Puella Magi Madoka Magica and the Heroes of the Postmodern Era

Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains plot spoilers for the Puella Magi Madoka Magica anime.

Since its release, a lot of buzz has been made about Puella Magi Madoka Magica as this revolutionary deconstruction of the mahou shoujo, or magical girl, genre. A lot of bickering and controversy has ensued from arguments pertaining to deconstruction: about whether Madoka Magica qualifies as a deconstruction and whether its supposedly nature as a deconstruction is meaningful. It’s true that the writing of Madoka Magica subverts myriad elements of magical girl anime into a variety of horrific scenarios. It’s true that those subversions do violence to preconceived notions of what magical girl anime could be until now.

But as far as the connotations of revolutionary are concerned, Madoka Magica doesn’t really overturn anything in the magical girl genre that is worth a revolution. More than a few prior and acclaimed magical girl shows have already played with darker themes and sterner material, if not quite to the degree of Madoka Magica. Furthermore, Madoka Magica doesn’t really dissect any of the troubling subtext that the magical girl genre has a history of presenting. Magical girl anime has a  record of being vehicles for capitalist consumption in the form of selling toys and other merchandise. Magical girl anime has a past of placing limits on the girls they claim to empower by retiring them from action before they grow up.

But even whilst magical girl shows moved product into family households and placed limits on what young women were allowed to do, the magical girls themselves were doing other things that weren’t questionable and were in fact quite admirable. They fought for others out of a sense of community and altruism. They saved and protected people because they believed were worth saving and protecting. Magical girl anime showcased kindness and heroism as good things. They taught compassion and community as principles worth emulating. And yet, it’s these virtues that Madoka Magica scrutinizes in its take on magical girls, and not the others. But why these qualities? Is there something so sinister about them that they need to be proven as entirely disingenuous?

Not sinister, in Madoka Magica‘s case, but naive.

Not naive in that everyone who believes in them in real life are cons or suckers.

Naive in that it’s challenging in real life to stay committed to them.

On storyboards, modern fictional heroes such as magical girls can make it look so easy folks to be better versions of themselves for their communities. By contrast, the newspapers can make it look like people are little more than animals, with their communities being little better. If you will, imagine, visually, the human lifespan: people being kids and people becoming adults. Your average well-adjusted first-world child is probably informed by the optimism of the superhero media that they regularly consume. Their optimism becomes tempered by knowledge of how malicious and indifferent people continue to be with each other. They look back to their superhero media of yonder and re-evaluate their relationships with them. They make a determination. Do they break up with their old stories like a spouse who’s discovered evidence of cheating?  Do they reject their old heroes for betraying their trust by speaking lies or half-truths? Or do they negotiate a different understanding with them because, at the end of the day, you can’t help but wish for the naivety to be true?

To me, the depth of Madoka Magica lies less in its debated worth as a magical girl deconstruction and more in its painful resonance as a critique of modernism through the magical girl genre. The darkness in Madoka Magica is not so much an exercise in self-indulgent edginess as it is a reflection of the systematic coldness and callousness of postmodern living. In many ways, the thematic priorities of magical girl anime, as with other works of heroism, reflect modernist assumptions: an optimism towards humanity and an idealism toward humanity’s future. As is per convention, the magical girl heroine fights for people and the world because of the underlying assumption that they are universally worth saving. Madoka Magica challenges that convention by portraying these same people and the very world as the cause of their suffering. Compassion in contemporary society not so much demonized as it is sparing, and cruelty of postmodern life seems so profusive as to be unstoppable.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Sayaka is a Hero*

Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains major plot spoilers for the Puella Magi Madoka Magica anime.

I can’t say that I ever liked Sayaka Miki much throughout my initial watch and subsequent re-viewings of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I suppose part of it may have to do with her hyper-judgmental and antagonistic attitude toward Homura Akemi, my favorite magical girl in the series. A lot of it definitely is definitely connected to her demanding Madoka Kaname to become a magical girl too, knowing full well that the magical girl life has given her immense grief. Becoming a magical girl in Madoka Magica includes the transfer of one’s soul from their body to an external vessel, a soul gem. The body becomes soulless, and to Sayaka, the revelation that she was turned into some kind of zombie was horrifying. Sayaka believed that she gave up her soul and, consequently, her humanity to become a magical girl. For her to insist, afterwards, that her best friend should give up her humanity so that she can be good enough is just monstrous. I understand that she was in a bad mood, but that’s still no justification for her behavior.

Some hero she turned out to be.

Strangely though, I’ve noticed more than a handful of people on AniTwitter claim Sayaka for their avis while declaring openly that Sayaka is their favorite magical girl in the show. I didn’t really hate Sayaka by the end of it, but I didn’t have much love for her either. Eventually, the passionate and enduring appeal that Sayaka had over others prompted me to re-evaluate her character. Granted, Homura remains my favorite magical girl in the series even after that bout of soul-searching. However, I’ve grown to appreciate Sayaka far more than I used to. It’s quite similar, actually, to how I’ve grown to respect Iori Nagase in Kokoro Connect, despite clearly fancying Kokoro Connect’s Himeko Inaba more. I wonder if it’s because I wasn’t paying enough attention before. Or maybe it was because there was a familiar aspect of hers deep down that I didn’t consciously realize. She’s an innocent idealist underneath her teenage bluster, but that same idealism left her sensitive to nihilism and despair. I’d say that she’s a little like me.

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Fate/Zero: The Paradox of Unbridled Idealism

Management: While my opinion of the show is generally positive overall, this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes. This essay was made addressing ideas from Episode 11 of Fate/Zero, “The Grail Dialogues.”  This essay is meant to take the place of a previous essay on the show.

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A temporary reprieve from this bloody business called battle is held as the three historically sovereign heroic spirits present in this age’s Holy Grail War, Saber, the King of Knights, Rider, the King of Conquerors, and Archer, the King of Heroes, sit down for drink and conversation, the conversation evolving from kingly courtesies to discussions about how each would use the grail to arguments about kingship in general. The centerfold tension of the entire discussion is Rider’s opposition to Saber’s view on proper kingliness. I’m not going to talk about proper kingliness per se.

The following words aren’t meant to answer the question of who is a true king. Saber, Rider, and Archer have different answers based on fundamentally different understandings of the position. They can argue all day without proving the other wrong, because “king” is an artificial, and thus subjective, construct. Rather, from their debate, I’ll talk about what the show thinks constitutes a good political leader.

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The Heavens Fall | Aldnoah.Zero, A Review

Management: This is a comprehensive review of own devising, where I go over a pro and con analysis of the material in an attempt to convince people to watch the show-in-review. Hopefully, in encouraging people in general to watch things I think are interesting, they’ll at least somewhat know what to expect while watching. For clarity’s sake, I’ll emphasize this: the review isn’t meant to be so much holistic as it is coverage of what I believe is of core importance to the show.

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“Honorable” is a word in the human vernacular that carry a bit of controversy in its historical and even current usage. It and its variants have often been used as praise for action, person, system, and idea. For instance, that soldier sacrificed his life in order to saved his platoon from a stray enemy grenade… That was an honorable action. He did an honorable action without regard for anyone but the lives of his comrades… He must be an honorable man. The system that produced such an honorable man to commit … It must be an honorable system. That system must have been produced by an idea of some kind… It must be an honorable idea.

Now apply “honorable” to a suicide bomber. Some of you, many of you, or most of you reading this review (I hope) will outright reject or at least question the mere notion of juxtaposing “honorable” and “suicide bomber” together in the same sentence as something that goes beyond an oxymoron, but there are people who believe suicide bombing can be honorable. Even more people believe in “honor killings,” where a person or a group of people murder or massacre another person or group of people, respectively, because they feel he or she or they sullied their social, spiritual, and/or personal standing. The most infamous cases involve “righteous” men killing “deviant” women, though “honor killings” have been used to excuse violence against ethnic, religious, and national groups.

We may condemn it as not being “civilized,” but “civilized” has been used to justify numerous travesties on one group to another because of “civilized” folk believing they’re superior to everyone else which, thus, gives license for them to do and take what they will them. Even “civilized” individuals who honestly believe they are well-meaning, imperialists, missionaries, and Social Darwinists, believe their impositions on others that aren’t them are benefiting mankind. What about “just?” What about “justice?”

“Fiat justitia ruat caelum…”

…or…

“…let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

As to what that means, Aldnoah.Zero attempts to explain.

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