I Am Magical (magnifiqueNOIR #1)
Sewn Together Reflections, 2017
In a city besieged by mysterious giant monsters, a group of magical girls begins to rise, one by one, to meet the challenge. But between fending off attacks using their exploding cupcakes and sparkling pixels, they have to figure out how to live together, make it to their classes on time, and talk to their families about what they do and who they are.
The action can be a bit repetitive and low-stakes, with each monster inevitably succumbing to having enough magic thrown at it. That's okay; a bit of lighthearted monster-smashing is rarely a bad thing, but the informed nature of the danger makes it all the more grating to see the girls constantly scolded for just about everything they do. (How dare they not build their whole lives around never worrying anyone?) Lawrence is obviously on the girls' side, and this undermining that they face is a real-world problem thoroughly worthy of depiction and criticism, but its pervasiveness throughout each girl’s storyline does become tiresome. Between the different dynamics of three different magical girls’ home lives, it would have been nice to see at least one example of someone wholeheartedly supporting one of them, without a perpetually underlying tone of, “Well, I understand that this is what you need to do, and you have a right to do it, but I still really wish you wouldn’t, so you totally owe me for not trying to stop you.”
While the fights themselves can be a noisy blur of powers and punching, the monsters are nicely memorable in that they hide in plain sight, always as that person in the crowd. The creep stalking younger girls at bus stops. The crude provocateur harassing women at the gym. Even the diva who expects the whole store to wait while she demands the manager’s attention. Each one represents a piece of toxicity or hostility that most women — and sometimes most people — can relate to coming up against in public spaces, which makes them quite satisfying to see obliterated in magical girl fashion.
Indeed, it’s the social, human, non-magical aspects of I Am Magical where most of the storytelling magic actually happens. For starters, the audacity of the team makeup is a thing of beauty unto itself. Every single member of magnifiqueNOIR is female, black, and somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
All of them.
They’re all in their own phases of asserting their identities and dealing with their own related challenges, and most importantly, they’re all distinct, complex people who cannot be summed up simply by checking boxes on a questionnaire.
Without ever forcing a pedantic, on-the-nose discussion of the matter, magnifiqueNOIR flatly rejects the old tendency to introduce more representation into existing structures in timid, measured, token doses, celebrating the tiniest victories and carefully never asking for too much. Instead, it seems to ask, so what if it’s statistically improbable for there to be this many LGBTQ+ black women all in one place, coincidentally brought together by something other than having those things in common? It’s still far more probable than anyone being able to generate exploding cupcakes out of thin air, so why not? Why not go all in and make up some ground in a media stream that so often offers far less than statistically accurate representation of all of these things?
The girls also all have different relationships with traditional femininity, both aesthetically and in the activities they pursue, and with how that meshes with their staggering cosmic powers and the nontraditional aspects of their private lives. Bree is a gamer girl and all-around geek who’s conventionally attractive and loves it, especially when she’s cosplaying for her YouTube channel. Marianna is a fashionable plus-sized baker who can conquer the day in heels. Lonnie is a muscular kickboxer who lives in unisex comfortwear. None of them are wrong, and no authentic expression of gender is ever at odds with the state of being a capable, complete human being.
For anyone who loves reading about magical girls kicking butt, this is a new series not to be missed, brimming with positivity and geekery in equal measures.
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