The Significance and Portrayal of Magical Girl Transformation Sequences | 12 Days of Aniblogging (Day 5)

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.


15 thoughts on “The Significance and Portrayal of Magical Girl Transformation Sequences | 12 Days of Aniblogging (Day 5)

  1. Magical Girls Anime is one genre I want to give a go, but the potential for fanservice has stopped me. Your post has encouraged me to give it a go, seeing that not every anime series will be like that.

    Personally, I don’t mind repetition in sequences like that. I see it as “it’s time for this persona to do their work!” or as separating the magical from the normal. I think my ideal viewing would be to see their transformation change as they do, like things being added to it – but like you said, cost is probably a factor there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. FHQ laid it out pretty well. If you know the time slot when a magical girl series aired, you can usually get a general idea of the target audience. Daytime shows like CCS, Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew, Precure, Shugo Chara, etc. are almost universally made for young girls (also the more episodes, the more likely it is to be a kids’ series – anything over 26 episodes is almost certainly airing during daytime or prime time hours). Late night magical girl like Madoka or Magical Girl Raising Project, or parodies of magical girl like Boeibu Love, are mostly made for the otaku crowd (although that’s not to say that some can’t be suitable for all ages – Wish Upon the Pleiades aired in late night but there was nothing in it that your seven year old daughter couldn’t watch).

    Anyway, nudity in magical girl transformations has been a thing going all the way back to the 1970s, it’s just a matter of how it’s presented from show to show, with the children’s shows naturally downplaying it more (like the original Sailor Moon’s transformations having nudity that’s both very brief and only shown in silhouette – even further edited in the Americn broadcast to remove ). In regards to Nanoha, the nipples were a film-only detail (and done discreetly enough that I didn’t even notice until the third time I watched it) – everything in the TV versions is just straight-up barbie doll anatomy, which is probably another reason why it never felt very intrusive to me, certainly a lot less so those closeups of Togo’s bouncing boobs.

    Nice post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, an extension to an already very informative comment. Thank you!

      Mmm, I won’t deny that nudity has always been a thing for magical girl transformation sequences and said as much. I just felt like YuYuYu was a bit too overt, unfortunately.
      Ohh that was exclusive to the film? It was very mild in comparison to the portrayal of Togo, I agree.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If I’m not mistaken, I think one of the first magical girl titles, cutie honey, was aimed at a young male audience and they specifically chose to show her being naked during transformation. They thought it would appeal to the audience.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I haven’t really seen much Animeseries in this genre, so I can for a change not really give a comment on this one, except to say that I still really enjoyed reading your post.
    Don’t know if this will ever bd a genre that I pick up in the future, but who knows I’m always open to try new things 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The precise ‘targeted audience’ for magical girl anime isn’t always obvious, but there is a fairly meaningful and easily-tracked split between titles which air in daytime kids’ TV slots and titles which air in late-night niche-audience slots. Magical girl anime in the first of those two categories are aimed primarily at children and sell toys to their audience; anime in the second category are aimed exclusively at a much smaller but higher-spending audience of older, niche-interest viewers and make their money through some mixture of merchandise, source material boosts, bluray sales, game tie-ins &c. There are, of course, some older viewers for magical girl anime which are aimed at children (hence my ‘primarily’), but they’re not the main audience.

    Yuki Yuna Is a Hero and Nanoha are both late-night anime, which explains why their transformation scenes are more sexualised. (I also think they’re oversexualised, but that’s a separate question.) I think it’d be unwise to say categorically that kids’ magical girl shows never have anything which you might call fanservice in their transformation sequences, but Precure or Sailor Moon transformations, and transformations from older ‘problem-solving’ magical girl titles, are either entirely clean-minded or way, way tamer.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Ah Remy-nii, once again an interesting post.
    However, pretty much all I had to say was put forward very neatly by Taku-san, so…. yes. Another pointless comment.
    Close to half done!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I think transformation sequences exist to mark an aesthetic of the genre—-everything must become magical, especially the main character. And from a philosophical standpoint, “ In order to change the world, one must first change themself.” Either way, “oversexualization” never bothered me in scenes like this. Instead, I like to enjoy these transformations as the studio’s money shot, cause more often than not, they are quite fluid in motion, are colorful, and are timed with a musical theme song that represents the entire character of not only the self, but the story, too.

    Instances include Sailor Moon’s many transformations, which highlight the aesthetic theme of ribbons, space, and glitter. They also have the characters name in the song’s lyrics, which emphasizes a heroic nature of sorts. Then you have the sequences in Madoka Magica (Mami being my favorite), which, though brief, look to convey both the theme of doll-like witches (the bizzare, the fantastic), and the shining hope in a crumbling world. The melancholic yet darkly romantic orchestral/operatic soundtrack brings the contrast back into focus.

    I’m probably over analyzing it, but I think you get my point, haha! Interesting topic choice for day 5! I myself cannot wait to watching the latest continuations of the great Yuki Yuna franchise!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m glad you can always enjoy the transformation scenes the way they are presented, then. Maybe it’s due to the company I keep or being overly sensitive, but I find even the most elaborate scenes end up becoming less pleasant when the camera seems more focused on accentuating a child’s breasts and bottom. I can let high schooler magical girls slide since for the most part, but when they start doing that with elementary school students and middle school students, I become worried.

      Nah, you’re totally fine. I also agree with your statements regarding the aesthetics and the realization of themes within transformation scenes.

      Mmm glad to come across another YuYuYu fan!

      Liked by 1 person

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