Becoming Cinderella in Märchen Mädchen

“I want to forget all this right now and immerse myself in a story!” Hazuki, “Farewell, My Magic,” Märchen Mädchen

Reading has always been a treasured hobby of mine. Like Hazuki, I often used it during my childhood as a means to travel far away to another place as another person. I lived on a farm in the Ozarks, joined a new family on Prince Edward Island, and traveled with companions to defeat a dragon army. Books always represented freedom. It wasn’t until I was older when books started to represent an escape from the more unpleasant times in  life.

Anything Hazuki finds unbearable, or even slightly uncomfortable, is pushed aside the moment she delves into a work of writing. So when she discovers a magical world attached to her own where books empower their users, called Mädchen, it seems like a dream come true. She can literally become Cinderella thanks to one of the oldest and most powerful books finding its way into her hands. The problem? She can’t actually use it. Try as hard as she might, she not only struggles with beginner spells, she also has yet to transform into Cinderella. The girl who so easily slips into works of fiction fails to equip it when the need arises.

It’s easy to assume all Hazuki needs is a bit of practice. We’re used to seeing magical girls immediately wield their powers. Yet Hazuki’s struggles continue longer than what would normally be acceptable, and an impending competition of Mädchen creates even more pressure. Hazuki’s inability to transform is a dangerous weakness with powerhouse Original Books like Princess Kaguya and Shuten Douji on the roster.

One question I found myself asking from the moment the Mädchen powers were explained was why a character like Cinderella was included. The Cinderella of my childhood had no freedom of her own other than what was granted to her by family and a fairy godmother. She would have never made it to the castle without a helping hand. When she does find her prince, the story abruptly ends. We don’t see the aftermath, but can safely assume Cinderella lives out her life happily as a wife and future queen. If Hazuki is to assume this identity, will she she sing and dance her opponents into submission?

“Listen, the words in a book are just words in a book.” Misa, “Farewell, My Magic”

The kinds of books Hazuki likes to read tend towards fantasy. When her sister says, “The books you’re reading don’t say a word about you,” you might have been as surprised as I was. I’ve always thought the types of books we choose to read say a lot about who we are, our likes and our dislikes. When I visit a friend’s house for the first time, I always check out the bookshelf. For Misa to see none of Hazuki’s identity in the book she’s given comes across as odd or perhaps misunderstood, which is more likely the case. Maybe what she means to say is that the written word isn’t everything. There’s more to a story than the last page of the book, just like there’s more to a person than the books we choose to read.

There are countless variations to the Cinderella story from a wide range of countries, and most of them write her as a passive participant. Misfortunes befall her, then luck and love bless her with a happy ending (usually). This angle doesn’t make for a very interesting heroine these days, though, and not all Cinderella stories follow tradition. Märchen Mädchen looks like it will take the more modern approach, empowering its Cinderella with determination and capability rather than with glass slippers and a prince to rescue her. Instead of letting the fairy tale lead, this heroine is now ready to write her own story.

“Farewell, My Magic.” Märchen Mädchen, written by Tomohiro Matsu and StoryWorks, directed by Hisashi Saito, Crunchyroll, 8 Feb. 2018.

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