The Price of Magic: Magical Girls and Economy
It’s a common enough adage among nostalgic grown-up fans: “I wish I could just quit my job, drop out of school and be a magical girl.” To fans of early/mid-90s mahou shoujo anime, the life of a magical girl seems like a carefree release from the daily grind of paying bills, making tough decisions and getting to work on time. The poster child for this is doubtless Sailor Moon, where girls escape from their unfulfilling lives of bad grades and no real friends by joining together as magical girls. Its successor, Ojamajo Doremi, likewise opens with a theme song about how magical girls can “throw their homework in the trash” and how “every day is Sunday”.
However, even these magical girl series are not totally removed from the structure of society. 1991 was the burst of the Japanese economic bubble, and even in its children’s programming after this time, there was a lurking question of price. How much does magic cost? Where does it come from? What happens if you waste it? The aforementioned Ojamajo Doremi responds to these questions with a cheerful practicality; magic in this series can only be cast by spending magic spheres stored inside their wands, and in order to earn these beads the girls have to work part-time at their teacher’s shop. Magic here is not free, and does not come without obligations.
Other series take a darker turn with the question of price. The in-name magical girl series Mahou Shoujo Team Arusu (or Tweeny Witches) likewise has spells that can only be cast through the expenditure of magical items, but in this case these items are the product of capturing and abusing animals. This year’s Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica goes further; the girls use up their own souls when they use magic, which if used carelessly can have disastrous effect on their selves.
Through having magic come at a price, these magical girl series may keep in step with realistic ideas of trade and commerce; however, at the same time they adhere to some of the basic rules of our universe, that energy does not come out of no where. As the magical girl genre is one that deals with the connection between magic and the mundane, it must reconcile itself with the rules of the real world in order to achieve the plausibility needed for any fantasy. George MacDonald writes of fantasy, “To be able to live a moment in an imagined world, we must see the laws of its existence obeyed.” So it is for magical girl series as much as any fantasy: these stories take place in our own world, and so, as imaginative as their features may be, they must adhere to some of the basic rules of the society and universe that is their setting.
I just treated myself this week and went shopping at the Right Stuf.com, taking advantage of some of the sales. Looking over my order, I realized that everything I bought and looked at belongs on this blog, so voila: my shopping cart!
I couldn’t really help this one; Right Stuf has the complete 26-episode series of Sasami: Magical Girl’s Club (2005) available for $15… that’s cheap!! This cute and colorful series is about Sasami, a little girl with magical powers that she must conceal from those around her. One day she meets a strange teacher who recruits her for the “Magical Girl’s Club”, a school club dedicated to finding girls with magic powers and helping them control themselves. The series is a reimagining of the 90s’ Pretty Sammy franchise, itself a spinoff of the Tenchi Muyo! series, starring cute “little sister” character Sasami as a magical girl fighting evil. However, while in the original Pretty Sammy, Sasami worked alone, contending with haughty rival magical girl Pixy Misa, the Magical Girl’s Club features a group of magical girls who become close friends. Where Pretty Sammy was a Sailor Moonesque crime-fighter, as well, Magical Girl’s Club, at least from the first few episodes, seems to focus on the more mundane uses of magic.
I was charmed by the series through its first four episodes, which Funimation is streaming via Youtube.
Shifting keys, I also ordered The Adventures of Tweeny Witches (2004), an ambitious project by the brilliant Studio 4°C (which will be animating the new Thundercats TV show soon!) Where Sasami: Magical Girl’s Club deals with the more bright and pastel side of magical girls, this show, which originally went by the similar title Magical Girl Squad Arusu, presents a slightly darker side, as its magical girls live in a fantasy world currently at war with a race of rival wizards. Its heroine is a girl from Earth who enters the world of witches and becomes a witch herself (shades of Harry Potter?) While many modern magical girl series can be classified as “intrusive” fantasy- stories in which magic comes to the heroine from another world- this series, like Magic Knight Rayearth before it, is “immersive”, or rather “portal” fantasy, in which the heroine obtains her magic by entering the other world herself.
While I am trying not to spoil myself on the series, it looks like good fantasy fun in the tradition of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
While my budget ran out around here, I did take a look at the Magic Users Club (1996)- I am sensing quite a theme to this shopping spree! Like the later Sasami: Magical Girl’s Club, the focus of this series is an extracurricular school group that functions as a magical girl team. It was helmed by Junichi Sato, fresh from directing the original seasons of Sailor Moon and Ojamajo Doremi, working together with his later Princess Tutu partner Ikuko Itoh. In this series, the earth has been invaded by strange nonhumanoid aliens, but the aliens don’t really seem to do anything, and so nobody cares about them, except for the trainee magical girls (and two magical boys) from the exuberant Magic Users Club. Their activities gain the attention of both aliens and humans; however, they have to deal not only with these complications but with the romantic high school drama that explodes within the club’s ranks.
It was actually a coincidence that all three series I looked at yesterday were about magical girls goofing off and fighting bad guys as a club. Really. Anyway, I’m certainly looking forward to getting my package!