Friday, September 28, 2012

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Sucks! … Well, Not Really, But It’s Not That Good

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Sucks! … Well, Not Really, But It’s Not That Good

Now that the title has captured your attention, I’m sure that you’re prepared to use your supreme powerz of logic and common sense to engage in a lengthy back and forth debate with me after you’ve read this article and prove to me and to the whooole world why Madoka Magica is so awesome… yeah, whatever. Go knock yourself out. As long as that gets you to read this entire article, I still win. Also, this article will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the show yet and don’t like being spoiled, then proceed at your own risk.

Honestly, I have been told (or at least it has been none too subtly implied before) that perhaps one of the reasons why I am not too fond of this anime (among other things) is because it has become quite popular to the point of being nearly mainstream as far as the anime fandom goes. Perhaps, perhaps… but if this is indeed one of the reasons why I am not a huge fan of this show, it’s definitely not the only reason. In fact, the more compelling reasons why this show does not really appeal all that much to me are more personal in nature and generally have nothing to do with the animation studio, character designs or the fact that this is another one of Urobutcher Gen’s works and I’m biased against him. If that were true, then I probably wouldn’t have written this other article in praise of his work on Fate/Zero.

With that long-winded intro aside, let’s get to the actual reasons why this show just doesn’t grab me.

#1: It’s An OMG! SUBVERSION Of The Mahou Shoujo Genre!!!
Really? Well, I will admit that it does take a more serious, adult-oriented approach to the Mahou Shoujo Genre than most other actual Mahou Shoujo anime, but does it really do anything that different that makes it as ZOMG Groundbreaking as its fanbase claims it is? Going into the show, I will once again admit that I already had a slight negative bias against it because it was enthusiastically recommended to me by an acquaintance as a groundbreaking subversion of the Mahou Shoujo genre, but if this recommendation did affect my perspective of the show, it was only in the very slightest sense. What I do know is that Madoka Magica just didn’t appeal to me from the very beginning. 

If the main draw-in of the show is that it’s a subversion of the Mahou Shoujo genre, then it feels to me that it’s a very flimsy reason to even like this anime in the first place. It’s like saying that you want to play an SRPG because everyone else is playing fighting games. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with this if that’s how you like it, but I do think it amounts to nothing more than fueling an innate need to boost your ego if that’s the only reason you can think of for liking the show. You just like it for the sake of being different. Again, not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I’m just stating how I perceive people who like this show for this particular reason.

#2: I Predicted The Show’s Most Epic Scene
That said, since my acquaintance had already forewarned me that this is a much more “serious” show than your typical magical girl anime, I actually predicted one of the series’ turning points wherein apparently, things begin to get interesting. Yes, I knew that Mami would die eventually (although I didn’t expect it to happen as soon as in episode 3), but I actually caught what I believe were some intentional foreshadowing events in episode 2 when I saw that she had some difficulty defeating that witch (GERTRUD). Here’s the video clip for your perusal: . Pay particular attention to how Mami reacts when those black butterflies surround her and grab her legs. Although this scene might not have the impact of the epic episode 3 zomgherheadgoteaten scene, I believe it’s actually a very powerful scene that establishes two things thanks to the clever use of music, character expressions and camera angles, which are:
  1. The girls are actually very fragile and quite human AKA people die if they are killed (subverted in later episodes)
  2.  Mami will die.
While it’s not too hard to defend the first point, it’s definitely difficult to explain the second one; why did this scene make me think that Mami would die? Perhaps it’s just a matter of my jaded perspectives kicking in, but it was a combination of the ominous Yuki Kajiura music and Mami’s (default?) expression with that somewhat sad smile on her face that made me think that “this character will not last through the entire show. Of course, I didn’t think it would be through OMNOMNOM, delishush Mami head. (I love how wrong I made that sound.)

Of course, if the predictability of that scene was the only thing that I didn’t like about that show, then that would be a pretty minor thing to complain about, right? Nope, it doesn’t stop there. In fact, I also believe that episode 3 was one of the highlights of the series even though the predictable scene which I predicted actually happened in this episode –as predicted! So let’s move on to reason #3.

#3 The Characters Are Underdeveloped
 Yes, I know that Madoka and Homerun(lawlz) are DFC (delicious flat-chest), but of course, that’s not what I’m talking about here. It seems that Urobutcher was so focused on attempting to tell an epic story within a 12 episode limit (to the tune of Torinoko City) that he forgot to show a little bit of love for his own characters – which is actually not atypical Urobutcher behavior, but I digress.   

The point that I’m getting at is that many of the characters feel flat and two-dimensional. While we are shown that the characters do change throughout the course of the series, most of the time, they are not even given the chance to become well-developed because the show is too busy telling us about how the Mahou Shoujo system works and that it’s fueled by evil alienz who consume vast amounts of delishush loli tears. 

We have Madoka who is basically just one useless sack of tears. I felt no love for her throughout the series – not even when she goes into Goddess Modo and apparently sacrifices herself so that Mahou Shoujo the world over would find some form of salvation by dying anyway but NOT turning into witches afterwards. 

We have Mami who (well, you know what happened to her.) Yes, she does appear again in the later parts of the series, but I honestly didn’t care much for Homerun’s time loop problems and she's basically the same person all throughout the show.

We have Homerun who just wants to have mad yuri sex to be friends with Madoka. Sure, she apparently goes from vulnerable liddle girl to ultimate bad-ass, but that’s actually only on the outside. She can’t help developing hax timehax skillz because of everything that she’s been through (she basically went through endless eight) and developing a more or less cold exterior as a psychological defense mechanism. On the inside, we all know that Homerun is still the same scared liddle girl who just wants to have mad yuri sex be friends with Madoka. She never feels any love or empathy for any of the other Mahou Shoujo all throughout the series and I think she’s a total bitch for that (sorry Homerun fans. Remember, it’s my opinion). The only reason that she'd try to save the other girls is because it would make her precious Madoka cry - as if Madoka needed any help with that. 

Next, we have Kyoko who wields a bad-ass spear/naginata/harpoon/call it whatever you want to. Is this girl the queen of inconsistent or what? In episode 5, we have her almost killing Sayaka in what turns out to be a one-sided battle between magical girls all because of her selfishness and then two episodes later, she feels sorry for Sayaka and wants to help her now? In fact, she eventually sacrifices herself to save Madoka from Sayaka who’d turned into a witch. Why would she? She had no strong motivations (at least not shown anywhere in the anime) to go from miss selfish to miss “did I become a hero?” (Crisis Core allusion for FTW, suckah!). 

The only character who I could empathize with was actually Sayaka who unfortunately also got Urobutchered before the end of the show. I liked her character and her story. She was always standing in Madoka’s shadow as far as potential for becoming a Mahou Shoujo was concerned and she had a strong motivation for becoming one being hopelessly in love with Kyosuke and wanting to help him fulfill his dream of playing the violin again. She sacrifices herself and becomes a Mahou Shoujo using her wish to fulfill his dream and the guy falls for someone else. Ouch, right in the soul gem! Vintage Urobutcher character sadism done right for once in this series.

#4 The Plot Is All Over The Place
This is Madoka Magica’s weakest link as far as I’m concerned. Although I went into this series with some misgivings, I actually began to enjoy it as soon as Sayaka’s arc kicked in. Unfortunately, that was the only part of the series that I genuinely enjoyed. The rest of the plot feels like it’s all over the place. Homerun’s arc was introduced too late and felt extremely rushed. Madoka, despite being the main character was pretty much just a wallflower who cries a lot except it’s not even cute like the main character of Alien 9, which is also an older mahou-shoujo-esque subversion but which was released much earlier so people’ve never heard of it. At least the sack of tears in this show actually fights back while crying, but I digress.

The time loop plot was the real deal-breaker for me. For example, if the Homerun seen for most of the show is the alternate future Homerun who came from the same time period but from an alternate timeline, then what happened to the Homerun in the time period wherein the characters for the majority of the show reside? Do we just blindly assume that she doesn’t exist or just went to a different school? I know it’s being pedantic, but with a show that takes itself as seriously as Madoka Magica – it’s well-justified to use a different level of scrutiny as far as its individual elements go. So where was Homerun? Oh wait, dun tell me… it’s the wasp butterfly effect. But wait, ya gonna tell me that that’s not the point of the show, right? Right? Well, it might not be, but it’s definitely a weak link which stood out like a sore thumb for me.

Finally, the bittersweet ending just felt like one huge cop-out for me. Why would Madoka sacrifice herself for such a pragmatically stupid wish? All she’s done is metaphorically given all the Mahou Shoujos a jewel-encrusted gravestone when they die instead of a hastily put-together cross marker made out of two sticks. They might not turn into witches after they exhaust their “hope” or whatever, but they’re still doomed either way. Was that really worth becoming an omnipresent, non-existence for, Madoka-chan? I don’t even understand why she feels so strongly about the Mahou Shoujo not turning into witches. She’s certainly shown no apparent motivation towards such a wish throughout the series. Maybe they should have shown that she was a devout Christian/Buddhist/Animal Activist who gives great importance to the afterlife. As predictable as it might have been, I would have preferred an all-out losing battle against Walpurgisblahblah once Madoka transformed – which would have actually made more sense given the direction that the series was taking. I was prepared to see an epic struggle, but all I got was Madoka using wishhax to bring the series to a pseudo-happy, bittersweet conclusion.

Furthermore, let’s talk about the fantasy elements, specifically, the Soul Gem. Basically, the Soul Gem is the only thing that the Mahou Shoujo have to worry about since that’s where their soul literally is and the body is already dead. Then why didn’t Mami keep fighting back after Charlotte bit her head off? It’s clearly shown that Charlotte first goes for her head and only then proceeds to devour the rest of her. The problem is, why didn’t she even struggle or react after her head got bitten off? Since she was already in a fighting mindset, I’d have thought that she’d at least attempt to jump away or start flailing wildly and spraying bullets in all directions even after she got decapitated, but no… she just stood there and waited for Charlotte to gobble her up.

#5 I Like My Pringles In Cans And Not Dancing Around In The Background
This is my final gripe with Madoka Magica and it’s a very personal one. I didn’t like the appearance of the witches, especially the backgrounds used whenever the girls were fighting one. The 3D psychedelic, animated backgrounds felt extremely out of place and frankly, quite unncecessary next to the appearance of the girls themselves as well as the appearance of the world in general. Some might argue that it contributed to the “dark” ambiance of the series, but it certainly didn’t have that effect on me. The only thought that crossed my mind is that “this show is trying too hard to be artsy and look different when it actually looks like Persona 3."

You Know What? I Don’t Really Hate It After All
Yup, sorry to disappoint if that’s the general impression that you got from reading this article because I tried to emphasize everything that I felt was bad/which I personally didn’t like about Madoka Magica, but I don’t really hate this show at all. Over-all, I thought that it was a pretty decent anime because I wouldn’t have hesitated to drop it halfway if I didn’t like it. I don’t torture myself by watching shows that don’t appeal to me despite what the contents of this article might have led you to believe. The animation is gorgeous, the character designs are unique and while I did mention that the characters felt underdeveloped and the plot is a bit wonky in places; over-all, the individual elements of Madoka Magica come together to make up a pretty good show – much better than most anime in recent years, but definitely not without its flaws.  

In conclusion, I feel that there is really nothing about Madoka Magica that really makes it stand out when compared to other anime in the same genre – and by that, I mean anime in the serious shounen genre, which is basically what Madoka Magica really is, except it’s wearing a very thin Mahou Shoujo disguise. Once you get past this clever gimmick, you’ll see that it’s a pretty decent show, but fails to stand out from the rest of the pack.

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