Recently I was riding in the passenger seat of the car with two of my closest lady friends, who also happen to be quite geeky (as if I would hang out with non geeks, pfft). Our topics are generally of the variety that most "normal" people would cock their head like a confused puppy if eavesdropping, and this particular instance was no exception. One of my friends, Chelsea, was telling me how she had been at the thrift store and acquired a 50 cent plushie of a character from a retro anime all three of us had watched when we were teenagers. This segwayed into a conversation about MAGICAL GIRL anime, and how the particular anime we were talking about was a "direct rip off" of Sailor Moon. Puffed up and vehement, I began to school my friends on the true origins of Magical Girl anime and manga – a road that did NOT begin at Sailor Moon.
So this got me to thinking. If two of the geekiest ladies I know didn't know the origins of such a prominent genre of anime and manga, what about the more casual consumer? We know all about the history of Superman or Wolverine but manga is not as culturally engrained into our lives. After living in Japan in highschool and consuming most things Japanese like a ravenous beast who hasn't eaten in a year, I would call myself a LITTLE bit of an expert (I'm not certified or anything, though if anyone wants to make me a bright pink certificate to display above my desk…)
So allow me to school you! Sit down, shut up, and get to reading about all things sparkly and lovely… rife with panty shots! (I had to keep the boy's attention somehow, right?)
The first thing you need to know about the Magical Girl genre is the proper Japanese name for it: the most common being "Mahou Shoujo" or "Majokko". However, I will refer to it as "Magical Girl" in this article since we aren't in Japan.
If you're unfamiliar with the sub genre, it goes a little bit like this:
Hapless young schoolgirl with a lackluster life but a good group of friends and a subtle love interest suddenly encounters an object or a person that transforms her life (and her appearance). She is "chosen" or stumbles upon the object that changes her, depending on the series. The change that occurs is that she suddenly gains incredible powers, transforms into a girl wearing beautiful clothing and fights evil (or wins love). She generally has a special transformation sequence (it usually involves nudity and panty shots – I told you so!) and for some reason no one can recognize her when she is in this form even though she is still herself except wearing a frilly and colourful outfit. (So she's basically cosplaying.)
Magical girls have many different plot devices, but the two most common is that they are
a) chosen to fight "evil" or the main antagonists
b) use their powers in the pursuit of friendship or love.
Usually someone comes to the magical girl – like a talking animal – and informs her of her sudden plunge into "witch girl"-dom. Occasionally the magical girl will just encounter an object and somehow knows to focus her attention on it and chant a special mantra that unleashes her power.
Magical Girls rarely act alone – although there is generally a "main" Magical Girl major themes in the show are friendship and teamwork, so other Magical Girls (and occasionally boys) crop up to offer assistance. This assistance comes in the form of massive team attacks, emotional support, or a great plot twist fueled by jealousey or indignation for a friend.
Probably the most popular Magical Girl manga in Western culture is Sailor Moon – and it can be argued it is perhaps the most popular Magical Girl series of all time. Several people I have talked to believe Sailor Moon to be the original Magical Girl series… and while this is incorrect, it does have a grain of truth. Sailor Moon popularized the genre to the massive epidemic it is today (especially fueled – surprisingly – by boys who are very into the "moe" movement (moe – pronounced MOH – EH – and wikipedia tells me it means "a rarefied pseudo-love for certain fictional characters (in anime, manga, and the like) and their related embodiments" – though I'm more familiar with it as meaning "cute" or "precious".)
So if Sailor Moon did not perpetuate this massive genre, what did?
There was a manga thats run began in 1966 called "Sally the Witch" that is cited as the original "magical girl" manga, and also controversially may be the first "shoujo" manga as well (this is debatable, but it is certainly one of the firsts). It was heavily inspired by the American TV show Bewitched which was extremely popular with Japanese girls in the 60s. Manga and anime were still in their infancy in this time and creators were constantly chasing the next big break, so emulating a very popular TV show seemed like an obvious option.
However, Sally the Witch differs from modern day magical girl manga. She is born with her powers and must keep them secret and she doesn't have any sort of transformation to use her magic. It seems the first really notable "transformation" in Magical Girl manga occurred in Cutie Honey in 1973, a very popular classic manga that I have talked about on ifanboy before.
Honey is an android that can transform into her more powerful and beautiful form by yelling "HONEY FLASH!"
By 1992 – when Sailor Moon became popular in full force – Magical Girl manga was still not a fully realized genre. But with the mass consumption and hysteria that Sailor Moon fueled, other series were created – Cardcaptor Sakura, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch etc.
Now if you'll excuse me – MOLLLYYY PRETTTYYY TRANSFOOOORM!
Molly McIsaac actually IS a magical girl, but you didn't hear it here. Follow her fights against baddies and adventures with talking animals on her twitter.