the_sun_is_up: Giorno in a cloud of flower petals, making a sexyface at the camera. (giogio - faaaaabulous)
[personal profile] the_sun_is_up
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...

Well since you were warned, I may as well start with the big one:

1. Maron was never working for God. She was unknowingly working for Satan this whole time. Yep.

While Madoka and friends also found out they were working for a villain, at least their job still had them doing good in the world. Maron, on the other hand, finds out in volume 5 that she's been spending her whole career as a Magical Girl collecting power for the Devil. OOPS. Which brings us to...

2. The cutesy-wootsy little mentor mascot was evil all along.

Throughout her escapades, Maron is aided by this adorable pocket-sized angel called Finn Fish, who's also the one who recruited Maron to be a Magical Girl in the first place. Here's a pic of them together. Ain't she cute?

In vol. 5, Finn reveals that she's an agent of Satan, sent to con Maron into working for him as a Magical Girl. There's this really killer scene where Finn tells Maron that she's always hated her, that all her affection towards Maron was faked, and that from the beginning her orders were to hurt Maron as much as possible. And when she flies off back to Hell, Maron has this flashback montage of all the times that Finn supported and comforted her, realizing that it was all a lie, and she just completely emotionally disintegrates.

To add injury to insult, Maron always needs Finn's help to transform into Jeanne, so now that Finn has bounced, Maron is completely powerless, which takes an added emotional toll on her. Finn even turns up shortly afterward to be all "Hey, if you join the dark side, we'll give you your powers back so you won't have to feel like a useless loser anymore..." And of course she dropped in to make this offer right after Chiaki had just dashed out on a Kaitou Sinbad mission and Maron was left alone feeling all gloomy that she couldn't go too.

The rest of the volume is dedicated to Finn's backstory: A series of unfortunate events led to her becoming a fallen angel and getting kicked out of heaven, so she joined the forces of darkness because a) she didn't really have any other options and b) she has a crush on Satan. I'm not making that up.

Of course, this isn't a completely pessimistic series, so Finn does get redeemed. After showing up a bunch more times to taunt and psychologically torture Maron, Finn gets the order to kill Maron and realizes that she really did have some squishy feelings for Maron and can't bring herself to kill her. So she confesses to Maron that she didn't really hate her after all and starts to evaporate into nothing, but Maron and friends intervene, and finally God himself saves Finn by making her a full angel. Although the Redemption Earns Life thing doesn't last long — in the final battle, Finn takes a bullet for Maron and dies, later reincarnating as Maron's daughter in the future.

Even with the redemption arc, it's still a very interesting choice to have the cutesy harmless-looking mascot character turn out to be voluntarily evil all along, which is why I was so pissed off by how the anime adaptation dumbed it down: in the anime, instead of joining the baddies by choice, Finn gets kidnapped and brainwashed by Satan, and Maron is able to break her out of the brainwashing with a friendship speech and a hug. Finn was never really a villain — she was just a puppet, and once de-brainwashed, she's instantly back to normal. In the manga, it's much more challenging and morally complex because Finn knows exactly what she's doing and is doing it of her own free will, and Maron has to deal with the fact that her beloved mentor and companion is choosing to do all these horrible things to her. In the manga, it's also of her own free will that Finn redeems herself, which I also think is more interesting and less simplistic than the clichéd "magical hugs solve everything" route.

3. The heroine's "special destiny" causes her a lot of angst and pain. A lot of Magic Warrior shows give the heroine a ~destiny~. Our heroine isn't just given her specialness — she was special all along and just didn't know it! Presumably this is done as Harry-Potter-esque wish fulfillment for the young female audience; that's right, ordinary teenage girl with boring life, you too could someday find out that you're secretly the Chosen One!

But the word "destiny" implies that somebody somewhere already knows that you're special long before you find out. What if these "sombodies" include the villains? What if they start striking out against you before you even have the powers or knowledge to defend yourself, nipping you in the bud so to speak?

Well this is exactly what happens in KKJ. God and Satan have both long known that Maron was special, and in Satan's case, he started acting on this knowledge when Maron was only a small child. From the start of the story, we know that Maron was abandoned at a young age by her parents, who work overseas and never call, write, or visit. Fast-forward to late in the series when we find out that Maron's parents have been possessed by demons all this time; Satan made them abandon Maron so that she'd grow up lonely, angsty, and vulnerable. A lot of Magical Girl shows coyly avoid the question of "Why doesn't the villain go after the heroine's family?" In this series, he does go after her family, and he does worse than kill them.

Indeed, it turns out that most of the events in the series were part of an elaborate plan to break Maron's spirit and bring her power under the Devil's control. Finn's befriending and subsequent betrayal of Maron was a big part of the plan, made more damaging by Maron's preexisting abandonment issues, and I think we're meant to assume that Maron's whole gig as a Magical Girl was also part of the plan, since it put her through plenty of traumatizing experiences, as one would expect when recruiting a teenager to fight demons from Hell.

4. The obviously evil rival turns out to be a good guy. Tanemura knows her color-coding rules, and she smartly uses them to trick our asses. Jeanne dresses in red and gold, with blonde hair (just like Sailor Moon!), while Sinbad's color scheme is all blues, and their mascots are even more obvious: Finn has white wings, Access has black wings and dark purple hair. Plus when the kaitous exorcise the paintings and turn them into chess pieces, Jeanne gets white pieces and Sinbad gets black ones. Should be pretty obvious who the heroes and the villains are, right? Yeah, too obvious. Turns out that Access's black wings are simply a mark of him being a low-ranking angel, and he and Sinbad are working for God.

5. When the heroine is given a sadistic choice, she's unable to find a third option. One of Maron’s Victims-of-the-Week is a boy named Zen who’s in the hospital due to a chronic heart condition. Before Maron can exorcise the demon that’s preying on him, Noin shows up and tells Maron that the demon is keeping Zen alive, and if she exorcises it, he’ll die. Maron spends a lot of time hanging out with Zen, bonding with him, and trying to come up with a compromise that will allow him to be both alive and demon-free. She decides that she’ll watch over Zen until he gets his upcoming heart surgery, and she’ll do her best to keep the demon at bay without fully exorcising it. Sounds good, right?

And then Sinbad shows up and kills the demon himself. Zen dies in Maron’s arms, and we find out from Chiaki’s thought-bubbles that Zen was already doomed and would have soon lost his humanity. Dang, that's harsh. It's unusual to see a Magic Warrior straight-up fail to save one of her Victims-of-the-Week, to the point that said victim dies.

So that's it for the deconstruct-y parts of KKJ, but here's some more aspects of the series that I liked and that make it different from your average Magic Warrior series:

6. The heroine gets a power-up from her former self. Not long after Maron gets de-powered by Finn’s betrayal, she gets randomly warped back in time to the jail where Jeanne D’Arc was being held the day before her execution. She tries to rescue Jeanne, but in the end, Jeanne transfers her own power to Maron, allowing her to transform again. Seriously, how cool is that? Which brings us to...

7. The heroine's power-up costume change has more significance. It’s traditional for Magic Warriors to get either Frills of Justice or a completely new outfit when they get a power upgrade. However in KKJ, the costume switch has a bit more meaning to it, because when Maron gets Jeanne D’Arc’s powers, she’s now officially working for God for the first time in the series, so the change in costume is a reflection of this. This detail also comes back in the final battle, when Maron is forced to fight a doppelganger of herself, except it’s her from back when she was working for the Devil, so you can tell the two apart by their clothing.

8. Clark Kenting is staunchly avoided. Clark Kenting is an extremely stupid trope that only lingers around this genre because a) Sailor Moon did it and b) some artists are lazy and can’t be arsed to draw two character designs for one character. When a core concept of the genre is that you have a secret identity that no one can ever find out about, it kind of shoots things in the foot when your muggle form and your superhero form look exactly the fucking same.

KKJ avoids this and then some. Maron and Jeanne have markedly different hair colors, lengths, and styles, and yet we still overhear her muggle classmates talking about how Maron looks a lot like Kaitou Jeanne. And then there’s Maron’s best friend, Miyako, who is obsessed with catching Jeanne and always shouts down the aforementioned classmates when they start noticing the similarities between Miyako’s quarry and her friend. It turns out that Miyako knew all along that Maron = Jeanne and was pretending to chase Jeanne in order to protect Maron’s secret identity and reputation.

9. The "loves my alter ego" schtick is very brief. “Loves My Alter Ego” is one of my pet-peeve tropes in this genre because it’s usually so poorly executed; the writers always drag it out way too long and have to induce all kinds of unrealistic stupidity in the characters so that they don’t figure out the truth that’s blatantly staring them in the face. KKJ immediately gets into my good books by having Maron figure out that Chiaki = Sinbad in chapter 5, and the only reason it took her that long is because Sinbad wears a veil over the bottom half of his face.

Of course the anime fucked this one up too; in that version, Maron takes 30 episodes to figure out Sinbad's identity. Damn filler.

10. Subverts the Brainwashed Boyfriend trope. It’s pretty much required that at some point during a Magic Warrior show, the love interest of the heroine will get brainwashed by the villains and will attack the heroine, and the heroine will be all conflicted and angsty because she feels uncomfortable with fighting her beloved and risking hurting or killing him.

Well this happens in KKJ, yes, but it doesn’t work as planned. The demon-of-the-week doesn’t even get to finish taunting Maron with “Aha, you wouldn’t hurt your boyfrie–” when Maron, without missing a beat, punts Chiaki into the stratosphere and is like “WHAT NOW, BITCH?” and the demon is like :FFFF

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.

Date: 2012-09-01 02:21 am (UTC)
erinptah: Madoka and Homura (madoka)
From: [personal profile] erinptah

There needs to be fic/doujinshi/whatever of Mami and Maron hanging out. Being BFFs, trying out new recipes together, letting Finn Fish and Charlotte be the household sidekicks and chase each other around like excitable, vindictive kittens...good times.

I'm currently trying to tempt my roommate into reading my KKJ volumes. But it's hard, because I can't tell her much about the awesome twists without spoiling them, and the whole creepy-rapey-het element is a huge asterisk in the recommendation. Sigh.


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