“We’re going to be having so much fun together, Ellery! This will be unforgettable!” Tiffany assured me, her walking and almost seeming to blush as we walked into the Crystal Ball Auditorium, the main assembly hall of the Asphalt Castle.
I felt odd walking through my old training grounds (which was also basically my high school), just me and Tiffany sauntering through the dimmed lights. The Asphalt Castle has a truly remarkable architecture, overly sheened blue tiles (azure—just probably to match our hair) paving through large baroque hallways punctuated by classrooms for our studies and winding pathways leading around the multiple buildings for music production and magic training. The magical girls of days long passed looked down at us from portraits emblazoned on the walls, and the sides of each hallway were marked with elaborate display cases stuffed with now-defunct plaques and trophies of some bygone era.
The facility is aesthetically designed similarly to a medieval castle, but not a real one—like a kind of castle that would only exist in the fantasy world of a magical girl anime. It’s weird to think about where this fairy-tale aesthetic comes from—this weird fantastical reimagining of a history that never existed—and how it’s projected onto the girls entering the facility. As every incoming girl learns in her first-year History of Magical Girls class, the Asphalt Castle’s buildings were commissioned by the ‘big-three’ record companies working under government subsidy. The school layout was carefully planned out by a team of major architects and even a few of the greatest theme park designers out there. The training at the Castle is deathly intense, but little factoids like that help to make such grueling workloads feel more upbeat and whimsical along the way. Making the work feel magical to make the magic work.
Soon after walking into the auditorium, Tiffany approached the podium as a few event staff began testing the lights and speakers in order to get things ready for an address with the girls. Tiffany was confident in her work, carefully reviewing her notes and the very tightly-packed schedule for this first of five orientation days. After a moment we were greeted by a school-wide intercom announcement meant for the girls back at registration:
“To all young magical girls! Please stay alert for your names. When your name is called, please report to the front desk in the main foyer for your assortments into your magical girl groups!”
After registering on the inside, the girls are led into the main foyer of the Asphalt Castle, where they get a chance to meet each other before being assorted into the groups that will one day become their post-graduation idol girl groups.
“Heh, remember when that was us?” I absent-mindedly told Tiffany, as she was adjusting the podium to match the height of her confident stature.
“I remember it like it was just yesterday!” she snapped back enthusiastically. “I swear, I’m so excited to be helping out these girls and all of this is coming back to me so fast. I hope all of this is coming back to you too?”
Being back at the facility was making my mind racing, not entirely unlike how it raced when I had first arrived a decade prior. When I first showed up to the Asphalt Castle at 13, I was whiplashed by the sheer shock of my recent transformation and passively watching the spectacles unfolding around me. Now, I was motivated by my desire to help the girls in that same situation through that shock, all while in the greater community-wide shadow of the whole fiasco with Bailey, which I was still hoping to be learning more about soon. Bailey and Tiffany hadn’t just been my bandmates; they had been my friends for years during our training and our performance. Meeting the two of them all those years ago was almost as big a deal as my transformation itself.