Life After Magic Is a Charming Visual Novel About Sailor Moon Getting Burnout
In the name of the moon, I’ll punish you!
Stories don’t typically tell audiences what happens after “Happily Ever After.” In the case of magical girl anime like Sailor Moon, the heroes triumph over evil and all the couples end up together. But for Usagi and the other Sailor Scouts, saving the world happened when they were still teenagers. What happened as they grew up? What sort of unique challenges and opportunities arose in their early adulthood? The new free visual novel Life After Magic has an answer: burnout.
Sometimes Akiko wishes she never saved the world. As Princess Sentinel Starlight, she led the Sentinels of Justice and spent the majority of her teenage years fighting crime and saving the world with her friends. Akiko is now 22. She’s a high school drop-out in a dead-end job, and her love life is “dead on arrival,” as she puts it. Life is hard for someone who peaked when they were 15.
Akiko doesn’t even talk with the other Sentinels of Justice anymore. They slowly stopped seeing each other once they had no more world-saving to do. Over time, Akiko just became too embarrassed about the state of her life to reach out to others. She hasn’t seen them in years. That is until Ara happens into the makeup store where Akiko works. Soon, Akiko has no choice but to get the whole gang together again, as their powers seem to be depleting just as a great danger encroaches. Akiko and the other Sentinels need to work together and get past old grudges to save the world once again.
Life After Magic is clearly a loving ode to the magical girl genre, especially Sailor Moon. The world and character design are dripping with ‘90s style that feels lifted directly out of the manga, with some more modern-inspired fashion trends peppered in. This is a game though and not an anime or manga, so to bridge the gap between the inspiration and the visual novel itself, Life After Magic also adopts a pixelated art direction and UI design reminiscent of dating sims of the ‘90s. The delightfully patterned UI feels clearly inspired by Tokimeki Memorial.
Mechanically, Life After Magic’s roughly five-hour runtime is standard visual novel fair. You progress the story by clicking through dialogue. At intervals, you will be given the chance to choose how you want to proceed with your investigation into the oncoming evil, and more importantly who you want to spend your time with. This is a game about relationships, both platonic and romantic. Each member of the Sentinels, as well as Akiko’s one friend from work, are all possible love interests. But romance isn’t the number one goal.
Each former sentinel has strained relationships with each other, with some more friendly or distant than others. Akiko needs to invest time in building relationships with all of them because she has neglected to do so for years. She can’t just pick up the relationships where they left off.
At the center of Life After Magic is an investigation into life as a 20-something who was an overachiever in their teens. All the Sentinels were exceptional; They saved the world! But each of them had to deal with the crushing reality that as they have grown up that doesn’t matter anymore. What does it mean to lose your spark? Life After Magic uses the magical girl genre to investigate this question and show how each former Sentinel has answered it.
This is where the writing of Life After Magic shines most, in showing each character to be a fully realized person with flaws and history. Akiko is hesitant to talk with Ara, who went public with her identity as a Sentinel and turned that fame into a business venture complete with a branded makeup line.
Akiko feels somewhat disappointed that Ara is using the Sentinels for what she perceives as the wrong reasons, but deep down, Akiko is jealous because Ara is thriving where she is floundering, despite the fact that Akiko was the leader of the Sentinels. For other members like KJ, separating themself from the identity of Sentinel let them explore their gender and come out as nonbinary. The life of a magical girl is a happy memory for some and a confining past for others. The game manages to not be heavy-handed about what the player should think of each character. It presents the facts and lets you come to your own conclusions.
While Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a subversion of the magical girl genre that focuses on the dark reality of what it would be like to sacrifice your safety and even life for the privilege (or curse) of being a magical girl, Life After Magic takes a more reserved approach to its subversion. It doesn’t want to be an edgy dark rebuttal of Sailor Moon; It wants to be a more down-to-earth prodding at the mental burdens that being a magical girl instills over time. By using the visual and narrative touchstone of Sailor Moon, it expertly deals with something so many 20-somethings today are going through.
Gifted kid burnout is a phrase you will hear a lot about how kids who grew up excelling in academics, sports, or any other discipline feel like they can't sustain that excellence as they enter adulthood. In reality, it's not a problem of being less skilled, it is usually that people have been instilled with a belief that they need to constantly set and achieve any goal. This isn’t sustainable for anybody. Life After Magic uses magical girls as the extreme pinnacle of a gifted kid, which makes the burnout that much worse.
Even as a story about saving the world again, Life After Magic has a final message that the answer isn’t for the Sentinels to just do it all like they used to. That isn’t feasible. This isn’t the beginning of the return of the Sentinels. The only beginning at the end is that of a new chance at friendships for the people who once were the sentinels. Something simpler, something sustainable, but something just as magical.
Life After Magic is available for PC via Steam or Itch.io.