It’s practically impossible to be a fan of anime and not know of iconic shows like Sailor Moon or Cardcaptor Sakura.
The genre is so popular today but have you ever wondered what exactly started it all? Well, you’re in luck because here’s an overview of the history of magical girls!
What’s A Magical Girl?
A magic girl or “mahou shoujo” is a genre of Japanese media that focuses on young girls that have magical abilities, or at the very least, powers that seem magical.
These powers usually contrast against a world where things like magic aren’t supposed to exist. Of course, there are some series that skirt on the edge on that definition or don’t exactly fit all of the criteria. For example, it’s still highly debated if Kill la Kill is a magical girl anime (that’s kind of a strange thought right?). Nonetheless, this definition covers much of the basics.
So Where Did This All Begin?
Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight is often regarded as a kind of prototype for the genre. It’s about a princess named Sapphire who was born with the “blue heart” of a boy and the “pink heart” of a girl. In order to secure her place in the kingdom, she pretends to be a prince to stop an evil man from inheriting the throne.
While this story isn’t what could be considered a magical girl series, it does feature much of the genre’s standards. Some of which includes the exploration of gender and the idea of a magical girl warrior.
Surprisingly, some of the inspiration for magical girls also stems from the Japanese release of the 1960’s sitcom, Bewitched. The series is about a witch who wants to live as a normal housewife. The mixture of everyday versus the magical sparked something in the minds of creatives like Fujio Akatsuka and Mitsuteru Yokoyama.
Akatsuka created Himitsu no Akko-chan, which is generally accepted to be the earliest magical girl manga. The series started in 1962, so it technically predates Yokoyama’s Sally the Witch whose manga was released in 1966.
However, Sally The Witch got its anime a little earlier, and thus took the title of the first magical girl anime. Funnily enough, Toei Animation produced both of these shows and many other magical girl series afterward.
Himitsu no Akko-chan is about Atsuko Kagami, a young girl with a thing for mirrors. One day, her favorite mirror breaks and instead of throwing it away, she buries it.
Later that night, Akko dreams of a spirit that appreciates how respectful Akko was towards the mirror and in turn gives Akko an enchanted mirror.
They teach Akko the phrases “tekumaku mayakon, tekumaku mayakon” and “lamipus lamipus lu lu lu lu lu.” These magic words let her transform herself into anything she wants.
Sally the Witch is about Sally, a princess of a Magic Kingdom. She gets teleported to Earth where she meets two human girls after she saves them from burglars. Sally decides to stay on Earth with her new friends. She pretends to be a normal child and keeps her powers hidden which, of course, leads to adventure.
These two series can also be linked to some common occurrences in the magical girl stories that followed. One that’s notable is the age. Himiko and Sally were both very young girls and were for that intended audience. While target age may have shifted over the years, the magical girl protagonist are often teens or even younger.
Especially concerning Akko, we get transformations sequences and magical items. Examples can be found in everything from Precure to Shugo Chara. These are still very much part of the tradition. There’s also the trend of the protagonist being royalty from another kingdom.
More Series Join The Mix
There are so many magical girl series that it would take a hot minute to go over all of them. However, there are definitely certain series that are important to the genre overall.
The arrival of Go Nagai’s Cutie Honey was one of the first big shifts in audience as it largely attracted both female and male viewers. It’s about Honey Kisaragi, a girl who transforms into Cutie Honey to fight against evil. She too had a flashy transformation sequence and was one of the first magical girl warrior types.
We see the “monster of the week” format here in later series like Sailor Moon. Minky Momo and Creamy Mami, are similar to Cutie Honey in that they also attracted more diverse audiences. They all had the protagonists transform into “older” versions of themselves as well.
Series like Majokko Megu-chan solidified the “little witch” or “majokko” subgenre. It also notably dealt with issues such as drugs, domestic violence, loss, and other more mature themes.
Megu-chan also was the first to have a “dark magical girl” – an evil magical girl. It’s uh… also one of the first to have some serious fan service.
You Already Know We Had To Talk About Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura
Ah, yes. Good old Sailor Moon. Whether you love or hate the series, it’s still considered one of the most popular shows within the genre. Sailor Moon, like many other magical girl series that came out in the 90s, put emphasis on the magical girl warrior.
The show was filled with cute girls that knew how to protect themselves and those around them. It was also one of the first series where there was a team of magical girls united on the same front. There were team-ups before this era but not quite exactly like this.
Its popularity lends to the fact that it was introduced to the West and had solid branding. It was so popular that it even got an American live-action remake, Saban Moon (google it, it’s so weird man). Similarly, Cardcaptor Sakura was also heavily advertised.
Cardcaptor sort of mixed the warrior girl with the witch girl in a way that was highly effective. Instead of only fighting, sometimes she had to use her powers to solve puzzles. It also served as a slight deconstruction of the genre since Sakura’s transformation sequences were her just changing into really cute clothes.
It Isn’t Always Sunshine And Rainbows
Mature themes are definitely nothing new to the genre. In fact, magical series have openly dealt with darker events and elements. Nonetheless, the majority of magical girl shows are meant to be colorful, hopeful and even empowering to an extent. Many times it shows there’s power in femininity and that the connections we make can always trump evil.
Series like Puella Magi Madoka Magica turn that on its head. This isn’t the first of its type but it’s become the face of magical girl deconstruction.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica twisted the wonder associated with magical girls and puts suffering on the center stage. It starts out starry-eyed, luring viewers into a false sense of security and immediately takes that away by the third episode.
It explores more realistic complications that could arise with being a magical girl – fighting to the death, one’s own trauma resurfacing in their work, loss, and more.
Madoka Magica isn’t the only series to go with this approach either. Magical Girl Raising Project is another example of a series that starts off in a more traditional fashion and ends with absolute destruction. This series pits magical girls against one another to fight or lose their lives. Other titles like Magical Girl Site explores the extremities of bullying and murder.
These deconstructions can be rather bittersweet because the characters almost always lose so much in the process of fulfilling their goals. Many of the happenings in them are downright terrifying especially when considering the magical girl tradition.
Let’s Wrap Things Up
By now, I hope it’s clear to see that the magical girl genre has a long and diverse history. There are tons of series out there that haven’t even been touched upon here. Most of these series can trace their archetypes from the 1960s.
These tropes include everything from magic chants to themes. It’s a medium that can explore topics like friendship, responsibility, self-exploration, and hardship. All in all, while the genre can be critiqued, it’s largely positive.
More recently, we have ongoing series like Precure that started in 2004. It’s one of the more contemporary magical girl warrior series. We also have an uptick of darker magical girl series that aim to explore more serious topics. There are even magical boy animes like Cute High Earth Defense Club Love! and Is This A Zombie? (this totally counts).
The influence of the genre can even be seen in series like Steven Universe, Miraculous Ladybug, Star vs. The Forces of Evil and so much more. The genre is home to many amazing creations and is a landscape filled with thought-provoking media. It’ll be interesting to see where the idea of magical girls goes from here.
Feature Image via guillmon9005