The Problem With Magical Girls

Let me begin by saying that I have a soft spot in my heart for most magical girl anime.

I originally typed “soft spot in my head” there, which may have been a Freudian slip.

Anyway. I was introduced to the genre through a friend in Japan who used to send me off-air tapes of various anime, and who decided that I should see this “Sailor Moon” thing that had just started airing.

I quite liked that, so he introduced me to some of the Pierrot anime from the early 80s and, well, one thing lead to another and I wound up owning an awful lot of laserdiscs of various magical girl anime.

Anyway, it struck me that, starting around the time of Card Captor Sakura and Fancy Lala, the characters in these shows were getting to be pretty self-aware. Rather than the oh-my-god-it’s-a-talking-cat characters of older shows, these girls knew that a talking plushie showing up and blabbing on and on about their destiny meant that it was time to make with the frilly outfits and transformation scenes.

So why, really, is this a problem? Let’s be up-front here, it’s probably a good thing to be prepared for the possibility of being turned into a magical warrior for love and/or justice. It gives you a better chance of negotiating, say, appropriate skirt length, less embarrassing magical chants, avoiding winding up in Wedding Peach, that sort of thing.

I’m going to get hate mail from Wedding Peach fans for that last comment, I just know it.

So, to be fair, I had thought that it was a Good Thing that Japanese girls were being prepped for the possibility from a very young age.

Then I started watching Puella Magi Madoka Magica and was forced to re-think this position.

I had been warned that this show was a little darker than your average magical girl show.

Around the time the first happy frilly-skirted warrior for love and justice got her head bitten off by a large clown-faced snake thingy, I came to realize that that may have been a bit of an understatement.

I’m not quite done with the show yet – I watched the first nine episodes in a bit of a marathon session last night – but, so far, every character save two has either been killed horribly, driven insane, or driven insane and THEN killed horribly, with the Adorable with-a-capital A mascot talking plushie looking on happily at the results.

So, girls of Japan, a caution: if an Adorable Fluffy Animal shows up at your bedroom window in the middle of the night saying that it’s your destiny/responsibility/just a really good idea to step into the High Heels Of Justice…

…close the window, draw the blinds, and maybe ask your parents if they wouldn’t mind moving.

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3 Responses to The Problem With Magical Girls

  1. starsamaria says:

    Nice post! I haven’t watched Madoka yet but one major difference between it and Cardcaptor Sakura is that wasn’t really meant for girls, so perhaps that’s why it’s darker than your typical magical girl series. I love how self-aware the characters are in CCS about magical girl tropes, and some people cite the anime’s popularity as the beginning of the shift in magical girl series being slightly more targeted to males. However, I once read an interview with someone who worked at Pierrot who said that they were aware from the 80s how large the male audience for magical girl series was.

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  2. baudattitude says:

    Thanks for your kind words 🙂 I’d be fascinated to read the interview you’re talking about if you happen to have a link, I hardly ever run into anything in English that talks about magical girls shows from the pre-Sailor Moon period, even though there were some really fun shows back then.

    Sakura was a brilliant show and I think by then CLAMP was fully aware of the male audience and didn’t mind marketing to it. When I think about these sorts of things seriously – and I try to avoid thinking about things seriously – I think it was one of the first shows “for girls” to sell itself as a product, rather than simply designed to sell products, and that the show as a product was being sold to older, often male fans.

    Speaking of shows-as-product, I wrapped up Madoka and thought it was really quite good. The violence was a bit over the top at times and it definitely wasn’t a show I’d show to a little girl but it was obviously created by someone who loves the genre and just wanted to play around with some of the standard conventions a bit.

    I read through some of the articles on your blog and really liked them; you have a great perspective on manga and I’m looking forward to reading more in future.

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    • starsamaria says:

      I don’t know if the interview is available online but I remember reading it in the June 2004 issue of Newtype USA (it’s been awhile).

      I think another difference is when you’re talking about magical girl anime and magical girl manga – CCS was based off of a manga meant for girls, but the Madoka anime came first (and was written by a male). And in general, there is a better chance of an anime produced for females to attract a male audience than there is for a shojo manga to crossover with males.

      Thanks for the compliments – I look forward to reading more from you as well! 🙂

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