The essay promises to be interpretive, though in the end it is mostly an overview of the history of the genre from its origins in Sally the Witch to darker and more violent recent entries such as Day Break Illusion. Although not a bad overview per se, it misses some major milestones and does not appear to have a particularly in-depth knowledge.
Sugawa Akiko’s attempt to fit her discussion into a certain sort of feminist framework compels her to talk nonsense, as evident in these two paragraphs:
Female superheroes, meanwhile, were almost invariably adults. The heroines of such comic-based TV shows as Wonder Woman and Xena: Warrior Princess and the video game–based movie Lara Croft, Tomb Raider were endowed with male strength but also a mature sex appeal targeted primarily at heterosexual men.
An attribute virtually nonexistent in Western witches or female superheroes is the maternal or nurturing behavior that has become such a common feature of mahō shōjo anime since the advent of Sailor Moon. While powerful, Japan’s magical girl warriors also preserve attributes associated with traditional gender roles—including cuteness and maternal affection—that make them less threatening to men.
Got that? So when the characters are vampy and busty, it’s because men. And when they’re cute or maternal, it’s because men. Dammit, those men got us every way we turn.
Why not just say, “It turns out that dudes like chicks”? That would cover all the bases, except then it would be obvious that she’s stating the obvious.
In any case, she’s correct that magical girls are typically more overtly feminine, even hyper-feminine, than Western superheroines.
The essay also contains some flat-out BS: she suggests that the “yuri” (read: lesbian) hints in 2011’s Puella Magi Madoka Magica—which are not unambiguous or inarguable—are something new to the genre, when in fact they’ve been around since Sailor Moon at least and have been present in anime more broadly speaking for longer than that.
The essay ends abruptly after the overview with very little of the promised interpretation, but not before this:
Some of them seem to be turning back toward the fairy princesses of an earlier era. The heroines of Happiness Charge Pretty Cure, for example, combine the “girl power” and appeal of Sailor soldiers with the traits of the nostalgic princess archetype.
My response: I hope so. The dark and depressing magical girls of the Madoka mold are beginning to wear out their welcome.
… I don’t even know what that is. But it kind of looks cool:
This is in some mysterious fashion linked with the new Facebook page for Jake and the Dynamo. I think you can scan it with your phone using the Messenger app. You might have to print it first.
Back in my day, things you scan with your phone were square and looked like mazes. You kids these days have it easy, what with your pictures and circle thingies.
As an added note, Chapter 2, of Jake and the Dynamo, “Enter the Dynamo,” will appear this coming Monday, just in time for Mother’s Day … at least if you like to get your mom things like free ebook chapters because you’re some kind of cheapskate tightwad who doesn’t appreciate his parents.
Chocolate and flowers, dammit. That’s what your mother wants, not magical girl ebook chapters! Believe me, I know this.
Because she told me last night.
Oh, by the way, like our Facebook page. I promise not to talk about your mom.
“If you have a taste for cartoon satire, magical girls, and bloody violence, then you may find this story is for you.” —Starbat
In the near future, most of the universe has decided that humanity needs to die. Decimated by alien invasions, primordial monsters, demons from hell, and abominations from beyond space and time, mankind’s last remnants have gathered together under the protection of the benevolent Moon Princess … but what was supposed to be a last refuge is instead a perpetual war zone.
Fortunately, the forces of goodness have given us a small advantage—by granting random superpowers to emotionally volatile young girls.
In the midst of these upheavals, fourteen-year-old Jake Blatowski just wants to live a normal life, but fate will instead place him in the path of the city’s most electrifying protectress, Magical Girl Pretty Dynamo. Worse yet, the monsters’ formerly random attacks have begun to exhibit a pattern: they’re all aimed at him!
Now all that stands between Jake Blatowski and certain death at the hands of ravenous monsters is an eleven-year-old girl.
I stumbled across this article, “Witchcraft in Japan: The Roots of Magical Girls” by Alicia Joy the other day. I make no particular comment on its accuracy, but I find it interesting because it attempts to find roots for the magical girl genre within Japanese folklore regarding witchcraft.
A typical essay on the origin of the magical girl genre will typically link it to the American television series Bewitched, which directly inspired both Sally the Witch and Himitsu No Akkochan, which are typically considered the first two magical girl series.
Joy attempts to find some parallels between a few of the genre’s common tropes and elements of Japanese folklore. Since witchcraft is more-or-less universal in folklore, this isn’t particularly difficult. Still, with the broomsticks and pointy hats that often show up amongst magical girls of the “cute witch” variety,” bowdlerized Western folklore is clearly a strong influence.
The genre evolved from that mostly via infusions of tropes from science fiction and superheroes. The girls’ familiars these days are often space aliens, and it’s typical for magical girl series to explain its phlebotinum via appeal to science fiction concepts such as nanoprobes, though little if any real science will be evident.
I get the impression from the hand-wringing that there are people on the internet who think Hollywood’s casting directors can create actors and actresses ex nihilo. They have to work with what they have, people.
Are you upset about Scarlett Johansson starring in a Hollywood adaptation of a Japanese anime? Okay, then name me an A-list Japanese actress in Hollywood. I mean that seriously; I don’t keep tabs on Hollywood and I am aware that there exist a lot of allegedly A-list actors whose names I don’t know.
Oh, excuse me, it seems most of the internet isn’t complaining that Johansson is not Japanese, but that she’s not Asian. But surely you don’t think Asian people are interchangeable and all alike, do you … do you? If the role of the Major were being played by a Pakistani or White Russian, that is, someone Asian, would you be satisfied?
Tell me: exactly when did Hollywood get Ahnenpass rules? Since when are actors and actresses supposed to be judged on melanin content or genetic heritage rather than, say, talent? It must be quite recent: I don’t remember anyone whinging about white actors in Speed Racer, which was also an American movie based on a Japanese cartoon. Oddly enough, I do remember the internet whinging a great deal about white actors in The Last Airbender, which was an American movie based on … um … an American cartoon.
“But the cartoon characters are Asian!” the internet cried. No they weren’t. They came from magical element land, spoke American slang, and behaved like American teens. They were about as Asian as a pan-Asian cuisine fast food stall, but that didn’t stop busybodies and scolds from tarring M. Night Shyamalan as a racist, which no doubt completely blindsided him: no one has any hope of accurately predicting what will offend the Twitterati and Tumblrinas.
And because the rage and offense of Twitter cannot be predicted, there is no point in trying to avoid giving that offense. The executives at the studio making the Ghost in the Shell movie should answer the self-appointed internet moral guardians with a giant middle finger. If they do, I will see the movie. If they kiss butt instead, I’ll skip it.
It’s not “whitewashing.” It’s just practicality. Movies made in a place cast actors from that place. In Bollywood, it’s customary to depict characters of European descent by slapping a wig on an Indian actor. And I can’t tell you how many anime I’ve seen with allegedly foreign characters who speak Japanese fluently and with a flawless accent. Sometimes they speak their “native” language (usually English) with such a thick Japanese accent I can’t understand them. For example, check out the “English” girl from Kinmoza. It’s pretty funny. But does it offend me that a Japanese woman is playing an English girl? No, because I’m not that petty.
People claiming to be offended by this are trying to introduce a moral principle they cannot possibly apply consistently. The inevitable result will be hypocrisy such as we see in people condemning Johansson playing the Major while insisting we need a non-English James Bond. No casting director could possibly obey such a harsh rule, and historically, casting directors have not. Remember Scotty from Star Trek? Not actually Scottish. How about Sean Connery in Hunt for Red October? Not Russian.
When a person acts, he plays someone he’s not, someone with a different life and different history, and yes, possibly a different race, from his own. That’s why it’s called acting.
And just to be clear here, this is the character we’re talking about:
So I lied. I’ve got my hand in too many projects at the moment, and I won’t be able to finish my review of Nurse Witch Komugi R tonight.
I want to spend my writing time tonight working on chapters 12 and 13 of Jake and the Dynamo. I got in contact with my cover artist today, and I think I can estimate probably two to three weeks before the series starts. It’ll update on a weekly basis, and I need to build myself as much of a buffer as possible.
I’m also finalizing an essay that I’ll be sending off to Sci Phi Journal. The essay is on the subject of the increasing moral complexity over the six seasons of The Powerpuff Girls. By which I mean the original one. The good one.
If you don’t know Sci Phi Journal, check it out. It runs science fiction with philosophical themes as well as popular-level philosophy essays referencing science fiction. I’m spending much of my weekend reading Jean Piaget’s classic Moral Judgment of the Child, which forms the backbone of my essay.