Madoka Magica #4: Depictions of Gratuitous Violins

Madoka ep4 (20)

Thought: does the magical girl genre exist in the world of Madoka Magica? We can assume that anime does, given that Sayaka references anime tropes when she’s joking around in the first episode, but apart from that the only media we’ve seen the characters interact with is music (both pop and classical). Do the characters in-universe have any concept of what a “magical girl” is before they meet one/become one? It’s not entirely clear. Which is odd, in a way, since having pop culture set a precedent that real life does not match up to would lend a degree of social commentary—in a “television is not preparing our children for the harshness of reality” sort of way—to the series. After all, if you’re going to take familiar tropes apart (and here, clearly the subversion of familiar tropes is for the benefit of the genre-aware audience, rather than the characters themselves) you may as well use that process to make some sort of point.

Maybe it’s too early to be diving into that sort of discussion. It’s just something that blipped across my mind while I wondered where exactly this ideal image of a magical girl that Mami worked so hard to display, and her friends admired so much, came from. Are they taking cues from media? From history, perhaps, given that Kyuubey’s been making contracts since early human civilisation? From a logical combination of society’s ideal visions of femininity and society’s ideal vision of selfless heroism? The fact that Madoka’s setting seems to be some sort of deliberately ambiguous, slightly sci-fi, and architecturally stunning Anyplace isn’t helping. Do these characters exist in a bubble, a world vaguely recognisable as our own but effectively just a grand and beautifully-designed stage for this story to play out that’s isolated from any conception of actual society as we in the real world know it??

God. Anyway. This week we’re dealing with the wake of Mami’s untimely death, and everything is the worst. Continue reading

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URAHARA and the Crises of Creativity

Urahara creative crisis

Here’s a question for all you content creators out there: would you let yourself be turned into a cartoonish alien being and taken into space if it meant you were guaranteed endless praise and popularity for the things that you create?

At the heart of the pastel-toned magical girl adventure that is URAHARA is a story about the dilemma of creativity. Creators—be they writers, artists, chefs, designers, etc.—are an incredible breed because of their imaginative abilities, and their power to give the things in their imagination physical form for others to see. The great magical halo surrounding The Artist is their ability to do what they do purely for the love of it… but as I’m sure many of us know, The Love Of It can only get you so far. After all, what’s the point of creating if you receive no approval, praise, or recognition for your creation? Creating art for art’s sake often gives way to anxieties about creating the “right” kind of art, creating art that people will like, caught in an endless tug-of-war between trying to follow trends to get a foothold and trying to be “unique”. The very human need for validation, and the contradictory yet complementary need to be seen as different and individual, is a driving force in content creation, as it is the driving force behind the conflict in the middle arc of URAHARA. Continue reading

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Madoka Magica #3: Let Them Eat Cake

Madoka ep3 (15)

Have I talked yet about how much I love the music in this show? Each track is distinctive and atmospheric, helping to set the tone of each individual scene and build a consistent otherworldly sense for the whole series. I especially enjoy ‘Sis Puella Magica’, which manages to be both beautiful and haunting, evoking a sense of simultaneous wonderment and foreboding that really does sum up the Madoka experience, and especially neatly reflects these first few episodes where we—and Madoka—are still figuring things out. And oh boy does that “mild sense of magical foreboding” come together this week.

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Let’s Live Our Lives Heroically: November ’17 Roundup

i'm a car now too

I never intended to become this much of An Anime Blog. In fact, I have a strangely vivid memory of an anxious thought when I first started this blog, some five years ago: I should avoid writing about anime where possible, and should instead focus on other, more “acceptable” geeky properties like Doctor Who. I’m not sure what exactly brought this on, since I was barely keeping up with Doctor Who by 2012 anyway. It might have been a concern about pageviews, but I think it was mostly just a lingering high school anxiety that I ought to present myself as liking certain things so I could brand myself as… God, who knows? The “acceptable” type of geek, whatever the hell that is? Whose approval was I clamouring for?

Anyway, I wonder how the me of five years ago would react to learning I now get paid (however occasionally) to write about anime, and that I’m diving towards a career based around talking about things I find interesting. With that aforementioned high school anxiety still lingering, this year has been a weird trip of “what do you mean other people want my opinions and ideas?” both in my academic work and in my online writing. I’m doing my best to feel blessed rather than bewildered.

Some of you may be wondering how exactly you go about getting gigs writing for other websites (about anime or otherwise). Which case, I’m afraid I have the most boring and sensible Baby Boomer Dad answer for you: I knocked on the door and asked if they were hiring. Or, I found out about AniFem through someone else I followed, way back in November-ish last year, and sent them a message via their Contact Us page: hi, I see you’re a site all about anime and feminism. Whaddaya know, I am also interested in anime and feminism—sometimes both at once! I see you’re just starting out, so if you’re looking for contributors to fill up this shiny new web-space you occupy, I’d be happy to help. Here are some links to relevant posts so you see that I can a) write coherently, and b) write to your brand. Cheerio!

(At the time, I offered to do it for free because I supported what they were setting up. By the time my first piece went up, though, they’d gained enough Patreon pledges that I could get paid, so bonus!)

New Game professional

Lady Geek Girl was similar; I saw them boosting the link to their “careers” page on Facebook and, having not realised they had such a page before, went to check it out, and ended up sending them a similar message. It’s a paradox for all introverts, but no one will know about you unless you make yourself known—you have to get yourself out there rather than waiting for people to come to you. And to have a portfolio to show off, you have to write. Without all those thousands of words about Stuff I Find Interesting (written for myself, first, rather than that mysterious audience I was so frightened of fresh out of school) I wouldn’t have progressed, both in terms of talent and practice and in terms of career opportunity.

(That said, my two pieces for the now-defunct movie section of Popgates were because the site admin came to me… but as I said, following low stats and a haphazard editing process, that section no longer exists. The admin was very nice, but I’ve had much better experiences with pre-established websites that I sought out. I’m not saying this is an omen for everyone, but that has been my experience)

The this-and-that of all this is that I’ve been working hard this year to fight the knee-jerk assumption that my passions are frivolous, instead embracing them and the opportunities they can bring. I’m posting this roundup so early because I’ll be at a conference at the end of the month, in with a bunch of other researchers all deep in discussion about stories, writing them and reading them and picking them apart. Your passions are important. Your passions should bring you joy rather than embarrassment by instinct. Your passions should, where possible, lead you forward in life, whether that’s career-wise or hobby-wise or friendship-wise.

All this motivational corniness is to puff myself up and make it sound like I’m more emotionally prepared for this conference than I actually am. Not to say I don’t believe in it, but hey, you have to razzle-dazzle ’em. Wish me luck, and I hope you enjoy/ed the posts this month!

On the blog this month

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When Michael Met Mina: Actually, Yes, Let’s Make It About Race (in which I review a book about inherited bigotry and the weird and awful bubbling cauldron that is race relations in Australia. At least we voted to legalise same-sex marriage…)

The Princess, the Witch, the Goddess, and the Rose Bride (looking at Utena through the lens of The Hero’s Journey again—this time at Anthy, who fulfils the role of The Goddess, and is having a super bad time there)

And the Summer Rewatch Project begins with Madoka Magica episodes one and two!

On AniFem

Escape From Yuri Hell: Flip Flappers’ Critique of the Class S Genre (in which, through research, I finally fully understand what episode 5 of Flip Flappers was going for, and appreciate it massively more because of it. I seem to have helped other people do the same, and for that I’m very happy)

Around the Webzone

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The Persistence of Memory? Land of the Lustrous and Metaphysical DeathLand of the Lustrous is this season’s Made in Abyss, in that I can’t watch it, but I am keeping up with it via the flow of really good analysis of it. This post asks: if our bodies could never be destroyed, what would we fear instead of death? A loss of memory and death of the self?

“But There’s a Reason It’s There!” How to Meta Critique (Guest-Starring Land of the Lustrous) – see? There it is again. This time, it’s a prime example in a discussion of the age-old “but there’s a reason [problematic element/tired trope/troubling plot] is like that” rebuttal to any kind of critique or criticism. You don’t need to know Land of the Lustrous to have a great time reading the post, since it lays out the problems with this mindset in such a concise and clean way that I think I’m going to keep it bookmarked in case I ever run into that kind of conversation.

Stranger Things 2 Keeps Its “Strong Female Characters” Apart From One Another, Just Like Every Hollywood Genre Property – sci-fi is getting better (slowly) at including dynamic and complex women, sometimes even in starring roles… but it’s not letting these characters interact with each other. It’s an annoying issue that goes deeper than whether or not a show gets a tick for passing The Bechdel Test.

Index of Flip Flappers Reviews and Articles – there’s an absolute goldmine of Flip Flap meta on the internet, and this blog’s compiled a handy list of a bunch of them! Some personal recommendations:

Revolutionary Girl Utena: Reflections on the Protagonist — a trio of posts adapted from an academic paper about Utena’s multifaceted nature and how she challenges and engages with our typical ideas of what it means to be a “protagonist” and “hero”. Exactly my jam.

And to cap off, I want to link to this  webseries, Anime Crimes Division, which gives me the giggles.

 

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Madoka Magica #2: You Can’t Fight Crime If You Ain’t Cute

Madoka ep2 (14)

After a handy, abridged flashback to the fight scene at the end of the previous episode, Madoka wakes up wondering once again if it was all a dream… until she glances over and sees a pink-eyed Devil Kitty sitting on the shelf with her toys. To her credit, her immediate instinct isn’t to scream and fling the creature across the room, which means she has more resolve than me.

Given that these are spoileriffic analyses, I want to take a moment to talk about Kyuubey. They (er… it? Homura says “it”, and Mami says “he”, but let’s go with “they” for now) are pretty cleverly designed in terms of fitting all the technical hallmarks of a cute magical girl companion while also managing to use those same elements to be unnerving. Kyuubey has big eyes and a cat mouth, which should by all technicalities be adorable… but the unblinking, ever-staring red eyes and the fact that the mouth doesn’t move when they talk is uncanny and creepy. Kyuubey is small and fluffy and has those Neopets-esque ear extensions, which should be cuddly and cartoonish… but instead they just seem alien. Kyuubey speaks in a high-pitched cute voice, but the existential words they actually say create an unsettling dissonance. Even before we know Kyuubey is essentially the villain of the piece, everything about them is engineered to set the audience just a little bit on edge. Continue reading

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The Princess, the Witch, the Goddess, and the Rose Bride

Anthy

I thought of her as a goddess once…

Revolutionary Girl Utena, Episode 38 ‘The Ends of the World’

It’s a rough lot, being a woman in a fictional world, especially if your world is one built on the unambiguous lesson-teaching foundations of the fairy tale or the symbolism-laden slippery slope of myth. Either way, job options are scarce and you will inevitably end up in a symbolic or supporting role that props up the heroism of the main male character, be he Hero or Prince. This is something Revolutionary Girl Utena knows well, and goes to great measures to critique: first by showing a fairy tale maiden who aspires to be a Prince herself, and second by showing a fairy tale maiden who remains trapped within the expected archetypes of her genre and who is having literally the worst time in the world because of it.

Strap in, gang. It’s time for me to organise my thoughts on Anthy and what we learn about her in Episode 34, through the framework of theories of myth and how the show uses and then breaks them down. Absolute mega spoilers to follow. Continue reading

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Madoka Magica #1: Sweet Dreams Aren’t Made of These

Madoka ep1 (13)

The curtain rises on a strange and twisted wonderland, a young pink-haired girl running through a warped checkerboard landscape. This world is cold and silent, an unsettling mess of colour and pattern offering no solace. The girl finally finds a door, but on the other side is only more chaos: a strange upside-down monster hanging suspended in the stormy air over a destroyed city, locked in battle with another young woman. She is clearly magical, flying, fighting, but is also clearly in trouble. The pink-haired girl can only watch in horror… or can she? Amidst the floating rubble and thundering chaos a small creature appears and offers her a bargain, a chance to help, fixing her all the while with an unmoving catlike smile…

…aaaaaand snap, the pink-haired girl wakes up in a soft and sunny bedroom. Was all of that really just a dream?

And so begins Puella Magi Madoka Magica, 2017’s Big Summer Rewatch Project. Who’s excited to dive back into this world of magic, monsters, and metaphors? I know I am. Continue reading

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