As I work to finish my thesis before it’s scheduled submission date (its six days away – heaven help me), I’ve managed to reflect on a few things regarding my research in between periods of furious typing on my beloved macbook pro and being hurled up in a corner, crying my eyes out, wonder what I was thinking when I decided to undertake a Master’s degree. It’s been a heck of a ride the last three years. Choosing to study magical girls academically has led me down an interesting path. I’ve been invited to do panels about my research, I’ve met amazing people, and I’ve learned a lot about myself as a person and as a researcher. And if you ask my son, he’ll probably tell about all the cool swag his mom brings back, including Pokemon Cards, clothing, and stuffies (plushes).
(He’d also like to point out that it’s fun to spend the night at his friend’s house, but that’s another blog post.)
Even though it’s been a heck of a ride, in-depth research tends to expose you to things that you of course wouldn’t notice on a surface level. In this case, it’s been the sheer amount of men within a genre that was initially created for young girls.
Recent magical girl series, like Madoka Magica, Strike Witches, and Magical Girl Raising Project don’t count. They were made for a mainstream (read: male otaku) audience, so it makes sense that they would do things differently. Heck, I’m not even sure Studio Trigger’s two series magical girl series (Kill la Kill and Little Witch Academia) count because they offer something for everybody (don’t get me started on how much I adore Kill la Kill). But as I wrote my thesis, I couldn’t help but wonder – is there such a thing a pure magical girl series? That is, is there such a thing as a magical girl series that is created by a woman for a female audience that hasn’t been infiltrated by a male presence.
The short answer is “yes”, but it’s probably a transformative work (think doujinshi or many of the western-created magical girl web comics out there).
I ask myself this question because much of my research involved analysing the production of shoujo manga (three of the works I analyze are shoujo, with two being serialized in Nakayoshi). Cultural Anthropologist Jennifer S. Prough has an amazing book about the production of Shoujo manga called Straight from the Heart: Gender, Intimacy, and the Cultural Production of Shoujo Manga. In it, she talks about how publishing companies go about creating shoujo manga magazines by creating affective communities between the publishers, the artists, and the readers. In plain English, the publishing companies create a space where readers feel like their opinions matter and openly do things to create emotional connection with readers in an effort to make a profit. Which makes a lot of sense now that I can actual read those reader surveys among other things that use to make me scratch my head before I studied Japanese.
Furthermore, she talks about the division of labor within these companies. Manga artists are female, but editors and management tend to be male. This makes for an interesting situation when it comes to producing manga, especially when you consider that since around the 60s, editors tend to have more control over what gets produced than the artists do. What I mean is, they are there to ensure that the artists submits on time and seem to be mediators between the artists and management. So while the artist may have a unique vision she wants to showcase, the editor has to mediate between what she wants and what will sell.
Takeuchi Naoko had to deal with this herself when she first pitched Sailor Moon to the publishers of Nakayoshi (Kodansha). There is a fabulous interview she does in ROLa Magazine that describes how she felt with the oyajis (“old men”) who didn’t believe that a series could have five beautiful girls kicking butt. Instead, they believed that they had to follow tropes when it came to a team of fighting girls, such as a nerdy girl and a comically overweight girl. Takeuchi held strong, though, and commented that she felt like these men had no idea what girls really wanted. You can read more about this exchange on Miss Dream’s awesome website. And don’t worry – the interview has been translated into English!
I mean, Takeuchi-san’s struggles with these guys lead to her changing Usagi’s hair from silver to blonde. Their arguments stem from what would sell, meanwhile her arguments stem from what girls would like.
Do you see what I’m getting at now? Shoujo manga is often said to be an active aspect of girls’ culture in Japan and girl’s culture (shoujo bunka) is often described as a space insulated from traditional Japanese ideas of gender where they have to freedom to dream and be free. But is it really insulated if there is even a small male presence within the culture? I mean, shoujo manga wasn’t always written by women. Before the transition began in the 1960s (this is NOT a typo), shoujo manga was primarily written by men (I read on Twitter once that many of these male artists were gay – I wish I could read THAT book/article/resource). Granted, there was an effort to include readers via letters to the editor as well as efforts to recruit future female artists but men were still running the show.
Tezuka created Ribon no Kishi (“Princess Knight”) – considered by many to be the blueprint for the magical girl genre. But he also created Tetsuwan Atom (“Astro Boy”), Metropolis, and Black Jack. He’s not called the Grandfather of Manga” for nothing.
Yokohama Mitsuteru, who created Princess Comet (the first magical girl drama series) and Mahōtsukai Sarī (“Sally the Witch”), is more famous for Giant Robo and Tetsujin 28-gō – two pre-Mobile Suit Gundam mecha series.
Akatsuka Fujio, who created Himitsu no Akko-chan, is better known as the creator of Osomatsu-kun. Yes, that Osomatsu-kun. Seriously, my twitter feed was full of Osomatsu-san (created in honor of his 80th birthday) stuff throughout 2015 before Yuri! On Ice dropped and pushed everything else aside.
This isn’t an attempt to diss these series because they are pretty good series. I love Ribon no Kishi – so much that I used it for my thesis. But they are male-created series. They were primarily animated by males. Yet primarily consumed by young girls.
Now, you might be thinking “well, a lot of the popular magical girl series were created by women.” And you’d be right – after Sailor Moon took Japan and the rest of the world by storm in the 1990s, a slew of other magical girl series were created to cash in on its success. (Technically, the same thing happened when Mahōtsukai Sarī came out, but again, men were still holding it down). Out of many series, a few achieved their own heights of popularity – CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura, Saito Chiho’s Shōjo Kakumei Utena and Izumi Todo’s Futari wa Precure – which would lead to an extension metaseries that airs to this day.
But these are still series that are being brought to life by male animators. And while they are primarily marketed to young women, there are still opportunities for males to “infiltrate” the space – whether its via the way the henshin sequences are animated or, in the case of PreCure, showing off cute girls in adorable outfits involved in heavy action sequences.
It amazes me how different the manga adaptations from some of these series feel different from the animated series. Sailor Moon, of course, was much more streamline over the course of twelve volumes. Even though Takeuchi was urged to write more than the one arc she originally wanted to do (I’m not joking – she was going to kill them all off. And you think girls’ comics can’t be dark?!), you can feel more of her presence as you read the manga. As good as the original anime was, it definitely had its deviations (filler episodes, Ail and Ann, the Dream Arc, the Starlights – definitely the Starlights. Poor Takeuchi-san, her series has been through the wringer). I’m sure it’s similar with other anime as well. Once a manga series becomes an anime, it seems like it’s guaranteed not be the same as the manga.
(Though in some cases, it’s because the manga ends long after the anime does, but you know what I mean.)
In the future, I hope there are more women involved in animation, not just as animators, but as directors and producers as well. The popularity of Yuri! On Ice gives us an idea of the magic that happens when women are deeply involved in a project. Sadly, I cannot offer any other food for though since the magical girl genre is so diversified now. I don’t even know if there are any shojo-based magical girl series right now. Still, I hope that if there are a few that become animated series in the future that they are true to the artist’s vision. Then again, it’s still good to know that despite these questions I’ve posed today, magical girl series, especially Sailor Moon, are still meaningful to girls and young women all over the world.