A type of anime. The typical mahou shoujo (literally translated "magical girl") flick goes something like this: normal Japanese girl gets magical powers (through some sort of magical animal such as a flying teddy bear), and proceeds to fight the forces of evil using kawaii dresses, pink and gold magical jewelry and eloquent English attack phrases like "Silver Moon Crystal Power Kiss!". Some hentai absolutely love that sort of thing and nobody else understands why.

The main audience for the genre is 9-year-old girls, but it also has a wide cult following among (mostly male) college students. There must be some sort of fundamental mystic link between the two groups that future generations of sociologists will later discover. Perhaps watching mahou shoujo is a subconscious form of rebellion against the ideals of toughness imposed by our cruel modern society for some. Personally, I'm a fan because it kicks ass. I mean, how can you *not* like a show where a chirpy anime girl battles evil villains wearing a lacey pink one-piece dress and wielding a Scepter of Love?

Note that this is only a small fraction of all anime, so if reading this description made you retch just thinking about it, remember that the vast majority of anime is not like this. At the other end of the spectrum, you have giant robot fighting, and every other nuance imaginable in between. Not even all mahou shoujo is as "bad" as I described. Hime-chan no Ribbon, for example, involves a girl with magical powers, but isn't really sappy.

Popular examples of the genre (that really are sappy) include Sailor Moon, Card Captor Sakura and Wedding Peach.

Mahou Shoujo (or "Magical Girl") is a genre of Japanese anime and manga which generally has these characteristics:
  • A girl, somewhere from 9 to 14 years old (though sometimes as old as 16), acquires some magical powers, or has innate magical powers which awaken. This is one characteristic that is always true (the other characteristics just being generally true). There are no magical women series; there are no magical boy series. The reason for this is thought to be that the Japanese culture considers the transition from girlhood to womanhood to be "magical", and magical girl series symbolically/metaphorically deal with this transition, in addition to concretely dealing with the emotional "growing up" of the main character. The transition from boyhood to manhood isn't considered to be magical in the same way.

  • The wand, magical jewelry, or other enchanted object that contains/activates/focuses the girl's powers. There aren't many exceptions to this. The only straight exception that I can think of is the borderline magical girl series Magic Knight Rayearth (MKR), where the main characters do straight spellcasting. A sort-of exception is the manga version of Mysterious Thief Saint Tail: while Saint Tail does use a cane and top hat to do some of her tricks, they seem to be more like props than tools, and she can transform without any object; in the anime version, she needs a jewelry type thingy to transform.

  • Various attack phrases and incantations. All magical girls have these. There is generally one for the transformation, and one for each attack/spell. A pseudo-exception is Saint Tail, who can perform magic without any words, but often says "One, Two, Three!" or "It's Showtime!" when performing magic (but what magic she does is entirely independent of the words she uses).

    Probably the most memorable magical girl incantation is "Sammy Davis Broiler Chicken!", from the Pretty Sammy episode of the Tenchi Universe series.

  • Transformation sequence. The magical girl grabs her magical thingamabob, says an incantation, and then transforms into her alter-ego; the transformation is usually about 10 to 15 seconds long, involves the disappearance and reappearance of clothing, and is used in every single freaking episode (they save money that way, since that's 10 less seconds of original animation they have to make each episode). In accordance with the Laws of Anime, no opponent ever attacks the girl while she's going through this transformation.

    Sometimes the transformation also turns the girl into a 16 year old, or adult, version of herself (in keeping with the transformation-from-girlhood-to-womanhood underpinnings of the genre). If the transformation leaves the girl at the same age, it has the additional affect of making it so that no one can recognize the girl, even though her face is exactly the same. The exception to the "Kent Clark/Superman" effect is Saint Tail, who has to make sure that no one gets a good look at her.

    Exceptions to the "transformation sequence" characteristic are Magic Knight Rayearth (they always wear the same clothing) and CardCaptor Sakura (CCS). In CCS, Sakura's incantation transforms a little key thing into her wand, but she undergoes no transformation. However, her best friend Tomoyo makes up costumes for her, which Sakura wears if she has the opportunity. This also means that Sakura's outfits are different every time she wears them, unlike all the other magical girl series.

  • The animal helper. Most magical girls have some sort of talking magical animal that helps them along, though there are some exceptions. Nurse Angel Ririka SOS has no animal. Saint Tail has a pet hedgehog, though it isn't magical. The Magic Knights have an animal helper named Mokona, though it doesn't really talk as the only thing it can say is "Pu!" (pronounced "poo"); however, Hikaru Shido can still understand him (it?), since she has a gift for understanding what animals are saying. Chacha in Akazukin Chacha doesn't really have an animal helper, but her best friend Riiya is a werewolf who can transform into a kawaii, fluffy wolf puppy, and Chacha just loves him to death in the uber-cute form. ;-)

  • The fighting of evil. The type of evil can vary. There's the classic trying to take over the world type evil, in which case the heroine(s) end up fighting the monster of the week; this can get rather boring, since the magical girl uses the same attack again and again and again, plus the monster usually stands no chance once she gets the opportunity to blast it. Outside of the monster of the week flavor, there isn't any set kind of evil. In CardCaptor Sakura, the evil is the disaster that will happen if Sakura doesn't capture all of the Clow Cards. Saint Tail steals swindled/stolen items and returns them to their rightful owner. Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne steals objects of art that have been possessed by evil spirits.

    The "taking over the world" type evil has it own set of rules/conventions. There's a top bad guy, often a king or queen, who has a bunch of powerful flunkies (the flunkies are sometimes referred to as Dark Generals); these powerful flunkies have their own, less powerful flunkies. Rather than send their most powerful operative out after the magical girl, they send out one low level flunky after another, each getting more powerful than the last, but the magical girl gains power even faster, so they never win. After a while, there'll be a confrontation with one of the incompetent Dark Generals (he's got to be incompetent, since if he wasn't he'd have sent the most powerful monster out first rather than last); the general bites the dust as well. Eventually the heroine confronts the Head Honcho, and beats him/her, even though said Head Honcho could have squashed the brat at the beginning of the series. This sorry track record among wannabe Evil Overlords has lead to the fan fiction Magical Girl Hunters, where two human assassins are hired by Dark Generals to kill magical girls since the Dark Generals are too incompetent to do it themselves.

    There are also a few magical girl series in which there is no evil to be fought. These include Fancy Lala, a 9 year old girl who turns into a 15 year old pop star, and Hime-chan no Ribbon, a girl with a ribbon that lets her turn into any other human in the world.

An excellent source of magical girl information is the Mahou Shoujo Anime Resources site, at http://www.mahoushoujo.net/

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