By T.L. McNamee
There tends to be two reactions to Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, either blank stares, or the sudden formation of best friends.
Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, which shall henceforth be known as MLB, is a story of a young high school girl named Marinette who transforms into the yoyo slinging heroine Ladybug to protect Paris from a heinous villain. Her ally, the staff-twirling Cat Noir, is the school’s most famous student, Adrien, but Marinette and Adrien have no idea who the other is under the mask. The best part? Cat Noir loves Ladybug. Marinette loves Adrien. Thus, you have a complicated series of one sided loves from four personalities existing in two people.
Ladybug has magical earrings that let her transform and a magical yoyo to fight with.
Cat Noir has a similar magic ring and a physics-defying staff.
Magic abilities. Secret identities. Sexualized transformation sequences. Recognizable compacts and brooches…
If you’ve spent much time watching Japanese Anime, then you’re probably aware of the Magical Girl genre. Basically, a shy, clumsy, overlooked, or often troublesome girl is given a magical item. With it she can transform into a crime/evil fighting badass in a short skirt. Typically, she has magical weapons, each with a call out to activate the attack. She’ll usually have a band of sidekicks, most of whom are female with complementary personalities and abilities. In my experience with Magical Girl, there’s at least one love interest who is wrapped up in the same world of hidden identities and inescapable destiny.
I’m sure there’s nooooo influence from Japan’s Magical Girl genre on MLB. Cue rolling my eyes so hard I get a natural 20 and telegraph my sarcasm across the internet.
Plus, I feel like it’s almost cheating to mention MLB was originally pitched in full anime style.
I didn’t mean to watch MLB, and I sure as hell didn’t mean to love the fucking shit out of it. Have you ever fallen into a dark pit and needed a ray of light? While in such a pit, my friend sat me down and we binged MLB (I think she was introduced through her husband who was obsessed with the catsuit-BDSM-costumed sidekick, but let’s not get side tracked). The show was the perfect amount of hope, character shipping, and good guys winning to help cheer me up. It was both familiar and new. I recognized the Magical Girl anime influence, but my Marvel senses were also tingling.
The Magical Girl genre has been around for way longer than I realized—as in the 1960’s—and became popular in tandem to the rise in women’s rights in Japan.
I tend to argue that the popularity hit its stride with one of my favorite shows of all time, Sailor Moon, but in truth, Sailor Moon shifted the genre.
After Sailor Moon’s incredible popularity, instead of fluffy characters with cutesy powers and sparkles, our magical girls were becoming warriors. Magical Girl Warrior developed as an offshoot of classic Magical Girl, shaped primarily by Sailor Moon and her senshi taking on worldwide threats, dark evils, and high stakes as a team. Our Magical Girls became Magical Women, and audiences screamed for more.
Having strong, complex female characters working together was revolutionary, yet in MLB our main character lacks the genre’s typical range of allies. Elements of this show reminded me of the old early-2000s anime Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, and funny enough, I wasn’t the first one to notice that, as you can see in this article by Briar Rose.
Marinette, our Ladybug without the mask, has a crew of balanced male and female friends in her civilian life, though most notably her BFF is a sassy take-charge kind of girl, and her school life enemy is an entitled daddy’s girl. Season two hints at new superheroes joining Ladybug in her fights, but for now her number one trusted ally is Cat Noir. Their work as a team gives them equal screen time, though Ladybug’s powers are the ones needed to save the day. The gender balance is one of the most obvious deviations from classic Magical Girl and pushes MLB towards the Superhero genre.
The creator of MLB, Thomas Astruc, was previously an animator on W.I.T.C.H (a Magical Girl anime) and spent most of his life consuming copious amounts of comic books. Both of which had a direct effect on the plotting, action, characterization, and magic system for MLB. He’s even said Ladybug is like a gender-bent Spiderman, where Cat Noir is a nod to Catwoman. More Superhero influence like spandex suits, secret identities, origin stories, arch-enemies, and special powers are clearly present. Ladybug has the power to create through luck, and Cat Noir (being a black cat and all) has the power to destroy with a fair share of bad luck. Am I the only one who thinks those powers are super rad? I totally geeked out at the layers on these two.
Regardless of the inspiration, this adorable French kid’s show of superhero and Magical Girl tropes hooked me. I theorize some of it is the charm of Parisian culture (I mean her family owns a bakery. Have you ever eaten fresh French pastries? Yum! And somehow, they always end up at the Eiffel Tower—like how everything in NY has to have either the Empire State building or the Statue of Liberty, or Seattle has to have the Space Needle—just in case you forget what city you’re in).
Their holiday traditions differ, their education system, and other small nods to France (like an appreciation for fashion, or French idioms that fly past American audiences) sneak in. Combine that with solid characterization and a hint of bigger reveals to come and this sometimes-hokey show has a lot of promise. In a way, I’m reminded of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The first few episodes of that show were nearly painful to watch, but it eventually introduced deeper themes and an epic plot. The end of season one paid off in Airbender, but MLB has a slower burn.
The first season of MLB strikes me as testing the waters. The writers and creators give us a bright, fun, and easily digestible show, but as season two progresses, they’re blending in more mystery and more character development. MLB has gone from joyous and mindless, to curiously intriguing. Originally, the show was intended to have political themes aimed at young adults but shifted to a younger audience after TV networks showed little interest. Little do they know, my friends are 30, and we all own merch and have even cosplayed the characters. Networks really need to figure out that dumbing animated shows down isn’t necessary—but you know, it’s animated, so clearly only kids will like it. Ugh. UGH.
Anyway, although MLB is filled with tropes from both Magical Girl and Superhero, there’s a unique crafting around the tropes to keep MLB fresh and audiences engaged. We like familiar, it’s a human trait, but MLB is really good at giving us something familiar and then setting it against contrasting elements. The super high-powered heroine is actually a genuinely sweet and accident-prone girl. Suave, pun-master, Cat Noir is the demure famous model with a strictly regimented life and an overprotective father. Happy school days deal with injustice and bullying, a safe home life is juxtaposed to the danger of being a superhero, and even ridiculous cartoon villains show unusual intelligence in clearing themselves of suspicion. I don’t know about you, but a character who makes a smart move, and not the easy cliché move, it always impresses me.
Family, diversity, and a rounded cast of multi-dimensional characters supersedes the cheesy clichés.
All except one.
I mentioned the entitled daddy’s girl. Her name is Chloe, and she is the epitome of every Clueless and Mean Girls snobby bitch cliché there is. Blonde, lower-class hating, call-daddy-to-get-her-way, rich, take-everything-for-granted—yeah, she’s the fucking worst. She excels at being a bully and acts as a MacGuffin to get the plot rolling so the true villain can use those strong negative emotions to select his victims. It’s a toxic, cheap, predictable trope that can’t seem to disappear from western-style media. What, like bullies don’t come in the form of anything but hot blonde girls?
Surprisingly, there may be some character development on the horizon for her in season two, but in all honestly, I like hating Chloe. It’s validating to despise someone without feeling any of that nagging empathy.
MLB isn’t exactly Magical Girl, and it’s not exactly Superhero. Instead, I think it’s the next evolution of what Sailor Moon started twenty years ago. When Sailor Moon first released, it gave audiences what they didn’t know they were craving; strong females working together, love of epic proportions, LGBT positivity, mad plots, and incredible stakes. Sure, MLB will never match the glory that is Sailor Moon (I mean, what even can?), but MLB does have the potential to take the roots of what Sailor Moon planted and open it up to a broader audience.
Although intended as a kid’s show, both boys and girls in pre-teen to young adult are fans, and my friends and I are clear examples that pseudo-adults are just as interested (reminds me of Airbender’s wide viewership). Ladybug and Cat Noir are a team, equal in faults and strengths, complementary and surprisingly human. Almost anyone can relate and empathize. We want contrast, balance, intelligent characters, and of course good storytelling.
And apparently, we want puns from a fetish model.
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