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So, I was asked by an acqaintance if I had any reccomendations for magical girl anime/manga. Since I've been (in between everything -else- I've been doing), working on a magical girl Apocalypse World game (with some collaborators, who have been doing great work while I'm in a fallow "working on everything but" period), I wrote back...maybe a bit too much. Fortnately I'm tired, or I might not have stopped at 5 recomendations.

Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon are in some ways the best and most central of those I've seen. Sailor Moon of course established the "Magical Girl fighting" manga/anime genre; Cardcaptor is very different in many ways (it's Clamp, for one thing; one of their few non-tragic series), but in both cases, the series brilliantly mix home life, school life, and the magical world, making all of them important, and in both series, love is central. Cardcaptor is pretty long; around 72 episodes for the first two seasons [which are really one story]; Sailor Moon is super-long, with something like 300 episodes over 5 seasons, but they use the length not just for variable length stock footage transformation/attack sequences (actually, Sailor Moon does this a lot; Cardcaptor goes against type and comes up with an excuse for the heroine's costume to change every episode, so while the poses are stock, the outfit is different every time), but for building up character development and relationship notes that can be gloriously cashed in later. Of course, every series has its own arc and mini-arcs within those, but there are definately notes that are saved up until the end before being cashed in.

Nanoha is a very odd but good mix; a series that's designed for an adult audience despite fairly young protagonist. It's still basically about love, but they spend a lot more attention than the average making the fight scenes and magic make in-world sense rather than just moral/emotional sense. It has 3 series; each one has its own unities, but each is very different from the next; in the first, you've got a semi-typical "young girl gets powers, alies" opening; but in the second the relationships are all mixed up and it's more of a mystery plot. In the third series, the main characters are grown up and training their own proteges, so the action is bigger and the training and secondary characters get to take more central stage, while the established characters show off their more mature strengths and get to act against powerful foes while they are at their peak, rather than the more typical "growth character faces off against dark lord; wins via luck, aid, and moral certitude".

Madoka and Revolutionary Girl Utena are great examples of the postmodern side of the genre. Madoka is very short, very dark, and brilliant; there's not that much more I can say about it without spoilers, but it's great on many levels. Revolutionary Girl Utena is...the emotional side of the genre broken down to its base level; from its central genderfuck (key premise: A young girl is saved by a prince; she grows up to teenager-hood and decides she will accomplish her goal in emulation: She will become a prince too!), to the core formula of someone's central emotional crisis resulting in them challenging Utena to a duel, which, naturally, is far more about arguments and metaphor than actual swordplay.

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Joshua Kronengold

May 2017

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