The Magic of Despair: The Dark Magical Girl’s Journey


Since the release Puella Magi Madoka Magica in 2011 (and someone would argue Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha in 2004), the trend of the dark magical girl series has taken the world of anime and manga by storm.  The Magical Girl, the paragon of hopeful exuberance married with wide, starry-eyed innocence, endures inhuman amounts of emotional and physical suffering as she fights against a clear and present evil as well as the demons that hide within herself.  Though series such as Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura had emotionally heavy moments, the Dark Magical Girl, such as Madoka Magica’s titular heroine Madoka Kaname and Day Break Illusion’s  Akari Taiyou, most assuredly walks beside darkness and horror.  And unlike her bubbly counterparts, she may well have to endure this trying journey alone.

I’ve been hemming and hawing about writing this post after watching this video – Bloodborne vs. Lovecraft: Transforming the Myth by Youtuber SolePorpoise.  Bloodborne is one of my favorite games to watch because it’s so creepy and engrossing and SolePorpoise’s video helped me to understand why a bit more.  In the video, he argues that Bloodborne is an anti-myth, as it focuses on the “destruction and the deconstruction of the human-centered myth”.  He references American mythologist Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, who argues that all myths around the world consist of a similar structure in spite of various cultural world views.  Campbell says, in his own words.

hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Photo Courtesy of

SolePorpoise states that Bloodborne goes against the grain of the monomyth.  Rather than championing the “fight for the light against the dark” despite the duality (or disparity) of good and evil present within the myth (and by extension the world as we know it).  In this case, Campbell argues that these series allows readers to see the power of creation that lies within them, a power that is much bigger than they are.


Part One: The Shojo Magical Heroine’s Journey

I reference Campbell in my thesis, though I argue that rather than using brute strength and violence to overcome obstacles,  the magical girl subverts Campbell’s monomyth because of her ability to become to Goddess she requires to complete her quest.  She is both brave and benevolent, forceful and forgiving, determined and destined for greatness.  Her journey from a bumbling, ordinary nobody to a dazzling magical girl destined to save the world from evil mirrors apotheosis.  But accepting her fate (eventually) and rising to the occasion, she is rewarded with the treasures of love and self-acceptance.  And those around her are reward with the happiness and blessings associated with this magical girl goddess.


The hopeful and idealistic nature present in shoujo magical girl series such as Sailor MoonCardcaptor Sakura, Tokyo Mew Mew, and Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne is reflective of the demographic itself.  Since its beginnings in the literary magazines during pre-war Japan, shoujo literary is one integral part shoujo bunka, or “girls’ culture”.  In response to the social expectations of becoming a wife and mother upon adulthood, girls created a private that insulated them from these expectations while allowed them to embrace their dreams, inner desires, and individuality.  Literary magazines, the ancestors to Nakayoshi, Ciao, and Ribon, allowed readers to connect with other readers who shared the same interests, meet writers and magazine staff, and gave future writers the chance to have their works published.  Readers in turn continued to buy these magazines as they catered to their needs and desires in a society that is known for is emphasize the group rather than the individual.

As a result, the concept of an individual having the power to save her loved ones from an evil that threatens all the entire world is universal trope of the magical girl genre.  Shoujo stories take it a step further – the magical girl, nothing special or downright bumbling in her normal form –


Shojo no Tomo Cover from  Shojo no Tomo was the most popular shojo literary magazine during Pre-War Japan.

As a result, the concept of an individual having the power to save her loved ones from an evil that threatens all the entire world is universal trope of the magical girl genre.  Shoujo stories take it a step further – the magical girl, nothing special or ne’er-do-well in her normal form – evolves into a powerful individual who can transcend emotional and physical trauma to transform into the goddess that blesses humanity with her kindness while destroying the enemy with her divine will and determination.  In a world defined by good and evil, she chooses good, does good, and is blessed with an abundance of good things when it is all over.  By ultimately accepting her fate, the magical girl is invigorated by her boons of her magical form and uses her powers to protect the personal motivations and emotions of her friends and family (magical girls are very protective toward any and all matters of the heart.  In turn, the readers who have followed her journey may find the strength to forge their own path in a society that discourages them from doing so.


Part Two: The (Seinen) Dark Magical Heroine’s Journey

Over the last ten years, magical girl series (save for the on-going series PreCure, Lily Hoshino’s Kigurumi Guardians, and CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura Clear Card Arc) have become darker in tone.  Magical girl series marketed outside the typical market of young girls is nothing new, however.  Go Nagai’s Cutey Honey, originally slated to be an anime for young girls, supposedly added nudity to Honey’s transformation sequence in order to to appeal to young boys due to its timeslot.  Furthermore, series such as Majokko Megu-Chan and Magical Princess Minky Momo featured ample amounts of fan service during their original broadcast.  However, magical girl series in recent times have taken things a step further.  Fanservice is never far away, (even Mami Tomoe, the sweetest magical girl of Madoka Magica, is well-endowed, if you know what mean) but if shojo magical girl series are hopeful and bright in nature, then magical girl series created for mainstream audiences (usually teenage-to-adult males, or the seinen demographic) make you feel tortured and traumatized with no hope of recovery.

No seriously – go have a friend watch the final moments of episode three in Madoka Magica and see how they react.  Bonus points if it gets them to scream, cry, or curse you out.


Shojo-marketed magical girl series illustrate the concept of duality.  Magical girls are both fallible humans with flaws and feel their emotions deeply.  Sailor Moon featured Usagi visibly distraught when she couldn’t safe her friends or loved ones from the enemy.  She admits to be a crybaby and a klutz.  She’s not perfect – her family, her teammates, and Naru points this out frequently.  But she is also divine and of the divine.  She is Princess Serenity of the Moon Kingdom and the bearer of the Silver Millenium Crystal.  She is the goddess that appears in the darkest hour to save the world from all evil.  When it counts, she overcomes her negative traits to become a capable leader. Chibiusa even says so in the Sailor Moon R movie, calling Usagi a “mother” to the entire world.

On the other hand, seinen-marketed series illustrate the concept of disparity.   You are not one and the other, you are one or you are the other.  In this case, you are an innocent magical girl who is selfless and self-sacrificing or you are a selfish girl who is bound to suffer the consequences of her individual choices.  There are no points in between and everyone in some way shape or form suffers.

The innocence of the magical girls in series is emphasized through character designs that fit can be described as moe (please don’t ask me to get into what that means though and I’m still wrapping my head around that.  The only character that made me want to hug them in and kiss them and lose all my rationality was Chi from Chi’s Sweet Home – is there such a thing as a moe cat?).  Series such as Day Break Illusion and Magical Girl Raising Project feature characters that may inspired the protection and adoration (from fans) but also the desire to torture them physically and emotionally (from the author…and maybe fans).  But where shojo heroines grow throughout their journey, seinen magical girls remain in stasis.  And in the case of Magical Girl Raising Project, even if an older woman has the power to transform into a magical girl, her enhanced avatar always takes on a youthful appearance.


Both shojo and seinen magical girl manga feature worlds that require magical girls for a specific reason just as the story begins (“Call to Adventure”).  And both feature heroines that ultimately decide to go along with it, even though one would be skeptical if cat, dog, stuffed animal, or dinosaur started to not only talk, but beg them to transform and save the world.  But whereas the magical companions of shojo series are truly all about helping the chosen girl to fulfill her destiny, companions in seinen series aren’t always that noble.  It’s only when power is exchanged that the situation sours that the magical heroines realize that their companion has ulterior motives.

You lying bastard.

Believe it or not, magical girl heroines never really choose to become magical girls.  They sort of just walk into it.  Luna tells Usagi to speak a henshin phrase and boom – she’s Sailor Moon.  Ichigo is somehow infused with the essence of an Irimote Cat and becomes the leader of Tokyo Mew Mew.  Maron is the reincarnation of Jeanne D’Arc (Joanne of Arc) in Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne.  They all were thrown into an otherworldly, unbelievable situation, reluctantly even, and yet they all come to make the choice to accept their new reality.  But make no mistake – acceptance is a process.


When it comes to seinen magical girl series, acceptance is instantaneous.  The idea of become a magical girl and being able to become something more than human is too tempting a proposition for many magical girls in these series with several of them jumping toward the opportunity.  This is definitely illustrated in Magical Girl Raising Project – each player has a very rare chance of becoming a true magical girl.  Therefore, when an individual is “chosen”, they welcome the event with open arms.  Only Ripple, the ninja magical girl who has shurikens that never miss their target, shows any skepticism towards Fav, the black-and-white game mascot for informs her that she is chosen.  However, she tosses that skepticism aside when she realizes that she can use her powers to her advantage.


No one questions the intentions of the companion in seinen magical girl series because why would you?  Just like their shojo counterparts, the magical companion is made to inspire that moe feeling.  The magical girls see them and they are over come with a sense of protectiveness and affection.  But the audience gets the sense that there is something off about these creatures.  With Fav, it’s his monochromatic coloring – white and black.  And Kyubey of Madoka Magica is adorable looking but devoid of emotion.  He does not understand human emotion yet requires it for the good of the universe. These creatures may appear to want to help the magical girl heroine, but their innocent appearance belies a sinister motive that no one can put their finger on until it’s too late.


In the second half of this post, we will discuss the isolating nature of the dark magical girl’s journey, including how even teamwork is threatened by negative emotions, themes of selflessness versus selfishness in magical girl works, and how the goddess theme in shojo magical girl works is inverted into the theme of the wicked witch.  Please come back next week for the conclusion of the Dark Magical Girl’s Journey!



4 thoughts on “The Magic of Despair: The Dark Magical Girl’s Journey

    1. I think it could be either or. I say that because I’ve seen some action-oriented shojo manga series, like Watase Yuu’s “Fushigi Yuugi” and “Alice 19th”. But then again, Korra has alot of elements of shounen as well. I think it’s probably a happy medium of the two because it does focus on relationships as well as action.


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