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Monday Musings
Monday, 21 March 2011 13:12
As a general rule, I don't bother too much with fansubs - even putting ethical issues aside, I've got access to so much legitimate anime that I really don't feel the need to pull out my pirate hat and yell "To the torrents!! Yarrr!!" too often. Every so often, though, something that hasn't been picked up for simulcast garners such a positive reaction that my self-control goes out the window and, well.... Yarrrr!! This season, Puella Magi Madoka Magica has had just such an effect on me - and that was a minor effect compared to the effect actually watching the series (up to the most-recently aired episode, #10) had...

Here be spoilers. Really. I'm not kidding. And given the reaction of the typical Madoka Magica fan to spoilers, if you have any plans to watch the series at some point, then you read on at your own risk.

Don't do it.  Really.  Don't.Magical girls. You can't help but love them, really - well I can't, anyway. Sailor Moon was one of my formative shows when I started getting really into anime. Cardcaptor Sakura still rates way up my list of favourite shows, and despite the silly prices I could get for them these days you'll have to prize my complete DVD set from my cold, dead hands. When 4Kids licensed and then butchered Tokyo Mew Mew, I had a defining moment of fanboy raaaaage and launched a letter-writing campaign to get them to think again. 4Kids were never much into listening to their audience, but the campaign site was still getting respectable traffic when I pulled the plug on it last year, 5 years after it was launched. Magical girls and I have A History. So when word started spreading of this magical girl show that could genuinely be termed a game-changer, damned right I was going to watch it.

Look at the promotional artwork, and you'd be forgiven for thinking so far, so normal. Cute and cuddly mascot character & guardian of the girls' powers? Check. Five normal girls with archetypal personalities & suitably-themed costumes? Check. Identified mission (defeat the witches)? Check. Fight witches in exchange for wishes being granted sounds fair enough, right? If there was a checklist for what you'd expect to see magical girls do, Madoka Magica would be (and is) well down it before you'd notice anything was amiss.

DepartureBut then you notice that some of these girls seem more interested in killing each other than defeating their enemies; that, for all his cute appearance, our friendly mascot Kyuubei has something about him that's just not quite right; and that, in yer typical, average magical girl show, the girls don't start dying, in particularly gruesome fashion. Especially when you're only in goddamn episode bloody three.

SoullessYup, Madoka is a "dark" magical girl show. They're unusual, but not unheard of - see Uta~Kata for another good example. But I can't recall ever seeing anything quite this dark. Once you realise that no character is safe, sitting down to watch each episode becomes an exercise in trepidation, in waiting to see just what shit the series can throw at the characters next and hoping that it won't be your favourite character who meets her end next, in taking some perverse enjoyment out of trying to work out just how devious and twisted the creators can be this week. And in coming up with the best way for Kyuubei to just die. At the end of each episode, there are moments for reflection and realisation when you begin to realise just how particular characters tick. Beware of first impressions, for these girls are not at all what they appear at first glance, and the experiences they're put through here inevitably brings out different sides to them - and not always for the better.

I was complaining in the first Musings that fanservice anime was suffering from a constant ramping up of what was being put on screen, a race to the bottom to see just how perverted a series could be - even if that meant that, ultimately, the TV broadcast just became a 25-minute black screen. Madoka sees the magical girl genre subjected to a similar race to the bottom, just in terms of violence committed rather than perverted acts - but rather than suffer for it, just this once it benefits from it hugely. There's a huge amount of shock and surprise value here that adds greatly to the experience, but that's a one-off benefit - if another show comes along now and tries to be equally mean to its magical girls, I doubt it'll work so well.

I'm beginning to sound like I'm reviewing the series now, and that was never my intention. Rather, I wanted to vent (or maybe gush?) about a show that turned out to be nothing like what I expected, even having seen the spoilers first, and that has grabbed me by the throat. That doesn't happen very often these days - I've seen a lot of anime, and genuine surprises are rare. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is full of genuine surprises, and hopefully it won't be long before it legitimately heads Westwards. And if it doesn't, I'd be sorely tempted to set Charlotte on the people reponsible.

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