World Building as Plot: Madoka Magica Finale (Spoilers)

[gg]_Puella_Magi_Madoka_Magica_-_11_[44209DA8].mkv_snapshot_23.59_[2011.04.23_07.37.32]
If I were a fan of Magic Girl shows, little girls showing their underwear ever so teasingly (and getting naked if only during the OP), SHAFT, Shinbo and/or Urobochi, then I’d probably think Magic Girl Madoka Magica is a stunning achievement and I’d love it with a burning love!

I’m none of the above. Still I think Madoka Magica is a good show, and is quite interestingly so. This isn’t a review of the show so partisans and anti-partisans I don’t think I’m going to make it easy for you to find fodder for flaming each other. I’m going to talk about an aspect of the show that I find quite interesting indeed…

The execution of the show was a long tease about the eponymous character revealing herself as herself, but with the show playing with the nature of not only the “rules” that govern/define a character such as her, but ultimately used a world-building solution to resolve the conflicts raised by the plot.

TTGL? More like Gundam with the Newtype Space Nakedness

I’ve seen some knee-jerk comparisons to Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann but I think this only works to a limited degree. TTGL eschewed, nay, kicked reason to the curb. It ended the way it did because it wanted to end the way it did, keeping with its theme of going “beyond the impossible.” MGMM is also consistent with its theme of rules and deals, but it chose not to work with such rules and rewrote them in the last minutes (and minutes and minutes, considering Homura).

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I’ll leave it to the plot-hole bloodhounds to deal with whatever problems they see with that.

What I’m enjoying about this is how symmetrical it is from a distant view. The show kept viewers guessing and guessing every episode, raising expectations for one thing, then changing the game right after. There are many examples of this, but I still think Madoka not properly becoming a Magic Girl until the finale is the best one.

A cynical view would suggest that it’s a cheap convenience to avoid having to actually work at something solid, but I’m no cynic and I think being interesting is an achievement in itself.

[gg]_Puella_Magi_Madoka_Magica_-_12_[1A2F25C0].mkv_snapshot_09.14_[2011.04.23_07.33.21]

We think of world-building as either or both the things that a story deploys to provide color, points of interest, and the rules by which the plot unfolds (among other possible things). In many cases, it’s treated like a side-dish by which to enjoy character portrayal/development, plot, database elements in the foreground. World-building is something in the background.

Even in setting-dependent and atmospheric works like Aria, and particularly Yokohama Shopping Trip the world-building is a powerful yet, subservient thing to the resolution of the narrative. Instead of TTGL, I can think of Neon Genesis Evangelion/End of Evangelion as a work that threw the world building book at the resolution of the plot similarly to how MGMM did it.

NGE-remastered_-_End_of_Evangelion_-_part2[A2000A][Divx-AC3].ogm_snapshot_24.03_[2011.04.23_07.46.49]

Bad, wrong, works/doesn’t are far less interesting considerations for me at this point. I’m just glad to see it actually attempted using gobs of money and with a palpable sense of ambition. What are other shows you think tried to do something similar? How do you feel about those?

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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86 Responses to World Building as Plot: Madoka Magica Finale (Spoilers)

  1. wendeego says:

    Similar to how Gurren Lagann’s theme is all about going “beyond the impossible,” I’d say that the theme of Madoka Magica is “balance.” The balance between happiness and soul-crushing despair is rigorously maintained, and any deviation too far towards happiness through the use of magic brings equal amounts of despair in return. What Madoka does at the end is not erase the rules of the system, but instead redistribute the balance so instead of the fate of the universe resting on the subjugation and emotional destruction of middle-school girls, Madoka ends up carrying all the excess despair instead, making the world a much fairer place despite the fact that the world is for the most part just as flawed a place as before. Note that Madoka does not strive for perfection in her wish; the fact that she reaches for something that leaves the balance of happiness and grief intact while at the same time bringing hope to the world probably says something for how Madoka’s wish ultimately had relatively happy results when compared to the wishes of just about everybody else.

    I don’t know–I don’t think Madoka Magica is a classic show; I don’t even think that it’s a classic magical girl show. Both Revolutionary Girl Utena and Princess Tutu are stronger overall in every area that counts. But like you said, Madoka Magica does have ambition in spades–a rarity in Japanese animation these days–and on top of that is probably one of the most brilliantly constructed twelve-episode anime series I’ve ever seen. So even though it probably won’t be my favorite, I definitely respect it hugely and think it’s worth a recommendation to just about everybody.

    • No, I don’t think it’s worth a recommendation to just about everybody because it still runs thick with the fanservice — fanservice involving teenage girls drawn to look like children. It’s not something I want to show my mother, who I occasionally show anime to.

      I mention this not to decry Madoka Magica. I wouldn’t show Evangelion to my mother either, though I admit the fetishism of the teenage characters there doesn’t seem as deviant as in Madoka.

      I think what you say about balance is quite interesting, but I disagree with your claim that the rules were followed instead of erased. The wish pretty much does that. No more witches, no more grief seeds, none; everything gone.

      • we rob ot down says:

        Yeah I gave up on it about three episodes in for similar reasons. It seemed interesting, and from what people have been saying I feel like maybe I should have stuck with it, but I just couldn’t like it. It’s really hard for me to pinpoint what bothered me about it but something did and it was the same sort of things that has bugged me any time I saw a magical girl show.

        I think with any long work that is genre heavy you’ll have some people that won’t be able to suffer through genre elements they can’t stand for the sake of stuff they would enjoy.

        • I think with any long work that is genre heavy you’ll have some people that won’t be able to suffer through genre elements they can’t stand for the sake of stuff they would enjoy.

          …precisely why I can’t survive anything Nanoha, nor Strike Witches, among others.

        • soulassassin says:

          I suppose the association of the MG genre with children and immense amounts of sugar might have put you off.

          Some people can like certain genres but can’t withstand others. I can’t blame you for dropping it. It takes some degree of open-mindedness to see the subtext beneath the otherwise sweet-looking exterior, and to find a familiar foothold or even an atavistic chord. I was able to get through Madoka and enjoy it immensely because I’ve been through the same thing before, by watching and immersing myself into the Evangelion universe, and saw tiny parallels between Madoka and Eva (though the differences between Madoka and Shinji are huge) that can only be discerned by some Eva fans.

      • >>though I admit the fetishism of the teenage characters there doesn’t seem as deviant as in Madoka.

        Lmao I think the exact opposite. Rei suffering in ep 23 anyone?

      • ZeroOBK says:

        > it still runs thick with the fanservice — fanservice involving teenage girls drawn to look like children.

        This seems rather odd to say. Or rather, that sounds like a judgement. Do you not account for differences in art styles? The adults look like adults, the children look like children, the teenagers look like teenagers. Maybe the designs are not to your preference, but that is different from saying that teenagers look like kids.

        > I wouldn’t show Evangelion to my mother either, though I admit the fetishism of the teenage characters there doesn’t seem as deviant as in Madoka.

        You really need to explain yourself here. No matter what definition of fanservice I use or how broad that definition is, I cannot see Madoka as being more deviant in fanservice.

        • They do look like kids, with more child-like proportions compared to say, K-On!! Madoka herself is the youngest-looking member of the cast.

          Fetishism of children is pretty deviant. The character designs in Eva portray teenagers who look like gangly teenagers as opposed to child-like teenagers. One can always argue that teen-aged marriages were the norm when human life expectancy was incredibly short, but children — no.

          Have a care to note that I purposely did not choose the word ‘perverted’ which would be a harsh value judgment. I think deviant is appropriate, as the fetishism in Madoka Magica deviates from normative adult straight heterosexual consensual sexualization.

          Under closer scrutiny however, Eva does have the following points to consider (which I didn’t want to make as much of a deal of):

          Asuka throwing herself onto Kaji — rebuffed; Kaji prefers adults.
          Gendo’s necrophilic love for Yui and the whole Rei thing — which is pretty far out there, but Gendo is presented very harshly (including sexual manipulation of 2 generations of Akagi women).

          So you can argue that Eva is far more deviant, etc. Sure, if only for Gendo. I don’t intend to go into the whole fanservice, fetishization, 2D lolicon etc etc etc thing about Madoka anyway as it’s the least interesting thing about it for me. I just thought it’s worth mentioning as something I had to get past to enjoy the show.

          • ZeroOBK says:

            Okay, let me re-phrase and add some additional context.

            > fanservice involving teenage girls drawn to look like children

            ^ This implies that there was an INTENT on drawing female girls to look like children, which is very questionable (not impossible though). Not to mention the different interpretations of what a child looks like when drawn. The character designer, Ume Aoki, has been drawing in such a style since at least 2004 when the Hidamari Sketch manga launched. That’s why it’s hard for me to understand the implication of intent of fanservice when Aoki did not alter her style. So then, do you find the base art style itself fetishistic?

          • In my response to Kadian I concede that my estimation of ‘rife’ is hyperbolic. My statements can only apply to the OP of the show. If Madoka is drawn in panties, stockings, and garterbelts, even if it is for laughs, that’s fanservice.

      • wendeego says:

        Point. I’d argue that the youngness of the main characters in Madoka Magica helps to emphasize the fact that MEGUCA IS SUFFERING (sic) but I guess that if you look at the transformation sequences, the self-cest in the opening, etc., there’s still a ton of weird overtones on the surface. So yeah, Madoka Magica probably isn’t for people who can’t stand the SHAFT moe aesthetic, or even for the people who take issue with the fact said moe aesthetic is frequently used by the show for shock value when, say, Mami is decapitated.

        But that’s neither here nor there. In terms of shows “with gobs of money and a palpable sense of ambition,” I’d probably say that Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is a pretty good recent example. It didn’t aspire to be world-changing, but it did aspire to be totally different from anything else released at roughly the same time, and occasionally had some really good animation to boot, when they weren’t deliberately going low-tech.

        Not to mention Gurren Lagann, of course. That show’s basically money and ambition personified! In contrast with FLCL (with lots of money but no particular ambition but to have fun) and Evangelion (with ridiculous amounts of ambition but, near the end, very little money) Hope that’s a little back on track.

        Actually, now that I think about it: how do you define ambition, exactly? Is making something different without worrying about the consequences ambition, or does ambition have to be directed at a cause to be ambitious? Is Gurren Lagann ambitious, say, in the same way that Legend of the Galactic Heroes is? Is this thread even worth pursuing or is it totally inconsequential? (I have no idea)

        • Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt is a great comparison, albeit its tone and finale left a far different impression than MEGUCA.

          For the purposes of this post, I thought of ambition as something that wants it all: commercial, critical, and lasting success.

          The ambition in something like LotGH is different I think, as to me it’s more like: “Can we pull something this big off?” which is pretty damn awesome.

      • Kadian1364 says:

        I also don’t see how Madoka is rife with fanservice. In Evangelion, the fanservice is plainly obvious: wind blows Asuka’s skirt up, Shinji falls on top of naked Rei, Misato’s rear prominently featured in an extended shot, pans of girls in the bath multiple times.

        Aside from the OP, I see no instances of deliberate fanservicing in Madoka. There’s no male-gaze to speak of in the entire series.

        Think about who we’re talking about here. Shinbo makes it so obvious when he wants to sex up a scene. Unless the point is that you count “teenage girls drawn to look like children” fanservice in and of itself? I call it a design choice, and I’d even say the opposite would be true: if they had typical anime-teenagers physiques, in those costumes, it would be explicit fanservice.

        Unless Hidamari Sketch is the greatest raving lolicon show ever and I somehow missed it?

  2. >>If I were a fan of Magic Girl shows, little girls showing their underwear ever so teasingly (and getting naked if only during the OP), SHAFT, Shinbo and/or Urobochi, then I’d probably think Magic Girl Madoka Magica is a stunning achievement and I’d love it with a burning love!<>I’m just glad to see it actually attempted using gobs of money and with a palpable sense of ambition.<<

    I highly doubt that gobs of money went into this show, since I don't think SHAFT has ever had anything of the sort, though it's true that this is easily their best-looking show. But they are the masters of using art to hide a small budget, so when they get a modestly good budget, you can imagine that they'll make it look like a million bucks.

    • wtf the formatting in this comment got fucked up

      • Also parts are missing. It should look like:

        >>If I were a fan of Magic Girl shows, little girls showing their underwear ever so teasingly (and getting naked if only during the OP), SHAFT, Shinbo and/or Urobochi, then I’d probably think Magic Girl Madoka Magica is a stunning achievement and I’d love it with a burning love!

        I’m all of those things and I don’t feel that way about Madoka. It was just a Really Good Show to me, nothing more.

        >>I’m just glad to see it actually attempted using gobs of money and with a palpable sense of ambition.

        I highly doubt that gobs of money went into this show, since I don’t think SHAFT has ever had anything of the sort, though it’s true that this is easily their best-looking show. But they are the masters of using art to hide a small budget, so when they get a modestly good budget, you can imagine that they’ll make it look like a million bucks.

        • ubiquitial says:

          I dunno, SHAFT is becoming increasingly profitable, and I think their little tricks and techniques only work up until a certain point.

        • gwern says:

          > I highly doubt that gobs of money went into this show, since I don’t think SHAFT has ever had anything of the sort, though it’s true that this is easily their best-looking show.

          There’s a good chance that they had a decent budget for it. While reading about _Madoka_ pre-sales setting records and rivaling Eva, I noticed that some articles were saying that _Madoka_ was selling even better than _Bakemonogatari_ (SHAFT, of course).

          Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, but it certainly is helpful in asking for bigger budgets…

    • Yeah yeah you’re the guy who didn’t think much of Bakemonogatari either despite or because of your intimate knowledge of everything Shinbo x Shaft or whatever.

      I didn’t want the discussion to be about whether Madoka is extraordinary yet I feel this is all you really have to talk about this show… which is the most uninteresting thing to me. It’s hot right now, but who knows for how long? Whatever.

      Re gobs of money, I just think this looks a lot better than Bakemonogatari, and I find it hard to believe despite my utter lack of evidence, that they spent less money on this show than any of the other stuff they made. We can go full-omo (no offense to omo who probably knows what the real score is) and fag it up re the use of “gobs,” but I’d rather not and concede the point to you. MGMM spent an ordinary amount of money.

      • >>yet I feel this is all you really have to talk about this show…

        And there you have exactly the reason that I don’t feel the need to talk about the show at all except to respond to others’ posts, as well as the reason I don’t feel very deeply about it. It’s not a show I feel there’s much to say about.

        This is completely different from Bakemonogatari. With Bakemono, I went in almost trying to dislike it, and was mostly a douche about it. Madoka I went into calling it the best thing ever, and came out thinking yeah, it was really good.

        It’s probably my third-favorite Shinbo anime after Bakemonogatari and Hidamari Sketch, but being a Shinbo anime has little to do with being one of my favorite shows. I just like his style. Neither does loli fanservice or great writing or anything else.

        The number 1 deciding factor on what shows reach my favorites are characters, and I didn’t really care about any of the characters in Madoka. I liked Homura enough, but the series won’t be showing its face in my Database of Love.

  3. ubiquitial says:

    >> The show kept viewers guessing and guessing every episode, raising expectations for one thing, then changing the game right after.

    Not quite, I’d say. The show kept you guessing, sure, but it also left room to show the impact of these revelations on the characters. That made the show feel a lot less tiring, and lures you back into a sense of security, which makes the twists seem less forced and more natural. In other words, I think the show gave plenty of “downtime” between plot points, and that was a nice touch.

    • I’m not sure what you’re saying. I certainly meant my statement to be complimentary to the show.

      I suppose I could’ve done more to prevent implying that the surprises were confusing or arbitrary or whatever.

  4. gwern says:

    > Instead of TTGL, I can think of Neon Genesis Evangelion/End of Evangelion as a work that threw the world building book at the resolution of the plot similarly to how MGMM did it.

    Indeed. You point out one of the most obvious visual similarities, but there are others: http://www.reddit.com/r/anime/comments/gv86f/so_now_that_reddit_works_lets_talk_about_the/c1qkt98

    (FWIW, _Madoka_ did surprise me. I was right that the time loops were powering up Madoka, but I was wrong that her mom was a former magical girl – I figured it would turn out that there was a way out of being a magical girl which she had found, and which Madoka would exploit to wrap everything up.)

    • Nice list, you sure caught some that I missed.

      It surprised me despite my avoidance in playing the speculation game. It never occurred to me to think of the mother to be a magic girl, though I’d find it very interesting if she indeed was.

      In the spirit of the post (about world-building), the rules of the world rather prevent the very existence of adult witches — albeit one can argue that Cleopatra was an adult.

    • soulassassin says:

      It’s funny to note that Jun Suzuki put out a Twitter post commenting about PMMM’s smashing success, and gave warning to the Shaft staff.

      • gwern says:

        I thought it was interesting, if Suzuki meant that PMM and NGE were in the same artistic space and wasn’t just referring to PMM possibly dethroning NGE in terms of sales. But not especially funny.

  5. bluemist says:

    In terms of revolutionizing the mahou shoujo genre, does anyone remember Full Moon wo Sagashite?

    I can’t remember details of it right now but when it aired it had this same awesome feeling I had with Madoka today. It was around 52 eps long, but around the mid 40’s things had a complete shakeup with a devastating plot twist that turned the whole show from its bright and positive colors to being quite dark and emo. Granted that you have a heroine, Mitsuki, somewhat destined to ‘die’ from throat illness as well (she’s a magical singer when she transforms BTW), and this was a typical magical girl show all throughout. (the manga is different, and darker too)

    And to top it off, by the final episode things just got a complete turnaround yet again! It’s not a perfectly happy ending mind you, nor it is a universe-changing thing, but the fate of Mitsuki and her shinigami friends just got reversed so well for the better; I was literally swept in tears all throughout. I’m trying to find the anime right now to relive that moment.

    • ubiquitial says:

      It doesn’t seem like Madoka has, or will in the future, “revolutionize” the genre. It’s just it’s own thing, an unique product born from a quirky director and a sadist writer. It’s more subversive than revolutionary.

      • What did revolutionize anything ever?

        There are many amazing shows that never revolutionized anything (LotGH, Utena, etc.) but there are many not quite amazing shows whose influence is incredible: Gundam, Macross, Evangelion…

        But even so I am not sure their influence constitutes a revolution in anything.

        • bluemist says:

          Rather than singling out an anime, maybe a “revolution in anything” constitutes many factors that contributed to such revolution, not just a single influence I mean. Very uneducated example would be, I dunno (this is your genre), the combination of those mecha influences are the reason why we have a Gurren Lagann or Star Driver, in the same way that CCS, Sailormoon and Utena gave rise to Madoka Magica.

          In any case, maybe my ‘revolutionizing’ term is too strong a word. ‘Influence’ or ‘homage’ may be better, be it direct or indirect. In terms of that, Princess Tutu and Full Moon were what I think early examples of how a mahou shoujo can go dark, and we see the results of those today in Madoka.

          • Yes. Influence works far better. Revolution is really a big deal and happens ever so rarely. Like when Mazinger Z had a pilot control it “inside” the robot, an entire industry was born on its shoulders all doing the same thing.

        • ubiquitial says:

          Ironically, Revolutionary Girl Utena Revolutionized nothing. That slut.

    • You’ll see others bringing up Princess Tutu, a legendary mahou shoujo that’s probably the most depressing in existence. Mahou shoujo anime and sadness are far from mutually exclusive.

      • bluemist says:

        Ah yes Princess Tutu! It was an absolute gem that may deserve a rewatch for me today.

        @ubiquitial
        I would tend to agree now. We would see in a year or two whether the show becomes influential to newer ones or not, that for me seems to be a test whether a show becomes a classic.

      • ubiquitial says:

        Princes Tutu is an excellent comparison, IMO. While it was superior to Madoka in both characters and story, MSMM had a much more… palpable atmosphere. It was just better executed in that aspect, and that greatly contributes to the anxiety and emotion you feel while watching it. Like that buildup to the fight with Walpurgisnacht? The anxiety was palpable. The juxtaposition of this more conventional style against SHAFT’s regular, more abstract, stuff also contributed.

        I’ll need to rewatch princess tutu soon, but in terms of visuals and execution I recall that it was much more conventional. It wasn’t quite as “refreshing,” for lack of a better word.

    • I don’t know enough about the genre to talk about revolutions, and I really am unfamiliar with the references you’re making here so I apologize if I have nothing much to contribute.

  6. Vendredi says:

    I’d say as the show goes, Madoka actually has pretty modest ambitions – but like you say, the execution is tackled well.

    In regards to the TTGL comparisons, I think they come about because at heart the show seems to look at the same thoughts about cost and sacrifice, and I think at the end, much like TTGL, both come up with the same response to the question – as soon as you reduce things to rational cost/benefit analyses, you’ve lost the human part of yourself.
    sdshamshel’s post on Madoka over at OGIUE MANIAX really captures the heart of this train of thought: http://ogiuemaniax.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/madoka-magica-and-sacrifice

    • To be honest with you I didn’t think of TTGL this way, and I say this not to disagree with you, or SDS. Interesting stuff, too especially when he talks about the selflessness of Madoka’s wish and her actual ensuing lack of corporeality.

  7. Pingback: Agreeing To Disagree « Midnight Equinox

  8. Pingback: Agreeing To Disagree: Aftermath Of Madoka Magica « Midnight Equinox

  9. WhatSht says:

    never watched madoka, i never watch mahou shoujo except nanoha.

    been playing SRW Z2.1, got guren lagan(correct me if i’m wrong) fighting on my team, celestial being also, mazinger Z, some other unknown robots, whens the VF-25 joining my team? i can’t wait…

    • I tried watching the recent Nanoha movie, and couldn’t get past the pervy shit in the transformation scene.

    • soulassassin says:

      If you feel comfortable with robots, that’s okay. If people are happy about magical girls, that’s where they feel good. But I don’t want to see yet another pointless row as to whether Madoka or Nanoha is superior (both were made under Shinbo’s direction); it’s like comparing apples to oranges ( and by God I’ve seen enough flamewars and trolling in the Madoka section of Animesuki that the mods had to break apart members from going after each others’ necks.)

  10. Jack says:

    “If I were a fan of Magic Girl shows, little girls showing their underwear ever so teasingly (and getting naked if only during the OP), SHAFT, Shinbo and/or Urobochi, then I’d probably think Magic Girl Madoka Magica is a stunning achievement and I’d love it with a burning love!”

    I’m not really a ‘fan’ of any of those things but I still enjoyed the work as a whole. I do think that being a fan of Magical Girl works would enhance ones enjoyment of this series, especially considering how it deliberately plays with the expectations of the genre.

    “The execution of the show was a long tease about the eponymous character revealing herself as herself, but with the show playing with the nature of not only the “rules” that govern/define a character such as her, but ultimately used a world-building solution to resolve the conflicts raised by the plot.”

    Well, part of the show certainly raised the whole “will she or won’t she?” question with regards to Madoka, but most of the time she was practically a cipher. All the characters around her were the ones that got developed and fleshed out through back story and conflict. It was largely the interaction of these characters with each other and occasionally Madoka that made up the real focus of the series, with the actual fate of Madoka being a secondary concern.

    In regards to SHAFT’s finances, Bakemonogatari certainly sold very well and their newer shows are starting to look considerably higher budget then their previous works. However, whatever wacky business arrangement they have set up seems to mean that they don’t get a lot of the profits for their shows.

    • I’m with you with the cipher part, another example albeit to a far lesser degree is Utena Tenjo — or wholly, at least during the Black Rose arc.

      I’m also seeing the sense in what you’re saying about an outsider appeal to the show. I think it’s part of the reason why shows like Code Geass, Macross (Frontier too), Evangelion, and even Utena (and lol Star Driver) succeed in having crossover appeal. They aren’t made for the fans of the sub-genre, who tend to be static with what they desire (not a disparagement).

  11. Pingback: Despair and Hope in Puella Magi Madoka Magica | Ambivalence , or is it ambiguity?

  12. 2DT says:

    Looking for plot holes seems pointless to me when the resolution is so mystical. The will to hope transcends logic.

    In all seriousness, you know what else tried to do this, with the money and the ambition and all of that? Fractale. And already I think we’re starting to forget it, and that it aired right alongside Madoka.

    • I suppose I can’t get away from the partisan vs hater nonsense that follows hit shows like this.

      It disappoints me that you’re one of the few commenters to actually engage my objective in the post (and I’m thankful that you’re one of them don’t get me wrong). Too bad(good) I didn’t bother finishing Fractale. I hated that show.

      • 2DT says:

        I did too! Never finished it either. 🙂 But that says something in itself, when Fractale was so high-concept, so dependent on our interest in the world, and it fell so very, very short of its ambitions.

        I think you’re writing too soon for comparative analysis. We’re still only a day or two fresh of the finale– the afterglow will linger at least for a couple weeks.

        • Yeah, and I really shouldn’t have complained the way I did on twitter. Instead I’ll do what I can with what I’ve made and what others here choose to share.

          If I were really as committed as I seem to the idea of this post, I really should finish Fractale, but I don’t wanna LOL.

  13. schneider says:

    This post strengthens my belief that the world-building is the most notable element that we could take away from the show. While Madoka was airing, I was really enamored with how the revelations on the nature of magical girls (see: throw the gem, how witches are made, why Incubators contract magical girls) moved the plot forward. Moreso, Madoka’s world placed emphasis on those facets of magical girls that other magical girl shows take for granted. Never again can I take a girl’s decision to become a magical girl for granted.

    It also says a lot when this show inspired a dark magical girl pen-and-paper RPG.

    As an answer to your question… I think Princess Tutu has some important world-building that drives the show. I don’t want to hint at spoilers, but the purpose and nature of Princess Tutu’s quest is wonderfully laced with arsenic, because of so-and-so.

    • Jack says:

      Princess Tutu is another good example, and should have been obvious to me considering it was also a magical girl work.

    • Princess Tutu … I’ll definitely watch this someday. Yes, Madoka’s drama and conflict was very dependent on the rules of the world as they were presented. Adhering or accepting a given rule would then lead to a dramatic consequence… and the very end of the show had Madoka rewrite those same rules. I find it very difficult indeed to find a work that does something similar to this degree.

  14. Jack says:

    I’m not entirely sure what you’re asking, but if it’s about other shows that use world-building to shape the narrative finale not many comes to mind. The obvious reason being: such metaphysical activities can only be found in a tiny selection of works that deal with events powerful enough to, well, shape worlds such as Madoka and Evangelion.

    The Big O played the same card, however, I feel that show used it in a far messier way then Madoka. In Madoka everything is resolved spectacularly, but in a manner that makes sense. The Big O was simply confusing and it’s no surprise that they hadn’t even finished explaining the story, but sadly they never got to make a third season. Mamrou Oshii’s “Beautfiul Dreamer” may well be another example, for obvious reasons.

    • Yes, I struggle indeed to find other examples which is a big part of the reason I source it from the crowd. I’m suggesting that this very thing that Madoka Magica did may be one of the more remarkable things it accomplishes that isn’t contingent on the expectations and subjectivity of the viewers. I personally find this very, very interesting.

  15. Answering your end-of-post question—

    (some spoilers probably)

    MSMM and Eva do world-building endings on a pretty literal WORLD and BUILDING level, which is only comparable in scale to a few shows. The first to come to mind is Serial Experiments Lain, which has a similar “re-write the rules of existence” kind of ending.

    Haruhi could be considered something similar, only instead of re-writing the world, Kyon is constantly trying to keep that from happening. He has to keep the reigns on Haruhi so she doesn’t haphazardly go all Shinji/Madoka on reality.

    Taking “world-building” on a smaller, more conventional level, world-building and character-building finales of arcs are the epitome of faustian light novel structures. Take Bakemonogatari, which tends to resolve arcs on revealing a fundamental aspect of the characters that changes the game and reveals the answer. Now translate it to world-building for other stories—To Aru Majutsu no Index comes to mind, which does both world and character revelations to similar effects. Kara no Kyoukai also does something like this, but is between characters, the rules of the world, and the nature of magic all changing. I could go on and on with these type of light novels.

    Higurashi and Umineko no Naku Koro ni rely on a system of world-building to move through the story. Every arc resets the story, but we slowly learn new rules of the game and change our ideas of how things could play out in the next round to get a new grasp of the story. Umineko doesn’t have an ending in anime form yet, but the end of Higurashi relies on letting the last bits of the world-building puzzle fall into place.

    I’m gonna stop there and keep this in the range of my favorites list. That said, the endings I was reminded of most by Madoka were those of Kanon 2006, Clannad After Story, and Mai-HiME, all of which had a similar “re-write the story so everyone lives” ending, only none presented it as well as Madoka did (Mai-HiME was the only one it could be considered world-reliant, but it was still presented very poorly for that effect).

    • ubiquitial says:

      Madoka End = (Clannad End + Mai-Hime End) x Lain.

    • Thanks for the examples, and given my limited familiarity with most of them, or despite of it, I find your mentioning Haruhi very interesting indeed.

      The only thing that doesn’t make it a 1:1 fit, and it is a big reason, is that Haruhi isn’t over yet and we’re talking about finales. But the complexity of the world has definitely increased after all the time-jumping it did beginning with Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody. I’ll definitely look out for this when new Haruhi material shows up.

      If I am very committed to the idea of this post, then I’ll just have to watch the shows you’ve mentioned.

      • Lain is definitely worth a try for everyone. I can’t see you finishing Index or getting into Kara no Kyoukai. Or Higurashi. Definitely stay away from Kanon and Clannad. At least Mai-HiME I’d see you enjoying though I remember you saying you didn’t like it or something.

  16. Aorii says:

    In an alternative view, it’s precisely because Madoka offers a “worldbuilding resolution”, in a ways, that people think over the plot holes— I presume at least. I’m a worldbuilder and I think like one, and stomping out plot holes is always one of our kind’s principle concerns in writing. Even magic has it’s own “governing laws” after all~
    But I don’t think most people are that caught up on it, or I’ve been ignoring those.

    That being said, Madoka doesn’t really come off to me as a setting-driven series, partly because it also uses “bounded field” mechanics to separate itself from most of society (one of these days I’ll love to see a magical girl come under police investigations), but mostly because its themes and characters are completely overpowering. That’s probably one of its best points— to highlight itself in so many ways. Although, combining powerful character/plot development alongside worldbuilding was how most older setting-driven series reach their success.

    • Thank you… and of course, worldbuilding is a big thing since it concerns entire worlds. However, Madoka being a character-driven show for the most part takes a shortcut and doesn’t build an entire fantasy setting but instead makes the setting a near-future familiar one where we can assume that outside sorta new gadgets, and the magic, everything else is the same.

      It is remarkable that to drive home the character showcase: Madoka’s sacrifice, the rules of the setting are ‘ultimately’ revealed and Madoka herself makes a wish within the rules that results in an overall change in the world — all the things that the show’s built up. The drama is in the value judgments of the consequences of adhering to the rules. These rules and consequences are now removed, with Madoka enduring the greatest consequence.

      This elevates her character (sacrifice) at the expense of others (they’re fates aren’t so bad anymore), because the world is different, and perhaps less interesting compared to when Homura was doing her time banditry (which was a bit of a big thing to introduce, rule-wise).

      LOL Am I making even less sense now?

    • Donalie says:

      >one of these days I’ll love to see a magical girl come under police investigation

      RE: Cutie Honey does this, and possibly the earlier Cutie Honeys but I’ve never watched them.

  17. Dliessmgg says:

    The “world building in the foreground” thing made me realize why I probably like King of Bandit Jing and reminded me that I still have only seen five episodes. *hurries off to watch more*

  18. Curuniel says:

    To add briefly to the discussion of fanservice, I note a lot of people judging Madoka and co. as teenagers in the discussion of this show. Aren’t they about twelve? In which case they’re barely teenagers, and much more like kids; the body shapes aren’t that unreasonable. Failing which, it’s just art style. Actually now that I think about it, adults like Madoka’s mother or teacher are obviously adult, but seem consistent with that art style.

    Comparison to K-On! seems a tad unreasonable when those girls are in high school. This is not to say I don’t think there’s any fan service in Madoka, I just think it’s of a different nature.

  19. kadian1364 says:

    OK, a real response now.

    When considering the question “What other anime uses World Building as Plot?” you have to think of series that prominently relied on their world building. The idea of “stripping the layers away” reminded me of someone’s (Pontifus’? I can’t find it anymore) post about how Diebuster worked like a series of paradigm shifting revelations. Nono runs away from home -> she’s actually on Mars -> she’s a robot -> Topless lose their powers -> the aliens are really buster machines etc. Each layer of truth reveals a new rule of the universe that spins our concept of it around up to the very end.

    Nahoko Uehashi, author of Moribito and Erin, is really adept at integrating world-building into the events of her stories. Moribito slowly unraveled the mystery of the rain spirit and the other world, and Erin similarly handled the nature of the Touda, beast-lords, and the origin of the kingdom itself. Each piece to the puzzle dramatically changed the whole picture.

    Thinking of more anime where setting affects the story, I remembered the two traveling anime: Kino’s Journey and Mushishi. While not quite like Madoka since neither have an overarching plot, the stories in the episodes of each show changes based on the locales and cultures they encounter; different countries for Kino, and different mushi for Ginko. World-building is at the forefront in each of those series.

    Kaiba is memorable for its setting, and all the mystery was learning how the memories worked, who was who in the past, and what was what based on available info.

    It’s a shame it took me a while to think of this one, but Haibane Renmei was centered around discovering the nature of their world. What the haibane were, the meaning of their dreams, the wall and the little town of Glie, the purpose of the day of flight. The resolution didn’t exactly spell out everything we wanted to know, but the acceptance of these things still brought a satisfying emotional and narrative conclusion.

    Perhaps the closest thing to Madoka in terms of ambitious world-building as both plot and resolution is Darker than Black. Here we have a dark tone, magic powers, and mysterious contracts, the whole shebang. It’s a shame DtB couldn’t really define the rules of its world, leaving quite a few ambiguities like what the Gate’s were and how Contractors were made exactly, so that the endings to both seasons turned sour. If there’s a point of reference to how often and easily Madoka could have gone wrong, DtB is it.

    • /slaps forehead

      DIEBUSTER! Indeed the show did a similar strip tease of the world-building kind, matching Madoka’s show all the way up to at least DB’s 4th episode. It’s finale is less world-building and more traditional plot resolution, but I think overall it’s a great comparison.

      I haven’t seen Renmei and Kaiba, and Mushishi and Kino’s Journey aren’t as plot driven at all to merit a comparison.

      You also did well to mention Moribito, though it does seem that the world building resolution isn’t as high-stakes as Madoka’s but it’s still a good example. The bird that catches the egg thing, was painstakingly foreshadowed and very much part of a set of “rules” that fits our discussion.

      I’m with you re: Darker than Black, though I don’t talk about it much because my disappointment with it stems more from my loss of interest in its 2nd half than its inability to make everything fit in a clear and powerful way.

      My objective, the more I think about it, in taking this direction of discussion is this:

      Despite my complaints about it (on twitter), the location, ranking, and awarding of esteem for a show after it completes is a fundamental fan activity. It’s what most people understand = “is it good?” “how good is it?” “is it better than ____?” And, despite pretensions to be above this, it’s what more thoughtful or faggoty fans, critics, connoisseurs or what have you are concerned about as well (including myself at some level).

      Therefore, given your generous engagement (as with Digiboy’s) with this discussion, perhaps we can identify something Madoka’s show really does well, beyond anything other shows have done (whether in execution or in scope). This at least, is one thing we can credit the show for contributing to the craft of anime shows and the tradition of anime storytelling; something we can remember it by after the hype dies and tastes have moved on.

      • kadian1364 says:

        Well in that regard, if there’s one thing Madoka did to stand out, I’d point to the aesthetic style and design even before the plot hijinks. Kaijura’s haunting pieces coupled with unsettling backgrounds and long evening shadows put the observant viewer on edge long before any of Kyubey’s big twists hit home. Also, the witch domains and battles are so visually fascinating, each employing different techniques of surrealism, impressionism, and negative space to tell a story. It’s impossible to imagine Madoka told in any other medium this well.

        And of course Madoka is tremendously well paced. If you count episodes 3, 6, 8, and 10 as the twist episodes, you’ll notice they are evenly spread throughout the series, allowing their implications to settle into the minds of viewers before trucking out the next bang.

        I contend it’s not Madoka’s plot that really shines but the genius presentation of it.

        • The elements you mention are more subject to taste IMO than is the matter of this ‘formal’ element I talk about… except your excellent point that Madoka is impossible to imagine Madoka told better as a narrative in any other medium.

  20. Marigold Ran says:

    Ok. The authors near the end of the show had basically backed themselves into a corner:

    1. Grimdark. Everything is done in vain. Death, doom, and destruction for all! Or…
    2. Well, since wishes are so powerful, then we’ll use that alibi to create a reasonably happy ending.

    They chose 2. Did they do a good job executing it? I think so. The last 13 minutes (only 13 minutes long!) did its job in showing the consequences of her decision and ended the show on a reasonably happy note.

    Compared to Evangelion, the ending for Madoka was more satisfactory because the authors weren’t trying to settle a score. Still, happy endings generally lack the raw emotional power of grim-dark endings. So Eva will probably remain more memorable and better known.

    Furthermore, I don’t think the authors could have done the grimdark route effectively. For GrimDark to be effective, you have to care deeply about the characters in question, and the character development in Madoka never got to that point because the series was so plot-focused and short. The reason why GrimDark worked in Eva was because people came to care for character like Asuka. When you kill off a character like her in the way Eva did, that is memorable.

    Also, the art makes the characters look more generic and less memorable. In contrast, for example, to the way Asuka was drawn. She looks much more fleshy and realistic. And so, once again, the characters in Madoka are less memorable.

    But the superflat art itself is pretty memorable. In style and creativity, it’s similar to Samurai Jack. Which, by the way, is awesome. As is Rammstein.

    • I think you give a very sober, and fair assessment of how the show wraps up and good job with the Eva comparative analysis as well. Nothing much to say on my part, except that I probably strongly agree with you.

  21. abscissa says:

    “MGMM is also consistent with its theme of rules and deals, but it chose not to work with such rules and rewrote them in the last minutes (and minutes and minutes, considering Homura).”

    I’m glad that you pointed this out. One of the reasons why I enjoyed Madoka is due to its fact over fact approach. As you said, the theme is consistent and I particularly find the physics thingy acceptable. However, when they made some inconsistencies in the last minute—turning it into fiction over fact approach, I can’t deny that I was quite disappointed. Nonetheless, don’t get me wrong as a whole I’m very satisfied with this series.

    “We think of world-building as either or both the things that a story deploys to provide color, points of interest, and the rules by which the plot unfolds (among other
    possible things).”

    This is a very insightful approach, to some extent I agree with it. On the contrary, I see Madoka under the framework of Freud-Lacan Death Drive. Instead of “…because it wanted to end that way,” I believe that the ending is like that because “it has to end that way,” due to the flow of its plot. But of course, this is just based purely from my opinion. Nevertheless, thanks for your post, I enjoyed reading it.

    • I’m with you here. While I accept the way the story turns out, I know that I wanted and expected some other way.

      I’m afraid that graduate school is now so far away in my past and I’m too lazy to open my Norton’s Anthology of Theory and Criticism to remember the Freud-Lacan Death Drive. You’ll have to hold my hand and walk me through it. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I thought that there’s this thing by which this show can or does make an actual contribution to the craft and/or tradition of anime beyond the raving reviews it gets from viewers.

      • abscissa says:

        Sorry if I didn’t elaborate, so here it is: Death Drive is to find oneself grappling with the difficulties inherent in the topic of repetition. It is the drive to self-destruction and the return to the inorganic and inanimate state. Further, it suggests that every person has an unconscious wish to die and goes beyond the pleasure principle by means of reiteration: “the death drive is only the mask of the symbolic order.”

        Actually, I’m new to blogging and I’m trying to compare my ideas to the other bloggers to see what’s with the culture of the anibloggers. So far, I noticed that the majority of the Madoka posts is in comparison to religion and world peace. And yeah sure, I can walk you through why I argue this theory. I wrote something about it , if you want you can check it, and feel free to criticize if you find it faulty. 🙂

        • Very interesting. I enjoyed the read and responded to some of your other points.

          As to blogging anime, introspective, philosophical, and exploratory posts are nowhere near the mainstream. What the dominant concern is to discuss whether the show is “good” et cetera. This is done with an “anti-theory” spirit as if it’s possible to perform criticism of anything without a framework. But for the most part, the values of Liberal Humanism and the close reading method of New Criticism are the dominant practice (even if done so unknowingly, but it’s what’s taught in high school though as if it’s what’s natural/organic to the reader). Don’t take this as a rant against LH, NC, or anime bloggers. I mention this without value judgment.

          Check out my blogroll, as you’ll find blogs like Ha Neul Seom, Kritik der Animationskraft, and Superfanicom (Pontifus, Cuchlann side blogs as well) who blog anime using different lenses. I reflect on methodology at length when WRL turned 2 years old: A Criticism of (My Own) Critical Approaches.

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