Magic, Shōjo, and Metamorphosis: Magical Girl Anime and the Challenges of Changing Gender Identities in Japanese Society

Kumiko Saito
2014 Journal of Asian Studies  
The magical girl, a popular genre of Japanese television animation, has provided female ideals for young girls since the 1960s. Three waves in the genre history are outlined, with a focus on how female hero figures reflect the shifting ideas of gender roles in society. It is argued that the genre developed in close connection to the culture of shō jo (female adolescence) as an antithesis to adulthood, in which women are expected to undertake domestic duties. The paper then incorporates contexts
more » ... for male-oriented fan culture of shō jo and anime aesthetics that emerged in the 1980s. The recent tendencies for gender bending and genre crossing raise critical questions about the spread of the magical girl trope as cute power. It is concluded that the magical girl genre encompasses contesting values of gender, and thus the genre's empowerment fantasy has developed symbiotically with traditional gender norms in society. I MAGES OF JAPANESE WOMEN have drastically changed during the global spread of Japanese media since World War II, from subservient wives and geishas in kimonos to a large variety of female characters emerging from the increasingly accessible market of Japanese popular culture where innovative technology and fetish visual culture intersect. Today, the prominence of fighting female characters, most visible in the relatively unrealistic side of Japanese media culture, such as anime, manga, and video games, generates a new stereotype of Japanese women-although they are "Japanese" only so far as their putative origin is Japan. The difficulty of approaching these new venues of popular culture lies in their art of "misrepresentation," that is, flat and exaggerated visual styles, fantastic storylines, and, most importantly, their general disjunction from real-life women in Japanese society. Whereas interpretive links between female characters and women, well established in feminist studies of film and literature, remain essential resources for understanding functions of gender in text, this new phase of pop culture challenges established scholarly approaches to studies of the relationship between media and society. One of the most striking gaps between Japanese women and female characters in Japanese popular visuals can be observed in how the underrepresentation of "real" women, as reported in statistics and confirmed by common stereotypes, is contrasted to visual representations where empowered female heroes effortlessly surpass men in Kumiko Saito (kumikos@bgsu.edu) is Adjunct Faculty of Japanese at Bowling Green State University.
doi:10.1017/s0021911813001708 fatcat:3quilhnbcvaxrlad2zn7epomyy