[The following is a transcript of the introductory video to the Mahou Profile series, viewable on YouTube here.]
Hey there everyone, and welcome to a new series for the channel: Mahou Profile: A History of Magical Girls!
I love magical girls. I have always loved magical girls. Be they cute and frilly, dark and subversive, or somewhere in between, I love stories that spotlight powerful young women without necessarily demanding that they be more masculine to be seen as strong. [cough] Not that I don’t love me some more masculine or androgynous magical girls as well. [swooning sigh]
Anyway, for a while now, I’ve wanted to do something skin to The Idols of Anime, a series produced by my good friend and colleague Viga! That series looks at the history of idol anime one or two shows at a time, giving fun reviews and also talking about the history of the industry and popular culture around the shows. And that’s essentially what I’d like to do for magical girls: a series looking at the history of every magical girl anime ever created. In order. Every magical girl. Everyone.
[clip from Leon: The Professional:
Man: “What do you mean everyone?”
Gary Oldman: “E-VER-Y-ONNNNEEE!!!”]
The goal will be to get a better understanding of where this style of anime began, how it’s evolved, and why it’s still so popular today. Before I can do that, though, I’m going to have to have to first define what I mean by “magical girl”. So, for the purposes of Mahou Profile, a “magical girl” or “mahou shoujo” anime is:
Any animated TV series, movie, OVA, short film, or web series created in Japan for a primarily Japanese audience where the protagonist is a girl or young woman with magical powers, or at least superhuman abilities that appear magical.
Furthermore, this girl’s magic must be significant within the world of the story, usually shown through a contrast of magic and the mundane.
That seems like a pretty broad definition, and yeah, it is! A lot of titles are regarded as “magical girl anime” and they’re all very different from each other, with the only key threads being, well, magic + girl + anime. So those are the only hard and fast requirements I’m going to use for this series.
That said, if you’re new to the genre and not sure what else to expect, here are a few other traits that are common to many—but not all—magical girl stories:
- The heroine may have one or more magical allies or teammates. These allies can be humans, animals, fairies, plush toys, robots, dinosaurs, and various other fantastical beings.
- The heroine may use special items to work her magic. Such items can include wands, lockets, bracelets, makeup compacts, pens, soul-stealing Fabergé eggs, or other highly marketable paraphernalia.
- Special magic phrases to perform spells, attacks, or transformations are often used. [clips of magical phrases: Sailor Moon’s “Moon Prism Power, Make Up”, Cure Blossom’s “Precure, Open My Heart” and Mew Mew Mint’s “Mint Arrow”]
- Speaking of transformations: many magical girl anime feature the heroine transforming into an alter-ego of some sort, be it an older version of herself, a transformative disguise, an alternate persona with different abilities, or a super-powered fighter in a cute outfit.
- Sometimes there are teams of magical girls, mainly appearing in the Sailor Moon era and onward. These teams are often colour-coded and share a common design theme or motif in their outfits, as well as themed hero names, attacks, or transformations.
- In longer series, there will often be “problem of the day” or “monster of the day” episodes, featuring threats or issues that are both introduced and resolved within a single episode and are rarely (if ever) mentioned again. Hey, gotta fill out a season somehow.
- And lastly, many magical girl stories explore a range of similar themes, including but not limited to: the importance of strong female friendships; empowerment through femininity; love and community as sources of power; the fantasy of temporary adulthood; societal perceptions of girls vs. women; explorations of gender identity and sexuality; “witches” and how society treats them; dealing with mortality and death; making sacrifices for the greater good; learning to become a better person; the importance of helping those around you however you can; and of course… SOLVING YOUR PROBLEMS WITH LASERS. [clip: Kira Kira Precure a la Mode, “Animal Go Round” attack]
- Also: BUY OUR TOYS.
So yeah! There are a lot of things a magical girl show can be! However, there are a few things you’d think might count as magical girl which I won’t be covering for this series. I have to draw my limits somewhere, or else my already long list of shows would become near-infinite. So again, for the purposes of this series, here is what we WON’T be talking about:
#1) Magical girlfriend shows. These shows feature magical girls for sure, and they may even be the main selling point of their respective titles! But it still stands that a girl in a show like this is NOT the protagonist. She is the girlfriend or love interest of the actual protagonist, hence the name “magical girlfriend”. For this series, I want to focus on works where magical girls are the stars of their own stories, full stop. That’s not a quality judgement: again, just a way to narrow the field of what we’re talking about.
#2) High fantasy shows… mostly. Plenty of fantasy shows with female protagonists who use magic exist. However, in these high fantasy worlds, magic is often a more commonplace thing than it would be in a story set on Earth. If magic is commonplace (or at least not unheard of) in the world of the fiction, then a girl having magic powers is likely to not raise as many eyebrows, ergo her powers may not be that significant to the narrative, or at least not more significant than the setting itself. Exceptions to this rule would be shows like Magic Knight Rayearth, where the show takes place in a fantasy world, but the protagonists are regular high school students from Earth, which makes their gaining of magic powers significant to the story. There are some borderline cases like Little Witch Academia, Kill la Kill, and Akazukin Chacha, but we’ll cover them in more detail when we get to them.
#3) International productions. This includes shows like Winx Club, LoliRock, Miraculous Ladybug, Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Steven Universe, and so on. Regardless of the quality of these shows or how interesting they might be to discuss, I want to limit the scope of this series to Japanese media only. This is mostly a practicality thing: if I open up the series to international media, my definition of “magical girl” would bring in a LOT of other titles—JEM & the Holograms, Rainbow Brite, Little Wendy, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Powerpuff Girls, Bibi Blocksburg, Atomic Betty, Rainbow Ruby, DC Super Hero Girls, Cinderella, Tangled, Frozen, Moana, and more—which, again, are all great! But that much material would get VERY unmanageable for me, plus then it would take even longer to get to the biggest smash hits of the genre like Sailor Moon and Madoka Magica. As well, the Japanese magical girl genre has so much specific history and cultural context behind it that I feel focusing on them exclusively is warranted in this case.
That said, if there is enough demand for me to cover international productions, or other stuff that may not totally fit this show’s criteria, I may add a Patreon goal for side episodes covering those shows in the future. So if you want to hear me talk about more types of related shows, let me know in the comments and tell me that you would be willing to donate to make that happen.
#5) Hentai. Yes, there are magical girl hentai. No, I will not be covering them, not even as bonus episodes. Not due to prudish-ness! More due to YouTube’s content guidelines. Well, that and also because the history and evolution of hentai would require its own gigantic pile of research in addition to all the research I’m already doing, so… [frazzled sigh] No. No, no, no. Not covering that stuff, sorry to say. (I know, you’re super disappointed. I can tell.)
All right, I think that about does it! Join me next time for our first profile covering some of the earliest ancestors of modern magical girls. Look forward to it, and if you liked this introduction and are excited to see more, please consider supporting my work on Patreon or donating via Ko-Fi or PayPal. I would love to make YouTube a staple part of my career, and even a dollar a month or a small one-time donation helps a lot when enough people do it. Either way, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you next time for episode 1 of Mahou Profile!