Friday’s Feature – On Magical Girls (2/3)

Right so we’re back to magical girls and this week I wanted to look at the characters and the magic powers that crop up in these stories. While this is where many of these stories differentiate themselves, there are still a lot of common factors between shows.

Alas, I am only going to be looking at the main characters from a handful of anime. There is too much content to get into side characters and villains (though I may do a post on those guys at some point – it won’t be in this series).

So who are our main contenders? Serena (Sailor Moon – original anime series), Amu (Shugo Chara), and Madoka (Madoka Magica).

I’m going to start with Serena (the person who springs to everyone’s lips). How do we describe her?

serena1.jpg
She’s a klutz.
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Who over eats.
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And she’s not particularly bright.
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And she’s a cry baby.

Wow. It’s a good thing she likes cats and rescued Luna or else she was kind doomed as a character. Even her friends regularly run her down but they all agree on a couple of things. Serena is stubborn (and while that is sometimes a negative a certain amount of stubbornness is needed to not just give up on things) and she’s also happy most of the time and loyal to her friends.

As a magical girl, Serena’s path is a long one.

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Her initial transformation aside, she struggles in the early battles to hold her nerve and to use her powers effectively. She regularly needs a pep talk from one of the scouts of Tuxedo Mask to get her moving again and while the threat doesn’t feel very real at times she’d rather let someone else take care of it. However, as the danger intensifies and as Serena ‘grows up’ she begins to embrace her roles as the Moon Princess. Admittedly, it’s midway through season 2 before you see her settle on this and even then she is plagued by the occasional doubt about whether she’d just like to be ordinary.

serena and Darien
Serena and Darien

Serena’s love story is integral to the overall plot as there’s a whole lovers in former lives issue and Serena and Darien’s love regularly saves the plot from falling apart by generating a much needed power boost or saves one or the other from what should be death. While Darien’s presence is very much a positive for Serena’s development, he himself gets very little development or chance to take the lead. It’s a magical girl show so show up, give your speech and then wait on the sidelines until she requires some moral support. I always felt a bit sorry for Darien.

As to the magic itself, Sailor Moon relies heavily on devices. Transformations can be undone by removing brooches and powers rendered useless by knocking wands out of hands. The girls themselves seemingly cannot activate their power without these device and accessories (which makes you wonder how any of the villains ever lost to them when there was such an easy path to victory). The device aside, Sailor Moon is the champion of shouting out attack names and key phrases for transformation in English. I wonder if shouting it louder made your power more impressive?

On to Amu from Shugo Chara.

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I must not smile.

Amu is straight away a different character from Serena. She is cool and admired for being cool and aloof. However, that’s all her outer character and one she has deliberately established. The audience is let on to her inner monologue and uncertainties and we know she’d love to ooh over the cute things and gush at the prince. And unlike Serena, Amu isn’t inherently a magical girl. Nope. She did not get reborn after dying tragically in a past life. Nor was she chosen by destiny. Apparently being indecisive and wishing for a change in your life is enough because Amu created her own magic, even if she regularly regrets it during the first part of the series.

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What? You can’t see the difference? She now has a heart in her hair and she’s ridiculously over the top and exuberant.

Amu’s indecisiveness is crazy. She doesn’t just manifest one alternate personality in the form of a guardian character but three (later four but you know). This leads to a whole range of different transformations, though Amulet Heart is her main go to.

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Yep, I’d look like that too if someone put me in a cheerleading outfit.

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Keep in mind, this isn’t like Sailor Moon evolving in Super Sailor Moon or then becoming the Princess. These are entirely separate identities with totally different powers (more or less the same results though). And then later, of course, we start combining these powers and then things just get silly.

Where Amu is very similar to Serena is the journey she goes through as a character. She matures and stops worrying about petty things quite so much and stops complaining about things not being fair. She learns to just deal with things as they are and take them as they come. She also eventually gets over her ‘Prince’ crush though Ikuto probably had something to do with that.

amu and ikuto

Seriously, who needs a Prince when you have a bad boy whose alternate self is a cat? And unlike Darien, Ikuto actually gets to play a more active role in the story. He stirs up the core group, acts as an antagonist, get’s close to Amu and then disappears leaving her to fret for his safety and try to save him. He (like Darien) also gets brainwashed and has to be saved but then hangs around for the final fight instead of ending up with amnesia in the hospital.

The magic here comes from their guardian spirits (which are like manifestations of their dreams). Problem is, these spirits live in eggs and they can get stolen, sealed shut, or broken. Way to shatter your dreams literally. It’s like someone gave you that thing at school where they make you care for an egg for a week, only in this case if you break your egg you will not only have no super powers but become an empty shell of a human being. Tragic.

Once transformed though, the characters generate weapons and magic appropriate to their character. When she’s the cheerleader, Amu uses a baton or pom-poms. When she’s the artist, she uses a paintbrush. As Su, she uses a whisk (so cute and yet so useless – except for remake, that’s a remarkably useful power for cleaning up supernatural messes). I will point out that I spent a lot of time when I was younger trying to make a heart shape with my fingers like Amu and I am still convinced it is actually impossible to position your hands the way she does and end up with a clear heart. You can put your fingers together but it really doesn’t look particularly heart like.

Finally, we have Madoka. And I know, she isn’t a magical girl until the very end of the series. That’s why she’s included. We have the traditional magical girl (Serena), the slightly more modern and self-aware magical girl (Amu) and now we have the not a magical girl and hesitant to become one because it could cause you to die.

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That’s not the only reason Madoka is interesting. She also has no love interest. She saves the romance angst for her best friends to deal with. All Madoka has to deal with is her rampant insecurity because she feels she has no special… oh wait. She is a modern version of Serena with the self-awareness of Amu. Now the pink pony-tails make sense.

Still, the magical girl transformation is definitely impressive – they do make you wait all season for it. And her power is pretty undeniable (she recreates the entire lore by which magic works). Similar to Amu, her power is based on an inner wish, but in this case manifests by making a contract with the dev… Oh no, just Kyuubey. Close enough. Once a wish is made the magical girls get a soul gem that enables them to transform and then their power is kind of linked to their wish. Though watch out, if you get too far away from your soul gem, well you have no soul. This isn’t a good state to be in as it pretty much leaves you dying in a coma.

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I said their power was kind of linked because it’s a little odd. Madoka though has a bow and arrow, because arrows are cool nowadays, but she has the overly frilly dress of someone who grew up on a rich diet of what a magical girl should look like. It’s almost on par with the parody outfit from Is This A Zombie?

Let’s be honest. None of these girls are going to hold their own in a straight up swordfight. Serena will trip, Amu will be sarcastic and Madoka will wring her hands together in distress as she tries to think of a way to help (though which side she would help is debatable). But what these girls do possess:

  • Loyalty,
  • Honesty, and
  • Perseverance

These characteristics are not bestowed on them by mystic eggs, lockets or creepy bunny things. These are traits they have developed through their lives and are traits that allow them to overcome the trials and hardships they face. And that’s the core of magical girl stories. These characters. For just a little while you can believe that you don’t need to be smart or athletic or particularly talented at anything as long as you keep working hard and growing you will one day triumph.

And yeah I’ve missed a huge amount of points and ideas and haven’t even touched on the other cast members (friends and foes alike) but the post is already long enough so I’m calling it. Please feel free to add your points and argument below.

4 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature – On Magical Girls (2/3)

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  3. I love these posts about magical girls, great analysis! I read all of Shugo Chara, saw the first and fifth seasons of Sailor Moon (and read the synopsis’ of all the others), and I’m a huge Madoka fan, so I totally see where you’re coming from with all this. Thank you, can’t wait for the third one!

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