Monday, May 25, 2015

Guest Post: Magical Girl Primer (Introduction to Anime)

Alright so you may have seen or heard of Sailor Moon. You know, blonde japanese girl with a short mini skirt, dashing love interest and long and convoluted transformation sequence? Yeah, she is only a part of a long history of a genre called Mahou Shojou. I am going to walk you through a brief [like literally 4 sentences brief] history of the genre and give you some recs for what you can watch if you are totally unfamiliar to Magical Girls and anime in general.

Evolution of The Magical Girl by Shattered-Earth

[[Disclaimer: There are links to places to buy or stream these anime in this article but as this is a guest post, none of them are affiliate links. :’D Happy Bingewatching and Support the Industry!]]

What is Anime?

Anime is japanese animation. There is a thought that it is just cartoons but it’s a bit more than that. It’s a medium. There are serious anime and anime meant for all ages just as there are some cartoons you would show your kids [Spongebob, I guess] and some you will never show them if you had any help with it [South Park...I guess. This what happens when you stop watching TV]. Yes, some anime are pornagraphic [Hentai, as it is called and no, it isn’t just schoolgirls having troubles with tentacles] but a vast vast majority of it is really good stories rendered in a beautiful medium.

What is the Mahou Shojou Genre?

Mahou means magic and Shojou means [young] girl. Roughly, it’s girls with magical powers fighting evil. Basically the classic hero in frilly skirts and using the Power of Love over the Power of a well honed blade. However, that shouldn’t turn you off since not every magical girl use magic per se or just dress in pink all the bloody time [I definitely would not love this genre as much as I do if they did].

There are magical girls that are necromancers, idol singers, violent as all hell [with gratuitous bloodshed] and are outside of their teens. Be reminded that magical girl is just a genre just like romance is a genre so there is a lot of different types under that rather large umbrella.

Funnily enough, it’s thought that the magical girl genre started because of a western show, specifically, Bewitched. Sally the Witch and Himitsu no Akkochan’s creators said that they were inspired by Bewitched and based their stories on that. But before that, the manga Princess Knight was what really nailed the genre a decade before in the 50s. Granted, as someone who has read Princess Knight I am more reminded of a cross between Cinderella and Revolutionary Girl Utena but that’s an article for another day.  

Identifying Elements of a Magical Girl

Magical Girl anime, like any major anime genre, can be broken down into a few big elements. Here is a big list of most of all the tropes but here are the major ones for me.
  • Henshin [Transformation] - A magical girl must transform in some way be it her clothes or her attitude. I really think the magical girl genre is a euphemism for puberty with so many confusing changes going on and learning that she isn’t a child anymore and must fight to have her peace. The transformation doesn’t have to big and showy but there has to be a demarcation between her usual civilian persona and her magical girl persona.
  • Magical Powers - Well, you can’t be a magical girl without powers of some sort. Many get them from being bestowed with a magical item but some can Batman it out and just be cool at what they do. They don’t have to be super competent or powerful right off the bat [or at all, really] but the magical powers is another thing that differentiates her from ordinary to extraordinary.
  • Mascot - every cute girl needs a cute mascot. This can also double as a mentor [Hello, Luna] or hidden antagonist [GDI, Kyuubey] but nonetheless a magical girl needs some kind of guidance down the right [or wrong] path.
  • Team/Partners - a semi-optional feature but as a child of the 90s that lived and breathed Sailor Moon [Dolls, Check. Trading Cards, Check. Prop Wand, Check. Homemade Princess Serenity Dress, Check and Check], I really don’t think a magical girl is complete without some kind of partner or team to help her out. Granted such a thing is a throwback to Super Sentai [think Power Rangers] but sometimes, it’s dangerous to go alone and that dovetails nicely into my next point...
  • Central theme 1: Friendship - A magical girl is all about friendship. Saving her friends, sacrificing herself for her friends and maybe more… A magical girl is the best friend in the whole world and if she isn’t, be sure she has one of them on hand.
  • Central Theme 2: Courage - Another thing is courage. Your average teenage girl isn’t going to just accept her clothes changing into a poofy outfit, be handed a pink wand and told to kill a big monster that just ate a city bus. Fifty Shades of Nope. It takes a lot of courage to be a magical girl and to keep being one.
  • Central Theme 3: Love - THis is the last of the optional thing but as magical girls are usually under the shojou demographic, there has to be some sort of romance. Be it a two girl almost lesbian thing or a threesome that is still a better story than twilight, magical girls usually include a bit of miracle romance.

Does it have to be a girl?

Funnily enough no. Though there is a joke here and there about there needing to be a magical boy anime [and I cover two below] but if one would look around, there are actually more than a few magical boy anime that may not say it’s mohou shounen but all the elements are there. If it quacks like a duck and moves like a duck, you aren’t going to call it an iPod, are you?

10 anime that I think are great magical girl examples

Side notice that I will not discuss the classics like Sailor Moon, Utena or Cardcaptor Sakura. Yes, they are great but are frankly talked about far too much. This list is [with the exception of the first one] is listed from shortest to longest in terms of episodes.

W.I.T.C.H. - To let you get familiar with the 5 girl team
Yes, yes, W.I.T.C.H. isn’t actually anime [though it contains more than a few elements of it] but it’s really a quintessential magical girl team anime. Five girls with unique powers and showy transformations is it. I honestly call this western Sailor Moon since it nails the formula so hard in such a great way. Sadly I can’t find anywhere to legally stream or buy the series but I am sure your Google-fu is stronger than mine.

Re: Cutie Honey - To show you the past in a modern way 

The 60s/70s was both a fun time and a crazy time that gave us Discos, Wars and Cutey Honey. In this remake OVA, you get the gist of the Cutey Honey franchise which is basically, ridiculous battles and speeches, more boobs than you can shake a stick at and a very deep two girl friendship-near romance. Many will dismiss Cutey Honey for the boobs [and the fact that there has been a lot of live action and animated remakes of the story] but I really suggest you sit down and watch Re: Cutie Honey because...almost lesbians and the boobs.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica - To deconstruct everything you have learned

Madoka: Connect by Kyuriin
Madoka Magica is called the Evangelion of Mahou Shojou for good reason. You think you have it all figured out with it’s pastel colored protagonists and cute intro and adorable mascot pet character and then episode 3 happens and everything goes to hell from there. Yeah, Madoka Magica is not for the faint of heart and may leave you with a headache but is totally worth it for a look at sacrifice, friendship and finding happiness in despair. The rough plot is that these girls transform to fight witches that feed off of human despair with help from their mascot/mentor, Kyuubey. The link above is to watch it on hulu but you can also watch it here on crunchyroll.

Cute High Earth Defense Club Love - To show boys can be cute and magical too

(Warning: below video may contain minor nudity)

The most recent addition on this list, I honestly thought Club Love was a joke when I first heard of it [and it is since it’s a parody]. But no, cute boys with a cute mascot and a cute magical transformation fighting other boys and monsters. Someone bring the smelling salts, I may faint. Don’t expect a lot of masculinity in this though. I honestly think Hello Kitty is far more manly than this. That said, it also handles the other tropes of the magical girl genre pretty well with it’s emphasis on friendship though in a ‘cute boys doing cute things’ [a la K-ON] kind of way.

My Otome - To Show badass girls that fight with tech, not magic

(Warning: below video may contain spoilers)

 I watched the first episode as a preview then I found myself drawn into not only the full anime but the manga [which is canon yet not since it was released as the same time as the anime but neither group of creators got a plotline, only a cast of characters to play with], the anime that came before it [My Hime] and IT’S manga and the sequels that came after My Otome. What is compelling about this, aside from the tech and magic mix but the themes of purity, romance between women [even though it’s a side joke more or less] and the whole great power great responsibility spiel.tOtome [Japanese for ‘Maiden’] are girls that are trained to fight for their chosen master [usually a royal of some kind] and must remain pure or they lose their powers, like literally the nanobots that give them their magic dies when mixed with semen. Naturally, lesbian hijinks ensue. That little plot aside, there is a very deep political thing going on if you don’t like cute superpowered school girls doing cute things.

Wish Upon The Pleiades - To show what is in the future of the genre
This is another one of those ‘I thought this was a joke’ anime. Honda [yes, the car maker] commissioned an anime from Gainax. Neon Genesis Evangelion Gainax. Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt Gainax. Oy vey. Shockingly, it turned out pretty well with a cute little OVA that was strong with themes of friendship and relying on others to overcome obstacles. That much has touched audiences since it is getting a full length series and movie as well. The premise is that the team of girls is trying to collect stars to help an alien go home...while riding on car axels and with names like Suburu.

Black Rock Shooter - To twist your mind a little bit

There is a a story here I am SURE I am not getting but I will try and explain it a bit from what I have garnered from the OVA [not the full show which is longer and has a different plot]. So these girls [specifically Black Rock Shooter] handle mental trauma by fighting out battles in their minds with big bloody guns. Sometimes against each other, sometimes against other things. The general gist is that having a bad mental health is rough. Which is a good theme which I don’t really see handled elsewhere. Also this is the first anime to give me a yandere type character [nice on the outside, psycho obsessive girlfriend on the inside] that out and out hated. Usually I am a fan of the yandere but this one actually made me dislike her immensely not because she was a horrible character but simply that was the feelings she was supposed to bring forth. Not bad for a Hatsune Miku song by Supercell, hm?

Princess TuTu - To twist your mind a lot

So you have Ballet and you have magical girls and you put it one show. This will be cute, right? WRONG. This is not cute. Not cute at all. A very dark story about a storyteller gone mad, a prince without a heart and a duck trying to save him [yes, you read that right. It makes sense in context] all with the window dressing of various ballets and beautiful animation. As a former ballerina [well little girl who wanted to be in ballet but didn’t want to get up early for classes], I really enjoyed the beautifully made dance animation and enjoyed the theme of fighting fate even more. The stream link is above but you can grab the complete box set from amazon for about $20.

Tokyo Mew Mew - To remind you of conservatism of nature

Tokyo Mew Mew is classic magical girl with a very slight twist of all the girls being based on endangered species while fighting aliens that want to destroy the world since humans have been very bad to mother earth. No, this isn’t sponsored by the WWDC or PETA or the ASPCA. Why did you think that? Strong environmentalism themes aside, it is very girl power while balancing the romance subplot and even a small [blink and you will miss it] romance between two of the fighters. Shame the english dub [known as Mew Mew Power] mangled it so heavily. Sadly [or Thankfully] the anime is not online in any legal form [as that it was licensed and dubbed by 4Kids Ent.] so the best I can do is link to where you can get the manga which is well worth it.

DNAngel - To give you a romance that is worth the tears in the most beautiful way possible

The only other male protagonist lead on this list. It’s a very romance heavy show without most romance. I mean that love is a very central theme in this story but specific relationships don’t actually come to fruition until very late in the story. Daisuke Niwa is cursed to become the Phantom Thief Dark whenever he sees the girl he loves. Until he can get her to return his affections, he’s stuck stealing cursed art exhibits. Too bad the girl he likes, Risa, only has eyes for Dark! I very much adore this series, not only for the music, gorgeous animation and the very pretty manga it is based on but the world itself is beyond intriguing to me and totally worth venturing into again and again.

Well this is my list. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or hit me up on my own blog, Zero Gravity Inq!