Although the magical girl genre inspires cisgender girls and women, the genre also has the potential to do the same for transgender and non-binary people.
By Latonya Pennington
Originating in Japan as a sub genre of Japanese anime, the magical girl genre is known for young girls utilizing special abilities, femininity, and cuteness to save the world from evil. This year marks the 20th anniversary of two groundbreaking magical girl shows, Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena. While both shows are considered empowering for cisgender girls and women, I’ve come to relate to them and the entire magical girl genre differently as a Black femme non-binary demi-girl.
Of the two shows, Revolutionary Girl Utena has made the most impact on me as a non-binary person. The anime tells the story of a teen girl named Utena Tenjou. When Utena’s parents die when she is a child, Utena is comforted by a young man known as “The Prince”, who gives her a ring that will lead her to him. Utena is so impressed by The Prince that she decides to become a Prince herself. The ring causes Utena to attend Otori Academy, where Utena becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving a series of duels surrounding the Rose Bride Anthy Himemiya.
Two years ago, Utena sparked my gender queer awakening because she was a girl who desired to be a Prince and liked wearing a boy’s uniform at school. She validated my high school experiences of liking t-shirts and pants and short hair over long hair and overly feminine clothes. When Utena gets scolded for wearing a boy’s uniform, she spoke to my experience of being told, “Girls should have long hair.” Utena made me realize that if I didn’t consider myself a girl, then I could become something else.
At the same time, Revolutionary Girl Utena also brought my femmephobia to light. After watching Utena, I started to consider feminine magical girls like Sailor Moon “too girly” and their cute attacks “too immature”. Earlier this year, I realized I had to acknowledge and work through my femmephobia in order to come to terms with my gender identity.
As it turns out, my femmephobia was the result of my inability to relate to the gender binary and narrow representations of Black womanhood. Despite not identifying as a Black woman, I still had a femme side that I wanted to embrace. Some things that have helped me do that are Black magical girls that have become part of the magical girl genre.
When I first came out to myself as a femme non-binary demigirl, I rediscovered Shauna J. Grant’s webcomic Princess Love Pon! Brimming with various shades of pink and cuteness, the webcomic was something that I used to avoid. After coming to terms with my femmephobia, I reread the comic and found myself going “Awwww, how cute!”
Through its oh-so-girly and pink Black lead Lia, Princess Love Pon! helped me relearn the power of Black femininity by showing me that it could literally be magic. More importantly, its Black female creator showed me that it was possible to create and affirm my Black femme magic. Today, there are not only Black magical girls for Black girls and femmes, but also magical girl inspired media that redefine gender identity and expression.
One of the most popular examples of magical girl inspired gender queerness is the animated series Steven Universe. Taking cues from the femininity of Sailor Moon and the gender queerness of Utena, the show applies them to characters such as the kind, pink-wearing Steven, the queer warrior Pearl, and the non-binary fusion character Stevionne.
A lesser known example is Eurika Gho’s webcomic Magical How?. A notable aspect of this webcomic is that a pink-haired boy named Gabe gains magical girl powers and a skirt, but isn’t called a magical girl or a magical boy. Instead, Gabe is simply called “a magical”, which frees the costume and abilities from the gender binary.
Although the magical girl genre inspires cisgender girls and women, the genre also has the potential to do the same for transgender and non-binary people. To avoid causing dysphoria, it is important to have more magical girl media with trans and non-binary representation. The magical girl genre shouldn’t only be for cisgender girls. If gender isn’t binary, then being magical isn’t either.