chihio

girls and boys

Mahou shoujo never went away.

There were five series of Ojamajo Doremi between 2000 to 2004. There has been a Pretty Cure every year since 2004. There is still a PreCure airing every Sunday morning. There will be a new PreCure in February. It will be the thirteenth.

These shows still air on weekend mornings or weekday afternoons, long before midnight. They still sell merchandise to children. They still have successful theatrical releases. They have not changed because of the market for otaku product.

But they do not sell.

PreCure has never sold more than 3,000 units per volume. The 2005 and 2006 PreCure series sold only 650 and 430 units per volume. PreCure was presumably a success for broadcasting and merchandising, but it is not and has never been a sales success.

During the 1990s, you might have believed that daytime mahou shoujo series could sell as well as daytime shounen or seinen series. Sailor Moon sold 19,000 units per volume. Cardcaptor Sakura sold 8,125 units per volume. But when Cardcaptor Sakura ended in spring 2000, there was nothing to replace it.

The creative staff behind Sailor Moon had tried to. But they had failed.

During spring 1999, Toei released a series directed by Sailor Moon regulars Junichi Sato and Takuya Igarashi. Sato had been the series director of Sailor Moon in its 1991 and 1992 seasons. Igarashi had been the series director during its final 1996 season.

The show was called Ojamajo Doremi.

Sato had spent 1996 through 1999 working with Chiaki Konaka at Madhouse on the original mahou shoujo OVA and television series Mahou Tsukai Tai! When that series went to market in fall 1999, it sold 2,400 units per volume. Those were respectable sales numbers.

That was respectable sales numbers for a limited-run series not based on a manga, a series released concurrently with Cardcaptor Sakura, and by the same studio. When Cardcaptor Sakura ended in spring 2000, you might have thought that two Sailor Moon series directors, with all the merchandising and marketing power of Toei, to have made something popular.

But Ojamajo Doremi sold only 1,900 units per volume.

During spring 1997, JC Staff released a series directed by Sailor Moon regular Kunihiko Ikuhara.

Ikuhara had directed several episodes during its 1991 and 1992 seasons.He took over as series director Sailor Moon from Sato midway through its 1992 season. He stayed through the 1995 season. He became identified with the series in the public mind, especially in North America.

In 1996, Ikuhara left the series, and he left Toei. He set up his own production house, Be-Papas. At his new studio, partnered with Chihio Saito, the author of a new shoujo series in Ciao. He wanted to make her manga into an anime. It was called Revolutionary Girl Utena.

You might have expected an even more experienced veteran of Sailor Moon, producing a series based on an existing manga, to have made something popular. Ciao was and is popular. Today it has a circulation of 815,000, more than double the circulation of other shoujo magazines. You might have expected a television series to draw some of that audience.

But Ciao is for an audience of children. Utena was a series aimed at adolescents and adults. You might have expected it to serve another audience, and another market.

You might have expected a complex and psychologically-sophisticated series to fill the niche left by EvangelionEvangelion sold an average of 111,000 units per volume on first release. And you might have expected to have captured that enthusiast market.

But Revolutionary Girl Utena sold only 700 units per volume.

After Utena, Ikuhara disbanded Be-Papas. He left Japan. He lived in America. During the decade that followed, he storyboarded parts of Aoi Hana and the opening of Nodame Cantabile. But he did not direct anything.

He left Japan for America, first to supervise the English-language dub of the Utena film, and then to stay. He gave an interview in 2002, after he had finished work on Utena. “What’s your impression of America?” “Huge.” “What about American anime fans?” He laughed. “I like them. Some of them are scary.”

During fall 2002, Hal Film Maker released a series created by Ikuko Ito, character designer and animation director on Sailor Moon. She had made an original mahou shoujo series, one based on The Ugly Duckling and Swan Lake. She brought Sato over from Ojamajo Doremi as chief director. It would be called Princess Tutu.

But Princess Tutu sold only 1,700 units per volume.

And three makes a pattern.

Ojamajo Doremi, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Princess Tutu are all exceptionally good works, made by exceptionally talented people. But their failure suggests a failure to understand the audience. Sailor Moon was saleable. These shows were not.

And when Princess Tutu failed, in fall 2002, it suggested that none of these shows could fund themselves, and so none of them should be made. Ojamajo Doremi survived until 2004 on the strength of its merchandising and broadcast audience. But the industry could not afford an Utena or a Tutu.

During this period, when so much mahou shoujo product failed, when the creators of Sailor Moon found they did not understand the audience, when Ikuhara left the country, and Toei passed on another Sailor Moon series, there was one series that was a modest success. And it was made by the director of Cardcaptor Sakura.

Cardcaptor Sakura had been directed by Morio Asaka. It was his first series as director. And it was an unexpected hit. Asaka was not an exceptionally talented person. The work he made before and after Cardcaptor Sakura testifies to that. And Cardcaptor Sakura testifies to that too. It’s not a good show. But it sold.

And so did his next series. It was called Galaxy Angel.

Galaxy Angel was not ambitious. But when it came out in spring 2001, it sold 5,900 units per volume, and it went on to do a four-season run.

Galaxy Angel and Cardcaptor Sakura were the series that showed the way forward. I think Asaka understood something about the market that neither Sato, Igarashi, Ikuhara, or Ito had understood. He understood that the people who bought the product were men.

There was a known market for mahou shoujo directed to adolescents and men since the 2000s. There was interest. You only had to show up at Comiket to know that there was interest.

And you only had to look at the other series that survived the dead period of the early 2000s to see where the audience was. Love Hina sold 24,000 units per volume in 2000. Hand Maid May sold 13,200. Mahoromatic sold 14,100 units per volume in 2001. Sister Princess sold 7,200. And in 2002, Azumanga Daioh sold 25,600 units per volume.

These are the products that ultimately provided the context for the Monogatari series, K-On! and Oreimo. These are the series that provided the context for Madoka

Madoka is not a perversion of some Golden Age mahou shoujo series. It is an adaptation to the new market. It is an evolution from those series that survived the cull. Madoka is not a Golden Age series because the Golden Age series did not sell. 

Madoka sold. It sold 71,000 units per volume. 

Madoka takes the elements of the Golden Age series it can sell. But it cannot adapt them whole. It can take from Sailor Moon, and graft it onto the body of Mahoromatic. But Mahoromatic is the body. And Shinbo is the soul.

During the early 2000s, the adult interest in mahou shoujo was transformed into sales product. Galaxy Angel and Cardcaptor Sakura suggested the audience existed. There were a dozen different signs of it, everywhere in the early 2000s. There was no hope for another series like Tutu. But there could be something else. 

Nanoha brought the threads together. And Nanoha was Shinbo.

But the thing to know is that this not the same market. It is a distinct market. The core market was and is and remains distinct. It did not cannibalize a Golden Age market for mahou shoujo because there was no market to cannibalize.

PreCure still airs every Sunday morning.

Watch that instead.