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There have been many attempts over the years to dethrone the Japanese children’s entertainment juggernaut that is Precure, but while Precure is squarely in the realm of the “fighting magical girl,” most of its challengers are themed around mahou shoujo’s sister genre: pop idols. This includes Pretty Rhythm, PriPara, Lil Pri, and the subject of today’s post, Aikatsu!
Aikatsu! began in 2012 as a multimedia franchise consisting of games, manga, and anime. The animated television series, created by Sunrise (of Gundam fame), follows Hoshimiya Ichigo, a girl who enters the idol training school Starlight Academy after being inspired by its top star, Kanzaki Mizuki. Together with her best friend and idol fan, Kiriya Aoi, and others she meets along the way, they engage in idol katsudou, or “idol activities.”
Sunrise at this point is well known for another popular idol anime, Love Live!, and despite the fact that they don’t share that much staff, the two shows are similar in feel. Both have an overall lighthearted sense of fun and engaging character interactions combined with learning and personal development. Both feature bizarrely comedic moments (the episode where Ichigo gets into an “Obari Pose” and chops down a christmas tree is famous). Both series are also so entertaining in these respects that the actual “idol performance” moments are comparatively less interesting.
However, one curious aspect of Aikatsu! that differentiates it from Love Live! (and many other anime) in terms of narrative is that Ichigo and the other idols don’t seem to have a concrete goal to aim for. The girls in Love Live! want to save their school and then win the Love Live. Naruto wants to become Hokage. Ichigo’s motivation is this vague sense of “becoming an idol,” but by the first few episodes she already is one more or less, and there just seems to be this general sense of forward progress. This is also what differentiates it from other more episodic works, or series such as Hidamari Sketch.
Aikatsu! has just enough on-going threads in the background and pays attention to its characters’ growth that the series carries a nice sense of continuity. Aoi becomes the mascot for a crepe company in an early episode, and after that you can always see a copy of the advertisement poster featuring her in Aoi and Ichigo’s room. The show also drops hints that Ichigo’s mom is a former idol, and as I continue to watch the series I’m just anticipating that moment where Ichigo discovers the truth. Every time her mom appears on screen, I think, “Will this be it?!” That desire to see Ichigo’s realization is actually one of my main motivations for continuing to watch.
There’s one last element of Aikatsu! I want to discuss. More specifically, it’s a theory pertaining to Aikatsu!‘s relationship with Precure. When watching Aikatsu!‘s core cast, I could not help but be reminded of the cast of Doki Doki Precure!, which came out in 2013. While the characters are different enough to not feel like copies of each other, Mana’s blonde hair and pink color scheme in her transformed state resembles Ichigo’s, Rikka (blue) plays the role of the more level-headed and smarter best friend just like Aoi, Alice resembles Arisugawa Otome (orange) not only in name but also in appearance, and Makoto’s occupation as an idol (as well as her serious personality) feels akin to Mizuki. I suspect that Doki Doki Precure! may have taken some inspiration from Aikatsu! but I can’t be certain of this. That said, I recently checked out some of the character design notes for Doki Doki Precure! and noticed that Cure Sword (Makoto)’s design originally had longer hair, which would make her more stylistically similar to Mizuki from Aikatsu!
Aikatsu! has been a series on my radar for a while, that I had only briefly engaged with, but given just how entertained I’ve been by it I definitely want to watch more and talk more about it. Expect future posts, maybe?
After Happiness Charge Precure! failed to live up to its potential, I had hoped that the next series in the long-running Precure anime franchise would fare better. Fortunately, Go! Princess Precure wildly exceeded my expectations to become one of my favorite iterations of the popular magical girl anime. From the serious to the silly, Go! Princess Precure hits a homerun.
Go! Princess Precure follows Haruno Haruka, a teenage girl who dreams of becoming a princess. As a small child, she met a handsome young prince named Kanata who inspired her to hold onto her love of princesses, in spite of discouragement by others. In the present day, as Haruka comes to the prestigious “Noble Academy” with the goal of learning what it means to be a “true princess,” she finds out that monsters have begun to attack the school, preying on everyone’s hopes and aspirations. Haruka becomes a “Precure,” a magical warrior with the power to defend against the forces of Dysdark, and is soon joined by two other girls, Kaido Minami and Amanogawa Kirara, who also use their dreams to fight back.
Princess fever has taken over amidst the enormous popularity of Frozen in Japan, and Go! Princess Precure asks, “What is a princess?” While this question (as well as the thematic flourish of the series) can potentially be criticized on a surface level as sexist and regressive, a closer look shows that Go! Princess Precure aims to claim the concept of the princess as a symbol of hard work and kindness towards others. To this point, a major villain of the series, the powerful Princess Twilight (no relation) even confronts Haruka (Cure Flora) with the idea that one can only be born a princess, and while she’s technically more correct than Haruka in terms of how it works in real life, Go! Princess Precure shows how Haruka, Minami (Cure Mermaid), and Kirara (Cure Twinkle) strive to embrace the idea of a “princess” as being the product of one’s effort. In other words, according to Go! Princess Precure, being a princess doesn’t make you a better person. Rather, being a better person who strives for their dreams and helps others is the key that allows any girl to become a princess all on their own.
Not only is Go! Princess Precure strong thematically, it’s just an incredibly solid show in general. In terms of animation, it has some of the finest fight sequences in all of Precure as early as episode 1, and while it rises and dips in quality as is typical of a year-long anime, its overall consistency as well as its high points are notable. The outfits and character designs are all on point (In terms of narrative, the series benefits from an entertaining main cast with well thought out character development. Flora’s story at the half-way point connects to that greater theme of “princess” self actualization. Kirara as the donut-loving fashion model eager to speak her mind is one of the most unique Precure characters ever (I voted her as my favorite among the Princess Precures for this reason). The supporting characters, though not quite on the level of Heartcatch Precure!, grow admirably throughout the series as well.
Perhaps most notably, when the anime introduces a fourth Precure late into its run, she does not overshadow the rest of the cast. It’s a common problem for shows like Precure or Super Sentai, where in an effort to push the new character and her toys she ends up practically taking over the show. Honestly, I can’t recall a single bad episode.
Go! Princess Precure might be quite the hard act to follow. Whether it’s in comparison to the rest of Precure or as an anime all on its own, Go! Princess Precure is simply an outstanding work that embodies a lot of what is best in children’s shows and the magical girl anime genre. I highly recommend anyone, even those skeptical of mahou shoujo, to take a look.
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What is appropriate for an audience of American children? This is a concern that comes up all the time with cartoons, whether it’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic‘s first season explicitly giving moral lessons to live up to its E/I (Educational/Informative) Rating, or the decision to change Japanese names to English ones when adapting anime. Though it feels out of place in this current era, the recent Glitter Force goes to great lengths to hide its Japanese origins as Smile Precure!, one of many series in the long-running Precure franchise. While the edits are not surprising, and obviously I’m not in the target demographic of little girls, I do worry about the point at which these edits hinder animation for children in terms of addressing difficult but important subjects.
When Glitter Force was first announced, it was described as having 40 episodes, down from the 48 in Smile Precure! Fans and curious onlookers speculated as to which episodes would be cut. With the first half of Glitter Force available on Netflix, we now know the first three.
Two of the episodes are clearly gone for being “too Japanese.” While we could have a debate as to what that even means, in this case it was because they were just too difficult to edit around. One is an episode about okonomiyaki, and while you can call it Japanese pizza all you want, kids know what pizza looks like. Saban wants their young audience to feel like the show is taking place in a city or town much like their own. Another episode guest stars actual Japanese manzai comedians. Not only are there potential likeness rights issues, but manzai comedy is notoriously difficult to translate. Again, makes sense.
The third episode cut is where my main concerns come up. Titled “Thank You, Papa! Yayoi’s Treasure,” the story involves Yayoi trying to recall memories of her late father. In an otherwise silly series, it naturally stands out as a serious and heartfelt story.
It’s not surprising why they would remove it. They want Glitter Force to be even more of what Smile Precure! is: a cartoon that generally emphasizes fun characters, positive female role models, and vibrant animation, which can then be used to sell toys. Even in Japan, series like Ashita no Nadja failed to be commercial successes possibly because of its moments of gravitas. However, decisions such as removing the story of Yayoi’s dad feel as if they contribute to the long-standing belief that cartoons for children can’t be serious, that they’re incapable of respecting children’s intelligence. Why can’t a fun kids’ show take some time to say something more, and maybe let parent and child feel sad together?
The tide of current children’s animation is actually going against this entrenched view. Shows like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and even to an extent shows like Kim Possible and American Dragon: Jake Long have brought weight and substance to kids’ entertainment. Glitter Force could have also contributed to this, and it might very well still be able to, depending on how they handle the second half, but things are looking grim. With five episodes on the chopping block, my worry is that they’ll cut the most character development-heavy episodes.
(Or even worse, the Happy Robo episode.)
I actually don’t think Glitter Force is that bad of a dub. The acting’s decent, the characters still look hilarious, and the edits they’ve made to bits of the story and such are odd but not deal breakers. I also understand where Saban is coming from, and given that they have all this successful Power Rangers money and all, they probably know more about marketing to American kids than I do with my obtuse-for-a-casual-audience anime blog. I can even see how Smile Precure! was probably the best fit for an American audience. That said, I’m not a fan of how they had to go to great lengths to write around the fact that Reika/Chloe is extremely Japanese, to the extent that they ended up removing her stern dedication to 道, “the path,” the seeking of truth and oneself. In Glitter Force, they replace it with “GF.”
I also feel as if I really cannot trust them with any other Precure series, especially not the stronger ones like Go! Princess Precure or Heartcatch Precure! If they can’t let a deceased father by, how are they going to handle Cure Moonlight’s path to redemption, Cure Flora’s introspective confrontation at the middle point, or any of the other equally powerful or memorable stories?
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What happens when Cures become Glitters? Apparently a lot of constant never-ending dialogue.
I’m surprised we didn’t make more Saban opening theme jokes, but can’t win ’em all.
What is good character design?
Different people will have their own ideas about what helps the design of a character (including myself), but over the past few years I’ve begun to consider more how the elements often described as contributing to character design are a kind of double-edged sword.
Take the idea that a character should have a unique look achieved through simple yet elegant means, and that they shouldn’t be mistaken for anyone else in the cast. This is ideally achieved through stylization, and to some extent exaggeration. For example, I find the character designs in Heartcatch Precure! to be fantastic, and part of this is achieved because the girls are varying heights, and that their distinct personalities come across very clearly in the way they look. However, that same dedication to simplicity and really conveying a character’s particular characteristics through their appearance are the same tools that can be used to, for example, create harmful stereotypes. How do you make a character look more Asian? Give them squinty eyes and buck teeth, because that will immediately communicate their Asian-ness.
Of course, there’s a significant difference between making a character that expresses their uniqueness through their design, and drawing to conform a character to a general stereotype in that one is about individualizing and the other is about generalizing, but I think that the two ideas exist on the same spectrum. Take for example a political cartoon mocking a particular politician through the use of symbols and signs meant to represent that individual. A large hooked nose in this case might become the symbol of a racism against Jewish people in another context. The very tools artists use to express ideas of love, equality, and growth can also be used to spread hatred, discrimination, and regression.
I am pro-freedom of expression, so I do not believe in restricting even the more negative and harmful uses of art, but I do understand that a price is paid as a result. Images persist that can strip young people of confidence, make them feel as if they never have a chance in the world. While one way to combat it is to provide even more positive images, the inevitable difficulty is helping them to navigate all of the disparate messages without necessarily forcing them to be blind to everything that’s out there. When the strategy to helping others out is to block their access to material that might change them, then that itself can become a problem.
I myself don’t entirely know the point I’m trying to get at, but I believe it’s something along the lines of “artists have a lot of responsibility.” Whether you use your art to fight for a cause, against one, or just want to draw things that are cute, cool, gruesome, even actively traumatizing, that is a decision to be made, and to be felt, and you it is good to be prepared for the consequences that arise.
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WARNING: This post contains Go! Princess Precure spoilers
There’s a recurring problem in the Precure franchise, which is basically a post-resolution amnesia to any significant narrative climax. This is especially evident when a new Cure is introduced or an evil character turns to the side of good, complete with a new human guise free of all of the old visual cues that marked her as being on the side of “evil.” In the process, these girls usually not only take the spotlight because they’re so new and exciting, but their newer forms are so fully integrated into their now-human lives that it’s like the show wants you to forget their past.
As a result, while the prospect of a turncoat who sees the light is generally thrilling, the addition of this new Cure to the main team often comes with a small helping of fear and dread. When Go! Princess Precure first introduces its evil rival character, Princess Twilight, the possibility that she would become the fourth Precure in this new series was already there, but the following questions would come up while watching. First, will this new character overshadow the old girls. Second, will the series act as if she’d always been everyone’s best friend?
22 episodes later, we have our answers. Twilight is really Towa, a princess who was kidnapped and brainwashed when she was a little girl, and Cure Flora, Cure Mermaid, and Cure Twinkle are able to rescue her and restore her memories. Thus begins the potential process for Twilight to essentially be “Cure-washed,” but Go! Princess Precure rather impressively makes the misdeeds of Towa’s past a part of her story and her struggle. Even after being rescued and having her original appearance restored (Twilight had long white hair while Towa’s hair is red and done in elaborate curls), Towa is shown to still be in Twilight’s original dress, and the switch away from this outfit is actually a plot point in Episode 23. Even more indicative of the show’s desire to not forget about “Princess Twilight,” however, is Towa’s transformation into Cure Scarlet.
When Towa transforms into a Precure, there are a number of interesting visual cues that she seeks not to totally divorce herself from her problematic past. First, the villains of the series have pointed elf ears, and when Towa becomes Cure Scarlet she also retains this feature. Not only that, but the transformation sequence actively emphasizes the shape of her ears.
Second, her her hair goes from being a bright red to a pale pink, closer to the white of her Twilight form.
Finally, the ever-present fire in her transformation sequence, though a different color from the flames used when she was evil, are so powerful and overwhelming that they appear sinister and frightening. While past fire-themed Precures also had blazing infernos bursting forth from their bodies, in the case of Cure Scarlet it’s almost as if they’re hinting that she’s liable to commit arson. Of course, that’s not the actual point of the transformation, but it again points to a character who might be “good” but hasn’t necessarily forgotten or ignored her wrongdoings, even if they were arguably beyond her control.
The overall result is a character that I’m looking forward to seeing develop. While there’s no guarantee that she won’t end up overshadowing the rest of the characters, I have greater faith in Go! Princess Precure because of how consistently impressive and high-quality the series has been up to this point.
The original Yes! Pretty Cure 5 was in certain ways a radical departure back to the familiar. Whereas the previous Pretty Cure shows had focused mainly on duos, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 went with the five-girl sentai team, reminiscent of Sailor Moon. In execution, it ended up being neither a better or worse decision in that each character still received plenty of the spotlight, but what really made the series stand out to me were the unique villains (a literally evil corporation with company hierarchy and everything), as well as a dedication to showing its heroines eating that surpasses even the likes of K-On!
The sequel, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go, brings a fresh coat of paint that keeps with the spirit of its immediate predecessor. Right from the first episode, the new outfits are much improved from the bizarrely beige/yellow costumes from the previous series, and the attacks are flashier and more impressive: Natsuki “Cure Rouge” Rin’s “Pretty Cure Fire Strike” involves kicking a soccer ball made from flames, for example. The characters’ personalities still provide plenty of humor and opportunities to talk about food, as well as some nice moments of development. The new characters bring excitement and intrigue, especially the mysterious Milky Rose, who comes to save the Cures but initially positions herself neither as ally nor enemy, and eventually starts shooting rose-shaped clouds of shrapnel.
Overall, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go is actually a sequel that improves on the original, as rare as that is. The show takes the time to how far the characters have come from the previous series, like when protagonist Yumehara Nozomi (Cure Dream) ends up tutoring Rin’s younger siblings and introduces to them her unique approach to learning. It also continues to do a great job of just showing how the characters are more than two-dimensional, like how Kasugano Urara (Cure Lemonade) is clever yet surprisingly naive at times, and how Akimoto Komachi (Cure Mint) takes her writing very seriously. That said, I can’t help but feel it lost a couple of important gems in the process.
The first is that the new group of villains, even if some of there are individually interesting, aren’t quite as memorable as the Nightmare Corporation from Yes! Pretty Cure 5. While an evil museum collector is a nice concept, and his assistant Anacondy brings in some of that much-loved evil bureaucracy (you can’t be truly evil until you’ve mastered evil paperwork), it just doesn’t feel quite on the same level. The second oversight is just a lack of Masuko Mika the school reporter, whose insatiable appetite for journalism and a desire to find out the secret identity of the Cures led the way to some of the funniest and most heartfelt episodes of the previous series. In fact, her doppelganger Masuko Miyo (intentionally a reference to Mika) probably gets more appearances in HappinessCharge Precure! than she does in Go Go.
If someone liked Yes! Pretty Cure 5 it’s hard to think they’d vehemently dislike Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go, and I even think the sequel can be viewed on its own without any prior exposure to Precure in general. That said, I do think that watching the first series can help, as it does a much better job of showing where the girls came from and how they developed over the course of their narrative.
There are two things I want to mention at the end. First, one of the most memorable gags for me is the gag above, which reminds us that Minazuki Karen (Cure Aqua) is indeed extremely wealthy. Second, if anyone ever wondered who the animators’ favorite character was, the exquisite fight scenes with Kasugano Urara (Cure Lemonade) removed any and all doubt.
After a five year hiatus due mostly to not be in the United States, I am making my triumphant return to AnimeNext in Somerset, NJ from June 12-14. I also have two panels I’ll be running alongside the Reverse Thieves’ Alain.
Friday 2:15pm -3:15pm BW Panel 6
We’ll be talking about the crazy enormous Precure franchise that’s now 11 years old and even more popular than Sailor Moon ever was in Japan. Whether you’ve never heard of Precure or you’re a die-hard fan, we think you’ll have a great time seeing magical girls punch monsters in the face.
Giant Robot Romance: Boy Meets Girl Meets Mecha
Sunday 11:15-12:15pm BW Panel 6
Love triangles and star-crossed lovers are a common trope of giant robot anime, but this panel focuses on the series where romance is of central importance to the story. See how love has evolved over time in the world of mecha. We’ll be featuring shows such as Macross, Aquarion, and more!
Also, I’ll definitely be at this panel if you want to chat in person
Kill la Kill, Inferno Cop, and [Redacted] with Studio TRIGGER
Saturday 9pm-11pm Panel 1
See you there! I hope we can all sing the Inferno Cop theme together. Also, if you’re cosplaying Fight Club Mako, I’ll give you a high-five.
Mad Max: Fury Road has received immense praise from critics like few films, both of its type and in general, have ever received. With an astounding 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a long and difficult production history, it’s the kind of movie that I would say was easily worth the wait, had I actually realized it existed prior to opening day. Even then, I didn’t even see the movie until a week later, when half the people I follow on Twitter repeatedly sang its praises and articles talked about just how well-executed a film it is, visually, conceptually, and in terms of narrative.
This would normally be the point where I throw in a “however,” but I really can’t. Mad Max: Fury Road lives up to the hype and then some, even to someone like myself whose only knowledge of Mad Max is that it’s a heavy influence on Fist of the North Star. As a newbie to the Mad Max universe, I was taken in by a story that’s fun yet profound, the creative action sequences that give a true sense of continuity as well as cause and effect that never leaves you confused as to what’s actually going on (no shaky cams here), and a cast of characters that are surprisingly largely sympathetic. Mad Max: Fury Road leaves a lot up to the audience to read between the lines, but gives enough so that interpretations aren’t shots in the dark.
One major aspect of this movie that’s gotten quite a bit of attention is that its story can be interpreted as being quite feminist. On the surface this can be surprising, given that the aesthetic of the Mad Max world is centered around machismo cranked up to 11. Arthur Chu at the Daily Beast argues that Mad Max has always been critical of violent, belligerent masculinity and that the greater presence of female characters able to take a broader perspective on history in Fury Road is what finally make this directly obvious. Again, I have no experience with the franchise so I can’t agree or disagree, but along these lines I think there’s an additional component to the movie and its use of female characters that gives the movie a kind of feminist foundation.
The world of Mad Max is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where water and other supplies are scarce and death is a common sight. In Fury Road, the antagonist Immortan Joe is the cult leader of a religion that combines emphasis on vehicles and technology with Norse mythology, and the result is a bunch of pale zealots spreading violence and destruction wherever they go. Deserts, blood, and bullets are what make up the environment, and what Fury Road does is say, “Well, of course women can be gritty, seasoned veterans of a war-torn Earth.” In this way, it’s kind of like how the anime series Precure assumes as a matter of fact the immense power of its female characters, though Mad Max: Fury Road takes it a number of steps further by removing much of the glamor, and being very deliberate in where the remaining bits of beauty and eroticism come up.
Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, is just as much a fighter as the eponynous “Mad” Max, and the elderly female nomads who appear later show their decades of experience fighting both people and their harsh surroundings. Even the five wives of Immortan Joe, characters crucial to setting off the main conflict of the film who were locked away and are highly sexualized (what else would women selected by a cult leader specifically to bear his children be?), but they also show their desire to learn more about the world they were hidden away from, and the fact that their skin is so perfect and their clothing barely hides anything is more a contrast with the world than the sole image of women in the film. The film features women participating in this classically hyper-masculine setting as men typically would, and in doing so argues that it need not be considered a “man’s world” at all.
Another interesting point about the five wives is that, while their original purpose was to be sex slaves, this also affords them the power of knowledge: outside of Immortan Joe’s own family, they are the only ones who know that he is not an immortal god descended from Valhalla, but merely a weak, decrepit old man whose seemingly powerful appearance is a lie. Vulnerability is a persistent theme in Mad Max: Fury Road, from the fact that Max is haunted by the memory of his dead daughter, to the fact that one of Joe’s fanatical followers, Nux, keeps ending up in different situations that force him to confront his own identity even as he struggles to please his god-king.
The story on the internet is that men’s rights advocates are upset at Mad Max: Fury Road, and while I don’t know how far that stretches even within that particular community, I can see why it might be a cause for alarm in that world. The film utilizes a setting that classically exploits women and views them as play-things (though that’s not to say such stories are inherently bad), and flips it on its head. All the while, the sheer sense of action and excitement is of a level higher than probably any movie in recent memory, so it’s not like focusing on female characters detracted from the presentation. If anything, it’s made Mad Max into something that can bridge generations.
Magical Angel Creamy Mami
I recently learned (thanks to Japanese popular culture scholar Patrick Galbraith’s new book The Moe Manifesto) that Magical Angel Creamy Mami is not only an influential magical girl anime but the very first anime about an idol. In other words, idols and magical girls have been conceptually tied to each for decades now. You can see this not only in the the fact that you’ll get the occasional idol + magical girl still (Cure Lemonade and Cure Sword in the Precure franchise, for example), but the fact that the latest competitors to magical girl anime have been idol-themed shows, such as Aikatsu! and Pretty Rhythm, both of which feature magical girl-like transformation sequences. I think Creamy Mami is especially significant here because the majority of magical girls prior to it were more “witch girls,” characters who already have magical powers without the need for transformation and use them for mischief.
Of course, the common trait of magical girls and idols is that they both feature cute girls, and with idols especially they’ve always occupied a position where they are innocent yet sexual, and I don’t mean that necessarily in an “idols are creep magnets” way. Both men and women respond to idols for a variety of reasons, and a lot of it is tied to the image they present. They can be somewhat literal idols for girls and targets of affection and desire for men, and this can be seen in how idols are used in anime. While Creamy Mami built an unexpected older male audience, for example, Superdimensional Fortress Macross reveled in it by combining the idol with the extremely prominent aspects of science fiction and giant robots. The 1970s brought forth a lot of giant robot anime, and the 1980s saw the time when those who became fans of robots and SF began creating their own works, as seen with Kawamori Shouji and Macross and later Studio Gainax and their Daicon III and IV animations. Many of these creators said, “I like SF, and I like cute girls,” and created a defining combination of anime where mecha and other forms of fantastic technology are mixed with cute girls.
It can also be argued that the girl in the Daicon animations is herself a magical girl, but the connection between magical girls and science fiction is especially evident in the 1990s and the advent of the fighting magical girl, most notably with Takeuchi Naoko’s Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. While Sailor Moon does not feature giant robots, it’s undoubtedly influenced by the Super Sentai (i.e. Power Rangers) franchise with its own transformation sequences, color-coded costumes, and monster of the week fights. Super Sentai is not only traditionally marketed at boys (though this too changes as they eventually start trying to appeal to the “moms” market), but it’s also more broadly tied to tokusatsu, the costumed fighters and rubber monsters genre that more or less literally means “special effects.” What I find significant here is that when it comes to categorization of genres in Japanese, you often see “SF/tokusatsu,” tying things back, at least somewhat, to science fiction.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon
Moreover, the manga group CLAMP have been fans of titles like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Saint Seiya, and Galaxy Cyclone Braiger, and have produced titles such as Magic Knight Rayearth, which features magical girls in a swords-and-sorcery world who also gain the power to summon giant robots. “Rayearth” itself is the name of a giant robot, thus making the title itself reminiscent of the naming scheme of many mecha anime such as Mobile Suit Gundam or Super Electromagnetic Machine Voltes V. It’s as if these female creators have taken the works that were made “masculine” by Kawamori, Gainax, and others, and in a sense re-feminized them in a process that created something new and exciting.
If we’re talking influences though, Sailor Moon and CLAMP works such as Cardcaptor Sakura are huge in and of themselves, and their shadows can be seen in a number of anime from the 2000s on. Sailor Moon basically transformed magical girls to such an extent that many assume that fighting magical girls have always been the norm, and Precure has come up as a spiritual successor that has lasted even longer than Sailor Moon. The protagonist in Sunday without God practically is Cardcaptor Sakura protagonist Kinomoto Sakura, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, which has as its primary audience older men, clearly takes a lot from Cardcaptor Sakura as well. In the case of Nanoha, it also incorporates an increasing level of science fiction from one series to the next, as the franchise goes from technology-based magic staffs that shoot lasers in battles reminiscent of Mobile Suit Gundam to spaceships and interdimensional travel. Once again, the magical girl as cute girl is tied to SF. As for idols, they not only haven’t been forgotten, either in real life or in anime (as seen with series such as Love Live! and the aforementioned Aikatsu!), but Kawamori makes his return in the form of AKB0048, a series that not only features idols as magical girls of sorts both piloting and fighting giant robots in a story that spans a galaxy, but is directly based on one of the biggest real-world idol acts in Japan today.
It’s as if magical girls, idols, and SF have been doing a song and dance for years and years, changing partners along the way but always being drawn to each other. They’re seemingly tied together by the fact that just a few tweaks to either appeal to a male or female audience more, while the fact that people will not necessarily stay within the genres or types of entertainment that they’re “supposed” to remain with. Cuteness is a versatile tool that at times reinforces societal and gender norms while other times becoming a tool to defy them, and this continues to influence anime to this day.