
There’s also the issue of the ending being terrible. It does provide closure to the story, but the cause of the conflict is definitely unresolved. It’s almost as if they planned on doing a second season to resolve it, except I’m sure they weren’t because I don’t know how one could resolve it if the main character’s actions here weren’t enough to. I hate endings like this, with stories like this.
Overall, Utakata is unique, if very flawed. It’s definitely worth a watch if you like depressing things or if you’re interested in seeing what’s sitting around in the dusty corners of the magical girl genre that nobody talks about.
tl;dr did I seriously just watch a show where a girl goes through hell just to get the colors on her phone charm back to normal…?