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The Americanization of Japanese properties isn’t a new thing — in fact, it’s a time-honored tradition. Ever since Raymond Burr was inserted into the original Godzilla, there’s a history of cultural sharing on both sides of the Pacific.
Perhaps someone’s mixing the Japanese series Super Sentai to form a popular new show about teenagers with attitude on American shores. Or maybe there’s a North American company somewhere that used the familiar visuals of cyberpunk anime like Ghost in the Shell for its third-person action game. The style and high-octane action of anime and manga are alluring. However, few created in the Western world manage to gain any traction … although that never stops the passionate fans from trying to recapture the magic with their own works.
Mildred Louis’ Agents of the Realm doesn’t, at a glance, look like it was inspired by manga. Her style bears more similarity to the Hernandez brothers than to the dewy-eyed teens who populate most shoujo titles. The characters don’t look like elegant models, but rather like harried, exhausted college students. Also, none seems Caucasian. Our main character, Norah Tanner, is of African heritage, and a role call of the class reveals that most everyone, aside from some vaguely drawn background characters, is non-white. That’s not only a departure for the magical girl subgenre, but for comics in general.
The first few pages seem to indicate this will be a serious slice-of-life story. It’s about a girl who’s struggling to get her life together in the face of authority figures who seem only to want to put her down. It may still be. Here’s a disclaimer from the “About” page: “The story does contain some coarse language and (fantasy) violence. It also covers sensitive subject matter such as Domestic Abuse and violence, Alcoholism, Eating Disorders and Self harm.” That’s pretty heavy “serious drama” stuff, if you ask me.
But then Norah turns into a magical girl and it’s like, “Oh, so this is that kind of webcomic.” I guess I should’ve been tipped off when an adorable little beetle shows up early on in search of a gaudy little amulet. Yet, Agents of the Realm is such a nondescript title that anything could’ve happened. I half-expected Norah to emerge in a dark wonderland to conquer her psychological demons.
Nope. It’s magical girl time! In a scene reminiscent of Pacific Rim, the amulet releases a magic glowing sword. A pretty handy weapon, especially when you’re in the business of destroying monsters that look like rampaging bears. That bit of unpleasantness behind her, Norah gets back to her slice-of-life dramas, such as confronting her crying, Spanish-speaking roommate. For, truly, what are supernatural monsters compared to the monsters clawing at the human heart?
It’s one heck of a weird mash-up, but so far it works. If Agents of the Realm had been a faithful magical girl adaptation with the familiar “How to Draw Manga” character sheets and standard high school dramas, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second look. But a cynical college student embroiled in mature emotional dramas of pain and heartache? That’s intriguing.