Recently I’ve been getting into the new magical girl series The Miraculous Ladybug, and though I’m only part way through the released episodes, I have to say it’s pretty enjoyable. The show focuses on the young Marinette, a normal high school girl who, through the power of a magical tool called a “miraculous” (and the aid of the small imp that comes along with it), can transform into a ladybug-themed crime fighter. She’s joined by her partner Chat Noir (aka Marinette’s crush Adrien, unbeknownst to her), who has a cat-themed miraculous of his own. Together they battle against the evil Hawk Moth indirectly, purifying his evil butterflies that possess people through their negative feelings. It’s standard magical girl series fare for the most part, but what I find most interesting about Ladybug is how downplayed the magic is compared to other series in the genre.
Of course, none of what Ladybug or Chat Noir do could be possible without the miraculous—magic is not entirely unimportant (what would be the point otherwise?). However, beyond three aspects, the two must use their own wits rather than rely on these mysterious abilities they’ve been given. These aspects are the magical girl transformation, the “de-evilizing” of Hawk Moth’s minions, and their de-transformation. While the first two are par for the course, having the ability to de-transform puts a new kind of restriction on magical use that isn’t typically present in magical girl shows. Typically, when a magical transformation becomes undone, it’s because either that’s the monster of the day’s power, or the character is dead/knocked out. Here, when either Ladybug or Chat Noir use their magical ability (they only get one), it starts a timer on their miraculous, and when the countdown ends, they de-transform no matter what. Because they don’t have unlimited magic to pull from, the two must find other, more practical ways to wear down and outsmart a foe—who, so far, seem to have unlimited power—before they whip out the magic. Do they end up doing this? Usually not, but it adds a new sort of tension to the series.
This limitation on magic forces Ladybug and Chat Noir to ask themselves a question that doesn’t typically get asked in magical girl series: “what should I do?” In many other series, even if the character asks this, the audience knows what they’re going to do. They’re going to end up using the one magical attack they have to defeat the enemy like always, until the next season when that power doesn’t work anymore and they have to get a new one. In this case, though, the two really do have to consider which item they need to use their powers on. In Chat Noir’s case, his “cataclysm” allows him to essentially rot things, whether it be used for crumbling a statue to rubble or rusting metal bars. Ladybug, though, is forced to constantly think on her feet, as her power, “lucky charm”, gives her a random item to help stop an enemy which often leaves her asking “what am I supposed to do with this?” (Like seriously, it gives her spoons and towels.) Even when Ladybug uses magic, it ends up being, at its core, not magical at all, since she has to use the practical item she’s given in a practical manner—even a ladybug patterned CD is still just a normal CD.
So, if Miraculous Ladybug is the magical girl series for the newer generation, what does this say about the audience? That maybe we’ve gotten to a point where just believing that everything is possible through the power of love isn’t even achievable through suspension of disbelief anymore? That seems a little negative, but I do think that there’s a possibility that audiences are kind of over the whole “love is infallible and omnipotent” thing, since we are all aware that it’s not. Even Marinette, as a human girl, is constantly messing up due to her huge crush on Adrien, and Adrien, as Chat Noir, continues to annoy Ladybug with his constant advances. In the end, though, I think it’s a way to make the show somewhat more relatable. I mean, super powers are cool, but none of us are ever going to have them—as far as I know. However, we can all follow Marinette’s train of thought as she deduces the way to use her mundane items to fight crime. And hell, maybe giving the audience this new way to relate is, in itself, pretty super.