Magical Girl is a well-established anime genre that appears to be gaining some traction in kids’ programming. Or perhaps it’s developing organically. Either way, the distinct difference here is that the American version tends to be a Mary Sue who goes around solving all the world’s problems because something about her makes her ideally suited to it even though she is also a complete outsider to the world in question. My five-year-old Simon watches at least two Netflix shows that are basically this, and today, we’ll start with True and the Rainbow Kingdom.
True (Michaela Luci) is one of three humans who live in the Rainbow Kingdom. She shares a house with Bartleby the Cat (Jamie Watson). Most of the kingdom’s denizens are blobby humanoids who don’t tend to have lines, except the Rainbow King (Eric Peterson) himself. Every episode, some problem comes along that True must solve using wishes. She goes to the Wishing Tree, where Zee (Dante Zee) cares for the wishes. She explains her problem to him, and he says the Wishing Tree has heard her. She then gets three wishes, which Zee explains to her, and the things she gets miraculously turn out to be exactly what she needs to solve the problem.
I’m going to be blunt, here—Zee is bad at his job. To be clear, the wishes aren’t just “and now you wish for what you want.” They’re little beings. In the tree, they manifest as floating lights, but then they transform into shapes with names. Simon is better at identifying them than Zee. A few of them have appeared in multiple episodes, and Simon will say, “Oh, that’s Dotspot!” Meanwhile, onscreen, Zee will have to look them up in the “Wishopedia.” And it isn’t just “he’s doing that so the audience will know,” internally, as there’s an episode where the Wishopedia gets erased, for reasons, and Zee is incapable of just remembering what’s in it even though his job is Wishologist. Some of them, such as Dotspot, I could take over for him, and I don’t even consciously watch the show.
The third human, other than True and Zee, is Princess Grizelda (Anna Bartlam), and here I’m going to quote the Wikipedia page for the show, which is frankly even worse than the show itself. “Grizelda is a self-centered young princess. Deep down she realizes she needs a friend like True. Although True tries to reach out to the Princess, Grizelda’s self-absorbed ways can make that challenging. However, love in Rainbow Kingdom is unconditional, so True never stops trying. Grizelda is just someone who’s a little selfish which only means she needs a little more love!” Now, this is a truly awful lesson that, to its credit, the show doesn’t seem to be teaching. It makes it clear that Grizelda needs to change herself and that all the love True shows her won’t make her better without that.
But ye Gods, Grizelda is awful. She’s self-centered and vain and only expresses affection for her obnoxious little dog Frookie, who unlike Bartleby is nonverbal. I mean, at least it’s a show where the cat is better than the dog, which is annoyingly rare, but if I were a blonde, I’d be really annoyed by how often the blonde is the selfish bubblehead. And when Grizelda decides to help people, it’s because she’s pissed that True gets all the attention for helping when obviously she’s better than True and should be getting it herself. So she has her servants the Grizmos build her a giant robot, naturally, and goes around “helping” in that.
Oh, and then the robot turns out to be easy to be accidentally powered and steered by a dog, and it goes around causing a ton of problems. Because easily half or more of the problems on this show are the characters’ own faults. For every time the Rainbow King gets a disease called “the Washoogieboogies” that has to be cured in some byzantine fashion, there’s a time when Bartleby ignores the warning that zazoony moss will grow unchecked and almost lets it devour the town. Frankly, the whole Rainbow Kingdom would be better off without True and Bartleby and especially Grizelda.
Yes, all the names are that cutesy. “The Fundawunda Festival.” “Wishing Heart Hollow.” “Nummle berries.” The slight amusement I feel at the “Kittynati Dojo” (for a secretive group of cat ninjas) is not enough to make up for how much I roll my eyes at most of the names on the show. And actively wince every time Grizelda says “Frookiekins!” The show as a whole is exactly as twee as you think it is.
Perhaps worst of all is the sheer number of times when I think, “You really needed a wish there?” There’s one where they use a wish to help disguise Bartleby by painting his Zazoony Juice Balls that they’ve covered him in yellow so he looks like a giant cob of corn, because that’s the sensible way to put together his disguise. But of course the structure of the show insists on three wishes, so there’s never any effort put into just figuring out how to do things without the wishes, no matter how easy that would be.
And, yes, all three humans seem to be white, which is a bit colonial. I’m sure that wasn’t anyone’s thought process, here. But the fact that True is called on to rescue the kingdom on a regular basis despite not looking like the natives, the fact that Grizelda is a princess for no real reason despite obviously not being the child of the Rainbow King, the fact that Zee is the one who allegedly knows how the Wishing Tree works? Yeah, this bothers me quite a lot. In anime, the Magical Girl is more likely to be a force of destruction; on these shows, she’s the savior. It doesn’t sit well.
I mean, at least the lesson of the show isn’t that evil people just need love; there’s at least one episode where they let the miserable person be miserable as long as they don’t drag everyone else down with them. Everything always ends happily, because this sort of children’s show always does, but I don’t know where that Wikipedia editor got “love in Rainbow Kingdom is unconditional,” because at least we have Bartleby actively and vocally not liking either Grizelda or Frookie. And I don’t think we’re supposed to like them, either, which is convenient. I have a hard enough time tolerating the show as it is.
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