Better know a Genre Part 1: Magical Girl Anime

Cuteness, sparkles, frills, and lots of Girl Power!

Cardcaptor Sakura (カードキャプターさくら). Aired in Japan 1998-2000 on the NHK. Produced by Madhouse.

At first glance, the construction of magical girl anime (also known as maho shoujo or majokko) as a literary device is simple in that it is defined as: Magic + Girl. However, upon further examination, magical girl anime as a genre is actually quite difficult to define as it has changed a lot over time.

In general, aside from our protagonist possessing magical powers, common personal qualities are innocence, femininity, and strong emotional conviction. Oftentimes, the main character’s wish to defend what she values will bring about a “transformation scene”. This metamorphosis is usually very stylish, and the clothing the girl is wearing will change. Also, a magic wand or staff may appear.

The physical change our heroine undergoes demonstrates her magical identity and confidence in her abilities. Now she now has the means to fulfill her dreams! And likely save the world at the same time.

1966:  The invention of Magical Girl anime can be attributed to the prolific art and production studio, Toei Animation. Toei produced the first ever magical-girl anime series, Sally the Witch (Mahou tsukai Sally).

Sally the Witch (魔法使いサリー). Aired in Japan from 1966 to 1968. Toei Animation.

Sally the Witch was an anime adaptation of Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s manga of the same name, and is said to have been influenced by the American television show Bewitched. This series follows Sally, princess of the “witch world.” After teleporting to Earth to make friends, she goes on many episodic adventures. Sally the Witch is different from modern day magical girl anime in that she is born with her powers, but is similar in that she must keep her powers secret.

1969:  Himitsu no Akko-chan (ひみつのアッコちゃん) debuted. It is universally regarded as an important template to the style of modern magical girl anime in that this protagonist is an average girl granted magical powers. Atsuko “Akko-chan” Kagami, is an elementary school girl who has been gifted with a magical mirror. It allows her to transform into anything or anyone she wants, sometimes mimicking their abilities. With two remakes, and a new live action movie coming soon, Himitsu no Akko-chan is still quite popular.

1973:  The primary goal for Honey Kisaragi, the star of Cutey Honey is to fight against the villains who threaten her world. Before Cutey Honey, the magical girl genre as it was conceived didn’t include saving the world or fighting monsters. The magical girl only used her power to solve everyday problems. Another first with Cutey Honey is that when Honey yells “HONEY FLASH!”, she transforms into a busty, red-haired warrior. This is the first notable “transformation scene ” to occur in magical girl anime.

1974:  Majokko Megu-chan is the first magical girl anime to feature a tomboyish character: Meg. Prior heroines had been very feminine. Other “firsts” include a rival magical girl, a genuine villain, and serious problems (domestic abuse, drug abuse, death).

Majokko Megu-chan (魔女っ子メグちゃん. lit: Little Meg the Witch Girl). Aired in Japan from 1974 to 1975. Toei Animation.

1982: Magical Princess Minky Momo debuts. This series is a major turning point in that before this show, magical girl anime wasn’t so much a genre, but a massive Toei animation franchise. Magical Princess Minky Momo was the first to be produced by a different studio. Also worth noting, is that this series featured the first talking animal side-kick (3 of them!).

Magical Princess Minky Momo (魔法のプリンセス ミンキー モモ). Aired in 1982. Ashi Productions.

The later 1980s:  Studio Perriot contributed to magical girl anime with Creamy Mami (the first magical pop idol show), Magical Emi, Persia, and Pastel Yumi. These series, as well as many others in the 1980’s, were classified primarily as shoujo. Also, the main characters were average young girls. By this time, it was now standard that the main character would receive her power from either a cute animal or some kind of magical object. It was more common for the main character to undergo an age transformation (Ex: The girl in Creamy Mami changed from age 10 to 16).

Top left: Creamy Mami. Top right: Magical Emi. Bottom left: Fairy Persia. Bottom Right: Pastel Yumi. Studio Perriot.

The 1990’s-2000’s:  The magical girl warriors in Bishouji Senshi Sailor Moon took the west by storm. Arguably the most popular magical girl series of all time, the successful marketing of Sailor Moon to both sexes fueled the genre into what it is it is today. One standard that changed is that a group of girls, rather than one magical individual is now acceptable. Also, the transformations involved cuter, ever-frillier costumes instead of a total body change. Sailor Moon influenced the release of other series such as: Cardcaptor Sakura, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, and Pretty Cure—to name a few.

Sailor Moon. Aired in Japan from 1992-1997 on TV Asahi. Co-produced by TV Asahi, Toei Agency and Toei Animation.

Currently, magical girl anime is still popular. Right now, a trend  is to try to “genre bust”. Puni Puni Poemi and Dai Mahou Touge Omake have parodied the genre, and one of the most recent series Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011) has effectively deconstructed magical girl stereotypes in that it fights the common utopistic view of magic. Also, this series has a darker plot.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica (魔法少女まどか☆マギカ). Aired 2011 in Japan. Produced by Shaft and Aniplex.

Experimentation within the magical girl genre is reaching a point to where it is very subjective as to when a series can simply be labeled. With so many established standards, it is usually easy to recognize which elements of a series are typical of the genre without classifying the whole series as magical girl. Nowadays, when one refers to an anime as magical girl, it is usually in reference to the primary genre. The most central indicator to what a show is about.


About Anne's Anime Blog

I am an astronomical anime fan. I enjoy watching it, collecting figures & merchandise, assembling models, and attending conventions. California burrito glutton. Let's be friends:)

Posted on June 9, 2012, in Anime and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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