The Roots of Magical Girl Costuming
Today, when magical girls (especially parodies of magical girls) appear in anime, they are characterized by their extravagant, frilly outfits first and foremost. Starting with Sailor Moon, fancy costuming became essential for magic-making; the outfit in some series (as in Sailor Moon, Wedding Peach etc) as a disguise, calling back to the masks and capes of Spiderman, Batman and the like. In other cases it is simply a symbol of power, or a tool to increase ability; the anime versions of Ultra Maniac and Sugar Sugar Rune star girls who grew up in magical worlds who still need to change their clothes in order to cast a spell. Magical girls are now permanently associated with decadent costumes, with beauty and fashion; it is interesting, then, to consider just where the designs of these outfits arise from.
Modern magical girl suits owe much to contemporary street fashion; lolita in particular has been a popular motif for recent costumes, as in Saint October (whose heroines are monikered “Loli Black”, “Loli White” and “Loli Red” in a nod to the inspiration.) Nanoha's Vita and Fresh Precure's Cure Peach similarly wear lolita-inspired magical outfits. HeartCatch PreCure links magic with a more homogenous kind of fashion, as does last year’s Lilpri, where each episode the girls assume a new, fashionable magic ensemble. Other series model their costumery after uniforms— school uniform-based outfits were popularized by Sailor Moon and its distinctive sailor fuku, and characters as recent as Madoka Magica's Homura wear these. Others, as in Mao-chan and Nanoha echo the motifs of military uniforms.
However, many staples of the magical girl uniform have no cognate in reality: the absurd frills modeled by the characters of Suite Precure and Madoka Magica's Madoka Kaname are descended instead from the great progenitor of all magical girl costumes, Sakura Kinomoto. Card Captor Sakura dips into the tradition of Cutie Honey (CLAMP, notably, is a bunch of Go Nagai fangirls) and dresses its heroine in multiple different costumes. Her most well-known ensemble is likely the valentine-colored puff of frothy lace seen in the anime’s first opening sequence; however, she models a large variety of different costumes, each more over-the-top than the last. The style for these clothes is uniquely cartoony and uniquely anime— CLAMP, again, is a bunch of fangirls with a strong admiration for the works of mangaka like Hirohiko Araki (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure) and Mamoru Nagano (Five Star Stories.) You might compare some of Sakura’s clothing to the gaudy costumes of characters from the Five Star Stories (and then compare both to Sakura-inspired later magical girls.)
Magical girl costumes are thus steeped in a history of design— for fictional characters, for everyday people, for people who want to look striking and unique— an appropriate heritage for one of the distinguishing characteristics of this striking genre.
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