A while ago I wrote about the implied sexual subtext of the Humpty Lock and the Dumpty Key in the anime Shugo Chara! Afterwards I noted a slightly later episode in which the subtext became a lot less ‘sub’ – where Ikuto considers sticking his key into Amu’s lock, but eventually is thwarted by the fact that it’s “too tight” and she’s not ready. Since then I’ve gone back to watching Shugo Chara!, and the two potential love interests in Amu’s life have been juggling the key between them.
Episode 100 at the end of the second season (Shugo Chara Doki!) brought some new kyaranari transformations, threw a spanner in the works of the sexual analogy, and proved that Shugo Chara! follows very much in the sometimes irritaing steps of its magical girl forebearers when it comes to conceptions of gender.
First of all, the sexual imagery: the lock/key phallic analogy either falls apart or gets very complicated when, in episode 99, Amu opens her own lock. No, she doesn’t go blind. Shugo Chara! has plenty of precedents for each child having to discover how to progress for themselves and initiate their own changes, but I found it interesting that this two-part combination was given to Amu alone. Through the joining of the key and lock she learns about Ikuto (somehow…) since he’s the character yet to give a big heartfelt confession. She heals over her two admirers’ issues with each other rather than choosing one at this point. In the end, Tadase – who seems to be Amu’s official intended, with Ikuto there just to tease and provide fanservice – gifts the key back to Ikuto, whose story is firmly grounded in his search for identity rather than romantic love at the moment.
After achieving a certain degree of insight, Amu is able to transform into Amulet Fortune, the combined manifestation of all four of her charas. This is a very interesting transformation because it blatantly (to me) recalls a wedding dress. So Amu gets a key in her lock and it results in a wedding – so far I follow, but she hasn’t solidly chosen a boy yet! Amulet Fortune should be a manifestation of her true potential, and power-wise it is: it’s strong, but in a supportive, healing way (more on that later). What’s interesting is that Amu transforms along with Ikuto, and is swept up and saved by him in chivalrous fashion, all while Tadase looks on – but Amu still seems to be ‘intended’ for Tadase. What is the wedding gown analogy supposed to mean here?
The heart of the matter, though (so to speak), is the nature of the realisations Amu comes to in this finale. She watches Tadase and Ikuto fight, and wonders why they feel that they have to – and she feels powerless to intervene, despite the fact that all evidence points to her being stronger than either of the boys. Amu concludes that they act as they do “because they’re boys”, and she has to figure out what she can do “as a girl.” This struck me as sudden and out of place in this show. Amu has been capable and independent before. She both looked after Ikuto and stood against him when he treatened her friends. She’s told Tadase when she thought he was wrong, or was acting unfairly. I can’t recall a time before this where Amu has decided that she can’t fight because she’s a girl.
The message in these final episodes read as follows: “Girls don’t fight. The way they solve the world’s problems is by loving and nurturing until everyone stops fighting. Because they believe that there’s good in everything and everyone, the power of love triumphs.”
This is not at all unusual for a magical girl anime – in fact it’s par for the course. Others have written plenty about how magical girls are portrayed. They don’t change things, but protect them and maintain the status quo; they do what they do for the ones they love, and rise to the occasion for others’ sake; they never use their powers once the world is safe. They are innocent virgins who are on their way to growing up to be kind, nurturing mothers who will live for others rather than themselves. Their purity is what defeats evil, but as a statement on gender, this is difficult at best. Girls can’t fight? Even special, pure girls chosen to defeat evil can only channel the feminine power of love and understanding?
Shugo Chara! hadn’t shown these themes so much in this series up until now. Of course, as the first person to be able to purify X-eggs (without destroying them), Amu always fit the magical girl role perfectly as a non-violent warrior of justice who protected the weak. She is a healer of hurts and one who saves those who are lost. All this is to be expected, but to suggest that she should nurture and love and let other people do the fighting – that’s too much for me to be comfortable with. It may be that Shugo Chara! means to say no one should fight at all, and Amu’s special gift is the ability to being people to an understanding as she does with Tadase and Ikuto (whose fight prompts this line of thought). That’s not so bad; plenty of kids shows suggest that no one should fight. Singling her out as a girl really changed Amu’s image for me at this point, though, with a gender identity which doesn’t entirely seem to suit her previous character.