Most of the guys my age probably, like anyone else, had their early childhood steeped in Disney movies, then moved on to whatever action show was popular (Power Rangers?), and soon found themselves with Dragon Ball Z and other like shows. (We are just a couple years too young for Ninja Turtles.) However, as a young child, I always hated most of the Disney movies (and I still do). There are some I’ve come to appreciate (Aladdin, for instance) but I didn’t like them as a child (with the exception, apparently, of The Lion King, probably just for Timoun and Pumba) and I’ve been told that it was for the simple reason that I didn’t like ‘bad guys.’
While I assure you that my mom owned EVERY Disney movie, I could only tolerate a handful for that very reason, and instead, I grew up on Winnie the Pooh. Winnie the Pooh is the original slice-of-life comedy: It’s a show about a bunch of anthropomorphic animals in a 100 acre wood doing just shy of absolutely fucking nothing. The show had no villains – sure, Rabbit had sand in his vagina, and Tigger, while a kook, was everyone’s favorite irregardless, but there was no real conflict in Winnie the Pooh, and especially none that couldn’t be solved in an ultimately comedic way.
Now, it gets confusing to me when I think about the fact that the shows I liked after that were such as Beast Wars and Power Rangers, but I think there’s an important distinction here – the villains were never actually threatening in these shows, and they were often just as lovable as the good guys. I know I owned a plush toy of Lord Zedd from Power Rangers, and I flat-out own ALL of the original Beast Wars toys. What is important here is not just that I didn’t like ‘bad guys’, but more that I didn’t like conflict – I just wanted shows to be fun and cool and never threatening. That’s why my next hobby was Jurassic Park, because the dinosaurs were badass, and after that, I was into fucking Godzilla.
When I was about 7 years old, two very important anime were getting huge in America – Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon. Now, I’d venture to say that most of the boys my age were more into DBZ – I know Funeral was (though he’s a little older) and from what I recall it was just more of a dude thing all-around. This was especially true about 2 years later when the initial craze of Pokemon was mostly worn down, and DBZ was just getting into it’s biggest arcs (Cell and Majin Buu). However, I never really cared much for DBZ – I rode the Pokemon wave long after people started picking on me for it. I was obsessed with Pokemon for 4 straight years, mingling it in with a love for Nintendo in general. I didn’t loose interest in Pokemon because it stopped being cool for people ym age to like it, I got out of it simply because it wasn’t really on TV anymore and the new games and trading cards were getting worse (I never liked Ruby/Sapphire much).
Pokemon is another show with no villain (does Team Rocket honestly count?) and no threat. It was just a cute, fun show full of cool monsters, and it had a lot of great merchandise made for it. There was just one show years later that would turn my perception of conflict on it’s head and rock my world.
That show, my friends, was Ninja Scroll. I saw it at the tender age of 10 years old and it blew my mind – this was probably the most awesome thing ever. There was a super-cool main character and he was totally indestructible against hordes of enemies – this is what I now wanted out of a show. And mind you, I didn’t know about anime yet, but back then we even had shows like Samurai Jack (which references Ninja Scroll in one episode actually!) and even the Powerpuff Girls. (Now we’re getting closer to magical girls!) (It’s kind of funny that I was willing to watch the Powerpuff Girls as a kid, because I HATED girls. I was afraid of anything involving girls until I got into anime at about 12, and it’s still not like I talked to them or anything)
It was shortly after I saw Ninja Scroll that Adult Swim started, and we had shows like Cowboy Bebop and Yu Yu Hakusho, which you might not compare, but I liked for their unstoppably badass protagonists (yeah, Dike Spies, but Vicious was also awesome enough to balance that.) Even in this part of my life, though, I still refused to acknowledge dark and gritty shows. Funeral, having been a big Spawn fan, was always trying to get into darker stuff like BioHunter or the like, and I refused to partake. Part of it was that I didn’t want to watch anything with nudity (felt bad about it) and part of it was a fear of the dark. At this point, I STILL would not even watch violent live-action movies out of fear (except for Kill Bill, which I loved for this same following reason)– you can say that in spite of liking action shows, I wasn’t really a fan of violence so much as a fan of the kind of badasses who create it. (Hence my favorites being things like Rurouni Kenshin, Inuyasha, Samurai Deeper Kyo, and Trigun)
Interestingly, I unknowingly had my first run-in with a magical girl series in my first 2 years of anime watching – Tokyo Mew Mew. My cousin owned the first manga volume and had brought it to my house once, and this was when I had pretty much JUST found out about the existence of manga. I was totally confused when I tried to read it, but I remember thinking it wasn’t bad. THE SEEDS WERE SOWN THEN, PERHAPS?!
Let’s even go to my next obsession, video games! I’m 13-14 now! I never liked First Person Shooters and other action games because they were too dark. I remember taking a chance with The Chrnoicles of Riddick and hating it for that very reason. My favorites always ranged from lighthearted action-platformers like Ratchet and Clank to JRPGs like Tales of Symphonia. The only FPS to win my heart was Halo 2, and even then I almost never played the Arbiter levels, favoring the Master Chief levels that always took place in the light areas.
…We then fall off the map a little. For the two years that I went through my hyper-depressed adolescence, my personality greatly changed, and I mostly forgot what it was like before I became the person that has grown into what I am now. Remembering these things from my childhood is almost like studying someone who isn’t even myself, and yet I can use that person to explain my current state of mind….
When I got back into anime, I was mostly watching moe shows, but I also was willing to watch darker and more violent things than I ever had before. In addition, I had absolutely no qualms about adult content anymore. But there were still remnants from the past – I actually put off watching Black Lagoon for the longest time, because I thought it was going to be a ‘gritty’ show, and I didn’t want to see that. I think I still have some resistance against shows that go out of their way to be gritty! That seems to be a big part of why I still can’t bring myself to watch Speed Grapher, not that I wouldn’t be able to handle it (I don’t even get phased by Tokyo Akazukin at this point), but that I just resist that sense of grittiness.
Which is where (finally) Mahou Shoujo comes in. If you had told me at any point in my life before being a hardcore otaku that I would like something called ‘magical girl’ I would have laughed my ass off at you. Even when I got into anime, I had a hard time believing that I would actually enjoy shows like Princess Tutu and Card Captors Sakura (especially since I’d remembered seeing Cardcaptors as a kid and how quintessentially GIRLY it was!!!) However, I think I realized that this genre had a chance with me when I saw Shugo Chara and totally loved it – there was something there that seemed like this was the kind of genre I would like.
And now, as I’ve gotten more used to the genre, I’ve found myself enjoying some magical girl shows quite a bit. And what I feel strikingly from it is that it reminds me of the shows I loved when I was a little kid.
Now, you might be thinking that I would love slice-of-life or moe anime for the same reason, but that’s not really the case. My love for moe shows is always somewhat tainted by the sexuality of the characters and, of course, my sexual feelings for them in return. As for slice-of-life, or even comedy, while I love the sense of peace and lack of conflict, I think that my love is more defined by liking to see the characters or see the world they live in, or for comedy, liking the jokes.
For magical girl shows, I may love the characters, but not in the same way. I think magical girls are cute, but it’s (usually) less in the ‘I want to have sex with her’ way, and more in the ‘KAWAII! OMOCHIKAERI!!!’ way. I don’t get into them for the moe or for the great writing or whatever, it’s just because I want to enjoy a show that is fun, and where things look cute and cool, and where I don’t really feel threatened by villains or emotions. I can watch peacefully and just… enjoy!