Pep Talk - WHRN 2009 - Magical Girls In the Modern Setting: Frills Optional by silverchild2
CardCaptor Sakura, Sailor Moon, Mew Ichigo, Saint Tail, Pretty Sammy... the list goes on and on, some more common than others. Magical Girl (mahou shoujo) anime and manga are a staple and often the introductory genre of practically every young fan. Not because the genre dominates Japanese entertainment, or because it is universally loved, but because it is so easily accessible and accepted by standards of clean entertainment for the younger audiences.
This is pretty simple to figure out: The (relative) lack of nudity, most of which can be edited without harming the basic content of the show, the positive outlook and themes of the heroine (or hero, sometimes!) and show in general, and the fact that the Magical Girls tend to be just that: girls. Young girls, ages approximately sixteen and younger, and that age similarity alone makes for an immediate connection between the viewer and protagonist. Not to mention these Magical Girls (and occasional boy) are in school themselves and have friends and families and school and hobbies to juggle as well as their secret identities, and their blossoming into adulthood and adolescence and the challenges they face as they struggle to become adults when they were once children but now are thrust forward into a position of responsibility and....
Wait wait wait, hold on and back up. Why'd this genre get so serious all of a sudden? I thought Magical Girls were all about frilly costumes, transformation sequences, super sparkly magical powers, talking animal sidekicks, and wacky antagonists with petty and simplistic goals that usually run in the vein of world domination. Now I'm talking about real life issues of responsibility, the threshold of adulthood, the loss of innocence of these young girls as they mature and grow for better or for worse.
And THAT is what Magical Girls is all about. The protagonist, the very central character, of Magical Girls is almost always without wavering a young girl or boy about thirteen to fourteen years old when the series begins(give or take a few years in more uncommon variations), who's outlook on life is one of utmost positivity, innocence, and unwavering perkiness. They take the world head on without a care, confident that they'll come out on top or skirt by via their own perseverance and force of will. Combining this personality type with a sudden gift of magical powers and the role of Guardian of the World (or whatever the plot dictates) seems like the most natural of things, like peanut butter and jelly. And the initial outcome of the Magical Girl's reaction is almost always the same: Either she takes it head on with enthusiasm, or she denies kicking and crying the whole time, begging that she just wants to be a normal girl and nothing at all to do with her new office of power.
However, the role of being a Magical Girl IS being a normal girl. Everything that comes with it, the trappings of magic, costume, evil villains, sidekick mentor and/or entourage of fellow Magical Girl companions, all of it is an allegory of the challenges of adolescents and becoming a teenager and ultimately, an adult. Well, the different aspects don't have EXACT parallels, like having to buy your first sports bra or any other painful experiences we all have growing up, but the concept is there. The Magical Girl is thrust headfirst into a situation that seems by and large far too big for her and will swallow her up whole, and she stands herself alone to face it all.
Sounding familiar yet? Like every teenager in existence that believes that the world can't possibly understand them? What about the Magical Girl and keeping her secret identity, that she's facing all these troubles and hardships and dangers and can't tell anyone.
And yet, as time goes on, the Magical Girl DOES overcome the challenges presented to her. Not all at once, sometimes, but with her perseverance and growing in power she eventually topples the obstacles presented before her, coming out in the end a stronger person. Not necessarily more mature, or serious, or even confident, but she knows that she's faced horrible things in her life and she has survived.
Because that's what being a teenager is all about, isn't it? Truth be told, you don't need all the trappings of the Magical Girl to have a Magical Girl, so long as you have the basic elements on hand to keep the theme and spirit of the genre. But it certainly doesn't hurt to have them. If you don't believe me, did you ever watch Sabrina, the Teenage Witch? Because that, hands down, is the most Magical Girl show of existence in America that I can think of. Sabrina doesn't have the costume or the transformation sequence, and a great majority of the time she doesn't even have consistent antagonists of the supernatural kind. But she does have a talking feline familiar and magical mentors and magical powers that she never knew were possible or that she even had and is now forced to deal with integrating them into her life while keeping some semblance of normalcy. Sabrina is a Magical Girl to the core, and carries with it the very spirit of the genre: the allegory of the brick to the face that adolescence is and the coping of the unfortunate victim.
Now, close the window and go write some Magical Girl.