Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica: a Retrospective

Madoka Movie Poster
I got this gigantic movie poster for being one of the first people to pre-order tickers for the screening. Nifty ain’t it?

Earlier this month, the first two Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica movies finally came to the fine city of Toronto — at a theater right across from my flat, no less! The sold out theater looked like any anime convention in this part of the world: dressed up and disproportionally Asian. There was a festive air at the screenings, and if the Madoka movies ever do show up in a city near you I would whole-heartedly recommend attending for that bizzaro-world vibe alone.

If you are curious about actual movies, don’t be — these movies don’t really add anything new to the series. There are some new cuts here and there (most notably some spiffy transformation scenes), but they’re fairly inconsequential and most of them would go by unnoticed unless you’re comparing them side to side with the TV series like the nerd you probably are.

Rather, these movies simply a slightly dressed up version of the original series that retains the integrity of the storytelling, nothing more. If you’ve never watched the series before, you wouldn’t be missing much if you dived straight into the movies. The Gurren Lagann movies these are not.

However, the movies are a good occasion/excuse for fans of the series to revisit the story — a perfect way to reflect on the little SHAFT show that took the world by storm. It’s been a long while since I watched the series, and I’ve forgotten the a lot of Madoka‘s quirks. The first movie made me look down at my watch far too often, while the second movie warmed my heart enough to make me think twice before writing a tl;dr textual smackdown. So instead of a smackdown, this not-so-little post is a gentle putting down of Madoka — a retrospective on the series and a couple of the storytelling problems that irked me during my two-part re-visitation.

Needless to say, the following rant contains plenty of spoilers, so you have been warned.


Worth becoming a magical girl for?

Sayaka is not very bright.

…Okay, that came out a little too bluntly, but throwing your life away for an arm? Talk about selling yourself short.

I never was a huge fan of Sayaka in the original series, and as I found myself rolling my eyes in the theater, I started to remember why. Don’t get me wrong though, the whole “saving my not-boyfriend’s fapping arm” thing isn’t my problem with her, because the frivolity of that wish reinforces her naive nature. Stupid as it may seem to me, it certainly paints her as a character who is innocently romantic. Nay, it’s when Madoka threw Sayaka over the bridge that the eye-rolling commenced.

Sure, the realization of having been transformed into an Easter decoration is a lot to take in. But after the initial shock and horror, is the idea of having a super-durable magical body really that bad? Of all the things she has to worry about (i.e. dying a horrible violent and lonely death at the hands of otherworldly horrors), this line of fine print on the magical girl contract is pretty benign.

But alas, Sayaka seems to be impervious to common sense as she latches on that one detail with like a hungry piranha on a drowning man’s buttcheek. Her reaction towards it becomes the driving reason behind her freefall down a cliff of angst, spouting nonsense like “I can’t even hold him with a body like this.” The length of the series rushed things along even further, but at the same time the entire phase of the story felt agonizingly long.

Seriously, what bloody difference does it make? The fact that no one other than Homura knew about it means that there is no difference on a functional level. The faculties of her senses remain perfectly normal and would not a hindrance between her and her would-be boyfriend. You know what would be a hindrance? The constant need to go engage in mortal combat with the aforementioned horrors — something she is perfectly aware of already. If I were Sayaka, I would have no problems with the idea of having violin boy plow my invincible pain-resistant zombie vagina. Just sayin’.

With Mami removed from the picture rather quickly, Sayaka’s drama is essentially the core of the first movie — a very flimsy core at that. The weight of the drama dangles on this thin string — a weight it could not sustain.

Telling, not showing

Fighting over scraps of screen time, no doubt.

For all of the time spent on Sayaka’s sob story, the time spent on Kyouko and Mami’s respective stories is remarkably scant. The only thing I remember about Mami’s past was that she was a victim in a traffic accident who made her wish on the verge of death. Oddly, no mention of the accident was made in the movie, nor did it expand on the loneliness of her life as a magical girl beyond the brief mention shortly before she had the run-in with Charlotte. Ultimately, I never got the chance to really know Mami as a character, and I still think losing her head was the best thing that’s happened to her.

Kyouko fares a bit better in that she actually gets a back story — an effective one at that. What happened to her was truly awful and made me empathize a lot more with her cynical attitude. Yet as good as it may be, it could’ve been so much more — instead of having Kyouko narrate over a short recollection of paper cut-out lookalikes, a flashback could’ve been included to allow the audience experience this story directly.

Kyouko reminds me a lot of Archer in Fate/Stay Night — not only are both of these characters defined by their tragic pasts, but both character also suffer a big case of having their stories told to the audience instead of being shown to the audience. Archer is by far the bigger offender, though — not only was his past completely conveyed by telling, but it was also vague — it was almost as if Nasu ran into a writer’s block and gave up. I still have trouble picturing Archer running around a world of guns brandishing his little swords around, but that’s a rant for another time.

The reason why I think Mami and Kyouko are big missed opportunities is because of how well-done Homura’s backstory is. Instead of merely telling the audience, we are actually shown Homura’s attempts to save her friend. We see her frustrations and the way she changed over time, and by the end of her montage, the audience has a good sense of how emotionally exhausted she must be. The sheer determination with which she carried out her task made her admirable, and the growing sense of futility in her attempts was heartbreaking. That’s quality character development.

Because of this, the second half of Madoka soars above the first. It make me wonder what Madoka would’ve been like if it was a 2-cour show with enough time given to each of the supporting characters. Hell, even Sayaka would probably benefit from this — if I knew more about her history with violin boy, maybe I wouldn’t think making a contract to heal his arm is such a stupid wish. Madoka did a good job at fitting its story within its twelve episodes, but the glossing over of its side characters is its biggest flaw — a character drama needs to give its characters time to develop.


Though I’m still not the biggest fan of the WIDENESS, Ume-sensei’s character designs are still appealing.

At the end of the day, Madoka is not high art. It is not anime Shakespeare. It is, however, a great blend of entertainment value and substance — a clever twist to an existing genre, along with unique art direction and a stellar soundtrack. I can nitpick at it all day long, but at the end of the day it would be like nit-picking Inception for its plot holes instead of just enjoying the movie for what it is: an action Hollywood blockbuster with an idea. And with all the derivative schlock on so prevalent in both anime and Hollywood, I would feel uncomfortable dismissing the few gems out there, flawed as they might be.

My hipster senses do get inflamed sometimes at how the anime fandom (especially on MFC) worship Madoka as if it’s the best thing since sliced bread, but between the quality and the marketability of the series, the reaction it has received is pretty reasonable. I guess I just wish the anime industry was in such a state that an offering like Madoka would be considered “above average” instead of ANIME OF THE YEAR ALL YEARS — an industry filled with shows venture outside of tropes and conventions to varying degrees, an industry fueled by a fanbase that would actually reward ambitious shows with sales figures.

…Well, a man can dream, can’t he?

Anyways, what do you think? Am I being a little hard on Sayaka? What do you think of Madoka, both the anime itself and the reaction it has had?

14 replies on “Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica: a Retrospective”

Oh cool, that you could watch the Movies in the cinema. Have you seen other anime movies in the cinema before?

I never asked for a revolution of the magical girl anime genre, but Madoka was a nice exception with it’s much darker attempt inside this popular genre.
Still Im not really satisfied with so much dark sadness overall. Not that I it’s bad, but not something I really can’t appreciate, even if I want to.

Shinbo wanted a better end for Sayaka, but it had to be like that in the end. Her decision was really silly and hard to understand why she blindly run into the worst end. Why didn’t she clear her gem *facepalm*

I also think that this show is too much hyped as well as the figures *cough* Godoka *cough*

Yep, I’ve seen a couple of Ghibli movies (which most cities get anyways) and the first Rebuild of Evangelion movie. Given how the Madoka screening were completely sold out, I hope that’ll be enough incentive for more in the future.

I’m glad Shinbo didn’t get his way. Though I might not like her very much, Sayaka’s horrible death is essential to drive the plot. I’m glad Gen stuck to his guns.

Speaking of Godoka, she appeared for all of like, 10 seconds in the movie! All that hype for those 10 seconds? People are crazy. Personally, Rambo Homura was the defining image of the series to me. Its’ a shame that no figures so far have really captured that =/

A cool, in my region it’s a bit difficult to get the chance to see such kind of movies in the cinema.

I hadn’t worked at all to give Sayaka an happy end, that would be completely against the concept of the show, but maybe the reason for her downfall could have beena better one.

Hehe indeed, it were just seconds only GSC memorized her overall look.

Sadly it was an anime original show and much like Angel Beats they rarely get 2 cour budgets.

It sounds like sadly the movies are even worse then the anime in that condensed feeling which is a shame…Hopefully it was reanimated at least though because if they just straight ripped the footage from the BDs that would be…bad.

Nah, it isn’t that bad — Mami’s accident was the only omission I noticed. The combined runtime of the movies and the combine runtime of the series isn’t even all that different, so it’s very samey. Most of the scenes are just lifted from the BDs too, which is why I feel the movies are unnecessary.

They didn’t butcher the series, but they weren’t exactly ambitious with them either — that’s probably why they released both at around the same time.

Moho Shaoju Seyiku Meguca and Moho Shaoju Hameru Meguca were the hypest films ever. HAMERU ES #1 HATERZ GON HATE

I’m pretty sure Kyaku’s backstory was in the original. Now go make a fucking sandwich or something, because this is a long tirade. Long, so people don’t read it and waste my time arguing with me.

Listening to Niconamas and seiyuu radios have given me what I feel to be a more holistic perspective of their respective series. Amidst a bureaucratic system of permission and production, the writing seems but one cog in the machine, and far from the lynchpin. Your comparing of Madoka to Inception aptly places it within the context of marketability: capitalizing on just enough subversion to cater to the lowest common denominator. Madoka has shaky character motivations for the same reason Inception can’t be Dadaist animation, and anime is further limited over cinema by its generation Y demographic. For what it is, this is the best Madoka can be: moderate subversion and middling characterization to cater to all the right people.

The lowest common denominator holds the majority share in all entertainment media. Yes, I’m preaching to the choir; you clearly see an industry of ambitious shows as imaginary. However, I find even ‘dreaming’ a scenario where this were not the case impossible. Innovation in ACG seems to equate subversion, in which case a universal celebration of ‘just-enough subversion’ would lead to a very nihilistic bed of tropes. The cerebral niche will always be a minority, but proportionally I expect it to gain an increasingly large share. A cross section of anything is always unsatisfying, whether it be anomie or anime; longitudinally, most things show improvement. The quality of trope arrangement will increase as the LCD improves, until you and I reach middle age and stop caring.

What has prevented me from lapsing into misanthropy and elitism as I am now has been watching anime in a vacuum for the past two years. I’ve discovered that any disapproval of a series I’ve ever had was largely due to a discrepancy of opinion. To us the Platonic form of ANIME OF THE YEAR ALL YEARS is very different from Madoka, so when MFC fag touts it as such we respond in indignation due to conflicting values – as the white man does when the Chinaman shits in the gutter. I argue this actually lowers our assessment of the show on a whole. You’ve seen what I’ve managed to swallow devoid of all outside opinion: BRS, Vividred buruma butts, Mädchen und Panzer. I do scoff at Vividred’s attempt at storytelling, but not with your tenor of disappointment. Nothing approaches hate anymore; crap a cancerous population is trumpeting as the tightest shit since the invention of the vagina is now merely crap I can overlook. The positive aspects of each show leap at me for appreciation, whether they be satisfying arrangements of tropes or a sexual aesthetic – as opposed to the negative when I’m informed of what an audience I despise think. The ACG industry is no longer a stale shit geyser that MFC fag laps up like divine nectar, but is instead only a bureaucratic system of manufacture, like your favorite sweat shop pumping out Nikes. Without the bandwagon or underdog effects, the only evaluations that remain are temperate. Yes, criticism can still occur within vacuum-viewing, but that I now confer a great many allowances to shows is true. It’s hard to conceive without experiencing it.

So yes, I liked the movies. Without complaints.

I realize your post is meant to be an entertaining exercise as opposed to an introspective of media-recipient interaction, and that my tone is incorrect in fumbling with the latter. Finals and year-end papers are making living shit right now, so I needed to blow off steam writing about something I’m actually interested in, without having to worry about whether my words rub the TA’s G-spot good or not.

You really are on the next level, aren’t you? Above the fanboys, above the shitstorms, above boiling pustules of the internet. Like a spiritual hermit mediating for days on end with neither food nor drink, you’ve gained vision the pierces through the fog of the rabble. Looks like the days of BBL weren’t for naught — only a mind tempered by the flames of Zeta fanboys could attain such a gift.

Man, this is like the olden day of us trading comments with each other all over again. GETTIN’ ME ALL HOT IN THE PANTS.

To understand Sayaka’s reaction, ask yourself if your head was chopped off and placed on a robot body, will you be ok with it?

What if the body was humanoid shaped? What if the body looked like a human? What if the body had artifical nerves to connect to your brain? What if the body was as heavy as you are now?

There are reasons why transhumanism with no overriding factor, such as oncoming death, is not greatly accepted though the degreee of acceptance improves the closer you get to becoming more human like.

Ahh, I’m probably not the best person to ask that hypothetical question. If there’s anything I’ve learned from science-fiction, it’s the idea that being human is not tied to the physical. Rather, it’s free will, rationality, emotion, and the idea of a soul – all these intangible things are the ultimate determinants of humanity in my perspective.

Sayaka still possessed all the criterion of humanity to me. Of course, I don’t my standards do not necessarily line up the standards of a hormone-driven middle-schooler, but I’m still frustrated by the fact that she didn’t even stop to think about this for a moment before going off the edge. It’s as Gen ran out of time and wanted to finish her story as soon as humanly possible. Both her rationale and her development were lacking, and it’s this combination that bothers me.

Oh Sayaka, you know when I saw the first image with all the girls I was all in for her. She has a cool cape, uses swords which usually leads to cool battles, I liked her visual design and is voiced by Eri Kitamura. Then I watched the show, sigh… there is a reason why she never gets a happy end, according to side stuff she either always dies or ends up a witch if she becomes a magical girl… easy to see why.

Recently I read this side manga, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica ~The Different Story. It shows a loop where Mami survives her encounter with Charlotte from when she became a magical girl, when she met Kyouko and how things played out after that. After finishing reading it, I kept thinking why wasn’t this explored in the anime or movies? I understand the shock appeal of Mami dying and all but at least a flashback of her past history with Kyouko would have been nice.

Now that you mention it, perhaps getting shown Homura’s struggles is why I like her the most out of the girls. Sure I like Homura exemplifying the whole “I came, I saw and I kicked ass” deal but that was more icing on the top when put together with her emotional baggage and struggles.

Alas, so sad these movies were merely a compilation was hoping that it would expand on the story and characters. I suppose I have been spoiled by the Nanoha movies where everything was simply remade and retold. Well, I guess I should just wait for the third movie for this.

I hear the third movie is apparently supposed to be the second season of the show. That’d be great news if it was true — perhaps the movie won’t be a tacked-on mess after all! Great re-tellings like Gurren Lagann and Nanoha are good and all, but if the two rehash movies facilitated the creation of a quality new entry, then I’m all for it.

This is a bit late but you completely missed the entire point of Sayaka’s character. Her wish wasn’t about healing his arm, she wanted him to fall in love with her. It wasn’t ever about his arm or her worrying about him and willingly sacrificing herself for his sake, it was ultimately selfishness that proved her downfall. She couldn’t get past her insecurities to confess to him and when Hitomi took him away, along with the realization that she’s practically an adorable lich, made her grief out and turn into a witch. She was stupid yes but don’t downplay it as “OH BOO HOO MY BOYFRIEND CAN’T PLAY MUSIC NO MORE SO SAD :(((“, that wasn’t the point at all.

“Don’t get me wrong though, the whole “saving my not-boyfriend’s fapping arm” thing isn’t my problem with her, because the frivolity of that wish reinforces her naive nature.”

That’s all I wrote about the arm — jokingly at that. I don’t believe I cared about the arm any more than you did, friend.

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