"Jade Street Protection Services" – Positive Autistic Representation Is Magic!

Before we begin this review there’s somethings you should know: I love the magical girl genre, regardless of whether it's deconstruction, reconstruction, spoof, parody, or homage. This flood of magical girl comics in America has been grand—splendid, even. Since these American comics have been coming out, the genre is becoming more diverse than ever.  I was hooked from the moment Jade Street Protection Services was first announced, even though all I had was a blurb describing the series as "Magical girls who are misfits at their magic academy form a gang."  Misfit magical girls? I was floored with how much I was excited for this book. A fresh take on this beloved genre that I just had to read.

Then an interview from the creators came out, and I knew that I had to review this book. The interview in question revealed that the main character Emma is a non-verbal autistic girl. I’m an autistic girl, however unlike Emma I’m verbal. I can’t criticize this book or discuss whether or not it got the non-verbal autistic’s experience; however, I can talk about the autistic experience in general and what the book got wrong or right based on my own experience.
Autism is a neurological condition with a wide range of experiences; most media has unfortunately failed to portray this properly (the same might be said for disability in general). Since even the most intersectional of feminist spaces often fail to bring up disabilities or the realities that disabled people live with, you can probably understand why I was both extremely excited and terrified about this series. Would they have Emma wish for a "cure" for her disability? The concept of "curing" autism is met with resentment by the autistic community due to its clear roots in the devaluation of autistic persons and experiences. Would Emma’s magic make her "normal," would she "overcome" her disability by getting powered up? The tired trope of overcoming one’s disability is nothing more than an ableist notion that disability can be turned off in order to achieve success or functionality; it’s just one tactic out of many to distance the disabled identity from success or humanity.

Thankfully, the book rises above these pitfalls and tropes. Jade Street Protection Services is amazing in what it does for the genre: all of the harmful implications of the genre's previous lack of diversitylike the way magical girls have to look or actall of the misogynistic bullshit that women are faced with in real life, is targeted for criticism by being exemplified as the antagonist.

In the opening characterization of the main cast, we witness Emma's struggle to find where she belongs in high school, feeling like she wasn’t made for it. She's not into what the other girls are into, and her difference partly stems from her lack of finding her niche and her inability to communicate freely with her fellow students.

But if you’re not going to fit in at school, there are certainly worse places than the Mattsdotter Academy School for Magical Girls.
The Academy has more than one type of girl. Here's a rundown: Emma is our insecure but thoughtful protagonist; she knows that she and her fellow magical girls are worth fighting for. Divya is an overachiever with some serious spreadsheet skills who cares what people think about her.
Saba is a mischievous fun loving girl who knows how to perfectly coordinate her hijab with her Lolita fashion. Noemi is the cool strong-but-silent type who has a heart of gold if anyone would care to notice. Kai is a fighter and lover of ladies who may not be as chill as she seems.

So, right off the bat we have five very different girls with their own strengths and weaknesses. These differences at first cause our cast to fight, so much so that a gym class disaster causes giant conjured toilets to run amok, and our leading ladies and a fellow classmate land in detention.
After a debate about whether to ditch for kebabs or froyo, some personality differences arise that make the girls actually talk to each other sans Emma, who observes. A fellow classmate (Andrea)-- who dislikes Emma because she’s a "spaz"--begs the group to not leave her with Emma "the muted marvel" in one of the book's best moments: Andrea is called out on her ableist behavior and subsequently ditched. Considering how schoolchildren with special needs are often ostracized by peers and faculty, seeing this ostracizing called out—and making this the point where our main cast forges their outsider status together—is tremendously inspiring.

It’s not only these big, obvious moments that make this book so enjoyable, but also the little humanizing moments.  Divya and Noemi happily have a short conversation in Spanish. We see Emma stimming when she’s anxious; at one point while she and the gang are hiding, she’s asked to do it quietly—she’s not asked to stop, or scolded, or embarrassed, just to keep it down while they're hiding. Saba’s love for cute things extends to naming a roach cutie. Noemi and Kia share a moment that hints at a possible romance. Also the girls "swear" by saying kittens or sparkles; it’s just as good as it sounds.
Over the course of their search for kebabs and froyo, our girls provide some light exposition on the rules of their magic system. One of these rules forbids magical girls from creating anything, allegedly because this messes up their magicbut as we see with our antagonists, the rule may be connected to a more sinister prospect, such as the selling of magic and magical girls! Is the Academy in on this? Could there be foul play? We’ll hopefully find the answers in the next issue of Jade Street Protection Services. Without giving too much away, I want readers familiar with Madoka Magica to think about the similarities between Emma's and Mami's outfits, and what implications the use of this motif might have.

On the whole, this is a breezy read with likable characters and light exposition that knows how to hook you in. Jade Street Protection Services is available now from Black Mask Studios.
Until next time, stay magical folks!

Elizabeth Ledwell is a witch who has a certificate in graphics communications she doesn't use.