Magical girl anime are plentiful, but what sets new film Pop in Q apart from the rest is the way it explores the turbulent topics of change and learning not to run away from your problems amongst all the cuteness you’ve come to expect of the genre.
The film begins by following Isumi, a middle schooler angry that her family is about to move from the countryside to the big city in Tokyo. She is also obsessed with beating the year’s 100-meter dash record to prove before she leaves that she is the best in the school–and not the other girl who beat her in the big race. But no matter how frustrated she feels, she can’t stop the move or miraculously shave eleven hundredths of a second off her time. And if she can’t do anything about these problems, all she can do is temporarily run away from both and scream her lungs out at the uncaring world.
Of course, Isumi is not the only one who is running away from her problems; all the magical girls-to-be share this personality flaw. Konatsu is an aspiring pianist who suffers from stage fright, even going so far as to hide when it’s time to go on. Asahi, the daughter of a Judo master and an Aikido master, refuses to commit to either path, worried about crushing either her mother’s or father’s hopes.
Aoi is the top of her class in both brains and looks, but only because she has completely neglected her social life. Yet, instead of admitting her flaw, she simply tells herself that friends aren’t needed and loneliness is the best path to success.
The final girl, Saki, simply has problems communicating with others and loses out on her dream to become a dancer because of it. Now she wallows in a mixture of self-hatred and hatred for the world around her, unable to find a way to move forward.
It is with this setup that the girls get the ultimate chance to run away as they are pulled into a fantasy world where none of their problems are relevant. Instead, they are tasked with saving the cute denizens of a magical world. Of course, though magical the world may be, to get through their adventure, they’ll each have to overcome their respective issues.
When it comes down to it, Pop in Q is about growing up–and growing up means learning to deal with change. Each of the five girls is about to graduate middle school. No matter what they may want, this represents a massive shift in their lives. They will go to new schools, meet new people, and be given tons of new responsibilities.
Change is inevitable, and sometimes, dealing with major life changes or other problems means changing yourself to better deal with them. The girls of Pop in Q struggle with this. To change means admitting your own inadequacies and moving forward–not running from them as they have been. The have to learn that while you can’t change the past, you can learn from it.
Aside from the main theme, Pop in Q is exactly what you’d expect to find in a magical girl anime aimed at an an audience of girls the same age as the protagonists. There is cutesy stuff galore. Both villainous creatures and mascot character allies are basically stuffed animals. Radiation suits look like full-body pajamas. Singing and dancing are key components in saving the world. There are transformations and superpowers. To put it another way, it feels like the shotgun approach to making a traditional magic girl anime–hit every part of the target you can.
Pop in Q is a film that knows who its audience is and what it wants to be–i.e., cute, full of magic, and teaching an important moral about dealing with change and growing up. I would happily show it to my daughter (if I had one) or any other girl of middle school age or younger.
For adults, it’s all a matter of how much you like traditional magical girl anime. But while the lesson may be a bit obvious for those of us who have lived it, it’s still important to remember: Becoming an adult isn’t an end, it’s a new beginning with a chance to do better.
Pop in Q will be released in Japanese theaters on December 23, 2012. There is currently no word on a Western release.
Image Copyright: ©Toei Animation Co., Ltd./”Pop in Q” Partners 2016