No anime genre has had a more profound impact than the mahou shoujo genre, and no mahou shoujo series would be complete without transformation sequences. They’re the very paradigm of the genre, featuring lengthy and flashy scenes in which our heroines go from average girl to moonlight superstars. But which one is the best?
5. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon – “MOON PRISM POWER! MAAAKE UP!”
It would feel wrong to not include the trendsetter of mahou shoujo series, so here it is! I was watching the new reboot series of Sailor Moon, and I must say that the CG used for the transformation sequences is a bit off-putting, though I’m getting used to it as time goes on. Still, it’s hard to ignore the charm and beauty found in traditional drawn animation that we don’t really see in rendered 3-D models. The one thing that I can admit the new version has over the original is the new amazing music. The original visuals, appearing without fail in pretty much every episode to the point where I’m sure there are people who can replicate the motions from memory, still look as flashy as they did 20 years ago.
4. Senki Zesshou Symphogear G – *singing in various languages*
And now, for something that I’ve never watched before! These transformation sequences mix classical mahou shoujo with classical music, so how can you go wrong? Each transformation is prefaced with a brief aria passage, which is both pretty and slightly cheesy. But hey, you can describe the entire genre with those two words too, right? The music motif blankets the scene with a background of notes and musical expressions. The musical styles are drastically different for each girl, but they all contain the same driving intensity that we’ve come to expect from mahou shoujo transformation sequences.
3. Mawaru Penguindrum – “SEIZON SENRYAKU!”
Seeing as how Kunihiko Ikuhara served as the episode director for the original Sailor Moon series, it shouldn’t be too surprising that we see some of that mahou shoujo influence on Mawaru Penguindrum. In a story centered around loss and the burden of responsibility, we’re repeatedly bombarded with this overly flashy and falsely cheery transformation sequence. On the surface, it’s an out of place and jarring scene that eats up time from the episode. Upon further inspection, it reflects the current climate of Japanese society, publicizing its bright anime culture while concealing a generation that further continues to be buried by the burdens left behind by the previous generation. So remember that the next time you watch this scene, “you lowlives who will never amount to anything.”
2. Vividred Operation – “IGNITION! TEXTURE, ON!”
First off, I have to say that I’m not a fan of this series as a whole, namely because of the contrived plot and gratuitous amount of fanservice shots. However, the animation and music are spectacular, and the transformation sequences show off both quite nicely. The track, “変身” (henshin, literally meaning “transformation”), opens with a victorious trumpet tutti of the series’s main theme accompanied by billowing strings and a mighty bass note. The music, which sounds more at home in Top Gun than Vividred Operation, beautifully paints a picture of flying through the skies and ascending through the clouds, while laughing at the phrase “the sky’s the limit.” While I don’t care too much about the state of undress that each girl is in, I can’t help but admire the cinematography as we’re given a varied number of dynamic shots throughout the scene. I also love the sounds of machinery clanging together as each girl is geared up with the armor. The music, the sound effects, and cinematography work together to create a satisfying sequence that I never get tired of watching.
1. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica ~Rebellion~ – “PUELLA MAGI! HOLLY QUINTET!”
It might seem odd that the series that aims to deconstruct the genre would have the best transformation sequence, but it’s true. Almost objectively so. This scene is one of the most impressive scenes I’ve ever seen in an anime because of the amount of detail and layers that went into composing it. Unlike most series, this scene shows all transformations in one fluid scene that is umbrella’d under the same musical track, entitled “Holly Quintet” (perhaps a mis-romanization of “Holy Quintet”). According to TvTropes, each girl shows off different styles of dance. Mami does figure skating, Kyoko does a sort of tribal/Irish step, Sayaka shows off her mad breakdancing skills, Homura does interpretative ballet, and Madoka has the stereotypical J-pop dance. On top of this, each section has an arrangement of a specific musical theme, like Sayaka’s “Conturbatio” and Madoka’s “Sagitta luminis.” All of this, plus a brilliant meshing of the glamour and the uneasy promise of sorrow that comes with being a magical girl, makes this the number one mahou shoujo transformation sequence of all time.