Feminism & Anime: 4 Attributes Of A Real Life Magical Girl
Ever since I was a kid, feeding my soul on shows like Sailor Moon, Fushigi Yugi, and Card Captor Sakura, I’ve wanted to save the world. Not only did I want to save the world, I knew it was my destiny.
I saw social problems like homelessness, suffering children, lost animals, and global poverty; while I wasn’t sure, yet, how to solve these problems, I was certain someday I would.
A lot of teenagers feel this way: We’re waiting for our X-men mutant powers to manifest, for our letter to Hogwarts, for our watcher, for our mystical companion to come show us the way to our world-saving destiny. We are waiting to be chosen to be a hero.
1. Magical Girls Are Chosen
I could feel the magic bubbling up inside me, and whenever I saw an opportunity to help someone, even in a small way, I’d bounce over and do my best — just like a magical girl. I went to my middle and high school classes, and I waited. One day, I knew, I’d be chosen. I imagined an old man or woman, maybe a teacher, would approach me after class, and submit a formal invitation. “Heather,” they’d tell me. “You are different. You have a destiny.” Maybe they’d give me a magical item, or awaken my powers.
But what if we didn’t wait to be chosen? What if we chose?
Instead of an old man, my awakening was sparked when I met my best friend Amber. We recognized in each other a sense of destiny, of a mutual wish to be heroes.
“I think I’m destined to save the world,” I confessed. “Like Sailor Moon, or like Buffy. I’m just waiting for my Luna or my Giles, for the one who tells me I’m chosen and triggers my powers!”
Amber was stone serious. “What if you didn’t wait? What if you just started being a hero now?”
Together, Amber and I began an adventure of saving the world that began with simple volunteer work, and led up to us eventually traveling around the country doing random acts of kindness and working with non-profits, to ultimately starting our own non-profit organization. That organization still exists, ten years later, and is making great strides in impacting our community. Guess what? It has a superhero theme.
2. Magical Girls Are Beautiful & Young
We started our journey as teenagers, and now we’re in our 30’s. Because of modern day pop culture, women face enormous pressure to stay youthful and attractive. In all honesty, I have struggled with this social expectation.
When we were young, everything we did impressed people. We went to the bank to set up our non-profit’s credit card; we met with a lawyer, and we’d get comments like, “You ladies run a non-profit? But you’re so young! That’s incredible!”
In anime, every magical girl is a teenager, kawaii and vivacious, with no less than four men pursuing her. I sometimes feel that if I gain twenty pounds and get wrinkles, my accomplishments won’t mean as much.
This culture teaches us that young people doing extraordinary things is somehow more special than people who are older. Now that I’m in my mid-30’s, I still fight with the clock and the mirror.
In anime, the magical girl is a spirited youth. Any woman over the age of 30 is considered to be an older, wise character–someone who used to be a hero, who recalls their glory days. They may have badass fighting skills or magic, but they are no longer the spritely, innocent magical girl. This left me with a feeling that, no matter how many homeless puppies I rescue, social issues I tackle, or books I publish, it won’t be as meaningful unless I’m young, thin, and pretty while I do it.
Look at incredible and strong women like Maya Angelou, Madeleine Albright, Mother Theresa. Their wisdom, strength, and impact grew with age.
Do you think they care about how sparkly their eyes are, or how cute their outfit looks? No.
They’re not magical girls. They’re magical women. And they are beautiful.
3. Magical Girls Are Hesitant, But Strong
Often, a magical girl is hesitant in hew new role as savior of humanity.
Before I started pursuing my own destiny, I wondered why magical girls and heroes wished for their old, “normal” life. How on earth could a mundane, boring life possibly compare with the glory of saving the world, of having adventures with friends, and of knowing your life will make a difference?
But once I started on my own journey — first starting a non-profit, then going on our Random Acts of Kindness and Volunteerism Roadtrip, and now writing books and magazine articles that impact and build the community and appearing on national television shows — I can say I now understand. When you’re a magical girl, life can get a little scary.
I can’t tell you how many people told Amber and I our road trip would be a failure, or that we were too young to start a non-profit. And even today, in my 30’s, people sometimes criticize my writing. I was recently invited to be on a national television show because of my writing, and I hosted a large community event to bring together musicians and historians and preserve their stories. Before each of these events, I was so nervous I truly wanted to just stay home in bed. And since I also work a full-time job, my extra writing and community appearances drastically cut into my sleep and relaxation times.
I’ve whined to my husband a hundred times, when I feel like I just can’t handle the pressure, “I just want to stay home and watch TV with you. I’m so tired. I’m so nervous. I just want to be normal and forget all these dreams.”
If you choose to be a Magical Girl, be prepared: Your destiny will be challenging. Sometimes it’s scary, and you just want to stay in bed.
Malala Yousafza was shot in the head for trying to empower women through education. Emma Watson was threatened with having nude photos released for standing up for Women’s Rights. It’s hard being a Magical Girl.
But then someone comes up on the street, gives me a hug, and says, “Thank you so much for doing this. It’s made such a big difference, and it’s given us something to be excited about.”
There’s a reason Sailor Moon cries so much. It can get intense. But it’s worth it.
4. Magical Girls Rely On Their Friends
This is a classic element of traditional Magical Girl anime. One of the best parts of being a hero, of pursuing your own individual destiny, is developing unbreakable bonds with your team mates. Saving the world, and chasing your dreams, requires taking risks.
When you take risks, you sometimes fail. Nothing brings you closer to your friends than realizing they’ll be there to help you up, even when you’re at your worst. When I struggle against a tough deadline, I still call Amber and ask her advice. When I started this website, my friends stepped up and helped me by sharing and providing content. When I do fundraisers, my friends donate and promote it. I’m always scared I’ll fail, but when I know I can count on other Magical Girls and Super Heroes in my life, it helps me feel stronger.
The truth is, if you don’t take risks, you won’t fall down. If you never fall down, you’ll never experience having your friends there to pick you up again. You’ll never know your own limits, and you’ll never know how deep those friendship bonds go.
Likewise, whenever my friends take a new risk or chase some wild new dream, I try to support them, share ideas, and promote their work. It gives me a chance, hopefully, provide a stepping stone to helping other people accomplish their own goals. Together, that network allows us to all feel connected in our mutual goal of improving the world.
Every time Sailor Moon loses a tough battle, or is forced to fight her own boyfriend, her friends step up behind her. When we watch a Magical Girl anime, seeing those incredible emotional connections is part of the appeal. We don’t just want to save the world; we want to know we’re not alone.
How To Be Magical
The appeal of Magical Girl anime plays on our desires to be chosen, to be beautiful, to be strong, and to have unbreakable friendships. Pretty much every young person dreams of being magical, or being a hero.
We’re all empowered to be the heroes we want to be and to make those dreams come true.
I am a Real-Life Magical Girl — not because I was chosen, but because I chose.