At the start of episode 4 of Eccentric Family 2, there is a straightforward summation of one of its morals; “the transformation… is strongly connected to the idea of freedom.” Tanuki lose their powers in captivity. In its own way this becomes a sort of freedom, a kind of mythic superiority over humans; tanuki play at changing roles even when unable to change shape to make a game of being zoo animals. The idea of zoos in an urban fantasy world is not one that I believe much media in the genre considers; fantastical creatures existing within a modern urban society must contend with modern attitudes of animals in captivity, and ultimately a talking animal is something ordinarily non-sapient granted humanlike sapience.
After my last story ended up a very dark one, all about the horrible secrets behind something innocuous, I wanted to write something very lighthearted. One of my favourite animated films is Kiki’s Delivery Service, mostly because of how amiably it presents the idea of magic in everyday life and how it talks about ideas of the expectations placed on young people. I was thinking about it recently, along with other nonviolent magical girl anime; series like Creamy Mami about trying to use magic for fun. A lot of the ways in which magic is depicted in such fiction are as wish-fulfillment opportunities. They give a girl the chance to do what she has always wanted to, to not want for things. Even in the more combat-oriented series like Sailor Moon, it is someone on the bottom rung socially given the power.
If you think about it, magic, as the power to become something else, is effectively wealth and privilege. So, I began thinking about turning this around; what if a good-hearted person of comfortable means was given magic? How would they use it well? The answer, I felt, was this…
Kiki’s Delivery Service was a film from Studio Ghibli’s extensive library I came late to, largely because (much like The Cat Returns), I was not familiar with what it was about and so had little immediate interest. In many ways, coming to it after having watched series that could be claimed to draw on its positive approach to the world – like Aria – proved a benefit, for it provided the same kinds of ideas from a purer, more innocent perspective and considering how this was different was interesting. Aria, as I have mentioned in previous articles on the subject of these iyashikei animé (a term generally meaning “healing” or optimistic fiction), presents a world with no scarcity of resources or leisure time, in which society is free to work at whatever it likes and industry has returned – under the guidance of space-age super-technology to provide essentials – to craft industries and small-scale local businesses.