the_sun_is_up: Fugo and Abbacchio standing extremely close together while making model faces at the camera. (giogio - personal space invasion)
Previously, I’ve discussed the trend of bad-boy romances in girls’ media, and how it’s apparently really difficult for authors to write such romances in a believable and non-gross way. Sugar Sugar Rune isn’t one to buck trends here: Chocolat’s endgame boyfriend is Pierre, a black-hearted blonde ice king whom Chocolat defrosts and redeems over the course of the series. So the question must be asked: Does SSRune succeed with its bad-boy romance?

Uh...... kiiiiiiiinda?

I really like the romance in this manga, and in a lot of ways, it does a good job and is certainly miles better than many of its shojo peers (SO MANY MILES BETTER), but in other ways, it kind of falls on its face. It’s a mixed bag.

First, let’s look at Pierre’s character and his suitability as a love interest. He does have a lot in his favor:

a) He’s not a rapist. I really wish there was no need to even mention this, but a lot of shojo series have the love interest commit rape or attempted rape, or just be a sexually harassing creep, and then expect us to forget all about that once he gets redeemed. Pierre does nothing of the sort, so he gets a brownie point, because the bar is just that low.

b) He has a legit motivation for being horrible to Chocolat: he’s her mortal enemy, on the opposing side of a cold war that’s much bigger than either of them. He’s not just being cruel to her for his own entertainment (though there’s certainly some of that) — he’s doing it because he wants to beat her in battle.

Cut for more blonde bastardry - contains SPOILERS through Vol 6 )
the_sun_is_up: Kyoko and Moko from Skip Beat standing inside a heart shape, smiling cutely at each other. (skip beat - so adorable and gay)
In my last post on SSRune, I talked about how both societies portrayed in the series have their own narrow expectations about how young women should behave, and how the Queen contest throws our heroines into conflict with those restrictive ideals. But this pressure to conform doesn’t just harm the girls individually; it also drives a rift in their friendship, as each feels jealousy for the other’s desirable traits. Vanilla in particular starts out admiring Chocolat’s courage, reminiscing about how Chocolat was her only friend back home and would always protect and stick up for her, but that admiration quickly turns to bitter envy, leading Vanilla to turn to the Dark Side in a desperate bid to gain the confidence she desires.

Vanilla: I’ve always envied Chocolat-chan, who acts like a real queen. I finally realize my hatred toward her. Things between us can never be the way they used to be. [...] Everyone loved Chocolat-chan. Pranks, jokes, and big laughs... I was never good at any of them. [...] I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. So I can’t let anyone else have that position. To be the queen... that’s the only place I have left to belong.

Which leads into another big theme of Sugar Sugar Rune: Chocolat and Vanilla’s fight to maintain their friendship, even as the Queen contest does its best to tear them apart. This is a theme we see a lot in fiction and real life: in a patriarchal society, women learn to prioritize Getting A Man over everything else, which forces them to compete with other women (since desirable men are a finite resource), making it difficult to maintain any kind of female bonds or solidarity. In fact, you could interpret the Queen contest as a big metaphor for Life Under Patriarchy: In intensely male-dominated societies, the only way for a woman to gain power is by Getting A Man — seducing him, marrying him, being his mistress, or otherwise using sex to manipulate him into doing your bidding. Chocolat and Vanilla are competing for a position of power, but that power is only attainable by G-rated-ly seducing boys.

Whoever wins, or whoever becomes the queen, we will be friends forever. )
the_sun_is_up: Twilight Sparkle reading a book. (mlp - happiness is a good book)
At first glance, Sugar Sugar Rune by Moyoco Anno is your typical Cute Witch tale. Best friends Chocolat and Vanilla are young witches-in-training and candidates to become Queen of the Magical World. They travel to Earth in order to collect hearts by getting boys to fall for them and then extracting those feelings of love in the form of heart-shaped crystals. Whoever collects the most hearts will become the next Queen.

So yes, this is a society that chooses its supreme leader based on how many boyfriends she can bag. If this sounds like a terrible idea to you, don’t worry: the author is very much in agreement.

What follows is a surprisingly intelligent and complex fantasy series that examines what happens when you pit two best friends against each other in a competition for power and popularity, a competition in which their chances of winning hinge almost entirely on their ability to conform to narrow-minded and restrictive gender norms. And it does so while also providing us with a pair of fleshed-out relatable heroines, a richly imaginative non-standard fantasy world, and Anno’s lovely josei-esque artwork.

The first hurdle that our deliciously-named heroines face is that the Magic World and the Human World have very different ideas of how a woman is supposed to act. Headstrong, confident, and aggressive, Chocolat was very popular in the Magic World where those traits are prized and admired, so she’s bewildered when all the human boys in her class find her too intimidating and avoid her like the plague. Shy, timid, and clumsy, Vanilla’s social life languished in the Magic World, but on Earth, her moeblob appeal makes her an instant boy-magnet.

Be true to yourself — it sounds great, but... )

My thoughts on this series are too lengthy to fit in one post, so: To be continued...
the_sun_is_up: A Stormtrooper making pelvic thrust motions. (star wars - unf unf unf)
Wherever there's a successful work of fiction, there will always be people in the audience saying "Man, that would have been a lot better if the characters spent more time fucking each other." Some of these people will acquire the money and resources to make their spooge-stained dreams a reality, and thus you have: the porno spoof.

The Magical Girl genre is no exception to this rule; over the years, Japan's porno-masters have brought us Venus 5 (94), Magical Woman M (96), Magical Kanan (00), Angel Blade (01), Beat Angel Escalayer (02), and the one we're looking at today, Lingerie Senshi Papillon Rose.

Papillon Rose started its existence as a metafictional website that described a tv show that didn't (yet) exist. There were episode summaries, screenshots made by photoshopping Sailor Moon screens, and even lyrics for the opening and ending credits. Interest for it grew as more and more people stumbled across the site and inquired as to where they could watch the (nonexistent) show, and eventually the property spawned a) a 24-minute OVA, which serves as the first episode to a nonexistent first season, and b) a 6-episode TV show, “New Season,” which serves as the full second season, with flashbacks to the nonexistent first season included to fill us in on the backstory.

The OVA follows closely in the website's footsteps, being a porno version of Sailor Moon, except that strictly speaking there’s no porn in it. The sex scenes are all R-rated and avoid explicit nudity, and most of the sexual content is of a more, er, metaphorical bent. For instance, the villain-of-the-week does the usual schtick of sucking energy out of hapless muggles, but she achieves this by attaching the end of her whip to the (male) victim’s (clothed) crotch and fellating the handle of the whip, while her “victim” makes orgasmy noises. It’s unmistakably a blowjob, but everyone’s clothes stay on and there’s no direct mouth-to-dick contact, so it’s not quite porn.

Since Papillon Rose is a porno spoof, the plot and characters are just the same ones as Sailor Moon, but after being put under the porn-ification ray. Sailor Moon dresses in slinky lingerie, her main weapon is a vibrator that she pulls from her crotch, and her finisher requires her to kiss its tip. Usagi works at a lingerie café, and she first meets Mamoru when they have a one-night stand together at a love motel. Tuxedo Mask no longer throws roses; instead he throws gobs of semen. Luna wears a condom on her tail and identifies Usagi by crawling up her leg and sniffing her crotch. The villain-of-the-week is a lesbian with a whip who reacts to Sailor Moon’s “In the name of the moon” speech by French-kissing her and later gives her a hearty butt-whipping, S&M-style. And the all-female mooks fight by spraying flammable white fluid from their nipples and firing missiles out of their boobs.

Honestly, I really enjoyed the Papillon Rose OVA. It's everything a porno spoof should be — gleefully perving up every aspect of the source material it can think of, all while being as ridiculous as possible. It also has a lot of fun nods to the classics of the genre: the title card is in the style of Cutey Honey, the right-hand-villain is named Sister Beene (à la Sister Jill), and when Rose first transforms, she yells "Honey Flash" and her clothes shred off before Luna scolds her and makes her do it properly. On the downside, the animation is very cheap in places, and the OVA ends with Luna giving Tuxedo Mask a blowjob. GROSS AND UNNECESSARY.

Three years after the OVA came out, the franchise made the jump to television with Papillon Rose: New Season, and a clean-up job ensued to make the story suitable for broadcast. Rose now works in a modestly-attired maid café in Akihabara, Luna's tail-condom is now a cute bow, Tuxedo Mask's jizz-tossing is gone, the attack names are no longer sex-themed, and there's a new trio of villains whose schtick has zilch to do with sex or fanservice. There's even a funny bit in the first episode where Rose reaches down to pull out her vibrator-of-doom, but Luna stops her, saying that her old attack is too raunchy for television; instead, Rose must pick up a random object and transform it into a weapon whenever she wants to fight. As for the plot, it continues on from the OVA: Rose is joined by two other Lingerie Senshi and later a third who serves as the Dark Magical Girl.

You might think that clearing away all the extraneous bouncing balloon-boobs, horny tentacle monsters, and CAT-ON-HUMAN BLOWJOBS from a gutter-minded titty-fest would make for an improvement. Unfortunately, in this case, it's like removing the PB&J from a PB&J sandwich — all you're left with is two slices of bland Wonder Bread. Papillon Rose's whole schtick was that it was a porny version of Sailor Moon. Take that away, and the show has no identity of its own. It just comes across as the most boring and derivative Magical Girl show imaginable.

To make matters worse, there is a metric ton of really humiliatingly blatant otaku-pandering in this show. I mentioned Rose's gig at the Akiba maid café, and that plot element is just an excuse to include a bunch of male otaku in the show's cast and make them vital to the plot. In particular, there's a trio of fanboys who are main characters, and when they aren't helping out the girls during the monster fights, they're watching the fights and chatting about them on not!2chan. In return, the heroines are very fond of their maid-café-patronizing hangers-on, leading the girls to say things like "Akiba is the sacred town of our beloved otaku! I will not allow you to desecrate it!” This is pure shameless wish-fulfillment for lonely basement-dweller guys who only wish they could meet bodacious lingerie-wearing magical girls, let alone have those girls talk to them, let alone let alone have them treasure them as invaluable allies and be inspired by their speechifying. I'm usually proud to be a nerd, but while watching this show, I frequently felt deeply embarrassed on behalf of my nerdly peers.

Bottom line: When a show's whole raison d'être is sex and fanservice, taking those elements out and failing to replace them with anything new is a stupid idea. Papillon Rose was at its best when it stayed true to its mission of porno-spoofing Sailor Moon.
the_sun_is_up: Asuna from Negima shrugging in a dorky manner. (negima - that's how i roll)
Creamy Mami is a weird show. Contrary to what's implied by the premise, the show is only about 50% idol-singer stuff. The other 50% is made up of The Random Supernatural Slice-of-Life Adventures of Yuu Morisawa. In the first 26 episodes alone, Yuu meets an alien devil, an evil shaman lady, two ghosts, two princes, a tiny black stag that brings bad luck, a lost angel in a jester outfit, a magical man on a comet who brings dreams to children, an artist who lives with a unicorn in an alternate dimension, and a Zashiki Warashi. You might be wondering what any of these plot-detours have to do with Yuu's singing career; the answer is usually "nothing whatsoever."

And Creamy Mami isn't the only Magic Idol show to take this approach. The Full Moon Wo Sagashite manga spent a lot of time focusing on the shinigami characters, their backstories (only one of which had anything to do with pop stardom), several love triangles, and Mitsuki's backstory with her boyfriend at the orphanage, while Mermaid Melody melded idol-singing with Sailor-Moon-ing and let the fight between good and evil carry the plot, and Lilpri used a similar tactic with its "rescue Fairyland by collecting MacGuffins" plot.

All of which leads me to this conclusion: A Magic Idol Singer's story cannot carry the plot of a multi-episode series on its own; it needs help.

To understand why, compare these idol singer stories to other performing-arts series like Swan or Skip Beat: both Masumi (a ballet dancer) and Kyoko (a tv actor) are artists. Each one is constantly honing her craft, seeking out new teachers and mentors to expand her horizons, entering high-stakes competitions, running herself ragged practicing late into the wee hours, and even traveling to foreign countries in search of a new challenge. These girls bleed for their craft.

By contrast, the idol-singer fantasy is all about not working hard or bleeding; it's about effortlessly soaring to the top of the pop scene in a single bound. When your heroine's singing ability, her dancing ability, and her songs' lyrics/music were all obtained through magic (as in Creamy Mami and Lilpri), then there's nothing for her to practice, nothing to create, no rungs of a ladder to climb. Full Moon Wo Sagashite avoids this better than most — Mitsuki writes her own songs, and often must work within parameters mandated by her agency — but it still resorts to plenty of unrelated shinigami-nanigans. It's hard to wring a multi-episode plot out of a premise that revolves around instant gratification.

Furthermore, you kind of can't show your idol singer heroine practicing or honing her craft that much because from what I've read, idol singers are kind of... supposed to suck. This article notes that "the idol’s lack of sophistication is endearing," like a moe girl tripping and falling on her face is endearing, and this one doesn't mince words when it snarks that "the Japanese industry has always told us that consumers like barely-trained, not-too-good-looking, off-pitch idols." (Sidenote: Inspired by the latter article, I went on Youtube and watched a bunch of Girls Generation vids, followed by a bunch of AKB48 vids, and HOW IS THIS EVEN A COMPETITION!? At the very least because of GG's amazing mile-high gams. And their significantly less stupid outfits. And their superior dancing skills.) And to be fair, we see plenty of that on this side of the Pacific: lousy singing didn't stop Britney Spears, Katy Perry, or Miley Cyrus from making it big.

Anyway, the point is that the Magic Idol's story can be told in the space of a single episode: girl gets magical powers, girl gets discovered, girl instantly becomes famous and successful with minimal effort. The end. Maybe you throw in a jealous female rival, a bishie love interest (or several), a few festivals and competitions, and some spicy scandal, but that's about it. If you don't want to limit yourself to a one-off OVA like Fashion Lala, then you have to pad the story with other things. Hence, bring on the aliens, ghosts, fairies, mermaids, and grim reapers. They may have fuck-all to do with being a pop singer, but at least they'll hold the audience's attention.
the_sun_is_up: Aliciabeth from Claymore succumbing to zombie-ification. (claymore - drowning)
The Magic Idol Singer genre is primarily a realm of lightweight escapism: It takes a career that only sounds great in theory (being a pop singer), scrubs away all the ugly, seedy, soulless, and exploitative elements of the job, and presents us with an idealized fantasy of what we wish pop stardom was like. For the first several episodes, Creamy Mami fits this bill; it's just a big ball of fluff. But then in Episode 13, it gets... interesting.

Okay, actually it gets creepy and gross, but it does so in a way that's very interesting to media over-analyzers like myself.

At the start of the episode, Yuu ducks into a House of Mirrors at the local amusement park, transforms into Creamy Mami, and runs off to her latest gig. What she doesn't yet realize is that her magic combined with those mirrors to create a doppelganger of her — an eeeeevil doppelganger. Soon enough, the evil fake Mami is wreaking all sorts of havoc and tarnishing the real Mami's good name.

What kind of devilish mischief is she getting up to you ask? Well, first she announces in an interview that she's in love with her production company's president, Shingo, and then she poses for a bunch of titillating semi-nude photos. You might be wondering what's so bad about that. Well my friends, it's time to talk about Contractual Purity.

Remember when Miley Cyrus posed for those semi-nude photos in Vanity Fair, and everyone freaked out because she's supposed to be this pure, wholesome Disney child? Well from what I've read, Japanese idol singers have it even worse than that, partially due to the whole moe aesthetic, which was a thing even back before the term "moe" was coined. The Japanese idol singer, in general, is supposed to be perfectly pure, innocent, and virginal. Some singers even have contracts that forbid them from dating, such as that chick from AKB48 who shaved her head and tearfully apologized to her fans after she was caught breaking the "no boyfriends" rule. That happened this year by the way. Why did she feel the need to grovel like that? Because she ruined her fans' ability to fantasize about her being an innocent virgin with not a single sex-related thought in her head; therefore she had utterly failed as an idol.

Of course, being a fluffy and conservative kids' show, Creamy Mami is not going to rock the boat on this issue. The show is very much in agreement that the fake Mami is eeeeeeevil for sullying her purity-sue image with hints of sexuality. Just look at this conversation between her and Toshio, the heroine's love interest who's smitten with Mami, at an autograph signing:

Toshio: If possible, I hope you don't appear on those [Playboy-esque] magazines again. I really don't like that.
Fake Mami: Oh that. I wondered if I should have gone halfway or not...
Toshio: Huh?
Fake Mami: That's right, I actually wanted to strip down even more. But the cameraman said this is the first time and so...
Toshio: It's not that. As a fan, I want to appreciate Mami-chan's innocent image.
Fake Mami: Oh jeeze! That's such an old way of thinking!
Toshio: It may be a little old but... we as fans...
Crowd of Male Fans: (loudly chanting) That's right, that's right.
Fake Mami: Could you all please behave. I'm not your doll.

She's right, she's not their doll. But the show clearly expects us to disagree with her and to sympathize with Toshio. We're supposed to agree that Mami owes it to Toshio and the other male fans to stay pure and not do anything that might shatter their fantasies of her. We're supposed to disagree with the fake Mami's (accurate) claims that contractual purity is an out-dated idea. And we're supposed to agree with the real Mami later on when she begs the fake Mami not to "destroy fans' dreams."

That last line — "I'm not your doll" — is especially telling, because fake Mami is asserting her independence, and the show clearly thinks this is a bad thing. That article from the Atlantic notes that in addition to being pure and innocent, idols are supposed to be submissive and obedient: the goal is to make each fan feel "like he or she has the power to make them more popular. To maintain this illusion of control, members of the group can't do anything to show they are independent from fans." The fake Mami isn't villainous just because she posed for cheesecake shots and admitted being attracted to a man; she's villainous because she acted of her own free will and refused to be bossed around by her fans' entitlement complexes.

Writing this post has made me realize: The whole "little girl uses magic to become an idol singer" concept is so fitting, and in such a twisted way. After all, what are idol singers but post-pubescent girls and women who pretend to behave like pre-pubescent children. What better way to create the perfect idol singer than to take an elementary-schooler and give her the body of a teenager? If she's still mentally at an age where she thinks boys have cooties, you won't even need those "no dating" clauses to keep her in line.
the_sun_is_up: Fugo and Abbacchio standing extremely close together while making model faces at the camera. (giogio - personal space invasion)
This post is for the ladies! Well, moreso than usual.

I may have taken the Mermaid Melody manga to task for the myriad ways in which it sucked, but it did excel in one area: It’s a veritable encyclopedia of shojo fanservice clichés. So let’s count ‘em down, drinking-game style! (Although since this is a kids’ manga, I’ll be imbibing on non-alcoholic lemonade, but y’all can use whatever you want.)

Right out of the gate, MerMelo is built on not just a shojo fanservice cliché, but a cross-cultural-girl-aimed-media fanservice cliché: the little mermaid who sees a cute human boy, rescues him from drowning, and snuggles with him on the beach. MerMelo uses this one twice in the first chapter alone: In a flashback, Lucia rescues Kaito when they’re both little kids, and in the present day, seven years later, she reprises her heroic deed. But since this is a Japanese comic, they combine it with the well-worn Childhood Friends Who Meet Later In Life Except Only One Of Them Remembers Their Previous Bond shtick: human Lucia recognizes Kaito as the boy she saved long ago, but Kaito has no idea that Lucia is his mermaid. Jesus, that’s all worth several drinks and we’ve barely started.

Speaking of Kaito... What do chicks like? Shirtless guys! How do we get the hunky love interest to be shirtless all the time? Have him be a surfer! Genius!

Of course if Lucia wants to visit her surfing boyfriend at the beach, she needs a swimsuit! So Hanon drags Lucia to the mall to try on bikinis (DRINK) which is followed by a Showing Off The New Bikini In Front Of Numerous Appreciative Beach Dudes (DRINK), and when one of said dudes starts hitting on Lucia, Kaito steps in to tell him off (DRINK).

Lucia’s second rescue of Kaito is prompted by one of the villainesses capturing him, and of course she takes the opportunity to villainously cop a feel. This happens a lot in this manga, so it’s definitely worth a DRINK.

And that’s just the first chapter. :|

Click to watch me drink my way through this entire manga, by God )
the_sun_is_up: Aliciabeth from Claymore succumbing to zombie-ification. (claymore - drowning)
*sigh* Time to paint a big target on my chest. Time for you to bring out all your rotten fruit. Because seriously, no one wants to hear this. Nobody wants to hear about why Madoka Magica sucks because everyone fucking adores this show. Its fandom is massive and rabid and I’d have to be pretty stupid to invite their wrath. Oh well.

Hell even I like this show. Mostly. But goddamn it, every time I see some reviewer gush over how amazing and perfect it is, it gives me an eye twitch.

Today it was JesuOtaku. I watched her review of PMMM, and don’t get me wrong, it’s a good review and you should watch it, but when she got to the end of the review and started praising the narrative and inevitably gave the show 4 stars out of 4, I just got... eye-twitchy. It was the same feeling I got when I saw Zac Bertschy gave PMMM full marks across the board. These two in particular are both reviewers who tend to have little patience for weepy pandery moe dramas, and yet here they are, watching yet another weepy pandery moe drama and... giving it a glowing review??

So over two years after seeing it for the first time, and after working on this post off-and-on for god knows how long, here’s me, giving my take on this universally beloved show and why I think it’s pretty good but certainly not great and brought down by some pretty glaring flaws.

First off, we have to ask ourselves: why does Madoka Magica exist? Or more specifically: who is it for?

At its core, PMMM is a moe drama just like Uta Kata and Elfen Lied, and the purpose of shows like these is to:

a) present us with a bunch of cute innocent young girls

and

b) beat them with the angsty stick until they cry, thus turning them into adorable helpless woobies that the target audience of adult men can fantasize about hugging and/or boning.

Moe, Agency, Victimhood, Sexism, and Faust )

Writing this post has made me rather depressed, because I really really want to like Madoka Magica. Scratch that, I do like Madoka Magica. Mostly. Because for the most part, it’s a really good show. Art direction, animation styles, cinematography, soundtrack, voice acting — all are absolutely fantastic. I even like a lot of its ideas and some of the execution, and I think it could have been a really brilliant, landmark show. But the core themes and the way it handles them are so damn skeevy that I just... I can’t. I look at this show, and all I feel is disappointment.

And that’s why, whenever I see some intelligent thoughtful reviewer give this thing a perfect score, I feel the need to punch something.

Edit: Whoops, forgot to include my favorite quote about Madoka, from somebody else on Dreamwidth:

It is a work designed to punish its female protagonists for caring and to blame them for their beliefs; everything in it was written with murder in its eyes.

Yep, pretty much. I still like it, but yeah, ick.
the_sun_is_up: Giorno in a cloud of flower petals, making a sexyface at the camera. (giogio - faaaaabulous)
In my experience, adaptations are usually inferior to their source material. However, I wasn’t terribly surprised to discover that the MerMelo anime is a vast improvement over the manga. The Coleman-Francis-esque boom-mike phenomenon has been largely expunged from the anime, the amateurish wrinkles ironed out.

For example, there’s the episode centering around Meru, the young mermaid from Hanon’s kingdom. Not only did the anime writers cut out all the melodramatic nonsense with Meru hitting on Kaito and making Lucia jealous, but they also strengthened Meru’s motivation and made the build-up to her betrayal of Hanon much smoother. In the manga, Meru’s all gaga about Hanon, and when she suddenly turns on her, we get a brief last-minute flashback indicating that Meru blames Hanon for failing to find her missing mom. In the anime, Meru sees the heroines flirting with their respective dudes and grows more and more aghast that the princesses she idolized are wasting their time romancing lowly human boys instead of finding her missing mom, until she finally gets upset enough to betray Hanon.

There’s also much better use of flashbacks. Hanon, Rina, Caren, Sara, and Mitsuki all have sad backstories that get developed much more gracefully, thoroughly, and earlier than in the manga. And praise the gods, Sara’s tedious wangsting about how she’s literally the only person in the world who’s ever been dumped, boo hoo, woe is me, was cut from the anime.

However, the anime's still got its share of problems, mostly owing to the central gimmick of replacing fight scenes with musical numbers. The manga's problem was that comics are a silent medium, so all the fight-scenes-cum-musical-numbers barely even existed, lasting an average of two pages apiece. The anime has the opposite problem: the addition of sound means they can let us hear the songs. Which they do. Repeatedly. We get to hear the same minute-long sugary J-Pop tune performed all the way through in every single episode. The animators at least try to make this visually interesting, but it's not like they had a huge budget or an overflowing of talent to work with, so the choreography and cinematography end up being pretty dull. It gets worse when the villainous Black Beauty Sisters show up; their song is a minute and a half, which they sing every time they show up, with the exact same chunk of stock footage used every single time. The heroines do get three power-ups over the course of the first season, with "power-up" in this case translating to "new song," but that's still an average of 12-13 eps spent with one song before we get to hear something new.

Continued... )

Final verdict: The MerMelo anime is miles better than the manga, but it still blows in some pretty major areas. Polishing a turd can only get you so far.
the_sun_is_up: Yahtzee's speech bubble has been censored by a black bar that has the text "horrible things" written on it. (zero p - horrible things)
Gotta clear some room on my harddrive, so it's time to watch some shitty anime that's been collecting dust in my to-watch folder.

Pretty Rhythm Aurora Dream: a few assorted eps including the season finale.

I could describe PRAD as a Magic Idol Singer show except with ice skating and dancing instead of singing, but that would be quite deceitful of me because this is not a show about ice skating or magic or teenage girls — it's a show about clothing and the sale thereof. Yes, PRAD is one of those "30-minute commercial masquerading as a tv show" deals that were so popular in the U.S. during the 80's. Much is made of the girls' outfits, with one's skill at assembling fashionable ensembles being an important factor in one's success as an ice skating idol, and the main trio of girls even compete in a big contest where the prize is (drumroll please) a pair of shoes. The show also features some award-winningly terrifying uncanny-valley CGI whenever the girls have a dance/skate number, which is frequently. Possibly this was done as a nod to the arcade games upon which the anime was based? Dear Japan: Stop basing your anime on pachinko and/or arcade games. STOP IT THIS INSTANT.

All that said, this show pleasantly surprised me in that I didn't completely hate it. It's very by-the-numbers and was clearly made by a "creative" team who were half-assing it all the way through, but it wasn't as soulless and materialistic as it could have been. Actually I think the show's attempts at being un-shallow and heartfelt, though admirable, were a big detriment to it, especially in the finale. I don't know how to properly describe the facepalm-worthy crescendo of stupid that is the finale, but basically it's what happens when a writing team realizes "Shit, our show's climax is an ice-dancing competition. That's not epic enough! Gotta make it more epic, even if the result makes no sense whatsoever!" Just.... so stupid, y'all.

Happy Seven: all eps except the last one.

Jeez and I thought PRAD was by-the-numbers. Happy Seven is what happens when a bunch of peeps collaborate to make a moe magical girl anime with absolutely no new ideas in it. We will hit every cliché, gentlemen, every goddamn one! Starting with the characters: The heroine is a clumsy ditzy lovestruck pigtailed blonde, and her cohort includes a cool big sis with a hefty rack, a pair of loli twins who speak in unison and fall asleep at random moments, a dog-girl instead of the usual cat-girl who says "-wan" after all her sentences, a Rei Ayanami clone who goes all dere-dere for fishes, a braids-and-glasses techno-whiz chick, and a shy crybaby who turns into a tough bifauxnen when she transforms. The villains are a purple-haired purple-wearing haughty sorceress with a fan and the silver-ponytailed bishie student council president, and the token dude of the heroine's posse is a bland squinty prince-charming type whom absolutely every female in the cast wants to bone. The heroine, her two muggle pals, all seven members of the magical girl posse, and the purple villainess are all hankering for this guy's dull flavorless sausage, to the point where it becomes a major subplot that takes up a huge chunk of the runtime. I'd almost call this a harem anime, except that Mr. Blanderson is clearly not the protagonist.

The plot is what you've come to expect: Team of magical girls and token dude fight monsters that possess angsty people, resulting in a Victim-of-the-Week/Monster-of-the-Week formula, with the villains showing up occasionally to vaguely foreshadow some impending doom. The only unusual element here is that the heroine spends most of the show's run as a muggle; she starts off as a Victim-of-the-Week, and when the team senses a weird power lying dormant within her, they let her become their manager. Her powers only awaken during the finale. This could have made for an interesting twist, but unfortunately this show, like most bottom-of-the-barrel moe shows, spends most of its time faffing about with dull slice-of-life nonsense and finding every available excuse to turn the castmembers into chibis. There's even one episode that has zero monsters or magic in it and is just unapologetically filler. In a 13-episode series.

Akahori Gedou Hour Rabuge: Gedou Otome Tai: a few assorted eps.

So this is a moe Cute Witch show about five witchy sisters who live amongst the muggles by day and fail miserably at being evil by night, blah blah slice-of-life and lulzy hijinks, but I really only have one thing to say about this show: WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH THE FANSERVICE?!?

I expect a dude-aimed magical girl show to have fanservice, but not quite this much and certainly not this, um, sleazy? Like, we're edging into Moetan territory here. The main source of creepy is the 2nd and 4th sisters, Maika and Kanashi. Kanashi's in elementary school but looks like a busty high-schooler. Maika's in high school but looks like a flat-chested braids-and-glasses elementary-schooler. I'm sure you can see where this is going. Maika has a part-time job modeling children's clothing for what I can only assume is some fetish magazine or website considering the way they have her pose (and yes, she even dons the stereotypical school swimsuit). Meanwhile Kanashi's whole shtick is that she looks like jailbait but is totally clueless about it, so she's constantly shown in male-gaze-o-vision and her male teacher repeatedly explodes into nosebleeds and then berates himself for having dirty thoughts about his pre-puberty students, har har what a knee-slapper. I guess it's okay to treat the ten-year-old like a Playboy bunny so long as she doesn't look like she's ten. /SARCASM

Jewelpet, Season 1: eps 1-4, unsubbed.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Even if I'd had English subtitles to liven up the experience, I doubt I'd have been able to stay awake through this one. Mostly it strikes me as an extremely poor man's Onegai My Melody.

Magical Canan: assorted eps, Spanish subs (which I don't speak).

Another one where I don't need to hear the dialogue to know that it's shit. This is a suitable-for-broadcast adaptation of a porno OVA, which itself was adapted from a porno game, which I strongly suspect was meant as a porno spoof of Cardcaptor Sakura. Hence the series carries the stink of lazy ripoff. And what it doesn't rip from CCS, it swipes from Pretty Sammy. The visuals also look incredibly cheap, to the point where I started wondering if I was watching the porno version by mistake.

At one point, the heroine ends up at a cosplay café in Akiba where one of the waitresses is dressed up as Mew Mint from Tokyo Mew Mew. I guess the writers had never heard of "Don't mention a better anime in the middle of your crappy anime."

Welp, that's 1 GB freed up. Now to dig into the umpteen bazillion TMM/MerMelo/Sugar Sugar Rune/CCS episodes I've got squatting on here.
the_sun_is_up: Yahtzee's speech bubble has been censored by a black bar that has the text "horrible things" written on it. (zero p - horrible things)
POP QUIZ: Name a bunch of narrative elements guaranteed to make pre-teen and teenage girls fork over all their money.

-mermaids
-princesses
-pop stardom
-Sailor Moon
-foofy dresses
-shirtless surfer dudes
-forbidden romance
-Gackt

In 2003, Michiko Yokote and Pink Hanamori had the bright idea to mash all these things into one guaranteed-to-sell manga. In fact, it's possible they were a little too confident in the failproof nature of their brainchild, because they don't seem to have put much effort into making it, y'know, not suck.

Mermaid Melody is bad. More than that, it's incompetent. I've read plenty of bad manga in my time, but even so, it's rare that I come across one that's fails on such a basic level of "how to tell a functional story with words and pictures." I hate to say it, but it's a lot like Hen in that sense. It's like...

Okay, so modern-day Hollywood puts out plenty of bad movies, like the Transformers films. But at least those films were made by people who grasp the basics of film-making and could probably have made something a lot better if they'd tried harder. On the flip side, you have the films featured on MST3K and Cinema Snob where the creators were so incompetent that they couldn't even keep the boom-mike out of the camera's view.

What I'm saying is: In Mermaid Melody, that boom-mike has a starring role.

Oh fuck these analogies, I'll just show you:

Cut for large images )

But let's leave the details aside and widen our scope a bit: What about that failsafe premise I was praising before? MerMelo is about a bunch of mermaids who transform into idol singers and fight the forces of evil with their voices. It sounds like a pretty winning concept, but it's brought down by one big problem: MerMelo's heroines fight by singing. In a manga. Manga being a solely visual medium.

This ensures that nearly every single fight scene in MerMelo lasts a mere two pages. Each fight consists of three steps: 1) the heroines show up and say their In The Name Of The Moon speech, 2) the villain-of-the-week grimaces and yells some variant on "I'll get you next time, you meddling kids!" and departs, and 3) the heroines say their closing catchphrase: "How'd you like an encore?" That's literally it. Seriously, between steps 1 and 2, they may as well write the words "Insert song performance here" because we never get to see the girls sing for more than a page, nor do we see any of the lyrics. It's possible to depict singing in a soundless medium and still make it interesting — Full Moon Wo Sagashite did a pretty good job with that — and a few of MerMelo's battles at least make a vague attempt at being cinematic, but most of the time they don't even bother.

This also has the side effect of making villains look even more ridiculous and trivial than they usually are in this genre. The villain keeps sending his minions out on missions to kidnap the mermaids for use in his evil plot, but the minions always attack the mermaids head-on instead of using subterfuge, and the mermaids' songs always defeat the minion-of-the-week in one hit. These villains are so easily beaten and so disorganized that they can't possibly pose a threat.

Speaking of laughable villains, the main villain's consort is the resident Dark Magical Girl, a fallen mermaid princess named Sara. Her deal is that she was in love with a human who dumped her, and most of her dialogue is wangsty moaning about how no one can possibly understaaaaand how she feeeeels oh woe is me, I am literally the first person to get dumped in the history of everything. It's pretty insufferable, especially when we find out that he only dumped her for the sake of her kingdom.

Back to what I'd tentatively call the "combat": Fighting one's enemies via song is already a rather shaky concept, but MerMelo exacerbates this towards the end of the first story-arc by throwing in a bunch of shallow nonsensical bollocks about believing in yourself — for example, Lucia's given a magic harp with no strings, but she's able to play it because she belieeeeeves hard enough. Belief as a weapon can work, but here it's almost insulting how pastede on yey it is.

Another plot element that annoyed me: In the first volume, Lucia finds out, to her surprise, that she's a princess. She's spent all thirteen years of her life as a mermaid, and yet her caretakers and friends failed to tell her that she rules the top half of the Pacific because... she's still young? We never get a clear answer. Given the melodramatic tone of this manga, I assumed they included the "I'm a princess?!?" reveal in the name of creating cheap drama, but no, it's totally underplayed. It's like, "Oh by the way, you're a princess," "Oh that's a surprise, I guess." We don't even see the full reveal — it's shown in a flashback.

As for the non-plot parts of the manga, aside from the feeble comedy I already mentioned, it's mostly just a hurricane of fanservicey shojo clichés. I even started playing "spot the clichés" to entertain myself, but I'll need a separate post to list 'em all.

Anyway, final verdict on Mermaid Melody: an evil genius concept sunk by embarrassingly incompetent execution.
the_sun_is_up: Giorno in a cloud of flower petals, making a sexyface at the camera. (giogio - faaaaabulous)
OKAY OKAY OKAY. There was that Magical Girl Project thing I was doing. And still am doing! I've just been lazy about posting.

Today it's time to take a voyage into the Magic Idol Singer subgenre, which is a distinct niche unto itself despite producing only about 8 shows over a 30-year period. Lately I've been reading Full Moon Wo Sagashite, which I've seen held up as the pinnacle of the subgenre. However, I've been holding off on talking about it, because Full Moon is one of the later entries in the genre, and I've heard that its approach is rather subversive. To understand the rebellious present, we must first examine the stodgy past, i.e.: Creamy Mami, the first Magic Idol Singer.

Creamy Mami was a 1983 original anime by Studio Pierrot; Full Moon was a 2002 manga by Arina Tanemura, adapted into a heavily cut-down and fillerized 2002 anime that I haven't seen. And right from the start, the journeys of their respective heroines are drastically different.

First off, Yuu winds up becoming Creamy Mami entirely by accident. She helps an alien, and he rewards her with the power to turn into a sixteen-year-old. In Episode 2, she's wandering around town in her older form, when she's spotted by a music exec and dragged into singing in a televised solo performance, filling in for an idol who's running late. By contrast, Mitsuki becomes Full Moon almost entirely by her own design. When she bumps into a couple of shinigami by chance, she interrogates them about their powers and asks them to make her older, specifically because she wants to attend a singing audition with an age limit. The shinigami grant her request, and she goes to the audition and blows everyone away. Then she gets an agent, releases a single, and quickly works her way towards fame in a (I assume) more conventional way than Yuu's serendipitous "discovered on the street" debut.

Second, and closely related to the above, Yuu has zero interest in singing prior to becoming an idol. In fact, when she first gets kicked out on stage, she uses her powers to summon a magic microphone which invents a signature song for her, teaches her the song, and gives her the talent to sing it, all in the blink of an eye. Mitsuki, on the other hand, has a lifelong passion for singing, to the point where she refuses lifesaving surgery for her throat cancer because she doesn't want to lose her voice. Her singing talent is all her own — all the shinigami do is remove the throat tumor when she's aged up, so that she can sing at full volume.

Third, both girls' powers are restricted by a one-year time-limit, but for completely different reasons. Yuu's time-limit is arbitrary; the alien just gave her a year's worth of powers. Mitsuki's time-limit exists because she's fated to die of throat cancer in one year, so her powers will only be relevant until then.

Fourth, while Mitsuki wants nothing more than to be a singer, the Creamy Mami writers made the bizarre choice of having Yuu dislike being a singer at first. After her debut performance, Yuu reflects that it was fun but she wouldn't want to do it again, and it's never made clear why. She spends most of Episode 3 avoiding the manager who discovered her and who is now searching for her Cinderella-style. In the end, he ignores her protests and basically badgers her into becoming one of his full-time singers. I'm guessing this was done as a cheap attempt at creating conflict and drama, but it doesn't make a lick of sense. The target audience of this show is little girls who are dying to become a glamorous idol singer; why make the heroine be a girl who rejects that life and has to be strong-armed into it? If you're going to make a shameless wish-fulfillment anime, you could at least have the protagonist appreciate her amazing good fortune.

As you've probably guessed by now, I infinitely prefer Mitsuki's origin story. I like that she has so much agency; she knows what she wants, and she pursues it. Even before getting powers, she's already plotting to sneak out of her grandma's house and go to that audition. When she happens to run into a pair of empowering entities, she seizes the opportunity and milks it for all it's worth. I also like that music and idol singing is woven into her character and her life pre-magic-empowerment, and even into her past (her dead father was an idol singer); it makes the magic idol singer gimmick feel more natural and in sync with the story, rather than just a random fantasy getting dumped on somebody with no interest in or connection to it. And most of all, I like that Mitsuki blatantly asks for her powers. Most Magic Idols and Magic Warriors either have to be wheedled and nagged into accepting powers, or they're just empowered automatically, without their consent or input. It's very rare and refreshing for a heroine to go "I want powers. Hey you, magical person, give me powers!"

The one area where Mitsuki's agency falters is in the individual transformations. Yuu (like most MGs) has a magic object with which she can trigger her transformation; she has total control. Mitsuki has no magic object; instead she must rely on her male love interest to trigger her transformation by snapping his fingers, and I'm sure there's a very interesting essay about gender politics somewhere in there. However, the only problem with this that Mitsuki encounters is when she needs to transform but her love interest is far away; to fix this, she has a magic whistle to summon him, and I don't recall Takuto ever ignoring the whistle or refusing to transform Mitsuki, although the author definitely could have explored that possibility if she wanted to.
the_sun_is_up: Giorno in a cloud of flower petals, making a sexyface at the camera. (giogio - faaaaabulous)
It occurred to me that although I'm a fan of the Precure franchise and have watched assorted episodes from each of its 7 iterations, I've never watched the ending to a Precure anime.

I guess it's because your average Precure season is around 50 episodes long and stuffed full of irrelevant filler, and my attention span just isn't up to the task. So I figured hey, why not skip over all that middle stuff and just watch the endings.

So I did!

Futari wa Pretty Cure: Eps 46-49

Short verdict: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Long verdict )

Futari wa Max Heart: Eps 45-47

Short verdict: More appropriately epic, but kind of repetitive.
Long verdict )


Splash Star: Eps 46-49

I'd heard from the approximately three people who actually watched Splash Star that despite its mediocre rip-offy appearance, it was actually pretty hardcore, particularly in its ending.

Short verdict: Holy shit guys, Splash Star's ending is HARDCORE.
Long verdict )


Yes Precure Five: Eps 46-49

Short verdict: WUSSY.
Long verdict )

Yes Precure Five GoGo

Short verdict: Couldn't be arsed to watch it. Has it even been subbed yet?


Fresh Precure: Eps 46-50

Short verdict: BADASSSSSSSSSSS
Long verdict )
the_sun_is_up: Kyoko and Moko from Skip Beat standing inside a heart shape, smiling cutely at each other. (skip beat - so adorable and gay)
Toei has released some info and pictures for their newest Precure installment: DokiDoki Precure! So now it's time for my yearly tradition of mocking the Precure staff's abject lack of imagination while lobbing popcorn at the screen.

First of all, I had to take a moment to hurl at the title. It's just a pet peeve of mine, but I absolutely loathe it when shows include the word "doki" in their title and/or episode titles because a) it's way overused, to the point that some of these characters should be suffering heart failure from all the doki-doki-ing their shows are doing, and b) shows with "doki" in the title are practically guaranteed to be nauseatingly sugary girls' shows or nauseatingly sugary moe garbage. We're not getting off to a good start here, Toei.

But let's talk about the characters. Just as Smile Precure's cast looked suspiciously similar to the Yes Precure Five cast, with Doki it appears that we're cribbing from Fresh, with a side order of Suite. Our heroine is a blonde who wears pink, and her posse is composed of a) the love child of Cure Pine and Cure Muse wearing Cure Sunshine's outfit, b) the love child of Cure Berry and Cure Beat, and c) the typical long-blue-haired chick descended from Cures White, Aqua, and Beauty. I'm also amused to note that the heroine has pink hair in her civilian form, but blonde hair in her magical form, though I guess both of those colors would look equally unrealistic to a Japanese person. However the biggest thing they copied from Fresh is the playing-card-suit motif (although Fresh probably ripped it from Shugo Chara). The heroine's theme is hearts (natch), and her blue friend's theme is diamonds, just like Cure Berry.

And of course their personality types match their appearances pretty neatly. Our heroine is headstrong and altruistic, although unusually she's actually good at schoolwork instead of being a complete airhead. Judging by her poses, the Pine/Muse lovechild is already looking to be the cutesy moe-appeal one just like Peace and, well, Muse. (And ugh, she's doing that awful pigeon-toed saggy-knee thing, save me!) The blue one is the sum of her predecessors, being the quiet, level-headed, brainy one who stands for intellect and is on the student council, though much to my surprise, she's not a lonely rich girl. And the purple side-ponytail one is, wait for it, "a cool and beautiful super idol and extremely popular fashionista" who "dislikes fighting alongside others, preferring to stand alone." Ding-ding-ding! You have just won the purple lottery! If there was a threeway between Angel Salvia, Mew Zakuro, and Cure Beat, this chick would be the result. Though I like how she has tomboy-short hair in her civilian form; usually the aloof onee-sama type has long hair.

Fortunately, the girls' names are significantly less stupid than last year's. I did have to laugh when I saw that the heroine's name is Cure Heart, because of course it is! Most MG shows can't stop banging on about the power of heart, so may as well just cut to the chase and name your protagonist "Heart." However Cure Diamond and Cure Rosetta are both lovely and reasonably dignified names, and Cure Sword is downright badass. There's never been a Cure named after a weapon before, and apparently her main attack is called "Holy Sword" which sounds awesome. Wait a sec, Cure Sword harbors guilt over a past failure and she's a foreigner on Earth who originally hails from the magic world? Okay we're definitely doing a throwback to Angel Salvia here. (That's not a complaint — I'm actually kind of charmed that Doki is taking notes from a property as old and forgotten as Wedding Peach.)

Bitching aside, I do quite like the character designs for Doki, especially the swirly style of the hairdos and the spiky white accents on the outfits and the asymmetry. The designs may be predictable but at least they're well-executed.

I have to say, I'm surprised that Toei revealed all the character designs right off the bat, seeing as how Heartcatch and Suite tried to keep us in suspense about who'd turn out to be a Cure. I wonder if there'll be any DMGs in this iteration. Probably not, since the playing-card motif only allows for four posse-members.
the_sun_is_up: Twilight Sparkle reading a book. (mlp - happiness is a good book)
Recently I watched the first five episodes of Mai-Hime. Coincidentally, somebody on Tumblr asked me the other day whether or not I'd categorize Mai-Hime as a Magical Girl show, and since I was already planning to make a post on that exact subject, I guess I should go ahead and post it already.

Is Mai-Hime a Magical Girl anime?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer:

Evidence For
-It fits the bare minimum criteria I established at the start of this project: its protagonists are a) female and b) magic-users.
-It fits the second criteria I established later in the project: secrecy. The heroines must keep their powers and mission secret from the muggle masses.
-The girls' magic power is exclusive to females.
-In keeping with the Magic Warrior subgenre:
--The girls' main mission is to protect humanity by fighting monsters of the week (or at least that's what they're initially told).
--The girls' powers are limited.
--The heroine is a newcomer to magic, having spent her childhood as a clueless muggle.
-The girls use a Greyskull phrase to call out their Childs — in this case, simply shouting the Child's name.
-The girls each have a glowing mark on their bodies that signifies their special status. This isn't exclusively a MG trope, but it shows up enough that I think it warrants a mention. When the Inner Senshi were discovered in Sailor Moon, they each had their respective planetary signs show up on their foreheads, and the Tokyo Mew Mew girls each had a Mew Mark that indicated which animal they were fused with.
-I've heard that there are some characters who fit the Dark Magical Girl archetype, though I'll have to watch further to confirm that.

Evidence Against
-No transformation. This is a biggie, because a lynchpin of the genre is the dual identity, the switching back and forth between two personas which is signified by changing one's physical appearance. However Cardcaptor Sakura proved that you don't need to transform in order to be a Magical Girl, but Sakura did adhere to the following criteria which is...
-The girls' magic is not dependent on an object. The formula for Magic Warrior shows dictates that the heroine is unable to use magic until she is given a magical object which is the key to her power. Take that object away, and she goes back to being a powerless muggle. For most girls, this object is their transformation device. For Sakura, it's her bird-head wand. But the Mai-Hime girls don't have anything like this. They use magical weapons, but they weren't given them — instead they conjure them out of thin air at will. And when we see Mai discover her Hime powers in the first episode, her powers just awaken on their own; she doesn't require an outside party's help to unlock/bestow them.
--On the flip side, Mai does require an outsider's guidance to successfully unlock her full magical powers and summon her Child. And the girls' powers are tied to the Hime Star, so you could consider that to be their key object, although that's a pretty big stretch.
-No "In The Name Of The Moon" speech.
-No foofy outfits.
-No cutesy mascot mentor.
-No alias.
-No dual identities? The girls don't change their appearance/clothes/name when they use their powers, and so far I haven't seen much done with the dual identity theme that forms the core of the genre. However I guess you could argue that the Childs serve as the girls' alternate identity, and the Child-summoning stock footage does bear some resemblance to a transformation sequence, particularly Mai's which also features a shot of a sword plunging out of her chest à la Utena.
the_sun_is_up: Giorno in a cloud of flower petals, making a sexyface at the camera. (giogio - faaaaabulous)
So I've been sick with a cold for the past two weeks (probably got it from working as a parking cashier at the county fair) but now that I'm feeling better, here's my promised second post on Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, about all the things it does right.

As I mentioned before, I was first drawn to KKJ because I'd heard that it was one of the more dark and subversive entries in the genre. Specifically, I'd heard that it did a lot of the same things that Puella Magi Madoka Magica did except, y'know, 10 years earlier. And indeed, I was not disappointed — there is some pretty awesomely deconstructy stuff going on here!

But first, here's a plot summary: Maron Kusakabe is Kaitou Jeanne, reincarnation of Jeanne D'Arc and teenage Magic Warrior on a mission from God. Her job is to fight demons who take up residence inside beautiful paintings and then possess and corrupt nearby humans. Unfortunately, whenever she exorcises a demon from a painting, the painting disappears, so the public all think she's an art thief. As if battling demons and evading the muggle police weren't enough, she also has a rival in the mysterious Kaitou Sinbad, whom Maron theorizes must be working for the Devil.

So this is all pretty standard stuff, right? Ohoho no, it is not. Most of what I told you in that plot summary gets kicked in the head by the end of the series as Maron discovers that her magical girl gig is not at all like what she thought it was. This is one of those stories where all the big selling points are also MASSIVE SPOILERS so...

KKJ as a Magical Girl deconstruction, in list form. Contains HUGE SPOILERS for the whole series. )

In the end, KKJ is one of the strongest deconstructions of the Magic Warrior genre that I've seen so far and a very interesting read. If only the romance subplot wasn't so obnoxious, I could whole-heartedly like this series.
the_sun_is_up: Yahtzee's speech bubble has been censored by a black bar that has the text "horrible things" written on it. (zero p - horrible things)
Prompted by the MG Project, I've been buying and reading a lot of shojo manga lately. This is unusual for me because I usually approach reading shojo with the same caution I'd use when defusing a bomb. However the Magical Girl genre tends to be on the friendlier, less brain-bleach-necessitating side of shojo, and indeed I've been enjoying myself a lot as I plowed through assorted volumes of Sugar Sugar Rune, Shugo Chara, Sailor V, and Mermaid Melody.

Then I read Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne and I was like "Oh yeah, that's why I hardly ever read shojo. BECAUSE IT IS FREQUENTLY HORRIBLE."

I picked up this title because I'd heard that Arina Tanemura's work tends to be among the more angsty, dark, and subversive in the Magical Girl genre, and KKJ in particular had some later plot twists that really intrigued me. And Tanemura's art is quite good, even if her art style is the most terrifying goddamn thing I've ever seen. It's like shojo on steroids. THE EYES. THEY ARE TOO BIG.

Having finished the series, I find KKJ frustrating because it's such a mixed bag. In fact, I'll break it down:

As a Magical Girl story, it's quite good.
As an epic womance between a magical girl and her muggle bff, or between a magical girl and her mascot mentor, it's also pretty good.
As a het romance, it is freaking awful.

At this point, I'm going to dive into spoiler territory because I can't rant properly otherwise.

KKJ as a het romance — making me throw my book at the wall a lot )

In short, the het romance portion of KKJ is up to its eyeballs in everything I absolutely despise about shojo, which really soured the whole experience for me.

This post is getting long, so next time I'll talk about all the things that KKJ does right, especially in the vein of Dark And Subversive Magical Girl Narratives and Ladies Talking To Each Other And Being Ambiguously Gay.
the_sun_is_up: Panty looking excited, with her hand on Stocking's abdomen. (psg - PEEKABOO PEEKABOO PEEKABOO)
Lately on the Magical Girl Project, I've been focusing my researching on merchandise. Specifically, I've been mostly ignoring the requisite deluge of posters, stationery, coloring books, figures, dolls, love-pillows, and other random crap, instead focusing on the toy versions of objects that appear in the actual shows — mostly wands and transformation trinkets — because this is the area of merchandising that seems to have a visible effect on the evolution of the genre and on how these shows are made.

There are several common tropes in the Magical Girl genre which I think can be traced back to this type of merchandising:

1) Magical Girls have more than one magical doodad at a time. In the early years of the genre, heroines would either have no magical doodads at all, or they would have just the one. As the genre progressed, it became standard for each Magical Girl to have at least 2 magical doodads on hand at all times — usually one for transforming and one for attacking — and sometimes more than that.

2) Magical Girls periodically switch out older magical doodads for newer ones. This trend started with Hana no ko Lunlun, who traded out her magic brooch for a different one halfway through the series. This mid-season switch was continued by Minky Momo and the Pierrot girls, except they also traded out their wands for new ones. Then Magical Girl shows started running longer and the switching-out of magical doodads became something that happened every season, starting with Sailor Moon, who burned through 5 transforming devices and 6 wands plus the disguise pen and the Holy Grail over the course of the anime.

3) Magical Girl doodads are designed with their merchandising potential in mind. Somebody on TV Tropes quipped that in the Precure franchise, "it's usually obvious that at least one magical trinket per season was designed to be a toy first and an implement of magical ass-kicking second," and this phenomenon is not limited to Precure. Sailor Moon, Doremi, and other merch-driven shows with high ratings tend to feature magical devices that a) blatantly look like they're made of plastic thus making it easy to replicate them in toy form and b) look like they'd be fun to play with but not so practical in a fight. As technology has marched on, the genre has seen a wave of cell-phone-looking magical doodads, and shows as far back as Minky Momo and the Pierrot oeuvre have consistently used doodads that emit colorful flashing lights when certain buttons are pressed, making the average Magical Girl's arsenal look less like mystical artifacts summoned from a foreign world and more like stuff you'd buy for your 5-year-old at Toys R Us.

The designers working on these shows are obviously smart enough to know that the success of their work is largely reliant on having a solid merchandise deal that sells well, so it's easier and more practical to just design the show's magical doodads to look and act like toys to begin with, rather than designing them as realistic weapons and then having to toy-ify them later. I've heard that when Neon Genesis Evangelion was in development, one of the hurdles it faced was that the merch people wanted Anno and co. to redesign the Evas to look more like standard mecha, because they were concerned that it would be difficult to make plastic toys out of the curvy, fluid, muscular Evas.* Apparently someone talked them into it, but if they hadn't changed their minds, I imagine it would have been a big problem. If the toy people don't want to make merch for your show, you're screwed, so it seems like the average Magical Girl bling designer tries to avoid this situation altogether by keeping the need for merchandising in mind right from the get-go.

4) Magical Girl doodads get added for an anime adaptation. Saint Tail for example has a golden gem-tipped cane that she uses in the anime, and I've heard that she didn't have any such thing in the original manga. Why did the anime creators add it in? Because merchandising, that's why. On my merch searches, I've also encountered a number of doodads that appeared in the anime version of Rayearth but which I don't recall being in the manga. Since the only bling in the Rayearth manga was the girls' swords, which would be difficult to toy-ify, I'm guessing that's why the anime added some extra doodads to sell as toys.

Anyway, I think it's interesting how something like toy merchandising can shape the evolution of a whole genre and its aesthetics. However there are some shows that avoid these merch-driven tropes, and they tend to be a) shows aimed at dudes, because the toy merch is almost always restricted to the shows aimed at little girls, and/or b) artsy auteur-ish shows like NGE whose creators apparently didn't need or want to rely on merch money to get their show off the ground. Shows like Devil Hunter Yohko, Princess Tutu, Earth Maiden Arjuna, Pretear, Uta Kata, Mai-Otome, Saint October, and mostly recently PMMM avoid excessive bling, design their bling to look like it was made from precious metals rather than plastic, and/or give their heroines practical-looking conventional weaponry.

* According to Wikipedia, Anno designed the Evas that way on purpose: "With recent robot anime series there have been too many instances of toy makers sticking their big noses in from the design stage so they can get a spec that is easy to turn into a toy. I don't want any interference from toy makers, so I'm going to design a robot that just cannot be turned into a toy." Lol oh Anno. a) Your resistance was futile and b) no wonder your show ran out of money.
the_sun_is_up: Twilight Sparkle reading a book. (mlp - happiness is a good book)
One of the big challenges of this project has been sub-genre identification. It's pretty clear that within the Magical Girl genre, several sub-genres exist: TV Tropes identifies the three big ones as the Magic Warrior, the Cute Witch, and the Magic Idol, and I came up with a few more out of necessity, like the Psychic and the Object User. However the question is, how does one determine which sub-genre a given show belongs to? What are the specific attributes that define each sub-genre?

So here are some of the main parameters I've established for determining which sub-genre a given show fits into:

Natural Magic vs. Given Magic: I remember [personal profile] sailorptah mentioning that people in PMMM fandom were debating whether Kyubey gave Madoka her magical powers or whether she had latent powers all along and Kyubey simply unlocked them. I was perplexed by this because to my mind, "giving magic" and "unlocking magical potential" are functionally the exact same thing.

A defining trait of the Magic Warrior is that she spends the first chunk of her life as a muggle, totally unaware of the existence of magic up until the fateful day (usually occurring in the first episode) when she is contacted by some magical entity who lets her in on the masquerade and gives her a magical object that lets her transform. Regardless of whether her magic is "given" or "unlocked," the Magic Warrior requires the assistance of an outside party to kickstart her magic-using career.

For example, compare the origin stories of Wedding Peach and Futari wa Precure: In Wedding Peach, Momoko is the daughter of an angel and her friends are all reincarnations of angels, so it seems obvious that they all possess an innate genetic magical power. In Futari wa Precure, the two mascot mentors crash-land into Nagisa and Honoka's houses apparently by chance and recruit the girls to be Pretty Cures because they're the most convenient choices; no mention is made of destiny or innate powers or the girls having some kind of specialness that makes them prime candidates — they're just a couple of muggles who were in the right place at the right time. Yet despite these differences, the heroines of these two shows get initiated in basically the same way: they're visited by a magical being who tells them that magic exists, gives them a magical doodad, and asks them to transform into a superhero in order to save the world and go fight that monster that's trying to kill you as we speak.

This is what I mean by "given" magic: a Magical Girl who cannot access her powers and isn't even aware she has them until an outside party comes along to enlighten her and unlock her potential, or a Magical Girl who is a totally ordinary muggle with no hidden powers at all until an outside party comes along and hits her with the empowering stick. And while PMMM was actually pretty clear in establishing that Madoka is the former (otherwise why would Kyubey be badgering her all the time), other shows can be pretty vague about how much of the heroine's magic was given and how much was innate potential, thus reinforcing my belief that they're functionally the same.

On the other hand, there's "natural" magic, a feature of the Cute Witch and Psychic sub-genres. A natural magic-user doesn't need the help an outside party to access her powers — instead her powers just manifest on their own, either at birth or gradually as she grows older. Harry Potter, for example, is a natural magic-user because even before he learned any spells or was told about the hidden magical world, he had already discovered his ability to make weird things happen. With a typical Cute Witch, we don't even get to see her discover her abilities — at the start of her story, she's already been using magic for a while and is totally used to it. A natural magic-user also usually doesn't require a magical object to cast magic. A magic wand certainly helps, but even if you take it away, a Cute Witch can usually still do a little magic. The earliest Cute Witches didn't use wands at all, simply pointing or winking to cast magic, and Psychics are similarly unfettered by a reliance on doodads. By contrast, if you take away a Magic Warrior's transformation trinket, she's as powerless as any other muggle.

Unlimited Magic vs. Limited Magic: Another key difference between Cute Witches and Magic Warriors is the range of powers they have access to.

Magic Warriors usually have "limited" magic, meaning that they can only do a few different magical things. Look at Sailor Moon's powers: she can transform, she can disguise herself, she can purify monsters with a finishing move, she can throw her tiara like a frisbee, she can sometimes bring people back from the dead, and she has the standard superhero powers like strength/speed/jumping/resilience/etc. And probably some other ones I forgot. That might sound like a lot, but it's actually quite restrictive when you think about it. Can Sailor Moon make a freshly-cooked steak appear out of thin air? How about a house? Can she split a preexisting house into two houses? Can she summon the guard dog of hell? Rearrange furniture with her mind? Make someone's dessert disappear from under their nose? Bestow sentience and mobility onto potatoes and carrots?

These are all tricks I've seen Cute Witches do, because a Cute Witch usually has "unlimited" magic: she can theoretically do anything with her magic so long as she has reached the required skill and power levels. Also, since Magic Warriors have a clearly defined job description and mission (save the world) their powers are specific to the task at hand. Sailor Moon can't make a steak out of thin air because that ability isn't applicable to monster-fighting; her abilities are limited to only those she needs in order to do her job properly. Cute Witches, on the other hand, have missions that are less pressing or less specialized, and their job description is usually "being a magic-user," so they have more freedom to use their magic on silly things like steak-conjuring and vegetable-animating.

The "limited" magic that characterizes Magic Warriors (and Magic Idols, since they have a similarly specific mission) can be traced back to the old Object User genre, in which the heroine's power was entirely tied to this one doodad that could perform a very specific type of magic and nothing else. In fact, the very first two Magical Girls demonstrate the "limited"/"unlimited" dichotomy quite nicely. Akko, the first Object User, was given a magic mirror that had exactly one power: it could turn her appearance into whatever she wanted. A pretty versatile power, but still. Sally, the first Cute Witch, was the complete opposite: she could do anything that popped into her head simply by pointing her finger. The only limit was her imagination.

Foreign vs. Native: This one's pretty simple: Cute Witches are usually from another world; Magic Warriors are usually from Earth. On the rare occasion that a Magic Warrior is born on another world (as in Hyperspeed Grandoll) or was from another world in a previous life (as in Sailor Moon), she'll still have spent the majority of her life on Earth and will have no memories of life on the other world (until the plot gives those memories back). This ties into the "natural vs given" dichotomy and the difference in origin stories: a Cute Witch's homeworld is usually a magical world, so she grew up with magic all around her and is totally used to it, while a Magic Warrior, even if she has latent powers, grew up as a muggle on Earth and so has to be informed about the magical world's existence.

The last two decades have seen the appearance of a few "home-grown" witches who break with tradition by being from Earth, such as in Ojamajo Doremi and Sasami MG Club, but the majority of Cute Witches are still foreigners.

Fighting Evil By Moonlight: At the end of the day, I think there's one thing that separates the Magic Warriors from everyone else, and it's right there in their name: Magic Warriors fight evil. Cute Witches and others might fight evil on occasion, but Magic Warriors have it as their main gig. Note that "fighting" doesn't have to involve violence. Perhaps "opposing" would be more accurate, because some Magic Warriors conduct their battles nonviolently (like Princess Tutu) or by proxy (like My Melody). The term "evil" is also open to interpretation. In Cardcaptor Sakura, for example, the Clow Cards aren't evil, they're just chaotic and resistant to capture, but they also cause a lot of trouble when out of their box, which is where Sakura comes in.

Hybrids: Obviously not all shows fall neatly into these categories, which brings us to a sub-genre that I call the MW/CW Hybrid. Basically if a Magical Girl a) has fighting evil as her main gig but b) comes from a foreign magical world, that's what defines a Hybrid show. Hybrids are usually "natural" magic-users, since they come from a world where magic is ordinary, but they're also usually "limited" magic-users, because they have a specific job to do and only need the skills necessary to do it. Examples of this mini-genre are Panty and Stocking, Otogi Jushi Akazukin, Onegai My Melody, Super Doll Licca-chan, Jewel BEM Hunter Lime, and Shamanic Princess.

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