The Creation of Cutie Honey (Mahou Profile! Cutie Honey: The Miniseries – Part 1) [Script]

The Creation of Cutie Honey (Mahou Profile! Cutie Honey: The Miniseries – Part 1) [Script]

[The following is the script of part 1 of Mahou Profile’s Cutie Honey miniseries, viewable on YouTube here. This post to be updated with an accurate video transcript and citations in the future.]

Hey there everyone! Quick heads up before we start this whole endeavour: the Cutie Honey franchise is infamous for its depictions of nudity, violence, sexual humour, and sexual assault. While I will not show anything that violates YouTube’s content guidelines, discussing this show will inevitably lead to topics and imagery which could still be sensitive to some. For these individual video parts, I will include a listing up front with general content warnings for each part. Here is the content warning for Part 1. 

And with that… on with the show.

[roll Mahou Profile opening]

Hey there everyone and welcome to Mahou Profile: A History of Magical Girls! We’ve seen a lot of wild stuff in the early days of this genre—little witches, magic mirrors, mermaids, ninjas, cyborgs, and the most bizarre attempt at sex ed ever aired on television. However, in a weird way? All the shows we’ve profiled thus far have fit a similar mold. Every magical girl anime up to 1973 was, to some degree or another, a whimsical slice-of-life story focused on funny antics, problem solving, and the occasional dip into melodrama and character building. Some of them just… happened to involve more gun-wielding hobos and magic zygotes is all.

And honestly, if you squint hard enough, you could argue that the subject of today’s episode fits this mold as well. After all, it was produced by Toei Animation, the same studio who produced all but one of the pre-1973 magical girl anime. It’s about the daily life of a girl with extraordinary powers who helps people out with their problems. It has its fair share of melodrama and character moments. And the heroine’s most notable power is transformation, which by this point was a fairly common trope in the genre.

That said, it would be disingenuous to claim that today’s subject isn’t at least a little…  [insert some action-oriented clips] …uhhh… [relatively tame but suggestive clips here] …different, let’s say. 

Yes, groundbreaking to some. Horrifying to others. Arguably both to just as many more. Today we are discussing the origins, success, and legacy of Cutie Honey.

Part 1 – The Creation of Cutie Honey

[opening footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYCzN6SKEy4]

As we discussed last episode, in 1973, Toei was workshopping pitches for two similar shows about transforming female cyborgs. Both of these pitches were competing for placement in NET’s highly desirable Monday night “majokko” (or “little witch girl”) timeslot, where past magical girl megahits such as Sally the Witch and Himitsu no Akko-chan had first aired. One of these pitches ended up being the ill-fated Miracle Girl Limit-chan (see the previous Mahou Profile for more on that). And the other pitch came courtesy of a little company by the name of Dynamic Productions.

Oh, and when I say “little company”? I mean that very literally. Dynamic Productions was tiny. It consisted of one manga creator, his brothers, and a couple of his assistants. That’s it. And that manga creator’s name? Was Go Nagai.

So. Go Nagai is another one of those big, intimidating creators to talk about. The sheer amount, breadth, and reach of his work is staggering. To hit just a few highlights: he is considered an innovator for popularizing explicit sex and violence in modern manga. He forever changed the mecha genre with the invention of the piloted giant robot (seen first in his series Mazinger Z). And then forever changed it again with the first combining robot in Getter Robo. As well, the epic themes and aesthetics of his dark hero series Devilman would influence a wide variety of creators, including shoujo manga supergroup CLAMP, Neon Genesis Evangelion director Hideaki Anno, and celebrated indie director Masaaki Yuasa, who helmed a stylish new adaptation of the Devilman series in 2018 called Devilman Crybaby.

And finally, among Nagai’s many accomplishments, he helped to marry science fiction and tokusatsu tropes with the early magical girl genre to create Cutie Honey: the first ever magical girl warrior anime.

Yeah. Dude’s done a lot, let’s say.

Now, Nagai is mainly known as a manga creator, and we’ll get more into that side of things in a later part. However, early on in his manga career, Nagai made several important connections with the television and animation industries. One of his first ever works was a 1967 manga adaptation of the anime Chibikko Kaiju Yadamon. [onscreen text over an image of the magical girl Yadamon: “No relation.”] A couple of years later, Nagai’s breakout hit Shameless School received film and television adaptations, both live action. While this seemed like a great deal for Nagai as a young creator, due to his inexperience with contracts, he ended up receiving only a tiny fraction of royalties from these productions. Understandably, in April 1969, Nagai and his brothers formed Dynamic Productions as a way to protect his creative rights going forward.

Then in 1972, Nagai began serializing both Devilman and Mazinger Z. Working with Nagai through Dynamic Productions, Toei Animation produced anime adaptations for both series, airing them near-simultaneously with the original manga runs. And given that the Devilman and Mazinger anime both became gigantic hits for Toei? They were more than happy to work with Nagai on further projects. 

So in the wake of Devilman and Mazinger, Nagai had a meeting with Ken Ariga, a producer and planning director at Toei, to discuss ideas. In this meeting, Ariga asked if Nagai could pitch something involving the idea of “seven transformations”. This may sound like a weirdly specific request, but according to the preface of a 1992 reprint of the manga, Nagai explains that he was pretty sure where this idea came from. At the time, one of Toei’s popular film titles was a series of mysteries featuring the character of Bannai Tarao, a private eye and master of disguise often called “The Man with Seven Faces”. [relevant Bannai Tarao clips] Bannai Tarao wasn’t the only series to use this “seven faces” trope either. Others include Kotohime Shichihenge (a period story about a swordswoman with seven forms), Seven Color Mask (Toei’s first original superhero series, also about a hero with seven forms), and Warrior of Love Rainbowman (featuring another hero with, you guessed it, seven forms). 

If these inspirations are accurate, then the roots of Honey’s transformations reach back much further than the television era. All of these characters likely had seven forms as a nod to the kabuki tradition of “hayagawari”, or quick costume changes. Indeed, the man who most often played Bannai Tarao, a veteran actor named Chiezo Kataoka, was a kabuki prodigy in his youth before leaving the stage behind for the world of moviemaking. His experience with the art form shows in his methodical and subtly heightened acting in those films. 

While “hayagawari” can refer to any on-stage quick change, there are several popular kabuki productions which specifically call for one actor to take on seven different roles throughout a performance, each with their own associated quick change. [relevant stage show clips of The Seven Roles of Osome] This trope is often referred to as either “nanabake” or “shichihenge”, both of which roughly translate to “seven transformations”. It was this long-standing trope, “shichihenge”, which producer Ariga was likely invoking. After Cutie Honey, the trend of heroes with multiple forms would continue on in countless anime and live action tokusatsu series thereafter, making Honey an extremely important bridging point between old tropes and new.

In any case: Nagai gave this whole “seven transformations” idea some thought and decided it would be a fun thing to do with a modern female protagonist, likening the concept to a model showing off outfits at a fashion show. Not to mention a heroine with multiple forms would be very easy to turn into a line of dolls for young girls go go capitalism vroom vroom cynical marketing decisions V8 baby let’s go. Each of the seven forms might represent a popular occupation that girls may want to be when they grow up, for instance. With that in mind, Nagai agreed to develop this new transforming heroine idea for Toei.

As he workshopped the concept, Nagai added some science fiction elements to the mix, as he had always been fond of the genre. More specifically, he drew some major inspiration from one of the most iconic figures in science fiction history: The Maschinenmensch, or “The Machine Man” from Fritz Lang’s silent film classic Metropolis.

If you’ve never seen Metropolis (and you should, it’s great): about midway through the story, an evil scientist kidnaps a young woman named Maria and uses the Maschinenmensch to create a robot duplicate of her. This robotic Maria then goes out to sow chaos in the original’s place. And one of the most famous parts of the film is a scene in which “Maria” performs a flashy, erotic dance to influence a mass gathering of people. [clips from the dance] Nagai, being the unabashed horndog that he is, no doubt found the idea of a sexy, powerful robot… appealing, let’s say.

So Nagai developed the idea of Honey Tachibana, a teenage android who could transform into seven different forms. At this point in development, the project title was not finalized. Early proposals did use the name Cutie Honey, but for some period of time in between conception and final release, the working title for the show was Honey Idol. I haven’t been able to confirm exactly why the “Idol” part of the title is there. One of her forms was set to be singer/songwriter named Kaoru Murasaki, but I can’t find any evidence that Kaoru was that much more important than any of Honey’s other forms. Plus the meaning of the term “idol” wasn’t as solidified in Japanese culture back then as it is now, so it’s not clear if the title was even referring to her being a performer. What we do know for sure is that Nagai named Honey after the protagonist of one of his favourite American television series: Honey West

Based on the 1957 book series of the same name, Honey West is a 1965 series about the escapades of a fashionable detective named, well, Honey West. One of the first female detectives on American television, Honey had it all—killer looks, a sports car, a gun, disguises, martial arts training, a dashing male sidekick, a pet ocelot, and an arsenal of wild James Bond-esque gadgets. [Relevant Honey West clips here] Given the character’s blond bombshell looks and fantastical gadgets, the association with exotic cats, the strong fashion sense— Yeah, Honey West was definitely more than just a namesake here. Her entire image was embedded in the DNA of what Nagai’s Honey would eventually become. 

Next, since Honey Idol was supposed to be aimed at a female demographic, Nagai added some romance elements to the story, similar to how Toei had used romance in their previous teen magical girl show Mahou no Mako-chan. Honey’s love interest would be a man named Shun Kazami, a handsome young journalist always on the lookout for a scoop. Supposedly this original concept for the series would have revolved heavily around comedy and the romance between Honey and Shun, and would have featured little violence or action. …Despite Honey’s character concept being perfect for an action series. 

Yeah, while feminist movements like women’s lib in the 1960’s and 70’s had made their mark in Japan by this point? There were still a lot of insidious ideas in the country about what girls could and could not watch, and what female protagonists could and could not do. So, despite Honey being designed to have a lot of power, she (much like her studiomate Limit-chan) was going to be restricted in what she could do based on her audience.

To be clear: while there is plenty to criticize about how he has stereotyped and objectified women throughout his work, Nagai has at least always believed that it’s wrong to deny women power due to their gender. We can see this in other early works of his such as The Abashiri Family, which features a tough-as-nails tomboy gangster girl named Kikunosuke. [Relevant Abashiri Family clip here] Nagai’s motives for creating characters like Kikunosuke were, uh, rarely pure let’s say. But the fact that he created these powerful female characters at all is a sight more than most of his peers were doing at least. Not that that’s saying much, but still.

And to be even clearer: all early magical girl anime were transgressive to some degree or another. It’s not just Cutie Honey. After all, they allowed young girls an opportunity to see empowered female heroes saving the day on a weekly basis. This is not a small feat and absolutely should be celebrated. I mean, come on, why do you think I started doing this show in the first place? F’in’… get over it.

However, it should also be stated that very few of these early shows pushed boundaries far enough to truly threaten established power structures. While supernatural powers were involved, most early magical girl shows still focused their weekly conflicts on interpersonal issues or mundane threats such as bullying, petty crime, or environmental issues. Again, not small feats, but—as I pointed out in my Chappy the Witch video—instances of magical girls fighting against more powerful enemies were very, very rare up to this point. As well, in almost all of these early shows, the protagonist either loses her powers or leaves all her human friends behind by the end of the series. Both outcomes effectively communicate the same thing to an audience: that sure, girls and women can have power. But in the end? That power has limits. It can only go so far.

([cough, sidebar voice] Incidentally, the only exception to all of this prior to 1973 was the overpowered ninja heroine Sarutobi Ecchan. And Ecchan just so happened to be created by Go Nagai’s mentor Shotaro Ishinomori. Huh. How ‘bout that.)

So it was a bit of a blessing in disguise when Toei eventually awarded the majokko time slot to Miracle Girl Limit-chan instead of Honey Idol. This meant that Nagai and his team now had an opportunity for some retooling, which they gladly took. 

Eventually the show ended up being scheduled for Saturday evenings at 8:30 PM as part of “Majuu Kaijin Daihenshin!!!” (or “Demon Beast Monsters’ Great Transformations!!!”). This was an hour-long programming block for shows featuring transforming heroes. All right, yeah, that makes sense. Not only that, but this was also the same programming block that had aired Devilman just one year prior. What’s that, you say? Another Go Nagai title needs a time slot? Well of course give it the Devilman slot! That makes all of the sense in the world, have at it! …But, well, you see… The only potential issue with this programming block was that it had only ever aired shounen anime (a.k.a.: anime aimed at young boys). And as such, the block had never featured a female protagonist before. Because of course it hadn’t.

Still, this time slot excited Nagai greatly. He was all for introducing a female protagonist to a male audience, adamant that a female hero could be just as exciting for boys as a male one. He was also a fan of breaking expectations and taboos in general, so the idea of creating such a groundbreaking action heroine just really tickled his fancy. (And probably some other things–)

On that note, I have to stress this: as groundbreaking as she was, Honey was not the first action heroine in anime. In his book Beautiful Fighting Girl, scholar Tamaki Saito cites Bai-Niang from 1958’s Tale of the White Serpent as the first example of the “beautiful fighting girl” trope in anime (you may remember her if you watched my “Magical Girl Ancestors” video). And she wasn’t the only one either. Bai-Niang was later followed by characters like Pako from 1967’s Perman (whom Saito also credits as anime’s first ever transforming girl). There was also Princess Sapphire from 1967’s Princess Knight, and Francoise from the 1968 adaptation of Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009. Honestly, there were a lot of “beautiful fighting girls” on Japanese television prior to 1973. Heck, that’s not even getting into groundbreaking female-led live-action series like Suki! Suki!! Majo-sensei, which could potentially be among Cutie Honey’s early influences as well. No, Honey’s main innovations in anime were that she was a solo fighter (earlier female heroes were almost always part of ensemble casts) and that her TV show was aimed at a male audience rather than a female one. That combination is what was unique at the time. We clear here? Okay? Okay.

So, with the time slot and demographic now set, retooling of the show could commence. Unsurprisingly, romance was one of the first things on the chopping block. Honey Tachibana became Honey Kisaragi, and she would no longer have a clear love interest. The team instead reworked the character of Shun Kazami into more of a bumbling sidekick type named Seiji Hayami. The little sister Seiji was originally supposed to have was instead swapped out for two quirky new family members reused from The Abashiri Family, similar to how Osamu Tezuka reused characters in his Star System. These two characters became Danbei and Junpei Hayami, Seiji’s father and younger brother respectively. 

The supporting cast also expanded to include students and teachers at St. Chapel Academy, an all-girls Catholic boarding school that Honey attends. In the final product, Honey’s best friend is a girl named Natsuko, or “Nacchan” for short. Nacchan is sweet, chipper, and supportive of Honey no matter what kind of trouble she gets into. In the manga, she is also extremely gay for Honey and does not try to hide it. While this isn’t the case in the ‘73 anime, future adaptations would bring this side of her character back in full force, so I feel it’s worth mentioning here.

And then there are Honey’s teachers. Oh… golly there are Honey’s teachers. The first is Miharu Tsuneni, a strict woman whose over-the-top rants and harsh punishments earn her the nickname of “Histler” or “Hysterical Hitler” among her students (I know, I hate it too). The second teacher is Alphonne Louis Steinbeck III, another character whose design comes from a previous Nagai work (in this case, she is based on a very similar male character from the manga Kikai-kun). Alphonne is much friendlier than Miharu, but also quite airheaded and prone to obsessive bursts of swooning. Usually over Honey. Alphonne is also gay for Honey. So is Miharu. So is the entire student body of St. Chapel (at least in the manga, anyway). Yeah, if there’s one thing you learn very quickly about Cutie Honey as a brand? It’s that everyone is gay for Honey, either subtextually or explicitly. As I said before, Nagai loved breaking taboos, and in the 1970’s, that included sexual attraction between women. One can only imagine why that might have interested him [laughs] Good god… Anyway, point of all that being: if it ain’t gay? It ain’t Cutie Honey.

(Oh and in case anyone thinks I’m glossing over the fact that Miharu and Alphonne are adults and Honey is a teen? Uh… Yeah just wait, we’ll get to that after the content warning.)

With the focus of the series moving towards superhero action, Honey would of course need some quality villains to fight against. Since the series was already breaking the mould with a female hero, it only made sense to lean in and make the villains female as well. Enter Panther Claw: an international syndicate of super androids led by the evil witch Panther Zora. The disposable goons of the organization are all generic male androids in masks and fedoras, while the higher-ups are all powerful female androids with a variety of weapons and abilities. The head of Panther Claw’s Japanese branch, an intimidating woman named Sister Jill, is the primary antagonist for both the manga and anime. She is in charge of sending out new Panther minions each week to either steal treasure, attack Honey, or both. A predecessor for all the Queen Beryls and Rita Repulsas of the world, if you will. 

Things don’t start out this way, though…

Mahou Profile #008: Miracle Girl Limit-chan [Script]

Mahou Profile #008: Miracle Girl Limit-chan [Script]

[The following is the script of episode 8 of the Mahou Profile series, viewable on YouTube here. This post to be updated with an accurate video transcript and citations in the future.]

Hey there everyone and welcome to Mahou Profile! Today we’ll be covering the first character in our timeline who really pushes the… limit of what many fans consider a magical girl. For hers is a tale of mechanism over magic—more sci-fi than fantasy. 

Her name is Satomi “Limit” Nishiyama, and she is the star of the 1973 series Mirakuru Shoujo Rimitto-chan, or Miracle Girl Limit-chan. In our broad categorization of magical girls, Limit is a “Homegrown Heroine” type–someone who starts out as a normal human girl but gains extraordinary powers through outside means. However, Limit isn’t the typical Homegrown Heroine empowered by a magic item or some benevolent creature. No, the setup here is that Limit suffers a near-fatal injury in a plane crash—and wouldn’t you know it? Her mad scientist father turns her into a superpowered cyborg to save her life. Ugh, parents. Always assuming they know what’s best for you, am I right? [clip: “Parents Just Don’t Understand”]

Yeah, this is less of a magical girl origin story and more akin to something like The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, or even RoboCop. [clip: Six Million Dollar Man “We can rebuild him”] Notably, The Six Million Dollar Man began airing in 1973 (the same year as Limit-chan) and the bestselling novel that both it and The Bionic Woman were based on, Martin Caidin’s Cyborg, came out the year before in 1972. The 1970s in general saw a lot of science fiction films and TV shows interested in themes of humanity and robotics, including but not limited to the original Westworld, Silent Running, Battlestar Galactica, The Stepford Wives, The Black Hole, to some extent the original Star Wars, and Japanese hero series like Kamen Rider and Android Kikaider. Basically what I’m saying is that this was a pretty good time for cyborgs all around.

Other predecessors to Limit-chan include Astro Boy, who has a similar backstory with a grieving parent rebuilding their child as a robot; and 8-Man, a character regarded as Japan’s first cyborg superhero. Apart from him being just generally influential in Japanese sci-fi, 8-Man’s ability to transform into other people and his need to hide his cyborg identity are both key elements that ended up carrying over to Limit-chan.

So yes, Limit has some extraordinary abilities, but mostly because of all the science behind her cybernetically enhanced body. It’s wild, unrealistic science for sure, but within the fiction, it’s clearly just that: science, not magic.

So why include a seemingly non-magical girl like Limit in our history of magical girls, huh? What gives? Well, remember that in the introduction of this series, I laid down a definition for “magical girl” as a genre. It states that the main character must have magic powers… or at least superhuman abilities that appear magical. I added that caveat specifically because there are a few works like Limit-chan out there which are commonly considered “magical girl”—including by their own creators—but which do not, technically speaking, involve any magic.

The most commonly cited example of this aside from Limit-chan is Cutie Honey, a transforming android girl we’ll be talking more about shortly. However, we can also extend this principle to less obvious examples like, say, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Nanoha is undeniably a magical girl series. It has a recognizable magical girl aesthetic, it has the tropes, and… come on ithas“magical girl”rightthereinthenamewHATDOYOU–what are you arguing about? All the “magic” in that series, though? I mean, mild spoilers for season 1 of Nanoha, but that’s all revealed to be just a very advanced form of science and technology. And what’s that old Arthur C. Clarke saying we always hear? “Any sufficiently advanced technology” and such…?

Yeah, my point being: technomagic is valid. What counts as “magic” in a magical girl story is more dependent on the way the story treats it, how characters react to it, and the aesthetics and trappings associated with it. It has less to do with any inherently magical principles at work.

If that’s confusing to you: think of it like how Batman and Iron Man are still considered superheroes despite them not having traditional superpowers. The abilities they do have—technology, wealth, a laser focus on the symptoms of crime rather than the systemic inequalities which create it—are used in such a way that they can still participate in superheroics and create the same sorts of stories that traditionally “powered” characters do.

Likewise, technology-based magical girls, or “technomages” as I like to call them, use their tech in such a way that onlookers usually can’t tell the difference between what they do and straight-up magic. In addition, their stories follow the other core principles laid out in my definition of “magical girl”—namely that their abilities are significant to the narrative and contrast with the mundane world in some way. So, stories with heavy sci-fi settings where the inhabitants are used to a high level of tech? Less likely to be candidates for the genre, although there are some exceptions. [Onscreen text and image: “Example: Nanoha StrikerS”]

Anyway, Miracle Girl Limit-chan in particular is also considered part of the magical girl genre for one other big reason: because it aired in NET’s traditional “majokko” (or “little witch girl”) time slot of Mondays at 7 PM. Despite having a non-witch-y protagonist, this show was clearly meant to be the long-awaited successor to the majokko metaseries after Chappy the Witch. In fact, it was designed to be more of a majokko series than it was originally going to be.

You see, Toei actually had two shows about magical transforming android girls in the works at the same time, both being pitched as potential candidates for the majokko time slot. Limit-chan was being worked on in conjunction with Hiromi Productions, a planning company consisting mainly of former employees from Tezuka Productions. Their idea was in competition with another concept being worked on with Go Nagai and his company Dynamic Productions. And that concept, of course… was Cutie Honey.

If you know anything about Cutie Honey, it sounds wild that that show would be let anywhere near an audience of young girls. However, as we’ll cover next episode, that show was originally planned to be more of a romance-oriented shoujo series, similar to the later Cutie Honey Flash series in the 1990’s. So planning it to air in the majokko time slot made a lot more sense at the time.

However, it was Miracle Girl Limit-chan that ultimately won the right to that coveted 7 PM slot. This was possibly due in part to the strong story concept offered up by manga artist Shinji Nagashima. Now, Nagashima was maybe an… odd choice for the project considering he was known for writing stories aimed at older men. I mean, it’s not that surprising considering every magical girl series we’ve covered up to now was conceived of and written by older men, but still. No, Nagashima was also an odd choice considering his stories were known for their dark and gritty tones.

And sure enough, Nagashima’s original series pitch outlined a darker, more angst-ridden show in line with popular shoujo manga and past majokko series like Mahou no Mako-chan. The protagonist, Satomi, would have sustained mortal injuries in a plane crash and, upon being revived as a cyborg, found out that she only had one year left to live. The nickname “Limit” refers to this one-year time limit. So if you were wondering why on Earth someone would be called “Limit” of all things? Well, that’s why.

Toei really liked Nagashima’s concept of a girl being saved from death by becoming a cyborg. I would guess this is the reason they picked it for the majokko slot over Cutie Honey. However, NET felt the one-year time limit and darker tone would be too harsh for their audience. After some further workshopping, the series ended up more in line with their usual light-hearted majokko formula, although the protagonist retained “Limit” as her nickname for no adequately explored reason.

In the final product, we have 11-year-old Limit living as a cyborg but keeping it secret for fear of being shunned by society. She goes to school, has friends, and tries to help people out with her abilities when she can. To give those abilities more of a “magical” flavour, Limit calls them her “Miracle Powers”. Her main abilities are Miracle Run (which is super speed), Miracle Jump (guess what that one is), and just plain Miracle Power (which is super strength). These powers activate when she turns the pendant dial on her chest and speaks the name of the power she wants to use.

Most interestingly, as I mentioned earlier, Limit also has a shapeshifting ability called “Change Face”. [clip of Limit saying this] This allows her to transform Akko-style into anyone she wants. And she can change back with the phrase, uh, “Change Back”. [clip of Limit saying this]

This seems like it would be one of the most useful abilities in Limit’s roster, and it’s certainly her most “magical girl”-like ability. Strangely though, she doesn’t use it all that often. The problems Limit runs into just don’t tend to call for it. Plus she’s a pretty strait-laced character, so she doesn’t have much motivation to use the ability for personal gain like, say, Akko did in Himitsu no Akko-chan. As a result, this just ends up feeling like kind of an afterthought power for her. Huh.

Limit can also do a few tricks with the help of some quote-unquote “magic” accessories from her father. These include a winged shoulder bag that allows her to fly; a ring that emits a hypnotic scent; boots that let her dance and skate like an expert; a booby-trapped coin purse; lip balm that can write secret messages; a compact with a hidden light that lets her see through walls; and her most-frequently used accessory, a flying beret that doubles as a radio. Well, sort of a radio, anyway. It’s more like an electronic carrier pigeon. To use it, Limit records a voice message and lets the beret fly away to her father’s lab. Her father then listens, records a response, and sends it flying back to her. Rinse and repeat. Slightly more efficient than snail mail. Slightly less efficient than oh, say, a regular-ass telephone.

The last part of Limit’s “arsenal” is a robot dog named Guu. The original pilot version of episode 1 implies that he’s a recreation of a dog that died in the plane crash with Limit (cool fact: the pilot confirms that her mom died in the crash too, sadface). However, in the TV series proper, Guu’s origins are never made clear. Regardless, Guu runs on solar power, collecting light from the sun through the antennae on his head. He has a superior sense of smell and he has flexible legs that can stretch out or change into propeller blades, allowing him to fly around like a helicopter. [clip: something involving Dogcopter]

Now, if I’ve been talking for longer than usual up front about the context, production, and worldbuilding for this series, as opposed to the characters and plot? That’s because… well, the characters and plot are a bit of a mixed bag to be honest. There are a lot of good creative choices made, but also a lot of mediocre ones and a few real stinkers.

It’s a shame, because I feel like this series should be much more interesting than it is. This is not an uninteresting premise. Clearly other works have taken the “secret cyborg superhero” trope and seen massive success with it. And there are many moments in Limit-chan where you can see the show’s true potential shining through. Usually these are quieter moments with Limit as she contemplates her existence and laments what she no longer has. That classic “How human am I? Am I even human at all?” angst works super well, especially in stories of this vintage where it was a fresh concept.

However, in execution, it’s clear that the cyborg angstfest Nagashima pitched didn’t mesh well with the majokko silliness Toei wanted. This is very similar to the issue Mahou no Mako-chan had where the story struggled between its kids’ comedy roots and melodramatic shoujo aspirations. This issue hits Limit even harder, though, because Limit’s personality seems especially unsuited to Toei’s usual formula. Sally, Akko, and Chappy all excelled with a light-hearted format because they were younger, more mischievous kids whose curiosity and exuberance got them into a lot of interesting situations. Even Mako had a certain cheekiness and carefree attitude that let her pull off some of the sillier episodes of her series.

By contrast, Limit has probably the lowest-key personality we’ve seen in a majokko protagonist. Like I said earlier, she’s not much of a rule breaker, she’s gentle and pleasant, she grapples with a lot of inner pain, and her favourite activities include playing the piano and staring poignantly at the sunset. And when her stronger emotions do rise to the surface, they’re often frustration, anger, and fear, not so much cheekiness or excitement (although there is some of that sometimes).

None of these are bad traits. Far from it: Limit is a solid character on paper. She just needs a different kind of story to highlight the things that are interesting about her. She’s a bad fit for a high-energy series of weekly shenanigans.

And the creators seem to have realized this early on too, because sometimes it feels like Limit is our protagonist in name only. Why’s that? Well, I want you all to meet someone. His name is Ryuta Ishibashi, better known to most as “Boss”. He’s the head bully/hooligan of this series in the same vein as Taisho from Akko-chan or Banchou from Mako-chan. And if I didn’t know any better, sometimes I could swear I was not watching a show called Miracle Girl Limit-chan, but rather some other show I’ve never heard of called The Boss Time Boss Show Starring Boss and Friends.

Boss takes focus from the very first scene of the series. Episode 1 begins with Limit and Guu noticing an argument between Boss and a younger boy named Tomou. Limit and Guu watch the argument (meaning we watch the argument) until Boss turns his hat sideways, which is how you know he means business. The boys ride away on their bikes, and Limit follows by activating Miracle Run, with Guu flying behind her.

The boys continue their confrontation upon reaching a fenced-off construction area, with Boss framing it as a “duel” of sorts. What they don’t realize is that there’s liquid cement and a mixer underneath them. Of course, Tomou falls in and Boss scrambles to save him. He throws Tomou a nearby rope, and Limit grabs the other end from outside the fence, unseen by the boys. She activates Miracle Power to help Boss pull, and Tomou is saved. Hooray!

Afterward we have a scene where Boss and Tomou hang out with Tomou’s older sister, Nobuko (or “Buko” for short). Buko is this series’ Yotchan or Moko type—the tomboyish best friend to the main character. Not much of note happens here. However, notice the consistent characters from the last scene to here are Boss and Tomou, not Limit.

We don’t see Limit again until the next day at school, when Boss regales the class with tales of his heroism. Limit eventually scolds him for downplaying the way he bullied and endangered Tomou in the first place. Boss threatens Limit, but due to the hidden soft spot all characters like him have, he can’t bring himself to actually hit her.

Cut to another scene with Boss, this time with him and his cronies walking together after school. One thing leads to another in their conversation and Boss gets stuck in a hole in a fence. Ha ha ha, it’s funny ‘cause he’s fat, get it? Get it?? Oh, and he also falls into an open manhole! Oh wowzers! What a wi~ld and waaaa~cky character! Aren’t you glad this is definitely the person you signed up to watch and not the more interesting and complex cyborg girl over there? ‘cause I sure am!

And speak of the devil, at about the halfway mark in the episode, we do get a scene at Limit’s place. Here we meet Tomi, who is Limit’s nanny/housekeeper. Like I said, because Limit’s mother is gone and her father spends so much time at his lab, there are no other adults to keep the house clean and look after Limit, so hiring a nanny makes sense. Interestingly, Tomi is Japanese, but she lived in Hawaii for many years, which is a neat creative choice. As such, she likes to pepper her speech with random English words and offer advice to Limit based on her time abroad. Another reason it would be cool to spend more time with Limit and friends, don’tcha think?

Anyway, later that evening, Guu gets tired and falls off the couch, which worries Limit. Tomi reassures her, though, that Guu can’t get sick—he just has a low battery right now. After all, he’s a machine and not an animal, right? So there’s no need to worry. And Limit says: [clip: “That’s right, he’s not an animal, is he…”] Limit wanders to her room. Cue sad cyborg on piano angsting in soft focus about not feeling human anymore.

We then get a flashback to the plane crash that nearly killed Limit. This bit is mildly graphic, with blood splatter scene transitions and a shot of human Limit gushing blood out of her neck in the wake of the crash. During her life-saving surgery, we also get an Astro Boy-esque cross-section of Limit’s robotic insides while her father operates on her. Wild. I love it.

Oh! I’m sorry, were you enjoying that interesting cyborg story just now? Well why don’t we interrupt that and hard cut to an amusement park with Boss and friends for some more wacky shenanigans? Okay. Cool. Right on. Yep. Just what I wanted…

[rushed delivery] So Limit and Boss get on a roller coaster together, the coaster gets stuck, Boss freaks out and he tries to climb down, the coaster cars start rolling backward, Limit saves Boss by Miracle Jumping down with him, and no else one sees her do this because onlookers were trying to avoid seeing two kids turn into smears on the tracks. Boss wets his pants after landing, too freaked out to realize what just happened. Hooraaay…?

We then finish out the episode the next day, with Boss again bragging to his classmates about his supposed act of bravery. Limit has no time for this malarkey, instead choosing to watch the ocean from her favourite treetop. Girl, you have got the right idea.

[sigh] Man, I wouldn’t harp on all the Boss stuff in episode 1 if it were just in that episode, but it quickly becomes a pattern for the whole show. A lot of the episodes I watched, especially the early ones, focused heavily on shenanigans with Boss, Tomou, and a handful of other side characters, with ironically limited time for Limit herself. Not to mention some of this stuff is just obnoxiously written and presented, with certain episodes hinging on problems of the day that are stupid even by Toei standards.

This made getting into the show very difficult at first. I was almost ready to write the whole thing off after episodes 2 and 3, which were both pretty dire. Episode 2 is about Boss suddenly getting very good at math while Limit struggles with a series of mysterious headaches. Eventually it’s revealed that Boss has a newfangled piece of high-falutin’ technology called (gasp!) a pocket calculator! [dramatic sting and zoom in on calculator] And for… reasons, this calculator emits electronic signals strong enough to mess with Limit’s cyberbrain. That’s right folks! Our heroine: super fast, super agile, super strong, and can only be defeated by her one weakness: calculators! [menacing picture of a vintage calculator, more dramatic music underneath]

Episode 3 hurt my brain even worse. In this one, Buko’s baby sister sees Limit using her Miracle Jump. You’d think this would be a non-problem because, well, baby. But Limit starts obsessing over this baby somehow spilling her secret to everyone. Why? Because… because who knows?! That baby might randomly learn how to say: “Hey everyone, Limit is a cyborg!” Or maybe she’ll learn hiragana or baby sign language and tell everyone what she saw that way. Or people could find out because… because… because they just might, okay?!  Man, I know Limit’s paranoid about her secret being found out, but this seemed like a stretch even considering that. All the “jokes” around it are just dragged out and draaaaaggged out and it was infuriating to sit through, even for me, who’s used to draggy Toei plots by now.

Thankfully the show starts to find a better groove as it goes. Episode 4 introduces a rich girl bully character named Mitsuko. This is an archetype we’ve seen before in the genre, but it still works to vary up the types of conflict we see in the series. Plus Mitsuko herself has some pockets of complexity in her personality, leading her to have an on-again, off-again friendship with Limit and Buko over the course of the series. I started looking forward to episodes with Mitsuko in them. She’s a fun character!

Episode 4 also has Limit grapple with some complex feelings about her body as she realizes she’s not likely to age the way she is now. This causes her distress when she thinks about a boy in class that she likes named Jun, and how she probably won’t ever be able to grow up with him or tell him how she feels. This is decently compelling stuff! Shame the subject arises from nowhere and disappears again just as fast, though.

Despite the prevalence of Boss throughout the show, there thankfully are a few other good episodes that focus on Limit herself. In episode 6, Limit’s father, Dr. Nishiyama, misses Parents Day at school despite promising he would be there, and the whole conflict for that episode revolves around Limit’s frustrations with him constantly putting his work over her. The episode ends with them making up and Dr. Nishiyama revealing to Limit that the work he’s doing will soon allow her robot body to grow like a human body. Not sure how I feel about the writers trying to justify him breaking promises like that, but the episode still works otherwise.

Episode 9 is another good “I don’t like my body” episode, when Limit’s friends remark that she never seems to forget things or get sick like they do, almost like she’s a machine. Of course, this is exactly the kind of thing that sends Limit spiraling into existential angst. At home she cries and insists to herself that she IS human, damn it. Then for the rest of the episode she pretends to forget things and fakes a fever to stay home from school, trying to convince others (and herself) that she isn’t some flawless machine. 

Episode 19 is a super rare treat: a ski trip episode with no Boss in it whatsoever! The title of this episode is “Phantom Wolf” and it features a lot of cool animal and wilderness artwork. It just ends up being a filler “boy and his wolf” episode otherwise, but still. Badass.

Speaking of titles: something I noticed was that this series has a lot of unique animations for the episode title cards! Other Toei series have had custom title cards as well, but it felt like they were particularly frequent and noticeable in Limit-chan. Some have the text move or use special fonts or artwork that fit the episode. Some even have full-on cartoon title sequences, like this one where a rooster lays an egg. Not much else to say on that front—I just thought it was neat! [clip: Marge “I just think they’re neat!”]

Episode 22 isn’t entirely about Limit (mostly it’s about an old dude and some swans), but the first chunk of it shows the depths of Limit’s paranoia. It opens with her going for a routine medical test at school where an x-ray machine reveals her cybernetic heart. All of Limit’s teachers and friends point in shock and laugh at her as she runs away, and the scene rapidly distorts and blankets itself in darkness. …And of course, this all turns out to be a nightmare. Understandably, Limit is quite shaken.

To make matters worse, Mitsuko later quarrels with Limit and accuses her of being like a doll with no heart. Limit gets so caught up in thought after that that she doesn’t see an old woman trapped in traffic on her way home, causing Boss of all people to scold her. When Limit vents her fears and frustrations to her dad, he shows her a picture of her mother and her when they were younger to cheer her up. A nice thought, but it only serves to remind Limit of the life she no longer has, making her even more upset.

At this point Limit finds the old dude and the swan and that plot takes over (it has something to do with this swan being too injured to fly and being unable to be with its mother… I think; I watch these in raw Japanese, give me some slack). However, there’s a part near the end when the swan is taken to Dr. Nishiyama’s lab for surgery. The surgery scene strongly mirrors that of Limit’s own in the beginning of the series. Though the episode doesn’t state this outright, the swan recovering from surgery and learning to fly again seems to imply that, despite the changes to Limit’s body, Limit is still Limit—still truly and wonderfully human at her core.

Most of the other episodes are, as I said, standard Toei fare. Lots of dull filler. Some baffling shenanigans. Again, loads of Boss and Co. bumbling around and taking up screen time. This might not have been so bad on a weekly airing schedule, but it sure makes binge watching for a magical girl retrospective difficult.

Still, not all of the non-Limit-focused episodes are bad. The strongest are probably the ones focused on Buko. She gets two episodes of note: one where she gets angry at Limit over a broken promise and starts hanging out with Mitsuko instead, and another where she gets into ice skating and becomes jealous of Limit’s talent at it. These episodes helped make Buko one of the more interesting “best friend” characters we’ve seen in the genre so far. We get to see some compelling vulnerabilities on display for her, and the show really puts her relationship with Limit to the test in ways I feel we haven’t seen a lot thus far. I dig it, it’s good!

Sadly, the final episode isn’t much to write home about. It concludes the series more than, say, Sarutobi Ecchan did, but it’s still very underwhelming. It starts with Limit’s class finding out that their teacher, Ms. Otohime, is getting married and quitting her job soon. Most of the episode is spent trying to figure out who Otohime’s fiancé is and preparing to give her a goodbye present. And of course, a good chunk is spent on fluff with Boss and Tomou mistaking their dentist for the fiancé and getting some toothaches for their trouble. Heh heh heh, hilarious…

One of the more interesting bits happens near the beginning, when we see Limit fantasizing about being grown up and having someone propose to her. This is played for laughs but hey! It’s still nice to see that she’s confident enough in herself by this point that she can imagine this sort of thing freely.

The other notable development is at the end when Limit and her father find Ms. Otohime on a cliffside road. A fellow teacher named Mr. Sakata has fallen to the rocks below and is in danger of falling into the ocean. Due to some events from earlier, Limit’s father has a rope ladder with him, but it’s too short to reach the rocks. Deciding there’s no other safe option, Limit takes out her flying bag and uses it to rescue Mr. Sakata, revealing her secret to both teachers.

You’d think this kind of bombshell would have a major impact on the story. However, we skip over all the explanations and reactions and get straight to the part where Otohime and Sakata accept Limit as she is and thank her for her help. Weirdly, there is more excitement shown over Sakata being Otohime’s fiancé than there is over Limit’s cyborg-ness. Advanced cybernetics the likes of which the world has never seen? Huh, go fig’. The teacher’s beau is who now?! OH MY GOD STOP THE PRESSES! NOW THIS IS NEWS!!

The final scene is a montage of Limit doing Limit things. In voiceover, Ms. Otohime says that she and her husband will never forget her, and that she’s a fantastic cyborg girl. She promises to keep Limit’s secret and says that maybe someday, it’ll be her wishing Limit well when she becomes a bride herself. Limit blushes and turns away as Ms. Otohime says goodbye, then turns back to wave goodbye herself. Huh. That was… nice, I guess? A little rushed. More than a little anticlimactic. But the sentiment is fine at least.

The final episode of Miracle Girl Limit-chan aired on March 25, 1974. Unsurprisingly, given the show’s uneven quality and the existence of a more exciting magical android show elsewhere on the airwaves, the ratings weren’t the greatest. This must have been a disappointment for Toei considering the marketing push they gave this show. Based on the model of their past successes, Toei put out a lot of merchandise for Limit-chan, including dolls, a toy pendant, records, picture books, colouring books, games, bento boxes, and more. General advertising for the show was big too, up to and including Limit being featured on the cover of TV Guide magazine (a big deal considering anime only featured on these covers maybe once a year or so [Source: Anime: A History, pp 303).] Cutie Honey didn’t get nearly the same level of marketing and merch—and considering how well that show did in the ratings, that must have felt like an extra kick in the pants for Toei.

That said, Limit-chan wasn’t entirely unsuccessful. In fact, in the years following, it ended up being somewhat of a cult hit. According to the surprisingly thorough Wikipedia article (albeit not very well-sourced, so take this with a grain of salt), the series apparently reran several times on NET throughout 1978, plus a couple of times on another channel, TVK. According to the Japanese Wiki page, a new re-master of the series also ran in 2008 on the Toei Channel, broadcasting from March to June of that year. And based on Japanese blog postings I could find, there may have been some other undocumented re-airings in the 80s and 90s in various local markets. [Link – Aoba Tokio’s blog: http://6limit.blog35.fc2.com/blog-category-6.html]

Whether there was actual demand for Limit-chan or the channels were just using the show to fill airspace is unclear. However, the result was still that more people were able to see the series and become fans of it. Based on rough translations of Japanese fan sites and BBS comments, it seems that Limit-chan is remembered nostalgically among majokko fans as a striking show with an appealing main character and challenging themes (if maybe not the best animation or pacing). [Link: https://sakuhindb.com/janime/MIRACHRUGARLLIMMIT/]

Limit hasn’t appeared much in other media, but there were several manga adaptations of the series running alongside its initial airing. A couple ran in the 1st and 3rd-grade versions of Shogaku magazine and were drawn by Shigeto Ikehara, a student of Osamu Tezuka’s best known for his work on the Mega Man manga. Other short serializations in Shogaku publications were drawn by Mariko Okamura and Midori Shimura. Another lady named Izumi Sakyo (formerly Kaori Miki) ran a serialization in Weekly Shoujo Comic (which apparently was the only one to get a proper ending) and yet another ran in the magazine Terebi Land drawn by Ryuu Morio and Shinya Takahashi (the latter of whom did animation direction and character designs on Chappy the Witch). I couldn’t find much information about any of these runs aside from some scattered scans, but still, just the sheer number of them is impressive and indicative of Toei’s marketing push for the show.

Next, let’s go over a few more behind the scenes notes. First, I should explain something about the format of the series. At the top of every episode, Limit gives a short “greeting” to the audience where she explains she’s a cyborg. For the first few episodes, Limit also states that she doesn’t mind being a cyborg. However, as part of network self-regulation efforts, Toei re-evaluated this language as insensitive, thinking it might imply there was something wrong with Limit.

If that doesn’t make sense to you: think of it like someone saying “Oh, she doesn’t mind being in a wheelchair”. Such phrasing could imply that being in a wheelchair is inherently negative—something one normally would mind. While undoubtedly there are wheelchair users who do mind using them, there are also many who don’t just “not mind” but view their chair as a great source of freedom and joy in their lives [Link 1, Link 2]. Reducing the use of these kinds of assistive devices to some inconvenience or defect that one must tolerate—that one can only “not mind” as opposed to genuinely love—does a disservice to the experiences of many disabled people.

Similar thinking seems to have gone into changing the greetings in Limit-chan. Limit often dealt with insecurities about her body as a character, but it was a step too far to imply in these more authoritative out of character scenes that having a different kind of body was inherently bad. So, starting with episode 8, they changed the greeting to have Limit say that because she’s a cyborg, she has many secret powers. Not a huge change, but a surprisingly subtle and forward-thinking one. Older rebroadcasts of episodes 1-7 still used the old greeting, but newer instances such as the YouTube version of episode 1 use the revised greeting.

Next, let’s talk staff and casting. First off, scripts were still largely being handled by majokko veterans Masaki Tsuji and Shunichi Yukimuro. You’d think this would be good for keeping a baseline level of quality, but I really have to wonder if Yukimuro at least was off his game around this time. Some of the worst episodes of this series, including episodes 2 and 3, were written by him. Hnngh…

The series’ score and theme songs were written by another Toei veteran, Shunsuke Kikuchi. It’s interesting that of all Toei’s magical girl shows, this was the only one he ever worked on. I say that because Kikuchi scored a lot of Toei’s biggest ever properties, including Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, Dr. Slump, Doraemon, Kamen Rider, and Getter Robo. So, of all the majokko series so far, this one may have the most quintessentially “Toei” soundtrack. [clips from the score]

Cast-wise, there is unfortunately not much to say about Limit’s voice actor, Youko Kuri. Her most prominent roles were all in very obscure series, with her other leading roles being the title characters in Vicke the Little Viking and The Adventures of Hutch the Honeybee. [voice clips if available] The cast also includes familiar majokko alumni like Sachiko Chijimatsu (as both Guu and Dr. Nishiyama’s assistant, Midori), Masako Nozawa (as Tomi and one of Boss’s minions), and Akira Kamiya (sharing the role of Jun with a couple of other actors throughout the series).

There were two other notable actors in the supporting cast, though. The first was Hidekatsu Shibata, who played Dr. Nishiyama. Shibata is a major veteran who has been working in the industry since 1957 and is best known as Baron Ashura in Mazinger Z, King Bradley in Fullmetal Alchemist, both the Narrator and the character of Igneel in Fairy Tail, and Monkey D. Dragon (the father of Luffy), in One Piece. [voice clips] Seems fitting that a guy with such an authoritative voice would play Limit’s distant scientist father (though Shibata does a good job with the more tender scenes as well).

The second actor of note is Rihoko Yoshida, who played Mitsuko. She started working in the early 70s and her career picked up steam very quickly from there, with major supporting roles in big shows like Heidi, Getter Robo, Captain Harlock, and The Rose of Versailles, plus the lead in the 1981 comedy series Miss Machiko. Her most notable roles, though, are the title characters in both Majokko Megu-chan and Majokko Tickle. Soooo yeah. Just a heads up: we’ll be talking more about Rihoko Yoshida in future episodes of Mahou Profile.

Lastly and most interestingly, Miracle Girl Limit-chan gained some international recognition in (where else?) Italy. In the 1981 Italian dub, Limit became “Cybernella” (pronounced “chee-behr-nell-ah” in Italian). [clips from the Italian OP: https://youtu.be/cZ6c9jO-ViA ; on-screen text: “Fun fact: if this song sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a blatant ripoff of “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” by The Beatles.”] Confusingly, the full series’ title was Cybernella – Limit Miracle Girl. As far as I can tell, Nella is never called “Limit” in the dub, so in addition to the weird syntax there, the “Limit” part just doesn’t make any sense for this version. Huh.

Also confusingly, while it’s pretty clear that Nella is still a cyborg in this version (I mean, it’s right there in the title), the dub avoids using the word “cyborg” and tries to make Nella a more explicitly magical character. According to majokko superfan Retrosofa, whom I consulted with for this video, there’s maybe, like, one episode where she’s called a “machina” and that’s it. Weird… Thankfully that and the whole “Cybernella” thing seem to be the only major changes. Most of the other characters’ names remain intact, they never pretend the story isn’t set in Japan, and the overall story remains the same.

But yes, it seems that nostalgic love is still alive and well for Cybernella in Italy. I was able to find several Italian fan pages dedicated to the show on Facebook and other sites, and there’s a decent amount of Cybernella fan art, writing, and cosplay out there too, plus a few fun covers of the opening on YouTube. [short clips from the covers] Unfortunately though, no other countries besides Italy picked up the series, which has kept its international reach smaller than other majokko titles.

All right then! I think that wraps us up on Miracle Girl Limit-chan. While an uneven mess in some respects, this show has some unquestionably strong and unique elements that captured the attention of many fans despite its shortcomings. Limit’s story helped change the face of this fledgling genre with new subject matter, new ways of thinking about magic, and a newer, more introspective brand of heroine. It’s a shame she didn’t get the show she deserved, but I’m glad she exists all the same. We love you, Limit-chan!

And… [take a breath] Okay. No fake outs this time. The next show in our chronology, as I alluded to earlier, started not long after Limit and ran parallel to her in NET’s Saturday afternoon block. Yes, it’s time. She was the original magical warrior. She was the first magical girl with a show aimed at a male audience. And she is the earliest magical girl that many anime fans are familiar with—for better and for worse. Next episode, we’re talking about Go Nagai’s legendary warrior of love: Cutie Honey. Brace yourselves, ‘cause this is gonna be a big one. Kawaru wa yo~

Mahou Profile #007: Chappy the Witch [Script]

Mahou Profile #007: Chappy the Witch [Script]

[The following is the script of episode 7 of the Mahou Profile series, viewable on YouTube here. This post to be updated with an accurate video transcript and citations in the future.]

Hey there everyone and welcome to Mahou Profile!

Okay, so: stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Once upon a time, there was a little witch girl with fluffy brown hair and a cute red dress. The little witch girl lived in the Kingdom of Magic, but she was ever so bored. She longed for something new! One day, against the wishes of her pointy-haired father and round-haired mother, the little witch girl ran away to the World of Humans with her mischievous younger brother in tow. Upon arrival in this new world, the little witch girl conjured a house for herself using her signature magical phrase “something something Mahariku Maharita”. [clips: Sally’s magic phrase, Chappy’s magic phrase] Then the little witch girl befriended a tomboy-ish girl in green and a more feminine girl in blue, while her mischievous younger brother started a rivalry with the tomboy’s younger brothers. The little witch girl soon began attending school with her friends and enjoying her new life in the World of Humans. The girl’s family disapproved but nonetheless tried to support her the best that they could. Unsurprisingly, hijinks ensued.

Huh. What a delightful and original story, wouldn’t you agree?

Yeah, last episode I said our next series would be a retread of sorts, and I wasn’t kidding. Today we’re discussing a series called Mahoutsukai Chappy, or Chappy the Witch. And it is almost impossible to talk about Chappy without mentioning a certain… other series.

I mean. To be fair? When looking at a genre, you’re going to find similar works. That’s part of what genres are for – to categorize works with certain common elements. However, some works are so successful within their genre that they inevitably inspire direct copycats. You know the type. They’re called many things: knockoffs, ripoffs, clones, bootlegs, off-brands, trend chasers, lazy pieces of creatively bankrupt shite.

This phenomenon rears up throughout the history of popular media. For every Sherlock Holmes, there is a Solar Pons. For every Star Wars, there is a Starchaser. For every Twilight, there is a Fallen. For every “Under Pressure”, there is an “Ice Ice Baby”. [clip of Vanilla Ice’s embarrassing “I totally didn’t steal this bassline” interview]

The magical girl genre is no stranger to imitators and cash grabs. Fans have pointed fingers at many so-called “Sailor Moon ripoffs” from the late 90s and early 2000s — the most commonly accused being 1995’s Wedding Peach. Heck, some fans still label the entire Pretty Cure franchise as one big Sailor Moon ripoff, though personally I disagree with that (I mean, come on, it’s clearly a Super Sentai ripoff). And of course, fans nowadays seem to love nothing better than arguing over what is or isn’t a ripoff of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. (*ahem* And that’s not an invitation to start any nastiness about that in the comments, all right? I will shut that sh*t down if I have to.)

Now, shameless lifting goes back to the very beginning of this genre. Mitsuteru Yokoyama lifted major elements from Bewitched when creating Sally the Witch, and the anime pulled in tons of lifted imagery from Disney and other western cartoons; Himitsu no Akko-chan borrowed pacing and visual elements from Sally for its anime adaptation; and then Mako-chan and Ecchan both conformed in many ways to the formula set by Sally and Akko-chan. Since all magical girl anime except Marvelous Melmo have been from the same studio so far, it’s not surprising that we see so many reused elements—elements Toei no doubt felt were helpful to their bottom line.

But ChappyChappy… This is a whole new level of lifting. Chappy goes beyond “uses the same elements as Popular Thing X” and jumps straight to “is a blatant reskin of Popular Thing X.” You can’t even argue it’s just “inspired by Thing X” or “following the same tropes as Thing X” like you can for Wedding Peach or the children of Madoka. This is… This is just the same show! It’s the same goddamn show. It’s Sally the Witch again but with different names and character designs plus a few minor tweaks to the setup. They even brought back some of the same voice actors to play the same roles they did in Sally. Tell me that Sachiko Chijimatsu is not just literally playing Cub again here. [relevant clips from Sally and Chappy] You can’t. You just can’t. He’s just Cub. She’s just Sally. This is all. Just. Sally.

[sigh] So, with all that said… would you be surprised if I told you Chappy the Witch is better than Sally the Witch?

Not in terms of importance, of course. Clearly Sally had the bigger impact there. However, I would argue that Chappy is overall better written, better paced, and, at least from a modern perspective, an overall better watch than Sally is. The only thing that isn’t necessarily better is the animation, which is still as basic and corner-cutting as ever, with a few surprisingly decent cuts here and there. Even that I don’t mind though, because the art style, with its chubby cheeks and soft, rounded features, is just so dang cute. (It’s cute! What else do you want me to say?)

Of course you could (and should) argue that a lot of what’s good about Chappy would not exist without Sally. I’m not saying “Chappy is awesome, Sally is awful” or anything like that. But still, I think it’s fair to argue that Toei, now with more experience and hindsight under their belt, was able to create a more polished version of their previous work. That’s not unreasonable, is it?

Also, some of the small things that are different about Chappy have a bigger impact than one might think. For example, most online resources will tell you that Chappy the Witch is the first magical girl series where the heroine uses a magic wand. I mean, they call it a baton, but come on, it’s a wand. You might think this is just an aesthetic change, and that the biggest impact it might have is on merchandising potential. This is true—though, weirdly, my research turned up just about every type of Chappy merchandise but a toy wand. However, I would argue the wand also has a palpable effect on the story and characters. 

Think about it. Why would a character need to use a wand? Well, traditionally, they’re used as focus instruments that help wielders channel their magic more effectively. In other words, they help cast stronger, more consistent spells.

Remember, though: Sally and family never needed a way to enhance their powers. They were all strong enough magic users that the idea of enhancement or focus via outside means never came up. Any lack of power or control on Sally’s part was more due to lack of experience than lack of ability. This is the reason her use of a wand in Sally the Witch 2 feels so out of place – because for her, it is.

So how do you give your new magical girl a reason to use a wand? Easy: you make her magic weaker.

In the first episode of Chappy the Witch, we see that Chappy, her parents, and her little brother Jun are all capable of using magic without wands. However, the effects of these spells are relatively minor. When it comes to more complex magic, such as when Chappy’s Dad casts a Cinderella spell on a mouse and pumpkin, the effects aren’t quite what they ought to be. The subjects don’t get as big as they should, they don’t fully change into what they’re supposed to, and when the whole caboodle falls out of the sky, none of the family members can stop the descent. They’re only saved from crashing by Chappy’s grandfather, who—you guessed it!—wields the magic baton.

Side note: Chappy first gets the baton by stealing it for her escape to the human world. When she tries to give it back later, Grandpa conveniently “forgets” to take it with him, effectively giving Chappy his blessing to use it.

Anyway, establishing not only that the baton is powerful but that Chappy and family aren’t very strong without it puts them in a much different position than their predecessors. Sally’s family, and especially her father, are unquestionably powerful and command a lot of respect. Sally’s Dad can be ridiculous at times, but he at least never seems unsure of himself. By contrast, Chappy’s Dad is a bundle of nerves. He screws up a lot, and he knows it. More than once in the first episode, he gets yelled at by another family member and literally shrinks in response. He also isn’t exactly at the top of any social hierarchies. His family is well off, but unlike Sally’s family, they are not royalty. So again, Chappy’s Dad has good reason to be wary of making mistakes and ticking off the wrong people.

With this change in personality for the Dad character, the Mom seems to gain a bit more agency to balance him out. Sally’s Mom helped out on occasion, but mostly sat by on the sidelines with her knitting and offered advice or concern as needed. Chappy’s Mom does that too, but she is also much quicker to berate her husband, argue her own positions, and take part in dealing with family problems. Compare that to Sally’s Mom, who took a stand against her husband maybe, like, once ever. Chappy’s Mom also gets a couple of episodes with some minor focus on her, which again is way more than Sally’s Mom ever got. So, yeah: both parents end up being slightly less one-note characters, creating a more interesting family dynamic overall.

And that’s not even getting into the other main change for this series: Chappy’s parents come with her to the human world rather than remaining in the Magic Kingdom. Sally’s parents were still involved in her life, so again, you’d think this wouldn’t have a huge impact, but it absolutely does. Practically speaking, having both parents around means they can help with problems more easily—or cause their own problems depending on the episode. More importantly, having all the family members interact all the time makes them feel very tight-knit as a group, which in turn makes their collective story that much more engaging to an audience.

To put this all another way: Sally the Witch was the story of a young girl going out into the world on her own and coming of age through her experiences there. Chappy has a similar story, but this time it’s not only about her. It’s also the story of a family moving to a new place together, facing challenges together, and growing together as a result. How many fantasy stories can you say are like that? Not many in my experience. 

There are a few other differences between Sally and Chappy worth mentioning. For one, the talking animal sidekick trope from Sarutobi Ecchan has carried over into this series. Chappy’s family has a… pet? Friend? Um, “associate” named Don-chan. He calls himself a panda, though honestly, he looks more like a raccoon or a tanuki. Weirdly, despite Chappy and family having to hide their magic all the time, Don-chan is just… allowed to be a walking, talking, car-driving panda and no one ever questions it. Huh. Maybe in this universe, animal sentience is just… a thing? I mean there’s not much other evidence to support that, but it’s possible, I guess… Whatever, the show doesn’t question it and I’ve got lots of other stuff to cover, so sure, let’s just go with it. …It is weird, though, right? I’m not wrong to say that? It’s a weird inconsistency, it raises a lot of questions about how this world works and why talking animals would be accepted but magic would be feared, and I just want to ask a few things about panda drivers’ licenses okay—[TV static]

In Sally the Witch, you could argue that Cub was the magical sidekick, so adding a second sidekick to the mix creates a new dynamic. Instead of Jun being like Cub and constantly making trouble for Chappy and the others, Jun and Don-chan usually end up making trouble for each other. They have a kind of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck relationship: one is a laid-back sort who’s hard to get the better of, and one is an easily frustrated antagonizer who keeps trying and failing to one-up his opponent. To be honest, with so much of Jun’s energy directed at Don-chan, who has very little trouble dealing with him, it makes Jun far less annoying than Cub ever was, thank goodness.

Another difference between the two shows is in their style of hijinks and magical setpieces. Both shows utilize a lot of the same mundane locations we’ve seen throughout the early majokko series, but in my estimation, Chappy offers slightly more variety in what can happen and where. We see alternate dimensions, giant monsters, spooky scary demons, a Wacky Races-style road rally, a deserted island, the mountains, the Arctic, the Savannah, high speed chases where small children jump from car to car Mad Max-style, old time-y trains, hijacked planes, an illusory fairy tale world, and adventures under the deep blue sea. Speaking of which, though, I feel the need to say: one of the undersea episodes has this weirdly traumatizing part involving the words “dolphin torpedo”? [clip: dolphin with a torpedo on its tail gets near a submarine and blows it up kamikaze style] Jeebus cripes, that’s brutal! Never mind whoever was aboard the sub — that poor dolphin didn’t deserve that! [sigh] At least this episode resolves with the evil military scientists responsible getting just curbstomped by Chappy and a gang of angry dolphins. [clip: dolphin gang chases the scientists’ yacht, they jump ship, and then the dolphins bounce them around on their noses] Like I said, some creative stuff happens in this show.

Lastly, it feels like there is ever so slightly more of a narrative throughline in Chappy than in Sally. To be clear, both shows are very episodic, but with Chappy, at least in the early episodes, there is just a bit more logic and connective tissue behind various happenings.

For instance, after the family’s arrival in the human world, the show tackles an issue Sally the Witch never dwelled on much: people noticing the swanky new house that popped up literally overnight. One of the first big setpieces of the series involves a biker gang invading Chappy’s house, and the reason they do this is, well, they notice the weird new house in their territory. The police notice, the neighbours notice, passers-by notice – everyone notices and starts spreading gossip about it, and it’s only episode 1.

In the second episode, Chappy meets and befriends her gal pals, Michiko and Shizuko, as well as Michiko’s little brothers Ippei and Nihei. Chappy’s parents then struggle with whether Chappy should go to school with her new friends or be home schooled in magic. Despite having settled in, they’re still uncertain about interacting with the humans around them.

By the third episode, the neighbourhood’s curiosity shifts to outright hostility as people grow suspicious of the strange parents who literally never go outside or talk to anyone ever. This leads to Chappy helping her Dad convince people he works as an artist, which helps ingratiate the family more with the community. In subsequent episodes, you then see both Mom and Dad coming and going from the house more often, as well as picking up human pastimes such as reading the newspaper, gardening, and watching TV. And of course the kids and Don-chan are having a grand old time exploring and causing all sorts of episodic mischief exactly as you would expect. By episode 17, when Chappy’s aunt and uncle come to visit from the Magic Kingdom, their stodgy old wizarding ways stand in contrast to Chappy’s family, who have almost fully adapted to the human world by this point.

And it goes on like that – not huge continuity points, but just enough narrative logic to show how one thing leads to another over time. Some episodes even start exactly where the last episode left off. Though, to be fair, this isn’t always continuity so much as it is the show recycling certain setups and gags. So, say, if one episode ends with Jun and Don-chan fighting over the car, and the next episode begins the exact same way? That’s just because Jun and Don-chan fight over the car all the time.

Yeah, just because I think Chappy is better than Sally, that doesn’t mean it’s free of problems. Like I said earlier, the animation is very basic and often has blatant errors, such as the baton changing sizes between shots, or this ferris wheel car changing colours within the same shot. And this isn’t an error, but… [clip: episode 1, Chappy faces the camera way too close and it looks super weird] GAH! Jeebus cripes, what in the— don’t scare me like that! Jiminy willikers, god…

Plus, many of the more episodic stories are just boilerplate problem-of-the-week plots. These can be kind of boring to sit through, especially if you’ve already seen a lot of other majokko series. These episodes are only more bearable in Chappy than they are in Sally because Sally is 109 episodes and Chappy is only 39.

Most annoying of all: despite the show’s more interesting setup and flow, often it feels like the creative team is trying waaaaay too hard to grab kids’ attention. This means a lot of forced jokes, “wackiness” for its own sake, and catchphrases. Ohh the catchphrases. [supercut of various characters saying “Kimariiii~!”]

I can’t be too put out, though, because the overall show is still enjoyable despite its missteps. Sometimes it’s even a bit cool! Episode 9 is a standout example: demons arrive in the night and possess Shizuko, making her lure Chappy and her dad into an extradimensional trap where they fight for control of the magic baton. The way the possessed Shizuko is portrayed in this episode is genuinely creepy for a kids’ cartoon; there’s some neat imagery and animation used for the demons; and the duel between the demon lady, Chappy, and her Dad is imaginative and cool. And it made me realize we haven’t seen many straight up fights between magic users in this genre up until now. Not counting the petty sibling fights in Sally the Witch, the only other one I can think of is a short one-off fight between Sally and a witch named Barbara—which, incidentally, may count as the first ever instance of two magical girls fighting each other.

In Chappy, we again see magical squabbles between brother and sister; we have this fight with the demons; and there’s another one where Chappy fights to protect Mitsuko and family from her vindictive uncle’s magic. We also have at least one instance of not necessarily magical combat but slightly violent magical imagery, when Chappy does magic so hard she bleeds from her wand hand and passes out.

It’s interesting that magical combat and violence started as such insignificant parts of this genre. Yet over time, they grew bit by bit, show by show—with a few spikes here and there, such as the magical warrior show Cutie Honey—until the late 90’s and early 2000’s, when magical warriors came to dominate the entire genre. One could read this as a growing acceptance of women’s power in Japanese society, or maybe as a byproduct of the overall increase of violence in mass media worldwide. Either way, this type of magical combat will be something to keep an eye on going forward.

Sort of along the same lines, this show has a few “very special episodes” where things get surprisingly dark and real. Episode 15, for instance, has Chappy and friends helping a boy named Osamu search for his mom at a theme park. When they don’t find her, Osamu admits his mom isn’t even at the park and that he hates her anyway. Chappy smacks him in the face and he runs away… only for the kids to be told that Osamu’s mother recently died after a long battle with cancer. And that he “hates” her because she left him behind. Oh… Oh I see… Chappy later finds the boy inside an abandoned theme park train, murmuring for his mom in his sleep. With her magic, Chappy conjures a vision for him of the train soaring through fantastical worlds, powered by an engine full of stardust and dreams… until he at last finds his mother on a cloud and embraces her one last time. Oh god, my heart, I think something’s happening there, it’s… [sniffs, blows nose]

Also, quick note: “Osamu”? Those eyes? That nose? That dark-yet-whimsical story? Coincidence? I think not. Nice homage, Toei.

Now, the episode some people may have at least heard about (i.e.: the one mentioned in the show’s Wikipedia article) is episode 33. It’s notable for being an overtly environmentalist story about pollution and the responsible use of natural resources. I’m not sure why the article only mentions this episode, because it is one of four episodes written by mangaka Shukei Nagasaka that touch on similar progressive issues. His other episodes are episode 28 (about overdevelopment and the disappearance of public spaces), episode 30 (about protecting an endangered species), and episode 34 (about the importance of elections and local politics). All four of these episode feature some kind of greedy corporate type as the antagonist, giving them all a strong anti-corporate flair. Remember kids! If you see a rich person or corporation hurting your community, then get together with all your friends and seize the means of production for the good of the people! Chappy the Witch says!

To be fair, there were similar environmentalist and progressive stories in both Mahou no Mako-chan and Marvelous Melmo before this, so this kind of thing isn’t new to the genre. The early 70s were rife with this kind of thing, both in Japan and in other parts of the world. Nagasaka wasn’t even the only staff writer doing stories like this in Chappy: episode 16, written by Kouji Natsume, is about overhunting and the protection of mountain wildlife.

These episodes are notable, though, when taken together with the rest of the show. The best writing I found on Chappy the Witch is, weirdly enough, from the show’s Amazon page. User “Aoba Tokio” writes about how, after rewatching the show with adult eyes, they found themes which were “surprising and serious” but ultimately hopeful.

Aoba explains: “[Chappy] embraced the aspirations of a declining human world, a world with a sky dirty with pollution, plagued by tragedies and evil plots, and it didn’t stop there. The show aired in 1972, during Japan’s economic miracle. Despite pollution, road accidents, the Asama-Sanso incident [a major hostage crisis with several fatalities], and other terrible crimes, the world somehow prospered. […] Okinawa returned to Japan, and Prime Minister Tanaka’s Archipelago Remodeling Plan planted the seeds of a rose-coloured future.

“The protagonists were caught up in these societal changes whether they liked it or not. In the beginning, the show is about the human world seen through the eyes of a witch, but it is gradually coloured more and more deeply with the tone of the adult world as seen through the eyes of a child. Children and nature alike become the victims of selfish adults. Chappy’s father shows the irresponsibility of adults when he is indifferent to the local election [especially bad in that episode considering the clear awfulness of one of the main candidates].

“Nevertheless, in the show, struck by the children’s sincerity, the adults finally change for the better. Chappy uses her magic for the children’s happiness, the adults’ reformation, and to work toward the two groups reconciling.”

These themes of hope in the face of a harsh adult world come to a head in the final episode. Since the beginning, Chappy and family have been hiding their magic under threat of punishment from the Magic Kingdom. The Kingdom has strict laws against revealing magic to humans, mainly due to fears about starting a new wave of witch burnings. Time and again, a friend of the family (known simply as “Obaba”, or “Old Hag”) warns Chappy and Jun about witch burnings in semi-graphic detail. And in episode 39, the cat finally gets out of the bag… sort of. In the middle of a thunderstorm, Chappy wards off a lightning bolt with magic to save Ippei’s life, and Ippei witnesses her doing this.

Despite no one believing Ippei the next day, Chappy knows that even one human child knowing their secret will be enough to bring down the wrath of the Magic Kingdom. Wracked with guilt over the imminent punishment coming for her family, Chappy writes an apology letter and leaves home. She eventually finds herself on a beach at sunset. She calls out for her parents, unsure of what to do, but there is no answer. She is alone. Chappy stares out at the ocean. And starts walking toward it. She walks. And walks. Staring straight ahead. Then, as she hesitates at the water’s edge, the tide washing around her feet, she hears her parents call out for her. Her Mom and Dad stop her from walking forward and they embrace, saving Chappy from… well… [clip from Unraveled’s Castlevania episode: Brian announces he’s going to throw himself into the ocean, then does so] Geez, is that the darkest implication we’ve seen in one of these shows so far? I think it might be.

Chappy’s entire family ends up going back to the Magic Kingdom and pleading with the King to forgive them. This works, but only to a point. The King doesn’t charge anyone with a crime and allows the family to stay in the human world. However, he remains firm in his decision that precautions must be taken. He orders the family to find a new place to live, and then sends a shooting star to wipe the civilians’ memories of the family having ever existed.

Chappy and Jun are, of course, crushed at seeing all their friends forget who they are. However, there is still a spark of hope amidst the sadness. That night, Chappy gives her friends one last beautiful dream in which all of them play together in a magical field of flowers in the sky. [clips from the scene] The children enjoy their playtime, and then after, when their parents call them to leave, Chappy’s Mom assures her there will be more friends waiting for her in their new home. The family leaves along a glowing path through the stars, and Chappy turns to the viewer, telling them maybe it will be their town she goes to next.

This is a bittersweet ending for sure, and admittedly it’s not quite as poetic as I’m making it sound. The pacing and composition of all this is honestly pretty muddled and rushed, indicating the team was likely scrambling to end the series in one episode. Chappy the Witch fared better with audiences than Sarutobi Ecchan (I mean, at least it had an ending). However, Toei wasn’t exactly back to the glory days of Sally the Witch or Himitsu no Akko-chan either.

The 39th and final episode of Chappy the Witch aired on December 2, 1972, and afterward, for the first time ever, there was a lull in the production of magical girl anime. Up to this point, the regular time slot for Toei’s majokko series was Mondays at 7 PM on NET (later known as TV Asahi). The next series to run in this time slot was not a new majokko title, but an adaptation of Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s shounen manga Babel II. It would be almost a year before another new magical girl anime aired, and even then, the shows Toei returned with were… well let’s just say they were a little different than their predecessors.

Because of this, I believe Chappy the Witch signifies something far more important to the genre than just introducing the concept of a magic wand: it also marks the beginning of the end for Toei’s original majokko formula.

As with all these old shows, though, Chappy was really only finished in Japan. Our good friends in Italy picked up the series in 1982, dubbing it as La maga Chappy, and then they reran it again in 1988. Mexico also picked up the series and dubbed it as Hada Chappy, which they then exported to other Spanish-speaking countries including Peru, Chile, and Guatemala. Most interestingly, in the 1990s, the entire series was dubbed in French as Chappy la Magicienne, but this dub never made it to air. Wikipedia theorizes this may be due to other shows such as Mahou no Mako-chan not doing well on French television, though there is no source on this information, so this story is difficult to verify. Either way, it’s an interesting piece of trivia.

Okay, just a couple more things before we wrap up! Cast-wise, Chappy’s voice actor, Eiko Masuyama, is a HUGE name worth mentioning. She is a veteran voice talent whose credits go all the way back to the original Astro Boy, and as of this recording, she is still alive and kicking! In addition to Chappy, she voiced Midori in Attack No. 1, Princess Snow Kaguya in Sailor Moon S: The Movie, and most notably, she was the original Fujiko Mine in Lupin III and the original Honey in Cutie Honey. Fujiko Mine alone kept this woman in business for decades, dang girl, you get that paycheque! And of course we will be seeing a lot more of Honey very soon here on Mahou Profile… A lot lot more, ho boy.

Here’s some fun trivia by the way: Eiko Masuyama couldn’t record episode 9 of Chappy for whatever reason, so in that episode, Chappy is played by Michiko Nomura, who voiced Ecchan! And that’s not the only Ecchan and Chappy connection either: before this, Masuyama actually sang that nice relaxing opener for Ecchan! [clip of Ecchan OP]

Other cast members include Kouji Yada as Chappy’s Dad (he was Dr. Gero in Dragonball Z); Noriko Watanabe as Chappy’s Mom (we’ll see her as Sister Jill in Cutie Honey); Kousei Tomita as both Chappy’s Grandpa and Don-chan (he’s a veteran character actor best known for playing Shunsaku Ban in various Osamu Tezuka adaptations); and Masako Nozawa as Nihei (do I really need to remind you who she is?). [clip: Mahou Profile episode 2 “Turn Down for What”]

Lastly, there are two more notable appearances Chappy made outside of anime. One was a manga adaptation written and drawn by Hideo Azuma. Azuma would go on to create another title we’ll be looking at someday: Nanako SOS. And we’ll talk about this when we get to Nanako, but Azuma’s reputation is a little… uh… [onscreen text: “Father  of Lolicon”] Yeah can we please not get into that just yet, please? Thank you.

And the second appearance… well, I won’t give details on that just yet. What I will say is that there’s a certain video game out there that we may or may not do a special episode on someday… Wink~

And with that, we wrap up another chapter in the magical girl timeline. Chappy the Witch is a shameless ripoff in all the ways something can possibly be a ripoff and yet against all odds? It works. Chappy copied Sally’s homework and made a few changes to throw off the teacher, but somehow those changes ended up being the exact things she needed to carve out her own identity. Hers is a surprisingly enjoyable family story with a few darker themes here and there to enhance the experience, and I’m glad I watched it. It just goes to show that just because something is unoriginal doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

Now, remember what I said about the year-long hiatus after Chappy ended? Following this hiatus, Toei returned to the world of magical girls with a show they expected to take the world by storm: the story of an android with a techno-magical device that lets her transform into a variety of alternate identities. Yes, you guessed it! We’re finally going to talk about the legend, the legacy, and the majesty of… Miracle Girl Limit-chan! …What, you were expecting someone else? See you all then~

Mahou Profile #006: Sarutobi Ecchan [Script]

Mahou Profile #006: Sarutobi Ecchan [Script]

[The following is the script of episode 6 of the Mahou Profile series, viewable on YouTube here. This post to be updated with an accurate video transcript and citations in the future.]

Hey there everyone and welcome to Mahou Profile! Today, we begin with a tale… A tale of the swiftest, the nimblest, the most fantastical ninja of all time… Sasuke Sarutobi…

According to legends of old… (and by that, I mean a series of children’s novels published in the 1910s and 20s) …The boy Sasuke grew up in the mountains alongside a family of monkeys in the forest. During this time, the boy developed unparalleled speed and agility, able to climb and jump through the treetops with ease. Conveniently, the boy’s family name, “Sarutobi”, means “monkey jump”. Huh. How ‘bout that.

After a fateful encounter with a master of ninjutsu, Sasuke began training in the ways of the ninja. He excelled in his training, and some say even gained supernatural abilities from it. As he walked this new path, Sasuke developed a rivalry-turned-comradery with a fellow ninja, and together the two helped form a band of ninja known as the Sanada Juuyuushi, or the Sanada Ten Braves.

The stories of Sasuke Sarutobi and the Ten Braves are too numerous to go into here, but their adventures enthralled countless young children throughout the early 20th century. Hence, it was no surprise when Sasuke made the jump from page to screen, first in silent films, and then in talkies and animation. Most relevant to our interests: Toei Animation’s second feature film, released a year after Tale of the White Serpent, was called Shounen Sarutobi Sasuke — released in North America under the title Magic Boy. So, to those curious if there were ever magical boys way back when? Yes. Yes there were.

[Knack Productions] later created a TV version of the Sasuke Sarutobi story in 1979 called Manga Sarutobi Sasuke, which again featured the adventures of Sasuke in his youth. [Metal Gear Solid “spotted” sound effect] And as I edit this video, I have discovered that this series was dubbed in English as Ninja the Wonder Boy… and it had the funkiest English opener ever, which I feel compelled to share with you all right now. [clips from NtWB opening] However, in between Magic Boy and [Knack’s Sarutobi Sasuke] TV series, Toei would release one… other Sarutobi-related series. In 1971, the studio was looking to produce the next title in what had, at this point, become their “majokko” (or “little witch girl”) timeslot. And the show they ultimately went with for the slot was, of course, Sarutobi Ecchan.

So, given all of that lead-up: what in the heck is Sarutobi Ecchan?

Ecchan started life in 1964 with a manga called Okashi na Okashi na Okashi na Anoko, or That Very, Very, Very Strange Little Girl. The manga was created by Shotaro Ishinomori, a creator who produced an immense amount of work in his lifetime. The man passed away in 1998 and still holds the world record for the most comics ever published by a single author: 770 titles across 128,000 pages. Not to mention Ishinomori also had a hand in the creation of several live action and animated TV series. Out of all his works, the most notable are his long-running sci-fi manga Cyborg 009; the live action superhero series Kamen Rider; and the first of the live action Super Sentai series, better known to North American audiences as Power Rangers.

We’ll get more in-depth with Ishinomori a bit later. For now, let’s focus on the Sarutobi Ecchan anime, which debuted on October 4, 1971 — only one day after Marvelous Melmo. Melmo and Ecchan share a few other parallels as well: both feature very young magical girls, both were created by highly influential manga authors, both girls have absent parents, and both series are… strange, let’s say. To be fair, with a title like That Very, Very, Very Strange Little Girl, that’s to be expected (although, somehow Melmo ended up being the stranger of the two).

Once you get beyond superficial similarities, though, Ecchan proves quite different from not only Melmo, but all other magical girls we’ve seen up until now. Heck, she may be one of the most unique magical girls in the genre, period. 

You see, Etsuko Sarutobi, or “Ecchan” for short, is not a magical princess nor does she come from some far-off magical world, and yet she also is not a homegrown heroine imbued with special powers out of the blue. She’s a bit of a hybrid: a girl who grew up in our world but has innate supernatural abilities, and she knows it.

Also, while Ecchan may not be a princess, she does have an esteemed bloodline leading straight back to our old buddy Sasuke. In this universe, the Sarutobi family ended up passing down not only their famous ancestor’s magical abilities, but all his ninja skills and athletic prowess as well. Man, that’s one heck of a family tradition.

A list of Ecchan’s abilities makes her sound more like a superhero than a magical girl (though, for the record, those two categories are not mutually exclusive). Ecchan has several common hero abilities including super strength, super agility, super breath, and supersonic voice. [clip of Ecchan breaking windows with her voice] Stealth, climbing, martial arts, and escape techniques almost go without saying, and she also has a few witch-like powers such as the ability to talk to animals, and some minor conjuration and transfiguration abilities.

One of her most commonly-used powers, though, has got to be hypnotism, a.k.a.: Jedi mind tricks before they were cool. [short montage of times when Ecchan uses this power] There are… a few questionable lines Ecchan crosses when it comes to the hypnotism stuff. However, considering she’s a small child, she likely just hasn’t learned better yet. 

Anyway, while Ecchan’s powerset isn’t as far-reaching and varied as, say, Sally the Witch’s, Ecchan seems a lot more capable with her abilities than Sally and the other magical girls to date. She is untouchable in any physical challenge, and her hypnotism and pure creativity often allow her to get the upper hand on people without having to fight at all. She seems a little like a predecessor to modern “unassuming-yet-overpowered” anime heroes such as Saitama from One Punch Man, Mob from Mob Psycho 100, or Rimuru from That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. All those lists you see of “Top 10 Badass Characters in Anime” or “Top 10 Most Overpowered Protagonists”? Yeah. Those lists are all missing Ecchan and are therefore all invalid. [clip: cute Ecchan laugh]

So that’s the hook for the series: Etsuko “Ecchan” Sarutobi is a tiny marshmallow of a girl who has all the skills of the best magical superninja who ever lived, and she is not afraid to use them to take you apart and throw you in the garbage. I love her. I love her very much.

The first episode sets up Ecchan’s character and supporting cast nicely. We start with a group of kids on their way to school, including a tall girl, Miko, and the son of a local barber, Taihei. They run into the local bully squad and are unable to defend themselves, especially not after the ringleader, Ouyama, sends a nasty dog after them. The situation seems sticky until an unseen person starts… barking? Sure enough, Ecchan arrives on the scene and, with her ability to talk to animals, she befriends the dog and convinces it to attack the bullies instead. The kids try to thank Ecchan, but, like a tiny pink Batman, she vanishes before they can.

It doesn’t take long for the kids to find her again. Their teacher, Ms. Shirayuki, soon introduces Ecchan as a new student to the class. Meanwhile, another teacher at the school who witnessed the dog incident complains to the principal that there’s something odd about the new girl. However, when Ecchan is brought in for questions, the principal is so charmed by her that he insists nothing must be wrong. [clip: cute Ecchan laugh]

At recess, the bullies come back for a rematch, but Ecchan ensures they all end up with egg on their face. [clip of magic chicken literally laying eggs on their faces] Somehow the bullies still don’t get the message, and so Ecchan ends up taking them all out one-by-one — in one case disassembling an entire boy piece by piece. (Oh don’t worry though, he’s fine. It’s all fine. See, look! He’s fine!) 

Taihei runs in to help finish off Ouyama, but once the dust clears, we see Ecchan juggling them both. Nice to see that, unlike Akko, Mako, or even later magical girls like Sailor Moon, a boy rushing in to help does not diminish Ecchan’s power at all. No Tuxedo Mask syndrome here: she can 100% handle it. [clip: cute Ecchan laugh]

The principal is once again too enamoured to punish Ecchan, and after that, Ecchan starts getting challenges from the school sports teams. This includes the baseball team, the volleyball team, and the kendo team. Of note: at least two of these scenes appear to be direct parodies. The baseball scene parodies one of the most famous baseball anime of all time, Star of the Giants [side-by-side comparison clips]; and the volleyball scene parodies a popular shoujo sports series called Attack No. 1 [side-by-side comparison clips]. I wasn’t sure if the kendo scene was a parody or not, but it is notable that this is where someone first identifies Ecchan as a descendent of Sasuke Sarutobi. Hmm. Wonder what gave it away. [clip of Ecchan jumping around like Yoda in Episode 2]

By the end of the school day, half the school is in the infirmary, the principal still won’t punish Ecchan because clearly she did nothing wrong, and Ecchan, satisfied, walks into the sunset on a telephone wire. All in a day’s work for Etsuko Sarutobi and her amazing talking dog, Buku!

Oh yeah, did I mention she has a talking dog named Buku?

You wouldn’t know it from the summary, but Buku is in the first episode. He just spends most of it hitchhiking, freaking squares, and trying to find Ecchan’s school. And he does this after seeing a woman stick out a bare leg to hitch a ride. [clip of Buku cartoonishly pulling up the skin of his leg, revealing the bone beneath]

I think this anime might be slightly silly, y’all.

So, if Ecchan is the ninja elite in this story, then Buku is a retainer of sorts for her. Not that he’s totally subservient — he isn’t afraid of crossing Ecchan or going off and doing his own thing — but he does stick by her for the most part and makes sure she stays safe. After all, overpowered or not, Ecchan is still a little kid. While she can ninja magic her way through any physical danger, there are plenty of social and emotional situations that she isn’t prepared for yet. Hence the need for at least some kind of guardianship.

This guardian role that Buku fills is incredibly important to the magical girl genre, as it lays the foundation for pretty much every animal sidekick/cute mascot character in the genre to follow. The idea of an animal guardian isn’t new: we can trace the concept in anime back at least as far as Tale of the White Serpent, and Disney’s tradition of talking animal sidekicks goes back even further than that. Not to mention the idea is found in many global folklore traditions, most notably stories of witches and their familiars. But as far as the magical girl genre goes? The very first canon mascot character? Yeah. It’s Buku. [funny Buku clip goes here]

And I do hope you like Buku, because if you want to watch this show, you’ll be seeing a lot of him. As with other “overpowered protagonist” shows, Ecchan’s supporting cast often gets just as much, if not more focus than Ecchan herself. After all, supporting characters tend to struggle more than the overpowered hero does, and struggle tends to be more interesting over the course of a longer narrative. Even the title of the original manga—That Strange, Strange Little Girl—implies the perspective of an outside observer, as opposed to the story being entirely from Ecchan’s perspective. So we end up getting a lot of episodes focused on Buku, plus some that spotlight Miko, Miko’s parents, Taihei, Taihei’s little brother, Ms. Shirayuki, Ouyama, Ouyama’s cronies, Ouyama’s abusive alcoholic parents—er, wait, what? And that’s played for laughs, you say? …Yeesh. Compared to the way Marvelous Melmo dealt with that topic, that seems particularly tone-deaf too… Um, anyway, yeah, lots of supporting cast episodes.

Also, as with other Toei shows of the era, Sarutobi Ecchan has plenty of one-off characters and problems of the week to deal with. Most of these episodes are standard Toei fare, so I won’t get into them here. However, there is one story I want to go in-depth on. So there’s this episode where the gang meet a bratty little kid who won’t do anything his mother says. No matter how nice and understanding she is, he keeps acting out and acting out. This lasts until the very end when he starts playing with matches near a wooden shack. Sure enough, a big fire starts, but Ecchan and his mom show up to save the day before he can seriously hurt himself.

You would think this is leading to an ending where the kid learns his lesson, becomes grateful for his mom’s love and support, and stops being such a turd all the time. But nope! This lesson is for the parents out there. Because the reason for the boy’s bad behaviour? Is apparently that his mom hasn’t been spanking him, so he feels like he can get away with anything. This is highlighted most directly when the bratty kid talks to Taihei’s little brother, Kurihei, whose mother spanks him regularly. As a result, Kurihei doesn’t make nearly as much trouble as this kid, and has a better relationship with his mom to boot. That’s right, parents! Your kid started playing with matches and torched a small building, and you could have prevented it if only you had beaten the sh** of him more! What a great lesson!

Now, before anyone comments “Well, you can’t judge this from a western perspective” or “What your culture says is wrong isn’t wrong everywhere” or something like that: I did some research on this. ‘Cause I was curious. And you’re gonna sit and listen to it. 

The TL;DR version of my findings is that while the idea of quote-unquote “hitting a child with love” is widely accepted in Japan, other methods of encouraging good behaviour are much more popular.

Individual practices and beliefs vary widely, but most commonly, Japanese society in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has tended to support the idea that children have enough innate goodness and emotional intelligence to understand why something is wrong if taught well enough. This is part of why so much Japanese children’s media, including these early magical girl shows, have so many strong moral lessons baked in to begin with. 

So the first lines of defense against misbehaviour for parents tend to be either discussions with a child about their behaviour, or simply letting a child make mistakes and learn the consequences naturally without interfering (a practice called “mimamoru” or “watching over”).

Spanking and the like tends to only enter the picture as a last resort, or if the parent becomes too stressed or fatigued to deal with their child some other way. This is because physical punishment tends to be seen as a way to enforce obedience for its own sake, as opposed to the actual goal of making a child understand their actions and act better of their own free will. It’s a quick fix, not a long-term solution. And that’s not even getting into the fact that many Japanese parents do believe that hitting a child at all is unacceptable.

So, it wouldn’t have been as surprising if the lesson for this episode were, “Okay, try everything else you can to set your kid straight, but if all else fails, don’t be afraid to smack ‘em a bit.” And it is kind of that, since the mom really doesn’t hit her son until he makes it clear that he still won’t listen even after being saved from the fire. However, this episode also seems to argue that the mom should have been spanking him regularly from the start to keep him on the straight and narrow. And from what I’ve been able to find, this just doesn’t fully jibe with the prevailing norms at that time. It’s still an uncommon and potentially concerning message, whether by Japanese standards or otherwise.

So… there. [blows raspberry]

If you think that was all a bit real for this show, that’s only because I haven’t told you about the drama yet. While Sarutobi Ecchan’s biggest strengths are its slapstick comedy and ninja antics, it also has more serious parts, much like other Toei shows before it. Most often, this will relate to Ecchan’s absent parents. Where are they? Dead? Missing? Literally outer space? Who knows. Either way, they’re out of the picture, and that makes things hard on Ecchan and Buku.

For example: episode 2 features Ecchan inviting herself to live with Miko’s family, which is very much played for laughs. However, after most of the joke-y parts are over, the show reminds viewers that Ecchan and Buku really are homeless. Ecchan may have magical abilities, but again, she’s not a witch like Sally — she can’t just conjure a house out of nothing. Without any kind of family or support group around, she and Buku don’t have anywhere else to go. Miko and her parents eventually let Ecchan stay, but before that, Ecchan realizes how much trouble she’s causing them and is prepared to leave on a bittersweet note. The scene of her and Buku about to go has a subtle sincerity to it that works. It’s just the right counterweight to the zaniness that is the rest of the show. [relevant clip]

Unfortunately, though, the tone isn’t always this well-balanced. As the episodes progress, serious scenes start getting more frequent and pronounced. The focus is still on comedy, but it seems like every character gets to have their moment in the drama spotlight, even Buku. A few emotional moments or scenes here and there would be fine, but the show’s goofy character designs, bright and flat art direction, and Looney-Toons-esque antics all undermine any extended attempts at seriousness. Even when it’s not being outright dramatic, the show has so many flat, boring conversations that any charm the show has just disappears for long periods of time.

By contrast, as buckwild as Mahou no Mako-chan could get at times, its serious and dramatic parts didn’t feel out of place at all. This was largely thanks to its elegant character designs just ready to emote at a moment’s notice. Compare that to the googly-eyed blobs, sticks, and squiggles that tend to make up an Ecchan character. While Mako-chan may have had a more severe case of tonal dissonance, that show and Ecchan share a similar problem: where Mako-chan felt more suited to drama and spent too much time on comedy, with Ecchan it’s the reverse. There’s just not quite enough depth in Ecchan’s world as presented to keep things interesting when you peel the comedy away.

It may be for that reason that the show wasn’t as popular as Toei’s previous magical girl titles. The audience ratings were so tepid that Toei cut the series short at only 26 episodes. This cancellation was so abrupt that the story never received a proper ending, with several already-scripted episodes never being produced. The final episode is just a random “hijinks with doppelgangers” story. It has a nice scene at the end with Ecchan taking her American double up the Tokyo Tower to see Mount Fuji, but other than that, it’s really nothing special. Downright boring, even, with all the misunderstandings and resolution dragged out over an interminable 20 minute runtime. With an ending like that, it’s no wonder there was so little interest in the failed anime afterward. And Ecchan ended up having no notable appearances in anime ever again…

If hearing that bums you out, though, then fear not! For Ecchan’s manga life was much richer than her anime life! To explain how, I’ve enlisted the help of a special guest: Felipe Ondera, an independent comic artist who’s produced several titles inspired by the works of Shotaro Ishinomori, including Mutant Nina, a story directly inspired by Ecchan. He has some extremely in-depth knowledge of Ishinomori’s career and has agreed to share with us what he knows about the Ecchan manga and Ishinomori’s related works. There’s lots to get into, so without further ado: take it away, Felipe!

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Shotaro Ishinomori is a manga artist of many faces. In the height of his artistic career, he was known as The King of Manga. His speed and technique for making comics was legendary, and he helped many other iconic creators like Fujio Akatsuka and Fujiko Fujio come up with characters that defined their careers; such as Nama-chan, and Obake no Q-taro. With his friends in the Tokiwa-So apartments, he later co-founded the Studio Zero animation studio with the intent of producing animated adaptations for his own works as well as those of his friends. 

Long before Ishinomori was ever heavily associated with cyborgs and superheroes, he was known as a groundbreaking shoujo manga artist. Like many of his contemporaries, Ishinomori submitted publications to shoujo magazines, as the competition to be published in shounen/boy’s magazines was quite high. However, Ishinomori believed that manga could tell stories that could be enjoyed by all readers regardless of age or gender, and didn’t limit his storytelling and artistic talents to sticking to one genre. 

Many of his earliest shoujo stories were mystery, suspense or drama. With Akatsuka and Hideko Mizuno, he created Angel in the Dark, a detective tale featuring a young girl as the protagonist. His first big solo hit was a short story called Ryuujin Numa, or The Dragon God Marsh, which mixed a typical shoujo plot of a young girl in love with mystery, suspense and supernatural elements. The success of Ryuujin Numa lead to Ishinomori being hailed as the “King of Manga”.

He also made stories with genres that would usually be considered unfit for a girl’s magazine at the time, particularly gag and science-fiction manga. [show covers for Kiki-chan, Iyan Poko, Little Red Riding Hood] Perhaps Ishinomori’s most significant contribution towards shoujo manga was introducing science-fiction stories to shoujo manga publications. His science-fiction themes included robot, mad science, metamorphosis, dimensional shifting, time travel, space travel, alien invaders, and ESP. [show covers for Ghost Girl, Yesterday Comes No More, But Neither Tomorrow…, The Girl with the Golden Eyes, Swan Lake, Mutant Sabu, Teacher with a Thousand Eyes]

The origins of Sarutobi Ecchan were still tied to Ishinomori’s tendency of mixing genres. Originally titled Okashina Okashina Okashina Ano Ko (or That Very, Very, Very, Strange Girl), the manga was first serialized in the weekly magazine Margaret in 1964. While the stories started off mostly gag-based, as the series continued, Ishinomori experimented again with all sorts of different genres. One week’s story could be pure comedy, while the next one could be tragedy, drama, a murder mystery, or a science fiction plot. Speaking of science fiction, many stories show glimpses that Ecchan’s powers might not be the result of ninjutsu training or magic, but rather psychic powers.  In some ways, ninja are espers in the Ecchan universe. Ecchan also lives in a house featuring many high-tech inventions like robots and automated machines, and her parents are revealed to not be dead, but rather they’re scientists off in space with a research laboratory on Mars.

The original Margaret run had 3 distinctive stages. The first stage involves Ecchan, a mysterious transfer student who befriends her classmates Miko and Momo. Ecchan can talk to animals, she’s stronger than bullies, and capable of all sorts of extraordinary feats. Miko and Momo are curious about her origins and follow Ecchan, where they discover she lives with her grandfather and older sister Emiko. It’s also revealed that she’s a descendent of the famous ninja folk hero Sarutobi Sasuke, one of Ishinomori’s childhood heroes. 

In the second stage, Ecchan leaves Miko, Momo, and most of the regular cast behind in order to travel the world with her new genie friend, Pooh-chan. It also marks the first in-person appearance of Ecchan’s parents, who’ve finally come back home from space. The stories are self-contained, usually with some sort of social commentary or anti-war message. Ecchan also befriends a new cast of classmates and school staff, and Pooh-chan also enrolls into school.

After her adventures with the genie and her new friends, the series moved into its third stage. The regular cast returns, and Ecchan is presented with a Christmas present, a talking bulldog named Buku. These stories are more similar in tone to the early years, with the exception of Buku now being a regular member of the supporting cast. Unlike the anime, there aren’t many Buku-centric chapters in the manga.

The Margaret run finally ended in 1966, but by 1968, it was followed by High School Ecchan in The Heibon Monthly, an entertainment magazine. Despite Ecchan now being in high school, she still has the exact same appearance as she did as a little girl. This new series featured characters Marippe and Rokube from Ishinomori’s romantic comedy manga, Kinnaru Yatsura, another Heibon Monthly publication. One chapter also features a guest appearance by Jun from Ishinomori’s avant garde manga series Fantasy World Jun. Ecchan had also guest starred in a chapter of Mutant Sabu (once available officially in English for a time) In 1969, Ecchan and Sabu appeared together at the end of Ishinomori and Kazumasa Hirai’s epic science fiction series, Genma Taisen and she was also appearing in a weekly women’s rights newspaper, Shinfujin Shimbun. In these newspaper strips, Ishinomori again had Ecchan comics delivering social commentary. 

By late 60s and early 70s, there was a talk of a Sarutobi Ecchan animated series by Studio Zero, around the same time Kinnaru Yatsura was also considered for an adaptation. Both projects were eventually canceled, although Ecchan managed to make a cameo in another Studio Zero production, Donkikko. In the 1970s, there were also plans by Kamen Rider-producer Tohru Hirayama, of developing a live action Ecchan series. But nothing further came of adapting Ecchan until 1971, after Toei had produced 3 hit shows featuring magical girls and started their Majokko line of heroines. 

However, as the previous Toei Majokko anime, Mahou no Mako-chan, featured an older heroine and overall different tone than the previous two series, many fans expected the next series to follow in its footsteps, but instead the very strange-looking Ecchan came, with its gag-based humor and somewhat unorthodox formula. As Eryn explained, the series failed to find an audience and was cancelled after 26 episodes.

That was not the end for Ecchan. In 1971, as tie-ins for the then-current anime series, Ishinomori drew new Ecchan series in several different shoujo and children’s magazines, including Shoujo Friend, Nakayoshi, and Tanoshii Youchien. These new Ecchan manga series didn’t follow the TV continuity, as the anime would only adapt stories from the Margaret run, but introduced elements from it, most notably Buku and Ecchan and Miko’s friend Taihei being there from the very beginning.  Also, the Nakayoshi run features the return of Ecchan’s older sister, Emiko. These new Ecchan installments were mostly made of independent short stories. In the Shoujo Friend run, Ecchan again crosses over with her fellow Ishinomori characters Jun, Rokube, Marippe and Sabu.  

In 1985, Ishinomori brought Ecchan back once more in a brand-new full color newspaper series for Yomiuri Shimbun called Esper Ecchan. Ecchan travels back in time from the future to 1980s Japan with of a group of Esper children to fight a bratty psychic boy who uses his powers for misdeeds. The only returning characters are Ecchan and Buku. In 1997, one year before Ishinomori’s passing, Ecchan and her friends also appear in Takasaki Dreaming, a manga written by Ishinomori and drawn by Daisuke Inoue. This manga crossed over many of Ishinomori’s most beloved characters for a time-travelling adventure through the history of Takasaki City. 

In interviews with Ishinomori later in his life, he often quoted Ecchan as one of his favorite works. Ecchan is also a favorite of many Ishinomori fans, and the main character of Katsuhiro Otomo’s award-winning manga Domu was named after her. She most recently became a recurring character in the revamp of Ishinomori and Kazumasa Hirai’s science fiction series, Genma Taisen Rebirth. Statues and tributes to Ecchan can also be seen all over the town of Ishinomaki. A section dedicated to Ecchan is located at the Ishinomori Mangattan Museum, and she also appears in Little Red Riding Hood is Missing!, a short animated film shown exclusively at the Mangattan Museum’s movie theater.

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Whew! Thank you so much for all that, Felipe! You can check out his comics and art over at felipestudio.weebly.com and follow him on social media at the handles listed here.

There’s not much more I can add to that other than… man, Ecchan deserved better. Seeing the rich history of comedy, genre-hopping, political awareness, and psychic adventures she had in Ishinomori’s manga makes the anime seem that much blander by comparison.

While the anime has some great gags, a nice theme song, and a solid voice cast (especially Ecchan herself, voiced by Michiko Nomura), almost everything else that’s enjoyable about it, the manga had and then some. Sadly, it seems the one-two punch of Toei’s bland adaptation and the change in tone from previous majokko series cut off Sarutobi Ecchan’s legs before it could really start running. …Get it? Cutting off legs? ‘cause Sasuke Sarutobi cut off his leg to escape a trap, and that’s how he died. Do you get it? Do you get my very layered and incredibly smart joke? dO yOu GET iT?

[cough] Moving on. The only anime audiences who ever gave Ecchan a second chance were, as usual, our good friends in Europe. The series aired in Italy in 1984 as “Hela Supergirl”, and was rerun several times there. In Poland it aired as, uh, hang on, gimme a second, uhh… “Hela Superdziewczyna”. To any Polish viewers out there: feel free to make fun of my pronunciation in the comments. Anyway, it was mainly based on the Italian version, with Ecchan also being called “Hela”. Though, interestingly: in both versions, her real name is still “Etsuko” – “Hela” is just a nickname. Huh, go figure.

Other than that, there was also apparently talk of another Ecchan anime adaptation in the early 2000’s when the company Ishimori Entertainment was looking to license out a bunch of Ishinomori’s works to international markets. The only anime to come out of this initiative were 2006’s 009-1 and 2007’s The Skull Man. Nothing else took off, sadly.

It’s good to know that Ecchan is recognized within the canon of Ishinomori’s works at least, even if her time in the anime spotlight was short-lived. In the end, it seems the only thing that could defeat our godlike heroine… was poor ratings.

And after a defeat like that, it’s unsurprising that Toei decided to play things safe. Very safe. Like. “Remake-their-first-magical-girl-show-even-though-it-had-only-been-a-few-years” safe. How well did that pay off for them? Well, you can find out next time on Mahou Profile, as we look at a show that retreads old ground in some ways while forging ahead in others: Mahoutsukai Chappy, a.k.a. Chappy the Witch. See you all then~

Mahou Profile #005: Marvelous Melmo [Script]

Mahou Profile #005: Marvelous Melmo [Script]

[The following is the script of episode 5 of the Mahou Profile series, viewable on YouTube here. This post to be updated with an accurate video transcript and citations in the future.]

Hey there everyone and welcome to Mahou Profile! Today I want to lead off with a quick apology. Last episode I said that I was going to cover two shows next, but after watching and researching both shows, I ended up having so much to say that I felt it necessary to split them back into two episodes. So, sorry to anyone who was hoping to hear about Sarutobi Ecchan today! That’s in the pipeline for next episode.

With that out of the way, we can dive straight into our featured show for today: Fushigi na Merumo, a.k.a. Marvelous Melmo. This series comes to us from Tezuka Productions and debuted in October 1971. It began as a manga series by Osamu Tezuka called Mamaa-chan, which was also the heroine’s name. However, according to the official Tezuka site, when work started on the anime, “the name ‘Mamaa’ was already registered and therefore not open for use, and so the series was renamed ‘Marvelous Melmo’ starting with the October issue in 1971.” The heroine’s new name, “Melmo”, highlights her transformation abilities, deriving from the Japanese pronunciation of the word “metamorphose”. “Me-ta-mo-ru-hoo-ze” — “Me-ru-mo”. 

While it’s fallen into obscurity nowadays, Marvelous Melmo was pretty significant to the histories of both the magical girl genre and anime as a whole. It was the first magical girl series produced by a studio other than Toei; it featured the first magical girl whose power focused on transforming into an older version of herself; it was an early example of anime mixing narrative and educational material, ala Moyashimon or Cells at Work; and… [sigh] it was one of the earliest anime to make frequent use of panty shots, or “panchira”. And when you realize that the titular Melmo is only nine years old? You start to get an idea of where this show might run into some trouble. 

Before we get into that, let’s go over the basics. Melmo Watari is an elementary school student with two younger brothers: Totoo and Touch. At the very start of the series— literally minute 1, episode 1 —the siblings’ mother, Hiromi, is hit by a car and killed. In the afterlife, she begs to go back to Earth, worried about how her young children will survive without her. The powers that be in their spiffy star suits grant her one wish for her family, and she wishes to give her daughter Melmo the ability to grow up and take care of her younger brothers when needed. The gods grant her a bottle of magic candies crafted from the yolk of a phoenix egg—and for those familiar with Osamu Tezuka’s other works, yes, it is that Phoenix from the manga of the same name. Connections!

Back on Earth, Melmo and her brothers have been placed with a grouchy, abusive aunt who hates children. Melmo despairs, but then her mother appears to her as a spirit for a tearful reunion. She gives Melmo the bottle of candies, explaining that a blue candy will make her ten years older, and a red one will make her ten years younger. Melmo tests out the power of the blue candies and treats the audience to the first of the show’s many, many uncomfortable panty shots (seriously, was the butt wiggle necessary?). Taking two red candies transforms her into a baby, though she still retains her nine-year-old mind. She almost eats another red candy but wisely decides not to test her luck.

So Melmo becomes her older self and confronts the abusive aunt, claiming that she’s Hiromi and that she’s come back for her children. The aunt tries to sic some goons on her, but with some quick thinking, Melmo uses blue candies to turn the goons into old men and frighten them away.

All seems well after that, but soon Touch gets a hold of the candy bottle. He eats some blue candies and turns himself into, well, a literal man-baby. In a panic, Melmo accidentally feeds him too many red candies and this ends up turning him into a zygote. …WELP. Guess that answers the question of whether you can go too far back or not. 

Melmo comes up with an ingenious solution to this problem, though, by dissolving a blue candy in water. She puts the zygote in the water so it can absorb the candy’s magic, and we watch Touch grow from an egg back into a baby… Very… Very… Slowly…

…Did I mention that Marvelous Melmo was a sex education show, by the way?

Yes, at least once per episode, the story will diverge into a short educational segments depicted through either painted still images or lovingly rendered growth sequences like this one. Most of the segments attempt to teach something about reproductive biology and the life cycle, including bits about puberty, gender, falling in love, parenting, and how if a human being could return to a single-celled form, they could tap into the foundational structure of the universe, swirling through the stuff of stars and all the blueprints of mere existence, to be reborn in a new and glorious form as from the very soup primordial. You know. Standard stuff.

(Also that last bit is exactly how Melmo is able to use the candies to turn into animals. Like I said, very science, much rigor, wow.)

So Melmo finally grows Touch back to normal baby size, and this time it’s Totoo’s turn to steal the candies. He runs outside with them and… look I wish I could explain this whole caper because it’s very good, but we have a lot to get through today, so I’ll just say it involves a murderous driver who tries to run Melmo over, and Melmo rightly uses her powers to invoke the fear of God in him, traumatizing the man into swearing off all cars forever. MAGICAL GIRLS MOTHERFU—

The episode ends back at home with adult Melmo giving Totoo a bath. Totoo is still unsure about all this, and sure enough he soon susses out that she isn’t his mom. Melmo drops the act and explains her secret to him, making him promise to keep it so their abusive aunt doesn’t get them or their house again. Totoo promises, and so episode 1 ends with the stage set for… well, something.

From here the series is less episodic than the Toei magical girl series up to this point have been, with several major status quo changes and callbacks to previous episodes happening throughout the series. 

We get the introduction of a mentor figure/guardian for Melmo in episode 4, a doctor named Waregarasu. In the same episode, the doctor gives Melmo the idea for taking bits of two candies at once to transform into animals, a power which she uses throughout the series after. 

The death of Melmo’s mother is continually returned to for episode plots, such as an episode where the boss of the man who ran her over appears to want to make amends for what happened. This episode also features the return of Melmo’s awful aunt, who features in this and one more key episode before the end of the series. 

Several characters whom one would only expect to see in a single episode make minor re-appearances throughout, reinforcing that they don’t just disappear from Melmo’s life after their one featured episode. The gods in their star suits also reappear a few times throughout the series to watch over Melmo’s progress, sometimes punishing her if they feel she hasn’t been using the candies responsibly enough. 

This leads into a major plot thread towards the end of the series where the candies stop magically refilling at the end of each day, because this miracle that the gods have created will not last indefinitely. This ties in with the series’ themes of growth and change. The candies cannot last forever, because nothing does. The magic of childhood must someday give way to adulthood — which is difficult but often wondrous in its own way. 

In any case, status quo shake-ups aside, the episodes still tend to follow one-and-done structures that allow viewers to tune into just about any episode and not be too lost. There will pretty much always be a new problem of the day for Melmo to tackle. The candies will be involved in either worsening or fixing the situation some way, and the story will eventually tie in to whatever the dubious sex ed lesson for the day is. …Oh yeah, and Melmo will probably get naked at some point. Child form, adult form, doesn’t matter — they’ll find a way. It’s… yeah… Jeebus criminy, Japan, don’t do this to me… [defeated groan]

Now, you may be thinking “Well hey, it’s a sex ed show — of course there’s going to be nudity. What’s the problem?” The problem is the framing. There is plenty of nudity in the educational segments, and that’s all very frank and fine and dandy. And to be fair, there are also narrative segments where the nudity is tasteful and on-theme, like when Melmo bathes Totoo in a parental way, or when she tries to breastfeed baby Touch. 

But then you get stuff like Melmo’s transformations. First off: yes, Marvelous Melmo technically had the first nude transformation scenes, predating the infamous nude transformations of Cutie Honey by a couple of years. What makes these transformations more uncomfortable than Honey’s, though, is that Melmo is still mentally nine years old when she transforms. And the transformations really tend to highlight the sexuality of her adult form, both visually and musically — no really, the transformation theme ends with a literal “sexy” saxophone riff. Also, if a male character is in the room with her at the time, even if they know Melmo is a child, they will try to (ahem) “sneak a peek“, as it were. Gross. 

The weird thing is? You would think the show would know better. One of the very first educational segments shown is about the differences between children and adults, and it very clearly points out that the major difference there isn’t just physical bodies but also the amount of experience and wisdom each has. Hey. HEY TEZUKA PRODUCTIONS. If you understand that what makes a child a child is largely mental, not physical, then why do you think it’s okay to sexualize a child just because she has an adult body? Huh? HUH?! Say something you perverted fu—! 

[“Technical Difficulties”]

Okay I’m calm, I’m calm… But seriously: for a show that presents very literal life lessons in every episode, Marvelous Melmo ends up teaching the audience… a lot more than it perhaps intends to. Having watched the entire series and taken in all this valuable learning, I would like to demonstrate this by sharing ten of the best nuggets of wisdom this show has to offer. 

Lesson 1: If you want to change someone’s age without asking first, that’s totally fine! Be they a dog, an elephant, a goose, or a person: as long as whatever they were doing inconvenienced or hurt you in some way, then irreversibly changing them into an egg or a baby or a decrepit husk without their consent is A-OK and absolutely not a form of horrific cosmic torture. I mean, they brought it on themselves by being kind of a jerk, after all.

Lesson 2: It’s extremely easy to throw small projectiles and land them exactly where you want them! If you can’t land a tiny candy in someone’s open mouth on the first try every time, then clearly you’re just not trying hard enough. 

Lesson 3: Always go along with shady strangers, no questions asked. Doesn’t matter if the last strange people who came up to you said they were taking you to a world conference, only to then spirit you away to a fascist dictatorship… or told you they had a sweet luxury apartment they wanted you to watch for them, only for it to have actually been a front for their mass pickpocketing spree, which you then became the scapegoat for… or they came dressed to you like a literal Dracula and promised to bring your dead mother back to life, only for your resurrected mom to actually be a wax doll implanted with the soul of a snake, and then the Snake Soul Mom actually began to care about you to the point of immolating herself to save you from freezing to death in a snowstorm!

[clips showing The Tragedy of Snake Mom]

Nah, it’s probably okay to just keep saying yes to strangers like that. Benefit of the doubt and all!

Lesson 4: Picking your nose hairs is gross and no one wants to see that. Stop it. …STOP IT.

Lesson 5: If you accidentally turn your brother into a frog with magic candies, there is absolutely no easy way to reverse this process. Frogs can’t eat candy or drink water, so clearly not even dissolved candy water will work for them. Never mind that frog skin is water-permeable and they just get the water they need by absorbing it. Nope, absolutely no way that the candy water could work that way. You’ll just have to leave your brother stuck as a frog for nine entire episodes, causing him to have an existential crisis about whether he’ll ever get to grow up and go to school and lead a normal life… before realizing oh wait, frogs can breathe, right? So just evaporate the candy water into steam and have him breathe it in. Easy peasy! …Okay yeah, that was less of a real lesson and more an excuse to talk about this subplot because seriously, Totoo gets stuck as a frog for almost a third of the series. Status quo changes indeed.

Lesson 6: Sometimes the solution to a problem is to get in a prop plane, impregnate a giant devil flower, and then set the devil flower on fire to destroy both it and its offspring for good. …Anime is great.

Lesson 7: The best way to get away with any crime scot-free is, of course, to become a baby. Because, well? 

[clip of police officer saying “I can’t arrest a baby.”] 

[clip: Roll Safe meme]

Lesson 8: Sometimes if someone gets bullied when they’re young, that doesn’t make them more sympathetic to other victims of bullying. Their problem is less with the bullying and more the fact that they were bullied and not someone else. I’m not even making a joke here. This episode where Melmo turns a bullied puppy into a grown dog who in turn bullies others? Is really, really well done. It’s a shame that it takes the puppy’s mom sacrificing her life for him to see that what he’s doing is wrong, but still. Man this show has a lot of dead moms… Anyway, this episode feels very prescient of a lot of the toxicity you see today in internet culture, politics, media–everywhere, really. A lot of people who experience mistreatment — or even just perceive that they’ve been mistreated — do not learn empathy for those who have suffered, and instead turn that around into a conviction that as long as suffering is inflicted on the “correct” people, it’s all fine, even enjoyable to perpetuate. But go off about magical girl shows not having any strong real-world messages or themes.

Lesson 9: Gender! It’s… Okay, I can’t even really make a good joke here, so I’ll just be serious. Being a sex education anime from 1971, this series presents an… outdated understanding of gender, let’s say. It’s specifically outdated in regards to number of genders and ideas of biological determinism for those genders. I can’t blame the series for not foreseeing decades of advancement in scientific and social understandings of gender and sex, but yeah. Worth bracing yourself for that when you head into this one. 

And Lesson 10: If you’re hitting on a nine-year-old girl and you’re old enough to drive a motorbike or a car? That is… apparently absolutely fine! In fact, it’s probably not just you who’s hitting on her — she’s clearly just such a fox! And at that point you and the other suitors will be well within your rights to demand that this small child choose one of you to go out with. And she will. And it’ll be treated as sweet and romantic. Because she’ll grow up to marry you and have your child eventually. And that’s just FINE. NO PorbLEm wiTH ThaT at aLL. nONE WHATSOEVER. …AAGGHGHHHH.

…Anyway.

There is so much more I could get into with the plot of Melmo, but I’ll leave it there for time’s sake. Needless to say, like Mahou no Mako-chan before it, this one’s… a bit of a weird one.

It’s almost for the weirdness alone that I hope this one makes it back to English-speaking audiences someday. And yes, this did once see an official English release — in recent memory, even! It used to be legally streaming on Viki, and even now you can still get to the show’s episode pages if you Google them. Unfortunately though, it appears the episodes themselves are no longer available. At first I thought maybe they were just region-locked, but people in several other major regions have confirmed that they don’t work for them either. The episodes are out there in some of the seedier corners of the internet if you’re that desperate, but for those who prefer to watch their anime legally, that option sadly does not seem to exist anymore. 

However, even if you do get to see the show, you probably won’t have seen the original version. Like I said, Melmo first aired in 1971, but a “Renewal” version also aired in 1998 with cleaned-up animation and an all new voice cast. This was the version used in Viki’s streams, and while the Japanese DVDs feature the dub tracks for both versions, it seems like they exclusively use the cleaner animation of the Renewal version. 

Compare the original and Renewal versions of the opening theme. The original theme song was performed by Chikako Idehara and Young Fresh. It uses mainly brass and string instruments, has more childlike vocals, and the image quality is noticeably washed out. By contrast, the Renewal version was performed by an adult vocalist, Yuuki Mashima. It uses more synthesized instrumentals, has a cleaner, more vibrant look, and features a small tag on the logo saying “Renewal” in katakana. [clips from both versions]

For those of you who speak Italian, you can find a few Italian-dubbed episodes floating around online. Unlike with the Italian dub of Mahou no Mako-chan, this version of Melmo, entitled I Bon Bon Magici di Lilly, or “Lilly’s Magic Bon Bons”, was not that heavily censored, which is odd considering how much stuff in Melmo is potentially censor-able. As far as I can tell, it’s pretty much intact. Just goes to show how far the “educational” banner goes towards justifying content that might not otherwise make it to air. 

That the show aired with so little issue in Italy is interesting considering how it’s said to have been received in its home country. A popular anecdote holds that many parents in Japan hated the show and complained to the network after their kids started asking a lot of uncomfortable questions. I couldn’t find much hard evidence for these claims in English, so I can’t say for sure how much truth there is to that, but a 2004 review from the Japanese magazine CD Journal claims that PTA groups called the show “disgusting” (“Iyarashii!”). This quote appears on the Amazon listing for the Japanese DVD release and is the most official confirmation of these anecdotes I could find. 

What can be said for sure is the show didn’t last long — only 26 episodes, airing from October 3, 1971 – March 26, 1972. It was the first series produced by the newly formed Tezuka Productions, then a spin-off company from Osamu Tezuka’s original studio, Mushi Production. Melmo would be Tezuka Productions’ only full-length series until Mushi Production filed for bankruptcy in 1973. The defunct MushiPro then transferred all their animation departments over to TezukaPro, making TezukaPro the main animation company for Tezuka-related works going forward. 

TezukaPro pulled in a lot of talent for Melmo, many of whom were just starting long and fruitful careers in the anime industry. One example was Yoshinobu Nishizaki, who would rise to fame in 1974 as the producer of the classic sci-fi series Space Battleship Yamato (and then later rise to infamy with the likes of Odin: Space Sailer Starlight [clip: “Odiiiiiiiiin!”]). Nishizaki was Osamu Tezuka’s general manager during Melmo’s production and was mainly responsible for selling the show to a network. The rights eventually went to Asahi Broadcasting, and, as Nishizaki recounts in a 1981 interview, he felt a sense of responsibility for the show even though all he did was sell it. When the audience ratings turned out to be even worse than he imagined they might be, he felt deeply ashamed of himself and from then on vowed that he would eventually “create an anime work that [he] would not regret.” [clip: “Odiiiiiiiiin!”]

Slightly more involved in the production was Yoshiyuki Tomino, who directed episodes 5, 16, and 22. Tomino wasn’t exactly a new talent at the time, having started with Tezuka doing scripts and storyboards for the original Astro Boy in 1963. But he was still a couple of years away from his debut as a main series director on Triton of the Sea, and about eight years away from creating the work that would define his career, Mobile Suit Gundam. This was also prior to him earning the nickname “Minagoroshi no Tomino” or “Kill ‘em All Tomino”, referring to the sheer number of character deaths that tend to crop up in his stories. Thankfully there are no deaths in the episodes Tomino directed for Melmo, although episode 22 does go into the dark subject matter of alcoholism and familial abuse. The ending of this episode is perhaps overly hopeful on that front, but it’s still one of the standout stories of the entire series. 

You may have noticed I’ve barely said anything about the big Tez’ himself, as it were. And that is because, honestly? It’s intimidating to even try talking about him. There is already a wealth of resources out there about Osamu Tezuka that can tell you so, so much more about the man, his work, and his influence on industry than I ever could, and they can do it more thoughtfully, critically, and eloquently to boot. If I dove headlong into Tezuka here, even just for an overview, we could be here for an entire series unto itself. 

So apologies if you wanted to hear about Tezuka in more depth, but for now I’ll just focus on what his manga for Melmo was like. The manga is fairly similar to the anime, with many stories being adapted directly to the anime. A key difference between the manga and anime, though, is that the candies not only change Melmo’s age, but also grant her clothing for various occupations she tries out in her adult form. For example, when Melmo tries to become a stewardess to board a flight to Africa, in the anime we follow her going to great lengths to sneak into the airport, find a closet to transform in, change into clothing she brought from home, and take a stewardess flight exam in order to board the flight she wants to get on. In the manga, she just magically transforms into a stewardess and gets on the plane with no issues, similar to how the Disguise Pen works in early episodes of Sailor Moon

In general, the manga version of Melmo rarely has to worry about her clothes not changing with her, which is… nice, I guess? On the one hand, the strict “realism” of the candies’ rules in the anime is more interesting to watch, since the writers often get very creative trying to work within their bounds. …However the manga does have a lot fewer of those discomforting panty shots, so… yeah. Remember kids: there’s a reason we don’t worry about the mechanics of The Hulk’s pants, and I would prefer not to worry about Melmo’s clothes on that front either.

The manga didn’t last long. It was reprinted in 2018 as a single hardcover collectors’ edition called the Marvelous Melmo Treasure Book, which contains materials recently discovered by Osamu Tezuka’s daughter, Rumiko Tezuka, This includes several chapter layouts, sketches, and colour illustrations that never saw the light of day until this year. Unfortunately this book is Japanese only and I was not able to look at a copy for this episode. 

There does appear to have been a second Melmo manga serialized in 2010, simply titled Melmo-chan. However, I can’t find much information about this manga other than it was written and drawn by artist Keiko Fukuyama, and it ran in Monthly Comic Ryuu. …And it apparently had the CUTEST MELMO EVER AAHHHH LOOK AT THAT PWECIOUS PLEASE PROTECT THIS DARLING ANGEL AHHHHH~ Um, but yes, if anyone knows more about this one or owns copies, let me know! I’d be really curious to read it someday!

Anyway, outside of the main anime and manga, Melmo never resurfaced much outside of some star system appearances in other Tezuka works. She had cameo appearances in Black Jack, Unico, and Rainbow Parakeet, and prior to the anime airing, her adult form played a role in the 1970 manga Apollo’s Song, there appearing under the name “Hiromi Watari”. Apollo’s Song is considered to be another part of Osamu Tezuka’s “Sex Education Trilogy”, alongside Marvelous Melmo and Yakepacchi’s Maria. So yes, Melmo was not an outlier on this topic for Tezuka, to say the least.

Melmo’s animated appearances after her solo series were, weirdly enough, both in advertisements. The first was in an extended music video made to promote an electronic album. No, not Interstella 5555, although that would have been a wild crossover. No, this was an 18-minute OVA called Ravex in Tezuka Land, which promoted an album by the Japanese band Ravex, and also celebrated Osamu Tezuka’s 80th birthday. The short features Ravex meeting up with various Tezuka characters, including Astro Boy, Black Jack, Kimba, Unico, Princess Sapphire (eyyy girl, welcome back to Mahou Profile!) and of course, Melmo. Together they use the power of music to defeat the evil Soggies or whatever, and everyone celebrates at the end with a big dance party. Yeah, there’s not much of substance here, but it is nice to see Melmo animated in a modern digital format, and with a cool futuristic outfit to boot. Also cool to see her in so many scenes with Sapphire, highlighting their shared magical girl heritage. Please look at these two very good and wholesome girls. Just… look at them. 

And finally, as far as I can tell, Melmo’s most recent animated appearance was in an actual commercial. In 2013, Japanese dietary supplement company Wakasa Seikatsu very briefly had a licensed product called “Melumo Love”, which claimed to rejuvenate women’s beauty like Melmo’s candies rejuvenate her age. And they produced this animated commercial to promote it.

[clips from the commercial]

That’s… well, it’s a little weird, but honestly, what about Melmo isn’t weird? I get the concept and it’s cute for what it is, so there you go. 

So yes, that wraps us up on Marvelous Melmo! This entire series is a treasure trove of bizarre logic, baffling science, creative situations, and honest moments of human connection. Also I didn’t get to say before, but compared to the Toei series we’ve seen so far, the animation is really a step up too, with lots of uncommon angles and uses of camera movement, as well as an interesting fluidity to the character motion. It has some very troubling aspects, as I think I’ve made very, very clear. However, if you go in knowing it’s a product of its time and brace for some of the discomfort that comes with that, it’s a very engaging watch. There’s a reason Osamu Tezuka and his production team are as venerated as they are. For all the criticisms you can make of the man and his work, he knew how to tell a strong visual story.

And next time we’ll be hopping from one humongously influential creator to another, as we get to the long-promised episode on Shotaro Ishinomori’s beloved magical ninja girl, Sarutobi Ecchan. Look forward to it and I hope to see you all again soon~! 

Mahou Profile #004: Mahou no Mako-chan [Script]

Mahou Profile #004: Mahou no Mako-chan [Script]

[The following is the script of episode 4 of the Mahou Profile series, viewable on YouTube here. This post to be updated with an accurate video transcript and citations in the future.]

[image 1: Sebastian about to sing, some happy cartoon fish with instruments in the background] 

Sebastian: Mako-chan, listen to me! The human world, it’s a mess. Life under the sea is better than anything they got up there!

[about to launch into “Under the Sea” when the music cuts]

[image 2: Unimpressed mermaid Mako with arms folded] 

Mako: What about monkeys?

[image 3: Confused Sebastian] 

Sebastian: …Uh, excuse me?

[image 2] 

Mako: Monkeys. Fuzzy, brown, climb everywhere. Have we got them?

[image 3] 

Sebastian: Uhh… we have… sea monkeys? 

[image 2] 

Mako: So no then is what you’re saying? 

[image 3] 

Sebastian: Well, no. But really, I don’t see how that makes the human world–

[image 4: Mako swimming away from Sebastian towards the surface] 

Mako: Sorry, can’t hear you tiny singing crab! I’m going to go to turn into a human and play with monkeys forever now! [faster] And possibly pine over some guy but only when we have the budget for plot! Byyyyyyye~

[image 5: “Getting too old for this shit” Sebastian, fish leaving and dropping instruments in the background] 

Sebastian: [sigh] …All right then everyone, you heard her, pack everything up, no musical number. We’ll just have to save our undersea whimsy for a girl who appreciates us. Ugh. Teenagers… 

Hey there guys and welcome to Mahou Profile: A History of Magical Girls! And… I need to confess something. It’s very important that you understand something about me. You guys… I LOVE MERMAIDS SO MUCH!! Oh my god I love mermaids, you don’t even know. They’re so pretty and cool and interesting and sometimes weirdly violent and creepy and just a fascinating concept all around. If there were more anime about mermaids, then right now you know you guys would be watching Mermaid Profile: A History of Mermaids & S***. Seriously, you guys. Mermaids. Mermaids are great. 

The problem with being a mermaid fan, though? Is that so much mermaid stuff sucks! If you want to read or watch something about mermaids, then chances are high that what you’ll find is either A) bad, B) not actually about mermaids, or C) both. And by “not actually about mermaids”, I mean stories where either the protagonist is human and the mermaid is just a supporting character at best, or there is a mer-protagonist but they spend most of the story in human form. 

That last bit is unfortunately the case with today’s show: Mahou no Mako-chan, a.k.a. Magical Mako, a.k.a. Mako the Mermaid. No, not these Mako Mermaids [image from the aforementioned show] — this Mako Mermaid. [image of Mako in human form] Doesn’t look like a mermaid, you say? Yup, exactly my point. 

Still, I went into Mahou no Mako-chan hopeful. Okay, even if Mako doesn’t spend much time as a mermaid, it should be interesting to see how they integrate the mermaid concept into the show regardless. I mean hey, a mermaid magical girl is still a pretty fresh idea for a show. There’s really only one other one of those: Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, which we’ll cover way later on down the line. Still, I have to wonder: why does hardly anyone talk about this show? I mean really, how bad could it be?

Well, after watching a bunch of the series with an open mind and putting all my serious analytical acumen into it, I came away with a lot of thoughts, but I think all of them can be summed up in one solid conclusion…

[deep breath]

IT IS A CRIME THAT THIS SHOW WAS NOT BROUGHT TO MY ATTENTION SOONER AND ALL ANIME FANS SHOULD GO TO JAIL FOR LETTING THIS ONE SLIP THROUGH THE CRACKS. 

Oh I don’t say that to imply the show is great by the way, let’s be clear here. There’s a lot of good in it, but overall it’s a mess. Just an absolutely baffling mess of a show. But it’s such an interesting mess that I seriously cannot believe it isn’t more well-known. 

To get into what I mean by that, I first need to explain the plot and characters. At the very beginning, Mahou no Mako-chan is a fairly straightforward reimagining of The Little Mermaid. A young mermaid named Mako yearns to see the surface world but is forbidden from doing so by her father, the Dragon King of the Seven Seas. One day she sneaks away from the royal palace and gets her first taste of the world above the water. She almost dismisses what she sees as not worth the hype, but then on the deck of an cruise ship she spots the one thing a horny teenage girl can’t resist: [reverb/auto tune/other vocal effects and a sing-song voice] ~an attractive member of her preferred gender~

After Mako is done ogling Mr. First Eligible Bachelor I’ve Ever Seen in My Life, her father drags her back underwater and scolds her for visiting the surface. She’s sad for a while, then has a heartfelt talk with her mom, who encourages her to go back up there if that’s what she truly desires. It’s a good thing Mako goes back up, too, as a sudden tsunami appears and crashes over the ship. Dudeman McHotface saves a young girl and her grandfather but gets pulled under himself before he can get to a lifeboat. Mako of course rushes to his rescue and pulls him up to a nearby beach, getting in nice and close with him while she can. She pines on the beach for a while, but after remembering her mother’s encouragement, she is determined to change her fate.

Insert the standard “go to meet the sea witch and get legs” part here. The unique elements here are 1) the sea witch is actually Mako’s grandmother, and 2) Mako almost throws herself into a giant acid plant to prove that she’s serious about this whole legs thing. Oh man, 15-year-olds are nothing if not dramatic, am I right? 

So Grandma Sea Witch tells Mako that the only way for a mermaid to become human is to drink a mermaid’s tear. Conveniently, Mako cries out one perfect tear and is able to take it with her to the surface. She ingests the tear and, like the original story, the pain of splitting a tail into two legs is like literally being sliced open. Mako passes out after the transformation is complete, and is eventually found by an old man named Mr. Urashima and his two grandsons…

That was all episode 1. And this is where any similarities to The Little Mermaid start to come undone. 

From here, Mako is nursed back to health by Mr. Urashima; gets put on TV in an effort to find her parents; gets kidnapped by criminals posing as her parents for ransom money; tries to call the authorities for help; gets strangled for doing so; has an unrelated seizure and dies; gets better; has a heart-to-heart with her dad; receives a magic pendant called the Tear of the Mermaid; tries to go back to Mr. Urashima; gets kidnapped again while yelling “Help! Help! These aren’t my parents!” and Mr. Urashima is like “Eh, whatever, it’s not my problem.”; struggles against the criminals; uses her magic pendant to summon psychedelic flying laser discs which cause the criminals to crash their car off a cliff and die horribly; and then she goes back to Mr. Urashima one more time and he’s like “Eeeehhh… all right sure, I guess you can stay. We have a literal bear living with us, you can’t be that much harder to look after than that.” 

And after that, Mako enrolls in a local school called Karatachi Academy and just… kinda hangs out and gets up to semi-magical hijinks with her new schoolmates while occasionally trying to find and reconnect with Manguy McDudecrush. And I say “semi-magical” because her magic pendant only works in direct sunlight or moonlight, and wouldn’t you know it, it gets mighty cloudy in Mako’s neck of the woods a whole heck of a lot. This results in her magic not even functioning half the time and leaving her completely helpless. And even when her magic is working, it’s often framed less as her actively using it and more as her father saving her butt with his powers. And all of that is when Mako even remembers to use her pendant in the first place. What’s that? You expected the magical girl in a magical girl show to be magical? Ahahahahaha! AhaHAHAHAHAHA! That’s a good one! You slay me! Ahahahahahahaha!

[singsong voice] ~Annnnd that’s the story of the shoooooww~

…Yeah. Little Mermaid this ain’t.

To be fair, it doesn’t help that I had to watch the show almost entirely in raw Japanese, since it seems only the first episode has ever been fansubbed in English. No official English releases of any kind either, just airings in other countries like Italy, France, Mexico, and Poland — par for the course with these old magical girl shows so far. I have just enough Japanese listening comprehension to follow the basic thrust of a narrative, but the details can get spotty, so who knows? Maybe there’s something in the dialogue I missed that makes everything about what I just recapped make total sense! But y’know, I dunno, I just get this feeling that even with a full understanding of the dialogue? This show would still be a little, uh… what’s the word I’m looking for… bugnuts?

I mean, here are a few more choice episode plots that come up after this. 

Episode 4. Mako and the Urashima twins run away with their pet bear for some delightful Boxcar Children-esque antics and everything is very whimsical and picaresque and OH NO! A hobo with a gun! That took a turn! …Also the cute cartoon bear totally mauls this dude. Um. Wow. Good job, bear…? Oh geez you really got him good, huh. Look at all that blood. 

Episode 6. Mako’s crush, Akira, is caring for the little girl he saved from the tsunami, who now has severe PTSD and gets flashbacks every time the wind blows at her window. Mako fixes her by bringing her through a magic kaleidoscope and taking her whale riding. Hooray!

Episode 8. Santa Claus is a literal wizard who has become disillusioned with humanity and now wanders the Earth as a mysterious vagrant. It’s up to Mako to get Santa to see the good in people again and save Christmas boy howdy. 

Episode 13. Mako goes on a “date” with her dad. It’s as awkward as it sounds and involves him fighting with her over a bikini. …Okay. 

Episode 19. Mako meets a girl who adores the Urashimas’ pet monkey, Kiiko. Yeah, the Urashimas have a lot of exotic pets; they run some kind of preserve or wildlife veterinary service I think. Kiiko in particular hangs out with Mako a lot so get used to them. Anyway, this girl falls in with a bad crowd and dies in a motorcycle crash. Oh the humanity!

Episode 26. The Prince of Germany spots Mako from a helicopter and says “Oooh, ein gutes Mädchen!” and arranges to take her on a date. Mako’s dad and Grandma Sea Witch spy on them and imagine all the ways Mako could possibly mess this up and cause an international incident. The prince is the one who ends up causing an international incident, somehow drawing out an entire naval battle fleet through sheer irresponsibility, and yet Mako is still the one who ends up getting spanked by her father in a sailor suit on the deck of a military carrier. What. 

Episode 37. Mako learns the joys of ~make-up~! Except lol no j/k, apparently lipstick is deadly poisonous to former mermaids. Yes really. 

And then there’s episodes 46 and 47, a two-parter about a strange swamp boy who tries to mess with Mako and friends and get them killed in a military test zone. [short Apocalypse Now montage] Eventually it’s revealed that Swamp Boy is a kappa whose society is in ruins after humans destroyed it and drove them away. Swamp Boy didn’t want to hurt humans but the other kappas encouraged him to do it for the sake of their revenge. Mako meets with the kappa elders and appeals to them with the power of love or something, and Swamp Boy ends up taking a missile blast to the stomach to save some of the kids. Somehow he stays alive just long enough to get everyone to safety too. He dies, Mako cries, the kappas psychically cry with her, and of course Mako’s tears bring him immediately back to life. Then the kappas make peace and leave in the night. The end??

God I think I love this show. 

So. How did we get to this point? This is still a Toei show, same as the last two we’ve looked at. It started on November 2, 1970 — right after Himitsu no Akko-chan finished. Key members of the Akko-chan creative team continued on with Mako-chan, including screenwriters Masaki Tsuji and Shun’ichi Yukimuro. Yet the tone and the … absolute wackness of the story is off the charts. So what changed?

Well, the biggest new thing is probably that this was Toei’s first original magical girl show. There is no manga, novel, or other source material for Mako-chan other than The Little Mermaid (kind of). The original creator of the story is credited as Shinobu Urakawa, but this is actually a pseudonym for Kenji Yokoyama, a producer at Toei who is also credited with planning for the series. From what I can find, the only other work he ever authored was also under the Shinobu Urakawa name, and it was another Toei series called Magne Robo Gakeen, a.k.a. Magnos the Robot. So yeah. One big difference between Mako-chan and its predecessors is that it was a company production from top to bottom. It had no pre-existing story framework to follow except, well, other Toei shows. 

If you watch an episode of Mako-chan and you have some familiarity with Sally or Akko-chan, it’s pretty clear that the series pulls a lot of elements from those shows. For example, both Sally and Akko-chan gave their heroines a gaggle of friends of varying archetypes to play off of, including a down-to-earth best friend type, some mischievous kids to stir up trouble, and in Akko’s case, a big guy who acts tough but is actually a total softie at heart. The tough guy, Banchou, is even voiced by the same voice actor who played Taisho in Akko-chan, Hiroshi Ohtake. [clips of Taisho and Banchou voices for comparison] And here’s some bonus voice actor trivia while we’re at it: Banchou’s little henchman, Senkichi, was the debut role of Akira Kamiya, who you may know better as Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star. [clips: mild-mannered Senkichi vs. Kenshiro “Aaaatatatatatata!” and “You are already dead.”] Anyway, tangent aside, the point is that this large, varied supporting cast allows the writers to bounce around between characters and keep things from getting stale, and the main supporting archetypes used in the previous shows proved themselves to be useful, so why not use them again? Okay. Makes sense so far. 

Then you have that all-important Problem of the Week structure. Having a steady string of one-off characters and situations helps to keep “stuff happening” in the series at all times, allowing the writers to spread out the major plot points over a longer period of time. Notably, though, since Mako is a teenager, the one-off characters she meets tend to be older than the ones in previous series. This increase in average age allows for a wider range of problems with more mature tones for Mako to deal with. The addition of a major love interest, a rival for his affections, and a few notable instances of focus on Mako’s body and undergarments represent the genre’s first serious attempts at romantic and sexual elements as well. In theory, this lets the Toei magical girl format transition into adolescence alongside its new heroine. In theory, these choices all make decent sense. In theory…

To explain why this approach didn’t work out quite as expected, I’m actually going to veer off and talk about manga for a bit. Sounds off-topic considering this show didn’t originate as a manga, but trust me, this will come back around. 

So let’s talk about manga, specifically shoujo. “Shoujo manga” refers to manga originally published in magazines and similar outlets aimed at elementary and young teen girls. And the content of shoujo manga has often been defined within the manga industry by the deceptively simple term “what girls like”. This means that “shoujo” as a style of entertainment is, in theory, entirely defined by whatever girls want to read about most at any particular point in time. [Onscreen: Relevant text from Jennifer Prough’s “Straight from the Heart”.] 

Now that definition raises a lot of valid questions: “How are ‘girls’ as a demographic defined exactly?”, “Aren’t there a lot of quote-unquote ‘boys’ manga that girls also like?” and “Doesn’t the entertainment industry have a hand in shaping ‘what girls like’ to start with? Isn’t this, like, a chicken and egg situation kinda?” Even acknowledging those issues, though, this definition does still fit to a certain extent. Manga publishers in Japan pay a huge amount of attention to reader feedback and actively seek it out however possible. This feedback helps publishers determine which titles get more merchandise, which get pushed for anime or live action adaptations, and which represent big enough new trends to influence the kinds of stories that get picked up. In other words: the industry has a codified system in place for determining exactly “what girls like”, and that system has traditionally steered the course of what shoujo is

And said system includes not just readers but creators too. In the mid-1960s, magazines started holding contests for new manga by unpublished creators. Top winners received prize money and a chance to get published. In addition to being a practical way to meet the growing demand for weekly manga, this practice of pulling new talent from the ranks of magazine readers resulted in said talent eventually being made up almost entirely of said readers. Which in the case of shoujo manga meant that more and more female readers/creators kept getting hired until the early 1970s, when virtually all shoujo manga creators were female. Huh. Women creating comics for girls. What a novel concept. 

The new creators of this period, including the so-called “Showa 24 Group” or “Magnificent 49ers” whom we will likely talk about more in future episodes, made their mark on the genre in a lot of ways. The most striking developments were their innovations in character drawing — bigger, more elegant eyes, wispier lines, more willowy body shapes, and luxurious European-inspired hair and clothing designs. True, many of these elements existed in some form or another going back decades prior. Rachel Thorn, an associate professor at Kyoto Seika University, posted an excellent thread about how, for example, big eyes in manga were a thing way before the likes of Tezuka supposedly “innovated” that style. Even so, what female creators in the late 60s and early 70s were doing was still significant and represented a big shift in the perception of what shoujo was and how it looked. The exaggerated elegance of characters combined with experimental panel layouts and plots with heightened emotional and dramatic stakes resulted in a style that girls — and a lot of other demographics for that matter — became ravenous for. 

Mahou no Mako-chan aired from November 1970 to September 1971, which was right in the thick of these changes in shoujo. Given the time frame and pop cultural context, the influence of then-recent shoujo titles is clear as day. The character drawing style, the dark and dramatic plots, the introduction of romance and sexual elements, the European source material, the use of experimental art — it’s all there. …Or at least it’s all trying to be there. Unfortunately it’s hampered a lot by the show simultaneously trying to retain the child audiences who previously watched Sally and Akko-chan, with silly problem of the week antics and a focus on morals for viewers to learn from. 

And therein lies the issue I feel. Mahou no Mako-chan strikes me as a project without a clear foundation being pulled in a bunch of different directions at once — between old and new, childish and mature, silly and hyper-dramatic, Wizard Santa Claus and Apocalypse Now. We’ve seen tonal shifts before in shows like Sally and Akko-chan, but it worked for those shows because they still had strong identities at their core: they were bright, funny kids shows that occasionally delved into melodrama and darker subjects where necessary. Mako-chan’s identity on the other hand feels like it’s constantly shifting, never one thing or another for very long at a time. It’s like… the middle illustration on an Animorphs book cover, but stretched out over 48 episodes. Yeah. That’s how I’d describe this series to people.

There is still a kind of appeal in that awkwardness, though. Like I said, while Mako-chan is a mess in a lot of ways, it’s still kind of bold and unmistakable in a way the other two magical girl series haven’t been yet. It takes a lot of risks, and while they don’t pay off to a cohesive whole, those risks still resulted in a lot more moments in Mako-chan I desperately want to tell people about, be it from sheer bafflement, genuine enjoyment, or both. 

And as much as I’ve ragged on the show’s silliness and bizarre plot points so far, there is also a lot of genuinely good stuff in Mako-chan. The art and animation would be one example. The experimental animation I mentioned shows up throughout the series and can be really striking, giving dramatic moments a psychedelic edge that heightens the tension. [short selection of representative clips] The regular character animation can be spotty — in its worst moments it’s horribly off-model and struggles to move beyond still frames — but depending on the animators, the show really can bring out the best in its cute and simple character designs. The character designer, Toshiyasu Okada, also handled the animation of the opening sequence and episodes 1 and 4, and all of these exemplify how the show looks when at its best. As well, this was the first magical girl show worked on by legendary animation director Shingo Araki, who debuted in the original Tomorrow’s Joe anime earlier the same year and who would go on to do animation direction and character design for shows such as Devilman, Cutie Honey, Lunlun the Flower Child, Rose of Versailles, Saint Seiya, and of course his most important and seminal work, Yu-Gi-Oh

The voice cast is all game and lively as well. Not many of them would go on to big careers after this aside from Akira Kamiya, but Mako at least was an early role for veteran voice actress Kazuko Sugiyama, who is probably best known as Jun the Swan from Gatchaman, Ten-chan from Urusei Yatsura, and Celebi from Pokemon. Most relevant to this series, she also played Mitsuki’s grandmother in Full Moon wo Sagashite, Moko in the 80s Himitsu no Akko-chan, and the main villain Desparaia in Yes! Precure 5. [Dark Knight “live long enough to see yourself become the villain” clip, maybe with Mako and Desparaia photoshopped in] Also, by the way, it’s a shame that [Michiko Hirai], who plays the rival character, Tomiko [and was the voice of Sally the Witch], isn’t in more stuff of note. She does a really fabulous mean girl voice, which helps make for a great start to this rival archetype in the magical girl genre.

One more person who did go on to a storied career after this series was Mitsuko Horie, who sang both the opening and ending theme songs. She’s an accomplished voice actor in her own right, most notably voicing Magical Girl Lalabel, Akko in the 80s Akko-chan anime, and Sailor Galaxia in Sailor Moon Stars. But she’s even more famous for singing a metric butt-ton of anime songs, and the Mako-chan themes were some of her earliest, recorded when she was only thirteen years old. [short song clips] The composition for these songs was by Takeo Watanabe, who also composed the show’s score. All the music in Mako-chan is pretty nice, featuring a lot of sad violins and other classical cues. Watanabe must have liked it too, because some of the music from this show would end up being reused in future shows like Majokko Megu-chan, Genshi Shounen Ryu, and Candy Candy, all of which Watanabe also worked on. 

Anyway, it’s not just the technical aspects of Mako-chan that find a way to shine. Content-wise, while the dramatic scenarios in the show don’t always land, there are several episodes where they fare a lot better. Episode 11 for example tackles racism and profiling against black people in a surprisingly frank and understanding way. The end of this episode leaves the black character, Jim, still distrustful of law enforcement despite Mako’s efforts to help him. He ends up leaving Japan on a ship to escape unfair targeting, with the implied lesson being that there’s no easy fix for systemic racial biases. The episode doesn’t always handle its subject matter with 100% sensitivity, but still, it’s impressively nuanced for this time period in Japan. Interesting fact, though: in the Italian version of this episode, the ending was heavily recut and rewritten to have Jim say he’s going to stay and explain himself to the police, taking away that nuance from the original ending. This and a few other heavily censored episodes, such as episode 13, the date with Mako’s dad, resulted in a lot of controversy around the series in Italy. 

Another strong story is episode 32, which legitimately made me cry. It features a heroic St. Bernard named Lulu who fights to protect her blind owner from an abusive father. It ends with Lulu saving both her owner and the father from a blazing house fire, softening the father’s heart. However, Lulu gets severely burned in the process and can barely breathe by the time they escape, getting to lick her owner’s face one last time before dying in her arms. Admittedly this edges a bit into tragedy porn territory, like a lot of other melodramatic 70s and 80s shoujo anime, but damned if it isn’t still effective. Godspeed you, good pupper.

Even the main series plot starts to build to something halfway compelling towards the end of the series. By episode 41, we find out two years have passed since Mako originally saved Akira from the shipwreck. In that time, he’s become more to her than just a pretty face she pulled out of the ocean. He’s not always around due to various temp jobs taking him in and out of town, but he and Mako have seen each other enough to have built a genuine connection by this point. Akira even seems to be on the verge of figuring out Mako’s true identity. During another near-drowning incident in this episode, Mako parts the sea like Moses and freezes time to save Akira again, and as he swims toward shore he sees her at first as a mermaid and then as human. Neeeeeat.

In the next episode, Akira confronts Mako directly about her being the mermaid who saved him. The two finally get together in a beautiful little scene in a cruise ship ballroom, and Mako even gets a blessing from her father on the new relationship afterward. All seems well… until the sea suddenly erupts in lava and fire. While all this has been going on, the gods have become angry with Mako’s father for not bringing her back to the ocean in all this time. Her father knew that he would be punished if he blessed her relationship with a human but he did it anyway, falling into darkness as the sea without its king turns to chaos. Mako realizes what’s going on and calls out to the gods, telling them that she’s prepared to become a mermaid again if it will save her father and everyone else. She jumps off the ship fully ready to sacrifice her love and her humanity… and is brought back up by the gods, who have saved both Mako and her father after being touched by her sacrifice. Her father takes on his dragon form and quells the raging seas once more in a totally badass ending. This is, straight-up, a striking and memorable episode deserving of praise. This is one of the episodes worked on most heavily by Shingo Araki, and even this early in his career, his skill really shows. Some of these shots of waves rising and crashing over the cruise ship and volcanoes erupting are really impressive, and the compositions throughout help sell both the tender moments and apocalyptic drama.

The series finale, episode 48, is a mix of some of the awkwardness that characterizes the series as a whole and the more compelling artistic and emotional stuff. It starts at a speedway where Akira is working as a racer. He and Mako have been a couple for a little while now and… she’s not happy. The fact that Akira left to become a racer so soon after they got together isn’t sitting well with her and they fight about it, leaving Mako in tears. This leads up to a scene where Akira gets severely injured and left on the brink of death, and Mako risks losing him forever after having just fought with him. And this horrible tragic injury of course happens because… of a drunk gorilla from a nearby zoo that Banchou gave beer to. Not because of a tragic crash on the speedway? No? You don’t want to use the obvious dangerous and ironic thing you clearly set up? You really want to go with the drunk gorilla angle? O-okay, sure. 

Anyway, Mako goes to her father and pleads with him to save Akira, but he refuses, claiming he doesn’t want to intervene in matters of human life and death. To prove her love for Akira, Mako dives deep into the sea, so deep she’ll surely die. The deeper she goes, the more it rips her apart, yet she stays strong and… her spirit is able to contact Akira’s, probably because they’re now both on the brink of death. Their souls float together through an ethereal space filled with light and bubbles, and Akira asks: [clip from the show –  Akira: “Who are you? A mermaid? A human?” Mako: “I’m Mako: a human born from bubbles and who will return to bubbles for the sake of loving you.”] Mako’s father starts going to rescue her, but is stopped by Grandma Sea Witch, who tells him he should save them both if he’s going to save her. He yells that he won’t save a human but he will save his daughter. Grandma Sea Witch flat-out tells him that she’s not his daughter anymore. Through this act of love and sacrifice, Mako has become truly human, no longer a daughter of the ocean. If he is going to save one human, he would be a hypocrite not to save both of them. Her father relents and does exactly that, bringing Mako back up out of the sea and onto the beach where she first washed up in episode 1. After recovering in the hospital with Akira (and discovering that they can talk to each other telepathically now I guess???) Akira decides to settle on one career finally: a sailor like his father. Mako gives him her magic pendant, saying that it is very important to her, but that she no longer needs it. She tells him to return it to the ocean, which he does. Now the pendant is gone. Her life in the sea is truly gone, and she no longer needs to rely on her father to live her life. The end.

So yeah! That was Mahou no Mako-chan. As I’ve said throughout, it’s far from a perfect series, and oftentimes a downright ridiculous one, but it’s stuff like this ending that shows there is some heart buried in the depths of its confused production. In a way, the awkwardness of Mako-chan as a show kind of makes it the perfect awkward teen narrative: a young girl goes from the relative safety of her family’s world out into the big, scary outside, discovering both harsh truths and deep love along the way. Sometimes she falls back on the help of her parents and regresses to childlike impulses, but in the end, through her own sacrifices and strength of spirit, she becomes independent in the new life she has built for herself and her loved ones. She is now ready to more fully build her own identity heading into adulthood, as the magical girl genre itself will start doing after this. 

And I do mean the magical girl genre is heading into literal adulthood. And… then it goes back to babyhood? Fetus-hood even?? Also hey! Let’s throw in some ninja shenanigans while we’re at it, shall we? Because next time on Mahou Profile, we’ll be discussing two shows: the first non-Toei magical girl series, Marvelous Melmo, and the dubiously magical ninja comedy, Sarutobi Ecchan. This should be an interesting double-header, and I hope you’ll look forward to it. See you all then~!

Mahou Profile #003: Himitsu no Akko-chan [Script]

Mahou Profile #003: Himitsu no Akko-chan [Script]

[The following is the script of episode 3 of the Mahou Profile series, viewable on YouTube here. This post to be updated with an accurate video transcript with citations in the future.]

Hey there all and welcome to Mahou Profile: A History of Magical Girls! I’m your host, ErynCerise, and… man, there are a lot of images that come to mind when someone says “magical girl”: wands, frilly outfits, lockets, ribbons, animal sidekicks, rainbow laser beams, creepy sexual undertones… Uhhh… Hnn, uh, th– well, okay, let’s put a pin in that last one for later videos maybe…

Um. Anyway! I would argue that if there is one specifically magical girl thing that has propagated in wider pop culture, it’s this: transformation sequences. When other works visually reference or parody magical girl anime, the reference that ends up getting used more often than not is that of a transformation, usually based on Sailor Moon’s iconic transformation from ordinary high school girl to superpowered fighter in a cute outfit.

[clip from Right Now Kapow: A magical girl goes through a stereotypically long and elaborate transformation sequence. Two other characters, Dog and Moon, stand by waiting for her to finish as villain-driven chaos goes on around them.

Dog: Is she done yet?

Moon: I can’t even a little bit tell what’s happening.]

While transformation in magical girl anime hasn’t always been quite like we see it in Sailor Moon, it has been around since the genre’s inception in some form or another. We see a bit of it in Sally the Witch, mostly in that Sally can change her clothes with magic. We even see a bit as far back as Tale of the White Serpent, with Bai-Niang and Xiaoqing transforming from animal to human and back a couple of times. But the first “proper” magical girl transformation? One that can be done and undone at will, uses a specific magic phrase, and requires a special magic item to channel power? That would undoubtedly belong to Atsuko Kagami, the heroine of the anime and manga Himitsu no Akko-chan (a.k.a.: Akko-chan’s Got a Secret!). 

Atsuko, or “Akko” for short, is an elementary school student living with her mother in Tokyo. Her story, at least in the anime, begins the day her favourite hand mirror is broken (it happened off-screen but trust me, it did). Akko loves this mirror so much that, rather than throw it out, she makes a grave for it in her backyard. Then later that night, the spirit of the mirror rises from the grave and thanks Akko for her kindness, explaining that mirrors treasured by humans become stars in the sky. As the spirit says their farewell and ascends to the heavens, they send Akko a compact mirror with an inscription inside reading: [Akko reads aloud in clip]  “Tekumaku mayakon”. By reciting this phrase in front of the compact, Akko is able to transform into any person or animal she wants, and can transform back with the words… [Akko calls out in clip] “Lamipus lamipus lu lu lu lu lu”. The spirit of the mirror makes Akko promise to keep all of this secret and makes it so that the transformation spell only works if no other humans are watching. 

Akko initially uses her new power for selfish acts (which we’ll get into the details of in a bit), but eventually she begins using it to help others out with their problems, showing the audience that while she is still a kid with natural selfish kid desires, she is ultimately a compassionate and heroic person at heart. From there, most of the series goes on in an episodic format, with Akko solving problems and learning life lessons through the people she meets and the forms she takes on.

Along for the ride is a lively cast of supporting characters, mostly consisting of other kids from Akko’s school. There’s Akko’s best friend, Moko, who is similar to Yoshiko from Sally the Witch in both looks, personality, and love of green shirts. We also have Kankichi, Moko’s bratty little brother; Chikako, the delightfully devious neighbourhood snitch; and Ganmo, a boy from a tofu-selling family who always dresses in traditional clothing. 

The most memorable supporting character, though, has got to be Taisho: a heavyset boy in Akko’s class who cares little about schoolwork and would rather just play all day. He fills the bully role of the series, teasing Akko and company with his gang of friends and ruining their fun as it suits him. However, he does have some morals, too: he’ll sometimes help Akko and friends out with a problem if it’s something really important, or something they’ll both benefit from. Later in the series, he and Akko are even on friendly enough terms that they’ll just hang out together like it’s always been that way. Heck, they even go to space together at one point! …Well, okay, that episode was just a dream, but still. 

The supporting cast is rounded out by a few adult characters, including Akko’s teachers Mr. Sato and Ms. Moriyama; Akko’s stay-at-home mom; and her dad, a ship’s captain who is not often home. There are also a couple of other characters that run in Taisho’s circles, including his younger brother Shosho (who is a baby/toddler and yet speaks perfect Japanese for some reason) as well as his cat Dora, who has a crush on Akko’s cat, Shippona. And… oh my god, I have some words about the cats in this series, but that’s a tangent I’ll save for a little later.

Okay, so! Plot and characters out of the way: do you want to see it? Do you want to see the very first magical girl transformation sequence in history? Yeah?! Okay! Get hyped! ‘cause here it is! Magical mirror powers ACTIVATE!

[clip: Akko’s transformation from child to princess is a short wipe from one form to the other framed within the compact mirror]

Ooo… fancy…? Yeah no, it’s pretty underwhelming as magical girl transformations go. Even Sally’s simple clothing dissolve is a bit smoother than this… awkward wipe thing. 

Still, don’t be too quick to write it off. This was the 60’s after all and this style of anime was still in its infancy, so cut the animators some slack.

And besides that, while it may be simple, this short sequence of Akko transforming in front of her compact still represents the core fantasy of the show: being able to become someone or something else, just like that. It’s a fantasy that can appeal to just about anyone — kids wishing to be adults, adults wishing to look like models or celebrities, animal lovers wishing to be their favourite creatures for a while. This core concept is a big part of why the Akko-chan franchise has lasted for decades, and why so many other magical girl series incorporate transformation in some form or another.

In a 2014 poll of adult career women in Japan, Himitsu no Akko-chan was voted the second most popular magical girl anime of all time, ahead of Sally the Witch at #3, and just behind Kiki’s Delivery Service at #1. Quoting from the Crunchyroll article about this poll: “A 30-year-old government clerk commented that she remembers wanting the ability to transform like the heroine, while a 31-year-old IT work[er] recalled loving the magic words like ‘tekumaku mayakon’”.1 This stuff really affected girls all across Japan. Like I said last episode, power fantasies for girls can really be, well, powerful. 

So yeah. Keep all that in mind when looking at this series. It may look old and slow and janky, but what it represents to the people who grew up with it and the many works it would inspire is not to be taken lightly.

Alright, so, before I talk more about the anime, let’s go back to the origins of the story for a bit. Last episode I introduced Fujio Akatsuka, the creator of the Akko-chan manga. Again, this manga predates Sally the Witch by a good four years or so, technically making Akko the first magical girl. However, because Sally was quicker to the punch in getting animated, and because most people (including myself) tend to talk anime when they talk magical girls, Sally still tends to get listed first in standard magical girl chronologies, hence why I did my Sally episode before I did this one. 

Anyway, yes, manga. The first run of the Akko-chan manga also begins on the day Akko’s favourite mirror breaks, this time by way of a stray baseball throw. However, this version of Akko doesn’t make a grave for her mirror as she does in the anime. Instead, she gets angry, picks up the baseball, and lobs it back out the window, accidentally beaning a passerby in the head. After Akko apologizes for the head trauma and explains why she’s upset, the passerby introduces himself as a “Man from the Mirror Kingdom” and conveniently presents her with a new full-sized mirror as a replacement. Again, this mirror grants her the power to transform into anyone she wants, but only so long as she keeps the power secret. It’s a little less momentous than it is in the anime, but still: sweet deal! 

From there the manga is fairly similar in tone to the anime, with the main difference being that the size of the mirror makes things understandably awkward. Not exactly the kind of thing you can easily sneak around to places when you’re eight. Apparently later in the run, the large mirror breaks and the mysterious man returns to gift Akko with a compact like the one in the anime. Practicality wins the day even in the Mirror Kingdom, it seems.

The first Akko-chan series ran in Ribon magazine until September 1965.2 It was a massive hit and its popularity only increased after the anime started airing in January 1969. The manga went through several subsequent runs during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s — some produced to run in conjunction with anime, others as special one-offs or series printed for elementary learning magazines.3 As of this recording, the most recent version is a currently ongoing web manga called Himitsu no Akko-chan µ (which I’m sure is… aµsing to those of you who got into my channel through Love Live). The current manga obviously isn’t by Akatsuka, since he passed away in 2008, but it’s still nice to see the series continuing in some form to this day. Also, fun side note: the current manga is done by Futago Kamikita, a pair of twin sister artists best known for their work on the Pretty Cure manga! Nice! Way to keep it in the magical girl family!

Anyway, even considering the success of the Akko-chan manga, Akatsuka is famous for far, far more than that. While he got his start doing girls’ manga, he is much better known as a master of gag manga, depicting everyday Japanese life with a sense of absurdity and wackiness that’s hard not to smile at. He created so much beloved work in his lifetime that, like his contemporary Osamu Tezuka, it’s hard to fathom how one man could even produce it all (hint: the man had a solid system of assistants and production processes to help him along). 

Also like Tezuka, Akatsuka utilized a “star system”, meaning he had a stable of recognizable characters that he liked to “cast” across all his works, much like a director would with their favourite actors. This helped tie all his works together more and cemented his characters and jokes in the minds of Japanese readers for decades to follow. Akko herself was no exception to this star system either: her character design was also used for the character Totoko from one of Akatsuka’s other famous works, Osomatsu-kun. If you’ve seen the modern sequel/reimagining Osomatsu-san, you know her as the love interest of the Matsuno brothers who wants to be a fish-themed idol. [clip of Totoko] What can I say? It’s never been clear if Akko and Totoko are supposed to be separate entities or just a single person playing multiple roles in the star system. Still, either way: it’s neat to see his system at work even to this day! If you think you’ve never seen Akko-chan before, but you have seen Osomatsu-san, then technically you kind of have seen her and just never knew it! Coolness!

I could easily write a whole episode about Akatsuka, so I won’t go into much more detail on him here. For now, let’s move on and talk a bit more about the Akko-chan anime. When I say this show came after Sally the Witch, I mean right after. Both series were produced by our old friends at Toei, and Akko-chan took over Sally’s timeslot as soon as that series finished. I could only find a still image of it, but it looks like the broadcast version of Sally’s last episode even included a short segment at the end where Sally introduced her “new friend” Akko, so that kids would know to expect a different show the next week. 

With a connection that close, one can’t help but draw comparisons between the two shows. I’ll try not to lean too heavily on the comparisons, since a TV series should be able to stand up on its own merits. However, I do want to at least compare the main characters. Remember how I described Sally as sometimes mischievous but largely a role model type? Akko is interesting in that kids can learn lessons by watching her… but usually it’s by watching her do something wrong and learning from her mistakes. Differences like this in how viewers relate to the characters are typical of two broad magical girl archetypes we’ll be seeing a lot of from here on out.

Starting with Sally: she comes from a life of magical privilege. She is born into magic, born into wealth, born into being an heiress to a kingdom, and her story — to the extent that there is an ongoing story — is one of her maturing into her privileged position through her experiences on Earth. She has flaws and struggles to overcome, yes, but overall young viewers are meant to look up to her and fantasize about having her stupidly cool and magical life. As well, like I explained last episode, her outside perspective is often used to reframe aspects of everyday life and make the viewer think about them in new and interesting ways. 

All of this sets up what some fans call the “Sally” archetype for magical girls. For clarity’s sake, I’m going to call it the “Magical Princess” or “Magical Outsider” archetype. We see this kind of princess figure again and again throughout the history of magical girls, especially in the earlier days of the genre. Examples include shows like Megu-chan, Lalabel, Minky Momo, Persia, Shamanic Princess, Mermaid Melody, and even western magical girl shows such as Star vs. the Forces of Evil. [clip: “I’m a maaaagical princess from another dimension~!”]

By contrast, Akko is just a normal Japanese kid. A bit privileged, sure — her house is big by Japanese standards — but compared to Sally, she could be any random schoolchild running down the street. And like most schoolchildren, Akko often doesn’t know what to do when trouble starts. She makes mistakes, says things she doesn’t mean, gets impatient, throws tantrums, plays pranks on people who have been mean to her, cries when she doesn’t know how to handle things, and sometimes stumbles into solutions through sheer force of will rather than doing anything clever. Again, Sally did some of these things sometimes too, but we see it with Akko far more consistently and from a perspective the intended audience is more familiar with. This emphasis on fallibility and lack of magical privilege helps set another — and much more common — magical girl archetype. Again, I’ve seen it just called the “Akko” type, but in this series, I’ll call it the “Homegrown Heroine” type. These magical girls are not born with powers (or if they are, they never realize they have them until they’re older), and they almost always rely on gifted or found items to perform their magic. Magical Princesses like Sally are more fantastical, awe-inspiring figures overall, while Homegrown Heroines like Akko tend to be more relatable since they’re regular humans with regular human problems in addition to being magical girls. Probably why Homegrown Heroines have outpaced most Magical Princesses in popularity by this point, to be honest. 

We can see Akko’s flaws on full display in the first episode of the anime. Immediately after getting the hang of her powers, you know what her first instinct is? She transforms into her father, approaches her mother and says: “Oh! Hi honey! Golly, I know it’s been such a long time since I was last home, but I just dropped by to say that I think we should raise Akko’s allowance, starting right now. Sound good? Yes? Okay good! No time to talk now sweetiebuns gotta head back out to sea, hope you give our amazing and wonderful daughter the allowance she deserves byyyye~” Then Akko transforms back to herself, leaving her mother wondering whether or not she hallucinated the whole exchange. Way to go, Akko. Way to put your poor mother into shock and emotionally manipulate her with the face of the man she loves because you wanted a few extra yen per week. Outstanding.

It gets better, too. The next day, Akko starts out doing something that’s seemingly helpful, transforming into Ms. Moriyama to discourage Taisho from teasing Moko. However, while transformed, Akko runs into Mr. Sato, who tells her that he has a pop quiz planned for his class that day. Akko takes advantage of this knowledge and tells her classmates back at school about it. Then she transforms back into Ms. Moriyama in the hopes of getting her hands on the quiz answers. Our heroine, everyone! Saving the day by cheating on tests! 

Where things get really fun is when Akko loses her magic compact, meaning she can’t transform back until she finds it. Cue madcap chase around the schoolgrounds looking for the compact while keeping up the Ms. Moriyama act and also trying to avoid the real Ms. Moriyama. On top of that, Taisho seems to have a bit of a crush on Ms. Moriyama, and so he orders all his minions and the neighbourhood cats to get “Ms. Moriyama”’s missing compact. Needless to say, hijinks ensue. [short montage of clips with Benny Hill-esque music] Man, this kind of thing is actually kind of great to see, because at least in western TV shows and cartoons of this vintage, you don’t often get to see major female characters participating this fully in the slapstick. It holds up pretty well, to be honest!

After all that though, Akko still can’t find her compact, and thus she is faced with the possibility that she might actually be stuck in this body forever. This is a surprisingly effective moment of horror as the implications of this hit both Akko and the viewer. Where would she live? How would she eat? How would she get a job with the real Ms. Moriyama still out there? Heck, even if Moriyama weren’t an issue, Akko hasn’t even finished primary school yet. Not exactly great for interacting with the adult world in any meaningful way. If Akko stayed like this, she would essentially be robbed of her childhood, which is rightfully treated as a horrifying prospect. We get a nice melodramatic sequence of Akko-as-Moriyama wandering around town at night as her family and friends start to worry about her and make calls to the police, driving home the seriousness of the situation. 

Of course, we wouldn’t have a series if this didn’t resolve itself, and eventually Akko does find the compact. The band of cats found it earlier, and Tora is trying to use it as a gift to woo Shippona. And… okay, these cats, man. Can I do my cat tangent now? In addition to the plot I just described, a decent chunk of the first episode is devoted to this cat gang trying to help Tora score with Shippona. Like… a really decent chunk. And that’s in addition to the slapstick bits at the school I mentioned. There are also multiple subsequent episodes that are focused almost entirely around cat antics, including episode 9, where we see things from the cats’ perspective and hear them speak in human language to each other. [clip from the episode in question] What I’m saying is that these cats are not a small part of the show. If you want to watch Himitsu no Akko-chan, then I really hope you like cartoon cat shenanigans, because by god has this show has got you covered.

Anyway, Akko gets the compact, changes back to normal, and then runs back crying to her poor mother (who’s suffered emotional shock twice in one day now). It’s a sweet moment and wraps up an episode that’s emblematic of the series as a whole: wacky and outlandish in the way that Akatsuka is best known for, but also emotional and melodramatic in just the right amounts. It’s no wonder this show struck a chord with young female viewers when it did. 

From that first episode on, like I said, the show is mostly episodic, often featuring one-off characters for Akko to get involved with while also featuring lots of funny antics with the supporting cast and all those darn cats. For whatever reason, a lot of these one-off characters are angry little boys who are hostile as heck towards Akko for whatever reason but are also secretly sad about something, and then eventually they become friends with Akko after she helps them out with their problems… and then none of them are eeeeever heard from again. Toodles, kid! 

Yeah, this show is not without faults, and one of them is that these irritating one-off characters sometimes feel like they’re in the way of Akko’s story. An example would be an episode where Akko’s dad makes a rare home visit. You’d think this would be an opportunity for learning more about her dad and seeing how he and his daughter interact, maybe go into how she feels about him being away all the time, that kind of thing. Instead, the episode moves the focus to one of these random angry boys and his daddy issues, pushing Akko’s time with her father to the sidelines. I mean heaven forbid Akko just have an episode to herself and her family! She always has to get involved in some random dipstick’s problems who isn’t even going to stick around and appreciate what she did for them, razafrazaurgghhh…

Thankfully Akko does get a few good episodes that focus more on her and her family life, and one of these is perhaps the biggest bombshell of the series. It starts with an assignment for students to report on their given names and why their parents named them what they did. Akko realizes she doesn’t actually know why her parents named her “Atsuko”, and later when she asks about it, her mom is suspiciously evasive. Eventually Akko makes a trip out to the country to visit her grandmother and ask if she knows the story. And it turns out? [gasp!] Akko was not the first “Atsuko Kagami”. [audio: “Dun dun duuuun!”] You see, a year before our Akko was born, her mother was pregnant with another daughter she intended to name Atsuko. However, due to complications, the baby was stillborn, and the remains were buried on Grandma Kagami’s land. Her parents were grief-stricken and kept this from Akko until now because… well really, how do you explain that to an eight-year-old? This is heavy, especially for a kid’s show from 1969, jeebus. 

Anyway, the whole thing understandably drives Akko to a crisis of identity. She transforms into an older version of herself, possibly how she imagines her sister would have looked if she’d lived, and wanders town for a while, running into Grandma Kagami again and hiding her face while talking to her. Eventually she makes it back home. Her emotional distress causes her to transform into a baby and cry, which her mom recognizes back from when she really was a baby. Akko changes back before her mom notices, but the thought of that crying still gets her mom thinking about the past. She talks to Grandma Kagami about how happy she and Akko’s father were to have her. Heck, Akko’s dad was so happy to hear about her birth that he literally jumped ship and swam away to see her! Overhearing all this, Akko of course makes up with her family and hugs her mom and it’s super sweet and [sniff] I think someone’s cutting onions over here you guys… [sniff] 

Moving on to less sad topics: Akko’s transformations throughout the series are pretty creative and varied, ranging from useful disguises to animals to fantastical figures like angels and fairies to OH HOLY HELL WHAT EVEN IS THAT? [clip of psychedelic shamisen cat] The compact also has a few other abilities that come in handy in a pinch, such as the ability to replay images it’s seen, similar to the Lapis mirror from Steven Universe. She can also still talk to the mirror spirit when needed, and later on we even get to see what the spirit looks like. On occasion, the mirror breaks or goes on the fritz, similar to episodes of Sally where she temporarily loses her powers, but there’s always some way back from that in the end. Still, even when Akko’s powers are working, the magic elements of the series can be quite subdued, sometimes frustratingly so. There are several episodes where the problem of the day could easily have been solved without magic and which only feature a token transformation or two. It’s irritating when that happens, but it’s not a huge problem at least. No, if you want to see a series where inconsistent magic is a problem, just you wait for the next one, yeesh…

Himitsu no Akko-chan ended up running for 94 episodes and finished on October 26, 1970. The final episode features Akko saving her father’s ship from a raging storm by calling all the world’s mirrors to shine a beacon that leads it to safe harbor. This drains the compact’s magic completely, and after that, Akko is never able to transform again. She’s sad about this of course, but says it can’t be helped and leaves things at that. This is a bit anticlimactic, but probably not due to lack of trying (more likely just due to declining popularity and a rush to move on to the next show). The main series screenwriters, Masaki Tsuji and Shun’ichi Yukimuro, were both talented creators who worked on a ton of major shows both before and after Akko-chan, and both received major awards for their creative work later in life. Both also worked on just about every Toei magical girl series from here to Lalabel, so their ideas would help shape a huge chunk of the genre’s development throughout the 70s and early 80s. 

Also still on board at Toei was Hayao Miyazaki, who was working there alongside his friend and future Studio Ghibli partner, Isao Takahata (who unfortunately passed away about two months ago as of this recording). Takahata, if you’re not familiar with his work, directed a wide range of films in his lifetime, including the light-hearted family comedy My Neighbours the Yamadas, the emotionally subtle nostalgia piece Only Yesterday, a gorgeous, painterly rendition of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and his most well-known and critically hailed piece, the heart-wrenching war story Grave of the Fireflies. In 1968, Takahata and Miyazaki were finishing up three years of work on Takahata’s debut feature film — Horus: Prince of the Sun. Upon Horus’s release in July of that year however, Toei kept the film in theatres for just ten days, ensuring its failure and resulting in Takahata being demoted to working on television productions, including Himitsu no Akko-chan. Ryan Lambie writing for Den of Geek posits that Toei scuttled the film’s release as a form of punishment for the pair’s involvement in the animators’ union, which had fought against the studio’s demands for increased output with very little pay. [image: Article about poor treatment of Japanese animators] Oh the more things change, the more they stay the same… 

Takahata is credited on Anime News Network as the assistant director for Akko-chan. It’s not exactly clear how much creative freedom that granted him with it, but given the circumstances, it probably wasn’t much. Still, it is nice to watch the episodes with the knowledge that his emotional and empathetic directing style is at work somewhere in there. The series certainly shows those qualities in all of its best scenes, so I like to think that that’s his touch shining through. Rest in peace, Takahata-sensei. You will be missed.

Anyway, after the original anime, there were two remake series for Akko-chan: one in the 80s, and one in the 90s. The 80s series is remarkable enough in its own right that it’ll have its own episode when I get to it in our timeline, so I won’t go into much detail on it here. Needless to say though, like Sally the Witch 2, it boasts much better animation, more expressive characters, and designs that play more into merchandising and product placement opportunities. It also has an ending credits sequence that’s total catnip if you’re a movie person, with homages to the likes of Superman, Beverly Hills Cop, Star Wars, Back to the Future, and ET. See kids? Akko-chan did the Ready Player One thing decades before it was cool (and with way more charm in my opinion).

The 90s series is a lot less remarkable from what I can tell. It was made using early digital animation and the production quality has not aged well — which is saying something considering how the 60s version looks. Unfortunately I was not able to watch much of this version, so I can’t really form much of an opinion about it beyond how cheap it looks. It doesn’t seem like Japanese audiences had much of an opinion either, since merchandise sales for this version were pretty much dead on arrival. Oof. Sorry, 90’s Akko. Your outfit was cute at least?

The last major adaptation to date was a 2012 live action movie starring Haruka Ayase and Masaki Okada. Somehow, despite being the most modern and polished product, it is perhaps the worst of the four adaptations.  That’s not for being a terrible movie necessarily (though it sure isn’t great either), but for straying furthest from the spirit of the story. In this version, Akko is obsessed with makeup and wishes desperately to be grown up, traits she never has in any other version of the story. Now, personality changes alone wouldn’t be the biggest deal… except these new traits pull the story away from transformation hijinks with Akko and friends, aka: the entire reason the series got popular. Instead, we get Akko using just one transformation for the majority of the movie: a 21-year-old version of herself who gets a job at the prestigious makeup company Akatsuka Cosmetics (hahaha yes I see what you did there). This makes the story less Himitsu no Akko-chan and more 13 Going on 30, with Akko bumbling through the adult world for most of the runtime and reminding all the working stiffs around her about the simple childhood values they’ve forgotten. Even that wouldn’t be the super worst… except a big focus of this adult Akko plot? Is a budding romance between Akko and a man who works at the makeup company. [questionable clips with alarm music from Kill Bill playing, ending with onscreen text: “NOT OKAY”] Eww. Just. No. 

[sigh] To be fair, the movie never actually “goes there” with these two, because everyone working on this thing knew damn well how wrong that would be. But the romance is so heavily implied and framed throughout the entire movie that the technicalities really, really don’t help. Ugh. UGH! Gross. 

Alas, Mahou Profile is about anime, not live action movies, so I will refrain from ranting as much as I’d like to on that front. I will say that the movie does some things right, like the casting of Akko and friends, the transformation effects, bits taken from the manga like the Man from the Mirror Kingdom, and the acting by people playing transformed versions of Akko. I mean, come on: an adult actor pretending to be a child pretending to be an adult will never not be funny. [clip of one of the adult male actors playing Akko] For the most part though, this movie just doesn’t seem to get the core appeal of the franchise, and it isn’t even that good a movie in its own right. What bright spots there are just highlight wasted potential more than anything else. 

Okay, last odds and ends before we wrap up. When the movie came out, we got a few tie-in Flash animations featuring Akko working as an office lady and trying to help out her co-workers with various problems. They’re just gag shorts, but still pretty enjoyable. [clip of the Bieber/Beaver gag] Them being gag shorts is pretty in the spirit of Fujio Akatsuka’s gag manga legacy too, making them more accurate and respectful than the film they’re cashing in on even. 

Sadly, like Sally, no version of the Akko-chan anime has ever been released in English, and I could only find the first episode fansubbed, so your options for watching this one yourself are limited. But! A little bit of the 80s manga was once translated officially as Akko-chan’s Got a Secret! Though the books are long out of print, chapter scans are still floating around the internet, so you can chase those down if you’re interested in reading some of the series for yourself. I mean, really, a new official English release of the manga would be ideal, hint hint to any Vertical Inc. or Drawn & Quarterly-type prestige manga licensors out there… But yeah, limited other options at the moment. 

Phew! Okay, I think I’ve said plenty at this point. I hope you enjoyed learning about this early magical trailblazer with me. While it can be a bit slow and stilted by today’s standards, the original Himitsu no Akko-chan is still an interesting mix of comedy, melodrama, and fantastical elements for a show from this time period, and that still shines through even if you’re not into the pacing or art style. 
Next time, we’ll be diving into Toei’s third magical girl series and the first to star a teenage protagonist: Mahou no Mako-chan, a.k.a.: Mako the Mermaid. It’s… an interesting one to say the least. See you guy then~!

Mahou Profile #002: Sally the Witch [Transcript]

Mahou Profile #002: Sally the Witch [Transcript]

[The following is a transcript of episode 2 of the Mahou Profile series, viewable on YouTube here.]

Hey there all and welcome back to Mahou Profile: A History of Magical Girls! Last episode, I talked a bit about Osamu Tezuka and his most famous creation, Astro Boy. In 1952, when the first pages of Astro Boy debuted, the manga world was hugely different from the one we know today. Most manga in the late 1940’s and very early 50’s were light-hearted stories targeted at children, since manga was cheap to produce and children were in sore need of cheerful entertainment in the years following World War II.1 Tezuka tends to get credited as a key manga creator of this period thanks to his stories having more exciting stakes and mature pathos than was typical at the time. He is also highly praised for his lively, Disney-esque art, cinematic panel compositions, and “star system” of frequently recurring characters.2

However, while it’s easy to point to Tezuka’s influence in the world of manga, and we’ll definitely be coming back to him again when we talk about Marvelous Melmo, there were plenty of other influential manga artists working in the 50’s and 60’s that don’t get nearly as much credit as they should. Tezuka was hardly the only creator trying to tell different kinds of stories with manga, either at that time or previously. Two such creators are going to be important to us in this episode and the next: Fujio Akatsuka and Mitsuteru Yokoyama. Both were men, as were most major girls’ manga artists prior to the mid 1960’s.3 Female manga artists existed before then, of course (and they deserve lots more recognition as well) but on the whole, manga societies were not super open to lady artists at this point. [Onscreen: Images of female manga artists and their works, including Toshiko Ueda, Hideko Mizuno, and Masako Watanabe]4 Still, both Akatsuka and Yokoyama were undeniably instrumental in the birth of the magical girl genre.

Starting with Fujio Akatsuka: he was the creator of the manga Himitsu no Akko-chan, a.k.a. Akko-chan’s Got a Secret! We’ll go more into Akatsuka in the next episode when we talk about the Akko-chan anime, but it’s worth bringing him up now in the timeline because Akko-chan was the first magical girl manga, debuting in July 1962 in the girls’ manga magazine Ribon.5 Ribon itself goes back to 1955 and is still publishing to this day, focusing on manga for ages 9-13.6 This magazine has been home to a lot of manga that spawned anime we’ll be covering eventually, including Nurse Angel Ririka, Hime-chan’s Ribbon, Full Moon wo Sagashite, and the subject of today’s episode: Mahoutsukai Sally, a.k.a. Sally the Witch.

Mitsuteru Yokoyama, a creator usually more associated with titles aimed at boys (such as Giant Robo and Tetsujin-28), debuted the manga version of Sally the Witch in July 1966, four years after the Akko-chan manga.7 The idea for writing a series about a witch came to him after seeing the American sitcom Bewitched, which aired in Japan as Oku-sama wa Majou, a.k.a.: “My Wife is a Witch”.8 [Onscreen text: “SIDE NOTE: An additional influence on Yokoyama was the 1932 British children’s novel ‘The Magic Walking Stick.’ This story + the popularity of Bewitched made him think a story about a little witch would be popular.”]9 Yokoyama had originally conceived of his series as “Sunny the Witch”, but ended up changing the name due to the Sony Corporation having copyrighted the name “Sunny”. So “Sally” it was.10

The manga was short, only lasting one year and later being released as a single volume.11 Before that short run was over, though, Yokoyama licensed the series to Toei Doga — the same company who produced Tale of the White Serpent, which we covered last episode.12 And in December of 1966, the first episode of Sally the Witch aired, making it the first bonafide magical girl anime. Heck, it was the first anime aimed specifically at girls, period! Nice!

The story starts with a child witch named Sally who is the princess of a magic kingdom. One day on a whim, she decides that she’s bored of studying magic and wants to visit the human world instead, so she skips out on studying and does just that. When her parents find out she’s gone, they send another magical child named Cub after her to try and convince her to come back home. The parents don’t go after her themselves because… they’ve got stuff to do? I guess? They’re busy. Anyway, it’s too late: Sally has already made friends and she’s decided that she likes the human world so much she wants to stay in it. She creates a home for herself — literally, she conjures a super swanky house out of thin air — and then sets up Cub to pose as her younger brother, carving out a life for herself as Sally Yumeno, the quirky rich girl down the street who always lends a hand to those in need, from cake making to babysitting to grassroots advertising campaigns to fighting organized crime. Y’know, as eight-year-olds do. All the time… [clip of Sally terrorizing yazuka with magic barrels] (Y’see she does it [laughs] look at ‘er go!)

So yeah, those are the basics of the story. It’s not that similar to its influence, Bewitched, aside from, well, the whole witch angle. Bewitched is for the most part a domestic series about suburban adults living suburban adult lives with magic thrown in to mix things up for comedy. Sally on the other hand follows manga trends of the period and aims itself very squarely at kids. As such, it leans a lot more on cartoon slapstick than on the domestic or verbal comedy of Bewitched.

Another major difference is that there is that, unlike the witch Samantha, who actively tries to suppress and hide her magic—

[clip: Bewitched

Darren: You gave me your word no more, uh—

Samantha: ~stuff~

(audience laugh track)]

—so that she can be the best little suburban housewife she can (why hello 1960’s patriarchal values)—

[clip: Bewitched. Samantha uses her magic to clean the kitchen instantly. Audience laugh track.

Samantha: …Maybe I can taper off.

(Big laugh track.)]

—there is no one Sally is trying to please other than herself and her friends. She does nominally have to hide her magic from humans, but her major goal in the series isn’t to resist her magic side. Sally loves being a witch and takes full advantage of her powers whenever she can. She rarely seems to suffer any consequences from using magic either, and in fact her magic is more often than not an unambiguously good solution to a problem, as opposed to something that causes unintended trouble.

In this way, young viewers—especially young girl viewers—are allowed to indulge in a magical power fantasy through Sally without much (if any) implicit judgment for enjoying themselves. This kind of power fantasy is important for young kids to experience for self-confidence building, so Sally normalizing this kind of fantasy for young girls in Japanese pop culture early on is, in theory, a big positive. We’ll get into the nuances of that idea in practice as Mahou Profile progresses, but for now: yay, Girl Power™!

Anyway, no, the trouble in this show usually comes less from magical consequences and more from other characters actively trying to cause trouble. Mostly it’s Cub who causes trouble. Actually almost always. Yeah, Cub? He may look cute, but he is actually an unbelievable dillhole. The tricks he plays on Sally and company often go way past childish pranks and right into straight-up villainy.

For example: there is an episode where Sally and friends are trying to help out a classmate with a fortune telling stand. Cub is so annoyed that he’s not the center of attention that he tries to ruin the classmate’s reputation. Another time, Cub tries to get Sally’s neighbours, the Hanamuras, thrown out on the street because he’s having a tiff with the Hanamura triplets. And another time, when Sally goes on a class picnic without him, Cub plays pranks on the girls, follows them around despite Sally repeatedly telling him no, and then (get this) he teams up with a royal servant from the Magic Kingdom to create a severe thunderstorm, endangering Sally’s entire class and injuring one of her friends. And THEN both Cub and the servant transform into dinosaurs and have a full-on magical creature battle with Sally, which Sally only manages to win with help from her mother. All because someone didn’t get to go on a stinkin’ field trip. [inhale, frustrated exclamation]

And may I remind you: Cub is NOT a villain in this show. He is a major supporting cast member, and is portrayed sympathetically in most episodes. Yet he pulls these awful, annoying stunts all. The time. Yeah. Yeah, Cub is pretty much the worst.

[sigh] Similarly mischievous but much more enjoyable are the aforementioned Hanamura triplets. They cause a lot of trouble of their own, but seeing as they are normal human children, unlike whatever Cub is supposed to be, they never quite sink to the sheer levels of spite that Cub does. They’re more along the lines of lovable scamps who, yes, play pranks and cause problems, but you can see enough heart to them that you can’t help but like them despite that.

This is especially apparent in the way they treat their older sister, Yoshiko Hanamura. Yoshiko, or “Yocchan”, is one of the first people Sally meets in the human world, and she becomes friends with Sally pretty quickly despite being initially freaked out by things about Sally she can’t explain. Yoshiko is the eldest of the Hanamura children and despite having a laid-back and casual attitude, she’s a very responsible girl who takes care of her brothers to the best of her ability in the absence of their dead mother. And her brothers for the most part are respectful of her for that and behave themselves when she’s around. …Usually. [clip of triplets pranking Yocchan]

The second episode shows pretty well how the four of them stick up for each other. Like I said before, the Hanamuras are in danger of getting thrown out of their house, specifically because their father is late on paying the rent. It’s Yoshiko’s responsibility to go and get the rent check for the landlord, and the triplets stall for time for her by demanding the landlord show proof that their father promised a decision about the rent by a certain date. (Dang, these kids are savvy about real estate contracts!) When the landlord comes back with the proof, they continue to defend their father and sister and refuse to leave the house, even working together to move furniture back in that the landlord is trying to get moved out. And of course Cub teleports furniture back out again so he can expedite the process of getting them thrown out because Cub is awful and the worst and ;GLAJKSGDLAJ

Anyway, this episode in general is pretty fun and a good intro to these supporting characters. There are other members of the cast as well, like Sally’s other friend Sumire, a baseball-playing classmate named Ken, and another witch girl named Poron who shows up much later on and actually rivals Cub for the title of Most Awful Hellchild on Earth. Plus of course Sally’s parents are still around from time to time, with her dramatic pointy-haired dad being particularly fun to watch. Plus there’s… Go…d? I think he’s Sally’s grandpa. He’s lovely.

With all these colourful side characters, we should expect our heroine to be just as fun and lively to match. And… well yeah, a lot of the time she is! Like I said, Sally loves being a witch and the joy she takes in using her magic is pretty hard not to be charmed by (pun 100% intended). She isn’t just a one-note role model protagonist as I feared she might be. She is largely sweet and pleasant, sure, but like Cub and the triplets, Sally can also be mischievous, she can be cheeky, she can be ticked off and even just a little bit spiteful herself.

[clip: Sally the Witch. Sally is chasing Cub, who is making fun of her. Sally uses magic to bring two trees to life and spank him for his misbehaviour. Sally and Cub speak Japanese, and their dialogue is translated in the following joking way by onscreen subtitles:

Sally: So? How do you like THEM apples you little ass-monkey?

Cub: Damn it!

Sally: Say you’re sorry and I MIGHT spare your life~!]

Like… Okay. Teaching the school bully a lesson through magical hijinks is fun and all. It’s always great to see a jerk get his comeuppance, I get that. But seriously: when you’ve got the kid up a tree at your mercy, literally begging you for his life, and you’re sawing the trunk in half beneath him for the express purpose of CRUSHING HIM? That’s just a little further than most kids take their revenge, Sally, good god. She is just straight up Terminator here.

[close up on Sally cutting down the tree with fire effects superimposed] HASTA LA VISTA, BULLY. [Terminator sting]

Attempted murder aside: Sally is usually at her most interesting when the show focuses on one of two things. The first is her youth and inexperience—the “girl” part of magical girl. Like I said earlier, usually Sally’s magic goes off without a hitch for the sake of whatever the plot requires, which creates the base power fantasy for the show. However, sometimes you’ll get episodes that highlight how much Sally has yet to master, which keeps the show from becoming a dull string of constant successes.

Take episode 6 for example: by this point, Sally’s parents have more or less accepted that their daughter isn’t coming back for a while. However, they at least want to make sure she’s still keeping up with her magic studies. To that end, they send in Sally’s grandmother (a strict, grouchy old witch) to act as a magic tutor. Here we get to see Sally fail at a couple things for once, like not being able to walk through a wall, getting the ingredients for poison apples wrong, causing an apple tsunami, creating abominations of nature that are horrified by their own existence, y’know? Mistakes anyone could make. This does a nice job reminding the audience that Sally still has a lot of growing to do despite how powerful and accomplished she seems, and it sets a precedent for the inexperience and awkwardness of youth being a staple part of the magical girl genre.

The other thing that makes for an interesting Sally episode is a focus on her otherworldly nature—the “magical” part of magical girl. Sally looks and acts human for the most part, but sometimes the show reminds viewers in no uncertain terms that she did not grow up on Earth. Heck, she may not even have the same biology as Earth humans.

Episode 11 is a really good example of this. Sally’s teacher talks about tears and what makes people cry. Sally reveals that she has never cried before. Not once, not even as a baby. She may not even be physically capable of it. After realizing that her friends think it’s weird and disturbing that she never cries, Sally spends the rest of the episode trying to understand tears, wishing she had them herself. She eventually tries using magic contact lenses to simulate them, but this gets predictably awkward results. Then things come to a head later when the class finds their goldfish dead one morning, and the only one who doesn’t cry about it is Sally. The other children find this suspicious and accuse her of killing the fish. Sally runs off, but then overhears the teacher defend her to the other students. Touched by his actions and the acceptance of her classmates after that, Sally finally sheds real tears. Admittedly I find this a bit of a cop-out since it would have been nice to see Sally being accepted 100% as she is, tears or no tears. Still, it’s a sweet moment all the same.

The whole episode is just really effective, especially for a show this old. It operates on a principle that’s common to most good fantasy and speculative fiction: using an otherworldly character or situation to draw attention to or reframe something about the human condition. In this case, Sally being unable to cry may make young viewers think about what being able to cry means to them, how it makes them feel, and how it connects them with other people. It’s a simple narrative trick in this case, but it works like, well, magic.

Shifting gears a little bit: the last couple episodes I’ve highlighted have been in black and white, but you may have noticed some colour clips earlier on. Sally started its run in black-and-white, but starting with episode 18, the series switched to colour production, making it one of the earliest TV anime to adopt colour. This was in line with Toei’s continuing ambitions to be the top animation studio in the country (remember our friend Mr. Okawa from last episode). It’s questionable how well they maintained that title, considering they eventually ended up bleeding staff left and right due to unsatisfactory compensation and working conditions. However, it is at least true that Toei helped create almost an entire new generation of animation talent through their “Toei University” training system, so a lot of the old guard in anime are thankful to the studio for that at least, if still somewhat disgruntled.13

In any case: from episode 18 onward, Sally the Witch continued broadcasting in colour until the end of its 109 episode run. Yep, you heard right: 109 episodes. Hoo boy. You’ll excuse me if I didn’t watch every single episode for this video, especially since only a handful have been fansubbed. Unfortunately the series never saw an English release of any kind, either, so there is no legal way for English-speaking fans to watch this series short of owning an all-region DVD player and importing the boxset.

Thankfully several other countries did get dubs of the series, including Mexico, Italy, Poland, and several South American countries, so if you speak Spanish, Italian, or Polish, you may have luck finding episodes out there you can watch. Frustratingly, there was one dub that aired in Canada… but it was in French. [clip: Minifée opening theme]14 Ah, c’est le Québécois.

Still, it’s a shame for English-speaking fans, because while it’s not the most dramatically riveting series, Sally the Witch is still a charming little show. I was honestly surprised by how much of its cuteness and humour still hold up despite the cheap animation and old-fashioned sensibilities. It has the same kind of charm as an old Disney or Tom and Jerry cartoon, plus it has the added bonus of being a little more complex than most old western cartoons, which is really nice to see for a kids’ show from this time period.

Speaking of old western cartoons: due to the influence of imported Disney cartoons during the post-war occupation15, there are a lot of Disney references in Sally the Witch, such as this scene where Sally’s grandma talks about poisoned apples while dressed like the Evil Queen from Disney’s Snow White. [side-by-side clips] Or there’s this scene where Cub is waving his fingers back and forth to make a broom dance and walk, much like a certain magical mouse did in Fantasia. [side-by-side clips] Most striking is probably the last episode, where — *GASP* SPOILERS FOR FIFTY-YEAR-OLD ANIME — Sally and Cub finally return home to the Magic Kingdom in a flying carriage… [clip: Grasshoppers turn into pegasi to pull the carriage.] …which looks a heck of a lot like a mix of two carriages from Disney’s Cinderella. [side-by-side clips of the carriages] And if the reference wasn’t obvious enough for you, Sally and Cub leave as the clock chimes midnight, their house vanishing into the aether like the last of Cinderella’s magic. [clip: Sally and Cub depart, waving goodbye to their friends]

There are lots of other references I could point to, both obvious and more subtle, but really, finding all the Disney influences and references in Sally could probably be its own video. So for now I’ll just say that this strong influence is very interesting to look back on with modern eyes. Disney-esque representations of princesses, jewels, carriages, castles, talking animals—heck, even witches—are all things that we see not just in Sally, but in many magical girl series to follow. So this is definitely a topic we’ll be touching on again in future episodes.

Another topic we’ll be touching on again for sure is the connections some of the staff on this show have to other magical girl shows, and to the wider history of anime. There isn’t really much to say about the writing or direction of the show since those duties were all shared by multiple people from what I can find. However, a lot of the voice talent we’ll definitely be seeing again later.

Michiko Hirai, who played Sally, we’ll see playing a mother role in Mahou no Mako-chan. Sachiko Chijimatsu, the voice of Cub, we’ll see again as Mieko in Sarutobi Ecchan, Twin Panther in Cutie Honey, and other bit parts in shows like Mako-chan, Megu-chan, and Tickle as well. Fuyumi Shiraishi, the voice of Poron, would later be the talking cat mascot in Lunlun the Flower Child. And Kenji Utsumi, Sally’s Dad, didn’t do many other magical girl series, but he did have a HUGE decades-spanning career, and fans today probably know him best as ShenLong from Dragonball Z, Raoh from Fist of the North Star, and Armstrong from Fullmetal Alchemist. Oh yeah and there’s also Masako Nozawa, the voice of the triplets and Sally’s mom, who’s done y’know, a few bit parts here and there, few parts in Limit-chan, Akko-chan, Chappy, and oh I don’t know, Tetsurou in Galaxy Express 999, Kitaro in GeGeGe no Kitaro, and mo***f***n’ Son Goku in mo***f***n’ Dragonball Z aw shiiiiiiiii— [airhorns, music: “Turn Down for What”, dank meme images of Masako Nozawa and Goku]16

However, the most well-known staffer on this show was not a voice actor, writer, or director, but a lowly animator who was making a name for himself as the head of the Toei labor board: a promising young upstart you may have heard of named Hayao Miyazaki. Yes, Mr. “Anime Was a Mistake” himself worked on Sally the Witch. He originally wanted to work for Toei after being inspired by Tale of the White Serpent, which we discussed last episode. The scale and wonder of the film left a huge impact on him, and he even admitted to having fallen in love with the character of Bai-niang.17 That’s right: you have a proto-magical girl in part to thank for bringing about Totoro, Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, and many, many high quality memes.

The Anime News Network encyclopedia lists Miyazaki as a key animator for episodes 77 and 80 of Sally the Witch.18 While I can’t say for sure which sequences he worked on, I can say that in productions this old, it was a lot more common for key animators to handle most of an episode or even entire episodes by themselves, so I would not be surprised if the bulk of these episodes featured Miyazaki’s work.19 Episode 77 especially has a lot of standout animation moments such as this sequence of Poron shrinking down the triplets in a car, followed by them driving among giant leaves and underground tunnels. These shots have a surprising amount of detail and try for some interesting perspectives, such as when this mole chases a shrunken-down Sally through the tunnels. Some of the car shots with the triplets seem like precursors to future works as well, with the dynamic animated backgrounds and wild driving choreography echoing scenes like the opening car chase from Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. [clips from both Sally and Cagliostro] Even if it turned out that none of this was Miyazaki’s work—and I highly doubt that, because that is TOTALLY a Miyazaki mole [screenshot from Sally episode 77]—this is all some stellar animation work for a weekly show from the late 60s, and it’s interesting either way to see that this was the kind of production Miyazaki cut his teeth on.

Okay, so that’s about all I have to say about the 1966 Sally series. I would say that wraps us up, but I still want to touch on a few related things that came out after the original anime. First is another series called Sally the Witch that lasted 88 episodes from 1989-1991. Despite having the same title as the first series, this is not a remake or a reboot, but a direct sequel. For that reason, the series is often called Sally the Witch 2 to distinguish it from the 60s anime. In it, Sally is preparing to be crowned Queen of the Magic Kingdom when she finds out that Yoshiko’s father has been hurt in a car accident, and that his taxi — the family’s livelihood — is going to be junked. Sally, alarmed, tries to sneak out of her coronation with help from Cub and Poron, only to be discovered by her mother. Continuing the tradition of being a remarkably free range parent, Mama lets Sally go to her friends, giving her a new magic wand to help her. After saving the Hanamuras, Sally puts down roots on Earth again and the series continues in much the same way the 60s anime did, with Cub and Poron following Sally to Earth and the whole group having more adventures together.

The difference between the two series is obviously that Sally the Witch 2 had a higher budget and more modern animation techniques to work with, allowing for flashier magic, smoother motion, and more character expression than the original series. It also worked in a lot more tropes that had become staples of 80s anime and especially 80s magical girl anime, such as a colourful animal sidekick, a suspiciously marketable magic item, and lots of stereotypical 80s villains and plots.

In addition to the main series, there were also two TV specials and a short theatrical movie made in this period. All three involve some kind of bad magical woman sowing evil and discord, usually by kidnapping one or more children; and then in the end, the bad woman realizes she was in the wrong the whole time and comes to her senses. Everyone goes on their merry way, the end. If you’re curious about Sally the Witch but don’t think you’d be able to sit through the old black and white stuff, I recommend tracking down the movie for sure. It’s very short (barely longer than a TV episode), it’s been fansubbed in English, and it’ll give you a nice one-and-done taste of the franchise. Granted, it’s a bit more high fantasy than most other Sally stories, but still, if you’re only going to watch one Sally thing, it’s a pretty enjoyable thing.

Anyway, last couple things I want to mention before we finish: first is a 2015 song and music video by the idol group ANGERME. Er, wait no it’s… an-ju-ru-mu? ahn-jhehrm? Oh my god, idols, stop it. ANYWAY. This group released a song called “Mahoutsukai Sally,” and what do you know, it’s a revamp of the original Sally theme song, and a dang catchy one at that. I can’t play it here due to fear of YouTube’s ever-present copyright bots, but trust me, it’s a major earworm. I recommend looking up both it and the theme songs of the 60s and 80s anime to compare it to, as the evolution of the song is pretty interesting to hear.

Last but not least: there is one more notable appearance Sally has made in anime, and it’s… not as Sally, but as Sunny. Remember that Yokoyama originally wanted to call his witch Sunny? Well in the 1990s, there was a direct-to-video series called Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, which was nominally an adaptation of Yokoyama’s Giant Robo manga. However, due to a big complicated mess of copyright I won’t get into, the staff working on this series could not actually use any of the characters from Giant Robo except for the main character and the robot itself. So instead, the director of the series, Yasuhiro Imagawa, populated the supporting cast with characters from Yokoyama’s other manga series, including Tetsujin-28, Water Margin, Babel II, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and of course Sally the Witch.20

The whole series is massively fun even if you’re not at all familiar with Yokoyama’s works, with a lot of influences from Wagnerian opera, expressionist and noir film, and the sheer balls-to-the-walls craziness that is super robot anime. It’s only seven episodes long, yet the series took almost ten years to make, so each episode is filled with astounding levels of animation quality. It’s one of the most sincere love letters to a manga creator’s work ever put to screen, and even though Sunny/Sally’s part is small, it’s extremely satisfying to see her and all these other “rescued” Yokoyama characters play off one another in this grand story. Definitely check it out!

And of course: again, if you can find the original Sally the Witch in any way, shape or form, I highly recommend checking out at least a couple of episodes of that as well. You’ll get a taste of what anime was like back at the dawn of the medium; you’ll get to see the groundwork this show laid for many series to follow; and most importantly, you’ll get a cute, funny little show about magical hijinks that’s still fun to watch today. And in the likely event that you can’t get a hold of it? I hope this video at least gave you a good impression of what the show is like.
That’s all for today! Next time, we’ll be moving on to the second major trendsetter of the genre: Himitsu no Akko-chan, the first transforming magical girl anime. See you all then!

Footnotes

1. Holmberg, Ryan. “The Bottom of a Bottomless Barrel: Introducing Akahon Manga.” The Comics Journal, 5 Jan. 2012.
2. Kosaka, Kris. “The life of Osamu Tezuka, Japan’s ‘god of manga’.” The Japan Times, 6 Aug. 2016.
3. Toku, Masami. “Shojo Manga! Girls’ Comics! A Mirror of Girls’ Dreams.” Mechademia, Volume 2, 2007. p. 22-23.
4. Thorn, Rachel M. “Before the Forty-Niners.” Committee for the Revival & Promotion of Shojo Manga – The Blog of Committee Chair Rachel Matt Thorn, 12 June 2017.
5. “Akko-Chan’s Got a Secret!” Fujio Akatsuka Wiki.
6. Chapman, Paul. “‘Ribon’ Magazine Celebrates 60th Anniversary with ‘Box Quest.’” Crunchyroll, 30 May 2015.
7. “Sally the Witch.” Wikipedia.
8. Saito, Kumiko. “Magic, Shōjo, and Metamorphosis: Magical Girl Anime and the Challenges of Changing Gender Identities in Japanese Society.” The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 73, no. 1, 2014, pp. 147–148.
9. Wikipedia citing Dogao vol. 2, Super Majokko Taisen, 1997, p26.
10. Drazen, Patrick. Anime Explosion! The What? Why? & Wow! of Japanese Animation. Stone Bridge Press, 2004. p.247.
11. Amazon.co.jp listing for the Sally the Witch manga.
12. Ladd, Fred, and Harvey Deneroff. Astro Boy and Anime Come to the Americas: An Insider’s View of the Birth of a Pop Culture Phenomenon. McFarland & Co., Inc., Publishers, 2009. p.155.
13. Clements, Jonathan. Anime: A History. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. pp. 223-226.
14. Minifée opening theme
15. Clements, Jonathan. Anime: A History. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. pp. 171.
16. All voice actor information taken from Anime News Network’s encyclopedia.
17. Saitō Tamaki. Beautiful Fighting Girl. Translated by Dawn Lawson and J. Keith Vincent, Commentary by Hiroki Azuma, University of Minnesota Press, 2011. pp. 87-88
18. Anime News Network: Sally the Witch
19. Ettinger, Ben. “Solo Animators.” Anipages, 19 Aug. 2004.
20. Egan, Toussaint. “25 Years Later: Remembering Giant Robo.” Paste Magazine, Paste Media Group, 22 July 2017.
Mahou Profile #001: Magical Girl Ancestors [Transcript]

Mahou Profile #001: Magical Girl Ancestors [Transcript]

[The following is a transcript of episode 1 of the Mahou Profile series, viewable on YouTube here.]

Welcome one and all to the first official episode of Mahou Profile: A History of Magical Girls! My name is ErynCerise, and before we do anything else today: let’s break down the term “mahou shoujo”.

Roughly speaking, “mahou” means “magic” or “sorcery”, and “shoujo” means “young girl”. “Magic”. “Girl”. Magical girl. Pretty simple.

Here’s where it gets interesting though. We can break “mahou” down further by looking at the kanji that form the word. The first kanji, read as “ma”, carries a meaning of “demon”, “evil spirit”, or “evil influence”.1 The second kanji, read as “hou”, means “law”, “act”, “method”, or “principle”.2 So the roots of the word “mahou” are literally something along the lines of “demon’s methods” or “demon’s laws”.

Of course, the full word “mahou” has little to no negative connotation in modern usage. Its use in the titles of countless books, movies, and TV series for children makes that pretty clear. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that that association with demons is always there, lurking down in the root of the word.

It’s especially interesting considering that possibly one of the first magical girls in the history of Japanese animation is literally a demon.

Hakujaden, a.k.a. Tale of the White Serpent was the first full-colour Japanese animated feature film.3 And it has not one, but two magical girls! The main one is the white serpent of the title, Bai-Niang. At the start of the tale, Bai-Niang is the pet of a young boy and the two are very close. However, they’re soon forced apart by adults who cannot accept a boy being friends with a serpent. (Such judgment!) They bid their goodbyes, and many years pass. Eventually, a great storm appears, and in it, Bai-Niang transforms into a young woman, revealing that she is not simply a serpent, but a spirit with a wide range of supernatural abilities, including teleportation, vanishing, matter creation, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, and flying in a fittingly snake-y kind of way. [clip: Vihart, “Snake snake snake”4] After her transformation, Bai-Niang goes looking for the boy she met all those years ago, but along the way, she’s deterred by a demon hating monk who wishes to destroy her. Oo, exciting!

The second girl is Bai-Niang’s fish-demon-turned-ladyservant Xiaoqing, who can, uh… well… look cute as a button? …Okay, Xiaoqing can’t actually do much magic herself, or if she can, she doesn’t show it. But she does fly away with Bai-Niang once, she changes back and forth between fish and human a couple times, and she helps a giant catfish cause a storm to save her mistress, which ends up almost getting everyone killed instead, but y’know, these things happen. It’s okay. It’s fine, you tried.

Anyway, despite its pedigree, Tale of the White Serpent is not generally considered a magical girl anime. Now why is that? Well, one reason might be because this movie predates what many consider “anime anime”, if that makes sense. Japanese animation goes back at least as far as the early 1900’s, the earliest of which is arguably… and I stress the “arguably” here, because there’s a lot of contention about what counts as the earliest and if it matters whether it was publicly exhibited or not, and the lack of clear records is kind of a problem too, soooo…5 [On-screen text: “SIDE NOTE: ‘Namakura Gatana’ is another work commonly cited as the earliest surviving Japanese animation, since it is known to have premiered for an audience on June 30, 1917.”6] Er, anyway, arguably the earliest surviving example is a short filmstrip from 1907 called “Katsudou Shashin”, or “Moving Pictures”.7 [full short: “Katsudou Shashin”8] There it is. You just saw it. You just saw the oldest anime. [repeat full short: “Katsudou Shashin”] Look, now you’ve seen it twice. Neato!

Anyway, animation in Japan continued being developed throughout the early part of the 20th century, a lot of it produced as propaganda during World War II.9 However, this stuff is often considered to be pre-modern Japanese animation, not quite the same “anime” as most would recognize it today. Many scholars consider the first work of modern anime—or at least the work associated with the first modern explosion of anime—to be 1963’s Tetsuwan Atomu, a.k.a. Astro Boy, the first widely popular Japanese animated TV series.10 Created by the legendary “god of manga” Osamu Tezuka, Astro Boy laid the groundwork for the aesthetic of most major anime to follow, with its big eyes, simplified character designs, and limited animation techniques.

By contrast, Tale of the White Serpent was released to Japanese theatres in 1958, about five years before Astro Boy. It’s pretty clear that the visual style shares little in common with the simple, doe-eyed designs of Tezuka. In fact, it’s surprisingly detailed and fluid for the time, with the entire film having a kind of languid, dream-like quality, befitting the folktale origins of the story. A lot of effort went into this one, and it shows. The production studio, Toei Doga, later known as Toei Animation, used state-of-the-art cel animation equipment and techniques similar to those in use at Disney at the time to create the film’s lush, layered look. Indeed, it’s said that the president of Toei, Hiroshi Okawa, seen here narrating the film’s trailer, wanted Toei to become the “Disney of the East” as it were.11 [clip of Okawa speaking in a loud monotone] …Yeah, can’t imagine why this fountain of personality couldn’t get more people on board with that. Toei’s low wages for animators probably didn’t help either.12

Still, nerdy animation history aside, I think there’s a bigger reason why White Serpent doesn’t count as the first magical girl anime, at least for our purposes. And that’s because… it is kind of questionable whether this is Bai-Niang’s story or not. Despite her being the title character and also clearly the most driven character, going through the most harrowing story events and personal sacrifices to achieve her goal, she gets I think barely more screen time than the various goofy animal characters, whose point in the story is… something? Yeeeeah it’s kinda telling that the film’s title in North America was Panda and the Magic Serpent. The dang panda got top billing. The panda! Come on!

Still, yeah, Bai-Niang really doesn’t carry enough of the film on her own to be called its undisputed protagonist. So by the criteria I set out in the introduction of this series, we can’t really consider this a full-blown magical girl story. Still totally worth picking up as a piece of anime history, though. The Panda and the Magic Serpent version is available on region 1 DVD for about $15 on Amazon as of this recording.13 Its influence is immense, and we’ll be talking about that influence in more detail in future episodes.

Another influential magical girl prototype it kills me not to include in the main series is Princess Sapphire, the protagonist of another Osamu Tezuka series, Ribon no Kishi, a.k.a. Princess Knight. In this story, an angel named Tink (or Choppy in the English dubbed version) bestows a newborn baby girl with two hearts—a girl’s heart and a boy’s heart. This baby just happens to be the daughter of a King and Queen in a kingdom where women are forbidden from inheriting the throne. To prevent the kingdom from being taken over by an evil duke, the King and Queen announce their new baby, Sapphire, is a prince and then raise her for the next 12 years as a boy, with only a handful of attendants knowing Sapphire’s true gender and sex. Tink eventually finds Sapphire again and tries to convince her to let him take back the boy’s heart he gave her, but she refuses. Tink just kind of goes with this despite his protests, and from there the series follows the two of them as they work to thwart the evil Duke’s attempts to expose Sapphire as a girl. Also the Devil and his daughter show up occasionally. Because sure, why not.

Debuting as a manga written and drawn by Tezuka in 1953 and getting adapted into anime in 1967, Princess Knight is often held up as one of the grandmamas of all girls’ manga and anime, and for good reason.14 Its focus on the gender-bending antics and fighting spirit of Princess Sapphire would be a huge influence on loads of other anime and manga aimed at girls and women in the decades that followed, especially ones that also played heavily with gender such as The Rose of Versailles and Revolutionary Girl Utena. Sapphire even has several hallmarks that we tend to associate with modern magical girls — she has a secret identity to hide, a tiny magic sidekick, a fabulous floofy costume, a cool weapon, and, of course, she’s royalty. The ultimate fantasy prince/princess, am I right?

There’s just one problem you may have noticed, and that’s… that Sapphire doesn’t have magic powers. Kind of hard to be a magical girl if you don’t have magic. I mean, she does have that literal extra heart, but that’s effectively just a hella cool mutation, magic origins or not. Aside from that, Sapphire is just a regular human being with awesome fighting skills. The only magic in the series is performed by other characters, and the only major female characters that do so are the daughter of the devil, Hecate, and her mother the Grand Witch Hel, both of whom have those demonic connections we touched on earlier. Of note, though: in the anime, these two and the Devil Mephisto eventually end up being sympathetic characters who, while not always on the side of good, still care about family and ultimately achieve some great good because of it. Compare that to the completely human Duke Duralamin who, while he has his sympathetic moments, is pretty much evil to the end. Hmm. Food for thought.

Anyway, the point of that whole tangent is that as influential a character as Sapphire is, I unfortunately cannot count Princess Knight under our magical girl banner. Again though, well worth experiencing at least a bit of the series if you can. By a current understanding of gender, admittedly it can get a bit uncomfortable, because despite defying some gender expectations of the time, it’s still very gender essentialist in other ways. However, if you look at it as a product of its time with the understanding that it does get some things wrong, I think it can still be appreciated for what it was trying to do, and it’s still a fun romp for people of all ages.

Both volumes of the manga15 and its sequel The Twin Knights16 are available from Vertical in both paperback and Kindle versions, and the original dub of the anime is available from Nozomi Entertainment, the first two episodes of which are free to watch on their YouTube channel.17 Sadly the original Japanese version of the anime isn’t officially available for western audiences yet, though hopefully that will come with time.

In any case, the first true magical girl anime—featuring a girl with magic powers who is absolutely the main character of her own story—wouldn’t come until several years after the Princess Knight manga. And we’ll cover that next time when we talk about the one, the only, the first of her animated kind: Sally the Witch.

Footnotes

1. Jisho.org
2. Jisho.org
3. Hu, Tze-Yue G. Frames of Anime: Culture and Image-Building. Hong Kong University Press, 2010, p. 11.
4. Vihart, “How to Snakes”
5. Clements, Jonathan. Anime: A History. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. pp. 52-53.
6. Hotes, Cathy Munroe. “Namakura Gatana.” Nishikata Film Review, 2 Apr. 2008.
7. Georgic, Joe. “Anime.” Film Studies.
8. “Katsudou Shashin” full short viewable on Wikipedia.
9. Patten, Fred. “Momotaro’s Gods-Blessed Sea Warriors: Japan’s Unknown Wartime Feature.” Animation World Network, 1996.
10. Clements, Jonathan. Anime: A History. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. p. 10.
11. Bendazzi, Giannalberto. Animation: A World History: Volume II: The Birth of a Style – The Three Markets. Focal Press, 2016. p. 86.
12. Clements, Jonathan. Anime: A History. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. pp. 225-226.
13. Amazon.com – Panda and the Magic Serpent
14. Toku, Masami. “Shojo Manga! Girls’ Comics! A Mirror of Girls’ Dreams.” Mechademia, Volume 2, 2007. p. 22.
15. Princess Knight manga from Vertical
16. The Twin Knights manga from Vertical
17. Princess Knight dub episode 1 from Nozomi Entertainment
Mahou Profile #000: Intro to Magical Girls [Transcript]

Mahou Profile #000: Intro to Magical Girls [Transcript]

[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.

And lastly…

#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!