So really, this show is as much a deconstruction of the Super Hero
genre as it is the Magical Girl
Heck, listen to this one dude's analysis comparing it to The Dark Knight Saga
"What does a little heard of anime have to do with Batman or any other superhero movie for that matter? "Madoka Magica" is the lastest in a long line of anime from the magical girl genre made most famous in the West by "Sailor Moon." Superheroes and magical girls share a few significant characteristics in common including strange outfits, living a double life and devotion to protecting the innocent from those who would do evil. Also, like many superhero movies, most magical girl shows are very childish. "Madoka Magica" sets itself apart from the rest of the herd like Nolan's Batman trilogy by taking the genre down a more serious and darker investigation of what such a life style does to a person. What's most astonishing about it though, is that after multiply viewings, reading several essays, discussions and comments here and elsewhere, I realized "Madoka Magica" plumes deep into the core of what it means to be a masked hero of justice, and not only tears it down to expose its raw center but escalates the stakes of the game to where the very foundations of what it means to be human are at risk.
TDK trilogy wipes away the idealism and immaturity of the superhero story, like the directors and movies you name, have done with the Western and the War genre to reflect the more cynical and world weary eye of our current state. You're very right that the conclusion to the trilogy sways at dangerous intervals between hope and complete despair. At stake is whether hope and good can rise above doubt and hate in our present cynicism without succumbing to despair. Nolan believes we can. But as you point out so well, and what other reviewers like Emerson have analyzed, is how the scale and philosophical quandaries of the movie override the drama.
By the time "Madoka Magica" reaches the climax of its twelfth episode, it sets up such devastating and monumental conflicts it seems impossible to escape the soul crushing answer the story might dish out. It is able to do this without losing sight of its characters and the emotional development they have gone through. That's what makes this short series so astonishing. Its characters embody and play out the conflicts and dilemmas of the superhero so well they can strip away so many of the conceits that characterize the superhero like defending the innocent, protecting secret identifies, sacrificing personal desires and straddling the line between good and evil to its very heart and explore the wider implications of the superhero role as to how it relates to the way a person should perceive the world and what human values like love and hope are really worth.
The cat-like creature, Kyubey, confronts lead character Madoka and her friend Sayaka about making a contract with him to become magical girls in order to hunt witches in exchange for one wish. More lies behind this deal than at first appears of course, but both girls take the wise choice of really thinking about what they want and what it means to be a magical girl. That's where their veteran witch hunting guide Mami comes in to show them the incredible risks she takes when she took on her role and the personal sacrifices it involved. We've seen that side of the superhero illustrated very well by Peter Parker in "Spider Man 2", but "Madoka Magica" takes a much darker turn, like TDK trilogy in raising the stakes. In fact, the series dares to portray the most dire consequences of devoting a life to fighting evil from the shadows that no superhero movie ever touched, nor likely ever will.
I believe the lines "With great power comes great responsibility," and "You either die a hero, or live long enough to see ourself become the villain," explain the dual dilemmas at the heart of the superhero mythos. By taking on a life of fighting crime, a superhero makes incredible personal sacrifices for their choice. Especially if they lead an ordinary day to day life. In that double life, risking and sacrificing so much while confronting the worst underbellies of society strains the belief that justice and good have any value in the world when a superhero receives so little benefit from their selfless acts.
Sayaka takes the plunge into the role of the magical girl after wishing to save someone she loves. No sooner after that decision and she's confronted by another magical girl named Kyoko who harasses her for wasting a wish on another person and taking on the mantle of a magical girl to defend others rather than help herself. In some respects Kyoko takes on the self-preservation argument of Catwoman in TDKR. Sayaka and Kyoko embody that conflict about whether a superhero should use their power for themselves or for others and Kyoko's rationale makes head way as more truth comes to light.
Sayaka risks everything for love, and then it falls out of her reach in the most devastating way possible. Even Peter Parker would fall into despair if he realized what she does. Kyoko is able to bear it though because she only looks out for herself. By not worrying about others, she also avoids worrying about what they think or whether they accept her.
Through Sayaka and Kyoko, "Madoka Magica" confronts the most pressing issues of what it means to become a superhero. If it had done only that, than it would have rapped up the drama of what the best superhero movies have done. However, "Madoka" wants to take it a step farther.
Madoka stands by, unable to figure out what to do, as she watches her friend succumb to despair. All the while the mysterious magical girl Homura goes to whatever lengths she can to prevent Madoka from making a contract with Kyubey and becoming a magical girl. With Madoka and Homura, the series reveals its real hand, the truth behind magical girls and the dilemmas of the superhero begun by Sayaka and Kyoko rise to their most dire and cosmic levels worthy of "2001" and "The Tree of Life".
If the inherent idea begun in the story that the only way to survive in a cruel and indifferent world is self-preservation than the climax raises that to the question of what meaning human values like hope and love have in a cold universe. Everything escalates to such a point where human hope and despair become little more than a tool. If you ever wondered what the ultimate identity of a cynical society looked like, "Madoka Magica" has your answer. What's truly unbelievable though is that it manages to come out the other end without losing sight of the characters as it amps up the scale to its conclusion.
That's in no small part thanks to the excellent writing of the show. It's only possible because of the indifferent logic presented by Kyubey and the truth revealed by Homura that gives the final conflict its emotional weight. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the portrayal of the fractured and distant relationship between Madoka and Homura maybe one of the most endearing friendships ever put on screen. How their relationship figures into the resolution is both one of the most heartbreaking and uplifting elements of the story.
With all that said, "Madoka Magica" is not for everyone. Much like the superhero genre has its tropes that make it look childish, so does the magical girl genre though much like Nolan's Batman trilogy, it tries to subvert those elements. Perhaps the most difficult aspect for certain audiences to accept is the series use of a type of Japanese cuteness called "moe", think "My Little Pony", that would prevent them from taking what happens seriously despite the series dark nature and serious implications. I am of the belief though that anyone capable of enjoying both an "Avengers" and a "Tree of Life" has the capacity to appreciate what "Madoka magica" tries to accomplish.
I have brought up this series again and again, not out of devotion to the material, but because of the timing of its release to the superhero movies that have come out this year, and the fact that those whose opinions I respect and read so often continue to raise their views about these movies. I think the discussion of how superhero stories are told now and what they reflect on our current perceptions warrants devoting some attention to "Madoka Magica" for the ideas it brings to the table.
In all honesty, I believe Zac Bertschy from Anime News Network does a much better job of reviewing this series than I do. He sums it up best in his final review: "If 'Madoka Magica' is saying anything, it's saying that life will absolutely crush you and entropy is inevitable, but there's reason to hope. That wishing for your loved ones to be safe and fighting for the things you believe in is the most important thing a human being can hope to do, even in the face of all that. If that isn't a happy ending, then I don't know what is.""
Pretty awesome analysis.
edited 7th Oct '12 11:41:05 PM by LDragon2