Red Data Girl: Complete Series
Funimation: $54.98, 2 discs
Red Data Girl (2013) infuses the popular “magical girl” genre with elements of traditional Shinto religion. Izumiko Suzuhara (Bryn Apprill) is a shy teen-ager who’s been raised in seclusion at the Tamakura shrine deep in the forest. Although she somehow manages to fry any hi-tech device she touches, Izumiko is treated with great deference by everyone associated with the shrine. Her rare spiritual powers make her the potential vessel for the powerful and dangerous goddess known as the Hime-Gami (Caitlin Glass). The rarity of those powers mark her as an endangered “Red Data” individual, whom the adults suggest is the human equivalent of a candidate for a World Heritage Site designation.
Izumiko leaves the mountains for Houjou Academy, a sort of Hogwarts for kids with spiritual powers. She’s accompanied by Miyuki Sagara (Micah Solusod), a teen-age “mountain monk” in training who’s told he’s fated to be her guardian. Miyuki isn’t wild about this idea, and treats Izumiko rudely, although he quickly warms to the assignment—and her. Izumiko’s first friends are her roommate Mayura Souda (Kristi Kang) and her upbeat brother Manatsu Souda (Joel McDonald), the surviving members of a set of triplets, who remain in close contact with the spirit of their dead brother, Masumi (Chris Burnett). Manatsu’s rival for top student at Houjou is the eerie Ichijou Takayanagi (Clifford Chapin), who uses the spirits of animals he’s killed to create ghostly familiars.
Izumiko begins as a typically timorous anime heroine, although she gradually grows stronger and more self-assured over the course of the story, buoyed by Miyuki’s devotion. While she clearly has a special relationship with the Hime-Gami, much of the story remains fuzzy at best. The Hime-Gami has apparently wrecked havoc—and been persecuted—in previous incarnations. But if she takes over Izumiko’s body, would she really cause the destruction of the human race?
And does Izumiko have any say in the matter? The nature and extent of her powers remain unclear. Miyuki teaches her spells to defend herself, but when she confronts Takayanagi, she turns him into a dog without knowing how she did it. Red Data Girl was adapted from a series of six fantasy novels by Noriko Ogiwara, and the filmmakers may have tried to fit too much story into 12 episodes.
The unusually handsome design work sets Red Data Girl apart from many other recent series. The forests surrounding the Tamakura shrine are beautifully rendered and evoke the mixed forests of the Japanese archipelago. The references to Shinto traditions reflect a growing nostalgia in Japanese audiences. The failure of the government to deal decisively with the 1995 Kobe earthquake and the nuclear disaster at Fukushima has led many people to long for a past when the country seems to have been governed by leaders who were more effective and less self-interested than contemporary politicians.