Where to begin with Madoka 2? A lot happened in this episode, including a lot of character and world development. In my previous post, I focused a lot more on the aesthetics of the show, and more or less dismissed the plot, but after episode 2, I feel that Madoka has departed from the “standard” mahou shoujo plot more than I thought it had.
And, well, let’s consider the set up for Madoka, and the “rules” of the world so to speak. In essence, Kyuubey proposes a trade. If you become a magical girl, I’ll give you a miracle. You have to risk your life fighting witches, but you’ll get any one wish. This trade emphasizes one important aspect that normal mahou shoujo don’t have: Choice.
I can’t even remember the last time the protagonist of a mahou shoujo series ended up choosing to become a mahou shoujo. Instead, the typical mahou shoujo narrative forces the protagonist to be a mahou shoujo. Usually it’s the result of fate or destiny or something or the other, but the traditional narrative is rather clear: we’re not letting you choose.
Then what significance does this introduction of choice have upon the mahou shoujo genre? What it does is emphasize one major thing: What does it mean to be a mahou shoujo? I think this is broken down further into two components, specifically: 1) The identity crisis of a mahou shoujo, and 2) The “job” of a mahou shoujo.
I also believe that these questions are also represented by certain characters. We’ve seen two characters get an extended conversation scene with Madoka so far. First was Homura in episode 1, and second was Sayaka in episode 2. Both of these characters are, relatively speaking, extremely averse to the idea of being a mahou shoujo, but for different reasons.
Homura, although she is a mahou shoujo, really doesn’t want to be. In episode 1, she asks Madoka: Do you value the life you live? Are your family and friends important to you? Of course just by asking these questions, she reveals her fundamental worry about what it means to be a mahou shoujo. Just what do you have to give up in order to be one? What sacrifices do you have to make? The answer for Homura apparently is: your life.
Back in my episode 1 post, I noted the annoyance of Homura whenever Madoka mentioned something about her name. I was rather confused by it then, but I think it makes a lot more sense now, especially in the context of the information we learned in episode 2. In essence, what Homura and probably Mami gave up is their family.
Episode 2 really brought this into focus, because the scene that emphasized Mami’s loneliness was placed literally within another one, where Madoka brushes her teeth with her mom. This relatively simple act was placed right into the forefront of episode 1, where the extremely close bond that Madoka has with her mom is emphasized. However, the fact that the scene explaining the rules of being a mahou shoujo literally bisects the teeth brushing scene is significant in that it brings into focus what Madoka has to lose if she becomes a mahou shoujo. Mami lives alone. We’re not sure why, but she does. Something that the cinematography really emphasized in this scene was just how empty the place was.
Isn’t it sad living in such a way? Just imagine the place after we realize that Kyuubey is living with Madoka.
Homura may be different, but I think it’s more than likely that she experiences a similar situation, especially considering the question she asks. Something else that is emphasized here is the real dog eat dog mentality of being a mahou shoujo. It goes right along with the loneliness emphasized by the loss of your family and friends. Basically you don’t even have any friends in the magical realm to fight with.
Look at any recent mahou shoujo anime, and you’ll see the exact opposite. Fate starts out as an antagonist to Nanoha, but she ends up being her best friend. Same deal with Hayate. Hell, the final season of Nanoha emphasizes the camaraderie between mahou shoujo even further. The Pretty Cure series? Same deal. I think there have always been multiple Pretty Cures in every season of the series.
So in Madoka, being a magical girl means losing your friends, family, and you can’t even make new friends… What an unbelievable trade off. It’s made even worse considering that mahou shoujo are generally well off characters. Mahou shoujo don’t ever suffer from any family problems or anything like that. Often times, the only thing that’s wrong with them is a general lack of courage, which they find through becoming a magical girl. This sort of conflict between their “real” and “magical” life never really happens. That’s totally different in Madoka. In fact, it might be surmised that becoming a magical girl takes over your identity. You lose part of what made you… you.
Consider Homura. She constantly rejects hanging out with would-be friends to be a magical girl. In episode 1 she declines speaking with girls who want to be her friend in favor of speaking with Madoka. In episode 2 she declines going out for coffee with some girls to go track Madoka and Mami. She’s pretty much lost her ability to have friends. You can see the inklings of doom with Madoka and Sayaka as well. Twice in episode 2, the “fifth wheel” runs away from Madoka and Sayaka because, well, she can’t understand them anymore. Becoming a magical girl is… tragic. There’s really no other way to look at it.
But Madoka really doesn’t see it that way. She still has her unbridled optimism. She designs fluffy costumes for herself, she envisions that being a mahou shoujo entails helping people out and saving them from committing suicide. That’s her view of being a mahou shoujo. But is the world as pretty as she thinks it is? Apparently not really. Two characters function as foils to Madoka’s incredible optimism: Madoka’s mother and Sayaka.
Yes, Madoka’s mother. That’s not a typo. Consider this conversation:
Madoka: If you were told that magic would make any of your wishes come true, what would you d-
Madoka’s mother: I’d get rid of both of the chief partners at my company.
As terrible as it sounds, Madoka’s mother is a product of this dog-eat-dog world. The competition in the magical world mirrors the competition in the real world. What do you need to get by in this world? Looks. What do you need to get what you want in this world? Convince everyone in the company that you’d be great as president, and get rid of my competition.
The world isn’t as pretty as Madoka thinks it is. She thinks it’s pretty because that’s all she knows, but other people know better.
Sayaka came out with one of the more surprising speeches of the show. I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised considering just how dark the world truly is. And the world really is dark. I’m going to go on a tangent here, but look at the architecture of the above screen shot. It looks like a utopia right? Now look at the shot below.
Something that Sayaka’s speech made me realize is the transition between the “real” and “magical” world. It’s the same deal as the first progression of screenshots that was in my first post, which showed this transition. The world slowly goes from pretty architecture, to a much more darker version, to…
If you think the world is all pretty, think again, because it’s not. Sayaka knows this first hand. She knows the pain. She knows what it means to be hurt. But here’s the kicker: She isn’t willing to do anything about it. When she was talking about how ignorance is bliss, this shot came up:
In episode 1, there was a mention of Sayaka wanting to listen to some guy’s album. Putting two and two together, I’m guessing that this guy is:
Clearly there’s something going on here, but what is interesting is that even though she obviously knows that this guy is in pain, she apparently doesn’t think risking her life is worth using up her wish to help him. Ok now what I just said is maaaaaajor speculation, and I might be wildly wrong here, but for now I’ll go with this assumption.
If what I just said is true, and well, even if it’s not, Sayaka reveals out the mindset of pretty much every mahou shoujo to date: they’re altruistic. Relatively speaking at least. Mahou shoujos want to help people. That’s basically the reason for their existence in the first place. You don’t have a magical girl who doesn’t want to help other people. That’s an oxymoron. But something interesting that happened when the “job description” of the mahou shoujo was laid out is that the emphasis was placed on the wish and dangerous aspect of being a mahou shoujo. In fact, the only mention of altruism was the throwaway line that “Witches are the reason for some unexplained murders and suicides.” Seriously? That’s it? Since when did being a mahou shoujo mean being selfish?
Now a lot of what I said so far has to do with the questions that Shinbo raises and the conflicts that he points out, but what does it all mean? Well the jury is apparently out on that one. KylaranAeldin from Behind the Nihon Review and I had a great conversation about the mahou shoujo series recently, and most of it was in reference to his post. Of course the major question that he asks is: Is Shinbo really doing anything with the mahou shoujo genre?
And to answer that question, we need to know what the mahou shoujo genre is all about. A quote from Kylaran’s post:
… narratives for mahou shoujo anime have largely remained the same. Schoolgirls, charged by chance or destiny to protect themselves and the world around them, must rise to the challenge by overcoming their own initial hesitation, doubts, and worldly troubles. By doing so, the girls reaffirm the importance of their realities in two ways. First, after each transformation they return to their normal selves; in no way does the magic permanently force them to change outwardly. Second, through saving the world they imply that the best option, rather than change or destruction, is to leave the current world as is. In essence, the narrative structure of mahou shoujo reaffirms the superiority of the status quo, despite having some overtones of empowerment in areas of gender and consumption. It is a celebration of the possibilities for self-improvement in a mundane, everyday setting.
In other words, what the mahou shoujo genre affirms is that the normal world is better than any other. Does Madoka affirm this point of view? That will be largely contingent on how the story ultimately ends. But as it goes right now, I have to admit, the normal world seems to be far more appealing than the magical one. But what’s different about Madoka, and why I’m inclined to think that Shinbo is doing something here, is the completely different mechanics that the world of Madoka is run by.
What does Shinbo need to do to make Madoka a masterpiece? He doesn’t really need to change the message. Far from it. Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei took a rather cliche message, but it stated that message in such a beautiful way that it became a masterpiece. What Shinbo needs to do with Madoka is something similar. If he can create a wonderfully optimistic piece out of the pessimism that he’s put in place beginning with these two episodes, I’ll give Madoka the title of masterpiece. At least in my books.