Nowadays, we’re used to our magical girl anime being deconstructionist, subversive, or otherwise dark in some way. From the entropy-powered zombies of Madoka Magica to the secret organizations of Alice & Zoroku, most shows in the genre now bank on making sure they’re as far away from being cute and fluffy as possible. What a lot of people don’t know, though, is that this is nothing new. Many classic magical girl series were pretty dark, too. And one in particular shocked children across Japan.
Magical Princess Minky Momo was technically two very similar shows. In both, a princess named Momo from a faraway kingdom became the foster daughter to a childless couple. And in both, she had the power to transform into a grownup who could perform various tasks — a veterinarian, horseback rider, and so on. Her magical missions were less about fighting monsters and more about helping those around her. In the original 1982 series, Momo came from Fenarinarsa, a magical kingdom in the sky; in the 1991 version, a different Momo arrives from the undersea kingdom of Marinarsa. While the two are similar, they are two different girls: “Sky Momo” and “Sea Momo.”
The first Momo, like most magical girls, has a job to do. Using her magical powers, she must bring happiness to the people of Earth so that Fenarinarsa, the land of fairy tale characters, can rejoin the rest of Earth. Unfortunately, Momo loses her powers… but that’s not all.
In the next episode, Momo — now an ordinary little girl but still her usual cheerful self — runs to retrieve a ball for some children playing nearby. And then she gets hit by a truck and dies.
Yes, that’s really what happens. Out of nowhere, a truck. We then see Momo’s parents mourning her at her grave. And remember, this was an actual magical girl show made for kids, not a deconstruction made to look cute. Children saw this happen.
But it was okay, because Momo’s spirit was reborn, allowing her to become the biological child of her foster parents. So that’s… good, probably.
Sea Momo didn’t go out like her sister from another series, but her plots were pretty grim and distinctly lacking in hopefulness by the end. Nonetheless, both Momos moved forward cheerfully, doing the best they could to preserve the hope of people on Earth.
So if you’re ever wondering who started the trend of despair and death in magical girl anime… well, it actually wasn’t even Momo! Dig back even further, and you’ll see that lots of magical girl series covered dark and unpleasant topics. Mahou no Mako-chan saw its heroine nearly strangled to death in the first episode. And the original Cutie Honey, which is a bit of an honorary magical girl series, had an open-ended finale that didn’t bode well for the title character.
So who is the grimmest magical girl of all?… We’ll get back to you on that one!