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Text Post Sun, Dec. 04, 2011 16 notes

Shingo Araki Retrospective

Shingo Araki, famed character designer and animator, passed away this Thursday due to acute circulatory failure at the age of 72. Araki’s dramatic designs and flair helped to define the aesthetic of anime in the 70s and 80s; he contributed to the art of such influential anime as Rose of Versailles and Saint Seiya. He continued to work up until this year, contributing character designs to the ongoing Ring ni Kakero! series. Araki has adapted the designs of Leiji Matsumoto, Mitsuteru Yokoyama and Shigeru Mizuki; he has worked alongside giants like Osamu Tezuka, Osamu Dezaki and Yoshiyuki Tomino; he left an indelible mark on the medium of Japanese animation.

However, magical girl fans should especially look back on Araki’s career with reverence. Shingo Araki’s work on early mahou shoujo anime truly helped to define the spirit of the genre. Araki worked as an animator on various episodes of early majokko series Mahou Tsukai Chappy and Mahou no Mako-chan; he was put to work as a character designer on the “off-season” magical girl of 1973, Cutie Honey. Honey eschewed the more squat, cartoony look of prior magical girls like Sally and Ecchan. Its heroine is older and more realistically-drawn, according to the original design by the eccentric Go Nagai for his manga in Shounen Champion. Araki reconciled Nagai’s boisterous shounen designs with the feminine demographic of the TV series, equipping Honey with a detailed face and willowy structure reminiscent of contemporary shoujo artists like Moto Hagio. Perhaps some of the anime Honey’s flair can also be credited to another influence in Araki’s life and art, staffer and wife Michi Himeno, with whom he began his collaborations during the production of Cutie Honey. These two would go on to become one of the most prominent husband-wife teams in anime; their partnership would fuse the best motifs of shounen and shoujo anime, with Araki designing male characters and Himeno creating the ladies. In any case, after the success of Cutie Honey— and particularly of Araki’s striking heroine— Araki began a long career with shoujo and magical girl anime, starting with Toei’s next big magical girl project, Majokko Megu-chan.

Megu would become Araki’s magical girl magnum opus and solidify the pattern visuals for magical girls for years to come. As series director, Shingo Araki introduced to the genre of the mousy Akko and Mako a Cutie Honey-esque garishness: technicolor coiffures, flouncy miniskirts, sparkles and textures all over the place, girls with big attitudes. Today’s magical girls like Sailor Moon and Pretty Cure owe a large debt to the look of Majokko Megu-chan; more recently, the anime adaptation of Anno’s Sugar Sugar Rune payed copious homage to Megu in its colorful opening sequence. The series brought a certain amount of glam and sassiness to the magical girl genre which has never truly worn off, and which can probably be attributed to an Arakian sensibility.

After Megu, Araki would be the go-to artist for magical girl anime until the end of the Toei majokko period. He missed Majokko Tickle (another Go Nagai work) likely due to his involvement with Galaxy Express 999, Yamato and Lupin III, but in 1979 the newly formed Araki Pro produced character designs for Toei’s latest post-Candy Candy magical girl, Hana no Ko Lun Lun. Himeno designed the doll-like Lun Lun, while Araki filled the cast with his trademark bulb-headed figures. Lun Lun, while attempting to follow the example of the successful Candy Candy, inherits a good deal of the Megu-chan spirit in its decadent sparkliness and likeable comic villains. Following Lun Lun, Araki Pro had one more outing with Toei’s majokko swan song, Mahou Shoujo Lalabel. This time headed by a confused jumble of different directors, Lalabel at times comes across as a poor man’s Megu. However, its heroine, designed by Araki full of spirit and charm, allowed the series to be a quiet success. Following Lalabel, Toei closed the doors on new magical girls for much of the 80s.

Araki made his name during the 80s, working on titles from Rose of Versailles to Saint Seiya to Legend of the Galactic Heroes. He did, however, return to magical girls during this period: working at Mushi Pro, Araki contributed some animation to Osamu Tezuka’s Marvelous Melmo. In comparison to his work as a designer, however, this is of little note.

I’m sure it could be argued that Araki introduced some negative things to the magical girl genre; he is responsible for the earliest “fanservice” magical girls in Cutie Honey and Majokko Megu-chan, to be sure, and Araki Pro’s luxuriously marketable designs may be responsible for much of the genre’s merch-over-substance ethic. However, the characters that Shingo Araki built remain some of the most charming and unique of the genre, and certainly without his influence, magical girls could never be as tough, elegant and interesting as they now are. Therefore, we’d like to salute this father of magical girls and thank him for his irreplaceable contributions to the genre we love.

addendum: Can anyone confirm whether Araki and Himeno were married? Various sources list this as so (including Mike Toole’s retrospective) but others name someone else as his wife. Any definitive statement?

Video Post Mon, Nov. 28, 2011 7 notes

Welcome to Henshins Magical Girls Blog’s third theme week! This week we will not focus on a single series, as we have before, but on a category of works: magical girl video games.

The bond between magical girls and video games might have had its roots in 1992, with Naoko Takeuchi’s seminal Sailor Moon. The early arcs of this series are permeated with a love of gaming: Usagi models her crime-fighting persona off the heroine of her favorite video game; she has a crush on the boy who works at the local arcade; she wins new weapons as game prizes. Games are one of the few things that the directionless Usagi is passionate about at the manga’s beginning. Takeuchi, writing about the idea behind the series, specifically lists games as a key influence on the story: “I really wanted to write a story with a sexy girl, a good-looking guy, some romance, video games, and cute school uniforms!” Sailor Moon does indeed have a video game sensibility that later “fighting magical girl” series inherited: the heroine blows through stages of pesky monsters, minor villains and finally the all-powerful boss in a distinctly Nintendo-esque succession.

After Sailor Moon, video games starring magical girls grew more plentiful, including spinoffs of older franchises like Cutie Honey and Creamy Mami, and, of course, the endless Sailor Moon game tie-ins. However, original video games starring magical girls also emerged. One of the earliest was the Makeruna! Makendo franchise (1993, pictured.) The original game stars a magical girl with kendo-themed powers battling supernatural creatures in a side-scrolling platformer system reminiscent of the 80s’ Valis the Fantasm Soldier, or, indeed, the fictional Sailor V game. Later additions to the franchise would branch out and stage themselves as fighting games and RPGs. Each successive game introduced new magical girls, who proved quite popular— popular enough to warrant an OVA spinoff.

Many of these quirky little games and spinoff series have been buried over the decades, but hopefully this week we shall be able to uncover a few.

Text Post Tue, Nov. 15, 2011 100 notes

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.

Text Post Thu, Nov. 10, 2011 14 notes

Kazuo Koike begins on Mahou Shoujo Mimitsuki Mimi no QED. Seriously.

Stop the presses! ANN reports that the infamous Kazuo Koike is starting a new magical girl project, Mahou Shoujo Mimitsuki Mimi no QED. Koike claims that he intends to compete with Studio SHAFT’s Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (2011) with his new story, which will be about a woman who is an engineering student. More information can be found at ANN; I may be a little too shocked to take it in.

For those who are not familiar with Kazuo Koike, he may be the last man on earth one would expect to see writing a magical girl manga. He is crowned as the king of jigoku manga, a subgenre of the gekiga movement (though English-language fans prefer to use the term “bad manga”): absurd male power fantasies turned up to eleven and more, unapologetically offensive to even the basest of sensibilities and intellects. A guilty favorite of many manga and anime fans, Koike’s manga is perhaps best described by Patrick Macias: “I expect worse from Koike. Things like alternating cycles of sex and violence at superhuman intervals, flavored with casual racism, hard gambling, and dodgy historical fact.” Koike is best-known in the west for the stately Lone Wolf and Cub, which is not at all representative of his entire body of work, which includes Mad Bull 34Crying Freeman and Hanappe Bazooka (which I can’t find good coverage of anywhere, but it’s about a talking penis and has art by Go Nagai. Of course.) He is also the writer of Wounded Man, home of the line: “Blood got in my eyes and I can’t see a damn thing. Piss on me so I can wash it off!” This should probably tell you all you need to know. (For a very in-depth, very NSFW, very trigger-inducing [rape, racism, misogyny, etc] overview of Koike’s body of work and recurring themes, see Anime World Order Episode 7, from 25:30 onwards.)

Magical girl fans have been anticipating a new wave of mahou shoujo series to appear, inspired by the success of the dark and gritty Madoka Magica. However, none of us could have guessed exactly how gritty this new guard would be right off the bat. I’m not sure if the genre is ready for Koike yet, but we’ll see. Other self-professed fans of Madoka Magica include Evangelion's Hideaki Anno and Ghost in the Shell's Mamoru Oshii. Heaven help us!

Text Post Sat, Nov. 05, 2011 16 notes

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.

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