Madoka Magica’s postmodernism

I’ve recently finished watching Madoka Magica, a magical girl anime, famous for its unusually dark plot (at least by the standards of the time it was airing). Unfortunately for me I knew a fair bit about the anime before going into it, so the shock of seeing how different Madoka Magica is from other anime in the genre wasn’t that great for me. Maybe that is why today I chose such a weird topic, deciding to talk about whether or not there is a way to claim that Madoka Magica is a postmodern art, instead of just giving it the praises it deserves.

Here is a quick intro for those who have not seen the anime, but wish to keep reading (which is probably a bad idea, as I’ll spoil all there is to spoil in that show). Madoka Magica is an anime about a group of girls who were confronted by an alien creature (name is Kyubey) that offered to grant them one wish. In exchange they would have to become magical girls, fight witches, and eventually be killed in a fight. The anime makes sure to let you see that the stakes are high, showing you one death after another, revealing horrifying details of the contract Kyubey makes with the girls in exchange for the wish. The anime spends a lot of time with the characters, showing their normal lives, their parents, friends and loved ones, giving you reason to care about them. At times it almost is a nice and light-hearted slice of life story. But when they get to an action, especially when they show a witch fight, then the anime changes into something very unusual. I’ll talk about it below.

For me it started with admiring the artworks that are displayed during the fights (they are made by Gekidan Inu Curry, check them out). Let’s look at them together.

I started to wonder if there is a specific art genre they belong to. Eventually I started looking at what can be called postmodern art. I’ll post a few thumbnails here.

Here is Raoul Hausmann’s pictures:

Here is Robert Rauschenberg’s artworks:

And here is Wallace Berman’s works:

I don’t want to say that those artists are clearly defined as representatives of postmodernism, but I think it is possible to say that. Anyway, for me it seems like those works or similar ones were the inspiration for some of the art from Madoka Magica. That doesn’t say much, just an interesting observation. And it made me look in it a little bit more.

I think there are a few more ways in which Madoka Magica is connected to postmodernism. The show is a genre deconstruction piece, and while I don’t know if people acknowledge that as a trait of a postmodern work, I think it does go in line with the ideas of the movement. Madoka Magica is working within an existing genre, with existing tropes and concepts, and it uses the viewer’s awareness of those concepts to tell the story. In that aspect it is similar to Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Would you say that proves my point? I don’t know.

All in all, I am just amused by the idea that those serious classifications of art movements could be extended to fit in a popular anime series. Though I may very well be a victim of confirmation bias. If you think I am (or if for some reason you think I am not), please tell me in the comments, would love to hear different opinions.

Puella_Magi_Madoka_Magica 3

And to save this post from being completely dry I’ll say a few words about my experience watching the show. As I said I knew it was going to be a somewhat serious anime, with tragedy and death, thanks to the spoilers. I was pleasantly surprised by a few things I saw in the anime though. First are the architectural references. When I first saw Burj Khalifa I was like “Is this anime set in the Emirates? :O” I liked the idea a lot, though it didn’t turn out to be true.


Here is the Burj Khalifa, the white needle-like structure in the background

Also I liked the idea of ordinary people who lived good satisfactory lives being given a chance to have any wish granted. They just didn’t have a wish they would feel strong enough about. It was especially interesting with Madoka, who at the beginning clearly didn’t need anything and just wanted to become a magical girl cause she liked the idea. The show didn’t do much to develop this theme, instead it just gave the characters the motivations they were missing. That was kinda disappointing at first. Though eventually I started to appreciate the side stories they brought up to give the characters their motivations. Sayaka’s story turned out to be the one of the most emotionally engaging parts of the series for me. I liked the Madoka’s reason to become a magical girl, it made such a big contrast with the rest of the show. She suddenly changed that story about doomed people fighting for a lost cause into a fairy tale, and she did it in such a bizarre way that the transaction did not seem to undermine the feel of the show. At least it worked for me.

The few plot twists I didn’t have spoiled for me were that magical girls turn into witches, and that incubators were only there to gather energy, viewing people as live stock. Both are good enough twists, especially the first one, since it made such a big change for the relations between the characters and Kyubey.

Here is a reminder that this anime is made by studio Shaft

Here is a reminder that this anime is made by studio Shaft

That’s it from me. See you next time ^^/


14 thoughts on “Madoka Magica’s postmodernism

  1. I feel like I’ve forgotten all about the artwork of this anime O.O I should have watched the anime in HD >.< I think the anime artwork is better than the artwork of all those different postmodern artists. Does that make me weird?

    I like how the anime tells us what it actually means to have one of our wishes granted in exchange for fighting. It isn't fun and it isn't about being a hero, unlike Sailor Moon. I didn't like the ending. I mean how can someone bear being erased from existence? To actually exist forever while losing everything she once had? I would have wanted the anime to continue. To see how Madoka deals with her decision. She might be fine doing it for a couple of decades but I don't see her bearing that burden for eternity. She will break down at some point. I wanted to see that. But then again, it would have left a bad after taste for most of the viewers.

    • It would’ve been worth it :P Though then you would have noticed the quality drops, what people call Meduka Meguca. There are moments when the animation looks like this and when you watch the anime in HD it is pretty hard to miss =)

      Nah, it’s not weird at all =) There are all sorts of good reasons why you can like one better than the other. Not to mention that it is art, so you don’t actually need a reason for your preferences in the first place :D I find both pleasant, but in different ways, can’t say that I like one better without forcing myself to. Also I haven’t spend enough time with postmodern art to better understand and appreciate it, so my opinion about it is likely to change anyway =)

      The world Madoka created is a bit more like Sailor Moon’s, isn’t it? =)
      Oh that’s what you didn’t like :O I thought you would complain about the fact that a lot of characters lost their tragic but meaningful story-lines and the story itself lost an edge because of the changes Madoka’s wish made =) I see what you mean though. From what they said about Madoka’s existence after the wish, I got that she is not going to just live forever in the nowhere, rather than that she just exists at every point in time at once, being an omniscient being that definitely is not a human. I mean, I can’t even imagine what kind of emotions someone like her would have.
      If you look at it in another way though, I think it is fair to say that she traded not just her life, but her existence entirely for that one wish. And that sounds interesting and dramatic, so I am willing to go with this interpretation, overlooking the complications with her not being really dead in the some sense of the word ^^

      • I don’t remember those quality drops :O Looks like I forgot a lot about the show. I didn’t forget the story though :P

        I don’t know much about art (_ _) I’ve always sucked at understanding it. So I doubt I will spend anymore time looking up postmodern art ._.

        Yup. Th ending made the whole series into a fairy tail. I didn’t feel that the characters lost their story lines =) Even if Madoka did change everything, it doesn’t change the fact that their stories did exist at one point of time. That was enough for me and they had nothing to do with how their lives changed. Madoka changed their lives without them ever knowing what kind of people they once were. It feels a bit sad but I am okay with it. Existing at every point of time is the same as living for eternity isn’t it? She is just there forever, existing and not existing at the same time, alone and forgotten. I wanted to know what it did to her. I doubt that kind of thing could have a happy ending.
        I admit that she paid a huge price for her wish but I can’t really accept that ending after all. To me, that ending really isn’t an ending. I really do want to know what became of Madoka .

        • :D I know you didn’t =)

          I only hope you’ll tolerate me bringing it up once in a while ^^’/ I mean art in general, not those few assembly artists I’ve posted :D

          Yeah I agree =) We got to see how those girls would live in in a world with witches, and it does feel like its own story. It’s true, Madoka did change everything based on her own decision, without checking if everyone will be happy with that =) But it was a fair assumption that they would be, so yeah.

          I see =) Well there are two ways about it. If Madoka lives like normal people do, having a past that she can remember, a present where she has agency and experience emotions, and a future that she can only try to predict, then yeah, eventually she would probably go insane from being alone and all. What’s more, since in that new world she had to have been around since the time the first magical girl was born, she would probably already be insane by the time her friends are born =) After all, we are talking about thousands of years there. But I think you can imagine a different setup, where she doesn’t live forward as we do, but instead exists at every bit of time simultaneously, remembering and experiencing the future and the past alike, and thus effectively having no present. I think that was what they were implying, though I am just speculating here. And to give this setup any meaningful detail is I feel the kind of work that requires a philosopher rather than a screenwriter :D

          • I plan on watching Madoka movies. I’ll pay more attention to the art then =)

            Of course :P I’ve long since started paying attention to art thanks to you =)

            Yup. It is a fair assumption.
            Madoka has been around since the time of the first magical girl huh? I saw it more as her going back in time to help the first magical girl. To me it was more like she ‘could’ exist at every point of time simultaneously than she ‘exists’ at every point of time simultaneously. So she has a choice and only goes back to the past to save people who needs to be saved. I thought she is a person who can travel to the past or future as she wishes but exists more in the present, just watching and observing. That kind of present is pretty sad. But then again, yeah. The ending is pretty open and we can make our own assumptions about it :P

            • You want to watch all three of the movies? The first two are just slightly improved version of the TV show put in the movie format. I am planning on watching the third movie for sure, I think it is going to be set in this new world where Homura wears a red ribbon =)

              I can’t take this much credit :O

              I see =) They can do it the way you describe, for sure, and it would be easier to explain to the audience than my ideas. I kinda hope the last Madoka Magica movie would give some clues to that =)

              By the way, I’ve read an article about the writing and production of Madoka Magica and it was a fun read =) They were talking about how the director of the series was asking Gen Urobuchi (the writer for the series) if it would be possible to spare Sayaka and got a refusal, or how the production team was asking him to think about not killing off Mami so early in the show. It kinda shows how brave the writing was that even the staff working on the project wasn’t ready to accept it =) Urobuchi in his turn wasn’t prepared for the design of the witches, he didn’t imagine them being this surreal. Wiki quotes him saying “How can Homura possibly fight against something like this?” :D I love it how so many people put their ideas into the show to make it what it ended up being. I was reading this –, it’s pretty long though.

  2. I am going to watch all the three movies. I want to see why they have such an incredibly high rating :P

    >:P Actually I went and downloaded Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi. I really liked this picture you posted you see . I really liked it and I thought I might as well watch the anime, just to see that beautiful animation ._. See what I mean? It is your fault >. <

    I will definitively watch that movie o(-.-)o At least I will do it before I retire.

    Wow. That article really is awesome. I didn't know that they hid the dark undertones of the anime to make it come as a surprise to the viewers :O That would have been quite a surprise for viewers who expected a cute story about cute girls doing cute things XD I would have liked to be in their shoes. I didn't feel like Mami was such a big character and they had to put in a lot of time thinking about killing her and how it might damage the show's reputation. I was okay with her being killed ._. I didn't spend a lot of time feeling sad about her fate. I really liked what Urobuchi said about Kyubey. 'He isn't evil, it is his lack of feelings that make him scary'. I guess lack of feelings make a person scarier than an evil person =)

    • Probably because most of the people who watch them are the ones who have seen and liked the original series =) But I won’t stop you, they are supposed to be even better than the anime, that’s good enough reason to watch them ^^/ I don’t know why you think it will take you all the time till your retirement to finish them xD

      I remember dropping Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi after two episodes :P The anime does have interesting, vibrant colors, though that is about all I can say about it without sounding negative :D Tell me what you think about it when you finish it ^.^ If you do finish it that is >:D

      Yep =) At it was pretty much the first dark magical girl anime, which added to the surprise =) About Mami, I think they were just afraid to have a death of a well established character so early in the show. I didn’t feel very sad about her too (though I don’t feel sad for anime character often, so it doesn’t say much), but I felt the emotions of Madoka and Sayaka. I think the moment wasn’t wasted. If I was in that animation crew I would have supported Urobuchi for sure =)
      Yeah I liked that part too =) I like the contrast Kyubey creates with the girls. He is being calm and friendly regardless of situation, regardless of how horrible the things he says or does are. He is never angry or irritated, never sympathetic or sad, no matter how his relations with the girls are he is the same. I think that puts an emphasis on the emotions of the humans around him, kinda showing the importance of having those emotions.

      • I already have a lot of anime in my to watch list and I’ve started thinking I might become an old woman before I watch all of them ;_;

        I know. I didn’t mean to watch it at first. But I kept going back to look at that image and when I’ve had had enough of that endless cycle, I went and downloaded the episodes. I don’t even know why I like it so much. If I do complete it, I will definitely let you know :P

        I don’t feel sad about deaths of the characters either. I would have supported Urobuchi too. Mami’s death was necessary to show the viewers how the girls need to put their lives on the line to fight the witches and how hard it was for them to do that.
        Yup. I liked that about Kyubey too.

        By the way I did feel bad about the death of a certain character in Gintama. Oh well. I am going to spoil it for you :P You will probably have someone else spoil it for you before you watch the series anyway =) There is this arc in Gintama called the Shogun Assassination Arc. The shogun is a nice guy and is very kind. He dislikes hurting others. I have to admit that a guy that soft won’t make a good ruler. And that s exactly what happened. He started losing his allies and was caught up in a power struggle. He was stripped off his title and had to flee to protect his life. He tried to assemble some allies and save his nation but of the the allies smuggled a poison needle and pricked the shogun with that while he was trying to shake his hand. He actually told him, ‘You have no allies in this world’. Yes it was cruel and brutal but it was also true. He wasn’t good enough to control the nation. Gintama didn’t pull any punches there either. It didn’t try to make his end any nicer. He died sad, betrayed and feeling like he wasn’t good enough. That was the end of the guy who was too nice. He was good as a person but wasn’t a good ruler. He had to pay the price because he was born in the shogun family. That felt a bit too sad and I was sad to see him die ._. I think in a way, Gintama can dare to be more brutal than other anime and I like that about it =)

        • Oh wow, I didn’t think Gintama had serious parts like this. I like what you’ve described, sounds like an interesting story =) I have a hard time picturing Gintoki or Kagura as a part of this serious story though :D

          • Wait a second senpai, you seriously didn’t know that Gintama can be serious? :O Come on, how come you haven’t heard that even once? o.O

            Gintama has good action and drama too. It has good fights and Gintama has the best quotes I’ve ever seen. When it is serious, Gintama is as good as Naruto or Bleach, maybe even better. You won’t have trouble picturing them being serious when you see Gintoki like this and Kagura like this XDD

            • I’ve heard that the latest arc is more serious, and I have seen that picture of Kagura before =) I think I’ve watched a small video where she was fighting with blood-covered face, the part where this picture is taken from I think. Still, I’ve seen way more pictures and gifs from the comedic parts of Gintama and it kinda dominates my impression of the series =) Maybe when I see the anime I’ll be able to have an actual understanding of what it really is ^^’

              • You won’t have trouble imagining them being serious after watching the anime. I think the comedy becomes all the more awesome because you know that those characters can also be serious =)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s