Where have I been? Busy as hell. I more or less dropped out of the online world for the vast majority of the past week and a half. Real life. Sigh. Just as a quick announcement, I’m not going to blog KoreZombie anymore. First off I’m 3 episodes behind, but secondly there’s absolutely nothing redeeming about that show whatever, and I’m sick and tired of posturing like there might even be a shred of actually interesting crap in there. I can’t find the motivation to do it anymore. Anyway, onto Madoka.
So… that’s it. Episodes 7 and 8 basically flipped my opinion of Madoka backwards. Completely backwards. Episode 7 was okay, but episode 8 sealed it. Urobuchi tried to play the shock factor game. Very, very effective for the first half the series, but now… now it’s starting to wear off. Just like in Phantom, we’re getting to the part of the show where the weaknesses are getting to be rather apparent. But this time it’s not manifesting in the drab and languid pacing of the plot, but instead in this sort of mentality that if you show something shocking that pull people along, then eventually they’ll begin to look over the faults.
The best comparison? Think of Chinese foreign policy. Let’s stir up that nationalism to distract you guys from all the crap that’s going on in the country, eh? Essentially the same thing is happening here. There’s a great veneer plastered all over Madoka Magica. It gets the blood roiling, and the speculative juices flowing. Then you look past it and realize that something just isn’t quite right.
In particular, the characters seem to be… errr… strange. The only one who has had a logical development up until this point is Mami, and she’s, well… You know. But the characters in Madoka Magica seem to flip flop between these sort of different personality states, like they’re bipolar.
Kyouko demonstrated this flip perfectly between episode 6 and 7, where she somehow turned from a literally psycho bitch ready to tear someone’s arms and legs out into a character that really resembled Mami. Except for the food thing. Before, she wanted to essentially teach Sayaka the ins and outs of being a magical girl by beating her up. And now… I don’t even know what happened. Unless, of course…
Even still, it’s almost incredible just how much of an effect this revelation has on every character. It’s almost incredible to even believe that these were the same characters that we saw just a few episodes ago. I mean really, who can forgot Kyouko’s suggestion to chop off Kyousuke’s arms and legs so that he will completely become Sayaka’s, both in mind and body? For me at least, it’s hard to imagine her suddenly finding pity for Sayaka and not for someone like a quadruple amputated Kyousuke. She was absolutely willing to kill Sayaka back in episode 5.
Then where did this overwhelming sense of pity and empathy come from? Seeing Sayaka in the state that she’s in? Did she have a revelation about the way she acted before? I’m not really sure if she actually realized something different about herself, or if she’s just feeling pity for Sayaka. Where did this empathetic impulse come from? It’s never really explained. The best that we can say is that the revelation that her soul is in a separate place did something to Kyouko. What that is, we don’t know. I feel like Madoka Magica is falling into the same trap that Phantom ~ Requiem of the Phantom fell into. Not enough development and skipping development scenes on the side characters. It’s worse here because Madoka Magica has a grand total of… 4 fairly important characters compared to Phantom’s 2 main and large supporting cast. This strange development here is not only unfounded, but also just far too sudden. To see this “zombie” thing affect all of the characters to this extent… I don’t know.
Because apparently this revelation ranks far, far, far above Mami’s death in terms of the effect it has on both Sayaka and Kyouko. If you recall, Sayaka was the most level headed person in the aftermath of Mami’s death. She was the most controlled, and tried her best to not let her emotions overcome her. It’s incredible to think that she could be thrown so off balance once it comes to this point. Even before this scene, she begins jumping to radical conclusions, such as that one line in episode 6 where she declared that Homura essentially killed Mami for the Grief Seed. Ok, then the beginning of her descent into madness began earlier.
She was perfectly controlled for all of episode 4, despite her doubts, and for the vast majority of episode 5. She was happy, and, most importantly, got pleasure out of just watching Kyousuke. She was completely selfless.
Then Kyouko came along.
And it seems like she changed after that. But even after she came along, her intentions were still pure when she stated that she honestly didn’t want to get Madoka involved in the conflict, which she completely turns around in episode 8. Furthermore, she consistently declared while talking to Kyouko that, and I’m quoting here: “I didn’t want this power just to fight witches. I wanted it to protect the ones I love” (Episode 6). Ok, so her change probably wasn’t caused by Kyouko.
Then what are we left with? Apparently the revelation that she has her soul planted somewhere else completely destroyed her personality, and replaced it with this selfish, brutish, and completely broken girl. Oh wait. That’s not even right, because there’s that great scene in the broken cathedral after this revelation where Sayaka makes a huge speech about how she doesn’t regret her decision, about how wonderful this power is, and just how she’s willing to fight for other people.
As you shouldn’t.
Ok, then we’re left with… Hitomi. Apparently all of Sayaka’s rhetoric, where she declares that she has absolutely no doubts, breaks once Hitomi enters the picture and challenges her for Kyousuke. Her world is shattered by this challenge, and she suddenly realizes that she really does want to have Kyousuke all to herself. No lead up. Not even once do we get an inkling of any doubt in her decision to save Kyousuke, and not once do we get any inkling that she’s really this selfish. Wait what? I’m sorry Shinbo/Urobuchi/whoever came up with this, but this isn’t the way to develop your characters, especially someone who has and will play a vital role in the series.
I truly find it hard to believe that Sayaka can even make this strange progression from rational to irrational. Her character was carefully constructed from the beginning, in that she served as a foil to Madoka. Her reason and maturity was balanced against Madoka’s naivety. She even declared that she herself was ignorant, but being smart enough to realize that is a feat in and of itself. Then where does this trait of hers go? Well it did kind of get lost somewhere, and there’s no real reason why it would get lost, and why she in particular can’t stand up to the mental assault that Kyouko, Homura, and Madoka all are getting through just fine. You may be able to speculate on a reason, but the problem here is that no reason is given, and no reason is developed. Sayaka somehow flipped from the most logically and wonderfully developed character to the worst.
But it’s not like the other characters have somehow been logically developed either. I don’t know what happened to Homura, but somehow she turned from this:
Of course, there’s always the possibility that we’ll actually get a reason later on for why she’s apparently such a weak-hearted character, but it was really a shock to me that she could show such weakness. Especially after every extremely harsh speech she’s given to Madoka, and this declaration in the previous episode:
Well you’re human enough to cry randomly…
Extremely cold whenever she addresses Madoka, yet strangely weak when she addresses Madoka in episode 8. Always speaking in riddles, never being truly honest… except in episode 8. The first time she’s cracked, and probably the first time that she’s revealed herself as human in front of Madoka, even when they’re alone. Maybe there are some extenuating circumstances, but it was so jarring to see Homura depicted as someone who can’t even get off the ground because she’s crying. Just watching her being so weak is both pitiful and confusing. It’s something that I would expect from Madoka, and not Homura.
This? Not really an illogical occurrence.
But speaking of Madoka, I never thought that she could be so cold. Apparently the only two people that she really cares about are Sayaka and Hitomi. I mean she completely brushes off a collapsed, crying Homura to run off to look for Sayaka. Not really what I’d expect from Madoka, nor is her real lack of reaction to Kyuubey’s apparent death something that I’d expect from her. In the end, I can really only describe her as a girl who lives for her friends, and no one else. But the point is that she hasn’t really changed since the beginning of the series. Like at all. In the end, she’s ending up as the weakest link of the show. Not even a half assed attempt at changing her character like with Homura or Kyouko. She just exists. And suddenly, with 4 episodes left in the series, we’re left with the realization that Madoka is the same old Madoka from episode 1. Mami’s death? Yeah didn’t really do anything. Revelation that magical girls don’t have their soul and body conjoined? Didn’t do anything.
The problem with Madoka is that she ends up doing nothing. Like literally nothing. This is different than something like Hamlet, where he actually debates doing something, and grapples with his obsession with morality and just desserts. The plot moves forward without Madoka. The story would be radically different without her, sure, but only to the extent that she’s apparently The One.
Now why does this matter? Why can’t we just accept that the characters are secondary to the plot, and move on? After all, that seems to be the stance that everyone is taking to the show. Well that would depend on what you’re looking to get out of the show. Madoka Magica is a show that you end up watching for the experience. It executes everything with pinpoint precision, but there’s nothing to it beyond that. You can’t conduct a character analysis if your characters don’t make sense. Originally I thought that Madoka Magica was a subversion of the mahou shoujo genre in that it was placing your standard mahou shoujo characters in a new and dark world, and see where they go. Obviously that can’t work if you make logical leaps in how characters are developed, and subvert their own personalities.
I’m pretty sure that this was meant to break the fourth wall.
Then can Madoka Magica truly be a subversion of the mahou shoujo genre? Probably not. Because as numerous people have pointed out, mahou shoujo genres exist as something like a bildungsroman. The Sakura that we meet in episode 1 of Cardcaptor Sakura is not the same one that we see at the end of episode 70, and it’s because of the adventures that she had with her powers. Is the Madoka now any different from the Madoka in episode 1? She knows about the magical world. Does she do anything about it? Or will the only reason that she changes be because Sayaka became a witch? If that’s the case, then there really is no need to make Madoka Magica a mahou shoujo anime. Maybe it’s only just a mahou shoujo series in name only. Whatever the case, I think that it’s clear now that the shininess of Madoka Magica has worn off. Kajiura Yuki’s music has gotten truly stale (I mean really, really stale. I’m sick and tired of hearing it.), Urobuchi has gone off the deep end, and only god knows what Shinbo is doing.
Maybe my sudden pessimism about Madoka Magica will change over the course of the final episodes. Maybe. I’m not putting my money on it. When you begin resorting to the cheesy dramatic reveals, then you know you’re running out of steam. Maybe Urobuchi needs to take a break as the sole scriptwriter and series composer. Because he definitely is beginning to flake out.
Urobuchi, you can do better than this.