James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > Post

Who’s That Girl?

A Magical Girl Retires

By Park Seolyeon 

22 May, 2024



Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

Park Seolyeon’s 2022 A Magical Girl Retires is a modern fantasy. The 2024 English translation is by Anton Hur.

Jobless, three million won1 in debt, her dream of becoming a clock repair person dead, now alone in the world, an unnamed twenty-nine-year-old Korean woman resolves to kill herself, ideally in a manner that will inconvenience as few people as possible. Before she can steel herself up to hurl herself from a bridge, Clairvoyant Magical Girl Ah Roa appears in a cab to forestall the twenty-nine-year-old.

The twenty-nine-year-old is not the hapless loser she believes she is. She is a Magical Girl. Rather than being a burden the world would be better off without, the twenty-nine-year-old may be its savior.

As Ah Roa explains, not only is the twenty-nine-year-old a Magical Girl, she is the most powerful Magical Girl. Ah Roa asserts that the once clock-obsessed twenty-nine-year-old is the Magical Girl of Time. Causality is the newly minted Magical Girl’s to command.

The world desperately needs the Magical Girl of Time, for it faces its greatest threat, climate change. Since the people of Earth will not change their ways, it falls to the legions of Magical Girls to avert climate disaster. Even with the combined powers of the Magical Girls, this is a daunting task… but not for the Magical Girl of Time.

There are one or two minor issues. The twenty-nine-year-old manages to manifest her personal talisman. Bizarrely, the talisman isn’t a watch or a clock or any sort of time piece but a credit card. Also, Magical Girl powers don’t come with instruction books. Learning how to activate her powers takes trial and error.

The most significant impediment is Ah Roa. Specifically, that Ah Roa made a terrible mistake. The twenty-nine-year-old is a Magical Girl. She is not the Magical Girl of Time but of something else to be determined at a later time. What Ah Roa took to be cosmic significance was merely personal: the twenty-nine-year-old will be the most significant person to Ah Roa.

The actual Magical Girl of Time is Lee Mirae. Magical Girls often discover their power when they are at their weakest. In Mirae’s case, that was as her partner abused her. Imbued with the power of the Magical Girl of Time, Mirae froze time for her attacker, immersed his head in a pot of boiling water, then unfroze time. Mirae is not merely the Magical Girl of Time. She is the extremely angry, extremely homicidal Magical Girl of Time.

Mirae has a very simple solution for climate change. She will accelerate it, dooming humanity. Once humans are extinct, the Earth will return to its natural cycles. Everyone wins, except for humanity and any species that happen to go extinct while Mirae is fast-forwarding through the Apocalypse.

The Magical Girl of Time is nigh godlike. The other Magical Girls seem powerless to stop her… particularly a twenty-nine-year-old Magical Girl who does not even know of what domain she is the Magical Girl.


Why Magical Girls in particular? Thank entrenched patriarchal misogyny. To quote:

The reason Magical Girls exist is because they needed their power the most. In other words, before a Magical Girl awakens her powers, she’s the weakest person in the world.”
Because these powers are granted to the weakest people, it just looks like Girls are the only ones who get to be magical.” 

There are many settings where superpowers are managed anarchically, each person is left to determine for themselves what their powers are and how to best apply them. In this case, the Trade Union for Magical Girls does its best to locate, train and deploy Magical Girls to maximum advantage.

In contrast, the rest of humanity seems perfectly happy to defer solving climate change to a small handful of voluntolds, rather than embracing the collective action that could mitigate the doom bearing down on the planet. While one can understand why Magical Girls would be reluctant to embrace the engineered extinction of the species to which they belong, they never make a compelling case against it2 or propose a superior alternative to Mirae’s solution. People seem very good at dealing with immediate, obvious problems, but not so hot at the long-term stuff.

Park Seolyeon has fun making Magical Girl stories plausible, as well as illuminating the logical consequences of his imagined Girls. The unnamed twenty-nine-year-old’s tale of a person too self-effacing to even mention her own name, forced into a prominent role, is amusingly told. I’ve not read other Park Seolyeon stories, but I will be sure to keep an eye out.

A Magical Girl Retires is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books).

1: Three million Korean won is a bit over $2000 USD.

2: Cramming decades or centuries of climate change into a few days will probably kill off far more species than would have otherwise been lost. Mind you, Mirae can also accelerate the process of recovery.