When I discuss magical girls, I have certain go-to titles I like to mention as examples. Sailor Moon is the quintessential superheroine magical girl series. Revolutionary Girl Utena is the quintessential pretentious art-house magical girl series. Princess Tutu is the quintessential unexpectedly awesome magical girl series. Shugo Chara! is the just-plain quintessential magical girl series.
A few weeks back, somebody asked me to elaborate on exactly what I dislike about the Cardcaptor Sakura franchise. I had thought about writing a post on the subject for some time … but realized I couldn’t fit it all in one post. So you get ten. For the next ten days or until I get bored, this is Ten Things I Hate about Cardcaptor Sakura … except I could only come up with nine, so we’re going to skip number four as a way of honoring Japanese superstition.
Of course, to be fair, I should probably mention that when I say I hate it, I mean I hate it with that special kind of hatred known only to fanboys. One of the writers of Battlestar Galactica, I forget which, once mentioned in an interview that a fan wrote him to say, “I hate this episode. I’ve watched it eight times, and I hate it more every time.” That’s fanboy hatred. I hate Cardcaptor Sakura, a magical girl title, with the hatred of a magical girl fanboy.
A few months ago, I got into a discussion about Sakura with some dude on the Internet. He was not himself a magical girl aficionado, and he said that he had expected Sakura to be cloyingly saccharine and sappy, but was surprised to find it a competently produced and likable coming-of-age story. I replied to him that I thought Cardcaptor Sakura was sick and wrong, and that after I finished reading its first of two story arcs (comprising the first six collected volumes of the manga), I felt as if I’d just been groomed by a child molestor.
In the midst of Revolutionary Girl Utena, Kunihiko Ikuhara’s magnum opus, there are a number of screwball gag episodes dedicated to the side character Nanami, a spoiled rich girl who laughs inappropriately, a requisite character in shoujo anime. In one of the most fascinating of these gag episodes, Nanami awakens one morning to find an Easter egg in her bed. Convinced that she must have laid it, she first tries, from embarrassment, to hide its existence, but on account of some misunderstood conversations, she eventually comes to the conclusion that egg-laying is normal for girls. In keeping with the coming-of-age theme of magical girl shows in general and Utena in particular, the egg becomes over the course of the episode a multivalent symbol by turns representing puberty, menstruation, childbirth, and child-rearing.
This one-off episode apparently became the inspiration for another whole magical girl franchise, Shugo Chara!, by Banri Sendo and Shibuko Ebara, the two-woman manga-ka team known collectively as Peach-Pit. They got their start with works aimed primarily at a male audience: the little-known harem comedy Prism Palette, the raunchy magical girlfriend series DearS (which is sort of like Chobits with more bondage), and an action series called Zombie-Loan. In the U.S., probably their most famous title is Rozen Maiden, an unusually classy harem series that’s something like a cross between Pinocchio and Highlander with a veneer of Gothic horror. It’s spawned Internet memes and a modest cult following.
Shugo Chara! was Peach-Pit’s 2006 foray into shoujo manga, appearing in Nakayoshi, a magazine aimed primarily at girls aged nine to fifteen. This same magazine has hosted such titles as Sailor Moon, Sugar Sugar Rune, Saint Tail, and various adaptations of the Pretty Cure franchise. So it’s a magical girl powerhouse. Continue reading “‘Shugo Chara!’”
The greatest fantasy comic of the last 5 years has just ended its publication run in America and nobody cares. Oh well, I’ll just give it an A- and cry sad tears over why there aren’t more fans of Sugar Sugar Rune. —Carlos Santos, Anime News Network
Sugar Sugar Rune, volumes 1-3. Story and art by Moyoco Anno. Translated by Yayoi Ihne. Del Rey Manga (New York), 2006. Rated Y (Ages 10+).
Sugar Sugar Rune may be one of the magical girl genre’s best-kept secrets. From time to time, I see this title named as the best of the so-called “cute witch” magical girl stories. Anime News Network, as quoted above, in 2008 even went so far as to call it the best fantasy comic of the last five years, and also said it has “one of the most satisfying, most creative, most epic endings to a fantasy series ever.” There is evidence for this in how the series gets sold: take a look on Amazon, and you will see that the aftermarket prices are reasonable for the first seven volumes, but then shoot up to ridiculous numbers for the final volume, apparently because people are actually willing to pay upwards of forty-five dollars for Sugar Sugar Rune‘s allegedly mind-blowing finale. Continue reading “‘Sugar Sugar Rune,’ Volumes 1-3”
Alien Nine, story and art by Hitoshi Tomizawa. CPM Manga, 1999. 3 volumes. Rated Age 16+.
Alien Nine is that deceptive kind of manga I like, the kind that starts out looking cute and then grows darker and grimmer. Although its premise suggests a target audience of children and it has a simple and cutesy style, this actually appeared in a seinen magazine, that is, one for adult men. Originally running from 1998 to 1999 and filling three volumes, it in 2003 saw a one-volume sequel, Alien Nine: Emulators. There is also a four-episode OVA adaptation. The OVA only managed to cover half the story before it ran out of money, but is nonetheless a cult classic.
The story revolves around three twelve-year-old girls obliged to protect their elementary school from hordes of goofy little aliens by trapping those aliens and then maintaining them in a vast zoo (or prison) on the school grounds. After introducing this absurd premise, Alien Nine grows steadily more gruesome and violent as the aliens grow more dangerous, until it descends into angst and body horror. By depicting creature-catching as less than it’s cracked up to be, it may be considered a subversion or deconstruction—or whatever the kids are calling it these days—of Pokémon and similar brands.
Alice 19th. Story and art by Yuu Watase. Viz Media, 2003. 7 vols. Rated T+ for older teen.
Yuu (or Yû, or Yu) Watase is a prolific and influential creator of shoujo (girls’) manga whose work, according to her Wikipedia page, fills over eighty volumes. She has explored a few different genres, primarily focusing on teen rom-coms and historical fantasy. She’s best known for her bodice-ripping, wuxia-inspired reverse harem sword-and-sorcery epic Fushigi Yugi, which broke the mold of the schoolgirl-gets-sucked-into-an-alternate-universe brand of Japanese pop fantasy. It’s a gigantic stew of melodrama, overwrought dialogue, lush costuming, hawt bishie boys, dippy romance, rape, martial arts battles, naked chicks, gay jokes, and rape.
How should I characterize Watase-sensei’s work? Remember the old days before Tivo when people used to channel-surf: you’d be flipping through the channels looking for something to watch, and for a brief moment you’d land upon the Lifetime Network, which was “television for women.” And it was always some guy beating the hell out of a woman. Every. Single. Time.
Yotsuba&!, volume 13, by Kiyohiko Azuma. Translated by Stephen Paul. Yen Press (New York): 2016.
I have on my shelf a twelve-volume set of Kiyohiko’s instant classic Yotsuba&!, right underneath my twelve-volume set of Sailor Moon. The twelfth volume had ended in 2013 on a more-or-less satisfactory note, and no more volumes came out for about three years, so I simply assumed the series was over.
Tuxedo Mask, the sometimes useless boyfriend of Sailor Moon, does not, strictly speaking, wear a tuxedo. As I learned recently while researching for a character’s costume in a story, Tuxedo Mask wears white tie, the most formal of formalwear in the West.
The rules of white tie, I have learned, are strict, so it is unsurprising that the most famous formally dressed man in the world of magical girls frequently breaks them. Oh, Tuxedo Mask, how many rules of men’s full dress have you violated in how many different versions? Continue reading “Tuxedo Mask Doesn’t Know How to Wear a Tuxedo”
Evergreen, story by Yuyuko Takemiya. Art by Akira Kasukabe. Translated by Adrienne Beck. Seven Seas Entertainment, 2012-2015. 4 Volumes. Rated Teen.
I grabbed up the first volume of Evergreen to assuage my disappointment when I was browsing the manga section at the local Barnes & Noble and couldn’t find the volume of Shugo Chara! I was missing. I’m glad I did.
I was unsurprised, after finishing that first volume and hunting up where I could get the rest, to learn that the authoress, Yuyuko Takemiya, is also the creator of Toradora!, which is the Casablanca of Japanese high school rom-coms. Like that famous film starring Bogey, Takemiya-sensei’s work is good not because it avoids clichés, but because it uses all of them, and it makes them feel shiny and new. Continue reading “Review: Evergreen”