Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Divine Ideations

This post is the last of five covering the series ‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica’. It contains spoilers for the whole series. Earlier posts can be found here, here, here and here.

Most of you, I will assume, are familiar with the phrase ‘save the best for last’. In the climax of any series, there is always the following challenge: throughout the series (or book, or movie, etc), you’ve built up this impossible obstacle for the protagonists to overcome. That obstacle could be psychological, tangible, financial, social, political. Maybe the protagonist has gone up against that obstacle several times in the past and come up short each time – but this time is different. Maybe the protagonist has watched others – loved ones and friends – face the same hurdle and get stopped degiad in their tracks, maybe even literally so. Regardless, in most stories with such structures, the protagonist comes up with something special, something that the protagonist either had in them all along or something that they learned during their journey, in order to overcome this situation and its obstacle. In fact, the protagonist’s ability to overcome this obstacle is the very reason that the protagonist’s story was deemed important enough for the storyteller to relay. In this final post on Puella Magi Madoka Magica, we will take a look at how the protagonist, takes down not just the immediate threat that was built since the very episode but also the consequences of dealing with this threat. The stakes are high – just defeating the threat posed by the Walpurgis Night won’t be enough to earn us a happy ending – it’s going to have to be done in a way that the characters themselves consider satisfactory. Of course, that only holds true if you assume that we’re getting a happy ending – and there has been little in this series so far to suggest that that is the direction in which we are heading. Continue reading

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Recursive Miseries

This post is the fourth of five covering the series ‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica’. It contains spoilers for episodes one through ten, with some speculation for episodes beyond that.

Without knowing, at the time of typing this at least, what the final episodes of Puella Magi Madoka Magica hold, I think it’s safe to say that nonetheless, this episode will have no difficulty standing on its own feet. Pulling back the curtain on a mystery that has dominated the series since its very first episode alone would be enough to elevate the episode’s standings, but the content of what was revealed surely sends it over the edge. In terms of the overall narrative, I find this episode playing an interesting role. As much as I wanted to learn about Homura’s intriguing past, I also felt that the larger story was in a position where it had the audience in the palm of its metaphorical hands. That’s an enviable position to have an audience; to move away from the main story into a flashback – albeit a flashback for Homura, who is arguably more of an active character than our alleged main character – is a daring move, and one that could have backfired had Homura’s story been even slightly less engaging than what it was. I’m tempted to suggest that interspersing Homura’s story with the finale would have created a tighter, denser finale but on the other hand, the finale and the flashback could also have served as mutually distracting elements which would have kept the audience from focusing on either element of the story. Unlike previous posts on this series, this week’s post will be focusing solely on episode 10:

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Fall From Grace

This post is the third of five covering the series ‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica’. It contains spoilers for episodes one through six, with some speculation for episodes beyond that.

Coming up with titles for these posts is often a challenge. Every now and then, there will be a title which just jumps out at me and I know it’s a perfect fit right away. Most of the other times, I tell myself to just think of something later and by the time I’m done typing, I’m so tired that I just stuff the first thing I think of in there. This post is sort of neither; I knew right after episode 7 what central idea I wanted to talk about in the post, but at the same time, the title was sort of the first thing that came to mind. The idea behind the fall from grace seems like a natural follow-up to the way we left things last week. The characters had been flying high, and it seemed like internal tensions and inter-character conflicts would be the order of business for the rest of the series. As we will see in a moment, tensions between the characters persist, but the conflict is mostly coming from within the characters themselves. As any fan of drama can tell you, that tends by the most delicious kind – not that I’m salivating at any of the characters misery, or anything.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Regretting Miracles

This post is the second of five covering the series ‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica’. It contains spoilers for episodes one through three, with some speculation for episodes beyond that.

One aspect of this series that continues to intrigue me is the Faustian deals that the contracts turn out to be. There is something very human about wanting something so badly that you’d consider taking a deal that is not in your favor, not only in known ways, but possibly also in unknown ways. It’s easy enough to empathize with; I’m sure we’ve all had things that we wanted  badly enough to consider taking disproportionately risky gambles on. However, in both fiction and real life, it’s rare to see though gambles not come back to haunt the gambler. In the case of the contract that the girls make with Kyubey, I can see the allure. The contract is fixed in terms of what Kyubey’s demands are – it demands your life, regardless of what you want in return for surrendering that life. In fact, it’s not even really asking for your life directly; a sufficiently skilled fighter might be able to maintain a respectable life expectancy as long as they don’t get cocky or slip up. So, in exchange for simply risking your life, the girls can have anything their heart desires – it doesn’t seem like that bad a deal on the surface of it.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Introduction

This post is the first of five covering the series ‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica’. It contains spoilers for episodes one through three, with some speculation for episodes beyond that.

This series has been on my watchlist for a long, long while – in fact, right after I finished Fate/Zero a lifetime ago, I thought long and hard about what series to go for next. I ended up picking Neon Genesis Evangelion because I felt that it would be good to go for something a little more classic but there was a strong case to be made for Madoka as well. Maybe it would have been a little too much Urobuchi at a stretch, or maybe I would have been better able to articulate the similar themes that Madoka and Fate/Zero share, but I’m glad I watched Evangelion regardless, if only to understand the history of the genre a little better. By way of introduction, I’ll start by explaining how much (or how little) I know about the series going in. I had heard that the art style and the general ‘cutesy-ness’ of the setting was a put off to many people and I had been told in no uncertain terms that I needed to watch at least the first three episodes before making a decision on whether or not the show was for me. I’m glad I watched the first three episodes; though I think by the end of the second episode I was quite sure the series would be an interesting one. Given my past experience with Gen Urobuchi’s work, I don’t expect any of the characters to end the series unambiguously better off. I expect the characters to suffer – and not always for any particular reason – but I also expect some kind of exploration of the human condition, whether in terms of the search for happiness or purpose, or in terms of trying to understand their role in society. This means I’m going to have to reconcile the optimism of the series’ setting – a normal, peaceful middle school – with the gloomy themes that the series will likely explore.  I don’t see this being a particular problem but it’s something that will need a bit of getting used to.

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[Anime] Neon Genesis Evangelion – Review

evangelion-poster1This post is the final installation in a series of posts on Neon Genesis Evangelion and has no spoilers.

Part 1 can be found here.

Part 2 can be found here.

Part 3 can be found here.

Part 4 can be found here

Part 5 can be found here

Baring the conceits and contradictions of the human heart to the world has always been central to the success of any story. Even the simplest story needs something for its readership or audience to grab on to, to relate to, to buy into. We no longer live in simple times. Stories in our day and age are complex, cloak-and-dagger games of expectations and counter-expectations, building audience expectations while hiding authorial intent until the last possible moment.  Yet, a plot twist, no matter how ingenious in its conception, will still fall flat without a powerful core concept that resonates with the audience. Much of the success that Neon Genesis Evangelion has enjoyed, rests on its ability to expose in its characters the ugly vulnerabilities that all of us know exist in ourselves. It is an intimately psychological story centring on mankind’s complicated relationship with the very borders that define them yet keep them apart. The greater story of an impending alien invasion and mankind’s struggle to survive is ultimately little more than window dressing, a mechanism that allows for an exploration of the human condition within the bounds of the story.

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[Anime] Neon Genesis Evangelion – Love is Destructive, but still I Need You

 

evangelion-poster1This post is the sixth in a series of posts on Neon Genesis Evangelion and has spoilers for the entire series, including End of Evangelion

Part 1 can be found here.

Part 2 can be found here.

Part 3 can be found here.

Part 4 can be found here

Part 5 can be found here

This post covers Neon Genesis Evangelion episodes 20-26, plus End of Evangelion.

If cliff-hangers at the end of chapters and episodes are a crime, then cliff-hangers at the end of a book or series are surely an unconscionable evil. After finishing Neon Genesis Evangelion though, I had to ask myself – would I rather have two endings, or none? It’s not as simple a question to answer as you might think. I did not like the original ending to Neon Genesis Evangelion, for reasons that I will dive into very soon. I barely considered it an ending at all, especially after the four episodes preceding it did such a masterful job of taking the story’s tension through the roof. The original ending felt like a disservice to the story I had been following and was invested in, not to mention a case of truly awful storytelling and pacing. It was that deep dissatisfaction more than anything else that pushed me to watch End of Evangelion. End of Evangelion was always going to be on my list but I had expected it to be largely supplementary to the series’ true ending rather than a wholesale replacement. I went into End of Evangelion full of certainty that the movie length ending that I was about to watch would be the ending that the series deserved, because after all, there was no way it could be worse than the droning inanity of the original ending. I wasn’t wrong, I don’t think; in almost every single way, End of Evangelion blows the original ending out of the water. While End of Evangelion certainly isn’t perfect, there is simply no comparing the two, not by any measure of quality that I know of. Yet, in my mind, albeit with some reluctance, I am almost entirely certain that I’ll be going with the original ending as the series’ ‘true’ ending. What gives?

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