One of the signature moments for any magical girl series is the transformation sequence. During said metamorphosis, the girl traditionally is left momentarily naked before she becomes a magical girl by donning a flamboyant, color-coordinated costume through the use of magic.
Although the transformation sequence initially seems to be little more than just magical dress-up, the iconic scene is kept interesting through two different criteria. The first would be the significance of the aforementioned sequence. Although some may disagree with my take, I’ve always considered the transformation sequence as a whole to represent the magical girl adopting a different identity. In other words, she not only gains access to magic but she also becomes someone else by transforming. This can be seen in how some magical girls adopt pseudonyms. For instance, Tsukino Usagi stops being just a clumsy high school girl who hates math; she becomes Sailor Moon, the Solider of Love and Justice!
However, the two identities do not remain separate since they tend to merge as the series progresses, which can be seen in how the growth and development magical girl experiences to become readily apparently even when she’s just acting like a civilian. Again, I must point at Usagi as an excellent example since she starts off being a crybaby before eventually becoming a brave warrior who is willing to confront dangerous and terrifying situations for the sake of her friends and the world. Furthermore, her development carries over to when she’s just Usagi rather than Sailor Moon. She may remain lazy, clumsy, and childish, but by the end of the series she can become determined and courageous under the right circumstances.
That’s actually a common tendency for a magical girl, who will often start off as being unsure of herself or having several glaring character flaws. However, she also tends to develop as an individual through her adventures as a magical girl to the point that she makes a more subtle yet noticeable transformation by the end of the series. She may or may not continue her duties as a magical girl at that point, but it becomes clear that she has changed.
The second criteria is the portrayal of the transformation sequence. They are often beautifully rendered and can wildly vary between different magical girls within the same series, let alone magical girls from different series. Although the following video shows a clear bias for Precure, I believe it still does a decent show demonstrating how the transformation sequence can be a work of art. Look at how they’re all so different! Attention-grabbing backgrounds, clothes popping out of nowhere, hair dramatically increasing in length as well as changing colors like they were Super Seiyans, ribbons and other accessories materializing to complete the look – there’s a lot going on and I can’t help but be memorized.
The most controversial parts of the transformation sequences are the repetitiveness and the likeliness for misplaced fanservice to occur. I personally believe the repetitiveness is a necessary evil – in my mind, studios invest in the transformation sequence and attempt to make said scenes high-quality so that they can insert said scenes in episodes to pad out air time if need be. If the transformation sequence is interesting enough, then I don’t have any qualms with this practice. It’s interesting to note that some studios can avoid this “staleness” by slightly adjusting the transformation sequences. Fall 2017 series Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru: Washio Sumi no Shou manages this by making the transformation sequences in episode 1, 2, and 4 unique. This change, however, introduces a controversial element that will be discussed shortly.
As for the possible fanservice, it really depends on the studio’s decision. For instance, I’ve only recently started watching Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha where Nanoha and Fate are both briefly left completely naked while transforming. This is rather unlike most magical girl series – although I mentioned the fact that a magical girl tends to become naked while transforming, her skin is usually left translucent and no visible details for her body are shown clearly until her magical girl costume appears. That is not the case for Nanoha and Fate since their nipples are clearly exposed. However, since the camera doesn’t lecherously linger on their naked bodies, the experience doesn’t come across as being dirty or voyeuristic. As a result, their nudity seemed rather functionary due to the lack of licentious intent – the girls are merely changing clothes!
Meanwhile, the same can’t be said for Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru: Washio Sumi no Shou or even the entire Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru franchise. Washio Sumi (also known as Togo Mimori depending on the series) is consistently sexualized due to the nature of the camera’s voyeuristic tendencies as well as some impromptu demonstrations of physics. Perhaps Studio Gokumi wishes to emphasize the fact that she is very physically developed for a girl of her age. Do bear in mind she’s only 12 years old as Washio Sumi and only 14 years old as Togo Mimori.
Seemingly not satisfied with just sexualizing Washio Sumi, who seemingly has to make her chest bounce as well as waggle her behind to transform, Studio Gokumi deigns to alter the transformation sequences for Gin and Sonoko in episode 4 in order to include gratuitous and unnecessary behavior that only serve to provide fanservice. Does Sonoko really need to adjust the bottom of her leotard like that? Does her modest bust really need to bounce like that? Does Gin really have to tap her own butt like that? Perhaps Sonoko’s transformation sequence made less sense with the cat and the rooster being randomly included, but it’s not a good enough reason to sexualize Sonoko. None of them should have been put in such compromising positions, to be honest.
The situation has left me wondering exactly what is the targeted audience for magical girl titles. There’s probably no clear-cut answer, to be honest. Be that as it may, seeing studios sneak in such unneeded instances of fanservice during these transformation sequences, which should be empowering and cool and beautiful, is rather alarming. I have to admit that I’m not really a fan.