Retroactive Continuity 10: Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir: “Darkblade”

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Since last post we talked about mecha anime, let’s talk about their sister genre, magical girls. (Mitsuteru Yokoyama, the mangaka who created Giant Robo in the 1960s, also created the first magical girl, Sally the Witch.) Like mecha, magical girls can be understood as a variant of superhero, especially after 90s juggernaut Sailor Moon fused them with the action-heavy sentai genre.

A 2015-16 French/Japanese co-production years in the making, Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir more-or-less successfully brings magical girls into 3D CGI, but in the process somehow turns them into an American cartoon from the 1980s, complete with visible corner-cutting on the animation, formulaic plots, network demands forcing the show to talk down to young children instead of across to tweens and teens, and “pro-social” messages like “ever getting upset about anything at all opens you up for demonic possession.” The primary difference between this and the majority of 1980s cartoons is that Miraculous Ladybug manages to be entertaining despite, and indeed partially because, of its shortcuts and limitations.

Ladybug herself is a straightforward example of the protector fantasy, described by her creator as a cross between the title character of the film Amelie and Spider-Man, whose powers include something American fans have dubbed the “status quo-yo,” a magical yo-yo that instantly repairs all damage done by the villains throughout Paris. She’s all the usual things we expect of a teen heroine–spunky, cute, loved by everyone except the “popular” kids but somehow one of the unpopular kids anyway, a bit of a clutz, and constantly late–but brings little new to the table. She exists to keep the villains contained and repair their damage, a good little girl who keeps everything as it is.

Which makes her a perfect candidate for class representative, doesn’t it? As episode 12 of the first season (as of this writing, the only season aired, but two more are in development), “Darkblade,” depicts, Marinette–Ladybug’s civilian identity–decides to run against the otherwise unopposed Chloe Bourgeois (yes, that is really her name), the class’ resident Regina George clone. So the choice is between a rich blonde bully who is completely self-centered and wants the job solely to lord it over others, and someone who promises change but (as demonstrated in later episodes, where her promised cushions for the classroom chairs are nowhere to be found) either can’t or chooses not to deliver.

As I write this, the 2016 Republican and Democratic conventions have just ended, stamping gender-swapped Regina George clone Donald Trump and champion of the status quo Hillary Clinton as the candidates.

Let’s just let that sit for a bit and go back to the episode.

Intertwining with the class election is the episode’s instantiation of the Miraculous formula: fencing instructor D’Argencourt has just lost the election for Mayor of Paris, which Chloe’s father won in a massive landslide. D’Argencourt is naturally upset as a consequence, and therefore possessed by an evil butterfly–I wasn’t kidding about the demonic possession thing.

He becomes his distant ancestor, or more likely his fantasy of what his distant ancestor might have been like, Darkblade, a medieval lord who ruled over Paris, and begins transforming the people of Paris into his knights, then marches on town hall to seize control from Mayor Bourgeois.

So… unhappy with the way capitalist democracy has elevated a Bourgeois to power, someone bemoaning the “good old days” of brutal feudalism attempts to set himself up as a lord through a coup.

Subtle.

Again as I write this, I am watching arguments rage about “the lesser evil.” Some argue that Clinton is only marginally better than Trump, in that she continues an unacceptable status quo instead of replacing it with a somewhat worse one, so it’s better to vote for a third party or not at all, which is a reasonable point.  However, others argue that in the past, a failure of voters on one side of the spectrum to rally behind a single candidate have allowed the other side to win despite a numerical disadvantage, so we all need to vote for Clinton to prevent Trump from winning, which is also a reasonable point. But the impact of any individual voter is so small, especially in non-swing states, that it doesn’t matter, which is yet another reasonable point.

As is often the case when there are multiple, contradictory, equally reasonable points to be made, most of them are being made in the most unreasonable manner possible, of course.

Ultimately, it is D’Argencourt’s rage at Bourgeois, and the city that passively accepts Bourgeois, that leads him down the path that nearly plunges the city into the Dark Ages. But that’s because it’s, as we said, employing effectively the same aesthetic as an American cartoon of the 80s, so getting angry or complaining will always be depicted as wrong. In real life, maybe it’s a good thing that people are getting angrier and angrier about politics. Sure, it makes the system work less smoothly, but the system is terrible. And sure, angry people tend to let their prejudices guide them, which is how Trump has turned the Republican party into an openly white nationalist movement. But on the other hand, no one ever got justice by sitting politely and waiting to be noticed; ultimately, all justice comes from rage.

So the question is, is there any way to channel rage such that it creates justice only, without all these other destructive effects? Is there, in short, a way to achieve revolution without apocalypse?

Probably not.

But if there is, it’s on us to find it. After all, if it probably doesn’t exist, it’s no less likely to be found in the ideaspace surrounding a 20-year-old cartoon than anywhere else, right?


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