#1 A love letter to classic RPGs
Magical Circle Guru Guru is a remake of a classic adventure anime that originally started in 1994. Even back then, its unique selling point was that Guru Guru was an homage to video game RPGs, borrowing aesthetic elements and poking fun at their familiar tropes. This remake from 2017 sticks to this same course, which has aged quite well thanks to gaming nostalgia.
It features a standard fantasy plot about the return of a demon lord and chosen heroes that must defeat him. However, it turns out that the hero Nike is unwilling to set out on this quest and his mage partner Kukuri soon squanders most of their starting money on toys.
Besides the story frequently referencing retro video games, the anime also borrows visual elements from it. 8-bit world maps are frequently used to track the journey of our adventurous duo, spells are explained by way of cards with descriptions, characters and places are introduced via text boxes and status screens. As somebody who is into these kind of games, it was cute to see all these call-backs. At the same time, these gags are accessible enough that you don’t have to be a Dragon Quest nerd to understand them, nor does the plot let these references get in the way of telling a fun, adventurous story.
#2 The cutest hero couple
Kukuri is one of the most lovable characters I have seen in anime to date. She is a little mage girl kept hidden from society by a hermit who tutored her in an ancient art of magic. She is a bit on the clumsy side, but very determined to improve and learn more about the legendary tribe of sorcerers from which she hails.
She takes an immediate liking to the hero Nike, even in the early stages of the story where he isn’t exactly heroic or that impressive. She affectionately calls him a hero all the time anyway and is very clearly in love with him. Nike himself is an unlikely hero, brash and goofy, but he has his streaks of brilliance and you see how Kukuri’s admiration for him drives him to improve himself.
The two of them make for a cute duo and I really like the idea of having an adventure story with such young characters. It feels nostalgic, like a childhood make-believe quest in the local playgrounds was turned into an actual anime.
#3 Fantastic monster designs
The entire world of Magical Circle Guru Guru is inspired and hilarious, but special mention has to go to all the creative monsters that Nike and Kukuri have to face in battle.
They are all on the silly side, but in a Undertale-like fashion. Dogs with woodaxes, fuzzy thieves that kidnap people to play dress-up with them, egg creatures that grow more powerful when their shell is cracked open, it’s always a surprise what they might encounter and what sort of trouble its going give them.
Action scenes aren’t the show’s forté, but it has some cool encounters in there. Especially scenes where Kukuri gets to show off her magic are a blast and make for some genuinely exciting battles.
#4 Comedy adventure
I found myself quickly falling in love with Magical Circle Guru Guru. It’s an adventure story directed mostly at pre-teen children, but I found that its comedy has a wide appeal to it, even if the occasional toilet humor can be underwhelming to many.
The show features many running gags that manage to constantly reinvent themselves and stay funny. It has witty writing and sharp directing that helps those jokes land, and it has a good cast of supporting characters that reappear often enough to avoid feeling like throwaway encounters. Most importantly, however, the comedic overtones of the story serve to enhance the plot rather than trivialize it.
Nike and Kukuri’s quest is still an adventure with tough opponents, dungeons to conquer, and hardships to overcome. There are emotional moments as we learn more about Kukuri and why she is the last of her people and there are many heartwarming scenes that strengthen the bond between the two protagonists. Magical Circle Guru Guru finds a balance between being funny, while still having those special moments that give it an emotional touch.
#5 Retro visuals reborn
Magical Circle Guru Guru doesn’t feel like an anime from 2017. I haven’t seen the show’s original 80+ episodes run, but I have browsed pictures of it on Anisearch and that was very interesting; they really took an anime from 1994 and revitalized it for the modern day.
Character designs stay true to their original look and feel, with adorable child characters and comical adults. However, going by the screenshots of the original, I see a lot of improvement in these designs and the consistency with which they are drawn. Especially the children now look convincingly 12 years old, whereas before they were so dwarf-like they looked about half that age.
I searched around a bit and could find backgrounds, action scenes, and jokes that were faithfully recreated, but all of it now looks sharper and more vibrant than ever before. This not to say that ol’ Nippon Animation didn’t do a great job back in the day. I am looking through these screenshots and there are some beautiful scenes in there, but it was all made for a much longer format over 20 years ago.