Of Men and Magical Girls

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Who watches these shows anyway?

Apparently, we do. Magical girl shows have a surprising reputation and an even more surprising fanbase - at least gauging the English anime blog opinion, there seems to be a lot of positive reviews of the genre, or at least microcosms of it - Cardcaptor Sakura is the classic, some of us (me) stand by more recent ones such as Nanatsuiro Drops, and now the latest hit, Shugo Chara.

Admittedly the middle one was originally an eroge but what all three of these have in common, which is why I find this trend surprising, is that they are all 'pure' magical girl shows, unlike what I would like to dub "magical lolicon" shows which pander to more directly of a male base.

Somehow, 'pure' magical girl shows have managed to gather quite the male audience themselves, despite being aimed at an audience half (a third, one-fourth, etc) the age and with twice the X chromosomes. I mean, look at it. (Link through Canned Dogs)

Why is this?

I know they say that fiction warps your views, but I swear I never saw this many girls with purple hair and yellow eyes before I become a Nagatoist.

Despite the stereotypical viewpoint of most magical girl shows as overly feminine and simplistic, this genre is one that could theoretically appeal to a lot of people.

Many viewers watch anime as a way to relax, and shows this sweet and happy-go-lucky fit the bill perfectly. Those looking for a show to relax about will enjoy the genre's easy-to-follow, contained (in a single episode) feel.

Yet it's not beating you over the head with obvious in any case. More likely the carrot is dangling just out of sight. Perhaps there is more plot foreshadowing than the average out-of-left-field visual novel adaptation, but never is everything fully revealed.

At least, that is the case with shows like Shugo Chara, where a large part of the picture is revealed, but all the important bits are still covered up. It's a sort of plot striptease, except with less negative connotations. You know that the clumsy teacher is actually a villain, you know Ikuto's a disgruntled gothic guy who just wants be loved, you know that an embryo does something magic and awesome, but there always are more questions. Why? Who's Utau and why is she so clingy to Ikuto? How will it all play out?

Likewise, those looking for a touch of escapism won't find a world more pleasant, more happy-go-lucky than those of magical girl shows.

It's almost impossible not to crack a smile sometimes with these shows. The fluffy, sugary, and teeth-cracking atmosphere in the magical girl genre may seem a bit excessive at times, but there always seems to be something to enjoy about the show.

Maybe it's the comedy that many of the character provide, another staple of a genre that's close to slice-of-life at times. Maybe it's the feel-good atmosphere that the typical confident and/or optomistic ('zettai daijoubu!') projects. Maybe it's just the sheer ridiculousness of the 30-second transformation sequences and the incredibly hax "time to win" attacks and battles. Maybe it's all of that.

But it's like the tackiest cliches; smile, and the world smiles with you. Maybe people are more critical of shows that want you to cry with them, but the bright attitude of magical girl shows is quite permeating, permitting that it gets past any defenses one might erect against "cheesy" feeling-shows.

In that regard it's almost ironic that Shugo Chara's life lesson is to 'just be yourself' and to ignore what others think of who you are, how you act, and what mahou shoujo anime you watch.

A third, more subjective aspect to the appeal of this sort of genre is the 'inner child' draw of these kind of things. If American movie remakes are anything to go by, going into the way-back machine and seeing what was entertaining as a youth done again, many years later, is something that appeals to many people.

It's not always that these stand up to the tests of time; sometimes the newest version just doesn't capture the same magic, or sometimes one's passion has faded. But quite often these retro trips at least tilt the odds in favor of one enjoying something. I'm already, in my late teens, having cravings for Cardcaptor Sakura days of yore, and the spiritual successors in the magical girl genre as such are a good fix for me, offering some of the old with a bit of a new flavor as well.

I wouldn't say in any case that I could survive solely off the cotton-candy-like substance that is magical girl, but it's something that I won't deny enjoying quite a bit - not for the stereotypical aspects that one expects from these shows, but for the spice; a different romantic premise here, an anti-villain there, a resonant message somewhere along the line, I find the genre as a whole to be a great mix of carrot (foreshadowing) and stick (plot).

Not every anime has to be completely intellectually or dramatically engaging - as I commented elsewhere, as much as I like Key and as I like Clannad, 52 episodes would simply be too much of it for me to stand. Either the show would lose steam or I would die of tear duct exhaustion* before the end of the series. It's just too much to handle.

And that's why I watch magical girl shows and can consider myself proud of it. Balance.

Balance, I tell you!

One thing, however, that makes me wonder. This could very well be a misguided thought; perhaps the large male, non-ten-year-old audience I percieve is due to the fact that There Are No Girls on The Internet (well, almost). Or that those that blog tend to be a pretty forgiving bunch; or that people don't talk about shows they don't watch.

Maybe an ulterior motive, in that those who swear by Rule 34 can still find something loli to obsess about, even in 'pure' shows? Never doubt the fans...

So an informal poll. What do you think of magical girl shows? Would you openly recommend them to other people? Are they as widely appealing as I believe they can be - or is this madness induced by one too many peppy, sugary J-pop songs?**

* I didn't cry at the end of the Fuuko arc, actually. Or Ayu's. Not even Makoto's. I'm a godless communist, I know, I know.
** Damn you, Shugo Chara OP. I swore I would not get addicted to you.


I think Nanatsuiro Drops is still strictly 'magical lolicon' for me, if I would categorize it I would place it beside the first two Nanoha animes.

I think the male viewer who likes mahou shoujo sees a certain charm in those shows in a way that it is a clear and refreshing 'opposite', or catalyst to all the 'other' shows they may like. If you like dark or serious anime you would also like a light fluffy and fun one for balance. If all the anime girls you like are those from the fanservice arena then you may want to look into a magical girl that you absolutely can't fantasize about. But in my case I really got into anime because of CCS, so I'm a real example of how a mahou shoujo anime can attract a male mainstream audience.

I think the main reason why Shugo Chara has attracted a male 'otaku' audience is because it was a story from the makers of Rozen Maiden. So I don't think those guys in the Shugo Chara event are what you call 'normal' male audience.

As a person who isn't interested in cursing, blood flying everywhere, fist-fights or large battles, or normally-covered skin showing up every few seconds, there's a large majority of shows I'll skip over. What am I left with? Magical girl and similar shows.

I started out with Sailormoon, the original English dub. Looking back on the series (having seen more than half of it in Japanese, mostly missing out on S and SuperS), I'm not sure I'd be able to re-watch it, or even fill in the missing episodes I never saw. Length is a big issue, but there just doesn't seem to be worthwhile plot or, really, and actual character growth. So, "magical girl" alone isn't enough to catch my attention. There has to be a little bit more, at least.

Now, Cardcaptor Sakura I was expecting to not have much to it when it came to plot or character growth, and it had both. Took me quite by suprise, I must say. Add to that Sakura being so adorable of a character, and it would be hard for me to not like this series. The only downpoint is the length, which makes it difficult to re-watch (unless I skip some of the less interesting episodes, such as the early one with the card moving toys around).

If I were going to recommend to someone a magical girl show, I'd pick a shorter one. This is where Princess Tutu comes in, because it's light on the "magical girl" and heavier on the "fairytale fantasy". The story begins light, but there are a lot of hooks early on, things to make you ask, "Why is this? What will happen now? What is this character's motivation? Why is the teacher a cat? What, that character is also from the fairytale? What's real and what isn't?"

Another series I like is Ojamajo Doremi, although I've only seen the first two series of it. This one is more "sit back and relax" than Cardcaptor Sakura, as the plot is lightweight, and there's little happening with the characters. It's almost "slice of life with witchcraft on the side". These things which failed in Sailormoon work in Ojamajo Doremi. However, it suffers from the same number of episodes as Sailormoon (and super-high priced DVDs, not even counting the OVA which is something like US$30 an episode, with 13 episodes total).

Were I going to show a "magical girl" series other than Princess Tutu, I'd go with Petite Princess Yucie. However, this one's only for someone I know would like this series. Even then, it can fall a bit flat with its slow middle episodes when watched by someone at least partially liking of the genre.

If Shugo Chara or Nanatsuiro Drops ever finds itself licensed in the USA (and hopefully one day BOST TV will have series like this appearing concurrently with Japanese televised showings), I'll be sure to check them out. If they're "pure" as Cardcaptor Sakura is, then they may be just the kind of show I'm looking for.

Of course, I'm the kind of person who watches A Little Snow Fairy Sugar, enjoys it, and says, "I heard this was so sugary I'd get cavities, but I don't see it as being sugary at all." Maybe the candy land of sugary sweet shows is my natural habitat?

lol@bluemist comment
Natsuiro Drops has nothing to do with loli, even the game wasn't loli either, so it can't count as a magical lolicon show (plus it doesn't even have fanservices to begin with).

Uh. Nanatsuiro Drops. By loli, I don't think he meant that the girl is physically younger then the guy character but that the girl was almost half the height of her love interest (made the kissing scenes a mite awkward). But since it's a magical girl show that originated from a dating sim, it does seem to fit the bill of a magical girl show catered to guys.

I agree about the Nanoha categorization too. It's magical girls with the traditional friendship, try your best!, and cute costumes abound but it's also focused on action scenes and lots of girl on girl subtext.

>>* I didn't cry at the end of the Fuuko arc, actually.

Are you human at all?

(Side note -- I think the 'read more' link on your 12/03 Shrodinger post broke your blog. Since I can't view anything past that.)

Gah, I didn't get mail for the first four comments so I go to reply to a short comment and I find a whole lot. XD

bluemist: Nanoha and Rozen Maiden, I suppose, are two of the Big Things recently that I haven't seen, so I can't quite comment a lot on that.

Yeah, I don't expect the guys from the picture to be the pure-show type; it was a bit of a stretch made to illustrate the point that Shugo Chara is being pretty well recieved around the blogging community (which is mostly male). I don't know which audience composes a higher share, though.

And regarding the NanaDrops debate, I think I might have to revise it to a category of its own. It's not 'magical lolicon' in my sense of the definition for sure (a magical girl show enjoyed mostly by guys, with fanservice elements usually; think Moetan) - even if it was an eroge originally, the anime was blindingly shiny clean, replete with far-too-catchy J-pop openings.

But I could see why it could be slanted towards guys as well, and it's tough to tell whether Sumomo or Haru should be considered the main character.

It probably hits best that niche of 'romance orientated toward males', where while the romance may be a bit tacky and guy-escapist, it's pure enough that both genders can enjoy it.

chris: Yeah, to be honest I still fastforward through the actual transformations and battles - it's the characters, somehow, that draw me in.

I don't know what it is about these kinds of shows and characters that are reasonably realistic and appealing. (discounting the magic part, anyway) Is it one of those shoujo-anime things, I wonder?

And I bow to your knowledge of magical girl anime, the three I referenced were the only ones I really know. I don't know if I'd buy a magical girl show blind but if I see it lying around the library or for rent I might see if you're on to something.

Anon (3): Well, there's got to be one reason I fanboy about Nagato so much.

And to tell the full story, like most 'sad' moments, Fuuko got me to that one "I think if I try to breathe I will tear up" moments...just not flat out-and-out crying.

Sometimes I do feel a bit bad that I'm not human. XD

And I forgot the reason I came to reply in the first place!

harry: Do you mean you can't read any posts past the Schrodinger one? Or you can't "read more" in the Schrodinger one?

I'm not experiencing either problem, though. What browser are you using?

The "Read more" link isn't there. And then nothing else loads past it. It's weird. ^^;

I'm using IE7, but it doesn't normally do things like this.

I can get around it, though. If I view this post on its own page, everything loads fine and I can access the rest of your blog. And I have Firefox, too, for emergencies like this. Just thought I'd report what seems to be an incompatibility. ^^;

Chris Fritz (via laptop) said...
December 8, 2007 at 5:10 PM

The post Harry's referring to has a [span id="fullpost"] and no [/span] in it. Add in that [/span] so the "fullpost" ends, and it will all be fine.

To be fair, I generally don't watch magical girl shows, but I do understand the appeal for much the same reasons that you list here.

Honestly, that tends to be why I like to occasionally watch more light action shows, because there isn't as much pressure on my head and generally I can just float along with the series. Although I'm still undecided about whether I want to try out a Naruto or a Bleach.

But I can see why they'd provide a nice counterpoint to more serious shows.

(Okay, a real comment now.)

Cardcaptor Sakura is my all-time favorite. I think I'm a 'pure magical girl' fan because I am assured that it's a "safe" series. Sailormoon isn't pure magical girl, because it gets a little bad, a little dark, a little "omg the bad guy's going to win" where you're just feeling despair.

But that doesn't happen in CCS. Or if it does, it's only for five minutes while Sakura panics and can't figure out what to do. But then she does, and it's all fine and dandy again. And was there really a villain in that series? Not at all. There isn't one in Nanadrops either. Just challengers.

And so with that safety, you get to drop all your defenses and just innocently enjoy a series with cute characters and a touching storyline.

There was an article about how Japanese men prefer 2D girls over 3D ones... It's because 2D girls can't hurt our feelings, or we can have our private selfish fetishes about being dominant or what-have-you with these 2D girls. So the safe 'pure magical girl' story allows us to be that role partly, as we watch these girls from afar solve their problems and achieve happiness. We're right there with him.

...Now I haven't had the time to invest in Shugo Chara yet, but I've been told it's quite nice and I should like it, given my love for CCS.

harry / chris: I still can't spot the error...everything on the first page looks fine to me (with a "read more" tag and all). >_>

cameron: I'm not much for action shows, but I could see where you're coming from. (Maybe because you're seeing where I'm coming from? XD) It's the same idea with different genre.

Although, sometimes I can't stand too light of a show. Even magical girl shows have some form of advancement sometimes.

harry: I use the term 'pure magical girl' on the basis that such a show contains no fanservicey or otherwise off-color elements that might pander to those looking for something other than a nice, fluffy, happy time.

That said my memory of Sailor Moon is not strong enough to know whether it applies to that or not; but I don't see anything wrong with a little bit of despairing in a show. Didn't NanaDrops have that a bit when Yuki was stuck in, uh, sheep-form?

Still, you're very much right in saying that there aren't villains, just challenges; the story doesn't center around saving the world or whatnot, but instead on watching the lead character develop.

Well, if you're talking about pandering, then CCS might be guilty. :P It's a CLAMP series after all, and while the manga is a little more direct about a few things, the anime touches on various pairings that would make poor Sakura blush.

However, it's all done tastefully if you can consider that; I'm a fan of a majority of the pairings, smile a bit when I see the hints, and still think of CCS as a "pure magical girl" show. They're just little subtleties that make the show a little bit more interesting for older viewers while not tainting the younger ones.

In Sailormoon, characters died. Maybe it was mostly villains, but there was death and darkness. And goodness, how many times must we hear "Don't use the silver crystal; you'll die!" While the suspense sometimes makes for great heroic acts and good endings, it by itself could be a little stressful.

I guess you could argue then that Yuki effectively 'died' when he was frozen in plush form all that time; hm... But I mean, that's so much more trivial than an actual, violent death. x.x Maybe I'm just becoming biased now. Sure I felt sad for Sumomo, but I certainly couldn't relate to her pain, unlike with Sailor Saturn.

I think Chris is referring to the actual HTML/BBcode for the Schrodinger post. It's missing a [/span] tag at the very end of the entry.

Crisu: Yeah, CCS has some off-color pairings (I think yaoi and student-teacher were the big ones), but like you said, it treats it with tact, so that all ages can enjoy it.

Sailor Moon went over my head a lot as a kid, and I watched the (presumably) heavily sanitized English version, so maybe that's why I missed a lot of the death and despair.

Or maybe because I wasn't blogging back then. XD

If what you say about Sailor Moon is right, it's true that it's a lot darker show than NanaDrops. Maybe it just all depends on how much you can foretell the plot; i.e. of course Yuki (Haru), the main love interest, would come back, while perhaps side (?) characters were more expendable in Sailor Moon.

And, hopefully I've finally fixed that [/span] issue. ^^

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