Friday morning. The alarm clock jolted me awake with an infectiously sweet pop tune I wanted no part of. As a musician, I have my alarm clock set up to download and play trending idol music to keep me updated on how the industry is sounding, although waking up with it first thing in the morning is more like a form of self-torture in practice.
I stretched out my hand to turn off the clock, only to find the button just out of my reach. The clock continued as if mocking me with its song, loud with a sugary major chord and lyrics I think had something to do with candy. I couldn’t reach far enough to turn it off myself, so my hand hovered suspended in the air above my bedstand in seeming defeat. In this situation, most people would be obliged to get out of bed in order to reach the clock.
But I didn’t get out of bed. I focused on the button as sparkles began to shine at my fingertips. The button was pressed neatly via my magic. The room was now deathly quiet as I rolled back over into my web of scattered blankets and stared blankly at the ceiling, the last little glimmers around my fingertips beginning to dissipate.
My name is Ellery Loonburg, and at 13 years old I found out I was a magical girl. Since then, the past ten years of my life have been a whirlwind of coming to terms with my transformation, being placed in the elite training program to develop the talents of young girls who transform, gaining thousands of adoring fans along with the other girls in my group, and ultimately growing out of that world to become a college student and now a full-on adult trying to figure out what I’m actually gonna do with my life.
When thinking of “magical girl,” most people think of goofy, fun anime and manga about young heroines receiving magical powers and going on a series of adventures featuring over-the-top transformation sequences into frilly outfits, goofy secret identity plots, and fighting off the forces of evil while bonding with fellow girls and growing together in friendship and magic. Those stories have been around for decades, but then, about 40 years ago, something akin to magical girl transformations actually started happening to girls. But we don’t get our powers from cute little interdimensional creatures, or magically change outfits, or fight off the forces of evil. Some magical girl groups have done a really cute job at integrating those tropes into their acts, but in reality, you know what happens to magical girls after they transform?
We get sorted into girl bands and perform idol pop.
After girls every year began to gain magical powers (or, as we refer to in the magical girl community, ‘go magical’), a system began to arise around creating musical performance groups out of the girls, growing into a massive entertainment industry, the “magical girl industry,” which takes hundreds of young girls every year and places them into a massive assembly line to create hype-based fandoms. That pop song I shut off earlier? All those girls singing on it were magicals.
As for me, I had stepped away from the world of magical girls a long time ago. I looked down from the ceiling to a spot on my wall where the old poster of my magical girl group was hanging, prominently placed to remind me of what a more sentimental person would refer to as the glory days. The poster for my old group, MOONBEAM, showed me and my two idolmates performing together. I was in the middle, jamming with my synth as the group’s captain and instrumentalist. On one side was Bailey, our upbeat lead singer confidently gripping her mic and rocking out; on my other side was Tiffany, our rich-girl of the group who was in charge of backup vocals and just generally looking cool. The poster exuded an air of fearlessness and unbreakable friendship that was so rapturous looking at it could almost make me forget it was entirely corporate-produced and that I hadn’t spoken to either of them in years since our group disbanded.
But little did I know that morning that I was about to be roped back into that world of glamour under only the most scandalous of circumstances. In a matter of hours, my former idolmate Bailey was to be attacked outside of her home in an incident that would send shockwaves throughout the idol scene. I would soon find myself prompted for a reunion with my other idolmate Tiffany, who had an ingenious plan to reshape the magical girl system in a way I was hoping would offer them more care and protection. Plans were in motion that would reshape society’s core understanding of magical girls and idols, and I found myself in the middle of a fiasco that would culminate in my own coming to terms with myself not just as a magical girl, but as an adult magical girl.
The following little tale is about my adolescent life as a magical girl idol and my unlikely return to its glitzy industry years later. My second arrival was marked by a reunion with my bandmates years after we’d gone our separate ways, a reunion which unexpectedly ended up unearthing shocking revelations about the idol industry itself. This is a magical girl story with crazy transformations, secret identities, and superpowered magic fights where the stakes couldn’t be higher. However, it’s also a story about a complicated industry system that spends billions to project a highly artificial image of beauty and perfection onto young, overstressed talents pressured far beyond what’s probably best for them.
Thank you for choosing to come with me on this adventure into the wonderful world of magical girls; but try to think critically about the issues presented and whatever you do, keep a close handle on the thin line where fantasy ends and reality begins. Just where that line lies may be a surprise. Maybe that’s part of the danger. Maybe that’s part of the fun.
It’s showtime, magical girl.