The main cast in Motto! Ojamajo Doremi: (left to right) Onpu, Aiko, Doremi, Momoko, and Hazuki

I’m not sure if everyone is familiar with the series, Ojamajo Doremi. It’s a seemingly light hearted mahou shoujo series aimed at young girls (10 and younger). The show is just as much about a group of girls that try to become witches as it is about the lives of the girls as well as other children who they befriend. The show has 4 seasons plus a 13 episode OVA. I’m currently on season 3, Motto! Ojamajo Doremi; and while I do really like the show overall, especially how it handles the lives of each of the children as important and engaging, there are some things that I don’t quite like about the show. Domestic violence is one of those things. Now domestic violence wasn’t ever really brought up in the show. It was sort of alluded to in certain episodes, but in episodes 44 and 45 of Motto! Ojamajo Doremi that actually changes and we see two instances of it. It definitely isn’t anything extreme, just a slap to the face in both episodes, but perhaps because the show was so nonchalant about it, it made me feel uncomfortable. Now I don’t mean to suggest that no medium should ever depict domestic violence. That would be just as bad because not speaking about it is just as harmful as speaking about it and dismissing it. But when someone commits to bringing up such a topic, one would hope it would be done with the utmost care to spend a message that domestic violence is not ok.

Aiko’s parents when they were still together.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that’s what happened in these two episodes that did bring it up. In episode 44, we have another painfully executed story about Aiko’s family. The whole depiction and framing of Aiko’s situation is very problematic on a number of levels, but I won’t be talking about that in-dept here (maybe in a future post). So I was already not very happy with how the writers wrote her father  and my opinion of the writers behind Aiko’s story only fell even lower with this episode. The basic gist is that Aiko asks her dad to buy her a sewing machine for Christmas and he agrees, promising to use his Christmas bonus to buy her one. Unfortunately, it turns out the taxi company he works for is facing bankruptcy and has laid off him (and a lot of the other drivers). Aiko and the other girls notice that her dad is acting strangely, so Aiko goes to investigate the matter herself, and she soon discovers her dad has been laid off. Meanwhile, Aiko’s dad asks her mom to buy Aiko a sewing machine for Christmas. When Aiko comes home, her mom is there with a sewing machine. Aiko feels guilty about this so she confronts her dad about not telling her he was laid off. Stating that otherwise she would not have asked him to buy her such an expensive present. Instead of thanking his daughter for being so understanding, Aiko’s dad slaps her in the face and yells at her and her mom to get the hell out. When Aiko’s mom asks if he’s sure this is what he wants, he just says he doesn’t want a “brat” around. Meanwhile, Aiko’s witch friends find out what’s going on, and using magic they are able to find a job for her dad, so he goes and apologizes for “lying” to her and that he really wants her to stay with him. Problem solved. Or is it?

The thing that got me in this episode is not only that his reaction to Aiko is totally uncalled for, but he never once apologizes for hitting her. All he apologizes for at the end is lying to her (i.e. saying he doesn’t want to live with her anymore). How is that possible? Why was the domestic violence never once addressed? How is hitting her a normal reaction? She wasn’t calling him names or being unreasonable. Aiko was doing what a good daughter would do. Getting upset that her father hid his financial problems and that as a result she ended up asking something impossible of him. That in no way warrants a father getting so angry that he would hit his child in his rage. No, it is more reminiscent of domestic abuse, where violence is the first resort when any of the other family members question the abuser’s authority. How could the writers not see that? How could they normalize such behaviour? Really unfortunate.

Kayoko (left) with Doremi attempting to go to school.

Even more unfortunate is that it happens again in the next episode (45). One of Doremi’s classmates, Kayoko, is having trouble going to school. She has finally started coming to school, but she still can’t go to class and sits in the nurse’s office. When Kayoko tells the others why she couldn’t come to school, one of the reasons was that she was “troubling” her parents. It turns out Kayoko overheard her parents’ argument where her father was blaming her mother for Kayoko not going to school any more. When her mother replied in indignation that it isn’t her fault, her father slaps her mother and tells her to “shut up”. Now like with the Aiko’s case, it is normal for parents to fight, but it is definitely not normal for these arguments to turn violent and for one member to hit another for simply disagreeing with them. And once again, like with the previous episode, Kayoko’s parents apologize to her for putting such pressure on her, but no mention is made of the father apologizing to the mother for hitting her. Sure, it could have happened off-screen, but when this has come right after another instance just an episode prior, where no such apology happened, I just cannot in good faith assume that is what the writers were going for. In fact, two such instances, one right after another, with no real attempts to state the violence was wrong, I cannot help but feel this has really normalized domestic abuse for these young girls watching the show. What else could it be? Two episodes insert domestic violence into their plot (and it could have been totally avoided simply by making the arguments only verbal) yet refuse to so much as acknowledge what those two instances were and firmly denounce them as wrong. Rather they are portrayed as “normal” male/father behaviours triggered  by “stress”. Stress at having a female member “talk back” to them and question their judgment (Aiko questions her father’s judgment about keeping his financial problems quiet and Kayoko’s mother questions her father’s assertion that she is to blame for Kayoko’s current problems). That is really very disturbing. Not only is this normalizing domestic violence, but it is sending a subtle message that daughters and wives should not question their father/husband’s authority.

For a children’s show (or any show really), that is quite a scary message to be sending. What’s worse is that there are so many good things about this show, yet it is always tainted by these sexist notions that keep slipping into the show. It’s a real shame. Still, I do think the good outweighs the bad (especially for older viewers who can catch the problematic parts that come up from time to time and reject them) and it certainly is an interesting show to watch from the point of view of Japanese society. That said, I do watch it because I do enjoy it. Even when I watch in horror at some of the things that are quietly squeezed into the show, I can’t hate the show as a whole because there is still so much that is good about it. I will not, however, ignore the problematic parts and that’s why I decided to write this post. I guess it is my form of resisting and calling out the negative aspects that come up in stories that are genuinely good. How does everyone else deal with stories they enjoy but have problematic aspects to them?

–SW

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