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

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Series Recap: Akuma no Riddle

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Once upon a time I reviewed Sakura Trick, and alluded to the next yuri series the blog would be covering.

“If you want drama and depressing tragedy, well…wait a few weeks and we’ll have what you need.”

I feel like such an idiot.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s let L explain it all to us.

I just keep coming back to this comparison. I couldn’t actually find any clips where the goth kids confront the vampire kids about how hardcore they were, and the vampire kids answer that mommy and daddy might not approve of such behavior.

This is basically the problem, as I see it, with Akuma no Riddle.  In tone, in feel, it’s far more like Sakura Trick than one would suspect. Of course unlike Sakura Trick, I don’t have dipshits commenting that my opinion would be totally opposite if this were about male characters, so we have that going for us. But it is safe, it is fun, it is innocent, while it dresses in fishnet so people will think it’s cool.

Not that this is a point of judgment, not exactly. Shows are free to dress how they want, but the false advertising feels like a cheap marketing ploy than any fashion choice in light of the disjointed nature of the series.  It’s more to appeal to people too embarrassed to admit they like slice of life shows, it seems.

So approaching it from that angle, let’s analyze the girls one by one, starting with our leads.

Fair warning, of course. I am going to be yelling. At lesbians. For the next 7,000 words. One of the seals might be open, better check on that. Continue reading

Series Recap: Nobunagun

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So I might as well say this: If you want an abridged version of what I’m about to say, our good friend Moecharacter did a Nobunagun review that basically hits my points.  I have stuff to add (I ALWAYS have stuff to add), but we basically share an opinion on the series. Other than perhaps our opinions on tentacle rape, which would be one of the five food groups if I had my way.

Nobunagun is a different creature than we have encountered here.  It is not insubstantial like BlazBlue. It is not great like Sakura Trick or KILL la KILL.   Neither are its flaws numerous like Machine Doll, or its good points so backseat that they only inspire apathy like Strike the Blood.  It is, rather, like a car with square wheels.  Sure, it has good parts. The seats comfortable and doors sturdy.  And out of the 70 pieces that went into constructing it you scored pretty good on about 66 of them.  But those couple of parts that you missed are SO glaring that the whole just isn’t going to work.

I admit when I adopted my “wild card” system, choosing a few series based on their premieres, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find one.  It was a sense of dread, honestly.

But I fell in love with Nobunagun right away. Here it was.  The sophisticated action show with subtext and character study and amazing energy that the anime community had been searching for.

And more than anything, I fell in love with Ogura Shio. She was such a brilliant, fresh kind of character we had never really seen before.  Her interests were relatively masculine, that of tanks and weapons and guns, but her personality was very feminine, full of cute expressions and speech, socially awkward, and really this child-like optimism about her.  She has visible weaknesses but always just barely overcame them, a visible struggle we could connect with. And for all the things that would eventually go wrong for the series, the character of Shio was never one of them. So let’s get into this show.

But if you’re looking for a relatively spoiler-free review…here it is.  Shio Ogura is the reincarnation of Oda Nobunaga, and uses her powers to fight aliens. Nobunagun is a middle of the road action series.  Not bad, not exactly great, but reasonable entertainment that comes recommended, and will probably not blow your mind. Continue reading

Series Recap: Outbreak Company

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As with most shows, I go in blind. I do little research about manga or light novels for various adaptations.  I do this because….my first exposure to Inuyasha was through the anime. The same goes for Fullmetal Alchemist and Death Note. So while I did eventually go back to fully experience these works in their original forms, it was the anime that convinced me to do so. They were able to stand their ground, and I don’t think it’s a big expectation to demand other shows can do the same.  Sometimes it doesn’t work out so well (see: Unbreakable Machine Doll).  But others, like Outbreak Company, it left the surprises strong and there was enough talent on display that everything came together in a beautiful way that took my breath away. It was a very mature, advanced critical thinking series that took nothing for granted.  It challenged me as a viewer and critic to contemplate the actions taken.

Sometimes.

Yes, Outbreak Company is, on the whole, looking back on second viewing, mixed.  I sing its praises, but really? This accounts for maybe 30% of the total running time…the rest…ehhhh?

Okay, so it was not obnoxious to sit through.  A few uncomfortable moments where either, the humor gets lost in translation or you get frustrated that it won’t hurry the hell up.

So, what are the unintended themes that I noticed in this series?  Well let’s start with the sources of unending vexation. Continue reading