I have long been an observer of the pop culture landscape. While I never directly engage with it to protect both sanity (and because I don’t have the time to waste on that bullshit) I have always enjoyed watching the “discourse” evolve around entertainment and the people involved in it. Is that weird? Kinda, but we all got our interests I suppose.
One thing that I’ve noticed in the last few years, is that in the west, there seems to be a real battle over the depiction of women in cartoons and media, and while I am absolutely not an expert in that field, I’ve been coming to the conclusion that, in terms of the west, female characters often seem hampered by the need to be about “something.” Too often I find that female characters are often held to impossible standards, and that they must spend more time constantly justifying their existence or fighting for a “cause” than just being actual characters. Female characters have to adhere to silly shallow ideas of “strong” and “independent” and aren’t allowed the vast creative freedoms offered to male characters. They can’t just be normal, they can’t be people full of flaws or virtues. They are always judged by how they contribute to “the cause,” whatever that cause may be.
Anime I’ve seen, doesn’t suffer from that problem. As the medium is almost neatly split down the middle, with a large, respected and well entrenched female fan-base. I’ve noticed that female characters are often given far more creative liberty and freedom to encompass a wide range of archetypes. Most of all though, they are allowed to be just be people, and the best example I’ve seen lately came from the most unexpected place. After the cut let’s take a character dive into the titular lead of Magical Sempai: Magical Sempai.
((For the sake of avoiding confusion, I will now refer to the lead character as just ‘Sempai’))
Sempai is the perfect example of the creative freedom that anime is blessed with, that many shows in the west are not. Sempai is not a deep character, in fact she barely has any depth at all. She wants to be a magician, but sucks at it because she suffers from stage fright. That’s it, that’s the entire character summed up. There are no hidden motives, no backstory, no reason for her being other than the fact that she just wants to do magic. The entire series over the last twelve weeks has just been a series of mini episodes showing how Sempai keeps failing at trying to do magic tricks, and the exasperated response of her friends.
And it works, it works really well, but why?
The reason is, I think, is that Magical Sempai is a show that knows exactly what its goal is. The creators and anime adapters are all on the same page and they just go for it. There isn’t any attempt of trying to make the show about “something,” or have Magical Sempai be another entry in whatever “culture war” is being fought online today. She’s just a character, a dumb teenage girl who really REALLY wants to be a magician. The fact that the show is able to do that, and stay in that lane is what kept me coming back to the story, and what kept Sempai sticking around in my head even when other shows presented far more well developed female characters.
Because I think, there is a lot of joy that can be brought from seeing a female character just be herself, without any of the cultural baggage creators (and viewers) often assign to their shows. You don’t go to watch Sempai to get the latest war update in the battle of whatever people are bitching about on twitter, you sit down and watch because you want to see a cute teenage kid fail the rope trick for the fifteenth time, or to drown yourself in her endless optimism and dedication to her passion. Sempai doesn’t care what people think of her, or what the “culture” might think of her, she just want do magic. That level of creative freedom, of being freeing from the often suffocating chains of trying to say ‘something’ is what makes a character like Sempai so fresh and endearing, even if her character is incredibly shallow, because I’ll be honest, there isn’t really much I can say about her.
Yet that has always been one of Anime’s best strengths, being a medium that allows for both sides of the coin. Some of the best shows ever made that have touched the lives of millions have characters, male and female characters that address a variety of social and personal issues. Yet it also has several characters who are just girls being dumb, silly, stupid, vain, proud, giving, loyal, slutty, restrained, dedicated. I haven’t brought it up on my blog, but the recent harem anime Hensuki has really pulled me into it, not because of the ecchi hijinks, but because the female characters are hilarious freaks, and they are ALLOWED to be freaks. Anime isn’t a medium that has to lock itself into one particular box when it comes to depicting people of any sex, it has several and because of that, in my view, it has allowed the art-form to flourish when in the west, it has started become stagnate, repetitious, cynical and pandering.
Magical Sempai’s Sempai is the perfect example of that, a female lead who is exactly what is shown on the box. A teenage who want to put on a top hat and cape and pull a rabbit out of it. That level of freedom is a joy to see in these times, and it is what endeared me to her character long after the episodes finished. I don’t expect people to share that view, but I do think it is a view worth examining.
Or I’m just a massive fucking idiot who has no idea what he’s talking about. I’ll let you decide.