My parents were initially surprised to learn about Tiffany’s offer, but after discussing it they understood my decision to check things out; dad even thought it’d be a great opportunity I should be excited about. I spent the weekend doing nothing but trying to mentally recollect everything I could about my time as an idol and how I felt about it—a lot of complex emotions that are difficult to sift through while anxiously awaiting my ‘return’ on Monday. I also actually bothered watching the Lunar Solstice this year from out my window. It was a weird thing to look at, knowing that hundreds of girls, somewhere, were in that instant simultaneously coming to terms with the new reality of their magic just as I had 10 years prior. Some of these new magical girls were inevitably happy; others were certainly crying like I had. All of those conflicting feelings that were inevitably happening were swirling around in my mind as I just looked at the stupid glowing moon, and all I could do was think about it through a decade of detachment. I went to sleep well past midnight, didn’t sleep super well, and woke up at 5 AM. I made the strong and independent decision to let my mom drive me to get coffee and then drop me off a few blocks away from the Asphalt Castle hoping no one would see mommy dropping me off.
There are four key aspects of magic a girl learns about at the facility: Azure follicles (our blue hair), Sirenism (our increased propensity for singing and performance), Psychokinetic manifestation (our abilities to move things, glow, generate heat and all around do magical stuff) and Hemitelepathy (the ability magicals have to communicate with each other and only each other using only our minds). These four areas are abbreviated into ASPH, and with our curriculum of “Advanced Learning and Training,” ASPH-ALT, the magical idol girl training house has since been christened as the Asphalt Castle.
The facility is a veritable fortress in South-Central Los Cosmopilas; an advanced training ground in which the moon’s chosen girls study magic and performance shielded away from the harsh realities of both Los Cosmopilas outside of their door and of the idol industry that awaits them behind the graduation stage. There is a large tunnel, the Tunnel of San Quentin, which exists just minutes from the facility and serves as a popular refuge for Los Cosmopilas’s homeless population. I remember thinking as a 13-year-old that it was odd to have such a huge homeless population right next to such shiny facilities for such a privileged few. The same thought occurred to me this time, and weirdly enough this was the exact moment I finally and unequivocally thought to myself about my return to the industry: “Holy shit, I’m really coming back to this.” I told mom I loved her and got out of the car; my expensive comfort caffeine in one hand and a large briefcase with everything I thought I’d need the first day in the other (it was some office supplies and, more interestingly, my magical girl uniform.)
Walking up to the facility in the days following the Lunar Solstice really gives you an idea of how big a deal this is. Magical girls from all over the nation begin their travel and filter into the system over the course of about five days. The first workday after the solstice is the most hyped up on the industry side of things, because it is for both the girls closest to the facility (such as Los Comopilas natives like moi) and for the girls who are typically the most eager to enter the industry. Idol pop is a huge phenomenon; but this event is (thankfully) not open to the public, there is only a dropoff turnstile at which girls’ papers are confirmed by their parents before going off on their walk. There is also an “industry lane,” in which the most eager talent scouts and executives look at the new blood from a separate fenced-off lane, trying to spot magical girls who have, in their eyes, the most potential to be successful. I was scared that I’d have to give some mention of the fact that my hair was still blue, but the event staff instantly pulled up my profile when I got my visitor’s pass and sure enough, it included my current age and an unmarked box labeled “POWER DEGENERATION.” After a brief talk with some of the staff at the entrance to the industry lane on where to go, I was told that Tiffany was inside, and went on my way.
It is an intentionally long walk from the dropoff to the actual interior entrance of the facility. On this walk, the young magical girls have more or less no parental or school oversight during the experience of their first meeting with their fellow magicals. There’s a lot of rumors about what the Asphalt Castle is like as well as a bit of comparing of experiences going magical and use of one’s powers murmuring around during this walk. The same kind of stuff every year:
“Look, I can already shoot sparks from my hands!”
“I could already sing good, but after I transformed my singing is awesome!”
“Not as awesome as my singing! I am so going to get signed by one of the biggest agencies and be an idol forever!”
You get the picture.
I looked down, clutching my coffee and briefcase as I walked alongside all the girls, separated only by a fence. One nameless girl pensively walked up beside me.
“Are you a magical girl?” she asked. I didn’t feel like talking to a kid about magic, even though in hindsight that’s kind of why I was brought back by Tiffany.
“I transformed a long time ago, but I’m back now to help younger girls like you deal with everything about going magical,” I responded, not really wanting to make eye contact with her.
“Shouldn’t you have stopped being a magical girl by now?”
I fucking wish, kid.
“Well, magical girls all flatline out of our powers at our own paces.”
“Why do you think it’s taking you so long?”
We were getting closer to the entrance, near which the industry folks in my lane were congregating and beginning to take notice of me. This kid wouldn’t leave me alone with her not-so-pleasant questions about my stunted growth, so I decided to cut things short with what was probably her first hemitelepathic message. I sighed, resolutely looked her in the eyes, and spoke to her without uttering a word:
“Look kid, I’m pretty stressed out right now and you’re probably feeling the same. I think it’d be good if you went and made some friends your own age, okay?”
The girl looked at me in shock at having received her first nonverbal message. Not really knowing how to respond, she just gazed and nodded, turning and going away towards some of the others. It really is a shock when you first start discovering hemitelepathy.
Her leaving perfectly coincided with the onslaught of reporters in the industry lane. “Look, it’s Moonbeam!” I heard one of them call, and a rush of cameras and tablets swarmed over me. For the past few years during and after college, my magical girl name “Moonbeam” was a title I only had in affectionate or cutesy contexts—it was weird to be called it ‘formally’ again. I continued walking and clutching my cup of coffee-like sugary goo. Their focus almost instantly switched from the young recruits towards me, and the questions came hard and fast.
“Moonbeam, what are your thoughts on the recent violent assault of your bandmate Belle and on the resulting #BaileyGate social media movement?”
“Moonbeam, have you been in contact with Bailey since the incident? Do you have any updates on her situation?”
“Do you think the more risqué elements of Baileybelle’s streaming and cosplay career constitute a valid form of sex work as many on social media are debating, or is it merely entertainment? What are your thoughts on the overlap between the idol industry and sex work?”
They were practically grabbing me by my blazer and tie. I had tried to dress professionally to present myself less as “Moonbeam” and more as “Ellery.” As I was unsurprisingly finding, such presentation didn’t matter as much as my short blue hair. I tried to keep as collected as possible when addressing the journos; thankfully, addressing journos is one of the most acquired skills an idol gets.
“Well, firstly I prefer to be called Ellery these days. There’s a lot I don’t know about my former idolmate Bailey’s situation, but I’m praying for her recovery and the safety of the magical girl community.”
It was the best “blanket answer” I could give; I didn’t feel like answering any more questions even though they kept coming until I got inside the Castle.