I can't remember if you've posted about this already, but your comments on Magical Girl Raising Project remind me of some criticisms I've heard of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Was just wondering what you thought of PMMM?
I like PMMM despite itself.
The music is great, the story is heartbreaking, the visuals are fantastic.
Plus, while PMMM is in no fucking way the first grimdark magical girl series (and holy shit do I find assertions that it is so fucking uninteresting), and while 90% of what it seeks to deconstruct or subvert makes me want to tear my hair out, it does do an interesting thing with Kyubey. Like the Portal games, which take the trope of the tutorial/guide character (the exposition fairy) who gives you hints and tells you how to progress during the game and asked “What if this character wasn’t really trying to help?”, PMMM took the mascot character in magical girl shows (a la Luna and Kero) and asked the same question. And that is genuinely an interesting exploration of one of the staples of the genre.
For the most part, though, I like, sometimes, (sometimes I hate) PMMM despite itself. And I hate what it has wrought.
The biggest problem with PMMM is that magical girl shows are, at their heart, power fantasies for girls. They are Girl Power at their finest. In fact, Sailor Moon was an major and oft-overlooked part in kicking off the Girl Power boom in the 90s.
And what’s infuriating about PMMM is that it tries to tear that down. It’s not like Watchmen, another series which seeks to deconstruct the possibly unhealthy nature of the power fantasies of its genre. Because Watchmen is about vigilantism and male power fantasies, and 1. white men (who make up the majority of comic book heroes) already have disproportionate power so their power fantasies are inherently more sinister and 2. comic books are often centered around revenge, vigilantism, corrupt systems that “can’t be broken”, and ignoring the law.
Meanwhile, magical girl series are at their center about hope and love. The heroes usually literally fight with hearts and rainbows and songs. They aren’t gritty “I wish I could kick everyone’s ass” power fantasies. They are “if you believe in yourself and are your friends you can help people and achieve your dreams” fantasies. And they are for girls, who are too often told they can’t be everything they want. Not men, who are too often told they can.
So PMMM has this message, and if some of the interviews I’ve heard from the creator are true, a completely intentional one, that girls dreams are futile and destructive and that it’s harmful and useless for girls to want things. That girls having power fantasies or seeking to save the world will ultimately destroy them, or (before Madoka’s ending) turn them into something evil and dark. That ambition is bad for girls. That girls should learn their place before they become dark witches that destroy everything, or (after Madoka’s ending) fade from existence. That girls having power fantasies is ultimately harmful, and they need to stop. That girls have been wrong this whole time to want things. That girls’ desires, no matter what they are, are always ultimately selfish and corrupt.
And I fucking hate that. That’s not subversive. That’s our whole fucking lives. That’s what we get everywhere else. Nothing a girl does can be right. We’re bad to have ambitions and to want things. Even the “nice” things we do are dismissed with ulterior motives as soon as someone decides they’re done with us.
And I fucking hate people calling it “so profound” and whatever, when it’s ultimately torture porn and the message isn’t even deep.
And more than that, I hate that it’s success has spawned a series of knockoffs, so that now moe torture porn grimdark magical girls has become the most common iteration of the genre. So we had the incredibly ableist (OMFG WORST SHOW EVER MADE) Yuki Yuuna is a Hero, and we’re getting the “Magical Girls have to CULL EACH OTHER in a grim CHILDREN-LED FIGHT TO THE DEATH” of Magical Girl Raising Project and like I’m so fucking done with these grown ass men making shows for other grown ass men shitting all over girls’ power fantasies and thinking that shitting all over girls’ power fantasies is something new and subversive and not a reassertion of the status quo.
Look, I genuinely enjoyed watching PMMM. It’s a well made show, with good characters (Rebellion and everything that’s come since is AWFUL though). But I hate its message, I hate huge swaths of its fanbase, I hate its creator, and I hate that its become the new standard for magical girls.
Magical girls were already subversive. They were already something unique and powerful. They didn’t need to be brought down. And there would be good ways to explore and subvert the genre if you wanted to*. But just going for straight “everyone’s miserable and it wouldn’t work” isn’t actually a clever. Even without the inherent sexism, it has all the depth of those creepypastas that say “What if Rugrats WAS A DYSTOPIA” or whatever, like edgy for the sake of edgy isn’t actually deep.
*(While it’s refreshing to Western audiences that magical girls are deeply feminine, for instance, because we tend to associate being strong with being masculine or a tomboy, in Japan magical girls often serve as a reinforcement that no matter what you do you still have to adhere to gender roles. A great subversion of the genre would be one where some of the girls, and especially the main character, have more traditionally masculine powers/appearances and this is treated as just as valid a way for girls to be. Also interesting would be a magical girl series where older women become the magical girls - women struggling to hold jobs and pay rent, mothers, college kids, grandmas - because magical girls [like Disney princesses and much of media] tend to focus on pre- and newly- pubescent girl characters as the most powerful and tend to ignore older women)
Basically, enjoying magical girls has always involved some level of watching it for what you want and ignoring the less than pleasant intentions of the creator. Sailor Moon was heavily based on a series called Cutie Honey, which was made 100% to be fap material for adult male audiences, and originally the idea of this girl hero was something of a ~sexy~ joke. And then people like Naoko Takeuchi LOVED her and took empowerment from her, despite that clearly not being the intention, and created series like Sailor Moon. And I think that’s still a fine way to appreciate shows. I can watch PMMM and take power and interest from it despite its goals, like I did with the grossly fanservicey depiction of underage Magical Lyrical Nanoha when I was a kid. And I can do the same with what is likely to be the ultimately disappointing Magical Girl Raising Project.
But I’m not happy that I have to reinterpret and reclaim these shows to get meaning out of them. I’m not happy that a genre that was supposed to be about empowering girls has been largely stolen and dismissed as unrealistic and too idealistic. I’m not happy with an entire genre’s inability to see how positivity and idealism are subversive and groundbreaking.
And I’m not happy with PMMM for making that the status quo, or with all the fans who think things are better this way.