I have mentioned before that I've been trying to create various magical girl concepts, if not actual established characters, in the HERO System. Since I've had the point hammered into me with great force that I shouldn't try to stat existing characters without compromising their stated abilities, I've been trying to create my own original magical girls from scratch.
Now, I could turn this into a series of posts about What Makes A Mahou Shoujo, but I'm not sure anyone really wants to read endless ramblings about the Creative Process, which is largely ugly, incoherent, and should not be seen by the light of day. Instead, I'll just shine a narrow beam of illumination onto one aspect which struck me as blog fodder.
I was having quite a bit of trouble balancing my original character (let's call her Bright Blade, since that's what I named her). The HERO System works in this way: pick a power level for the setting, which will dictate the point totals for the character. This comes in the form of, say, 200+150, which means that I get two hundred actual points to play around with, and one hundred and fifty Disadvantage points that I can get as a bonus, if I start saddling Bright Blade with character flaws, so to speak. The definition of "flaw" here is broad, and mainly constitutes restrictions on one's actions: a Code Against Killing is a commendable trait for a heroic character, but is nevertheless still considered a Disadvantage, since it prevents the character from ignoring helpless civilians in the line of fire.
I was told that it was expected of me to fill out all 150 points of Disadvantages. This I failed to do, largely because I could not come up with 150 points of Disadvantages that still fit within the other rules, which dictated that no more than 50 points shall be under one category. (Don't worry about it, it's not that important. Especially since I established that it was an arbitrary ruling in the book that can be safely ignored.)
To head off any arguments in that direction, I know that using all 150 points of Disadvantages is not compulsory, but it's irrelevant anyway.
It took me a while to figure out just why I had so much trouble with this aspect, while the others had no idea why I was stuck. Give her someone hunting her for revenge, they said; no, I reply, she has no enemies yet. Give her a debilitating weakness to a special substance, they said; no, I reply, it doesn't fit the character. Back and forth it went.
And I realized, after I read through the example characters in the Champions universe meta-setting, that magical girls do not have tragic backstories.
Dark magical girls are rife with tragic backstories, of course. But the ones who start out in the light, the Sakura Kinomotos and Nanoha Takamachis, just seem to pick up their powers and then go forth to fight the good fight, just like that.
Whereas the established NPCs in the Champions-verse, and I suspect comics-dom in general, have a fairly standard backstory formula: first, they come across something that gives them powers beyond normal humans. Second, something horrible happens to them or people around them, leading directly to number three, an unwavering dedication towards their current goals, be it crime-fighting or crime-causing. This doesn't apply to the mysterious (Captain Chronos) or silly (Foxbat), but for the majority of the characters, it's as though one requires a personal loss of some sort before one can become a superhero. That, or an overly complex background.
There's also the alternative of the soldier-types, or the society-types, who fight crime because they're told to, and they're not allowed to disobey. This is, admittedly, a subjective thing to judge, which is why I'm not sure if the magical girls I'm thinking about fall under this category.
I mean, here we have Nanoha Takamachi of Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, nine years old. She picks up a magical jewel and an injured ferret familiar, and transforms into a magical girl to fight monsters. Strictly speaking, she doesn't have to; she just doesn't want anything bad to happen to her friends due to the loose Jewel Seeds. And soon enough, the Jewel Seeds take a back seat to trying to convert a "girl with sad eyes" to the side of good.
Or Sakura Kinomoto of Card Captor Sakura, ten years old. Finds an old dusty book in the basement, accidentally releases lots of Clow Cards, and sets about getting the Clow Cards back, because otherwise they might hurt her friends. Later we find out that it's destiny (well, "hitsuzen"), but until then, all that's driving Sakura to risk her life against powerful forces is her personal sense of responsibility.
Sakura could be said to be low-powered, but her cards are extremely high-powered. And I really doubt that anyone could say that Nanoha is low-powered; in fact, after her own Tragic Incident, Nanoha's power level got nerfed.
How about a magical girl anime with definite villains? Nagisa Misumi and Honoka Yukishiro from Pretty Cure turn into Cure Black and Cure White respectively and fight the forces of the Dark King, entirely because Mepple and Mipple told them to. I'm leaving out the twins from Fushigiboshi no Futagohime, because they don't exactly map well to combat mechanics.
I'm not saying that all magical girls don't have Angsty Backstories or Dark Forces aligning against them over the horizon; after all, the titular Chacha from Akazukin Chacha transforms into Magical Princess Holy-Up and travels across the land to save her parents and her kingdom from the Demon King. It just seems that it's not as critical to the backstory as in the superhero genre. The stereotypical view of the shoujo magical girl, after all, is of a clumsy girl who gets mystical powers and a frilly outfit (often by accident), and fights Monsters Of The Week just because they're there. Occasionally they say they want to protect their crush (the track/field star, the football captain, whoever), but since said crush is seldom in the actual vicinity during a monster attack, I don't know if they even count as a Dependent NPC.
So basically, I had a character, a young girl, who finds a magical artefact (a ring, if you must know) just lying around (like Sakura), and gains superpowers from there. She is contacted by someone from the same plane of existence from whence the ring came (like Nanoha), who informs her that she should use that power to solve what amounts to an industrial accident which released Monsters Of The Week in the city (like Tsubasa from Figure 17). She's not being coerced, and there's no actual punishment if she refuses. She starts out with a respectable suite of powers already (like Sasami from Pretty Sammy), since the monsters don't come in a graded difficulty curve and she probably doesn't want to get squished the first fight.
I was then told that this character lacked motivation.
Maybe I should add in a dash of Lina Inverse, from Slayers. Avarice and self-interest are apparently motivation enough for her.