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