My recently-transformed, thirteen-year-old self wasn’t exactly handling my first day at the Castle poorly, per se, but I wasn’t doing very good for myself either. When being dropped off by mom and dad all those years ago, I had to try pretty hard to keep myself from crying. Part of this was just for me and keeping myself strong, but I also overheard from another girl when walking to the Castle that it looks bad to the agents and the managers in the industry lane if you cry. Not even being given a proper space to cry when you’ve just been basically forced away from your family for your entire teenage life on extremely short notice; that’s in all honesty one of the first things that comes to mind when I reflect on how fucked up a lot of the details of the magical girl system could be.
It wasn’t just the silent eyes of the record labels policing our actions on communal walk to our new lives, though. We were our own harshest judges. There is a tradition at the Asphalt Castle (you’ll really notice that all of its little traditions will be a very common theme over the next few chapters) where the young girls who’d openly cry about missing their families would be unrelentingly labeled by their fellow magicals as “Kelpies.” This is a reference to Princess Kelpy, one of the main characters of the magical girl anime Super Princesses BeautyCure, whose water-controlling powers would be equated with the waterworks coming from the more sensitive recruits among us.
When walking to the Castle I was mostly keeping to myself, not making much of a scene for the recruiters or for any of the other girls. Many of those other girls had already started forming cliques with each other—sharing their experiences with using and controlling their powers so far, strategizing about what their magical girl groups were gonna be like and bragging about how they were totally going to get signed by one of the elite big three labels. The clique-y-er girls had a thing for poking fun at the Kelpies, shooting sparks at them and condescendingly telling them to cheer up. We hadn’t even gotten into the fucking building yet and I was starting to notice the beginnings of a grueling pecking order. The Kelpy moniker would last until the girl in question would finally come to terms (be it days, weeks, even months after orientation) with the realities that this would be their life now and that their fellow magicals were to be their family for the next few years. I wasn’t the target of this bullying myself, but dang could it be brutal.
After getting inside the building for the first time, I had to patiently wait in line to get my full registration in. Now with more of a chance to talk to some of the other girls, I finally began to join in on the discussions of our experiences with magic, but only through hearsay: “When I shoot sparkles it doesn’t burn, but a little while ago I was overhearing another girl whose cousin was also a magical girl, and she said that if you aren’t careful magic can liquify you own skin from the inside-out!”
Not true, but I didn’t know any better and can think of very few schoolyard rumors that are true. And of the few school rumors that are, I doubt very many of them are sourced out of overpanicked teens being unexpectedly forced into the world of magical-girl-ism. I discussed things with the other girls for as long as I could before it was my turn at the desk.
“Ellery?” the registration lady addressed me, reading over some official-looking papers I didn’t quite know the origin of.
“Ellery Loonburg. Daughter of Reginald and Rachel Loonburg. It says here you’re a native of Los Cosmopilas?”
“Miss Ellery, do you have any history of magic in your family?”
“No, I, uh, I mean I don’t think so.”
I was given the obligatory dog-tags of every new recruit as well as a card key to enter my room, where the clothes and luggage dropped off by my parents would be waiting for me. (It’d be rare to wear our old-life clothes; we had a rotating series of uniforms that covered at least 90% of our overpacked schedules). We were ushered into the Grand Foyer of the Asphalt Castle, where we were told to wait and listen closely for the announcement to finally meet the other magical girls who would be in our groups. These were the same groups that would eventually become our MGIGs; it was kind of a big deal and we were all a bit nervous about who our other girls were gonna be.
The entirety of the Asphalt Castle is an architectural and aesthetic marvel in its own right, but the Grand Foyer in particular is really something else. The fairytale-medieval aesthetic permeating much of the premises is retooled here somewhat similarly to the style of an old West Coast mansion from a hundred years ago. Long gilded chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and the walls are coated in countless framed portraits of both real-life MGIGs and fictional squads from different magical girl anime and manga. In the center of the Foyer lies an elaborate, larger than life-sized sculpture of Sailor Galaxy, the titular protagonist of the most famous magical girl anime of all time.
Many of the portraits hanging in the Foyer are manga-styled illustrations of actual magical girl groups that were founded in the Academy, and others still are live-action cosplays of fictional magical girls—photos taken primarily from stage adaptations performed by the Castle’s drama program and promotional tie-in events that alumni girls are hired on to cosplay for whatever mahou shoujo anime are coming out that season. The various portraits and photos are designed and presented in a way to semi-intentionally obfuscate the line where the reality of magical girls ends and where the adjacent, childlike world of weeby fairytale begins. Thinking about it as an adult, it really is genius design: by blurring the boundary between the factual and fictitious, the entering magical girls are subconsciously interpellated to see themselves reflected in the magical girl system, becoming more prone to obedience just by digesting the coolness of the fantasies placed in front of them. And this works. For a thirteen-year-old who isn’t really thinking about the industry system they’re in, seeing the whole mythology and aesthetic attached to magical girls—and being told you’re now a part of it—is just really frickin’ cool in the moment.