It'll make you happy like an old-time movie.
One of the problems I face writing on a blog of ever-increasing age is that I almost always forget whether I've written on a topic before or not. This one has been bouncing around in my mind for a while, awaiting some sort of suitable catalyst to be revealed, but I have no idea if this has already come to pass. I may be repeating myself, which should be of no surprise to anyone.
Crisu asked what it is about the Magical Girl/Mahou Shoujo genre which makes us fans, in an attempt to trawl the seas of said fandom for useful opinions to create a presentation thereof aimed at the masses. Taking a quick once-over on my own rough ideas, I doubt this will be of much help to him, but so it goes.
Boiled down to the bare essentials, the reason I like Mahou Shoujo is because it's fun. Rather, I don't watch mahou shoujo because it's fun, but I watch shows that are fun, and these happen to be, for a suspicious majority, mahou shoujo shows. I do not pretend to understand why, especially with such a vague qualifier as "fun".
So let's have a look at the secondary reasons I like magical girls.
Putting deconstructions aside, the basic story of the Magical Girl goes as such: ordinary girl, from elementary school to high school age, obtains or is given special powers, with which she is tasked to do something, most often defeat mindless monsters which don't do much other than roar threateningly and charge directly into the path of whatever special attack the protagonist has. Repeat once per week. All this may build up to something more important, like those plot hooks at the end of roleplaying adventure modules: there are all these monsters around, so presumably they must come from somewhere. A big bad demon boss, perhaps. A rival magical girl. Outer space. The Lifestream. Whatever.
The Monster Of The Week formula is also shared by the very broad Shounen genre, however. "Boy defeats monsters" is not that much different from "Girl defeats monsters", and budget-saving considerations usually mean that the battles are simplistic and static, without much movement and tricky animation sequences. Here, therefore, is where we detour into the realm of taste, personal: I prefer mahou shoujo protagonists to shounen kid protagonists, largely because magical girls tend to be quieter. Unless subverted, the shounen protagonist will be brash and boastful and overconfident and otherwise loud, for no reason I have been able to fathom. This will obviously appeal to many, judging from the popularity of action shounen shows, but it does not appeal to me. The overall hyperactivity and (un)intelligence level of the protagonists may be depressingly similar, but for some reason the female version does not set my teeth on edge.
There's probably a paper about gender dynamics to be written about this somewhere.
The magical girl will also usually have to contend with the "shoujo" portion of Mahou Shoujo, namely the romantic entanglements. The (stereo)typical shoujo protagonist is a girl whose greatest asset is her Determination and Pluck, who fights on against unrealistically insurmountable odds to excel in whatever she puts her mind to. This often includes a love interest of some sort, a Tall and Mysterious bishounen, for varying values of "tall" and "mysterious". When applied to the "mahou" aspect, this love interest might be a Tall and Mysterious Masked Saviour, swooping in to save the day just when things look down, but disappearing before the final blow is actually dealt. This is by no means a requirement, but it seems to happen a lot more than statistically probable. (There's also the Tall and Mysterious Antagonist route, which has more than its share of examples, but I'm not familiar enough with them to do them justice.)
I don't think this has any direct analogue in action shounen. I'm not sure why.
The overall journey for the protagonist in both action shounen and mahou shoujo shows tends to involve the pursuit of Power, where the protagonist says "I want to be stronger." The most common reason for this is "to protect those I care about", and it is common to both genres. But from what I can tell, in the case of action shounen, the acquisition of power is given more emphasis: I want to become powerful, so I can protect my loved ones. In mahou shoujo, however, the goal is the important thing: I want to protect my loved ones, so I want to become powerful. Once again, I have no idea why, but I dimly perceive another paper on gender dynamics to be written here. Neither position is more valid than the other, and so it comes down once again to personal preferences, and I personally prefer the power being secondary.
So how does all this equate into "fun"? Truth to tell, while I can sit back and consider all of this in a detached academic manner, what actually draws me to magical girl shows are the simple, shallow things. Bright, flashy colours. Inefficient but pretty outfits. Sparklies. And an unshakeable belief, the sort that is felt rather than known, that hope will prevail: the world is round, gravity makes things fall, and Everything Will Be All Right. There will be a happy ending.
You'd be surprised at the sheer amount of flack I've received over the years for expressing my preference for a Happily Ever After. It's not even as though I state it in an insulting or condescending manner; the objection seems to be that I'm "shallow" and a "sheeple" or something. I don't know, I've never been able to figure this out.
I watch Mahou Shoujo because it gives me the sort of entertainment I want, with the disadvantages just trivial enough for me to dismiss. It's a hearkening to a simpler view of the world, without all the moral grey areas that the allegedly "deeper" anime thrusts in one's face. I don't really mind if there's a blurring between Good and Evil, but I do want a clear delineation between Right and Wrong. The distinction is subtle.