Rise of Anime Programming Aimed at Girls
By J. Thompson, 2000
Have you noticed that anime fandom doesn't look the way it used to? No, I'm not talking about people not having a sense of history (that wouldn't be true of anyone reading these introductions anyway) but that there are actually significant numbers of FEMALE fans out there? It isn't just chrome robots (and that's a fine thing). Surprisingly to some, this has been going on for some time now (albeit in a somewhat less visible way). You should probably know that while little boys were watching Mach GoGoGo (Speed Racer) in 1967, girls were watching Ribun no Kiishi (Princess Knight). When guys were seeing the first Gundam and the last Gatchaman TV series (Gatchaman F) in 1979, girls were watching things like Anne of Green Gables and Rose of Versailles, but that's just programming specifically aimed at one gender. Truly, the most successful shows had (and have) to have appeal to both sexes, and from the very beginning integration of girls manga elements found their way into more mainstream anime programming. In the sixties, there were probably almost as many girls watching Kimba / Jungle Emperor as boys (maybe more). During the seventies and early eighties, girls watched Yamato (and more surprising to some, Star Blazers as well) just like the boys did, recognizing that there was both a story and serious character development here (although few women served on the Yamato/Argo). In fact, many of shows in the seventies and early eighties had a remarkable portion of their plotlines revolving around relationships and character development and guys didn't mind it one bit. These are the shows responsible for second-wave fandom, after all! Of course, the nineties brought us Sailor Moon, which despite a number of near-death experiences in the US still has a significant following by both sexes... so much so that the movies have been licensed and have been brought over.
For the uninitiated, these "girl's shows" (referred to as Shoujo shows) are typically put together a little differently than the ones that are aimed at boys. Guns are almost never mentioned, much less used. There is rarely any blood and should someone actually die (this doesn't happen often either) it's a very big deal and the consequences are quite extraordinary. Then, like their counterparts, the killers will be ruthlessly hunted down by the survivors and destroyed in a satisfying fashion and all will be right with the world... well, for that episode anyway. It doesn't mean they don't swing some pretty substantial swords sometimes, but just as many will opt for the more innocuous magic wand.
Most of these Shoujo shows follow a standard theme, with the central girl in question (usually a somewhat lonely girl who may be in love with someone but never quite fits in) is confronted with an other-worldly apparition (sometimes just a beam of light). She's then magically transported to another world where the laws of physics aren't quite the same as they are here, where magic usually works and where some horrible thing either just has or is about the happen to the local populace. Around this time, someone (usually one of their benefactors) will tell them that their help is urgently needed and that the only way they can go back home is to vanquish the bad guys and right all that's wrong in the land. If they can succeed against overwhelming odds. some plot device will then activate and they will be allowed to go home and eat all the cheeseburgers they want. Around now, they may also pick up a requisite cute creature and be shown / demonstrate their newfound magic powers and (perhaps with a quick flash of nudity) change into their new, "powerful" clothing (usually, not much of it either). Along the way they will pick up a few like-minded friends (most usually female) and fight the bad guys until the time of The Big Battle. Here, the heroine (always the central one, as the others will have been rendered powerless by this time) will miraculously defeat the baddies at the last moment and all will be right with the world. She'll then probably say goodbye to her new friends and so ends the show. Sounds familiar, right? It's been used since the beginning and I'm sure it'll be used until this all ends.
One of the few elements that serves to differentiate Shoujo shows (like the shape of the heads in boy's robot shows) is how our heroines are dressed in their final fighting form. If you've only seen Sailor Moon, you might reason that this is always going to be the pseudo sailor suits but such is not always the case. In fact, since a fair amount of these shows can revolve around (perhaps even current) fashion a number of strange variants have popped up. One of the most extreme is Wedding Peach, where our intrepid fighters have an intermediate stage where their fighting garb is... a wedding gown! You wouldn't think that someone in Japan is trying to brainwash young girls into thinking that... nah, couldn't be.
While Sailor Moon is perhaps the product that associated with this genre, recently a number of Shoujo and nearly Shoujo shows have surfaced. Fushigi Yuugi is decidedly Shoujo. So is Magical Knights Rayearth, Maison Ikkoku and Revolutionary Girl Utena. Kimagure Orange Road has many Shoujo elements.