The Growing Pheonomena that is Madoka Magica
April 22, 2011 9 Comments
Warning: This post contains spoilers to Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
There’s a lot to say about Puella Magi Madoka Magica, arguably being the most popular anime of Winter 2010-2011, which at first was thought to be a common and simple magical girl show that would ultimately carry the aura of a show done by SHAFT. In truth, it turns out to be synonymous with that of Neon Genesis Evangelion, by taking its own genre and twisting it to it around completely. Madoka Magica carries the essence of a SHAFT-ed show with Shinbo’s directing, and maintains a dark atmosphere for most of the show which for most magical-girl anime is outlandish. And the reception that the show has received is absolutely staggering; reaching ranks of the mid 40’s of both MyAnimeList and AnimeNewsNetwork. It’s a great show that has taken the spotlight for the last season.
In terms of genre twisting, it’s important to understand what constitutes a magical-girl anime first. Typically, they’re about a girl who through any means of doing so (usually from another person or force) gains special power from being able to fight against a negative force that threatens to disrupt the peace of a certain place. The focus of these stories is on the main heroine suppressing the evil force from completing whatever evil-filled evil they have planned. In Princess Tutu, the heroine, Duck, seeks out to help her love interest to retrieve his stolen emotions while searching for the person responsible using her powers as Princes Tutu to obtain his emotions.
In Madoka Magica, the main character Madoka (who, until further explained, does not do anything for most of the show) is surrounded by magical girls aptly named Puella Magi, who fight against the evil forces called Witches. The antagonist is the notorious arbiter of hate known as Kyubey, who creates contracts with young girls offering them a wish and the power of a Puella Magi. What makes this show so twisted in terms of being a magical-girl is because its focus is not on fighting the Witches. The Witches are a catalyst so that the person tragedy and despair of the girls are emphasized for the viewer to see. From the moment of the death of one of the characters, Mami, the show began to deviate from focusing on, “Kill the witches, save the world,” and turned to “This is the tragic life of a Puella Magi and you must deal with it.” Of course, in magical girl shows the main heroine goes through her own drama, although it’s only a trial that they overcome so they can continue to fix the problem. In Madoka Magica, it is the problem amongst the girls.
Because SHAFT was the studio to produce the animation of this show, I expected what almost anyone else would expect of a SHAFT show (see this post). And Shinbo does bring back some of that lore that his works have. But primarily, Shinbo has taken a more creative turn for this show, and presents a lot of different forms of cinematography, especially in episode ten. Several moments contain two or three shots of the same scene, but altered slightly with lighting or color tones. There are also many moments (more so in episode ten) where character and object placement are focused upon. Shinbo also does a good job with atmosphere and background.
What interests me the most about Madoka Magica is it’s theme and significance. I should mention at first, up to episode ten which was before the delay, it was a little overwhelming since I could not really piece together everything, and I have two theories about what the theme is.
Kyubey’s introduction to entropy made it a little more daunting to find the theme (see Entropy). Entropy is the property of thermodynamics for the energy that is not useful for work in a certain process of working. When applied to the show, Kyubey’s race is looking for life forms that can provide more energy to make up for the lost energy which happens to be Puella Magi. Without considering the feelings of the girls, he extorts work out of them for a seemingly righteous reason. This sounds loosely applicable to actual society where countless people are working both for contribution to society (providing energy to the universe by fighting witches) and their rewards (the wishes that are promised to Puella Magi by Kyubey, the one pulling the strings).
The other theory is less about application to society and more about the personal despair of humanity. Puella Magi are entrusted to do good, whether it’s because they want their reward, or they genuinely wish to do that good. However, the people who try to do just that, even when they have immense hope in their actions, eventually become overwhelmed with despair for different reasons. This creates a chain of hope and despair in a seemingly never-ending cycle. All these girls around the world are fighting for their own reasons and have their own motivations. There are some figures shown in episode twelve that resemble actual women in history who have made an incredible influence; one that resembles who I assume to be Joan of Arc, and the other who I also assume to be Cleopatra or Hatshepsut. Madoka later on essentially becomes a God and takes other Puella Magi’s despair to stop them from being witches and ending the cycle. This is to say that only a omnipotent deity can end the cycle of despair that humanity has. It’s a fairly depressing concept that also contributes to twisting the magical girl genre.
If you want a further explanation of the ending, go here.
Madoka Magica was certainly enjoyable to watch. It’s animation is well done, it’s story is fairly entertaining, and follows in the footsteps of Eva, and quite possibly sets its own precedent in genre-twisting. The shock that the show delivered to its viewers added to their enjoyment and was followed up well all the way to the end. The praise it has been receiving continues to grow and has allowed it to achieve extremely high prestige among many anime of all time.