Girls Need Heroes, Too: In Defense of Magical Girls

Of all the different types of anime, the magical girl anime is probably the sub-genre that is most looked down upon. Magical girl animes are bright and colorful, they always involve middle- or junior-school-aged girls gaining superpowers and having dramatic transformation scenes, and there’s plenty of fan service in terms of skimpy outfits and simpering looks.

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People, even the more open-minded anime watchers, have a tendency to dismiss magical girl animes due to what they perceive as a standard storyline and stock characterization; they’re blinded by the plethora of pink, the frills and short skirts, and the girlish laughter, and they miss the more serious and frequently dark side of these shows.

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Like any television show, anime or otherwise, magical girl animes have stories and messages that are both entertaining and relevant. Few shows have as much optimism and determination as magical girl animes, yet these shows also provide a realistic (at least as realistic as you can get on shows where girls are granted magical powers to fight the forces of evil) look at the sacrifices and pain that heroes must face. Magical girl animes are able to blend important lessons with joy and levity, and there are a number of reasons that they’re worth watching.

One of my favorite things about magical girl animes is the way they portray friendship.  Even if a magical girl starts out on her own, it’s inevitable that she’ll end up surrounded by a team of other magical girls and occasionally a token magical boy. Like any story involving teamwork, there’s going to be some conflicts and some drama, but ultimately, it’s the strength of the team and their friendship that helps them save the day.

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Magical girls don’t always start off as friends-in fact, they sometimes start off as annoyances at best and flat-out adversaries at worst-but there are few things that bring people together quite as well as having to save people (or the city or the earth or the universe or all of space and time; you get the idea).

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But despite the task of working together to save the day, the friendships in magical girl animes are always realistic. As I said, magical girls don’t always get along with one another. Becoming a magical girl is rarely a choice; it’s typically the result of some outside circumstance such as a perceived aptitude for being a hero, an accident, or a grand destiny, and as a result, the chosen girls are very different types of people with different personalities, motives, and attitudes towards their new role.

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The resulting clashes are typically the direct result of these differences, yet as the girls work more and more as a team, these conflicts become less and less common. It’s hard to rely on someone to have your back without forming some sort of more personal bond, and eventually, even those magical girls who would rather work alone find themselves forming friendships with their fellow magical girls. There are still plenty of ups and downs, but that’s true of any friendship, magical or otherwise, and these shows aren’t afraid of portraying the good times along with the bad, giving viewers a well-rounded look at the personal relationship of magical girls. Yes, there may be more makeovers or shopping trips or sleepovers than other animes, but these types of scenes go to show that magical girls and other heroes have lives outside of saving the day, and they enjoy the time they have with their friends doing things they enjoy.

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But that doesn’t mean these magical girls don’t enjoy kicking some bad guy butt. They’ve got superpowers and awesome weapons and they know how to use them. Magical girl animes are really at the top of the list in terms of girl power.  These ladies can fight, they can strategize and plan, they can work as a team and take down any villain or monster that stands in their way, and they look cute while doing it.

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In the world of superheroes, there are infinitely more men than women, leaving young girls at a bit of a loss in terms of role models. Magical girls provide female heroes for people to look up to and admire. Magical girls fight for a cause, they don’t compromise their values, and they’re willing to sacrifice themselves to save others.  They’re just as capable and worthy of admiration as any guy hero, yet they’re often brushed aside because of their girlishness. image

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Which is really a shame, because these magical girls are proof that you can be girly and still totally kick butt. Whether it’s straight-up physical combat, mastery of weapons-everything from guns to swords to archery to a yoyo- or actual magical powers such as control over an element, these ladies are fearsome and powerful.

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But sometimes they’re powerful enough to hurt more than they help, particularly when it comes to getting hurt themselves. Magical girls sometimes find themselves in situations that their weapons and skills can’t overcome, and they must sacrifice some part of themselves, be it their magical girl status, a physical ability, or their humanity itself. These are frightening and painful decisions to make, yet magical girls never seem to back down from making them. They know what has to be done, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to save the day. 

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Knowing that being a magical girl of any kind would have its downsides might deter some from accepting such a role, but those who do become magical girls always do so because they believe in what being a magical girl embodies. Even more, they have hope that their sacrifices and pain will make the world a better place. No matter how dark things may get, it seems like magical girls have an ability for endless hopefulness: hope that evil can be overcome, hope that people can change, hope that their choice to do the right thing will be enough.

Their hope is not always realistic and it’s not always rewarded, yet their unfailing willingness to hope for something better even when all seems lost is admirable. Just seeing magical girls pushing back against their enemies no matter what makes viewers believe that their own problems can be overcome. Even when everything seems to be falling apart, there’s hope that tomorrow will be better, and people have a tendency to forget that. Luckily we have characters like magical girls to remind us to be hopeful and to do whatever we can to bring hope to others.

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Magical girl animes truly have a lot to offer everyone. There are complex characters, twisted and dramatic storylines, and epic fight scenes. Many of the shows have fantastic animation as well, along with great scores and visually-stunning transformation sequences.

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Critics aren’t wrong when they say magical girl animes are usually fluffier and more lighthearted than other animes or other animated shows, but that’s not what makes these animes so good. These fluffy moments provide a brief respite between the truly hard choices, the sacrifices and the losses.

Magical girl animes show that girls can be just as good as the boys. They can be just as tough, just as powerful, just as heroic. And they can do it all while wearing a combat skirt and heels, something I’d love to see their male counterparts attempt. Magical girls and magical girl animes deserve the same acknowledgment and appreciation as their contemporaries for being unabashedly what they are: celebrations of the great things girls can do with hope, determination, and a bit of magic.

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