Ojamajo Doremi is an experience that is incredibly difficult to describe. In a sense, it defines and is defined by anime, fully encompassing everything that comes with being part of this medium, while simultaneously pushing the limits of what we have come to expect. It is not a deconstruction of the magical genre, or any genre to be exact. It does not portray characters in a light that strives away from realism, one which would make them act adversely or unnaturally. There are no moments where you feel that the plot is defying your expectations, making you question whether this really is the same show as before. Ojamajo Doremi embodies ‘grounded copiousness’, achieving a strong sense of scale while staying down-to earth and true to sensible standards.
Witches have been, for the longest of time, a source of inspiration for many classic stories. Shrouded in mystery, they possess powers beyond our comprehension and therefore using this as an antagonistic force against our heroes. However, unlike a lot of other stories that feature witches, Ojamajo Doremi does not portray them in a malevolent and wicked fashion. Instead, they are shown to be peaceful beings living mostly carefree lives, in a world separate from that of our own. However, for reasons that are discovered later on in the story, most witches avoid human contact entirely. Some do live within the human world, but due to a curse that was established in ancient times, any human that finds out their identity turns them into magical frogs. This is exactly what happens when Doremi Harukaze, an 8-year-old girl, finds out the identity of Majo Rika, one of the few witches that live in the human world. Most of these encounters end with that human fleeing in terror, having just witnessed something beyond their grasp; but in the rare case where they do not, they are given the chance to become witch apprentices. These apprentices must then pass a series of examinations in order to become full-time witches and turn that unfortunate transformed witch back to her former form. This is when you realise that this is not your typical magical girl show; it integrates transformation sequences and magical tools with a witch backdrop. As the series goes on, other girls find out the true identity of Majo Rika and inevitably join the other apprentices. While this does not seem to be the most interesting of plots, Ojamajo Doremi never stays stagnant and always adds something new to the table.
The focus is placed among these girls, the people and witches they meet, as well as the community of beings as a whole. The functioning of this community and how this affects the lives of everyone involved is the central setting, yet this is not entirely evident from the beginning. As aforementioned, Ojamajo Doremi is a magical girl show, and initially, this seems to be the core spotlight of the franchise. But this is where ‘grounded copiousness’ comes in: unlike a lot of magical girl shows at the time, Ojamajo Doremi is rather unique in execution. There is no monster of the week formula, no cute animal companions and no antagonist. Sexual fan-service is also completely absent. However, these are the qualities that tend to make the magical girl genre so controversial and difficult to get into. In this way, Ojamajo Doremi makes use of the best aspects of the genre, making the entire experience feel authentic in execution and a lot less superficial. The emphasis is on character dynamics and this is where the franchise really shines.
The TV series aired from February of 1999 to January of 2002, spanning a total of 201 episodes along with a 13-episode long OVA side-series which aired in 2004. Accompanying these are 2 short films, making the entire franchise 216 episodes in length. This colossal size is the primary factor for turning people away, as this is a massive time investment. But to say that the show makes good use of this duration would be a tremendous understatement, as my viewing of it felt practically effortless; I will be exploring some of the reasons why this was the case later on in this section (and even more so in the analysis). The viewing order varies depending on who you ask, but the best way in my and most peoples’ opinion would be:
1. Ojamajo Doremi (1999)
2. Ojamajo Doremi Sharp (sometimes called Ojamajo Doremi #)
3. Ojamajo Doremi Sharp movie (to be ideally viewed before episode 37 or 40 of Ojamajo Doremi Sharp)
4. Motto! Ojamajo Doremi
5. Motto! Ojamajo Doremi: Kaeru Ishi no Himitsu (anytime along the watch of Motto! Ojamajo Doremi)
6. Ojamajo Doremi Na-i-sho (OVA)
7. Ojamajo Doremi Dokkaan!
What is particularly interesting about the structure of the anime is how each episode follows a real-time period. Every passing episode is a week spent within the lives of the characters and thus every season (~50 episodes) equals a year. As you can imagine, this means that Ojamajo Doremi is the purest form of a coming of age: one where you grow up with these young girls along with the people around them. Their families, classmates and friends all age naturally along with the audience following them, creating a sense of community that has never really been achieved elsewhere. The audience that followed this anime during its original TV airing literally grew alongside these girls: meaning that all of the annual events that happened in real life were shared, in the series, as well. Christmas, New Years, Valentines, mother’s and father’s day: they were all there and they were mingled within the show just like how they would in reality. Now, this does not mean that every episode is a week apart from the last, as some are direct continuations of the story while others skip short time-frames. Additionally, the series is mostly not episodic: characters acknowledge what happened in the previous episode and the episodes before that as events are not forgotten nor pushed aside. In fact, one remarkable fact about this anime is the careful and witty reference-placing dispersed throughout its run-time. The production is also strongly tied-in with classical stories and lore from all around the world, including but not limited to ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’, ‘The White elephant’ as well as ancient Japanese philosophies regarding folklore, such as children who can see phantoms which are invisible to the adult eye. A lot of the world-building present is based on these stories, with the inclusion of ancient myths from the history of our own planet. These include the presence of witches in the Medieval era, which acts as a point of juxtaposition for what is happening on and behind the screen.
This links in very well with the show’s whimsical sense of humour. This can either be portrayed as bombastic, subdued or natural, depending on who is in charge of that scene. Takuya Igarashi, the overarching director of the entire franchise is the main contributor towards the erratic type of comedy. He uses bold facial expressions that come off as very tongue-in-cheek; this being intensified by the bold designs of Yoshihiko Umakoshi. In contrast to this, Junichi Satou, the other major director of the series, found that a subtler comedic style suited his vision better. He eventually left the series to Igarashi, only returning for the making of the OVA series, Ojamajo Doremi Na-i-Sho. The making of the series was a massive growing curve for everyone that was involved and so, in a way, it never felt like Satou ever left the team. This is why people who have already seen Ojamajo Doremi tend to say that it improves as it goes on. Having no material to adapt from, the series is completely reliant on the efforts of the creative team and this is only strengthened by the addition of now-household names such as Tatsuya Nagamine, who later worked on some Precure seasons and Mamoru Hosoda, whose modern directorial style was strongly shaped while working in this franchise.
The result of this careful planning, structure and talent all encapsulate a series that understands very well the correct timing and placement of relevant emotions. Ojamajo Doremi is a series with strong emotional value; one that builds up upon itself as you travel through the franchise. Most episodes are spent studying the mindset of a new or reoccurring side character and how they relate to the main characters as well as the overarching plot. To add towards this is an inconceivably varied set of themes, some of which may surprise even the most jaded of individuals. Some themes explore either humans or witches exclusively, while the rest of these thematics explore beings as a whole, often via comparison. Nature against nurture, what it means to be human, racism, segregation, divorce and general familial-related complications, adolescence, hardships and obsession of work, bullying, trauma, social anxiety, depression, acceptance into society and family, the list goes on and on. Ojamajo Doremi is shockingly mature; and this is aided by the fact that this is an all-ages show. Kids can enjoy the cute characters, transformation sequences and toys, while an older audience may appreciate the subtler messages and ideas that the show has to offer. Nonetheless, everyone can relate to the lives of these children, whether it be the main characters or those of lesser focus. As you can imagine, this makes for a great family watch and that’s something that is remarkably difficult to achieve given how much Ojamajo Doremi has to say. The central theme of the show, magic, is a notable example that is not bounded by age differences. Magic is not the solution of everything, and Ojamajo Doremi explores all aspects of the ethics and righteousness of using this seemingly all-mighty power, achieving a level of depth and profoundness that is extraordinarily rare in any show, all-ages or otherwise.
Other than length, another aspect of the anime that may divide people who are getting into this show is the art-style and more particularly, the character designs. Necks and appendages are narrow, heads are large and eyes are lower down the head than usual. This makes for a series that is often misunderstood purely by its cartoonish exterior and this may alienate a large majority of its older audience. But, as the series goes on and the staff get more experienced, their designs are cleaned up and the parts which were most disproportioned were improved. This may also be thanks to the aging of the young characters, as the sizes of their eyes and heads become smaller in relation to their bodies. This is further exemplified by the fact that older characters, such as parents and teachers, are drawn more consistently throughout all of the seasons and this can be justified by the fact that they are no longer growing. Additionally, a simpler set of designs also means that the creators have more inventive freedom to draw a wider range of character expressions, which is exploited exceptionally well throughout the show’s run-time. This includes brilliant transitions from all sorts of facial expressions, while simultaneously making use of the general principles of animation such as ‘squash and stretch’ as well as inventive antics.
In order to compensate for the issues concerning the character designs, immaculate backgrounds are drawn and a broad scope of textures, patterns and colours are utilised. Backgrounds are almost always drawn to the fullest extent, scarcely ever lacking in detail. This is rather impressive, especially for a series of its length. Characters also fit nicely into these backdrops in terms of shading, which makes the show very easy on the eyes. Along with this aesthetic is the soundtrack and voice acting of the major characters. Featuring hundreds of different tunes and melodies, Ojamajo Doremi has some of the more diverse set of sounds I have ever heard from an original score, as well as a wonderfully varied collection of sound effects, making every scene more powerful than the last. The instrumentation and the choice of these instruments are rather exclusive to the show. Listing all of them would be redundant, but one listen to a couple of soundtracks is enough to garner an understanding into how much effort has been put towards all aspects of the sound design. Being a musically inclined anime, instruments which characters play themselves within the story have so much emotion embedded within them that they feel like living, breathing characters of their own. Music within the world of Ojamajo Doremi is a crucial aspect of its storytelling and how these instruments relate to the backstories and personalities of the characters is noteworthy as well. The above-mentioned voice acting is also of astounding quality. Instead of choosing known, famed actors and actresses, the staff behind Ojamajo Doremi went for more personal roles that suited the characters’ backgrounds and personalities to a tee. Some of these include an idol character voiced by a real idol, a girl with an Osaka dialect voiced by someone with similar circumstances as well as an American girl who is voiced by someone who went to an American high school in Austria. In truth, the actresses who voiced the characters have said in person that they truly connected with these children, and this really shows in practice. The amount of energy and spirit that these actresses put into their performances is akin to that of the characters in the show; making for an audio-visual experience that is only done justice when experienced in-person.
As a whole, Ojamajo Doremi was unquestionably one of the most poignant anime I have ever watched: I adored every moment of watching the maturation of these young girls, whether this was at times of comfort, hardship or everything in between. At the time of writing this review, it has already been half a year since I have completed this series and yet, even after all this time, I spend every day since thinking about this show. It is fair to say that the connection you build with these characters is comparable to that of a close friend. The story reaches repeated climaxes that build up on each other, presenting a sense of scale that is seldom seen and in the end, all possible questions brought up throughout the journey have been answered, leaving behind a strong sense of fulfillment and finality upon completion. Conclusion after conclusion, all side stories are seamlessly woven into the overarching narrative to produce one of the most rewarding experiences of all time, one that I hope you all can share with me.
For a detailed spoiler-including analysis on the series, please view the continuation of this review on the Ojamajo Doremi Dokkaan! pages of both Myanimelist and Anidb. Thank you for reading.