So, That Magical Girls Genre Subversion…

Spoilers for Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica ahead.

Break!

In a nutshell, I quote:

And if I was more of a dick than I am, I would be laughing at how it seems like you could say it’s a little wave in the face of people who liked PMMM for the fact that it supposedly deconstructed tropes that you would see in magical girl shows. To have the show end in a world that seems like it would reinforce those tropes makes it feel like things come full circle.

I’m not sure if this is even correct.

Coming from the perspective of reverse engineering the basic story concept of Madoka, this is what I have:

If magical girls is about fighting for justice using magical powers, what would it be like if magical powers weren’t magical?

This is the basic idea behind the new wave of superhero stories in the likes of Kick-Ass or Watchmen, to draw an analogy. [And the difference between those and Madoka? Worthy a post all on its own, but in short it's about the practical application of these stories.] Now in light of genre subversion, it’s important to keep our assumptions lined up in a row. So let’s do that.

[On second thought, I should clarify: By "magical" I mean the ability to get something for nothing, as opposed to obtain any uncanny super powers (which may come from known technology). Getting something for nothing is also such a power, so they're overlapped things. I call it magical just because that's the term we're all using.]

On magical girl genre tropes, I think SDS provides still the most succinct summary I’ve read, at least ones related to Madoka. (Granted, I am far from well-read, but I do take your suggestions.)

On magical powers, I would go as far as to say that when QB started on the whole Entropy thing, we are slowly cutting through the facade of magic. By facade of magic I refer to the notion/trope of Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. It isn’t to say that the whole system as explained in Madoka is not magic, but part of the trick in Madoka is to demystify magic and to illustrate the cost of it.

In fact, if there is one thing that is subverted in terms of genre, that is it: Magic. Without it, we’re just talking about girls.

In essence, Madoka asks us to answer these three questions: What is magic? What are the costs of obtaining it (read: becoming a magical girl)? What are the costs of applying it in a manner that you want (read: fulfilling your wish)?

The audience’s expectation falls in line with these three questions as well. Most people who thought it was a cop-out or people hung up on Madoka’s supposed genius like this guy focused on the first question. The real “hole” happens in the second question. People who think Madoka is Jesus are responding to the third question.

In order to read Madoka as a genre subversion we would have to apply these questions to the genre either on the whole or inquire specific titles as to their compliance. Times like this I appreciate creators like CLAMP who do take some of this stuff into account…

There are flaws with the conclusion of Madoka. I don’t want to get too deep into it, but I’ve illuminated where it is largely. Let’s just say that there’s a nice bridge of suspended belief over that hole so I’m a happy customer. However I also respect that your mileage can vary, and as with most things worth watching, there is always room for different interpretations (but not so much on factual analysis). Reasonable people can disagree, etc. I personally think the mechanism behind Madoka’s wish is worthy of real examination, but honestly, how does it matter? I have no idea how it can contribute to the overarching analysis.

To keep this short, all I am trying to say is that if Madoka’s ultimate act is to reform the nature of Magical Girls in QB’s world to conform closer to the stereotypical definition of what a Magical Girl is, then you can read it as a critique as that the average stereotype for magical girls misses the blood, tears and hard work in which makes magical girls (as we know it) possible. But this is why people can choose to see Madoka’s conclusion to be a cop-out of sorts, ultimately.

When examined thematically, however, how can I argue against her noble sacrifice? Rather than Jesus (probably to avoid sacrilege), it is better to consider Lucas’s Force-form Jedi and may the Madoka be with you, always. Love and justice will triumph, once you’ve taken all 11 previous episodes to carefully consider the wish you would like to make. (See, I can’t even argue against the way she made the wish!) Humanity’s trump card is always played at the very last possible second, like any good scrub would. Difference being, gamblers have Lady Luck, and Madoka is the patron saint of Magical Girls.

Lastly, I enjoyed the ending. It is not exactly what I expected but it certainly did not fall short of my expectations. But I think on average I spend more time and effort gauging my expectation than most, so that doesn’t say very much. And if the best way to judge the show is from its aftertaste, I can say that there’s a distinct sweet fragrance coming from the whole Madoka experience, and I can understand why this is happening.


No Responses to “So, That Magical Girls Genre Subversion…”

  • TheBigN

    >>To keep this short, all I am trying to say is that if Madoka’s ultimate act is to reform the nature of Magical Girls in QB’s world to conform closer to the stereotypical definition of what a Magical Girl is, then you can read it as a critique as that the average stereotype for magical girls misses the blood, tears and hard work in which makes magical girls (as we know it) possible.

    And that’s being superficial, which is what I was deliberately going for there. I hope it didn’t come out like I don’t think it subverts a traditional definition of what a Magical Girl is (since based on one comment already, that was what someone had thought), because it does. And nicely so. Other works have done that, but probably not to the extent that PMMM has done.

    This is also why for us, this “reset” ending isn’t really a reset. Since at least in the universe of PMMM, the costs were laid out for all of us to see. If the story ever continues, we might see if there’s more of a cost to, say, Homura, rather than her unwavering belief until she reaches the promised land. But if we started off where the “reset” was, it would kind of be hard for us to say where this would differ from the usual MG show, except if you wanted to say that to everyone else, Homura doesn’t seem right in the head.

    And that’s where I was trying to go from there. I don’t think it’s a cop-out, and we shouldn’t forget where we’ve come from, but it’s also admirable that you could say that Madoka created a universe in her own image. And I believe that she didn’t necessarily intend to do that.

  • omo

    Well, I wanted to keep it short :p

  • ubiquitial

    Oh hey look omo has a blog too let’s follow it shall we?

    But gah, this post. It’s just a bit confusing. let’s try to boil this down to a few points, shall we?
    I’m fairly sure that the show was not meant to be solely a deconstruction or subversion of the MS genre. Obviously, like all anime, it’s primary goal is to tell a story and tell it well, and I think it’s nice how it doesn’t conform EXACTLY like how one may expect a subversion to. PMMM’s not a subversion or a real-life scenario but it’s own universe with some subversive elements, and that’s why the ending didn’t bother me.

    And personally, I find all this discussion about “magic” and the technicalities of it quite a bit dogmatic. The focus shouldn’t be on the mechanisms of the magic, though explanation is helpful. Rather, it’s the impact of magic on the characters that really matters. Frankly, I care less about how it works than what exactly it does.

  • omo

    There’s some context in which this post existed within, and without that it’s not going to make too much sense as far as what I’m getting at. As to what that is, it’s a pretty big and ambiguous thing.

    But I appreciate your 2c. I think, regardless of what you think, you’re probably only get as much out of a show as you bring to it. If you want to enjoy it in a vacuum, for the storytelling, that’s cool too.

  • ubiquitial

    Thanks. I know I can come off a bit forceful at times.

    But the way I see anime, and all forms of entertainment, really, is that the show should stand for itself, regardless of perspective or interpretation, and that all interpretation should elaborate upon what the work explicitly “is” rather than what it “means.” So I wouldn’t say it’s viewing something in a vacuum so much as not missing the forest for the trees.

    And when you say context, are you referring to some other post? If you are, can I have a link please?

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