DDA Top 10: #2: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

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It’s HAPPENING!

You’ve seen the banner for years. You knew this was coming. No big secret that I was going to set this near the top.

Big surprise. What could possibly compel Doll to put this near the top of her lists? Tragedy, darkness, lesbians, magic and a literary theme construct that is among the best in anime history? Can’t fathom why.

So, a nod to a senpai: Much in the same way RedLetterMedia did the definitive Star Wars review, I feel SFDebris’ review of Madoka Magica is one of the most complete, thorough constructs there is in terms of what a reviewer gleans from it.  He’s a little short on the literary symbolism, but one can hardly fault a reviewer for that. I’ll be just as short, I feel.  But I would point you to his series on this anime, which mirrors many of my points. He’s also quite excellent at pointing out the symbolism of the series, of which he maybe hits 1/3 of the nuance.  I won’t be focusing on symbolism unless it reinforces a specific point, because you could build an entire wiki out of the references and hidden meanings in this series. But I want to point out his review because, well…everything’s been said already. And that’s from some asshole who isn’t much into anime. It even earned his distinction of “the series most recommended” out of everything he had reviewed to the time. Outside perspectives are important, and he delivers a nice balance. So for your consideration! I’ll probably echo a lot of the basics, but when it comes to the characters you can expect my personal spin on things.

And yes, we’ll be talking about Rebellion.  I really don’t -want- to, but the stuff there has come to just overshadow SO MUCH that it really has to be addressed.

So I have a confession. When I first saw Madoka, I was not impressed. I admit it.

The big reason was this: Everyone praised it as this SUPAH DARK series. It was wicked and evil and tragic and twisted deconstruction. Every fan, every reviewer said the same thing. “ULTIMATE DARK DECONSTRUCTION! OMGORZ!”  I had EVERYONE in my social circles prodding “WATCH IT! WATCH IT! WATCH IT!”

So when I sat down to watch it some two months after it had aired and hype was at an all time high, I was let down. Because Madoka is NOT a dark series. No, you want a dark series? Well that’s coming next. But Madoka pales in comparison to truly awful heart-fucks (hashtag heartfuck) that exist just to laugh at the tragedy unfolding on screen, and drive the spike in deeper.

It took a little bit of distance to go back and accept the series on its own terms.  There is darkness in Madoka, no argument from me. But it is not overwhelming. It is merely present in an environment where we do not expect to see it, which I think is what magnifies it in many people’s minds.  But in general, the series is quite balanced in how it presents dark circumstances with ever present hope. Many of the “dark” aspects people talk about aren’t even dark, they’re just complicated, and because they’re grey suddenly “DARK!”? If you are so overwhelmed by the dark elements because they seem over the top, I must wonder what small bubble you live in. No, honestly, get me tickets. I’ll have a LOT of fun there.

As an aside, this experience is the big reason I do not do a lot of research or cross-commenting on series I am planning to watch. And it’s the big reason why when you see me take a series like Blade and Soul, I try to praise what’s good about it and give it even treatment to the best of my ability, even though it is so obviously bad.  Even the series I loathe I try to give balance lest my voice ever induce someone to have a similar experience with any other show (Though comparing Madoka Magica to Inou-Battle is pretty insulting no matter how you slice it).  It’s probably why everyone thinks I’m this big anime Debbie-Downer with KILL la KILL and Noragami and its ilk, but I want you to have the most informed expectations, not hype hype hype or trollish hate.

I am kind of dreading heading way out of my league. This is a franchise worth at least half a billion dollars. It has just about as close to a perfect rating on any anime site you can find. This like a plumber being asked to design the international space station, I am out of element, but will strive to do my best.

So let’s get into this. We’re in for a long one, kiddies. Continue reading