18 September 2014

'Puella Magi Madoka Magica'


This is one of the worst anime I have ever seen.


Usually it's hyperbole you're not supposed to say because of its subjectivity and the likelihood of pissing someone off. Other times politically correct optimists want to quell your feelings so they are more pleasant and digestible for everyone. I'm not someone who uses the word "retard" frequently in my vocabulary, but I do find some aspects of the censorship annoying. I completely understand not to call a mentally disabled person retarded. I know some families with such individuals are sensitive if you mention the word around them. But on the worse end of the spectrum, I could be a serial killer, terrorist, or corrupt tyrant enslaving humanity. There are far worse things than saying a word or phrase that will piss off a select number of people. "Retard" is not a word that kills or maims a person of their dignity, rights, freedoms, and wishes.

So no one should care if I say that Puella Magi Madoka Magica was one of the most aggravatingly stupid shows I ever suffered through. This makes Persona 4 Golden look like romantic stroll through a field of glowing crystalline flowers. ...Remember how angry that convoluted mess made me?

Let's rewind and actually talk about the show rather than political correctness, making nice, and not offending people.

Madoka Magica is a story about magical girls created by Gen "The Butcher" Urobuchi. He wanted to create a more realistic telling of the cliches behind the anime genre. One way involves killing off characters in twisted, brutal ways, hence Urobutcher's nickname. As a result, he unintentionally crafted a subversion/deconstruction of the magical girl genre, one of the most common praises in favor of the show. Kyubey is a mysterious creature whose race seeks out human girls and grants them the power to become magical girls and fight witches. To protect the world from the disasters witches bring, a girl must make any wish of her desire to form a contract and obtain her powers. The more she fights the weaker she becomes, unless a witch is defeated and leaves behind an egg that will restore the magical girl.

At the core of the narrative is a theme of the dichotomy of hope and despair. Magical girls are alone in their fight and they must rely on their inner strength to survive and fight the witches. If a girl is to lose her way, mentally or emotionally, she is at risk of falling to pieces - and thus becoming a witch for the next magical girl to defeat. It's a cycle that never ends, which is the greatest strength of the show. Madoka comes across as a subversion/deconstruction because it's playing with a theme that isn't often explored in some genres of fiction. So many stories emphasize "the power of friendship" that they often miss out on the big question: what happens if a friend is too burnt out to believe anymore? Villains and antiheroes often get this kind of arc for their backstory, but this hardly ever happens for the heroes. If it is, the issue appears once, comes out of nowhere, and is resolved quickly. Madoka is smart enough to make hope vs despair the backbone of the story and goes with it consistently for the most part. It's done so well, this show helped me write some elements of my fanfiction.

So why do I hate this show?

With the exception of Homura and Madoka, all the characters are boring. Many of the "tragedies" aren't very moving either. The plot is incomprehensibly backwards. Kyubey is Hitler. Sayaka is the antichrist. The animation is experimental and pretty, but lopsided and unsteady. The soundtrack is gorgeously phenomenal, but, if you know me by now, technicals never make the overall project a masterpiece. The pacing is dreadful once Mami gets killed off. The reason for the cycle of hope and despair is so retarded, the original Mass Effect 3 ending made more sense. AND YET ANOTHER GODDAMNMOTHERF$%#KING RESET BUTTON ENDING.

Yeah. I basically found 90% of everything content-wise failed. My reasons will not be popular, as I am the only one who gave this show a one-star rating on Netflix, but I need to attempt to explain myself.

I'm a person who likes stories having good writing and good characters. I can always appreciate new directions to take themes and tales, and I like being invested in characters and their issues. More likely than not, I can forgive an unimpressively written story so long the characters are still compelling. Somehow, Madoka Magica manages to botch both. This made me a very unhappy camper.

Mami didn't live long enough for me to have an opinion of her. She seemed alright in performing her tiny role in the narrative: introduce the world comfortably before getting the axe. (Think October 4th but with less foreshadowing and less development and buildup for the characters involved.) Kyoko is quirky and fun, combating the increasingly depressed cast, but her relationship with Sayaka never sat well with me. I didn't buy their bonding for a millisecond. Kyoko had a sad backstory that was fine and all, seemingly adding her existence to being nothing but a tagalong kid with no relevance aside from her tragic sacrifice to stop the consumed Sayaka. Again, didn't buy it. I was pissed when she left the story and made no impact whatsoever.

As for the blue magical girl that tries to make Sasuke Uchiha from Naruto look like one of the Powerpuff Girls? Unlike that lazily written asshole with squandered potential, Sayaka's downfall is pure, 100% diamond-quality comedy. The legitimacy of her entire character arc collapses when you step back and realize she lost hope because of unrequited love. Sayaka goes on a rampage, declaring men to be horrible, heinous, traitorous scum of the earth and becomes a witch... because a boy doesn't love her.

As a woman who experienced unrequited feelings of all kinds all my life, I do not sympathize or empathize with her selfish narrow-minded delusions. I don't care if she's a hormonally-crazed teenage girl. I was one years ago, and I'm not saying this just because I overcame that awkward period. I don't buy it because her issues - no matter how huge it feels for her - is NOWHERE NEAR as bad as everyone else's suffering objectively or reasonably. Unless the point of her arc is to exploit her self-centeredness and whiny nature, then Urobutcher crafted one of the stupidest female characters I have ever seen. She completely missed the mark in every way, and I don't even like her as a person (unfunny, cranky, and short-sighted to name a few wonderful descriptions).

So, yes. I apologize to Yosuke and Rise for bitching them out so much. Sayaka is way, way worse than them both COMBINED. Yuri Lowenthal and Laura Bailey are still solid in my books.

On the other hand, Homura was well written overall. Her story was much shorter and more concise. If Kyubey's long exposition about teenage girls ending entropy by throwing tantrums was never brought up, Homura's backstory would make the whole theme of hope and despair work near-flawlessly. It's most explicit here and her pain far overshadows everyone else's due to how much of a burden she carries for the world and her friends. However, her undying loyalty to Madoka crosses yuri territory more than I'm comfortable with due to it being seemingly clingy and unhealthy. In spite of this, Homura's story inspired me the most when writing Minako in my Persona 3 fanfic, which is enough to give this character a pass.

Next is Madoka. She's frequently hated for being passive and uninvolved in her own story. I'd argue that is true, but she ends up becoming the smartest and most sensible character overall. She observes events, asks questions, ponders ideas, and waits patiently despite everyone she knows fighting and dying horribly. This does not make the best protagonist in the traditional sense, but she is the only one who doesn't behave and react irrationally in the moment. She pushes back becoming a magical girl because she is aware of the consequences. Becoming one is unavoidable, but Madoka bites her time until her potential is truly, utterly needed. As a result, she breaks the universe with a reset button wish to save the day. This part was frequently claimed as an asspull, which it is for good reason.

The plot of this show could have angered me more than the characters, but the purpose of the mechanics of the magical girl system and the ending are the pit of the storytelling here. I admit that entropy is a scientific concept I struggled with all throughout high school, but death of the universe to justify manipulating teenage girls' minds for as far back as the days of Cleopatra is mind-blowing. I don't buy it for a millisecond for numerous reasons.

And courtesy of my friend, Voltech, I will use one of his cues for a moment of overly-nitpicking the stupid of stupid in Madoka Magica's entropy bullshit.

Why does it have to be human girls? How is the self-descrution of females contained so entropy can be fought back? Can any other resource in the universe stop entropy from destroying everything? Why not pursue a resource that will be easier to obtain in a shorter period of time? Are human girls the only viable candidates? Why haven't teenage boys been experimented on? Are you saying teenage boys don't undergo emotional turmoil at all and thus cannot self destruct? Hasn't Kyubey's race noticed that, statistically speaking in recent centuries at least, men are more likely to commit crimes and kill themselves, both acts generally done due to a lack of emotional and mental control of the self? If Kyubey's kind has been using human girls for years, why haven't they realized that this investment could go sour at any time? Why wasn't a safety measure put in place to prevent universe-changing reset button wishes from being allowed? Is the "stopping entropy" plot point needed to justify a seemingly reasonable and natural dichotomy of hope and despair?

How does Homura's time travel grant Madoka more potential to stop final evil witch at the end? What led to the arrival of Walpurgisnacht and thus the apocalypse? What is significance of the gratuitous German names for the witches and absolutely nothing else? Why use German when the magical girl vs witch phenomenon greatly predated Germanic and European language and culture? What exactly started and triggered the magical girl-to-witch cycle? Have there been points in history when someone with Homura's powers appeared to manipulate events? Has there been a revolution of magical girls to fight Kyubey's race?

What is the lore and history behind thousands of years of magical girls and witches? What were the early days like? How did the system become perfected? How long has the system been stable? Were there times when resources were plentiful enough that entropy slowed down enough for Kyubey's race to settle down for a few years? Why are human emotions the resource, and why must it be so limited in what kind of humans are needed? Why not try out adults, who likely have more potential to be powerful and dangerous due to their lifetime of experience? Why doesn't the show attempt to explain and broaden this world to take advantage of hope vs despair AND implement a universe-threatening conflict? Why is the entropy angle just a nonsensical backdrop with no immediate consequence for a relatively personal, small story? Why am I now realizing Persona 4 handled their world-threatening conflict better because of the MegaTen tradition?

These are twenty eight of the millions of questions I came up with the first time I saw that scene. If entropy isn't a humongous plot hole, I don't know what the hell is. It's ludicrous, unnecessary, and outright embarrassing, especially with how much praise this "masterpiece" gets.

I could comment on the technicals, but by now you should know what my verdict for Madoka Magica is. No amount of praise on the epic, tear-enducing orchestral and electronic score complimenting the flowing animation and style during fights against the witches will be enough to change my mind. This show had a wonderful theme Urobutcher nearly euthanized with a nuclear bomb. The characters aren't memorable and their tragic downfalls are so nonsensical I was either angry at wasted potential or yawned out of boredom. The ending betrays the narrative by undoing everything that led to the finale, despite the reasonable buildup for Madoka being an overpowered god. This show had good ideas horribly mishandled and abused.

I don't need to do a bunch of research on the magical girl genre to understand what Urobutcher was trying to convey. I'll find better deconstructions of power of friendship cliches if I have to, like Revolutionary Girl Utena. Hell, Persona 4 did a better job at it than this. Madoka Magica made me hate anime for almost a year; with the exception of Homura, this show was a waste of time I will never get back.

And reset endings can fall in a pit and bleed to death.

0.7 out of 5

Feel free to watch this if you want. Just understand that this show violated my very essence and I want no more involvement with it or any media associated with it. A damn shame too. Hope and despair is hardly explored seriously as a narrative theme...


Voltech said...

I find it hilarious that you put up a post on Madoka while I'm trying to make my way through Kamen Rider Gaim -- also an Urobutcher production. And truth be told? This post is actually my first experience with Madoka, but I expected something pretty much earth-shattering in quality (if only to justify the noise Gaim made). It looks like the quality is earth-shattering...for all the wrong reasons.

Not gonna lie, though: I'm still at least a LITTLE interested in it.

But man, to think that the whole premise of the story is built on something less stable than a house of cards -- it's almost unreal. And all those questions -- it may be a bit late to append the post, but you've got every right to insert Groose's theme to highlight the sheer silliness. Here you go!


But back on topic? Like I said, I haven't seen Madoka -- but if Gaim is anything to go by, Urobutcher's got some glaring weaknesses that he hasn't quite ironed out. I like Gaim, but damn does it have some issues. Incidentally, the "hope vs. despair" theme shows up there as well; I'm inclined to believe that it's handled there better than it is here, but by the sound of things, the DNA drags them both down.

In Madoka's case, though? You can explain it all away with one simple handwave: because they're cute girls, and are thus infinitely more profitable than anything else. Sense? Who needs it? It's all about DEM WIDEHEADS!

Or you could just say "because the plot said so". That seems to be a fate a lot of people will have to accept these days.

Melanie~Light said...

Don't worry a ton about it. Watch Madoka if you like; this is probably one of the few below-1 star reviews where I will still tell people to watch and judge for themselves. I'm just the oddball who watched it, hated it so much that I was extremely close to dropping anime forever. (Keep in mind I had a tsunami of bad anime that I watched before Madoka too, including Devil Survivor 2's massacred adaptation.)

The only Urobutcher show I liked was Psycho Pass, probably because it felt like the guy didn't seem to have full artistic control of everything. Psycho Pass still had some glaring plot holes, badly fleshed characters, and pointless digression that made the show "ok" rather than "great". Still, it's one of the few anime where the ending seemed fitting and very well paced. Psycho Pass is the only Urobutcher piece that I liked.

I need to see more of his work for sure, but the fact I can see far more serious problems in his works much quicker than others leaves me troubled. He has great ideas but very poor execution, often due to bad characters, focusing on the wrong plot points, or being blind to the possible "alternate view" of a character or idea. Like how Stephanie Meyer thought Edward and Bella had a beautiful tragic romance greater than Romeo and Juliet... while not seeing the obvious abusive subtext and passive aggressive manipulation.

Of course, Urobutcher is no SMeyer. Sadly he seems to make mistakes similar to SMeyer with a handful of ideas, despite having better concepts, writing, and production to work with. Now I'm just rambling. I may have to comment on Psycho Pass formally later.

Good luck with Kamen Rider Gaim. Sorry you're not happy with Urobutcher either. And thanks! I might add Groose's theme to my post (I'll credit you of course). :)

Anonymous said...

Hahaha, and you haven't seen the last movie of the trilogy (the first two are just recap movies) yet. Considering how the fandom reacts with either "love it do death" of "KILL IT WITH FIRE", I start wondering how you'd react to it, since you apparently liked Homura (at least when compared to the other characters) and how the ones who disliked the movie accuse her of being OOC.

Melanie~Light said...

... Oh, damn it. It gets WORSE? What is... I don't even...

*falls to knees*

Maybe after a few decades of having my blood pressure stabilize enough, I'll watch that train wreck. Maybe.

I don't think I can take anymore Madoka. ;_;

Anonymous said...

No. Please. Don't watch the third movie. Don't. It's not worth it.

It's seriously not worth the pain.

I watched the movie. I like the anime. I watched that ending again because what. I still like the anime.

I watched the movie with my friend a second time. I don't know whether I like the anime anymore.

Don't watch it. Please.

(Although, there's one fight scene that's really cool and I love it so much, but it is not worth whatever else is in the movie and that ending.)

Kevin Allen said...

I'm not gonna lie, I completely love madoka magica and it's one of my favorite anime, episode three is one of my favorites ;) and if you watch the third movie rebellion it has one of the most amazing fight scenes I've ever seen and I have absolutely NO idea why you gave it a .7 out of 5 I mean if it was as bad as you say it was then why would it have won as many awards as it has. I think you need to do a little bit of re-evaluation of your process for your reviewing system, you might as well give swor art online a 5/5 and we all know that is not happening. I do see some of your concerns but some just make no sense to me.

Anonymous said...

I actually agree with the reviewer and think she is perfectly within her right not to like Madoka Magica and think of it as extremely flawed. Just because you don't like what she has to say about it doesn't make her wrong.

I personally think Madoka Magica is incredibly overrated, when watching it I thought it would get more interesting... the only episode I even vaguely enjoyed was episode 10. It does what it does but I found it all to be difficult to really invest myself in too much emotionally because I found the characters to be incredibly boring and poorly executed... to me it was just plain bad, but for many others it was amazing.

Hareger said...

Funnily enough I only agree with you with the bland/plot device characters and since i agree with that i agree with most of your review. The tragic events suck because the characters suck and the sayaka arc is a big meh, and thats like 50% of the show, so is really understandable if you dislike the show if you prioritize characters over narrative, wich in my opinion wasn't as flawed as you make it appear. I actually found an answer to most of the questions about the entropy at the same speed you asked them, and then the reset button ending works because the entropy works. Curiously, the world threatening event is actually real, and kyubey makes a really good job explaining it, even if it leaves some parts out. Maybe i only like this series because a physics dork.

Im kind of sad, since i really like urobuchi concepts and narrative but he side characters and, in some cases a the main ones, are so poorly executed that i can't fully invest in the story, and Madoka is the prime example of that.

Hareger said...

Sorry if my english is messed up, it's not my first language.

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