‘Candid Slice’ on Feminism in Anime

I stumbled across a brief essay on mahou shoujo anime by someone named Heather at a site called Candid Slicein which Heather toots her own horn about her accomplishments and compares herself to magical girls. It’s a fluff piece, but I decided to link it anyway. I don’t know who Heather is or what she does, so I have no particular comment about that, but I do have something to say about how she interprets anime.

She has her comments laid out in a series of bullets, so I will write responses in the same fashion.

1. Magical Girls Are Chosen

I could feel the magic bubbling up inside me, and whenever I saw an opportunity to help someone, even in a small way, I’d bounce over and do my best — just like a magical girl.

And you were very humble about it, too. Heather goes on from there to praise herself for choosing to get involved in her current life’s work, rather than waiting for opportunity to come along. So she’s a go-getter, and that’s great.

But magical girls typically get selected or chosen because of some unique or important attributes they already possess, such as a pure heart or bravery or whatever. The idea of destiny is ingrained in a lot of fairy tales and other stories, but it should not be interpreted as indicative of passivity. Heroes, even when possessed of nascent powers or great destiny are never passive … well, except that chick from Jubei-chan, but we’ll talk about that at another time.

With the power or the destiny comes responsibility. That’s why magical girls are typically reluctant. These shows are a lesson in doing one’s duty.

2. Magical Girls Are Beautiful & Young

We started our journey as teenagers, and now we’re in our 30’s. Because of modern day pop culture, women face enormous pressure to stay youthful and attractive. In all honesty, I have struggled with this social expectation.

Dang, you set yourself up for that one …

No, look: the reason magical girls are all young is because magical girl stories are coming-of-age stories. All of them are reflections, in some fashion, on adolescence. Some of them are also trying to market merchandise, so the characters using the suspiciously-looks-like-plastic magical items aren’t going to advertise them with, “This will make you ugly.” We use pretty people in ads for a reason.

Also, everyone’s better looking on TV than in real life. I mean, c’mon. We’re talking about an alternate universe where Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island is the standard of ugly.

This left me with a feeling that, no matter how many homeless puppies I rescue, social issues I tackle, or books I publish, it won’t be as meaningful unless I’m young, thin, and pretty while I do it.

That’s your fault, lady. Don’t blame cartoons for your insecurities.

3. Magical Girls Are Hesitant, But Strong

Often, a magical girl is hesitant in hew new role as savior of humanity.

Before I started pursuing my own destiny, I wondered why magical girls and heroes wished for their old, “normal” life. How on earth could a mundane, boring life possibly compare with the glory of saving the world, of having adventures with friends, and of knowing your life will make a difference?
But once I started on my own journey … I can say I now understand. When you’re a magical girl, life can get a little scary.

And that is indeed the basic idea. Doing one’s duty is not necessarily pleasant, which is why it’s called “duty.”

4. Magical Girls Rely On Their Friends

This is a classic element of traditional Magical Girl anime. One of the best parts of being a hero, of pursuing your own individual destiny, is developing unbreakable bonds with your team mates. Saving the world, and chasing your dreams, requires taking risks.

Correct, and no particular comment. “Friendship” seems to be a focus of girls’ cartoons generally, not in the sense of the characters simply being or having friends, which one will find in most any story, but in the sense of being a deliberate, conscious emphasis. I don’t know why that is, but I assume it has something to do with the interests and tastes of the target audience. Probably, females in general are less interested in being the cool, aloof rebel without a cause than males are.

Sailor Moon, to which Heather appears primarily to be referring, has that because the franchise is a deliberate mashup of the magical girl genre with the color-coded superhero team genre. It’s meant to be something like Cutie Honey crossed with Power Rangers.

  • Heather Leah

    Interesting thoughts! I just stumbled upon this while searching through my site’s back links. Thanks for sharing your own perspective on magical girls. I’ve always related to magical girl amines, as I’m sure many girls do, because I wanted a magical, save-the-world destiny. At the end of the day, I’m just sharing my personal experiences from my youth — about twenty years past now. I’m sorry it didn’t resonate with you, but that’s how writing works! If it helps, my best friend and I, who so wanted to save the world, did grow up to start a non-profit organization that pretty successfully rallies volunteers for dozens of causes around our city! In that way, we kept true to our own magical girl hearts, but in a much smaller and more realistic way. Sailor Moon was our favorite TV show in our early teens. I prefer Death Note now. 😉 -Heather