Pastel Idols & Space Magic: Magical Angel Creamy Mami Retrospective

In the early 1980s, the magical girl genre was going through a different phase from what we know nowadays. Unlike some of the most well-known series today, the magical girls from that era weren’t necessarily superheroines, but they were still inspiring (or helping) figures. If there was any stake, it could be in keeping others from finding out about their magical powers–and in some cases, their alter-egos–otherwise there were usually consequences such as losing them.

Those magical girls didn’t necessarily need something to fight for or a particular reason to have their powers. Sometimes they just got them for the very respectable purpose of doing whatever the hell they wanted, with only the show’s morals–and their own powers–as limits.

During the first half of the 1980s, the back-then new Studio Pierrot left its mark in the magical girl genre by releasing Creamy Mami, Persia, Magical Emi, and Pastel Yumi consecutively (Urusei Yatsura came out first, but whether or not it counts as a magical girl show is another discussion). In three of those shows, the protagonist is an ordinary but cheerful little girl who magically grows up, completely alters her appearance and takes on a new, glamorous identity when she transforms. However, I’m not here to talk about all of them, not today anyway. Today we celebrate the first (and most iconic) of Pierrot’s magical girl shows: Magical Angel Creamy Mami.

Creamy Mami aired from 1983 to 1984, and it was the first to combine idols with magical girls. Although the marketing strategy has been around in Japanese pop culture since the 1960s, it’s generally considered as one of the pioneers in the use of media mix. The show notoriously cast the back-then new idol Takako Ohta to voice Yuu and her idol alter-ego Creamy Mami–even though she was untrained as a voice actress, which you can tell during the first few episodes, but I was always charmed. Of course, she also sings her songs.

Creamy Mami not only promoted its titular character, it promoted the real idol behind her as well. The OP song “Delicate ni Suki Shite” was Takako’s first single in the real world; several of the songs she sings as Creamy Mami were released as her singles as well.

maxresdefault

The strategy worked: Creamy Mami was a highly successful show–labeled as a Japanese pop culture milestone by Pierrot and still remembered fondly today–, besides giving Takako Ohta a lot of popularity at the time. Without considering all the merchandise (and related) Creamy Mami had a 3 volume manga that was simultaneously published during the show run, several OVAs and crossovers with other magical girls (including predecessor Minky Momo and other Pierrot magical girls) and so on.

During the 80s and early 90s, Creamy Mami also aired outside of Japan, in places like Hong Kong and some parts of Europe. The first successful release for English-speaking audiences, however, only happened in 2013, when (the now regrettably deceased) Anime Sols licensed it. (With new sites like HiDive licensing tons of oldies for English speakers, here’s hoping someone… picks up this up again! ehem). Nowadays, depending on where you are and what languages you speak, you can either find the whole or half the series in DVD/Blu-rays. You can still stream it legally in Japan.

The Magical Angel’s World

tumblr_pabtjqOy091vjb3k3o1_500

While there’s undoubtedly plenty to question, there’s also plenty to love in Creamy Mami. It was made by a group of remarkable creatives–many of them worked in plenty of other classics as well–and it shows.

The show was directed by Osamu Kobayashi (Kimagure Orange Road) with a score by Kōji Makaino–who also worked on shojo classics like Aim for the Ace! and Rose of Versailles, besides other Pierrot magical girl shows like Persia and Magical Emi. Iconic illustrator Akemi Takada did the character’s designs (Urusei Yatsura, Patlabor) and was also one of the animation directors. Shichirō Kobayashi was in charge of the art direction, who has honestly worked in too many well-known shows to name (gonna throw Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer, Osomatsu-san and Aim for the Ace! anyway). The soundtrack is awesome and it’s a damn pretty show, is what I’m saying.

The basic premise goes like this: Yuu Morisawa accidentally spots a UFO one day, which turns out to be a ship that looks like an actual (flying) ship. She meets two cute talking kittens called Posi and Nega (short for positive and negative) who guide her through the total 80s fantasy fever-dream that is the inside of the ship. There, she ends up helping an alien called Pino Pino, who gives her a magical compact with a wand, Posi, and Nega for exactly one year as a gesture of gratitude.  Wacky sci-fi and paranormal shenanigans ensue!

With her magical wand (that’s contained in her space compact) and the incantation “Pampuru Pimpuru Pampoppun! Pimpuru Pampuru Pampoppun!” green-haired, ten-year-old Yuu transforms into purple-haired, sixteen-year-old Creamy Mami.

At first, she just transforms for fun. She also uses her magical form to tease her childhood friend and crush Toshio, also for fun–joke’s on her though, because he falls for (as he calls her) Mami-chan!–however, circumstances lead her to quickly be discovered by Shingo. He’s the head of Parthenon Productions and, after being enchanted by her voice and her “angelic” looks, won’t take a no for an answer. She becomes a sensation overnight and becomes the main stair of the company shortly after, forming a (one-sided) rivalry with Megumi, an idol with a strong personality.

The Idol

It’s clear that Creamy Mami romanticizes idols in its own particular way. Yuu walks to the studio after school, has her concert or tv appearances, blows everyone away and it’s usually home for dinner at 8. (Getting into the studio is the easiest thing too, characters that form part of Yuu’s personal life often hang around the people from the company.)

Singing, dancing, acting: no matter what Creamy Mami does, nothing ever takes the slightest effort. There’s rarely any rehearsal either. All she has to do is exist, basically, and you can assume [whatever] is already flawless.

The obvious explanation in-world is magic, but Creamy Mami was also selling Takako Ohta, the real world idol. This means that Mami’s effortless talent, innocence and glamour all ultimately played to benefit Ohta’s own image as well.

2

In-world, Creamy Mami’s image often results in people regarding her as a “magical angel.” Her songs are pop in the most endearing 80s way, and she always sings in a cute and playful manner. What’s curious is that, while the angelic image plays well into the romanticization of idols, it also extends to Yuu herself. Yuu is “angelic” because of what’s inside: her openness, her innocence, and her curious and fearless heart. Again, Mami’s “angelic” largely because of the image she projects. It definitely has “giving a fairytale to deserving souls” vibes.

The fact that no one knows anything about Creamy Mami, where she comes from–or in some cases, how she pulls off certain “tricks” during her concerts–further push the idea of her being some sort of “miraculous” mystic being. The show commits to this idea to the point of throwing common sense out of the window: characters rarely making any (actually reasonable) effort to know more about her, take control of their star’s schedule or facilitating things like her transport. This also allowed the recurring gag of Creamy Mami always making it to her events just in time.

3 copy

Not exactly an idol show

A magical girl show like Creamy Mami doesn’t only promote idols; it indulges a very particular fantasy as well. That is, of course, growing up to be effortlessly beautiful and successful, living a cute, stylish dream.

While Yuu herself doesn’t particularly care for fame and if pressed, only fears losing Posi and Nega without caring much for the magic itself, the portrayal of her magical persona still gets all the bells and whistles you would expect. However, while Creamy Mami is a superstar and we see plenty of concerts, the show never had any interest in focusing exclusively on that. At its core, Creamy Mami is all about nurturing Yuu’s curiosity and let her have lots and lots of fun. Yuu transforms not only to be a star, but to navigate any sort of new situations as well.

For better or worse, Creamy Mami knew no fear, which means that we get to see the craziest array of adventures. I frankly don’t know how to even begin to describe them. Off the top of my head: it has a space santa, an ESP-er with anger issues, actual angels, a childhood friend who turned out to be a prince in wherever, magical unicorns that can stop time, ghosts, different dimensions, demons, mystic beings in charge of world peace, magical doppelgangers, a circus from space, a strange being in charge of technology that controls time, fucking Godzilla…and so on.

There is a big focus on fantasy to nurture Yuu’s innocence, hopes and dreams too. This is most notably seen in episodes like Mr. Dream–a being who travels the galaxy to make children “who believe” get all they wish. This only happens for a night, so you bet this is Cinderella inspired. There’s also the Valentine episode, where if bubble-angels come down and “bless” your chocolate, everything will go well with your crush; or that time when Yuu messed up with time and got to see her adult self in a wedding dress, and so on.

The format is very episodic; the only constants are Mami’s stardom and the slow development of some relationships. There’s also a “friends I helped before are coming back to help me now” during the show’s big moments.  You know, the good stuff.

The tone of the show it’s normally pretty easy going and it heavily uses slapstick humor. Sometimes, it gets emotional, or it touches upon stories that leave you thinking even after the episode is over. Still, craziness and cheerfulness are what Creamy Mami does best. Even if it wasn’t always fully equipped to properly deal with the subjects it decided to bring up, its sheer boldness alone makes it a hell of a show.

Relationships & Romance

Yuu’s parents are very present in the show, and sometimes they are even part of the adventure (they were there when Godzilla happened!). They have a crepes shop in their own house and often make Yuu help out. They mostly have a loving relationship, with the mother having a strong personality and the father being calmer and softer. The one time they fought in front of Yuu ended up revealing a backstory where her mom used to be the leader of a gang his father was also part of (which I wish was explored more!).

Shingo likes Mami (yeah, it’s generally easy to ignore and forget that) but it’s always clear that the show aims for a romance between Shingo and Megumi. They are the kind of couple no one knows why they’re together in the first place, so I never particularly cared for them.

Besides her family, the biggest supporter characters in Yuu’s life are Toshio and his friend Midori, who likes Yuu. Midori can be a little too intense with his crush sometimes, but he’s a good kid. He is also always screaming at Toshio in my place whenever he’s an idiot, and that’s something I can appreciate. Which brings me to the central romance!

I say romance because Yuu’s huge crush is always clear, but it would be more accurate to call it a friendship. It can take a while before getting why Yuu likes Toshio, but as soon as I fully understood his character and for how long they have known each other, I could see it clearly.

Toshio and Yuu are childhood friends, and it really shows. He’s three years older than Yuu, and pragmatically speaking, should not even want to hang around her that much, since even little age differences are like being worlds apart around that age. But that’s never really reflected in the show. The times when Toshio tries to make fun of Yuu for being a kid all end in the show proving just how much of a kid he still is himself.

Toshio is understandably immature, but he’s never mean-spirited. He can be an idiot, yeah, but he’s also goofy, genuinely caring and pretty reliable when necessary. The relationship they have is fun, innocent, sometimes heartwarming even, and I have to admit that I find Yuu’s crush and boldness to express it very endearing. I particularly like how much Toshio is framed as a friend and comrade: he’s often part of her adventures and eventually, he is aware of her secret.

While the age gap is indeed questionable, it helps that the shows understand on some level how young they are. They are friends during the whole show and its idea of a “date” (which isn’t taken terribly seriously by the narrative, considering it goes nowhere) is pretty innocent as well, like going to an amusement park with snacks Yuu’s mom prepared for them. On one hand: is 80s shojo, so unfortunately, the gap is not exactly surprising. On the other: they are good kids, Brent, and the problem is easily fixed by just keeping their relationship focused on their friendship and wait for the rest. (You hear me, show? Make the kids wait.) Hints in-world and external material shows that they eventually get married, just like Yuu dreamed off. And well, what are three years between two adults?

yuu toshio akemi takada
Alright, that’s cute. Will I ever be able to resist Akemi Takada’s illustrations

A Sign of the Times

I can see how a lot here would go over the head of little kids. My perception is different, of course. A lot of situations either make me go “ah, 80s...” with endless fondness or “ugh, 80s…” while trying to avoid throwing something. When Creamy Mami is good, is lots of fun. A good part of the show still holds up pretty well (I’ll admit that I also just like old shows a lot) but there’s no denying that it has elements that aged pretty bad, to say the least.

The Questionable, The Bad and The Ugly

yuu tongue out

Besides what’s already mentioned, there are some uncomfortable elements that aren’t exclusive to this show–in fact, I have seen them in other shows from the era–but they are still worth to mention. We actually see Yuu getting spanked once or twice. Yuu uses a very short skirt, so we sometimes see her underwear when she fools around without a care (it kinda looks like cheerleader undergarments). One or two scenes where she talks to Posi and Nega happen while she bathes. All of this is framed in a non-sexual, “natural” way, but I question their necessity. I guess I just can’t see why we, the audience, can’t just give the kid some damn privacy.

The men who have power over the artists are all terrible in this show. Shingo often either neglects or show stalkerish, forceful and/or annoyingly persistent behavior. He pretty much feels like a caricature most of the time, and is often used as comedic relief. As a consequence, he never feels threatening, but at the same time, this also undermines the real danger this type of behavior represents.

Jul-03-2018 17-43-50

Shingo often neglects Megumi–pretty representative of how the show can be too mean to her for being “the rival,” even when some of her feelings are understandable–who was his company’s main star before Creamy Mami debuted. There’s a gag where Megumi would slap him whenever he is an insensitive asshole, and well. Let’s just say that this happens so much that there’s an entire recompilation of him getting bitch-slapped by her in one of the OVAs, that’s how much he sucks. For some reason, she likes him.

Everything about the way Shingo scouted Mami was pretty messed up too–she’s practically forced into stardom. The reason Yuu decides to be an idol anyway is never fully explored, but like everything else, I’m supposing the answer is most likely “for fun.”

Both Mami and Megumi appear in commercials, movies, and TV shows, and most (always male) directors are the embodiment of the “eccentric asshole” stereotype. For instance, both girls get unnecessarily yelled at–especially Megumi. The worst of the worst happens in one of the OVAs, when a director actually forces Megumi to do “a nude scene” for the sake of “symbolism.” The official Spanish dub edited this scene out.

Jul-03-2018 17-37-02

To be frank, there are around three or four episodes you can just skip, and you wouldn’t be missing anything. The most infamous one is the one with the magical doppelganger, but I would also add the one where Shingo, tired of Mami always being late, disguises himself as a woman to follow her and find out where she lives. Nothing goes as planned and he ends up being too busy to be a damn creep, but just the concept of a man with that much power following a girl home is terrifying enough. The fact that it’s so casually thrown around doesn’t make it any better either.

fake mami and real mami
This episode is A Lot but at least we still have the memes

The infamous episode I mention makes sense when you consider how much innocence and purity is valued in an idol’s image. When Yuu transforms in front of mirrors, she accidentally creates a magical doppelganger. This is a common trope where “the fake” would do mischievous things that don’t exactly benefit the real character, to say the least… And what is this “menace” the shows comes up with?

Fake Mami tries to “take over and sexualize” her image. The episode, like most of the questionable things in the show, is actually pretty tame–especially by today’s fanservice standards–and fake Mami had the very valid point of not being “anyone’s doll.” Then again, the show never goes anywhere with those statements, nor is she ever framed as being in the right. Although she’s “just a copy,” she’s also representing the image of a sixteen-year-old (who’s a ten-year-old inside) so. Creamy Mami’s sexy photos don’t have any business existing.

Final Thoughts

I’ve seen many consider this type of magical girl show as a way to acknowledge an older audience. I can see where they come from, after all, Mami does have episodes focusing on “romantic” adventures. Considering the framing, this show seems to prioritize little girls and pre-teens in particular, not to address their concerns exactly, but to offer them a fantasy and nurture their dreams. (And sell a product, yeah.) We always explore the world through Yuu’s innocent and curious eyes, even when she’s navigating grown-up situations.

tumblr_p3fmjbSXiE1r0sb2eo1_500

Considering the time this show was released, the fact that a lot is rooted in traditional gender roles is unsurprising. It’s pretty much in the lyrics of the OP song: unlike boys, girls have complex emotions, you should love a delicate girl and she would give you the world, etc. However, even if it’s not intentional, the show doesn’t exactly commit to this to the point of sacrificing individuality, not always anyway. Even if Toshio made fun of Yuu a couple of times for being too tomboyish and the like, but Yuu never changes. On the contrary, Toshio is the one who eventually realizes he’s in the wrong and should change that part of him.

The fact that this an 80s show is both its weakness and its greater strength. I’m in love with 80s music, fashion and the sheer craziness of the shows this era produced, which definitely a big part of the reason I still love this show. But I also find the good parts charming and entertaining, and I’m often more forgiving of the bad parts of a work when it’s old.

I can’t blame all the bad to the era either, after all, there are some bad elements that are unfortunately still present in current shows. Considering how much of Creamy Mami is influenced by the time it was conceived, I often wonder how a reboot of this show would fare nowadays (in the hands of a female director, please). As good as the original staff is, this is definitely the kind of show I would want to hand over to the right female creatives and see where they go. Still, if that never happens, I still have the magic of the original…And all those wonderful songs.

akemi takada creamy mami
The answer is no, I won’t ever be able to resist Akemi Takada’s illustrations


If you would like to see more of this, please consider supporting my Patreon to help me keep the site running. Thank you!

become_a_patron_button@3x

Or you can leave me a little tip!

kofi5 copy

3 thoughts on “Pastel Idols & Space Magic: Magical Angel Creamy Mami Retrospective

  1. Ahhh, you make me want to come back to this show, which I dropped years ago for… no reason, I think, it just happened. Oh, well, the good thing about episodic shows is that you can drop them and then continue whenever you want, because it’s not like you forgot the plot.

    I totally agree on the 80s being both a weakness and a strenght. I also love the atmosphere and am willing to forgive more in 80s shows, but I can see how it would be unbearable to someone who doesn’t care or dislikes that.

    Honestly, that whole show feels like a dream. The art (especially the colors), the nostalgic, sweet songs, the absurd situations and the unrealistic “real” elements (effortless career etc.), it all comes together and makes for a very dream-like atmosphere.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s