One of Japan’s favorite themes to use and re-use is the magical school girl. Those punishers of good and evil. Those middle school-ers who learn how to kick ass and take names with the help of a fancy new costumes and neat weapons. With shows like Puella Magi Madoka Magica entering back into mainstream discussion, this genre is also experiencing a rebirth of sorts. So, in this spirit, let’s visit an old friend who didn’t manage to age as gracefully as its sister series.
If I had the internet at the time, I’m certain that, after Elfquest, Saint Tail would have been my first fandom. Like every other magical girl series, we follow after the young school girl, Meimi Haneoka who attends St. Paulia’s Private school by day and takes on the persona of the theif, Saint Tail, at night. While she is thieving, she’s also being pursued by the detective—rather, the detective’s son—Asuka Jr. Asuka is also Meimi’s classmate who somehow doesn’t put blonde hair together with blonde hair, and so he’s continuously obsessed with figuring out Saint Tail’s identity. The third player in our main cast is Meimi’s friend, Seira. It’s from her that Meimi is able to get all of her information. It is a little strange that a young girl would have so much information pertaining to items of interest, but Megumi Tachikawa explains this partially away with Seira’s after school job. No, she’s not a computer whiz like Amy in Sailor Moon, Seira is a nun. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently Seira is incredibly lucky in that all the people with problems about stolen items come to her church to confess. I’m not exactly sure that’s how going to a confessional works (aren’t you supposed to confess to a sin you’ve done instead of crying about something that got stolen from you?), but it’s at least is plausible-sounding.
This brings up two things about this series that separates it from other magical girl stories. First off, Saint Tail is a much different heroine than we’re used to. In fact, I would say that she’s more comparable to Kaito Kid from Case Closed/Detective Conan than someone like Wedding Peach. Despite her acting more like a Robin Hood figure than Catwoman—she only steals back items that have already been stolen to return them to their previous owner—she’s still a legitimate thief. She is actually breaking the law, and thus deserves having the police go after her no matter how good her intentions are. She also gives Asuka advance warning of where she’ll strike next to give him a fighting chance on catching her. Kaito Kid also does this, but for him it’s much more smarmy since he does it in codes and puzzles rather than just saying it straight out. Main antagonists in a magical girl story usually are mystical or extra-terrestrial, so seeing the genre taking a foray into the more realistic is refreshing.
As a sub-point to this, Saint Tail also has no magic powers. …Let me rephrase that. Saint Tail has no magical powers that thwart her foes. As Meimi’s father is a magician, her shtick is using subterfuge and other magician tricks to fool her opponents and help her get away. This series is much more about outsmarting the other person rather than overpowering them. I wish more magical girl series focused on this, actually.
Secondly, the clear connection to religion is somewhat unique. Although it can be easily argued that every magical girl series has a god figure, I find that it’s hardly ever actually THE God. Granted, it isn’t used in the same way: God didn’t come down onto Meimi and give her magical tools. But with Seira being a nun, St. Paulia’s being an assumedly religious academy, and the two girls praying before each ‘heist’ it’s a factor that can’t be ignored. In fact, it was so un-ignorable that in the first seven episodes of the anime they tried to remove every mention to the religious figure. Considering the setting, you can imagine how well that went.
Is this one of the better examples of the magical girl series? No. But it is enjoyable to read and some of the arcs are genuinely interesting. I haven’t been able to find a scan online, though, so if you want to see for yourself it may take a little digging. Not a series I would recommend off the bat, but if you’re bored I’d give it a try.