As the spring anime season hit its mid-way point, I called Red Data Girl one of the five anime you should be watching. And while it is definitely one of the more low-key anime in that bunch, it is also the most real on an emotional level.
When it comes to fantasy anime, most are focused on the Western fantasy genre—knights, princesses, demon kings, and dragons. But Red Data Girl is based on Japanese fantasy. This is all the more interesting as it is set in the modern day world. So while the main characters live in our world, they also see a different version of it—one filled with shamans, ghosts, and gods.
This traditional Japanese fantasy framework is centered around a modern school for children who are everything from up and coming wizards to half-trained monks—a school for any child with a strong connection to the spiritual world. In this way, it is a lot like a “Harry Potter in Japan”-style setting. It's really a fun way to experience Japanese folklore.
There isn't a lot of violence in Red Data Girl. Rather, everything is driven by interpersonal drama or tension-creating suspense. Izumiko, sheltered all her life, finds the world outside her small town fascinating and more than a little scary. Of course, she is also able to see the world beyond our own, one filled with ghosts and spirits all keenly aware of her. Moreover, her fears about the outside world are not groundless as everyone wants a piece of her because she looks to be the next earthly vessel of a powerful, immortal goddess.
The search for the next vessel of the goddess is treated as the single most important event in the world of Red Data Girl. To control the goddess basically means being able to tap into powers far beyond that of even the most gifted magical humans. Thus, the brightest magical children have all been gathered together in one school and are constantly vying for the position of top student. After all, wouldn't the goddess choose the best student to be her next vessel? Of course, if you can't make the top, you ally with someone who is likely to win so as to gain favor when that student becomes the goddess. And so the school is split into factions all trying to get their candidate to be the next vessel.
This all makes for an incredibly dangerous situation for Izumiko. Should it become known that she is a likely candidate for the goddess vessel, the top students would try to control her—or kill her in the hopes of drawing the goddess to themselves after her death. This makes for excellently tense situation.
Much of Red Data Girl deals with Izumiko and her strange powers that set her—even from the other students at the school. So as she makes friends and develops a close relationship with her bodyguard, she still feels isolated by the changes happening to her. She just wants to be a normal girl.
Thus, if you strip away the fantasy elements, Red Data Girl is really just a metaphor for growing up. Everyone feels awkward through puberty. And despite not having the supernatural problems of Izumiko, having to deal with the body and emotional changes that Izumiko experiences is something viewers in their teens or above can empathize with.
Red Data Girl has an ending, but it is somewhat lacking. While much of the mystery revolving around the goddess is revealed and the conflict comes to a head, the series ends on an emotional cliffhanger. Moreover, not a single supporting cast member's story arc is fully resolved—despite several being developed up to and through the climax itself. It is definitely one of those anime where you feel like there must be a movie or OVA coming to wrap everything up (though there has been no announcement regarding such in the case of Red Data Girl).
While most fantasy anime these days are based in comedy or action, Red Data Girl is one of the few that is firmly set as a serious coming-of-age drama. It builds an excellently realized fantasy world superimposed over our own; and the story will thematically resonate with any viewer familiar with the trials of puberty. If you like anime that are down-to-earth yet fantastical at the same time or are a fan of a similar Western equivalent like Harry Potter, feel free to give Red Data Girl a try.
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