Animated Life Lesson #3: Friendship

Friendship (noun): harmony, accord, understanding, rapport

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Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir is fairly new to television, but it’s already made a big splash.  The story, set in the grand city of Paris, follows Marinette Dupain-Cheng and Adrien Agreste, two teenagers who have the ability to transform into the titular Ladybug and Chat Noir to defeat baddies sent after them by the supervillain Hawkmoth.  It may seem like your standard Saturday morning cartoon plot, but it manages to be so much more.  The villains are fun and interesting, with unique abilities and costumes, the fight scenes are creative and visually appealing, and there’s actually a love square between the two leads.

Yes, this show has upgraded on the dreaded love triangle to a love square, but it actually only contains two people, Marinette and Adrien; the other two ‘people’ are actually their superhero alter-egos, and the resulting relationship drama is less dramatic than it is hopeful and a bit sad.  The two really like each other, yet they don’t know it, thanks to typical teenage embarrassment and the age-old rule that secret identities have to be kept secret.

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Romantic subplots aside, Miraculous has plenty of other great things to offer.  There’s a diverse cast of characters, the animation is well done, and the use of actual locations in and around Paris makes the show seem more realistic.  The premise of the akumas and their ability to give powers to people suffering hardship or dealing with conflict is different than the usual powers granted by a chemical spill or other scientific experiment gone wrong.  The resulting villains are therefore just everyday Parisian citizens, and none of them are inherently evil, so their vilification at the hands of Hawkmoth elicits some sympathy.

The audience is often reminded of this point in the way that Ladybug and Chat Noir interact with the villain of the week; they know the villain is someone who has been taken advantage of, and while they resort to physical interaction if necessary, the pair prefer to distract the villain and take whatever object is holding his or her akuma, thus freeing them from Hawkmoth’s thrall without having to hurt a sort-of innocent victim.

It’s a different take on taking down a villain, even in the world of cartoons.  But for Ladybug and Chat Noir, the villains are often their friends and classmates, and even though our heroes could easily take them down with a straightforward assault, they value their friends and their relationships with them too much to hurt them unnecessarily.  And the pair are clever enough to save the day without resorting to violence, so they don’t have to worry about their friends getting hurt.

Friendship in general is an important aspect of this show, both because, as I said, many of Marinette and Adrien’s friends are akumatized, meaning the two have to stop their friends from destroying Paris, and because their friendship is integral to their ability to work together.

In their normal life, Marinette likes Adrien, and she’s incapable of hiding it.  She blushes, stammers, and literally hides whenever he’s around.  But as the show continues, Marinette begins to become more sure of herself, thanks no doubt in part to the confidence the city of Paris has in her abilities as Ladybug, and this allows her to begin to actually converse with Adrien.

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For Adrien, he considers Marinette to be one of his few friends, since years of homeschooling to allow more free time for his modeling career kept him from forming many true friendships.

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However, it’s the pair’s friendship as Ladybug and Chat Noir that really shines.  The pair did not start out as friends; having just received the ability to transform into their superhero alter-egos, Marinette is horrified at the prospect of having to face down a stone giant, while Adrien is overly excited, rushing in and almost getting himself hurt.  Marinette eventually gathers her courage, and although things get worse before they get better, the two manage to stop Stoneheart and return Paris to normal.

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As the two continue to defeat Hawkmoth’s akumatized villains, they learn to trust one another, and it soon becomes evident that they wouldn’t be able to effectively save the day without one another.  It’s also evident, to the viewer although not to each other, that both Marinette and Adrien are somewhat different as their superhero alter-egos.  Marinette is much more confident, unafraid to throw herself into the situation and certain that things will work out.  Adrien is much more uninhibited; since no one knows he’s the famous Adrien Agreste, he’s free to let himself have fun, free to joke and flirt and play, free of the constant rules and schedules that rule his normal life.  They do say that opposites attract, and that seems to be true for Ladybug and Chat Noir.

Chat Noir may annoy Ladybug sometimes, and Ladybug may be too secretive for Chat Noir’s liking, but the two move from just being teammates to being friends.  They enjoy each other’s company, they laugh, and they eventually learn to read each other without having to say anything.  And as their friendship grows, so does their success as superheroes.  You can work with someone you don’t like and still get the job done, but things work much more smoothly and effectively when you’re in tune and genuinely like working together.  For Ladybug and Chat Noir, being friends means they’re able to enjoy being superheroes while they work to save the city.

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But the friendship between the two superheroes isn’t the only important friendship for either Marinette and Adrien.  Their best friends, Alya and Nino, respectively, are both amazing characters and they provide awesome support for their superhero buddies, even if they don’t know about their friends’ crime-fighting.  

Alya is the perfect friend for Marinette.  She’s encouraging, outgoing, and she’s definitely not afraid to speak her mind.  Alya is new to school, and she and Marinette bond over their favorite comic book hero, as well as their mutual dislike of their bossy, spoiled classmate, Chloe.  As the school year goes on, Marinette and Alya become inseparable.  Although they’re quite different in terms of personality, they’ve totally got each other’s backs.

Alya is always encouraging Marinette in her desire to be a fashion designer, and although she calls Marinette hopeless in regards to her repeated failed attempts to talk to Adrien, she always tries to help Marinette speak to her crush.  Even more, Alya’s admiration of and belief in Ladybug helps boosts Marinette’s confidence, even if her friend doesn’t know it.  Marinette helps Alya with her blog and backs her up against Chloe, and although Marinette’s moonlighting as Ladybug sometimes causes her to have to leave Alya hanging, Marinette always apologizes and does her best to show Alya how much she appreciates her.  The two balance one another, and together, they’re their own force to be reckoned with.

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Adrien is also a new kid, and at first he and Nino don’t quite get along, due to Nino’s mistaken belief that Adrien and Chloe are close friends.  Nino, who has presumably been going to school with Chloe for a while, knows what kind of person she truly is and believes that Adrien will be just like her.  When Nino realizes he’s wrong, he gladly introduces himself to Adrien, offering to be his friend.

Like Marinette and Alya, Adrien and Nino have very different personalities.  Whereas
Adrien is more reserved and a fairly strict rule-follower, Nino is more relaxed.  He’s always trying to get Adrien to lighten up, even though it puts him at odds with Adrien’s father, and he always has a  joke or some fun plan to cheer Adrien up when he’s had a bad day.  Adrien, on the other hand, does his best to encourage Nino when he’s nervous or stressed, and he does a pretty good job of defusing Nino when the latter is frustrated or angry.  Although their friendship is slightly more strained thanks to Mr. Agreste, Nino doesn’t hold it against Adrien, and the two hang out and have fun as often as possible.

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But the importance of friendship and cooperation isn’t just an integral part of the show, it’s part of the making of the show itself.  Miraculous is a collaborative effort between animation production studios in France, Japan, and South Korea and is in fact one of five projects that the group has signed on to develop together.  It’s unique for a show to be a collaboration between so many different studios and especially in multiple countries, but the teamwork has paid off, and in fact, having so many different companies invested in the show has helped it appeal to such an international fanbase.  Even better, having animators in so many different countries has influenced the look and feel of Miraculous, with its magical girl feel and individual transformation sequences a nod to Japanese anime; this balances well with the glamor and flair of Paris coming from the French animators and results in a one-of-a-kind show that appeals to fan all over the world.

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Fans of Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir have already been making a showing at numerous fan events as well as large-scale conventions, and these fans come in every age, shape, and color.  It’s clear that Miraculous appeals to children and adults alike, and its family-friendly nature means that parents and their kids can even watch it together.  90s kids will surely enjoy the nostalgia of a well-done superhero cartoon, and everyone can enjoy the message of girl power and the portrayal of wonderful female role models.  Marinette and Adrien both show the importance of family, kindness, and doing what’s right in their normal lives, and as superheroes, they show that the day can be saved without violence and that determination and hard work will always pay off.  More notably, though, the two, whether as themselves or as superheroes, show that friendships are an important part of life, and that with your friends by your side, anything is possible, and that’s something that everyone can agree on.

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