This year, everyone’s favourite tragic magical girls (tragical girls?) came back for a glorious, colourful, epic feature-length continuation of the adventure that first captured our hearts in 2012. Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Rebellion Story has been subject to a lot of scrutiny over the few months since it came out, and I know I’ve talked about this movie before and had a bit of a gripe and grumble about various aspects of it. Having watched it a few more times, I want to scoot back and have an objective look at this thing, what it means for the Madoka Magica story overall, and what it’s trying to tell me and the fanbase as a whole among all that colour, fan pandering, performance motifs and punch-in-the-nose of an ending.
First and foremost, I have to heave a little sigh at the fact that Rebellion Story even exists, which is no insult to it in and of itself but simply part of my instinctive disdain for anything created simply as a cash cow. Especially in an attempt to continue and franchise stories that were already distinctly finished. Madoka Magica is an interesting case in that it actually sets up a world that has multiple repetitions of the same plot due to Homura’s time travelling—thus, you can create an infinite number of plot and character combinations within the framework of the series and have it all be feasibly canon, since the storyline as we know it has happened so many times before that really, anything goes. It’s perfect for a visual novel medium, hence the creation of the PSP game, since Homura literally just goes back to her save point every time she gets a bad end. That is her life.
All that considered, it seemed a bit odd to me that the creators would choose to continue the story from where the series finished rather than explore an alternate timeline, but also makes sense because the audience would rather check out what those characters are up to now. Madoka Magica’s ending was in no way a shiny happy one for everyone, but its open-ended-ness still gave a sense of peaceful conclusion. Continuing the story meant shaking up or shattering the new status quo, and that meant more trauma for the characters we’d supposedly laid, in story terms, to rest. That’s what gives you a plot, after all. Though, as a fandom cash cow, Rebellion Story could have been nothing but happy frolicking and its audience would have been pleased. Continue reading
I’m talking about fan service again—not so much the “oh look, boobs!” fan service but pandering to fans on a textual level. Which is an odd thing to say, since every piece of fiction is written for an audience, and showrunners of ongoing series are smart to listen and react to that audience, as it can let them know what the fans are enjoying and finding problems with. This age of communication and breakdown of barriers between creators and consumers (think Twitter interactions and mainstream access to conventions and panels etc.) is giving way to a new breed of fiction, which can much more effectively be improved and aimed to its audience. However, there comes a point where one has to ponder if waving to that pre-established audience and giving them what they ‘want’ has gotten in the way of the story you were trying to tell.
Supernatural has announced that it’s doing a “musical-ish” episode for its 200th show. Well, the creative team has announced that—Supernatural is many things and by this point a giant heaving clusterbomb of convoluted fan-creator connection, but I don’t think its gained sentience yet. Anyway, I only know of this because I’ve seen fans delighting over the announcement, and also know from watching that same circle from the periphery that a musical episode (inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s famous ‘Once More With Feeling’) is something fans have been speculating on and wishing for for a long time. It seems their words have been heard. I’m not going to peer too much at the Supernatural team for this since they’ve done plenty of ridiculous stuff and at 200 episodes something like this is a reward for sticking around through all of it. But I do have an issue with the practice of gift-wrapping tossed-around fan ideas and publishing them.
In case anyone’s wondering, I’m still mad about Sherlock season three. I have no shame in admitting I adored the show at its beginning, but I have even less in declaring I now find it a self-congratulatory swamp of silliness. The entire third season, though this is an oxymoron, felt like fanfiction of itself. The focus shifted from the compelling mysteries (the point of the show, its plot spine) to more domestic and character-central plots, including a whole episode devoted to Sherlock’s Best Man speech (and also John’s wedding, I guess, but Sherlock’s orating seemed to take up the entire thing) and so, so much glimmering emphasis on the unbreakable bond between the detective duo despite John quite rightly being furious with Sherlock at the start. Because JohnLock is alive and real, and their interactions are what the fans want to see, right? Continue reading
I’m really bad at reading subtext, okay. If two characters have got the gay for each other, you have to tell me outright, otherwise I’m going to fall into the complacent mistiness of believing they really are Just Friends. I have no problem believing, for example, that someone would damn themselves to an eternity fighting in a time loop to save someone’s life out of platonic love. Friendship is magic, alright, and we need more narratives that show the power of non-romantic relationships. That being said, we also need more queer representation, and the two can often get tangled up in a weird sort of meta limbo.
On the one hand, I’d love to see a canon queer relationship on TV, on the other, I’d love to not have any fictional relationship in my face without proper build-up—it’s the old conundrum: people adore love stories but aren’t comfortable with couples, and thus writing them goes in all sorts of strange and dramatic directions. It’s better, then, to draw out the possibility of a romance for as long as possible, making the audience believe in the pairing and support it, so that when they do get their happily ever after it’s much more satisfying. There’s an art to teasing something like that out, but, unfortunately, it runs into and can cross over with a nasty little practice called queerbaiting, dangling the possibility of a non-traditional-heterosexual-straight-as-white-bread romance in front of the audience without there ever being a chance of it actually happening.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends. There’s also an important distinction to make between authorial intent and audience interpretation—the audience is quite within their rights to take the relationship between two friends (or enemies, for that matter) and interpret it as something romantic or sexual, and do with it what they will in their own hearts, minds and internet dealings. That’s what fandom is about; taking the source material and playing with it like putty, stretching and squishing it to explore it from every angle, especially ones the writer didn’t or wouldn’t themselves. However, there’s a gulf between the audience reading into things their way and the writers deliberately putting something there to be read. Which they do not always do with the best intentions. Continue reading
[SPOILER WARNING for The Rebellion Story. If you’re in the magical girl loop or just don’t care, read on unafraid]
Not gonna lie—there’s something immensely satisfying about watching a character rise up powerful when they’ve been everyone else’s kicky bag in the story so far. Especially if it’s someone characterised as traditionally weak and helpless, a young woman for example. Fighting back against the resident nasties, in whatever form they come, removes the damsel in distress frame and makes her her own vengeful hero. Bonus points if she’s superpowered up now, bonus bonus points if it’s something the baddies wanted but backfired. Yeah. It’s bitchin’. But it’s also a trope that can be used quite problematically.
Look at Lucy for example, or at least the trailer for it—I might be jumping the gunshark to cast judgement over the movie before it’s even out, but bear with me—aside from being all “woo-hoo! A lady-led superhero movie!” something about it rubbed me the wrong way. At first I thought it was just the ‘using more of your brain’s capacity makes you an automatic badass’ thing, which, I mean, I’m not a neuroscientist but I’m pretty sure that’s not as grounded a theory as some might think, even if it is explained by Morgan Freeman. Then I realised that the badassery I was watching played exactly into this little narrative idea that grates on me: Our Heroine is a force to be reckoned with, oh yes, but only after being manipulated, fondled and beaten to a pulp.
The drugs that make Lucy superhuman were implanted in her completely against her will, removing any agency from the get-go, and they were only activated when she was kidnapped by (presumably?) a rival gang and violently injured. Yes, there’s something very rewarding in watching the thug come back in thinking he’s got the upper hand and Scarlet Johannson smirking and kicking his expectations square in the crotch then swaggering out of there. But that’s the trap this trope falls into—women granted the ability to be world-shatteringly badass, but only once everything else is stripped away from them and, as the trailer states, they’re losing everything that makes them human. It’s sister cliché is ‘she’s suffered so much she’s really done and she’s going to turn evil’. It happens to perfectly respectable main characters everywhere, from Buffy to Madoka Magica. And it can be annoying, problematic, and occasionally make no damn sense. Continue reading