Three years ago, I was interviewed by Lesley Smith for an article about “magical girls” in SFX Total Anime magazine. As per usual, I wrote far too much in my responses and only a tiny fraction turned up in the article. Also as per usual, I did so secure in the knowledge that if I put that kind of time into helping someone, I would be able to re-use the material at a later date, and hence now reprint it here.
Lesley Smith: Why do you think the magical girl genre is so popular (a) in Japan (b) in the UK/US?
Jonathan Clements: (a) “Magical girls” began on 1960s Japanese TV for two reasons: as a female variant on the transforming superhero that was already dominated in “boy’s” TV by Superman, and as entertainment specifically for girls that allowed them to play with the idea of being an adult, or at least a more grown-up version of themselves, even if only for a little while. The perennial appeal of magical girl shows is that there is always another generation of little girls who want to experiment with being grown-ups, or fantasise about having special powers and/or a secret noble destiny.
(b) It’s not. In fact, one well-known US company had an internal memo stressing to its staff that the way to maintain healthy company bank balances was to avoid “anything with the word Princess in the title”. A well-known Japanese company actually begged me to give a bad review to one of its flagship titles, otherwise they feared that upper management would force them to release it in the UK. Upper management forced them to release it in the UK anyway, and it bombed. Magical girls are often sold in the wrong market outside Japan – they belong on TV, for an audience of little girls. It’s very difficul to sell them, for example, on DVD, because the target audience for children’s entertainment doesn’t have direct control over the purchasing of titles. In the children’s DVD market, you don’t “sell” to kids so much as you sell to their parents and relatives.
What, for you, makes a good magical girl series (the transformation sequences, the fluffy sidekicks, good versus evil etc etc)?
JC: It’s the playing with adulthood. Fairy tales appeal to children because they take real-world problems and approach them in a “fantastic” way — puberty, grief, parental separation, remarriage, siblings. The best magical girl shows are a modern variant on such fairy tales. Sailor Moon, for example, as I see you regard it as an example of the genre, is all about the ugly duckling asserting herself, and realising her potential, and there is this wonderful sense of the person she can become, and indeed of the daughter she can have, all safely tucked away in the future.
As many magical girl anime series have a set episode format (particularly when it comes to monster of the week), do you think they can ever become boring or too predictable or is that part of the fun?
JC: There’s two answers to that question. Continue reading