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GreenCine Movie Talk
Discuss all topics related to anime.

Where did the magic girl myth come from?
Topic by: larbeck
Posted: November 7, 2003 - 3:49 PM PST
Last Reply: November 8, 2003 - 6:53 PM PST

author topic: Where did the magic girl myth come from?
post #1  on November 7, 2003 - 3:49 PM PST  
I am rather a lover of the Magic Girl genre of anime. I read that the Magic Girl tradition is a strong one in Japanese mythology - does any one know it's origin?
post #2  on November 7, 2003 - 4:57 PM PST  
Oh, larbeck, I love you! I've been waiting for someone to open this can of worms.

First of all, there is no Japanese magic girl myth or folktale that really stands out. Japan abounds in magic animals, the fox, the tanuki, boars, tigers, dragons etc. There are also a lot of magic boys (Momotaro, the peach boy, Kintaro who was stronger than a bear).

According to classic Japanese Mythology, the islands of Japan were created by a male deity and a female deity who were equals, Izanagi and Izanami. Later they created a female child, Amaterasu, the sun-goddess. Amaterasu is said to be the direct ancestor of the legendary first empress of Japan, Himiko, who is in turn said to be the first in an unbroken line of rulers to the current emperor. The legend of Amaterasu includes the story of Uzume's sensual dance, perhaps the first instance of fan service in Japanese tradition!

Anyway, Japanese legends and folk tales go on to include a variety of supernatural beauties and bewitched princesses (Hachikaburi-hime, who was cursed to wear a face-obscuring earthenware pot on her head, Kaguya-hime, the Moon Princess from the Tale of Taketori, and Ningyo-hime, the pretty mermaid whose flesh would confer immortality on someone who would eat it.) but no clear antecedent of the Magic/Magical Girl in manga/anime, an ordinary girl who comes into possession of an enchanted item which enables her to transform into a heroine.

There IS a transformation in the tale Tsuru no ongaeshi (The crane repays a debt) but in that a female crane transforms into a girl to repay the kindness of a young farmer. Another legend, Tennyo no hagoromo is the basis of many manga/anime stories from Ayashi no Ceres to Twin Angels.

larbeck, if you want to read some of the stories that form the basis of Japanese traditional storytelling, or if you just wanna curl up with your little ones and show them some charming tales, try this website.
post #3  on November 7, 2003 - 6:37 PM PST  
OK, so where did the Magical Girl come from? She's not a witch or a fairy. She's not a robot or an alien. This is a very specific genre in manga/anime and very interesting because as a genre it is neither shoujo nor shounen.

When I was a little kid (early to mid 1960's) there really wasn't a clear shoujo genre yet. Girls liked the juvenile comics with the cute animals and princesses and witches and stuff, much like the fairy tales Westerners think of as girlcentric. In the west Disney had already started forging an animated girls' genre with Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Sleeping Beauty (1959). Japanese comics for girls pretty much mirrored those titles. On Japanese TV, a popular show was "My Mother is a Witch", the dubbed version of "Bewitched" the American TV classic.

The first really popular shoujo cartoons were Mahoutsukai Sally(The little witch Sally) followed by similar shows Creamy Mami and Minky Momo. There was magic, but none of the now familiar conventions of the Magic Girl (magical items, elaborate transformation sequences).

Then Fujio Akatsuka came out with Himitsu no Akko-chan(Akko-chan has the secret, 1969). She would open her magic mirror compact and chant, "Tekumaku Mayacon, Tekumaku Mayacon, XXXX-ni naaaare!" where the XXXX was anything she wanted to be. Poof, she would change into a stewardess or a teacher or a singer. Enter the Magic Girl. The manga soon became a hit anime TV show as well.

Curiously, Akatsuka is better known as the father of Japanese gag/slapstick manga, with the seminal Osomatsu-kun and the over-the-top Tensai Bakabon. He was never touted as the father of anything in strictly shoujo circles. In fact, his ouevre is rather rude, and I'm sure his manga encouraged young pantymeisters like Go Nagai to stray from themes that were "safe for kids"...

In fact, one of the hallmarks of the Magic Girl genre, the elaborate transformation, was developed largely by men for male fans. Cutey Honey came out as a TV show in the 1970's, and titillated fans with moments of nudity as Miss Honey transformed. The popular OVA series Devil Hunter Yohko came out in 1990, and she was an ordinary (?) high-school girl who was given a Magic Ring that transformed her into the latest in a long line of Demon Busters. Yohko's transformation scene is archtypal if you think of other examples you see in anime titles. There's a lot of twirling and spinning, flashing, pretty colors, etc. Regular clothes come off, a moment of nudity, then the magic uniform appears.

This use of magical female transformation for prurient male appreciation extended into hentai of course. You can see a prime example in the series Twin Angels, which appeared in 1995. The twins' transformation is pure Magic Girl.

In anime, the way these transformation scenes evolved is related, I think, with the male fascination with kinetic energy (in addition to an appreciation of the nude female form). What is the common denominator that ties sports television to cop dramas and martial arts flicks and science fiction shows? It's the images of things moving, moving fast, moving with energy, flashing lights, shooting stars, tracer bullets, jet contrails, sparks from explosions, the smell of napalm in the morning. The transforming girls serve the same purpose as the helicopter attack scene in Apocalypse Now.

Another thing I notice is a history of male fascination with transformation manifested as cross-dressing. Elizabethan theater, Japanese Kabuki, modern English burlesque, examples abound of men dressing up as women. I think there's a connection between the aesthetic of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and the transformations of the Magic Girls.

So how did Magical Girls become primarily associated with shoujo anime and manga?
post #4  on November 7, 2003 - 8:20 PM PST  
Well, if you eliminate the overtly sexy stuff, it's very easy to see how Magical Girl shows would be attractive to even very young girls. And of course Akatsuka's Akko-chan was meant from the beginning for a girl audience. But what appeals to girls even more than the elaborate transformation sequence is the end result. This fulfills every girl's wish to play dress-up, to be a grown up woman, to pretend to be someone else and wonder what that would really be like. And of course that part of the transformation is an important part of shoujo manga. I think even if there isn't a single transforming character, imagining oneself becoming one of the characters is a crucial component of the shoujo experience. (The difference compared to shounen manga is that in the case of boys, we imagine ourselves being in the story as ourselves more, as opposed to actually being one of the characters, I think. Maybe a difference in empathy?)

Anyway, in the early 1990's, shoujo manga artist Naoko Takeuchi started writing Sailor Moon. This comic series was popular, but it became a cultural phenomenon when the series hit TV in March of 1992 under the direction of flamboyant shoujo animator Kunihiko Ikuhara. Takeuchi's contribution that fulfilled the requirements of the Magic Girl was the magic item, Sailor Moon's Transformation Brooch, and the "magic" words required for the change, "Moon Prism Power, Make Up!" What Ikuhara brought to this was actually being able to see a fully choreographed battle in real time, plus the full transformation sequence, clocking in at about 45 seconds. I think these elements plus the very fact that the show was on regular broadcast television assured that not only girls would watch, but that there would be a big crossover audience. Of course boys weren't buying Sailor Moon lunch boxes or pencil boards, but the show then became a bona fide cultural juggernaut.

The success of Sailor Moon spawned dozens of imitators, even as Sailor Moon itself stretched out over the years in many incarnations. The more successful ones are available here at GreenCine on DVDs. Saint Tail (1995), Fancy Lala (1998), Cardcaptor Sakura (1998), Corrector Yui (1999), and 1996's Magical Project S (Pretty Sammy) which was a smart parody of the Magical Girl genre and itself a spinoff of the shounen franchise Tenchi.

post #5  on November 7, 2003 - 11:48 PM PST  
By the way, in 1997 Cutey Honey turned up on TV again as Cutey Honey F, (the F stands for Flash) but as a shoujo Magical Girl anime! They toned down the sex, made the characters "cuter," and there was more emphasis on romance.
post #6  on November 8, 2003 - 12:09 AM PST  
I just launched a companion list for this forum, which I've been working on for a few days. larbeck started this thread by pure coincidence (or magic?).

To see some of the titles discussed above that are available from GreenCine, go to the list, Anime - The Strange history of the Magical Girl. All titles contain a link to the entire series in the "comments".
post #7  on November 8, 2003 - 5:16 AM PST  
Egads, that was no can of worms, it was a boxcar of tentacles! Now, I will be busy for awhile.
post #8  on November 8, 2003 - 5:31 AM PST  
To be clear, I like tentacles. Thank you, hamano!
post #9  on November 8, 2003 - 9:11 AM PST  
Sailor Moon does take some story elements from Japanese legend. The concept of a Princess from the Moon is of course taken from Kaguya-hime of the Taketori Monogatari although Kaguya-hime doesn't go around "punishing" bad guys.

Also, in Sailor Moon S, the Sailor Scouts seach for the Holy Grail, which is made from 3 magical objects. Sailor Uranus' sword, Sailor Neptune's mirror, and Sailor Moon's jewel. The mirror, sword and curved jewel are the 3 ancient treasures said to be handed down to the Japanese Imperial line by Amaterasu herself. You'll notice right away the similarity between the curved jewel and magic beads that appear in Blue Seed and Arjuna among others.

Also, I mentioned before that a goddess named Uzume helped lure Amaterasu out of hiding. That's why Aoi named the cute pet ferret Uzume in Ai Yori Aoshi, because the ferret helped them lure taciturn Miyabi out of her room in Episode 8 when she was in one of her angry funks.
post #10  on November 8, 2003 - 2:33 PM PST  
I must object, hamano. How can you classify Cutey Honey as a Magical GIRL? Honey-chan is an android, and she sure doesn't look like a GIRL to me.
post #11  on November 8, 2003 - 3:39 PM PST  
> On November 8, 2003 - 2:33 PM PDT NLee wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> I must object, hamano. How can you classify Cutey Honey as a Magical GIRL? Honey-chan is an android, and she sure doesn't look like a GIRL to me.
> ---------------------------------

Go Nagai himself classified Cutey Honey as a "Magical Girl" in an interview... it came up somewhere while I was researching this.

I'm not a Cutey Honey expert, but she's been around in various incarnations for a loooooong time. I think you're right about the android thing. But that was a quick way to explain her talents... I seem to remember she was treated pretty much like a human girl with extraordinary powers...

My main purpose for including her in this discussion is her propensity for losing her clothes as she transforms. That does certainly happen a lot.

Several internet sites repeatedly call her a "magic girl", even the "original magic girl"...

In the latest incarnation, she IS a human high schooler, as Cutey Honey Flash. She has a magic item, a choker, that enables her to transform. This 1997 show took over the Sailor Moon time slot after the end of Sailor Stars.
post #12  on November 8, 2003 - 4:22 PM PST  
Also I should add that there is NO universally standard definition of what a "Magical Girl" is. Some sites seem to include witches, in which case Mahoutsukai Sally would be the "first" Magic Girl instead of Himitsu no Akko-chan. Some fans include both witches and fantasy genre girls like the three girls in Magic Knight Rayearth. I would exclude Rayearth since the girls operate in a world where magic is the norm.

I would categorize anime and manga with witches and sorceresses as a separate genre that would include Kiki's Delivery Service, Mahou Tsukai tai, Witch Hunter Robin and the upcoming Someday's Dreamers. Of course, there's also a lot of overlap between these genre classifications.

I gotta say my own personal fascination with Magical Girls is with the transformation sequences, so I tend to weigh that more heavily in coming up with my classification system. I always mutter under my breath, "If they take a whole minute to transform, why doesn't the bad guy just attack before she's finished?!?" ^_^
post #13  on November 8, 2003 - 5:14 PM PST  
There's a spoofy Magic Girl show called Tonde Buurin that's about a high-school girl who gains the power to transform into a fat pink flying super-pig. This is a 2.6 mb movie of her transformation. ^_^
post #14  on November 8, 2003 - 5:17 PM PST  
> On November 8, 2003 - 5:14 PM PDT hamano wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> There's a spoofy Magic Girl show called Tonde Buurin that's about a high-school girl who gains the power to transform into a fat pink flying super-pig. This is a 2.6 mb movie of her transformation. ^_^
> ---------------------------------

If that link doesn't work, access the movie from this Tonde Buurinpage.
post #15  on November 8, 2003 - 6:53 PM PST  
> On November 8, 2003 - 3:39 PM PDT hamano wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> My main purpose for including her in this discussion is her propensity for losing her clothes as she transforms. That does certainly happen a lot.

That's why I objected to you calling Honey-chan a Magical GIRL - she's a Magical WOMAN! Haba Haba!

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