© 2010 Lance. All rights reserved.

Powerpuff Girls Z and the Tween Makeover

[Note: There are some video clips at the end of this post from the shows I’m talking about.]

Lately you and I have enjoyed watching the Powerpuff Girls together. It’s good common ground. I like it because I always kind of have. It’s one of those shows that Cartoon Network came out with in the late 90’s that were more or less for grownups, and which were as much about cartoon tropes as about superhero crimefighters. And you like it because… well, who knows why you like anything.

I recently learned that there is a separate Japanese series called “Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z” in which three middle-school girls are exposed to Chemical Z (a compound of Chemical X and some kind of rice cake) and gain super powers. I got a copy of some of these (was there ever a time when region codes and format differences were an effective deterrent to international DVD sales?), and you absolutely love it.

I don’t love it. I love that it exists, but the American original is so much better. Not only is it so much cleverer (see the Rashomon-style episode where the story unwinds retrospectively in jumps between their various points of view). But it’s also a refreshing change from the usual superhero schtick (in which women can be strong and capable, but only if they have a DD rack and a bondage wardrobe). As one paper’s synopsis puts it: “‘The Powerpuff Girls,’ despite its violent nature, appeals to the vast majority of its viewers because it provides positive female media images that are not based on sex appeal.”

By contrast, the Japanese version is not so clever, or at least isn’t a standout. Worse, the girls’ value as feminist role models is seriously compromised by their vapidity (they have to be reminded to return to a pitched battle with the bad guys after they are distracted by ice cream).

Anyway, this is all interesting to me because, while it’s clear where my allegiances lie, you seem to prefer “Demashita!” to the originals. It’s possible that this is just because it’s new. I’ve had a hard time getting you to explain the differences between the two shows as you see them, but you have mentioned that the new PPGZ have better hair and clothes.

There’s a trend of late where little girl icons are getting makeovers to make them more fashionable and “tweeny“. This has been much discussed on the internets, with Strawberry Shortcake and Dora the Explorer being the prime examples. See:

Makeover for Strawberry Shortcake
Makeover for Dora the Explorer

This seems odd to me. Tweens existed in the ’80s and ’00s when Strawberry Shortcake and Dora, respectively, were developed into licensing phenomena (even if the word “tween” didn’t). And the marketing industry was no less sophisticated then than now. If the real money was in tween icons, then these characters would have been born tweens, like Bratz. I’m really curious to know what happened in our culture or in the market that enabled these makeovers. I suspect that your Powerpuff preference would be a correlated data point in whatever that trend is, but my insight doesn’t go beyond that hunch.

Appendix: Powerpuff Video.

Here are the original Powerpuff Girls. This clip from an early episode gives a pretty good idea of the show’s tone and introduces the characters.

Now here are the Japanese Powerpuff Girls Z, from the first episode, in which the girls are hit with Chemical Z fallout. Note that their transformations occupy a space almost exactly between a typical superhero transformation and a Eurovision also-ran’s act.

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