Posted by: Leek | February 8, 2011

One Shot Article: Spandex, Transformations, Magic, and being a Hero

I feel like I’ve been giving Madoka Magica a lot more flak than it deserves. Well actually, maybe not. It’s not that I have anything personal against the series but it has awoken an old discussion yet again. There are many age old genres and several that have had time to evolve as the years have passed. Yet two genres possibly manged to evolve together, those being that of tokusatsu and mahou shoujo. Now you’d look at them and maybe have no trouble seeing the resemblance. Others might be scratching their heads and wondering what the heck this is all about.


Ready to take the heat? I know you are

In this article I want to go over a simple concept. Just what is it about mahou shoujo and tokusatsu that drives them so close together? Are they really meant to be paired and is it possible that one is influencing another? I’ll make a few claims as to what I see as going on but they’re far from fact. But in my history of watching up until now, I wanted to look at what ideas define both series and where it has taken them now. I also want to look at the modern evolution of magical girl and tokusatsu and potentially one man we can blame it all on.

A Transforming Hero
Now it’s not hard to go back a bit and think about how far either genre can go back. Tokusatsu series like Kamen Rider and Ultraman have been in the hearts of children for awhile. Of course, the plots were far from what we see constructed today. Hero plots weren’t hard to construct so to speak. Just have a consistent villain that throws out minions to do their bidding right? It was a pretty simple formula to emulate and, regardless, it’s easy to enjoy as a child. Of course any adult could probably see right through the flimsy and repetitive nature of it. It was shallow and did nothing more than give kids something to watch.

It’s hard to say that the mahou shoujo genre would be too far from it. Early mahou shoujo were far from their modern day counterparts. Heck, it would be hard to say that the early types would have embodied the hero. Mahou shoujo was carefree and simple fun, something that was hard to equate with the likes of early tokusatsu series. Sure, there were transformations but as far as fighting evil and being a hero? Not likely. Love stories and shoujo bubbles were the great equivalent to the mindless explosions and scrap villains of old tokusatsu.

Of course it wasn’t something that could go on for long.


Kuuga acted as an interesting bridge between old and new Rider series

Enter the likes of Naoko Takeuchi and Keiichi Hasegawa. Both were shining examples of those with incredible foresight and those who wanted to make the most out of their respective genre.

I only meant to bring up Hasegawa but I think Takeuchi began just a big transition for mahou shoujo as Hasegawa potentially did for both genres. Takeuchi (for those not familiar) was the mastermind behind Sailor Moon and the first person to really introduce a hero element to the mahou shoujo genre. Sailor Moon was an interesting example of transition between old and new and possibly a reason it could get overlooked. Sure, it had all the same romance, girlish fantasies, and shoujo bubbles of it’s predecessors. But, at the same time, it finally began to introduce some of the darker elements and copy-paste villains that tokusatsu series had been running. And thus, Sailor Moon began to weave the two genres together. No longer were transformations the only common idea behind both genres. But while mahou shoujo experienced an evolution, tokusatsu began to take it farther…

Hasegawa (most known for working on Ultraman series past Tiga) is probably the one man I will blame (and by that I mean credit) with the current state of affairs. A mindful man indeed, Hasegawa took in the criticism of his time well. Realizing that tokusatsu could get nowhere with trying to rely on action, Hasegawa turned towards what was only vaguely addressed by tokusatsu plots. Sure, there had always been the drama on the side but it was hardly anything to pay note to. All kids were interested in was seeing the fight scenes between their favorite hero and the daily monster. Everybody knew the pattern well and it was your real reason to go from episode to episode. And just like that, Hasegawa began to turn the world of tokusatsu upside down by addressing the shallow plot issues of old.

And thus with the late 90s and Hasegawa’s beginnings, tokusatsu saw a quick revamp. Heroes were no longer flat characters and their development began to become instrumental to series. Kamen Rider would revive with the arrival of 2000 and begin to exhibit what was a interesting mix of old and new. While it still had the flavor of what old tokusatsu enveloped, the plot had become a large part of the series. It was, potentially for the first time, something an adult could watch and begin to take something from. There was no longer just a hero fighting monsters but the greater issue of being a hero. This went for all tokusatsu as Ultraman had already been displaying such traits with Hasegawa’s entrance.


Of course mahou shoujo was never far behind…

Just as tokusatsu defined their own hero element, mahou shoujo would soon begin to see it’s own evolution alongside tokusatu’s great revival. Perhaps mahou shoujo never suffered the same criticism as tokusatsu series did but that was far from stopping it from moving ahead. Modern series such as Shugo Chara, Mai-HIME, and Nanoha are good examples of what I would mean. No longer would it just rely on the old simple aspects but begin to introduce real world issues and drama. Shugo Chara embodied what could be a mix of the old and new. There was still the cute shoujo love and drama as before but alongside actual stories that could teach a good lesson to kids and adults alike. Nanoha, just the same, was far from created for merely a conventional childhood audience. In fact, it’s ramped up action that was more on par with what one would see in a tokusatsu series with explosions and other big effects.

And just like that, both series had reached the modern. Whether tokusatsu had been the driving evolutionary force for mahou shoujo is still a mystery. But it’s hard to say there weren’t some very interesting parallels between the two genres.

Coincidence? Homage? Or a magical rip off?
So what happens when this parallel exists? Does it create some random war between those that appreciate their respective genre? Is it hard for someone to enjoy either series? I’ll specifically address two series here. That would be the likes of Nanoha (a personal favorite) and Madoka (the tinder behind many daily debates).

To start, I give a lot of credit to Nanoha. By few and far between it will probably always be my favorite mahou shoujo series. And to be honest, I had seen it far before touching a modern age Rider series. I had seen my fair share of the original Kamen Riders and seen a few jokes videos of modern stuff but I never quite took any of it very seriously. Instead, I watched Nanoha and, just like that, it completely revamped my ideas of the genre. My knowledge of mahou shoujo was the goofy likes of Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew, Cardcaptor Sakura, and some Pretty Cure. In other words, I had never thought of the series of any certain type of dramatic series with decent character development. Sure, it was shallow and somewhat present but nothing on the level that Nanoha was able to show off.


How little I knew as a simple Nanoha fan

Jumping to the modern, I probably do talk about Nanoha a bit differently. In a bad respect? Far from it. I had gained quite a bit of respect for the series after watching Kamen Rider 555. Aside from being my second Rider series, I had learned quite a bit from 555 as to the early changes in tokusatsu series. It was a gripping plot with wonderfully constructed characters and my favorite Rider designs to this day. It was a perfect mix of action, plot, and humor and it still resides as my favorite Rider series today.

Funny that Nanoha’s devices and style have a strange resemblance to 555. The two series are often paired together and whether or not the inspiration for the devices was from 555 is unknown. I’d like to think as much (even just a hint of influence) and regardless I still like to pair the series together. Not that I ever meant to talk down on Nanoha by doing so. If it were in fact meant as the homage that it seems to be, then I can only give more power to the series. Nanoha was still an original plot with it’s own unique characters and designs that I could never quite attach to any Rider series. To me it had effectively redefined the mahou shoujo genre as much as Hasegawa had begun to do with his own Ultraman series. It was a large stepping stone and began to push mahou shoujo in a unquestionably great direction.

Of course Nanoha wasn’t the only series to pay a good tribute. The modern HeartCatch Pretty Cure was found to share it’s own parallels with it’s tokusatsu counterparts. Again, it was far from anything to truly resemble plot and instead added a bit of charm to the series to those that had seen any tokusatsu series. It indeed showed the homage, influence, and potential that the two genres were more closely related than one could imagine.

The ultimate step to the modern would come in the form of Madoka Magica. Another promising series from the get go, it could be seen as taking the genre another step. Or was that step backward instead of forward?

As Madoka aired it’s earlier episodes it was proven to be something different. Unlike it’s predecessors, Madoka chose the dark air of that of older tokusatsu series. It resembled much of what the early 2000 Rider series were. Something that hardly seemed for kids, the ideas exploited by the series were traumatizing and even to an adult audience. It took a step towards the dark and dreary, something Rider had already explored.

Having been a first for the genre, obviously it would be interestingly received. But this attention also drew a bit of observation from the Rider community and the parallels began to seem all but fishy.


SHOOT VENT…wait…

I don’t want to go over parallels again. My previous article already went over those. My only purpose here was to discuss my issue with running these close parallels. I really don’t want to hate Madoka for any reason. In fact, a darker faced mahou shoujo series would do as much good as it did for the tokusatsu genre. It would be another great step forward.

Where I gave Nanoha and HeartCatch a lot of credit for potentially paying homage, Madoka begins to break that boundary and step towards being unoriginal. Which is a shame really. It had seemed as if the parallels of mahou shoujo and tokusatsu would never be a true issue. But when it begins to feel like you’re seeing recycled characters and plot, it becomes a problem. Whether you’re aware or not, it’s never good to just let something get away with it.

So what am I really getting at here? My point is merely that I really do want to credit Gen Urobuchi with writing something original and innovative. But when it merely seems to entail something I have already seen (regardless of it being in the same genre or even medium), I feel it’s important to make people aware. I do want both genres to evolve but only if they can do so without trying to rip something from another. If a Rider series were to mimic everything I saw in Nanoha then I’d be just as picky about it as I seem now with Madoka.

While this reality was a bit of a slap in the face. There is still a part of me that wants the communities to see eye to eye and properly critique one another.

A Hero

I feel like all of this can be summed up by lyrics taken from one of my favorite songs. Oddly enough, maybe Hasegawa was even more of a genius than he led on…


男なら 誰かのために強くなれ
If you’re a man, get stronger for someone else

I feel like tokusatsu acted as an interesting begin to the evolution of two very prominent series. It wasn’t odd to be honest, a man becoming a hero and protecting all the innocent people just like any other superhero would. It was an interesting idea for awhile and it had kids wrapped around it’s little finger. But there was something else that was missing from the tokusatsu series that Hasegawa managed to fill. There was more than one definition for a hero and he proved just that. I’ve learned quite a bit from watching tokusatsu and things that I think were never addressed in any series as properly. There’s something very intriguing how something that I once thought to reek of cheesiness and immaturity would soon become my new favorite type of series to watch.

女もそうさ 見てるだけじゃ始まらない
The same for woman, nothing comes from just watching

Just the same, there was mahou shoujo on the side. A once giddy and carefree genre soon began to evolve just as tokusatsu did. Girls were able to feel like the hero even with their own style of drama embedded. And it was something that only evolved later on. It was no longer the simple drama and love stories that was the focus before. The heroines of mahou shoujo were able to evolve and face problems that would make any man want to back away from. Is there still something about mahou shoujo that will always be prominent? Of course. Just the same as tokusatsu there are the stereotypes on it. But with it’s constant movement forward, mahou shoujo is proving to be just as educational to all genders and ages. The point isn’t gender but what it really means to be a hero.

これが正しいって 言える勇気があればいい
Have the courage to say that this is right

I can only hope that the evolution of tokusatsu and mahou shoujo continues. With the continuing success of concepts, I only hope that tokusatsu can explore more issues like it has managed up until this point. And perhaps at some point it will see a new evolution that can move the genre forward. Heck, it might even be influenced by mahou shoujo at some point in time. At the same time, I will love to see that mahou shoujo keeps with it’s steady evolution. As much as I do love the sometimes carefree plots of certain series, I would love to see more tortured heroines in the mahou shoujo genre. If mahou shoujo audiences can’t move towards tokusatsu then it won’t bother me that much. And, just the same, I can’t blame tokusatsu fans for not stepping into the mahou shoujo genre. My only wish is for both series to keep moving forward without taking too much from one another.

But my real point was the idea of the hero. Regardless of what someone is watching, the hero story in Japan has definitely evolved long over the years. I think modern series have proved that nobody can live in an ideal world, not even as a hero, and the issues of greed, power, fear, and responsibility are very much present. At the same time, it continues to teach both adults and kids the practical issues of what it means to be a hero. Sure, you won’t be transforming and able to use magical powers or do awesome acrobatics anytime soon, but there are those traits that really make a hero. The ideas of right and wrong and what it means to be responsible and courageous are lessons that can never be taught enough. I’m sure that I’ll always be a tokusatsu and mahou shoujo nerd growing up. But it’s one of those things that you realize isn’t without it’s merits. There’s a definite growing value in both these genres and it’s something I’ll be more than happy to expose any man, woman, or child to.

ただそれだけ できれば
If you can do just that

英雄さ
You’ll be a hero

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