Saturday, November 18, 2017

JL Thoughts (I loved it...and might not like it very much)

Justice League is making it really hard for me to compare to other films.

I have been one of the biggest defenders of the DCEU that I am aware of for a while now. I absolutely adore the DCEU. Dawn of Justice is my second favorite movie ever, one of my favorite pieces of art ever. I absolutely loved both Man of Steel and Wonder Woman giving them the highest rating I can 5/5. Suicide Squad I thought was very well made, without any major flaws, and had a lot of highlights but was stylized in a way that was not my particular favorite type of style, the sort of anarchistic punk style which, to be fair, fits the characters.

These films were clearly the apex of superhero films.

1: Dawn of Justice
2: Man of Steel/Wonder Woman (The Two were about comparable in my eyes, Superman having a better first part whereas Wonder Woman had the better second part)
3: The Best superhero movies from other films lines (Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, Captain America 3). Suicide Squad was about at this level in my opinion.

But I…don’t know how to compare Justice League to these films.

Let me say the biggest thing in it’s defense: I had an absolute blast watching it. I felt great watching it.

But…was that the heat of the moment plus my pre-conceived desire to like it?

I am writing this blog mostly to try and talk out with myself how I actually feel about this movie.
So the big thing I’m worried about is that it won’t have the depth the other movies, especially Dawn of Justice, had to rewatch over and over and to reconsider and to think about again at some later point. Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman…I think about all of these fairly often. Their themes and philosophies I have woven into my life. They are constantly resonating with what I see around me. Will Justice League be the same way?

What are the major themes of Justice League as a film and a piece of art? I say that and I’m not actually sure which to me indicates a problem. The biggest one is the need for unity, what with the three tribes uniting to stop Steppenwolf to be echoed by the JL uniting to stop him. However….that’s not very much to go off of, especially compared to the other films.

All the DCEU films so far have been about what DC as a whole and DC Rebirth is about, the greatness of humanity, the power of the human spirit to prevail.
In Man of Steel we saw people constantly acting heroically inspired by Superman to do the right thing against the existential alien threat, like military generals standing up to Faora, or Perry White helping to save Jenny from the debris, or Lois Lane willingly going with Superman on the alien ship, or Martha Kent telling off Zod etc.

In Dawn of Justice, we see a Batman and Superman who have no knowledge of each other being manipulated into fighting by outside forces but being united together by their shared humanity, as well as other themes of media manipulation, of not idolizing or demonizing people, but accepting that they are just people like you and me trying to do the right thing, of the nature of memory and the significance of heroism. Honestly if people understood the “maybe he’s just a guy trying to do the right thing” it would probably REALLY help and alleviate a lot of our big contemporary political issues…

Suicide Squad was about how even the dregs and outcasts of society are really noble individuals internally. Harley Quinn might protest “we’re the bad guys, it’s what we do”, but in the end she gives up being with her puddin’ for her friends and it’s his love for his daughter that gets Deadshot twice over to stop Enchantress.

Wonder Woman was about the nature of why people do bad things, and how each person is fighting an internal struggle just as she was against Ares, that you can’t force people to do the right thing, but only love can help them realize it’s what they want.

Does Justice League convey that theme or really any number of consistent themes?

I have only watched it once so far so it’s hard to say, I might have been so caught up in it that I just didn’t notice a lot, which happens.

Make no mistake I was greatly enjoying watching it the first time, especially Superman fighting the other League Members (though I have no idea where people get the impression he was somehow super different then he was in the previous films. After he regains his memories he seemed exactly the same to me.)

I’ve already mentioned the theme of unity but what other themes did I notice in Justice League? 

Justice League carries over a theme that has been present through the DCEU which is parenthood, and how it shapes people. Let me give examples from the prior DCEU films first:
1: Man of Steel is just loaded with parent imagery. It is Kal-El’s natural birth that gives him the free will to choose what he wants to be instead of being genetically forced into a role
2: There’s a really important line where Pa Kent reassures young Clark that “you are my son”, that the lack of biological connection is not as important as their bond of love and raising
3: Superman’s first battle with Zod is because Zod threatened his mother
4: In Dawn of Justice Batman was of course formed by his parent’s death as is usual
5: But it goes on to make a beautiful connection where Clark trying to get Bruce to save his mother’s life instead of his breaks through to Bruce that Clark isn’t some alien monster but a person with a mother just like the scared kid he once was.
6: Lex Luthor’s motivation is shaped by his abusive parenthood and convinces him that power is always corrupt
7: In Suicide Squad Deadshot through the whole movie is motivated by his love for his daughter
8: Harley Quinn in her fantasy brought on by Enchantress is the mother of Joker’s children, which is a small character point because it shows a perhaps subcouncious desire of her to reform herself and The Joker to have the stability needed for a family
9: El Diablo is motivated by the loss of his wife and children that he burned up because he couldn’t control his powers and his anger
10: In Wonder Woman the relationship between Diana and Hippolyta is obviously based around Hippolyta being Diana’s mother and her desire to protect Diana
11: Diana sharing the same bloodline as Ares becomes important near the end where she calls him brother as she kills him

This is continued on in Justice League
1: Cyborg says that his father doesn’t have a son anymore, referring to his loss of his own humanity in his mind, which shapes his early antagonistic behavior and shows the blame he assigns on his father saying that he should have died
2: Flash is motivated by wanting to get his father out of prison and until the JL came along was content to “run in place”, his familial duty to his father trapping him in a go nowhere life (almost ironic given his powers), even against his father’s wishes
3: Aquaman is motivated by his parental abandonment which explicitly is stated to be the reason why he should be doing things, that his absence of parents is what means he should be acting
4: Not sure how this works into the symbolism but it’s the mother-daughter relationship of Diana and Hippolyta that allows Hippolyta to warn Diana of the threat of Steppenwolf since Diana recognizes Hippolyta’s signal
5: Might be missed opportunity or it could be there and I just didn’t notice it but Batman’s parents don’t get brought up even as a passing mention in this movie despite all the familial connections to it, at least I don’t recall it coming up.

So, Justice League does continue the theme of parenthood, and it has theme of unity…anything else?
Not so much, and it’s possibly part of the shorter timeframe. Which leads me into thinking about Whedon taking control of the film.

A lot of DCEU fans disliked the addition of Whedon one-liners like Batman saying “I didn’t bring a sword” when he gets into the Nightcrawler or goofy moments like after Flash gets Diana her sword how he faceplants into the ground.

I’m gonna be honest, um….I don’t LIKE those parts, but I also didn’t mind them. They just of didn’t impact me really.

What does annoy me is Whedon cut out for those parts a lot of Synder’s parts supposedly, but I don’t blame Whedon himself for that, instead I blame Warner Bros for arbitrarily cutting down the movie size. If it was allowed to be 3 hours I think a lot of the problems I do have with the movie, like the missing Synder content and the truncated final fight would be alleviated. Whedon had 2 hours to work with though so I dislike what he did at some points, but I don’t blame him for it, it’s something he really shouldn’t have had to do in the first place.

Did Whedon add anything I like to the film? I don’t know how much but I do know at least one scene he added which I liked, which was Batman telling Alfred the reason they need Superman isn’t his powers but because “he’s more human than me”. A little cliché for DC at this point but that was handled pretty well. I was blown away to here that he purportedly added Memoryless Superman asking Batman if he bleeds as a callback to Dawn of Justice. Never would have thought it.
Basically, what I’m saying is, I think the Extended Edition if/when it comes will be absolutely amazing even more so then the film was.

So, what do I mean when I say that I love but I might not like it very much. What I’m getting at is I don’t know how much depth there really is for me to go back into like the other films. The other 4 films I could watch all day, and I’m worried this one will come off as just an action piece spectacle in comparison.

I can see the logic that team-up movies should be action piece spectacles and the philosophical bits should be saved for solo movies. Avengers 1 is pretty much an action piece spectacle if you are being honest with yourself. The most interesting part of that movie on any kind of deeper level is Cap and Tony exchanging the lines “Big Man in a suit of armor, take that away what are you?” “…Everything special about you came out of a bottle.” But for the most part it’s clearly just to have them together and bask in the coolness of the idea.

Yeah, Justice League clearly does that. They even have the same problem of the villain not being at all threatening at the end, capable of clearly being beaten by one member of the team.
But, art to me shouldn’t just be an adrenaline rush if it wants to be really good. You shouldn’t be watching just to get your blood rushing. It should be emotionally moving, or thought provoking or something that makes you care 10 minutes after it ends. And Justice League definitely made me care, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. Will this pleasant buzz this movie gave me last? I don’t know.

My thoughts about Justice League right now are that it’s at the very least a really good movie and a 4/5 about on the level of Suicide Squad even if it stops giving me the pleasant glowy feeling when I think about it for enough time. If that feeling doesn’t wear off, OR they come out with an extended edition that gives it the same depth and intensity of the previous films OR I watch it again and realize it WAS there but I was missing it, then it will probably be a 5/5 movie about on par with Man of Steel and Wonder Woman. My thoughts might change but that’s how I currently see the movie.  

As a sidenote, if you want to see purportedly what Snyder and Whedon personally contributed to the movie there is supposedly a leak that says:

Friday, November 17, 2017

Respect 1930s DC Comics (And my next Death Analysis Trailer)

I am going to see Justice League! In celebration of that fact I am going to release the feats for DC comics up through the 1930s. The Golden Age is where the DCEU seems inspired from so please enjoy this early DC Goodness

Welcome all, welcome all. Witness things you've never seen before, dream't before! Men gifted with the titanic power to rival the Old Gods with strength and speed and smarts more then you've ever seen! With their powers they can shape the world, bend the forces of nature, for good or evil! Do you want to the curtain pulled back, to behold the world of these superhumans?

This is the sorcerer of Isis, bestowed with the magicks of Ancient Egypt! With his magic he can sense the presence of spirits, and attack them with hurricane winds, the flight of arrows, or animated statues. With his superhuman speeds he can evade the Master Magician Zatara, and with an incantation he can turn his foes into dust 

The modern Sherlock Holmes, The Batman is the Gotham Avenger, trained to physical perfection and mastery of science!

With such training, it should not be such a surprise that the Batman is fast enough to regularly appear behind criminals without their knowledge. The Batman is able to avoid bullets from a close range and can move even at the speed of thought! The speed of thought, should it be literally the speed of the transmission of signals across the neurons of the brain can move between 31 and 53 meters per second. From his training, the Batman has learned other skills like being able to disguise his voice of any other persons. And from his incredible willpower, Batman has gained the ability to resist hypnosis

Batman, as the modern man does not go into investigations bare-handed. His suit is able to resist bullets shot at close range. His gloves are really suction gloves with powerful adhensives, and also in his suit pellets of choking gas are kept. And his boot carries a steel blade in case occasion arises for hidden blade. He also carries his signature weapon of combat, the Batarang modeled after the Boomerang. Here we also see the Batplane, his signature vehicle to get around quickly, capable of emitting a smokescreen to disguise it's presence.

Gasp in horror at the night adventures of the Doctor Occult! The Dark Detective is trained in the occult arts of dispelling the monsters of the night and possess unique knowledge of the weaknesses of the various minions of Night.

On the scene prowls the soldier of sleep, The Sandman! Vigilante of the law, The Gas-Masked Sentinel is a scientific genius capable of inventing a ray gun capable of breaking down material on the molecular scale to their structural elements. However his most iconic weapon is his Sand Gun which releases a puff of gas that can put anyone to sleep who inhales it.

The Man of Tomorrow, the Last Son of Krypton he is the SUPERMAN. Champion of the Oppressed and Defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, with a biology millions of years advanced of our own.

Superman is often stated to be "faster then a speeding bullet", is that enough for the Man of Tomorrow? Hardly! Even Lightning Speed is a breeze to him. When Superman really gets going he can even give the speed of light itself a run for it's money 1 2 3 4

Superman is gifted with a biology far beyond our own making him unaffected to poison or fatal gases. Likewise his "Super-Biology" gives him resistance to diseases that would fell any normal man, an enhanced sense of hearing and the ability to produce x-rays from his eyes and see through solid objects!

Bane of law enforcement everywhere, The Tigress remains one of the world's most wanted criminals. Ever resourceful is a master burglar and possess the innate ability to sense the presence of spirits.

Do not let your eyes deceive you! The Ultra-Humanite may seem like an old wheelchair bound man but is secretly one of the world's most dangerous scientsits, with knowledge of mad science, and a variety of dangerous traps befitting his super genius intellect. Also he knows hypnosis

Ladies and Gentlemen.....allow me to introduce our final and ultimate presentation. A man without limits, the master magician Zatara. By speaking backwards he can cause any number of effects including:

Hypnosis: On some Thugs

And now for his ultimate show for you folks....

When the Evil Saturnians began abducting people from across the universe with their Massively Faster then Light rays, planned to take over the Earth, Zatara showed their beam a useless toy compared to them, grabbing someone already being lifted off the ground by the beam before they went very far and when grabbed by the beam himself easily showed awareness despite the incredible shortness of the trip to Saturn, even changing his position midflight demonstrating his MFTL reflexes.

I hope you have enjoyed the show folks.

On My Next Time:

About something I was just talking about...

Zatara isn't the best magician ;)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

History of Magical Girls (A Celebration of 50 Years of Magical Girl Anime)

This year makes the 50th anniversary of the first magical girl anime in 1967. I wanted to make the occasion by giving a history of the genre, examining it’s changes over time and illuminating why it’s stuck around for so long.  

Origins of the Genre:

The origins of the idea of Magical Girls are multifaceted as you might imagine, and there is plenty of archaic sources referenced by magical girl series including fairy tales, both Japanese and international, as well as historical figures and cultural trends. However, when talking about specifics there are two sources that tend to get brought up by historians.

The first of this is 1953’s Princess Knight by the legend Osamu Tezuka, the godfather of anime and manga. Princess Knight is often cited as the prototype magical girl series. The series focuses around Princess Sapphire who is born with both a male and a female heart and for political reasons must pretend to be a boy for most of the story. The series has a great deal to say about masculine vs feminine power, but the main character does not wield magic, nor is there much in the way of nominal magic in the series, merely fairy tale logic (there is some magic in the setting but none wielded by the protagonist for the majority).

The other is certain live-action tv sitcoms from America that were being imported into Japan at the time. 1964’s Bewitched and sometimes 1967’s I dream of Jeannie. Both of which involved female magic users, the former involving benevolent witches, the magic of which was used for the purposes of hijinxs in suburban America. The two shows were very popular in Japan and their inspiration can be seen clearly in the earliest MG series.

The question as to what the first Magical Girl series is a bit of a contentious subject, because it depends whether you mean Magical Girl Manga or Magical Girl Anime. The first magical girl manga was Himitsu no Akko-Chan in 1962, which got its anime adaptation in 1969. However, the first magical girl Anime was Sally the Witch in 1967, who’s manga came out in 1966.

60s Magical Girls: Roots of the Magical Girl Tree

So, these two series aren’t exactly alike, and in the 60s these series weren’t even recognized as belonging to the same genre.

Himitsu no Akko-Chan features Atsuko Kagami who, when her family heirloom mirror breaks, respectfully buries it instead of throwing it away. For her respect the Queen of the Mirror Kingdom gives her a magic mirror that lets her transform into anything she wants. Hijinx ensue.
Sally the Witch is about young Sally, princess of the Magical Kingdom, getting tired of her constant magic lessons, running away to Earth and confronting real world problems with magic. Hijinxs ensue.

There might be some similarities in the usage of magic and humor, but these series don’t seem to belong to the same genre save in hindsight. That said we can see some of the tropes start to crop up that the MG genre would become known for: Magical Princesses, feminine iconography, and a deliberate merging of the magical and mundane worlds. It also started the trend of heavy optimism and brightness that is common to MG stories. One of the repeating lines of the Sally the Witch theme is “When she chants a magic spell, love and hope fill the air” and despite being a little rebel Sally is presented as a noble little heroine.

Contrary to popular belief there was one more Magical Girl in the 60s, 1967’s Princess Comet, featuring one of the princesses of the Comet Nebula who traveled to Earth in search of her missing prince.

70s Magical Girls: The first reactive wave

The early 1970s Magical Girls resemble the 1960s Magical Girls in tone for the most part, like 1971 Sarutobi Ecchan, which is a comedy for the most part about a little girl being a master ninja. However, the 70s hit the Magical Girl Genre hard, and despite only 10 Magical Girl series being released between 1970-1979, the Magical Girls of the mid to later 1970s possess their own feel. They were regularly darker in subject matter, had more eroticism (Majokko Megu-Chan’s opening is about Meg bragging how she can use her breasts and feminine beauty to get any man), and were more serious in tone then their 60s sisters, often tackling societal issues.
 What is especially notable about the 1970s Magical Girl is the first self-references within the genre. Magical Girl series specifically responded to each other, and a sense of internal community was formed.

Majokko Megu-chan in 1974 is a good example of both of these trends. Often considered the anti-Sally the Witch, Majokko Megu-chan reads at times like a deconstruction of Sally the Witch. This is a comparison I wrote a while ago:

“Sally the Witch is the princess and heir to the throne of Astoria, the World of Magic. Her father is the King, and one of the greatest they've ever known. Her mother is the daughter of Satan who was trapped and treated cruelly until Sally's father rescued her. Sally, not liking the constant work her parents put on her runs away to Earth. There she quickly adapts to the mundane setting, and goes on magical mis-adventures with her friends, sorting out problems and condrums connecting the Magical and Mundane Worlds. Her main nemesis eventually becomes Poron, a Dark Magical Girl who was raised to hate the ruling party of Astoria by her father who tried to take the throne form Sally's father but was beaten. Poron is an emotional angry mess and is dangerous on that front but is laughably incompetent at actual magic because she has no formal training at all. The show is about Sally coming to accept the responsibility of queen, and what it means to have power over others. The show was notorious for being squeaky clean family fun television.

Majokko Megu-chan features Meg, one of a number of Witches who are all competing to gain the throne of Witch World. To protect herself, she takes political asylum on Mid-World (Earth), where she learns magic from an old witch living there. She constantly fights off perverts, bounty hunters, and other magical threats, a lot of them sent by her rivals in some fashion or another. However, she has the most difficulty with the mundane itself, as without her powers she doesn't know how to do anything, and dislikes the mundane world and it's hard to work with nature. Her main nemesis eventually becomes Non, a blue-skinned witch that is Meg's main competition for the throne. Non is a cold calculating machine who is highely skilled at magic not through natural talent but through endless hour of hard practice. Despite her disdain for Meg, the two end us working together often to fend off other contenders for the throne. The show is about Meg coming to realize that her emotional attachments to the human world, and all it's problems are actually important to her, and that through that she can reach into her virtues. The show was notorious for adding eroticism, dark comedy, and dark storylines to the MG genre.”

As I mentioned, Majokko Megu-Chan introduced much more serious topics. Her most recurring foe was Chou the pervert, and the show dealt with affairs, substance abuse, and domestic abuse. It was still a comedy, though the jokes more about mundane nature then simply the usage of magic for hjinxs.

Another example of the shift in tone and themes in Magical Girl series is the long-lived Cutey Honey Series in 1973, probably the first example of a Magical Girl Warrior series and the first Magical Girl series aimed at males… not at younger males either.
Cutey Honey was made by the famous Go Nagai who made Devilman and Mazinger Z. It tells the story of a normal schoolgirl who finds out she’s an android and can change in the first of the Magical Girls’ infamous nude transformation sequences into Cutey Honey, warrior of justice and fights the international crime organization Panther Claw.

The series, especially originally, had lots of hyper-violence like cutting people’s heads off and lots of sex comedy like how literally the first chapter has Honey’s entire class wanting to strip her down, how her teacher is a dominatrix who punishes her students with whipping, or how one of the early villain groups is a bunch of lesbian rapists (I’m not kidding….)

The anime was censored but still contained much of the eroticism and violence. Cutey Honey was also notorious for starting an archetype that Meg would be a part of 1 year later. While they remained essentially perfect heroes in terms of capacities, pretty much always being larger than life figures, Cutey Honey was not the paragon of virtue that say Sally the Witch was, often teasing and mocking her opponents and tricking them in combat. Interestingly Honey resembles more the 60s style of Magical Girl in her civilian state, Honey Kisaragi, but becomes the most mischievous, teasing style in her transformed state.

Cutey Honey caused a very odd reception. It got respectable ratings in general and it was well liked by its target demographic, but what was interesting was it got a higher than projected reception from young females. This seemed the first indication to how versatile the MG genre was.
Why was it so well-liked? I wasn’t alive at the time, and so can only really conjecture and use what little info I can find. However, the appeal isn’t so odd if you think about it. Cutey Honey is a good wish fulfillment fantasy. She’s a sweet, kind girl who everyone adores, all the other girls think is super cute, is a good daughter and normal citizen but transforms at night into the sexy clever-speaking fast-thinking warrior of justice. Really…it sounds kind of fun. Plus, she gets to transform into other forms and basically play dress-up. Apparently, the violence and the eroticism simply weren’t the deterrent people thought they would be.

This would probably explain why every Cutey Honey series since the original has become more and more female-aimed, save for Re which doubled back to the original.

A lesser talked about the 70s Magical Girls is that they began the practice of referencing each other and the tropes they had made. A community began being formed of people who enjoyed these strange disparate shows that seemed linked by concepts of feminity and magic.

80s Magical Girls: The Classical Mahou Shoujo Archetype

Of all the decades, there is none with such a drastic difference in conception in Magical Girl then the 70s and 80s. That said, I feel it can be exaggerated to be even larger than it was. Magical Girls in the late 70s had begun to reel in the more extreme elements of their innovation and their adultness.
Esper Mami in 1977 was about a psychic girl solving mysteries without causing people to think she was a witch and contains nudity and adult themes but it notably…. “calmer” then the likes of Megu-Chan and Cutey Honey, being much more contemplative and low-key.

The 1980s defined what the popular conception of what a Magical Girl is for the next 30 years, for better or worse.

The earlier part of the decade was defined by one studio, that being Studio Pierrot. They produced 4 of the 12 Magical Girl anime to come out during the decade in Japan which was already a very high amount to make (it’s an even higher amount when you realize a few of the 12 that weren’t theirs were not actually aired on television like theirs), but their style proved so popular that their properties essentially dominated the decade, and their properties were almost the only ones during the mid part of the decade. If you are wondering their series were:

Magical Angel Creamy Mami
Magical Fairy Persia
Magical Star Magical Emi
Magical Idol Pastel Yumi

What is the cause of their success? Pierrot had basically two strategies:

1: Toy Deals: Most companies before this made animation cheaply and shortly because they needed to essentially fund it upfront. While companies had done toy deals before, Pierrot realized the untapped potential and done lots of toy deals which could be used to fund better animation and longer series across multiple networks. This is partly the explanation why it’s really hard to watch and find copies of any MG series from the 60s and 70s, but MUCH easier to watch 80s series which were essentially always running.

2: A Clean Brand Image: Turns out certain parenting deals weren’t fond of their daughters watching the more risqué elements of the 70s MG series, which might be partly why they become calmer in the later part of the 70s. Studio Pierrot ran ads depicting themselves as the moral, clean company whose Magical Girls were upright citizens and good role models.

The combination of these two drastically focused Pierrot’s creativity to make a series that could be maintained a while also never causing any controversy. The 80s Magical Girl series were even cleaner and brighter than the 60s series (I mean one episode of the original Sally the Witch has Sally attend a party in Hell where her grandfather Satan and her father are bickering and she has to solve it over or Hell will break apart). They were similar to Silver Age Superman stories under the Comics Code, for the most part lots of one-shots with magic deus ex machina powers and wholesome life lessons. I really do have to commend the writers at Pierrot for giving their girls enough personality to be clearly distinguishable under the restrictions they were working under.

The genre was really cemented in the 80s. This was the first decade of the Magical Girl crossover with multiple magical girls fighting with each other, if only because their shared owner under large companies, probably coming to an apex in the 1988 movie “Majokko Club Yoningumi A-kūkan kara no Alien X” which had Pierrot crossover their 4 Magical Girl protagonists to fight an extradimensional alien on the moon. It’s as silly as it sounds. Pierrot, ingeniously also put out commericals and magazine ads of the girls interacting, creating a small inner universe. Their marketing team wasn’t paid enough. This was also the generation where Magical Girls started showing up internationally with series such as “She-Ra: Princess of Power”, “Rainbow Brite” and “Jem and the Holograms”. These series actually seemed to share much with the Pierrot girls, although from what I can tell seemed to have a slightly larger age range in mind.  One of the thematic elements that became really cemented in this generation was the connection of Magical Girls with transforming, with most of the girls turning into older versions of themselves when using their magic.
The public perception of what a Magical Girl is was basically an 80s Magical Girl up until the early 2010s. Ultra-cute and innocent, with barely any sign of “real” conflict and moral lessons in every episode

In the same way that the above was a mixed bag, Studio Pierrot’s contribution on the genre was a mixed bag to most MG fans. Not until the early 1990s would Studio Pierrot’s control of the genre lighten up, as their animes’ influence continued into the early 1990s. It restricted the genre into a tight niche, but at the same time kept a relative monopoly on that niche with their content.
At the end of the 1980s were several series made to ape the Pierrot’s style as Pierrot’s competitors cut their losses and imitated the Studio. It would seem that nothing could stop it.

1990s: The Magical Girl Renaissance

1991, a young female mangaka sits down to write a manga about cute girls in space, reworking from the original version of the script by fusing it with Sentai Elements. It is published weekly in Nayakoshi Magazine and becomes an almost hit, changing not just the Magical Girl genre, but anime and even popular culture and art as a whole.

The mangaka’s name is Naoko Takeuchi, and the manga is called “Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon”.
Sailor Moon is a series about the soldiers of the ancient Moon Kingdom, wielding the powers of the planets, dying and being reincarnated on Earth to battle the forces of Chaos.
Without a doubt in my mind, the biggest contribution Sailor Moon had to the Magical Girl genre was the development of Usagi as a character.

Before Usagi Magical Girl protagonists were, in western terms, either Superman or Bugs Bunny. A perfect paragon of virtue, or a good-hearted cool-tempered trickster. Usagi….wasn’t either of those. She was a clumsy, bookdumb, gluttonous, lazy, uncool, uncultured everygirl.

I have seen online some attempts by non-SM fans to try and describe the central appear of SM that were just pitiful. The appeal of SM is something you can see from the first episode or chapter if you take it on face that it is something worth analyzing. It’s not something you have to be a teenager to understand. It’s not something you have to be Japanese to understand. It’s not something you have to be a girl to understand. It’s the same appeal that made Spider-Man, Luke Skywalker, Neo, Emmet, and every other common person hero archetype appealing.

Sailor Moon said “I know what you think of yourself, I know how bad you feel about yourself…but you are a beautiful, strong, intelligent person and can be a hero”

The very beginning of Sailor Moon is Usagi’s mom mentioned that Sailor V, the heroine has caught criminals and that her daughter is nothing like her. A clever joke in-universe but also a metafictional note about what Magical Girls before Usagi were compared to this new Heroine.

If I can be real, one of my favorite things about Sailor Moon is it’s faith in the reader, the teen girl who picks it up. Naoko presents a very complex narrative with deep allusions and themes of philosophy, politics, religion, science, and mysticism. It’s so heartening when you see a young fan of SM so proud of what they understand in the world of Sailor Moon and so eager to learn more about what they read. It treated the young female audience that had been pandered to with overtly simple narratives like real human beings capable of complex thoughts and emotions and they eagerly leapt at it.

Sailor Moon’s influence and popularity are hard to overstate. It was probably the first Magical Girl anime to get massive international popularity and was the first Magical Girl Goddess, a title of the most popular Magical Girl series with some combination of the following characteristics:

1: The main girl attains at least a semi-divine or cosmic state by the end
2: The series is popular on a global scale
3: The series has fans specific to it alone, and from it introduces outsides to the MG genre.
4: Causes massive influence on the genre after it

Most MG fans, even if they dislike one of the Goddesses, which does happen at times, at least respect them for bringing so many into the MG fandom.

After Sailor Moon the game had changed drastically, with Magical Girl series no longer trying to appeal to the parents of young girls, but to the young girls themselves, often involving many girls in one series following SM’s archetypes, especially the everygirl main girl, which became as emblematic of the genre as the 80s Magical Girl plot structure. Also due to just how insanely popular and profitable SM proved, there was a MASSIVE surge in series count in the 90s, going from a dozen or so in the 70s and 80s each to 31. There was more Magical Girl series released in the 90s then every year before the 90s put together. Inspired by SM’s massive departure from 80s Magical Girl structure, the 90s Magical Girls were exceedingly disparate and varied, drawing inspiration from every source under the Sun. It was a true renaissance, the Magical Girl genre rose in prominence in the Anime fandom to being a respected genre, no longer just toy marketing for little girls, but instead an often poetic and artful narrative form.

One of the most successful of the new breakout groups was Studio CLAMP, a team of all-women who had gone from making doujinshi of Saint Seiya and Captain Tsubasa to creating their own manga, and are famed in the anime/manga community for their beautiful artwork and plot complexity.

In 1993 they created the Magical Girl Series Magic Knight Rayearth, inspired by Fantasy RPGs. It was heavily well-acclaimed, and contains many of Clamp’s tragic elements while still ultimately being an optimistic series. Despite its amazing reception among Magical Girl fans, it didn’t get that much main attention, although the reception and hardcore following would cause CLAMP to try again in the few years.

Stuff in the intermediate years got very mixed reception, and there was for a while nothing that got universal acclaim. With the huge diversification of styles, people were able to find Magical Girl series, for the first time, that really spoke to their particular want. Among the ones that did get some level of real acclaim for themselves were 1994 Wedding Peach, a series unfairly characterized as being a Sailor Moon clone and whose popularity was enough to be considered a rival to Sailor Moon briefly, as well as 1995 Saint Tail, Magical Girl Robin Hood which similar to Magic Knight Rayearth never got massive fame but was critically acclaimed as being one of the cutest things ever made and also for incorporating western elements well.

And then came 1996, which changed everything in the genre again.

1996 Clamp tried again with a series based around a young girl who because of her heritage goes around capturing malevolent spirits in cards. It was called Cardcaptor Sakura.

The birth of the second of the Magical Girl Goddesses was definitely the last straw to indicate to people that it was a golden age of Magical Girls. Cardcaptor Sakura was a Neo-Classical Series, and arguably started the second half of the Magical Girls’ renaissance’s Neo-Classical era. Cardcaptor Sakura is a Magical Girl series made in the original 60s style, but with elements drawn from the 70s, 80s, and 90s to create a beautiful hybridization.

Cardcaptor Sakura more than anything is such a beautifully optimistic, hopeful series much like the main character. It is probably the pinnacle of the MG Genre’s hope and optimism, everyone in CCS is a good person deep down, and hope can always prevail against despair. Of the Magical Girl Goddesses, CCS is easily the one least disliked, the one with the least amount of haters and criticism, and the that makes even jaded old anime reviewers and critics awwwwwww at the cuteness.

It was also from a marketing standpoint, absolute genius. It took the collector aspects of shows like Yu-gi-oh and Pokemon and added the cuteness of the Magical Girl genre.

With two Magical Girl Goddesses, there was as you might imagine some division in the MG community about who was best between SM and CCS, emphasized by their Modernism and Neo-Classicism respectively. Sailor Moon was the series looking to the future of the genre, while CCS represented everything good about the MG past. They were very different in feel too. Reading Sailor Moon feels like being in a great big warm ocean, feeling the waves coming from distant parts, and swimming through, feeling the connection of everything around you, all life and the universe. Reading Cardcaptor Sakura inversely is like gliding along on a gentle wind, admiring the beauty of the landscape and the people down below, and feeling your spirit lifted from the physical toil. Their fandom rivalry could be quite intense, although for the most part people were content to just live and let live.

Also in 1996 was another series that people like to talk about Revolutionary Girl Utena. RGU was a deconstruction of Magical Girls as well as narratives aimed at women, and femininity as a concept in general, founded in the feminist boom in Japan in the 90s.

I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of RGU like a lot of people are. I just find most of its criticisms are things that other MG series already thought of and considered. Like there is a joke about the transformation scene (please note: mocking the transformation scene is the most overdone joke about Magical Girls that you can do, Sailor Moon mocked in the same year in the anime with a monster getting bored and doing her makeup during it. It’s not original anymore.) where Utena walks up this giant set of stairs and she gets to the top and she has like a single shoulder pad and that’s her transformation and it’s a joke because she barely transformed.

Or the big themes of the series like in the movie the big moral is that someone who is a good prince for the princess herself, who devotes himself to her, isn’t devoting to the kingdom, and what’s good for the people as a whole isn’t what’s good for the princess. THAT WAS ALSO DONE IN SAILOR MOON! Princess Serenity wanted the Prince to be her prince rather than Earth’s prince and that led to the destruction of Earth and Moon. Majokko Meg made a point about this back in the 70s, when she realizes she can’t pick any of the boys on Earth because she doesn’t know how well they would serve as king of Witch World. Also, it has lesbians. Wow…..again Cutey Honey and Meg-Chan had those in the mid-70s. Depends how you interpret certain people freaking Sally the Witch might have had that.

Not liking RGU is probably my most controversial opinion about pop culture, right above liking the DCEU.

1996 was also the year of Shamanic Princess, arguably the precursor to Madoka, which I highly recommend cause it’s super cool.

The Magical Girl Renaissance can be roughly split up into 2 parts, the Golden Age starting with Sailor Moon, and the Silver Age starting with Cardcaptor Sakura.
The Silver Age of Magical Girls was less about the sheer innovation and creativity of the Golden Age and more about refinement, about taking the pieces of earlier Magical Girl generations and putting them together in different ways. It goes from 1997 on into the 2000s.

1998 had the return of Studio Pierrot with their fifth and final MG series, Magical Stage Fancy Lala, which I am sad to have never seen with the early Pierrot girls in their crossovers and commercials together.

1999 also had Ojaremi Doremi, which was 60s style Cute Witches, but in a rainbow-colored team that had become popular in the 1990s. It is currently the most popular cute witch series to have been made but has gotten recent competition that I will get too later.

2000s: The Plateau and Fall of the Magical Girl Genre

There is a really simplistic notion that the first half of the 2000s were a good time for the MG Series, an age onto itself, while the later half was the infamous dark age of the MG Genre. The truth is not that simple.

The Silver Age of the Magical Girl Age Renaissance continued to about 2002. There was a very brief and strange era I like to call the “Fire Age” of Magical Girls extending for the first few years after 2002, competing with The Dark Age that started to take hold at 2002, and would continue to haunt the genre to the end of the decade.

The first few years of the 2000s were business as usual for the Magical Girl genre. Some of the more iconic series of the Silver Age appeared in this timeframe including in the year 2000 both Tokyo Mew Mew, basically Sailor Moon x Captain Planet, and Pretear which is a Reverse Harem of Elemental Knights giving main girl elemental powers, both of which were both relatively popular and well-received.

2002 was the turning year and the end of the Silver Age. And it surely went out with a bang. That was the year Full Moon wo Sagashite came out. Full Moon is a series about a little girl with throat cancer and but is given magical powers that allows her to live her dream of being an idol singer. It’s quite the emotional rollercoasters of a series and probably a sign of the genre’s maturing….for better or worse.

Likewise in 2002 was Princess Tutu which is an absolutely GORGEOUS series about Fairy Tale and Legend and is just amazing. Again amazing reception, and fairly popular as well similar to Full Moon.

There was also Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, a story of 7 Mermaid Princesses transforming into Magical Girls that is more immature, but I think is underrated and was mostly not given attention due to having competition as fierce as the above two series.

Then there was 2003, and things were clearly different. Only 3 MG series came out that year, compared to the 7 in 2002. These included:

Kamichara Karin: Story about a little girl finding out she’s a goddess. Big unknown, hard to find any discussion about this series cause it’s not very well known.

Lingerie Senshi Papillion Rose: A Sex Comedy parodying Sailor Moon, rather short

Mahou Shoujo Ai: A Hentai

Welcome to the Dark Age of Magical Girls. The most often speculations about its cause was that  people were watching shows more and more often on the internet and not on tv, that the age that had grown up with MG had grown up and weren’t buying MG toys, and that they had grown so successful that the companies grew too confident and were trying to appeal to every demographic with pandering nonsense.

The Dark Age of Magical Girls has it’s own sections with slightly different traits but what is consistent is dark material not in the vein of the 70s and early 90s but clearly just for shock value, a sheep drop in the number of MG series that weren’t hentai or ecchi, pandering to every demographic, and dumb shock value stunts.

Funnily enough there was another age that was competing with the Dark Age for a time. From 2004 to 2006 during the Dark Age, there was another age going on concurrently, what I call the “Fire Age”. I call it this because it was like a fire in the dark, and because of the material of the shows comprising it.

Let me say 3 shows that appeared in 2004:

Futari Wa Pretty Cure: A show made with the help of the animation designer of DBZ Kai and Saint Seiya Omega, Futari Wa Pretty Cure was originally essentially a 90s Magical Girl series starring Magical Girl Duo Cure White and Cure Black with increased yuri, and with a for more physical kinetic style of combat and with an emphasis on passion. It would go on to spawn a new season EVERY SINGLE YEAR because Toei is relentless, becoming essentially the Magical Girl Power Rangers with new MG, villains, and plots every year.

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha: Young Girl Nanoha goes out looking for MG powers and gets it before joined up with the Time-Space Assignment Bureau (TSAB) to patrol the dimensions as Magical Girl Officer “White Devil” Nanoha Takamachi. Notably for incorporating elements of Mecah and Shonen and for being incredibly hot-blooded.

Mai-Hime: Young Girl finds herself transferred to a prestigious academy only to get sucked up in the mysteries of the academy, bound to a partially mechanics, partially spiritual entity leading herself to high-scale battles with high-technology.

Basically, Magical Girls with a penchant for physicality and hot-bloodedness, willing to appeal to 
boys, fending off the dark age of Magical Girls for a few years.

On the other hand, 2004 was also the year Crossprayers came out, the Magical Girl series that spawned the meme “But is it worse than Crossprayers?” to describe it’s convoluted shock value nonsense.

2006 was probably the last year of the Fire Age of Magical Girl Series with the surprisingly sweet series Shugo Chara coming out. Shugo Chara is about Amu Hinamori, using her guardian characters, aspects of her personality to protect people. Back in the day, I remember well everyone though Shugo Chara would be the next big thing and bring us out of the Dark Age, but it’s hype died down really quickly as Shugo Chara devolved into endless romantic subplots, which was unfortunate. A lot of MG fans are careful to point out when a series seems to be doing the same things Shugo Chara was doing before it’s decline to on-going series.

After 2006, came the worst of the Dark Age. Absolutely terrible ecchi and hentai of MG came out as well as absolutely terrible MG spin-offs of other non MG related series. MG series were grimdark a lot of the time, and the series capitalized on what was essentially torture porn of watching little girls be made sad by the darkness of life. Years would have only about 5-6 MG series come out each year which made the bad stuff more prominent. 2008 was probably the apex and worst year for MG series, a year in which nothing good came out save the annual Pretty Cure Season (I have IMMENSE respect for Pretty Cure even outside it’s length just for being the one constant good in the Dark Age). 2007 at least had Kaitou Tenshi Twin Angels which wasn’t speculator and was a bit fanservice-y, but was cute enough.

By 2009 people had started getting aware of this trend and started actively lampooning it which was fun but also started lampooning the whole MG genre as a joke….

The idealistic dream of years past was gone, and the genre had become cynical. Magical Girl series due their best when the creators behind them are optimistic, and do their worst when their creators are cynical

2010s: The Rainbow after the Storm

2010 was an interesting year for Magical Girl series. While it had the horror of Magical Girl Isuka, probably my most disliked piece of fiction…ever, Pretty Cure released Heartcatch Pretty Cure, my favorite Pretty Cure, and often the most popular one on poles.
Maybe we were all biased from what we had come out of, but the MG fans loved Heartcatch. Heartcatch had a notable theme of people being freed from despair and cynicism, and featured one of the most epic MG rivalries of all time: Cure Moonlight vs Dark Cure, the symbols of hope and despair.

2010 was also the year a bunch of studio heads at Gainax got drunk and came up with the idea of a western-inspired series filled with filthy humor that would be, of all things, a magical girl series! And so Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt was born. A series that essentially played with everything wrong with the Dark Age. While the average MG of the Dark Age was an overtly innocent and naïve little girl to make the contrast all the more shocking, Panty and Stocking were crude swearing sinful and anything but naïve. Instead of a series of constant plot twists, P&S is a series of episodic comedies, and the violence is blown so hyper that it can no longer be taken even remotely serious (such as how the Angels hit a monster and it a clay figure of it representing it just blows up). One common fic of that time I can recall was having the Angels beat up whatever sadistic villain that the writer didn’t like of the last few years, all while cussing them out and generally not caring about the “shocking” things.

However, both of those, while being heavily influential, were not as influential as what came out in 2011.

In 2010 ads came out for a new Magical Girl series from the infamous Gen Urobuchi, or “The Uro-BUTCHER” as his nickname for his rather shocking tendency. Despite this “Puella Magi Madoka Magicka” seemed like it would be a relatively normal Magical Girl Series. And sure the first two episodes in 2011 seemed a little weird, but there was nothing that shocking.

And then the infamous episode 3 came out and Mami got her head eaten by a witch.
Puella Magi Madoka for the majority seems like a rather dark Magical Girl Series, but what really stuck out to most people was it’s sheer production quality, even regardless of it’s amazing writing quality.

There had been never been an MG series with this much imagery in the artwork, save maybe CLAMP. The Witches’ labyrinths in particular were incredible visual treats. But if that was the thing that brought us in, it was the themes that kept us there

There’s a point in Madoka where Homura says:

“With kindness comes naivete. Courage becomes foolhardiness. And dedication has no reward. If you can't accept any of that, you are not fit to be a magical girl.”

Homura’s sentiments reflect what we had all begin to feel after the Dark Age, what it had implied. It was this cynicism that led to the MG genre’s downfall in some way. And so at the end of the series when Madoka finally gives a rebuttal to this statement by saying:

“If someone says it’s wrong to hope, I will tell them that they’re wrong every time.”

It is a gentle reminder to us of what it means to be a Magical Girl, the message that there is always someone fighting with you, was so resonant that for the first time in 15 years a new Magical Girl Goddess was born.

The influence was huge, the sheer reignition of hope was incredible, as new life poured into the MG community, the Madoka fans joined in legion to be MG fans just as SM and CCS did, and the fact that a new MG Goddess series could be made invigored our hope that the MG genre could reach a new renaissance.

On the negative side of Madoka’s influence, a lot of MG series tried to essentially copy it’s success just as they did SM and CCS, but still they were trying to be artistic, to sue creative visuals and clever psychology and themes and writing which was so much more interesting then the Dark Age “shocking” grimdarkness a few years prior. Since Madoka every year there is a “Madoka-lite” series that tries to be a combination of dark initially and bright hopeful at the end, like 2012 Magical Girl Raising Project, 2013 Daybreak Illusion, and 2014 Yuki Yuna is a Hero. All of these are controversial as to their quality, but their controversy itself has made us all feel alive and brought back fun to this.
2013 was an especially good year for Magical Girls. Beyond Daybreak Illusion, there was Kill la Kill a stylized MG series that while slightly controversial is generally considered absolutely awesome, a rekindling of what made the Fire Age Great. Internationally Bee and Puppycat was released, an MG series that really proved the foreigners could make as good MG as us, it admittingly starts slow but gets better and better as it goes.

Since 2015 the MG scene has seen a resurgence of the very bright and lively type of series. We’ve had series like 2016’s Flip-Flappers with it’s clearly Miyazaki-esque imagery and love of life, and we have had 2017’s Little Witch Academia, the new big Cute Witch series that rivals Ojaremi Doremi for the title of best Cute Witch series. Internationally since 2015 we’ve seen Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Chat Noir from France and Star versus the Forces of Evil from the United States, both highly optimistic and lively series with the astounding animation that the foreign companies have the resources to make, the latter is very good. Haven't seen the former yet but heard good things about it. Also the other two Goddess are back AHHHH! Sailor Moon Crystal and Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Arc. New SM and CCS Material, it's amazing! Now all we need is Madoka to get that next movie to brighten up after the ending of Rebellion. 

The current MG scene is a lively and colorful mixture of the past ages, but is clearly a bright and optimistic scene.

Conclusion: Why you should watch Magical Girl Series:

If you aren’t a Magical Girl fan this next part will be hard to understand but if you are one you will probably intuitively get what I mean when I say: Magical Girls have an unmatched talent for matched the sheer vibrancy of life, the colorfulness, the energy, the passion of it. Magical Girl stories are like narrative poetry, where the bounds of personal and impersonal are not so fixed, where magic and mundane become one.

When you see the Magical Girl struggle to bring her magical and mundane selves together, it is the eternal conflict to bring the body and the spirit together, to unite the base physical reality with the ideal of our hearts, it is the blending and capture of the essences of magic and femininity; the ever-changing mysterious world of the emotion and the boundlessness unhindered by the raw physical world. To watch a Magical Girl Series, to love a Magical Girl Series is to connect with one’s own heart, to become one and feel no longer the struggle of body and spirit.

It is to see the wonders of magic as mundane, and all the mundane forces of the world as magical.