“The dear old days when I could fly!”
“Why can’t you fly now, mother?”
“Because I am grown up, dearest. When people grow up they forget the way.”
“Why do they forget the way?”
“Because they are longer gay and innocent and heartless. It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly.”
-Peter and Wendy, by J.M. Barrie
All good things come to an end. In fantasy stories that deal with the interaction of the mundane and the supernatural, there is often a sort of unspoken struggle between the two forces: when they have experienced the fantastic, will characters choose (as in Cabell’s Jurgen) to return to their ordinary lives or (as in Meyer’s Twilight series) join the ranks of the “fairy folk” forever? The endings of magical girl series must answer these same questions. In the days before Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura, where it is taken for granted that a girl’s power will remain and grow throughout her entire life, magical girl series often ended with the termination of the heroine’s magic in one way or another. Here magic could be used up, or lost, or given away, often as a symbolic gesture of coming-of-age. These endings are interesting to examine. What does it mean that in these paradigms a girl’s power can “end”?
In early majokko series where the narrative follows an otherworldly girl sojourning on Earth, many stories ended with the heroine deciding not to return to her original home and live among humans as an ordinary girl. In some cases, the heroine would simply extend her visit a bit, as in Majokko Megu-chan, but in other series the decision is more final: in Mahou no Mako-chan, the heroine gives up her powers completely, giving her magical pendant to her boyfriend and hence losing her connection to her family and childhood forever. Here there is a very strong traditional coming-of-age flavor, where magical powers characterize a girl’s youth, and when she is ready to leave the nest (and, in 1970s television, start thinking about starting her own family) she must leave magic behind her. The loss of magic would later be connected to marriage in Hana no Ko Lun Lun, and to wisdom and maturity in Mahou Shoujo Lalabel.
Magic, in these stories, is a fantastical expression of the innocence of childhood (both positive and negative), and losing magic signals the beginning of life as a more mature individual. Later series would accentuate the tragic side of this rite of passage: the original Minky Momo concerns itself greatly with a stinging nostalgia for childhood and the bitterness of growing up, and so the loss of Momo’s magic and her fairytale girlhood is especially painful. After losing her magical pendant, Momo is killed by a truck loaded with children’s toys, on which the camera lingers. Our heroine is reborn as a human girl, but the implication of this scene’s imagery is that Momo will never again be the spirit of childhood that she once was, and that the innocence and glitter of her girlhood has passed away.
Two series in the late 90s attempted to put a different perspective on the theme. Fancy Lala, in which a little girl is given the power to transform into an adult woman, has a Minky Momo-esque sentimental yearning for the days of youth, with episodes dedicated to outgrown toys, changing relationships with family members and the metamorphosis of hearts and bodies over the years. When heroine Miho loses her magic, it is through carelessness alone, and though she frantically attempts to recover it she cannot. However, it ultimately becomes clear to her that while she can no longer use magic she still possesses the creativity and imagination that she needed to implement it in the first place— “In a few years, you can become the real Lala,” a character tells her. Meanwhile, in Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, the link between magic and innocence is taken a step further as various characters admonish the heroine that magical girls must be virgins, and that losing her alleged “purity” will make her lose her powers. Maron resists this decision: magic, she argues, is a matter of the heart and not the condition (or age) of the body. She proves herself capable of transforming into Kaitou Jeanne even after losing her virginity and hence her “childhood”, and then deliberately doffs her magical persona during her final battle, convinced that her true power comes from her own personality and not her magic abilities. In Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne and Fancy Lala, girls never lose their magic; it is merely a reflection of a latent strength that will never truly leave them.
This philosophy pervades many other series: the Tokyo Mew Mew manga sees Ichigo seemingly give up her powers to save her lover’s life, but suddenly recover them on the last pages all on her own. Even in Creamy Mami, Yuu’s final declaration that “Yuu is Yuu!” speaks to the idea that the ability to become Creamy Mami was not so much a product of foreign magic but of Yuu’s own faculties and talent. Modern magical girl stories see the loss of magic not a death of something irreplaceable (as in Minky Momo) but a time of self-discovery, in which girls can realize the power that has been within them all along and which made all their metamorphoses possible. It promises a transition to womanhood that is just as full of wonder and adventure as their girlhood.
The titular heroines of Saint Tail (1994) and Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne (1998) unite! Both series are examples of the “magical girl thief” subgenre, a trend blending the fantastical adventures of the transforming magical girl genre with the high-flying heists of “phantom thief” series such as Man of Many Faces (1990) or D.N.Angel (1997). This amalgamation of genres has seen a small revival this season with the Kaitou Tenshi Twin Angels franchise (2011).
Artwork from an Arina Tanemura-themed image album, featuring the heroines of all Tanemura’s works, including magical girl series Full Moon o Sagashite, Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, Mistress Fortune, Sakura Hime Kaden.
Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne's (1998) Miyako, the heroine Maron's best friend, who also happens to be a junior policewoman bent on arresting Maron's magical-girl alter ego, Kaitou Jeanne. In one chapter of the manga, Miyako and Jeanne begrudgingly form an alliance to save Miyako's brother. Getting excited, Miyako declares that her codename will be “Kaitou Cleopatra”.
Jeanne and Cleopatra? That’s right, Joan of Arc and Cleopatra were magical girls before Madoka made it cool. ;)
Reincarnation, fate and magical girls
Reincarnation is a pervasive plot device in magical girl narratives. Indeed, many anime employ reincarnation in some form— Inu Yasha (1996), AIR (2005) and Fantastic Children (2004) are some recent examples. The works of Osamu Tezuka, such as the previously-discussed Apollo’s Song (1970), also featured the reincarnation of his characters, at times as an in-universe extension of his “star system”. Ever drawing on the trends and themes of other genres, magical girl anime is no exception, exploring the idea of reincarnation in all its complexities.
Perhaps the theme of reincarnation in magical girl series can be traced back to Naoko Takeuchi’s Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon (1992), in which a present-day young girl discovers magical powers stemming from her previous life as princess of the Moon. Takeuchi’s tale of power that transcends lifetimes seems to have drawn influence from an earlier work of shoujo manga: Saki Hiwatari’s classic drama Please Save My Earth (1987). Please Save My Earth, long bandied about as one of Takeuchi’s chief inspirations for Sailor Moon, is a wistful series about a handful of young people who discover that in their past lives they were ESP-wielding scientists from an extinct intergalactic civilization, and had previously lived on the moon. Many of the themes of Please Save My Earth find echoes in Sailor Moon: the lunar civilization, lovers meeting again after reincarnation, supernatural powers that manifest across lifetimes. Like Please Save My Earth's, Sailor Moon's brand of reincarnation is shoujo to the core, all about eternal bonds and dramatic destinies. However, where in the former series, attempting to relive their past lives leads to ruin for various characters, in Sailor Moon, by fulfilling the legacy of her previous incarnation, the heroine discovers fulfillment, meaning and power. Reincarnation in Sailor Moon is not a punishment or an eternal loop of suffering as it is in Please Save My Earth, Apollo’s Song or AIR; instead it represents the passing on of a beautiful, positive power and a legacy of brilliance and wonder.
As with so many plot points, once Sailor Moon did it, it became the norm, and so indeed many of the series’ successors follow its representation of reincarnation to the letter. The most egregious Sailor Moon impersonator, Koge-Donbo’s Kamichama Karin (2003) includes the theme but plays with it slightly, as the heroine is not so much a reincarnation of her predecessor but a genetic clone. As in Sailor Moon, that Karin ends up reliving her past life is depicted as a positive thing. However, later works call into question the goodness of reincarnation: are magical girls who are reincarnated from previous heroines destined (or doomed) to follow in their predecessor’s footsteps? Do they have any freedom to depart from the path set out for them? Do they have any choice?
One of the boldest explorations of these questions is Arina Tanemura’s Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne (1998), a series which predates Madoka Magica (2011) in its depiction of historical and legendary figures as magical girls. In this series, the heroine, Maron or “Jeanne”, is the most recent reincarnation in a line of women granted magical powers by God, which includes Joan d’Arc and the Biblical Eve. Though Maron performs her tasks cheerfully, she is haunted by the knowledge that all of Maron’s previous incarnations ended their lives unhappily, destroyed and scapegoated by men. Will Maron have to relive their tragic fates, or will she be able to forge her own destiny? Likewise, Junichi Sato’s Princess Tutu (2002) deals heavily with the themes of fate and predestination: the heroine and many of the series’ characters are incarnations of fictional characters whose tragic stories have already been written out. Much of the series is devoted to their struggles to depart from these fates and “write their own stories”.
The presentation of reincarnation in the magical girl genre, then, is varied and multifaceted: positive at some times, negative at others. Reincarnation can represent both a powerful legacy that these girls inherit, or a cruel self-fulfilling prophecy that binds them and robs them of agency. The variety of interpretations of this single theme speaks to the diversity of attitudes and viewpoints present in the immense genre of magical girl stories.
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