Image source: アニメ『18if』公式アカウント@リリィ‏ on Twitter

It’s true that 18if doesn’t immediately jump out to you as a Magical Boy story. There are no transformations for the main male lead, he doesn’t immediately have any kind of special powers, and there are no costumes for transformations. Yet there’s no other way to describe 18if, and specifically the allusion it makes to one particular magical girl anime. 

Tsukishiro Haruto awakens to find himself not awake at all, but rather in a world of dreams. In it, he discovers Lily: a strange, otherworldly girl with strange powers, even stranger requests and directions, and whom only he can see. He soon learns that anything can happen in the dream worlds made by evil and villainous “witches” (and made up of scenery which would be at home in any “Kyary Pamyu Pamyu” music video). However, unlike normal dreams, injury and death are carried over into the real world.

Image source: アニメ『18if』公式アカウント@リリィ‏ on Twitter

Meeting up with a sleep researcher who appears as a cat, Professor Kanzaka Katsumi (obvious pun is obvious), Haruto learns he is the key to saving these witches from themselves. The witches are actually adolescent girls with major traumas who fall into deep comas, access the dream world, and use its powers to seek revenge on others. These “witches” are not inherently bad, and the “real” girls themselves may or may not fully comprehend the extent of their activities.

Also, the professor himself has a very vested interest in helping to train Haruto and unleash his dream altering power to save the girls—especially before they hunt down and injure or murder their revenge targets. While he does appear to genuinely have a general compassion for each of the witches (and their targets, even the ones who are most assuredly guilty of the trauma they have caused), he is not without his own secrets. His actions are not purely altruistic nor academic. 

Image source: アニメ『18if』公式アカウント@リリィ‏ on Twitter

One of the defining characteristics of Haruto is that he’s no saint—not an idealistically moral person—and as a magical “girl” character he’s quite flawed. The witches appear to be truly aggrieved and their targets of revenge certainly deserve to be punished. Haruto is torn between recognizing the problematic nature of “an eye for an eye,” while also understanding the witches’ need and desire for justice. Furthermore, as Haruto becomes more aware of his own power, there are troubling signs he may eventually find his morality falls on the side of the witches. 

Image source: アニメ『18if』公式アカウント@リリィ‏ on Twitter

Fans of Madoka Magica are likely to see the similarities in 18if and probably will end up really liking it. For me, some of the material will be very dark and very triggering. I’d like to stress that when I talk about the traumatic experiences of the witches: they really are the worst of the worst. These girls (and women, depending on how long they’ve been asleep, in some cases for years) have good reason to seek the revenge they do, and for viewers who have suffered such trauma, they may find it difficult to watch.

18if can be seen with subtitles at Crunchyroll and either with subtitles or dubbing at Funimation.

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