While I was a big fan of the 1990’s Sailor Moon, I remember how useless some of the individual episode villains were (and how ridiculous some of their costumes looked). I guess when you are a throw-a-way villain of the week it doesn’t really matter. Still, here’s my list of top 5 Sailor Moon episode villains. My criteria here are that they had to be introduced and killed in the same episode, they came from season 1 of the original 1990’s anime, and they made me actually remember them. As an added bonus, their outfit had to be totally ridiculous (though that more or less goes without saying).
Please Note – There will be spoilers below.
Honourable mentions this week: Murid (because of her dream or illusion ability) and Petasos (because she looks ridiculous).
Number 5: Ramua
Early in the series, Serena and Ami are investigating some cursed clock and they end up encountering Ramua who apparently has the ability to control time. What’s interesting is that while Sailor Moon gets transformed into a child at one point, Ramua doesn’t just cause her to die of old age instantaneously which is what I would think an effective villain would do at that point in time. Anyway, Ramua makes the list because of her striking facial features, and because they make such a big deal later on about Sailor Pluto being the guardian of time and yet here’s a villain playing with it like it is nothing.
Number 4: Garoben
Garoben isn’t exactly spectacular as a villain and her appearance is pretty cliché, though that weapon attached to her hand looks pretty deadly. The reason she’s on the list is because she was the first villain who made me realise even as a younger viewer that Sailor Moon wasn’t your typical girl’s cartoon. She literally grabs Ami by the head and shoves her face at the computer screen. That kind of hands on violence was almost unheard of in 90’s shows aimed at young girls. Whenever I think monster of the week, Garoben is one of the faces that immediately comes to mind.
Number 3: Cameran
Not entirely sure if I got the name right and googling this one got me more confused as I saw more variations. While she was a later villain in the story and wasn’t particularly noteworthy, except for the part where she foolishly zapped herself with her own power which kind of makes her memorable, Cameran is on the list for the sheer ridiculousness of her design. What is with those shoulders? I honestly had to wonder if she would actually be able to even move her arms properly.
Number 2: Blizzar
Okay, take in that outfit for a moment. Are we actually supposed to take a villain literally wearing snowmen that look like they are screaming in pain seriously? Despite that, Blizzar was actually a pretty decent villain of the week. She transformed from a skier who was very fit so actually had some good moves on her. Plus the scouts were separated so it wasn’t like they could gang up on snow-ball girl.
Number 1: Shakoukai
I don’t know if it is the fact that she was a villain who didn’t resort to screaming or empty threats, or whether it was because she’s covered in clam-shells that somehow shoot clay, but Shakoukai (or the English name: Polite Society) was always one of my favourite villains. I liked that even mid-battle she felt the need to correct Sailor Moon’s grammar and was so upset by getting conflicting commands she literally just stopped fighting and waited for Sailor Moon to heal her. All and all, she was an interesting villain though not perhaps the most effective.
Okay, that was my list of Sailor Moon monster of the week villains. Who would you have chosen from Sailor Moon or who is your favourite monster of the week villain from any anime?
One thing I learned absolutely while trying to write this list is I have a clear taste when it comes to how a series title should look on screen. Basically anime titles fall into three categories for me. Completely forgettable, eye-sore, or nailed it. There’s very little middle ground. The ones in the list below are titles that stuck in my mind long after I finished watching the show. They are iconic without being crazy busy with details. More importantly, they fit the show that they are preparing you for. As always this list is very subjective so I’d love to hear your choices on anime titles that have visual appeal and why in the comments below.
Please Note – Probably no spoilers this week.
Honourable mentions go to: Vampire Knight, Blood Lad and Tsubasa Chronicles. Though from more recent titles, 91 Days was pretty impressive and probably deserves a spot on the list below.
Number 5: Sailor Moon (1990’s)
Alright, it doesn’t look like much these days but back when I first saw this anime the opening song and the final shot with the girls striking a pose behind the title really left an impression. You have the main cast, including the cats (even before all the characters were introduced so you knew who was coming), you’ve got the crescent moon in both the sky and behind the title, you have the love heart over the I, and the weird spot light on the scouts with the rest of the background detail left kind of hazy but still quite pretty. By my tastes today, I probably wouldn’t think too much of this title, but the lingering impression it left forced me to concede this title serves an absolute purpose in appealing to the target audience of the show so it deserved a place on my list.
Number 4: Another
There’s definitely something to be said about simplicity and Another get’s it right. Basic red on black is pretty standard, particularly for horror, but the letter design and arrangement, all just that little bit off, adds to the general creepiness of what you are about to watch.
Number 3: Evangelion
When I first thought of this topic for a list, I believed Evangelion would end up being my number 1 choice however when I looked closely at each of the titles in my short list, it just didn’t quite measure up. Much like Sailor Moon, this one has the advantage of me watching it when I hadn’t watched a lot of anime, and it left a lasting impression so even as I look critically at it now, I remember the genuine sense of excitement that title used to invoke in me. Okay, it’s simple text but the colour choice and composition are striking enough to draw you in and the general feeling of a whole bunch of things mashed together kind of fits the story you watch unfold.
Number 2: Attack on Titan
I’ll be the first person to admit, I’m not actually that big of a fan of Attack on Titan. I really enjoyed it and the first episode really did make me sit up and take notice but by the end of season one I found the whole thing to be slowly losing momentum. That doesn’t stop the title being very visually appealing and the promotional posters for this anime, with the title centred and the whole thing causing our eyes to sweep from Eren in the front all the way to the looming giant at the top just works (incidentally this one promotional poster that came with a DVD that I actually have up on a wall because I really enjoy looking at it). The title itself isn’t the most flashy, but it is distinct enough in its choice of font that it is instantly recognisable on any of the promotional materials and is hard to miss when you run your eyes over the spines of many DVD’s.
Number 1: Bleach
Okay, don’t start prepping all your reasons why I am wrong. This title screams what the show is, which is larger than life. More importantly, this basic text title with it’s red, white and blue colour scheme is absolutely recognisable and stands out from the crowd. The flames out the side frame it perfectly. The whole thing is fun and not taking itself overly seriously while at the same time making you feel there’s something more to it.
Bleach actually gets a double hit here because in addition to the series title being iconic every single episode gets it’s own eye-catching thematically appropriate episode title screen. Preparing you for the episode to come in both subject matter and tone (even if you don’t get it when you see it at the start of the episode by the end you’ll know exactly why the title looked like that). Eventually I’ll do a top 5 list of episode titles for Bleach because they have some very cool designs.
Alright, over to you. What anime titles have grabbed your attention?
There’s been a lot written and said about Madoka Magica (or Puella Magi Madoka Magica) since it came out in 2011. For the most part people have viewed this series as a critique of magical girl series in general or at the very least a subversive entry in the genre of magical girls and certainly the show can be viewed in this manner.
Since it came out there have been countless other ‘dark’ magical girl stories and almost universally people have either compared them unfavourably to Madoka Magica or just not felt the same kind of emotional punch that Madoka delivered. While it isn’t really fair to dislike a series like Magical Girl Raising Project because it isn’t Madoka, the comparison from the start was pretty much set in stone and unfortunately the opening episodes of that series didn’t have anywhere near the visual or emotional impact needed to sway an already fairly jaded audience. From reading the reviews, those who stuck with it mostly felt it was a rewarding watch, but many, including myself, abandoned ship early on.
What I find interesting about Madoka, more so than any comparison we might make to shows that have come out after it, is that it is consistently called a magical girl show. What actually sets Madoka Magica apart from every other magical girl show that I’ve watched and every satire of the genre, is that Madoka isn’t a magical girl. This is an origin story for a legend that will be told by magical girls in the world that is created in the final episode of Madoka, but it isn’t a story about a magical girl.
If we make the obvious comparison to Sailor Moon we can immediately see the difference. Episode 1 of both shows starts with a flashback or dream sequence to some major conflict and then our protagonist wakes up in the very mundane and ordinary world and goes about their morning business. These openings are almost perfectly synchronised really and these two aren’t the only ones. Card Captors has pretty much the same opening sequence as do dozens of other shows in this genre. Okay, so I’ve just proved Madoka is following along in the path of a standard magical girl show. Where does it change?
By the end of episode 1, Serena has met Luna, been given her brooch, transformed into Sailor Moon and defeated the first villain (with some help and support from Tuxedo Mask). Sakura has released the Clow cards and partnered up with Kuro to hunt them down in Card Captors. If we look at Shugo Chara, Amu has hatched her first egg and had her first character change. In all of these shows, by the end of episode 1 we know our protagonist is special and can use special powers.
So episode 1 of Madoka?
Yes, there are magical girls and Kyuubey has appeared in all his evil cuteness. Madoka has not become a magical girl. Neither has Saya at that point. Madoka remains an observer of the magic in the world.
And this remains true for Madoka until the very end of the series. The story explores the agony of whether or not to take that final step from the ‘safe’ and normal world into the world of magical girls where you can have a wish granted but the cost it comes with is enormous (and mostly not spelled out in the contract).
To go back to Sailor Moon, this would be like having the story told from the perspective of Molly. She watched her friends transform, doesn’t know the whole story but knows something is going on, wants to help but ends up fretting and hoping from the sidelines. That’s Madoka’s role through the vast majority of the story. The only difference between Madoka and Molly is that Madoka has the chance to change her circumstances whereas Molly is just destined to be a side character.
This is where Madoka actually does become a critique of the magical girl genre. In most of these stories we are seeing it from the insiders point of view. And more importantly, the initial transformation from ordinary to magical is over in an instant. One episode and done. While the character might later have doubts or second guess themselves, they are already transformed and have power so to not use it would be a tragedy. Their path is set and more or less locked in stone and any protests they may verbally make or threats to quit are more or less futile and the audience knows that.
A truly subversive magical girl series might have a member of the team actually quit for real and not have some epiphany and come back. That would actually really mess with the audience expectations to have them genuinely sit on the sidelines and let the tragedy unfold when they have the power to stop it and they choose not to act.
Madoka shows us the story almost entirely from the outsiders point of view. Madoka is the outsider and while initially Saya is also an outsider, Saya jumps in to the world of magical girls and becomes yet another case study for Madoka in the tragedy that is unfolding (and one day I will focus on Saya as the definition of a tragic character but that isn’t the point of this post). This extended belaboring of the ‘choice’ magical girls face finally makes audiences face all those characters saving the world at the risk of life and limb and makes the audience really understand what is sitting beneath all the pretty costumes and love hearts. Madoka isn’t about tearing down the magical girl genre, it is about rethinking the reality faced by the characters and putting a new voice into the forefront of people’s minds.
That Madoka will eventually also choose to step into the world of the magical girls, knowing exactly what her decision will lead to and finding a way to still use that in her favour is a remarkable way to end the show because it combines her transformation, final battle, and transition into legend all into one sequence. Madoka doesn’t become a magical girl and then fight to save the day. She becomes a magical girl and uses that to save those she has come to treasure, creating an entirely new reality where she exists only as a dream or memory in the lives of those she touched. We never get to see Madoka in her own reality as a magical girl because she never exists as one in the time sequence we follow. We only see her as a magical girl in flashbacks to other realities and in dreams.
For me, Madoka Magica will always be kind of special. There’s certainly issues with the narrative in places and some of the characters aren’t as well developed as you would like, but it has done its job at reframing what magical girls are and it has done it in a way that doesn’t take away from the tiara wearing girls before it.
Ultimately this is why the so called imitators that have come after have fallen short. And I know some of them aren’t actually trying to imitate Madoka, but they feel like the writer just grabbed the idea of dark magical girl story because Madoka did well without understanding that it wasn’t the shock deaths and darkness that held the story up. What holds Madoka up is an understanding of what had been missing from all those other magical girl stories and Madoka neatly filled in that gap. This is the origin of a magical girl. This is the agony they face as they leave behind what they know and go to face a monstrous danger. It is also the end of a magical girl as she gives her life and entire being to save the world (with no do-over or last minute reprieve or rebirth). That is why simply calling it a critique or a subversive magical girl story does not begin to do it justice.
We all know the scene. It’s usually about two thirds of the way through the story and the nice character, the one we all love, suddenly gets cut down. What makes it even sadder is that usually the only purpose their death serves is to give our protagonist a renewed focus. yep, the guys that killed your friend are evil. Now you need to go get them back.
Okay, not every sad death scene goes like that. But you must admit it’s fairly common in anime. My list below are the deaths that came in isolation (no group deaths), in non-horror/slasher anime, that serve as a critical plot point and really crushed me. As such, it’s an entirely subjective list. Feel free to add your own in the comments below.
Please Note – There are spoilers below. You have been warned.
Honourable mentions this week go to:Shirou Fujimoto (Ao No Exorcist), Nagisa Furukawa (Clannad After Story), Art (Hamatora), Kuro Sensei (Assassination Classroom), and Mikoto Suoh (K).
Number 5: Maes Hughes from Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood
Kind of a given going into this list that Maes Hughes would appear. Arguably one of the most well remembered anime deaths of all time. What makes Maes stand out (I feel) is that he is a genuinely sweet character, a family man, and very few of the main cast in Full Metal Alchemist die. They get injured a lot and there are some deaths, but Maes is really the only one that get’s treated as a true death with the funeral and the mourning family.
While Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood plays this for the emotional punch and uses it to drive first the Elric brothers and then Mustang into action, Maes’ death is more than just a cheap plot device. It is a devastating reminder that life and death are at the core of the story. If you look at the timing, it has been a long time since the hit from the death of the Elric Brothers mother, and quite a length of time has passed since Nina’s tragic end. There are many lighter moments in the show but they always come back to the darkness at the centre of the story and Maes’ death is definitely one of those moments.
Number 4: Mikage from 07 Ghost
I was really torn about this one. Certainly, I was really crushed when he died (or rather was horrifically murdered after being forced to try to kill his best friend) but then the show pulls the whole his soul is still with you in the form a really cute animal that follows Teito around for the rest of the run time. It kind of takes some of the impact out of the death.
Clearly though, I decided Mikage’s demise was one of the saddest deaths in an anime. I think it is more that Mikage never did anything to deserve anything that happened to him. Sure he helped his friend escape the military and that certainly deserved some punishment, but having his family threatened, being possessed, and forced to try to kill his friend before choosing to die so that neither his family or his friend would be hurt, just kind of sucked all round. This was definitely a sad death scene. (It doesn’t help that the rest of the anime kind of suffers from Mikage’s lack either).
Number 3: Joker from Black Butler Book of Circus
I started noticing a theme in my choices. Characters who aren’t inherently bad but end up on the wrong side of the protagonist for whatever reason or try to turn over a new leaf and get killed in the process.
Joker is a pitiful character. He originally comes off as quite strong and together but it becomes quickly apparent that he is desperately trying to hold up his little sand castle of dreams even as the tide is washing it all away. By the time Joker is killed he literally has nothing left to live for. It is sad and tragic and just leaves you feeling empty inside.
Number 2: R from Jormungand
Hard to believe that any death in an anime about an arms dealer travelling with body guards would get to you but R manages it. In the first season he is almost a non-entity, but he is definitely there. After seeing the second season I went back and watched and began to see how they had managed to make a character who seemed so in the background such a major emotional turning point.
R is working against Koko with the American government, but when one of their agents targets Jonah, R throws caution to the wind to save the child soldier, in the process revealing his duplicitous lifestyle to Koko before getting himself very dead. The impact this death has on Koko is enormous and unlike most of the deaths before it, this one causes the show to pause for some quiet reflection which hits the audience hard.
Number 1: Nephrite from Sailor Moon
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Firstly, what makes a death sad is emotional connection to the characters, and given that Sailor Moon is one of my all time favourite anime, it should be no surprise that I feel an emotional connection to the characters. Secondly, I saw this when I was pretty young and unlike most other cartoons, they just knocked off a fairly major character, on screen, and one who had redeemed himself (kind of), and they didn’t even wait for a season final or something. This was really different from anything else I was watching at the time and I honestly couldn’t believe what I’d just watched. I remember sitting and staring at the screen completely stunned. I wanted to scream, “But he just saved Molly!”
No matter what anime deaths come after this one, I will always remember Nephrite. Even though he was a villain, and not a particularly good one, and even though he was barely in a quarter of the series, his death had real impact.
Well, it had to happen eventually that I would do a Sailor Moon themed list and to be honest, top 5 sailor scouts is an easy start. I’m certain there will be other top 5 lists in the future that revisit our very favourite ditzy heroine. To keep it simple (and so that I could finish the list and not go crazy) I stuck to only Sailor Scouts from our solar system. It just seemed to make more sense. Also, I stuck to the 90’s anime adaptation when making my decision. If I ordered the characters from Crystal, they’d probably be in a different order and I have not read the manga.
Feel free to share your favourites (or your order) in the comments.
Please Note – There are spoilers below. You have been warned.
Honourable mentions this week go to Venus, Mars, Uranus and Neptune. Also, an honourable mention to Tuxedo Mask. Which kind of tells you who is on the list, but the question becomes, what order?
Number 5: Sailor Moon
Maybe it’s sad that the title character only just made the top 5 and was nearly edged out by Mars or Uranus. However, Sailor Moon is just not that good of a Sailor Scout. Her most amazing moments come when she is transformed into the Moon Princess which I don’t really count as being a scout. Sorry, Serena, but as a scout you just aren’t quite as interesting as some of the others.
Number 4: Sailor Pluto
Right from when we were first introduced to Pluto as the Keeper of Time, standing and guarding the doorway, I loved Pluto as a character. She seemed so sad and tragic and yet powerful at the same time. Later, she gets more involved (for reasons that are not explained in the 90’s anime) and she is every bit as awesome as she appeared to be. The reason for her placement at number 4 is her impact on the series is fairly negligible. Really, anyone could have been the door keeper and after that, Pluto is interesting but non-essential.
Number 3: Sailor Mercury
The much needed brains of the group, Ami regularly is overlooked because she isn’t as active in some of the fights. That said, despite being mostly the brain, when she needs to, Sailor Mercury dives in to the battle. Her confrontation with Tuxedo Mask in Season 1 was superb and her chess show down in Season 2 (combining combat and brains) was a real shining moment. She’s definitely an asset to the team.
Number 2: Sailor Saturn
It’s really hard to imagine that Sailor Saturn wouldn’t be on someone’s favourite scout list. She’s beautiful, fragile, and yet terrifyingly powerful all in one plot defining package. Hotaru stole the show during season 3 and her being transformed back into a baby was one of the most emotional moments I had while watching the original series. Plus, her uniform is one of the most adorable (not really the main point of the list but it is one of the better looks). Also, her weapon actually looks like a weapon and not a cheap toy.
Number 1: Sailor Jupiter
I’ll admit that Lita might be a bit of a sucker for a cute guy, but as Jupiter she’s physically the strongest of the inner scouts, her power (originally) shoots lightning at her enemies (and occasionally her allies), and she’s the only one of the original group that never turned their back on Serena during Rei and Serena’s power squabbles. She weaponises earrings, cooks up a storm, is competitive and yet super sweet. Sailor Jupiter is a great character and my personal favourite Sailor Scout.
For those of you who are still with me after my fan-girl list, who would you have included and in what order?
My very first Top 5 list featured our fiery red headed females, so now it’s time for the characters with blue hair. I will eventually run out of hair colours but I’ll space them out given there are so many other topics to cover. Next week I will cover the anime guys and that’s a list I’m really looking forward to.
So what is so special about blue hair? Other than its a colour you don’t normally see outside of anime, it tops some of the most interesting characters around. I actually started with a phenomenally long list of characters I wanted to feature in this list and slowly whittled it down. My final decision came down to how interesting they were as a character and how distinctive their hair was within their anime.
Please Note – There are spoilers below. You have been warned.
Honourable mentions to Rei Ayaname (Evangelion), Wendy and Juvia (Fairy Tail), and Tsumiki (Acchi Kocchi).
Number 5: Touka Kirishima from Tokyo Ghoul
Touka isn’t exactly a nice character. Her first encounter with Kaneki is anything but nice, and yet she does take him under her wing (I promise that wasn’t a deliberate pun). Touka’s hair isn’t exactly amazing but the style is perfect for her as a character. It kind of insinuates that she’s hiding who she is and keeping the world at a distance, while at the same time allows her to look completely cool and ice cold when she lets herself go. She’s a great character in a dark anime and one who suffers from a lot of inner conflict.
Number 4: Tabitha o Tabasa from The Familiar of Zero
I’ll admit this one might seem left field but even in amongst the many female mages in this anime Tabitha stands out. She’s a total book worm and usually lost in her own little world but when she get’s serious she’s unstoppable and there’s a lot of pain hidden behind those glasses. Mostly a laconic character she still manages to give her friends the advice they need and speaks up when the occasion calls for it. So what’s not to like about an incredibly smart and power magic user who regularly steals the scene with her cool headed and direct approach to the situations the characters find themselves in?
Number 3: Kaname Chidori from Full Metal Panic
No matter how I look at it, Kaname deserves some sort of medal. She’s kidnapped, has medical experiments performed on her, and assigned a body guard that just does not get Japanese high school life and yet she still manages to take most things in stride. She does get a nomination for most useless hair ribbon ever (and if anyone can explain how it even stays in her hair I’d be thrilled). I think it is Kaname’s contrasts between super focussed and serious and extreme violence (in the nicest possible way) that makes her stand out. She’s responsible for a lot of the humour and a lot of the darkest moments in the series, but where she really shines is in Full Metal Panic Fumoffu which focusses far more on Kaname and Sousuke’s everyday school lives.
Number 2: Rikka Takanashi from Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions
I’ve featured Rikka before in my list of eye patch wearing characters. This time it’s her hair that has our attention. While I’m still on the fence about whether her hair is blue or purple, it is definitively Rikka. In addition to her amazing and distinct sense of style, Rikka is just an incredibly fun character to spend time watching. Whether she’s lost in a delusion, struggling with maths, or coming to terms with her emotions, she is always entertaining (if occasionally heart wrenching).
Number 1: Ami from Sailor Moon
Okay, we probably should have predicted this one. From the original 90’s series, Sailor Mercury was the only scout with any sense and all of the scouts would have been dead at least ten times over without her around. While her bubble power’s effectiveness is questionably, there is no doubt that once she powers up in season 2 she is a very valuable member of the fighting team. Besides, Ami was one of the only scouts to go straight up against evil Prince Darian and she succeeded at getting the crystal away from him and saving all of the trapped rainbow crystal carriers. And she did it without backup. Ami, you rock.
So that’s my top 5 but who would you have put on your list? Next week, we will definitely check out the guys.
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?
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
We know all the titles: Sailor Moon, Card Captor, Shugo Chara, Kamichama Karin, and so on (there are a lot of magical girl anime out there). We also know the parodies: Cute High Earth Defence and Is This A Zombie. We know the darker magical girl shows that are starting to emerge: Madoka Magica and every following magical girl show. So why are magical girls so popular when essentially every one of these stories (whether it is trying to be cute, fun, funny, or deadly serious) is kind of identical at its core?
To really get into this genre of anime I’m going to break the post up into a few parts (so a few features until this one is done).
Firstly, what is the basic narrative structure of a magical girl story?
Secondly, who are the basic characters and what is with character transformations?
Thirdly, what about the magic itself?
Fourthly, what about the exceptions?
Finally, why isn’t there an equivalent magical boys genre (and Cute High Earth Defence does not count)?
I’m just going to look at narrative today and then I’ll group the others into two posts each given characters and magic are intrinsically related and the exceptions and magical boys will go together reasonably well.
Keep in mind, everything here after is my own opinion and I am a crazy Sailor Moon fan so I doubt I’m going to be as critical of this genre as I would need to be to actually pull it apart.
1 – The Basic Narrative
I don’t know how many magical girl shows you have watched but with few exceptions they start the same way. My main examples are coming from Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura but I’m trying to keep the information generic.
Usually there is some kind of hook. A look back at some ancient catastrophe or a puzzling dream that is suggesting some disaster in the future. While this is usually great for grabbing your audience’s attention and gives a frame for the narrative as a whole, it serves a greater purpose. Most of the first episode of these shows will feature very little actual magic and usually it isn’t until the end of the first episode that our magical girl will actually do anything magical so this is kind of the only chance to show off something supernatural and cool in the first half of the episode. It also gives a more serious tone to what might otherwise seem like a fairly frivolous show.
After hooking our attention we then meet our protagonist usually waking up and frequently late for school because they are inevitably still a student and somewhat of a flake – okay that is less true in the last fifteen years than it was in the 90’s but clichés exist for a reason. Regardless, we meet our very ordinary school girl doing very ordinary things. Usually there is a dressing sequence (putting on a school uniform, adjusting their hair, putting on their knee pads – nope that one was just Sakura because she fell victim to the roller blading craze poor dear). We’ll discuss the inevitable dressing sequences in more detail when we look at the characters.
Then we go to school. This is where the shows start branching out but there are a few commonalities.
The basics of the first episode include introducing the ‘normal’ friends who may or may not ever be involved in the magical side of the story. We learn what our protagonists are good at and what their insecurities are (in a highly manufactured fashion – Serena tossing her exam paper over her shoulder and hitting Darien highlighting both her lack of school ability and social skills in one quick scene).We learn that deep down inside this girl is a good person despite all of their faults and absolute ordinariness. These are all very important things to know if the story is going to hold together.
Because then things change.
If we didn’t spend all of this time establishing a base line for our character would we know or care about how magic changed their life and the strain it put on their ordinary existence? And how could we know about their incredible development as a character unless we had a starting point?
The catalyst for change can be more or less anything (as proven in the parody Cute High Earth Defence when it is a pink wombat from space that gives the boys their magic powers). Cards, eggs, rings, brooches, wands, and more or less anything else you can imagine (that would make for good product placement and something pretty you can sell people – oh that’s just me being cynical, never mind). Sometimes they tie it up with destiny (you were reborn or chosen) but other times it is convenience of circumstance. You’re here, you can activate this, go. Almost always this coincides with a villain attacking for reasons that will later be endlessly explained – don’t worry. It might also be worth noting the number of talking animal and mascot characters that are involved in this catalyst for change.
Normally our protagonists then go through a few different emotions (usually in very rapid succession). Denial, incredulity, acceptance. Must admit, our modern magical girls have learned from their predecessors. They are less likely to take the talking cat at face value because they know that the whole magical girl thing isn’t all its cracked up to be. Plus, those outfits are pretty embarrassing.
There’s usually a fight sequence of some sort and then we can get onto the next episode. It’s interesting how most magical girl shows fall into a bit of a rhythm at first. Normal day, monster appears, fight it, defeat it, back to normal day. During this time, we see our characters grown and develop and learn about their powers, new characters and rules are introduced and all of the logic behind the show is firmly established and they better not break their own rules later. What also happens in most of these shows is the lore is being established. Who are the good guys and why do they fight? Who are the villains and why are they attacking? And the whole sequence may seem repetitive but it is gradually ramping up to a point where it can get away from character and world building and into the story itself without having to stop for explainers (the final pivotal reveals are of course held off for later – like how the Moon Kingdom was actually destroyed got its own episode right before the final battle sequence).
At some point, even the frilliest of magical girl shows will start to take a turn for the darker side. Maybe that villain is unkillable, maybe someone got hurt, maybe the protagonist loses their confidence or their resolve, or maybe things just got a lot more dangerous, but for shows that generally begin all cuteness and light they inevitably turn dark.
This gives the audience another chance to rally behind our heroes as they prepare for a final battle where the stakes have been made very real. The result of the final battle may be a foregone conclusion but you still sit on a knife’s edge hoping your favourite characters make it through unscathed (though by season 3 of Sailor Moon the scouts death’s have ceased to have a whole lot of impact).
And there we have a magical girl narrative. With that basic structure you could even argue that Soul Eater (with it’s heavy focus on Maka) is actually more akin to a magical girl story than an action or supernatural story. Though, Maka at least fights with more than pretty coloured lights and sparkles but we’ll save that for our discussion on characters and magic.
So, what did I miss? What are your thoughts on magical girls in anime?
This final episode of season 3 is everything it needs to be and not one thing more. It effectively ends the bad guy (though Sailor Moon herself had much less to do with that than you might expect – go Saturn and Pluto combo), the scouts have all advanced to high school and they set up season 4. All and all, a great way to end. A few niggles remain, particularly the fact that so little had been said about their studying for advancement to high school that you kind of forgot the scouts even had a life outside of fighting bad guys. Also handing Hotaru over to the outer scouts (when they spent a large part of this season advocating killing her) without any kind of discussion seemed a little silly.
Anyway, I loved Sailor Moon Crystal season 3 and I’ll do a full season review soon.
I know that these powers aren’t going to be the flashiest, but I’m listing powers that would be immediately convenient and practical in the everyday life of someone. So not a power to save the world or fight the bad guy. Powers that just make everyday life that little bit simpler and easy to deal with.
What powers would you have added?
Please Note – There are spoilers below. You have been warned.
Honourable mentions this week go to computer hacking (Captain Earth – and I know it’s not really a power but she does claim to be a magical girl) and a shout out to Orihime in Bleach because her power is pretty handy even if they keep changing their minds about what her power actually is.
Number 5: Silencer (Hitsugi no Chaika)
I’m going to be honest. This power isn’t so much one with a practical application as one that would just make life easier to deal with. No more noise because we are going to silence it. In the anime they use this power to cover the sound of smashing through jail bars, but just think how useful it would be during meetings and boring lunch dates.
Number 4: Luna PenTransformation (Sailor Moon)
something unexpected came up? No problem. Whip out your luna pen and transform into whatever you need to be to deal with the current situation. I always felt Serena under-utilised the abilities of this pen given how useful it could have been in certain situations. She does use it to sneak into invite only parties and to give herself a boost of courage when infiltrating a school or a bus, but really. There are so many more moments when a quick transformation would have helped. But even those moments when you just wore the wrong shoes could be overcome in an instant.
Number 3: Speed Reading (Fairy Tail)
Maybe this one is just a personal preference. But I read a lot in my job (and for pleasure) and I read very quickly, and even then I still feel that if I could just read faster and take information in quicker I could enjoy more stories and I could get more work done. Levy (and Lucy) use special glasses to help them read faster and I just felt so incredibly envious of them.
Number 2: All Seeing (Inu X Boku)
Okay, this one could probably end up being used for creepy purposes but I thought it was kind of cool. Zange claims to be able to see everything about everyone, but it seems like his power is a little more limited than that. Still, his insight into others and his seeming ability to figure out where and when things will happen and to manipulate events to make things happen is pretty impressive and would be highly useful in everyday life. Although, if everyone had this ability I assume that each person’s vision would cancel out the others so we’d probably end up no further along than we are now.
Number 1: Teleportation (A Certain Scientific Railgun)
This was the obvious choice. As annoying as Shirai is as a character, her power is incredibly amazing and has so many practical applications. She teleports herself and objects through space (though she is limited by weight and distance). Still, how amazing would that be and how many ways could you use that in a single day. Although, if we are concerned about the growing obesity epidemic than maybe it isn’t the greatest idea to give us a means to completely avoid moving within short distances. I still think it would one of the coolest powers and one that I could see a use for every day.
What do you think of the list? And what power would you have added? Let me know in the comments below.