Comic review – Jade Street Protection Services gives us the magical girls we need

Jade Street Protection Services

Jade Street Protection Services is a new comic with an intersectional take on magical girl stories and a super-powered big heart.

Jade Street Protection Services, a new Black Mask Studios comic by Katy Rex (@thekatyrex)and Fabian Lelay, is an exciting, intersectional take on magical girl stories that follows five unique girls as they fight against forces threatening to harm all magical girls.

The story opens at Mattsdoter Academy, a boarding school/training facility for magical girls. There’s Divya, the honors student; Saba, the prankster; Noemi, the cool girl; and Kai, the flirty girl. And then there’s Emma, who thinks she doesn’t belong anywhere, in or out of Mattsdoter.

Jade Street Protection Services

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The focus on intersectionality in Jade Street is clear from the moment we meet the protagonists. Divya is Desi; Saba wears hijab, which she combines in adorable ways with her Lolita fashion; Noemi is Filipino; Kai is attracted to women (it’s not clear if she’s lesbian, bi, pan, or something else); and then there’s Emma, a nonverbal girl who stims with her hands when distressed (although, again, it’s not clear what words she uses to describe herself). But for a comic promoted as intersectional, I was disappointed to see that all the girls have the same slender and able-bodied physique.*

Later in the story, we also meet a large, muscled, and arguably gender-nonconforming woman who works for the primary villain. It’s disappointing to see the only woman with a larger body type is coded as “bad” in a comic that seems all about celebrating strong girls. Maybe this sounds nit-picky, but the team behind Jade Street have clearly put a lot of effort into building unique identities for each of the five main girls that include ethnicity, sexuality, and neurodiversity without being solely defined by those traits, so it’s hard not to notice when they do come up short.

Emma admires Divya, Saba, Noemi, and Kai for their talents -magical and otherwise -and their confidence. During a group detention, the four girls decide they’d rather get kebabs than sit in an empty classroom, and, to Emma’s surprise, invite her to join them. But “going out to get kebabs” turns into “following their gym teacher and learning about a conspiracy to steal magic from Mattdoter students.” Suddenly the girls find themselves in a restaurant, fighting a man with surprisingly strong supernatural abilities…

Magpie, the owner of the restaurant, lets the girls stay with her as they recover from the battle. The girls realize that they can’t go back to Mattsdoter. They don’t know who is part of the conspiracy. Could more teachers be involved, or even their own parents? They can only trust each other – and Magpie. Magpie offers to let the girls stay with her, and reveals that she’s part of a network helping to protect students expelled from Mattsdoter.

The girls may be strong fighters, but it’s clear that magical girls are vulnerable to threats outside the academy. In this society, magical girls are bound by strict taboos about what they can and can’t do (knitting, for example, is off-limits), as well as their future potential as wives to mages. Although the scenes outside Mattsdoter Academy could have been used to greater effect to build a sense of the world this story takes place in – the comic totally nails the magical girl poses, but close-up shots, especially featuring props, rarely have the crisp detail one might expect or desire –  the hints dropped through dialogue are intriguing. I suspect that, as the girls investigate the plot to steal magic, more will be revealed about their relationship to society.

Although Emma initially thought she didn’t fit in anywhere, it’s clear that she’s the heart of this story, and the glue holding the other four girls together. Her private thoughts form the narration for the comic, and give emotional weight that counterbalances the fast-paced action and investigation sequences. For example, in the aftermath of a battle, Emma reflects on how the Academy hadn’t prepared the girls for the emotional impact of battle, or given them the skills to process the damage they both do and receive.

It seems like themes of mental and emotional health, self-care, and separating one’s true identity from social representations of self will continue to run through Jade Street as the girls attempt to defeat those who would do them harm.

While the “identity” in question here is being a magical girl, the hopes and fears of the girls will resonate with anyone trying to define their place in the world.

*UPDATE: Author Katy Rex has confirmed with Mookychick that there is a spoilers-free reason for this, and all will be revealed in later issues…

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