Animations, in their various genres, are an important amalgamation of art and technology that suggest new ways of thinking, feeling, and experiencing contemporary issues (Wells; Whitley). Animations can provide a commentary on the current planetary crisis, such as climate change, by offering a radically altered reality (Lundberg et al. 9). In the case of environmental animations, these issues become more evident because at their core is the production of knowledge, subjectivities, and speculations about the future of the planet and humanity. These problematisations usually arise from the centrality of non-human entities as narrative subjects (Starosielski). However, even in other genres of animation, such as fantasy, superhero fiction, and comedy, where non-human beings may or may not be at the narrative’s centre, it is possible to find suggestions regarding environmental issues emerging from characters, episodes, and specific events (see, for example, Vital, “Lapis Lazuli”; Vital, “Water”).
Such is the case with Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir (2015–Present), where climate change is addressed in the episodes Stormy Weather 1 and Stormy Weather 2 with the supervillain Climatika, offering an original commentary on human responsibility in causing climate changes. This article examines how climate change in this animated series is constructed as black magic through these episodes, shown between Seasons 1 and 3. Black magic is understood as where people will use non-human phenomena to fulfil their dark intentions against the forces of light, often to the individuals’ benefit (Thacker). Despite its anthropocentric roots, the relationship between climate change and black magic in the animation is analysed using Jane Bennett’s concept of enchantment in the modern world. According to this concept, nature—often perceived as inert, passive, and instrumental—actively impacts on human life, regardless of human beings’ alienation from non-human entities’ affective power (Bennett). Thus, in the animation, although Aurore Beauréal, driven by selfish motivations, seeks to control time by becoming the supervillain Climatika, the effect of this manipulation proves to be completely contingent on fostering a world-without-us feeling, which has also been present in other animations and media.
Negative Emotions, Akumatisation, and Black Magic
Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir (Miraculous: Les aventures de Ladybug et Chat Noir) is a French 3D animated series created by Thomas Astruc, co-produced with South Korea, Japan, Italy, Brazil, and Portugal, and involving the studios Zagtoon, Method Animation, Toei Animation, SAMG Animation, SK Broadband, TF1, and Gloob. It is a superhero fiction series that tells the adventures of Marinette Dupain-Cheng (Ladybug) and Adrien Agreste (Cat Noir), two teenage students who possess jewels (Miraculous) that connect them to magical creatures (Kwamis). These characters mostly lead normal lives, keeping their superhero identities a secret (including from each other, fuelling a confused platonic love from Cat Noir for Ladybug and Marinette for Adrien). During crises, the Kwamis grant superpowers to both of them to protect Paris from the evil villain Hawk Moth (whose alter ego is Gabriel Agreste, Adrien’s father). The series is one of the most popular animations today, aired in over 120 countries and winner of several international awards (Aguasanta-Regalado).
Hawk Moth possesses the Butterfly Miraculous, which enables him to create akumas (butterflies with the power to sense individuals with intense negative emotions, such as anger, distress, envy, and sadness, and akumatise them). At first, this butterfly grants Moth the ability to communicate telepathically with its target when it lands on and possesses an important object of the victim. Therefore, the villain makes an irresistible proposal to grant superpowers to the victim (usually in an attempt to reverse an unfortunate situation the victim faces) and, in return, the victim is expected to defeat Ladybug and Cat Noir. Akumatisation is a clear allegorical reference to demonic possession in the mythological terms of Judeo-Christian culture, while the akumatised villains are, less evidently, related to the image of the witch in Renaissance Europe.
According to Carolyn Merchant, there was a consensus in the sixteenth century that witches, by making a pact with the devil, acquired the power to alter the weather drastically, produce diseases, destroy crops, and spread famine. Furthermore, some scientists of the time connected the behaviour of witches to an excess of melancholic humour, which was related to anxieties, sadness, and other extreme negative emotions that made them vulnerable to the devil’s attacks (Merchant 140). Therefore, in the episodes Stormy Weather 1 and Stormy Weather 2 there appears to be a manifestation of two out of the three levels of possession in the akumatised character, as indicated in the main demonology manuals of the sixteenth century. The first level, which is that of individual possession, affects the victim on psychological and physical levels, and their intentions and actions become controlled or inspired by the evil spirit. The third level involves the possibility of climatological possession, with the induction of extreme weather phenomena such as droughts and floods (Thacker 62). Aurore Beauréal—the villain of episodes Stormy Weather 1 and Stormy Weather 2—transforms into Climatika, resembling the witches of Renaissance Europe with all their powers of black magic. That is, a psychological and moral disposition induces Aurore Beauréal to undergo a radical metamorphosis to gain control over the world and achieve her objectives. This world control, driven by selfish objectives, which could be achieved through technological and scientific artifices, is depicted in the series as something stemming from the darkest depths of our beings—an innate desire for dominance and control for personal ends, a form of black magic.
One of the dilemmas found in superhero fiction series and films in addressing climate change is the exploitation of exceptionally catastrophic weather events but concealing the long-term human actions that lead to transformations in the environment (McGowan). The other dilemma is the simplification of the environmental issue by transferring the possibility of its resolution to a hero. One interpretation is that the hero of these texts represents the status quo of corporations that contribute to the problem, but in sponsoring these series or films are not held accountable, or the climate problem is too readily fixed (Chatterji). However, the Miraculous animation addresses these dilemmas by examining extreme weather events and placing them directly in the hands of a character who is an ordinary yet ambitious individual, and like any person has emotional instabilities. Miraculous, then, explicitly expresses the anthropogenic nature of climate change and indicates the impossibility of effectively controlling the cosmos by those who, driven by their negative desires, resort to artifices to dominate planetary forces. Finally, the efforts of the superheroes Ladybug and Cat Noir prove insufficient to prevent Climatika’s return, who emerges as even more powerful due to a set of factors that promote and intensify the negative emotions of Aurore Beauréal. Therefore, Miraculous can highlight the human face of climate change and its inability to be easily overcome.
Climatika: Revenge of the Weather Witch
The first season starts with the story of Aurore Beauréal, a young student who dreams of becoming the weather girl for the KIDZ+ channel. In a contest involving numerous candidates, only she and Mireille Caquet (another student) entered the final. The fact that Caquet is an extremely shy and calm young woman led Beauréal to believe that she would easily win the competition over Caquet, due to Beauréal having a more outgoing nature and assertive exploration of her physical appearance. Nevertheless, Aurore suffered an unexpected and humiliating defeat (with a difference of half a million votes) that was seen nationwide. Hawk Moth senses the vibrations of extreme anger and sadness from Aurore Beauréal and sends an akuma to her, transforming her into Climatika (Stormy Weather).
The aesthetics of Climatika are related to the stereotype of the modern teenage witch in contemporary fantasy stories. She is depicted wearing a pleated mini skirt and a short dark blue blouse with puffy sleeves—a retro trend from the 1980s lending a romantic and feminine touch to the composition. The wand or the magic broomstick is replaced by an umbrella, from which she casts her weather control powers, and her expression is that of a person possessed by a demon. In this sense, there are similarities with the character Lapis Lazuli from Steven Universe, who also had an aesthetic related to the witch stereotype, but within the 1960s–1970s hippie culture. Moreover, Lapis Lazuli’s powers are associated with the occult and evil, as she can control the entire hydrological cycle (Vital, “Water”). The similarities end here, as Lapis Lazuli herself is an alien and water elemental who destabilises and disrupts the attempts of control and domination promoted by the characters representing modern science and the State. However, Climatika uses a technical device (black magic) to control the weather and achieve her revenge goals. She causes catastrophic climatic events and promotes horror in the name of a global order that satisfies her desires.
The instrumentalisation that Climatika promotes through black magic subtly brings her closer to the scientists who sought to investigate and control nature for human progress during the early days of the Scientific Revolution. In the sixteenth century, scientists such as Francis Bacon commonly used metaphors involving the torture of witches and the exploitation of nature to uncover their secrets, to control and alter the world for the advancement and well-being of humans (Merchant). However, black magic, whether through a satanic or pagan path, also has anthropocentric roots, manifesting as a tool that humans can use to enforce their intentions or as an internal force available for self-benefit (Thacker 29). In the case of Climatika, the hydrological cycle was understood as a tool responsive to her emotions and supposedly at her service. The presence of the phenomenon brings it closer to the stereotype of the witch serving the forces of evil and can also act as an allegory for the scientist who fulfils the State’s or private corporations’ obscure purposes at the expense of others. Not by chance, Hawk Moth, when transforming Aurore into Climatika, proclaims, “tu vas devenir ma miss méteór” (you will become my weather girl), a sentence that plays on Aurore’s work in scientific journalism for weather forecasts, while the hidden meaning behind the statement is about the witch manipulating the weather. Climatika will boast about being the only weather girl who gets all the forecasts right (as she is the one who influences the weather events).
Although Climatika takes an anthropocentric stance towards the climate, her case highlights how hydro-meteorological phenomena affect Aurore Beauréal to the point where she aspires to be the weather girl and, if not possible, to become a witch who controls the hydrological cycle. Aurore, at first, wished to be the spokesperson for meteorology, studying the weather and climate. When she fails, she aspires for more: to become the weather girl, merging herself with meteorological phenomena and using climatic factors to organise the world to satisfy her desires. She appears oblivious to the way the weather affects her, although it is central to her life. She considers herself free and in control of herself and the world. The perception of the modern world as disenchanted, characterised by reason, freedom, and control, results in an alienation from the affective power of non-human phenomena (Bennett). This alienation leads to an arrogant attitude, such as that of Aurore Beauréal, who transforms into Climatika and believes she can finally be recognised as the weather girl with her new hydrokinesis powers. However, despite all the chaos that Climatika promotes by inducing hurricanes, hailstorms, and lightning, dramatically affecting the lives of the inhabitants of Paris and all of France, she fails in the face of Ladybug and Cat Noir. Finally, Aurore will have to deal with the defeat against Mireille Caquet and public censorship for transforming into Climatika, the weather witch.
Cosmic Pessimism and Planetary Catastrophe in the Return of Climatika
In the seventeenth episode of the third season, there is a prime example of what Aurore Beauréal went through after being defeated and the akumatisation being undone. Her schoolmate, Chloé Bourgeois, publicly humiliates her for having low grades and not having emotional control, becoming a failed villain. Hawk Moth takes advantage of the opportunity left by Bourgeois and tells Aurore that she will always be and continue to grow in power as Climatika, transforming her once again. Being emotionally affected, Climatika’s powers amplify significantly, and she uses volcanic explosions and moves the planet away from the sun’s orbit to cool it down, destroying all of humanity and proving her true power.
In this episode, Stormy Weather 2, Climatika manages to establish herself as a global threat, inducing a dramatic climate change. Fear and horror spread throughout the world as people embrace each other to stay alive in the apocalyptic cold. Even the heroes, Ladybug and Cat Noir, feel haunted by the immense power of Climatika and find themselves in an intimate moment reminiscing about all the challenges they have overcome in the past, and the growth they have experienced over time while fighting together against the forces of evil. It is in sharing these memories that they find the power to come together once again, regaining the trust and confidence that help them to face and defeat Climatika.
Thus, because of suppressed affections, unfulfilled desires, the combined force of words, and extreme social and meteorological events, negative and selfish emotions emerged and re-emerged, fuelling the return of Climatika—the regional and later planetary climate threat. Moreover, in the case of Ladybug and Cat Noir, the affective power of their bodily and physical encounter generated memories, along with deep positive emotions and words of trust, affection, and unity. These provided the means to change the course of events and prevent the realisation of the climate catastrophe (they no longer felt overcome and could battle Climatika). The two episodes suggest that the emergence of the climate catastrophe is a result of the feelings of disenchantment amongst people in the world and the combination of human alienation from the affective power of things, and the power that events and things gain in their encounters worldwide. The suggestion is the development of an ethics of generosity as a response to climate change that involves sharpening the perception of the affective power of things and encounters between humans in public spaces, as well as between humans and non-humans in everyday life (Bennett).
Nonetheless, the episodes Stormy Weather 1 and Stormy Weather 2 display a type of cosmic pessimism perceptible through the emotional failures and revenge of Aurore Beauréal and Climatika. Cosmic pessimism indicates distrust regarding the impossibility of controlling and organising a world that does not require order. This world does not manifest itself for us or in itself but as a world-without-us (Thacker, Cosmic). Control does not make Aurore more respected, although she is feared when she manifests as Climatika. As Climatika, she inflicts on other people the suffering caused by the catastrophic disruption of their routines due to the manifestation of the effects of climate change. Conversely, the disappointment of the double failure to become the weather girl and the subsequent bullying becomes an oppressive reality for Aurore that induces more fear and horror due to her inability of being able to organise the world according to her desires. Thus, climate change is manifested in Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir as a result of the failed attempt to control the world (represented by the metaphor of black magic) and the impossibility of organising the world according to human desires.
Ladybug and Cat Noir manage to save the day in the episodes Stormy Weather 1 and Stormy Weather 2. However, the return of Climatika manifests itself as persistence, which suggests two important points. First, heroes or exceptional individuals cannot handle the complexity involved in the climate crisis because the crisis results from multiple factors, including human emotions, under the pressure of a system emphasising competition for prominence, efficiency, and social recognition. Climatika was defeated but returned for the same reason: the primacy of the ideal of success and recognition in a universe of pure abstract value that is based on the alienation of emotions. Second, profound uncertainties arise from the current climate crisis. Anthropogenic climate change is manifested through completely contingent effects, where the expectation of controlling and ordering the world according to human desires is disrupted, resulting in a sense of cosmic pessimism due to the world-without-us feeling. The indifference of the universe to human desires becomes explicit, exposing the failure of the abstraction of self and world control—the foundation of modern ontology and capitalism. Therefore, Climatika highlights climate change as a form of black magic: an intensive attempt to control and manipulate the world driven by selfish feelings that deepen the alienation regarding the power and indifference of the elements that compose the planetary atmosphere.
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