When a series treats a father groping his daughter as its crowning moment of comedy, then something is wrong. When a series trivialises a father groping his daughter in its first episode, then it is nigh impossible for it to claw back any respect. Such is the case with Matoi the Sacred Slayer (White Fox, dir. Sakoi Masayuki). The series attempts a number of serious moments, and some harmless slice-of-life antics, but I could never forget what happened in episode one, so my impression was tainted from the beginning.
The anime follows Matoi (Suwa Ayaka), a middle-school girl who works at a shrine with her best friend Yuma (Ōzora Naomi). After discovering an enchanted scroll that gives the user the ability to exorcise demons, Matoi becomes the latest Divine Maiden, and is afforded the power to banish evil from our dimension. Matoi is not at all fond of the idea, but Yuma is ecstatic, especially after she acquires powers of her own. Together with their new friend and fellow Maiden Clarus (Tomatsu Haruka), the girls discover new powers and malevolent demons, all while Matoi tries to cope with the disappearance of her mother.
In essence, this is a magical girl anime, though it attempts to eschew that moniker. Self-proclaimed ‘exorcist girls’, the protagonists gain their powers not from within, nor from a deceptively cute creature, but from a god with whom they each form a bond. Matoi, of course, bonds with the most powerful of them all, while Yuma bonds with two adorable gods in the guises of a tanuki and a fox. The powers of the exorcist girls are never explained, and only Clarus has trained in order to better herself. Matoi constantly employs different skills with little to no effort, and when this happens so often, it is difficult to feel any concern during battles, as she is sure to discover a powerful new skill to win the day.
The protagonist is nothing special. Matoi wishes to be normal, but more often than not she comes across as bland and poorly written. Yuma, on the other hand, is boisterous and kind-hearted; she is thrilled that her friends have magical powers, and vows to help them rid the world of Nights, which are a kind of demon from an alternate dimension. She fits the typical best friend role, mostly serving as comic relief, and frequently breaking the fourth wall. The last member of the trio, Clarus, is a stoic warrior with a dark past. Need I say more?
The first four episodes focus on Clarus and her backstory. Once this is resolved, we are thrust into the midst of an innocuous ‘cute-girls-doing-cute-things’ anime. This is a welcome change, even if the humour is still a little questionable. However, every aspect of these tone shifts appears to have been selected from a list of anime clichés. Episode seven even takes place on a beach, and Yuma declares it the ‘fanservice’ episode. Her comments about the nature of the series are neither subversive nor clever; they simply point out the facts, and they add nothing to the experience. The one moment I enjoyed was Yuma’s attempt to hijack the opening credits.
The main cast has weak support: Haruka (Kawasumi Ayako), a busty older woman investigating the Nights; Shingo (Tōchi Hiroki), Matoi’s father and the aforementioned groper; and Cariot (Hiyama Nobuyuki), who is essentially Clarus’ handler. They bring very little to the table, with Haruka being exploited frequently for a cheap and tired laugh. There is little development for these characters, and any attempt to make Shingo sympathetic fails miserably when you remember what he did at the beginning. In the end, the supporting cast is so ineffectual and uninteresting that the anime could do away with them without any major ramifications.
Matoi the Sacred Slayer is a mess. The light-hearted comedy and slice-of-life elements suit the main cast far better than the serious conflict at the heart of the story. However, it is the base treatment of the female characters – in a show that seeks their empowerment – that prevents it from succeeding in the sweeter moments. It employs every possible cliché with poor attempts to subvert them, and in the end leaves one feeling cold and distant.