Gen Urobuchi and the CEO of Nitro+ and one other person were on hand to talk about Nitro+’s work and answer a few–only a few–questions. There are no pictures in this stream because of a strange policy where press–not attendees–were forbidden from taking pictures or video. Also, my mobile internet was not working for much of the time, so this is an incomplete record. There was at least one question about birds in Kamen Rider Gaim that still makes no sense to me.
And finally, to close the 12 Days series for 2013 here at Anime Diet, we bring you this year’s works written, co-written, or story supervised by Gen Urobuchi–and their increasingly cheesy 3/4 mark twists! Needless to say, spoilers abound for Psycho-Pass, Gargantia, and Madoka Magica 3: Rebellion! Leave now if you wish to remain plot virgins.
First, to start off the year, there’s Psycho-Pass. Much has been made of the seemingly omnipotent Sybil System, which determines whether a person is fit to be in society or be stuck in
brainwashing therapy. Eventually of course, we were going to find out who or what that System was. And eventually, Urobuchi gives us the answer:
The vat of brains is actually not so surprising. What makes it unbearably cheesy, though, is whose brains those are: it’s the brains of psychopaths. The Psycho-Pass system is being run…by psychopaths. Get it? Get it??? And it’s up to, uh, Kana Hanazawa to stop them. From within, of course.
Next, we have Gargantia. Actually, this twist, about the true history and origin of the Hideauze, is probably the least problematic out of the bunch this year. We were set up quite early on with the idea that the Hideauze were sacred to the people of Gargantia, that Ledo’s militaristic society was not entirely to be trusted, and that somebody is hiding something. That’s par for the course for an Urobuchi story. And the big reveal was, all things considered, smoothly told through found footage and old documentaries, though even right before Ledo sees them, this shot pretty much gave the game away:
And true to his unofficial “Urobutcher” nickname, the baby Hideauze are soon slaughtered indiscriminately, with one particularly moe one squeezed to death, Eva-style, complete with requisite scream but minus the BL overtones/fujoshi bait. This is supposed to be brutal and shocking, but for a veteran anime watcher steeped in the cliches of the past 20 years, it was also eye-rollingly typical.
Finally, we have what was clearly intended to be some kind of tour-de-force by Urobuchi, Shinbo, and the rest of SHAFT of their sacred cow: Madoka Magica 3: Rebellion. Up until the 3/4 mark, we have been taken through a thematically consistent continuation of the series, which both expands and reiterates the central themes of the TV series: the limits of good intentions, the sadness and despair that can drive a person beyond the edge, and the redeeming power of unconditional love. We once again see the grand, tearjerking irony of the protagonist and would-be savior, Homura, instead become the saved through the ministration of Madoka, the very embodiment of the Universal Law (of Cycles). It was, in short, a genuinely Madoka Magica story.
Then, we get this, at the very moment when salvation is literally at hand:
Homura, seemingly inexplicably, yanks Logos Madoka’s outstretched hand, and drags her down from heaven so she can wholly possess her, and in so doing, becomes, also literally, an incarnation of evil. (Her words.) The movie, which looked almost done, goes on for another half hour, as it slowly dawns on the audience that the story is far from over and that more movies and/or series are coming.
Granted, this twist, which upset many fans and seems driven by commercial than artistic desires, is more on Shinbo than Urobuchi. He cooperated, however, long enough to pen Madoka: Rebellion, though he appears to have washed his hands of the franchise altogether and will not write any more stories in that series. (Source: this interview, translated by feral_phoenix.) Perhaps so he can go and make more Psycho-Pass and continue, with mixed success, to gain cyberpunk cred by quoting William Gibson and Nietzsche over and over again.
Does this make Gen Urobuchi the M. Night Shyamalan of anime? Well, he hasn’t sunk quite that low yet–it would take a disaster of epic proportions to approach the depths of The Last Airbender. And Urobuchi rarely works alone, so the blame can be justifiably shared with many others. Nevertheless, judging from the stories that came at least partly out of his imagination this year, I’m going to be looking at his future work and expecting the moment where I can say: WHATTA TWEEST!
Those of us who became fans in a different era—say, the late 1990s and early 2000s—remember that different sorts of stories were the norm in anime. There was a lot more adventure and sci-fi, for one; while Evangelion introduced theretofore unknown levels of artsiness, psychological drama, and pretentiousness, anime had yet to shift over to an overweening emphasis on slice-of-life, school life, and fandom self-metajerk. In fact, it’s worth remembering that the earlier episodes of Evangelion were well-animated, straightahead episodic mecha action, with only hints of the chaos to come. What drew me in was both the compelling way these traditional elements were presented as well as the deftness with which Shinji, Misato, and Rei revealed their characters.
The same feeling is coming over me with Gen Urobuchi’s newest, and in some ways most surprising, project, Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet. I get the feeling that this might not only be a potential classic, it could be a new gateway anime for another generous of fans.
These are tall claims to make for a series that’s only broadcast three episodes. There are many ways that Urobuchi and director Kazuya Murata (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Movie, Code Geass; see our interview with him at Otakon 2011) could screw this up. Urobuchi’s trademark descent into despairing angst simply may not fit this story, though there are indications that this may not be the case. The storyline could get dragged out or needlessly complicated, like Code Geass (the recent Valvrave the Liberator is already showing signs of following suit), though with only 13 episodes planned, there’s not much room for that.
So far, though, not only has Gargantia avoided these traps, it’s done well simply by embracing the basics: smooth pacing, likable characters, and enough plot mystery to keep the viewer interested in what comes next.
The excitement begins with the first half of the first episode, which features well-animated space battles deliberately reminiscent of Gunbuster: ships firing fusillades of lasers at giant, plant and insectoid aliens, with swarms of mechs and aliens locked in brutal hand-to-tentacle combat. This sends an immediate signal that Gargantia intends to stand on the shoulders of its forebears, and this impression is no lessened when the action shifts from space to the watery Earth where mecha pilot Ledo is stranded. Bright shades of Nadia, Gurren Lagann, and even the works of Studio Ghibli (particularly Castle in the Sky) are evident in the character designs, settings, and overall tone. Though the Earth is in a post-apocalypse setting, with no land to be found, it is still brightly-colored and cheerful compared to the grim “service guarantees citizenship” world Ledo comes from.
Part of the show’s success too is how quickly those worlds are established. We find out much about Ledo’s universe not just in the first fifteen minutes of the series, but also in the way he and his mecha interact with the Gargantians: he has no idea what to do with fish or meat, “thank you” has no translation in his culture, and he cannot understand why total annihilation of the enemy is a problem. Remarkably, the show decently balances the perspective of the more casual, civilian-like attitude of Gargantia and the militaristic perspective of Ledo. While we sympathize with the Gargantia’s more “humane” approach, one easily understands the seeming rationality of Ledo’s point of view, and it is not one devoid of sense or restraint either: he frequently has to tell his mecha computer to stand down. He can be dialogued with and convinced. He is, after all, still human.
And that’s the thing: there’s a human warmth to the storytelling in Gargantia which comes out in the likability of the characters and in the smaller moments. They show the whole gamut of emotions, from fear to curiosity to joy to gratitude and surprise. The nearly uniform despair of the majority of Madoka, as well the flatness of Psycho-Pass, are nowhere to be found here. It does this without surrealism, name dropping in the dialogue, or other superficial trickery. There are occasional bows to fan-servicey convention, particularly with the Pirate Queen Lukkage and her sidekicks, but it’s hardly a big deal compared to the show’s other virtues.
Gargantia is not only proof that Urobuchi can tell a straightforward story well, but that there is still life in this sort of storytelling. That so much of online fandom is excited by this show suggests that it’s relatively rare and deeply appreciated when it appears. Quality tends to be—see Sturgeon’s Law—but this, along with the ongoing Yamato 2199, signals hope in sci-fi adventure stories as a viable, relatively mainstream avenue for anime to reach audiences.
While Evangelion’s unique weirdness and intensity was what made me stay a fan, it had to hook me first. Here’s hoping Gargantia will offer similar pleasures along the way.
A lot of words have already been shared regarding Production IG’s big return to dystopian sci-fi, PSYCHO-PASS, so a part of me felt like there was little else I could truly contribute to the conversation — That is, until a number of things began to collectively gnaw at me over the course of watching it. In the weeks before the first episode aired, and thereby began streaming, much noise was made about this being the return of writer Gen Urobuchi (this time with Blood C movie’s Naoyoshi Shiotani as director). Coupled this along with the team taking on what many (on the internet) had labeled a hardcore cyberpunk cop show. With such a word being so liberally attached, it seemed inevitable that one would have to see just how close the show came to capturing the spirit of such a relic of its time, and a personal favorite place to visit in book form. And while mentioned, I was quite ready to be taken in by the world of the series, it may troublesome that I report that Psycho-Pass is about as cyberpunk as a bowl of noodles, and nowhere near as involving.
Set in yet another dank, and hyper-technological future Tokyo, society is now largely governed by an all-knowing form of artificial intelligence known as SIBIL. The supercomputer has gained enough control over the lives of the citizens that it is capable of determining not only the roles in which we play in the world of employment, but it can also monitor the individual psyche, watching over it to the level that it may deem thoughts and behavior dangerous, or at the very least, borderline. The form of law enforcement that ensues is not unlike the world of Minority Report, where the police are tasked with preventing violent crimes before they happen. And the shared method by which all citizens are checked within this system, is by way of their Crime Coefficiency, which is essentially reflected in their Psycho-Pass, a card that is meant to maintain a clean and healthy blue, otherwise placing those in possession in danger of capture by the CID-a police agency that has the unique function of working as handlers for what are known as “Enforcers”. Often former captured violators, and borderline cases, they do the dirty work of what used to be the realm of officers and detectives. In pursuit of new, potentially dangerous perpetrators, the final judgment comes almost DREDD-style, on site by way of the supercomputer networked sidearms of Enforcers known as Dominator. These modular, multi-purpose guns can deem a suspect worthy of numerous types of judgments that range from “apprehend” to “kill” upon target-sight recognition.
As the show begins, the CID has received a new recruit in the form of Akane Tsunemori, a seemingly ordinary young lady now appointed to the role of Inspector. We are swiftly introduced to her assigned team of Enforcers, ranging in ages and genders, but the quiet, almost sullen Kogami Shinya seems to bear something of a troubled past that haunts and attracts Tsunemori, as she becomes better acquainted with the world of preventative psycho-crime fighting. Her beliefs are constantly put to the test, as the criminals and the program itself come to challenge some of humanity’s most basic attributes & instincts. This is the urban hellscape of Psycho-Pass, and it is in little way of what the internet claims it to be.(And, no. Making backhanded references to Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic, as well as the domestic use of the Eye-Phone and VR gloves, do not a cyberpunk show make.)
Something was bothering me from the opening moments of the series, and continued throughout until they finally began hitting me like a tactical strike. After several episodes, I have come to the conclusion that Urobuchi tends to focus more on the emotional immediacy of a situation, rather than the logic of it, which is something of a strange choice considering the world and the story he is attempting to tell. There are patches of dialogue here that reflect something far more akin to fantasy, or atypical anime.
“I realize you’re strangely connected to him by fate.” – Yeah, this has something closer to fantasy in mind that anything. As non-cyberpunk as it gets, really.
Even for Production IG, a studio famous for producing dense, yet entertaining hard science fiction, this is something of a steep slip downward, as the contradictions of subject matter and approach are loud enough to render a lot of what occurs within the majority of the series pretty toothless. If Urobuchi is attempting to comment upon contemporary Japan’s seemingly inevitable role in Kurzweil’s Singuarity, then it’s not serving anything but an alarmist’s position, which is de-facto for most mainstream takes on our co-existence with technology. And I guess that’s the central culprit in what doesn’t work. For a proper system like this to function, there has to be the human element that manages matters on higher levels, as opposed to letting SIBIL handle everything. (If this is indeed a point that is intentionally being made, then it is a pretty hamfisted way making a condemnation of our current relationship with technology managing our daily lives.)
On to the two large blocks that hinder my personal enjoyment of Psycho-Pass:
One- The Audience Surrogate Is a Problem
In stories such as these, the more accessible approach is to create a character that represents a window for us to better understand the world of the story, and empathize with their reactions to it. Tsunemori, while clearly made to appeal to certain demographics, does not work in this universe simply because I cannot reconcile that someone this pure and naive about the system would ever be made Inspector. Early scenes indicate that she is not even familiar with the Dominator system, as well as how to handle Enforcers. When she later asserts that she is far more familiar in spirit to her ragtag bunch of street cops, it only makes SIBIL look incredibly dumb. And while the bespectacled Inspector Ginoza informs her that they are short on work numbers, this in no way excuses the clear lack of understanding of the job and what it entails. Being that the show begins “en media res” amidst an incident with a potentially bloody violent psychopath on stims, one might assume here that the show was rushed into production, and a prologue was omitted from an early draft. Because if Tsunemori herself were initially appointed by SIBIL to work in data analysis, only to be drafted into the streets by way of error, this would make a whole lot more sense. As it stands? Either a bad committee idea, or forced move by an angry writer. Either way, it’s patently absurd.
Two- Dominator Judgment System(and in turn, SIBIL): Counter-effective
Seriously. A established system that has functioned uncontested for years must be so with good reason, no matter how speculative. Especially when dealing with something as far-reaching and for the public good as law enforcement, this is crucial. So when we leave a green character with a perfectly clean psycho pass like Tsunemori to be able to temper something as overt as Dominator’s judgment system without getting a little distressed, it’s a recipe for creating that which you condemn. It isn’t as if the gun’s use of lethal force is clinical, or even efficient. The damned thing fires, ultimately liquifying the target, leaving human parts in a Jackson Pollack-esque splatter on the floor. Call me silly, but to think that such a mess would have zero effect on your enforcement officials is more than a little questionable.
And these two elements alone lead to what is famously known as “shaky foundation, shaky roof”. It doesn’t matter how much a writer tries to cover up these elements after the fact, these niggling details fly in the face of what could have been something more than a petty Shock-A-Minute, which would have been fine if it had a lot more fun with the premise.
Since the days of The Terminator, it has long been the cliche of many a screenwriter to take the human element out of an essentially human-borne dilemma, laying blame upon technology for our greater ills. Psycho-Pass does what it can to swing the needle in an opposing direction, but in the end, the real villain is the central network that overlooks an often messy remains of civilization. Touches such as the drones who walk the rainy streets bearing overtly friendly holographic costumes over their rolling trash can chassis throws it back into almost “Cool Japan” criticism, being that nothing can be taken as remotely serious by the metropolitan population without being glossed over with a “kawaii” mask to lighten any altercation in plain sight. The need for denial to be cast writ-large over humanity’s less than desirable sides is a nice touch, but is often undermined again by the more obvious problems inherent in the central plot. If the world of Psycho-Pass is to be one where those who mete out a greater need for harmony, then isn’t it imperative that they understand the system before being brought into a clearly dense & dangerous fold? To be fair, the core theme of the series seems to be that technology is inherently bad, because it is a reflection of us. And while that may seem balanced on the surface, it never feels as though the rainy, bloody streets of Psycho-Pass’ Tokyo is any different from the funhouse of mirrors planet of Puella Magi Madoka Magika. It’s a mix that simply doesn’t work as well here.
Where Madoka existed in a more flexible, metaphorical universe, Psycho-Pass does not, and thus has less excuses to play fast and loose. It’s no secret that many a film scribe tends to revisit similar themes within their work, often with the best ones exhibiting a certain knowledge about the trappings of each world to make the themes click on a deeper level, It just seems like the team behind this show seems to have a lot less grasp on what they are telling. I say this because I don’t want to feel like dropping this completely on Urobuchi’s lap, although it should most likely do so. With this show, it’s pretty clear where his strengths are, and it isn’t here. While there are many eyebrows-raising moments to be experienced in this series, far too much of it feels like window dressing to cover up a certain lack of depth within the world and narrative. In the end, a lot of the package feels pretty shallow.
In the end, the dystopian nightmare presented here is done do with less a reverence for the type of fiction made famous by names such as Gibson & Stephenson, and more a general lack of trust in our collective ability to manipulate it for greater reasons. It is not so much interested in the science, so much as the morality of living in a globally networked world. It is the antithesis of cyberpunk, it is a didactic dystopian fable punctuated by some frustratingly on-the-nose writing, and a lot of forced logic. When characters who are presented as experts in enforcing the law, one would expect certain hazards to be part of the everyday. But within a world where SIBIL exists, it seems like the very core purpose it is hamstrung on nearly all fronts. For a procedural to function, it’s imperative that these rules are well understood by all parties. Apparently someone forgot to tell the writer..
BTW- Did anyone else squee over the casting of Noriko Hidaka as Dominator? I did.
- Initial Postviewing Impressions
- What did you most enjoy about the movies?
- Differences between the movies and series
- Are these movies necessary? Did they bring anything new to the table?
- The social significance of Madoka as a story
- Religious/theological symbolism
- Thoughts on the upcoming third movie
Monsieur LaMoe: It was great. The visuals were fantastic, and the sound quality was awesome, with the amazing Yuki Kajiura soundtrack.
Wintermuted: I will just start by saying that I am in no way a fan of “clip show” features. They serve very little purpose outside of selling an already established property to another audience, while claiming to deliver scraps for the already invested.
Despite this, the first two Madoka films are a well-edited digest of the original story with occasionally updated backgrounds, new transformation animation, and updated music. If anything, this was akin to a beefed-up night at a friend’s house while peers catch up on a show. For the type of presentation this was, it was one of the least offensive of its kind, but this is clearly damning with faint praise.
gendomike: Both LaMoe and wintermuted are right, I think. The Madoka Magica movies presented the 2011 TV series in a straightforward, comprehensible way without losing too much. It’s still the well-crafted, emotionally powerful story that it always was.
The problem is that existing fans like ourselves have to judge them in relation to the series as well as on their own terms. And the word that kept ringing in my head right after I saw them was “remaster.” These movies are like those remastered CDs record companies released in the late 1990s-2000s that sounded louder and sharper than the original releases. You were really just buying the same record again, but with bonus tracks (new OP/EDs from Claris and Kalafina) and louder volume (literally in the theater—and analogously with the improved animation in spots).
Can something be both satisfying and disappointing at the same time? That was my feeling.
LaMoe: I enjoyed the visuals and sounds, and of course the storytelling of Gen Urobuchi. It was intense and deep. Watching it together with fans and friends, nerds, geeks, and otakus. And a dark theater at night, so the mood was right.
Winter: If anything at all, it was nice to experience the story on a large screen with brilliant sound. Of course there were snippets here and there of new animation, and the aforementioned backgrounds. But as I stated before, they truly are scraps. It was also nice to ostensibly re-watch the series without having to skip the opening & end credits.
gendomike: Watching the story continuously made the cohesion and crafting of Urobuchi’s story more evident. There wasn’t actually much fat to trim from the series, but there was some compression in favor of tightening Sayaka’s story, for instance, and eschewing some of the flashbacks in favor of portraying them in linear time. (Or not at all in a few cases, such as Mami’s flashback on how she signed her contract with Kyubey.) This helped make the story feel more concise and focused. Some of Kyubey’s explanation dialogue also felt less silly near the end, but I could be remembering wrong.
Visually, the upgraded transformation sequences, especially Mami’s first, shone brightly. Combined with the powerful Kajiura OST track “Credens Justitiam” it was one of the soaring moments that truly belonged in a theater, breaking out of the small screen limitation of the original.
LaMoe: The new OP was really good. The chairs and tables at cafeteria were different in the scene where Hitomi basically told Sayaka that she would “NTR” her crush, a frail bishounen violinist. And the most memorable scene, during the OP, Madoka and Homura were rubbing each other’s cheeks, a very suggestive yuri innuendo, almost caused my head to explode, reminding me of Needless’ ED. That made my day (night)!
Winter: Along with what MLM mentioned, there was a greater emphasis on Kyubey’s philosophy and their relationship with objects. Most of the background updates take place in the first film, making many well-known settings more cluttered and borderline claustrophobic. There was fan service-laden animation for the transformations, as well as a new “opening” sequence that is repeated for both films.
I also noticed smaller changes such as the hair on a witch’s potential victim being changed dramatically, to Madoka being given a more sensible costume during a crucial scene. And let’s not forget a short new scene or two that help mend some cuts that offer very little in the way of anything new.
gendomike: I already covered some of the differences in my previous answer, but in truth the differences were not substantial. They were the equivalent of touchups and tweaks. One can argue that given how well-crafted the TV series was, this is how it should be, and many of the visual and storytelling changes did make things a little tighter and brighter.
Are these movies necessary? Did they bring anything new to the table?
LaMoe: I doubt it, but I’m not against having options. I loved the first two films, because I didn’t get the same sense of the sublime by watching it on my laptop. On my laptop, the visuals were still great, but I didn’t really get sucked into the show’s unique worldview. Story-wise there was nothing new, but I think it really works well as a digest for people who never saw it before. I think the storytelling in the TV series was already really great. The movie version was better on visuals and music. Certainly, Shinbo’s visuals and Kajiura’s gothic music, and the intricate tragic mode of Urobuchi, that combination worked best on the films. I think anything new will be in the Part 3, which I’m looking forward to.
Winter: As a person who was collectively knocked on his butt by the original story and vision, I had hopes that this film version would take up a new, bolder take on matters. Sadly, what we have here merely amounts to that old saw—marketing. Outside of milking success, and hopefully gouging fans out of some additional funds, there is no good reason for this to exist outside of financial ones. Gone are the days of bold cinema interpretations such as the original Galaxy Express 999, and Adolescence Of Utena. While this is light years above Evangelion: Death, this still reeks of studio/sponsor routine that offers nothing new to think about, let alone experience.
gendomike: Heh, I like the comparison with Evangelion: Death, which was intended to buy time for Anno to try (and fail, since Rebirth was incomplete) to complete the ending. This is a much more straightforward proposition, and I see only two uses for it:
- to give existing fans the benefit of a movie theater experience. That’s not worthless, but it’s not enough to be truly satisfying;
- introduce new viewers to the story.
It is essentially a large recap episode, and given what we know about Shinbo and Urobuchi’s capabilities, I was expecting something more, especially since I doubt there are many in the second category watching these movies. As such, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend the films to those who have seen the series already unless having the cinema experience and upgraded visuals is worth the ticket price to them.
The social significance of Madoka as a story
LaMoe: At first I expected Madoka to be a moe anime, but it totally betrayed my expectations by going into full tragic mode from Mami’s death onward. If Yoshiyuki Tomino was “Kill them all,” Gen Urobuchi is “Agonize them all.” And usually, the magical girl genre is moetically therapeutic to watch, but Madoka has totally ruined my moe. I think moe and agony don’t go together. Who wants to see moekko suffer? So, in that sense, Madoka was shocking, as if I was having “moe delusion” the whole time. New genre: torture moekko to bring down moe?
I think Madoka’s family was commendable. Madoka’s mom is a super career woman, and her dad stays home taking care of a baby brother. It breaks away from the traditional Japanese patriarchal family. There are more soushokukei boys right now, and many of them want to be house-husbands, staying home baking cookies and cakes. A little while ago, being house-dad was an embarrassment, but now it’s getting more acceptable, especially among the young generation that has the most otaku population.
So Madoka reflects that zeitgeist. Yet, even in more gender equal America, there are only 0.15 million house-dads. I only saw them on WifeSwap, so we still have work to do. But, to depict that in 2D is an awesome first step to take. I applaud that. So, that modern middle class family setting brings a new meaning to the anime scene, by sending a positive message about gender equality, thus making progress in society as a whole.
Winter: After now seeing the entire story from beginning to end at least four times, I’m more than a little confident in calling Madoka as an all-encompassing call-to-arms, not merely for the evolution of female roles in Japanese society, but of an entire generation weaned on feelings of disassociation and defeat after a great paradigm shift. It is concerned with society’s ambivalence toward the equalization of genders, and wonders why so many seem to be ready to throw in the towel at a moment’s notice. By establishing a world of mirrors and windows (with the title character’s name carrying “window”), Madoka is the means by which Urobuchi questions living within a society’s strict, often unreasonable social constraints. She is a window to a changing world that has long embraced a rigid construct made of gilded cages and manufactured values. Contracts must be read in full, and considered before choices are made.
Madoka is also deeply critical of past expectations of women (particularly young ones), and of many Japanese who have chosen to opt themselves out of the world, often avoiding any true challenge that may seem daunting. It is as much a meditation on faith and the lack thereof, as it is about facing up to the past, and being willing to carve your own path without need for petty reward. It is an often eloquently visualized celebration of persistence under fire, as well as a condemnation not only of otaku sidelining, but of generations’ worth of social pastimes.
And lastly, Madoka Magica posits that it might be good to examine the whys of our myths, and to not be afraid of questioning them, and thereby redefining them on a regular basis.
gendomike: All of the above. :) Not only does it contain the progressive elements that my colleagues have explained so well, it is a shining example of what is possible in anime with a strong writer/director combination. Urobuchi restrained Shinbo’s tendency to visual excess; Shinbo brought his flair for abstraction and off-kilter perspective to Urobuchi’s story. It also demonstrated that anime endings do not have to be abstracted or incoherent (I’m looking at you, Anno). Moe character designs do not always spell weak characterization and plot, or an infantizilation of women. It’s also the series that comes closest to actually using religious and spiritual elements cogently—again, as much as I love Evangelion, unlike what Anno did; he admitted publicly he only added all those crosses because they looked cool and sophisticated.
MLM: I think Wintermuted’s note about Madoka as a window is very insightful. Yes, “Mado” means window, and it reminds me of the Glass Church designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr.
Also, Madoka’s last name, Kaname, means “pivotal point, key point, vital point, axis.” In kanji, her last name is spelled “deer eye (鹿目).” I don’t know why it’s written that way, probably because it sounded the same. I don’t think it was because Gautama Buddha’s first lecture was at Deer Park so Madoka as a buddha was given that name. But, what’s sure is that Madoka is the culmination of all her predecessors: not just Mami and the other magical girls of her generation, but also the historical female figures going back to Jeanne d’Arc, Cleopatra, and even Himiko, the first historically recorded Japanese shaman queen. Yes, we can say that Madoka started the new Axial Age, or the new Jaspers’ Achsenzeit, and so Madoka’s family name “Kaname” means “Axis” in Japanese.
So, I agree with Wintermuted’s view on Madoka’s role as not only the advancer of women but also of her entire generation, and even on a much bigger scale, of humanity. It was a female character that became the pivot for that, which is a great step for humanity: and the one who made that footprint was Madoka, a shōjo, which I think is the most significant of all, since the pivotal figures have been exclusively male: Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus, Muhammad, Socrates, Plato, Lao-tzu, Confucius, etc.
Winter: Precisely. She is “us”. Always on the sidelines, watching, wondering, wishing. The story here is musing on what might or should happen next, that the viewer cannot always live vicariously through others, and must ultimately make a choice.
MLM: When I watched the TV series, I thought the story was predominantly Christian like Evangelion, but probably because I’m Japanese with a Buddhist background, now I’ve come to think that there were also Buddhist elements like Tathagata-garbha thought. Madoka gained enormous power by repeating countless karmic cycles, with her experiences stored in Tathagata-garbha (Buddha-nature) or Alaya-shiki (Eight Senses in Saint Seiya). Her Buddha-nature reached the point to be Buddha, which was Homura’s unintended consequence in repeating time over and over. Then, Madoka becomes Tathagata, so no one can tell if she exists or not, as Gautama Buddha said: “For him who has disappeared there is no form that by which they say he is, exists for him no longer, when all things have been cut off, all kinds of dispute are also cut off.”
So to me, when Kyubey said, “Are you really going to be a god?” I thought “a buddha” would’ve been more accurate. So I find it pretty Buddhist, and I wonder if that’s where Urobuchi got the ideas from. I’d like to ask these questions if we have another chance to interview Urobuchi.
Winter: Well, my background best retains many of the themes and emotions from religious tales. And coming from Catholicism, it was easy to discern the path of the faithful as one fraught with pain, and recurrence. Much like MLM mentioned during the showing, Homura carries with her much of the faith of John the Baptist, creating a path for whom she sees to be humanity’s greatest sacrifice without considering the long term cost. But I also feel like there is enough applicability inherent in the Madoka world that it really speaks like a modern, universal allegory for Japan’s need to find its individual hearts and fight on.
gendomike: It is fascinating to me that Urobuchi was able to find both Christian and Buddhist resonances and have them fit together as seamlessly as they do. This is because, in part, there are some similarities in both the Christian mystical tradition and the Buddhist, but also because the role of Madoka is at once both Christ-like and Buddha-like. Here are some parallels that I found.
- Madoka starts off as an ordinary, privileged person unaware of and shocked by the suffering of the world (Siddhartha Gautama’s earlier life as a prince and his encounter with the old man).
- Homura is caught in a despairing cycle of futility in trying to fight the seemingly inevitable forces of fate (the cycle of karma and reincarnation), which Madoka’s action breaks.
- Madoka literally draws the despair of dying magical girls into herself and gives them a peaceful end, preventing them from becoming demonic (Christ bearing the sins of humanity and defeating the forces of darkness),
- and becomes omnipresent and invisible, promising to be with those who believe in her.
- Homura is thus the first Evangelist, bearing an eyewitness to her saving work and dedicated to continuing her legacy.
- It is the small child, the boy who would otherwise be her brother, who believes and remembers best who Madoka was (“if you do not become like little children, you shall certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven”), and Madoka is at this point only known by faith.
- Madoka even tells Homura that she is going where Homura cannot (“where I am going, you cannot go”) but promises to return one day (the Second Coming).
- Madoka did not begin as a Christ figure, but she ends as one, and also as the One that Homura longs to reunite with (a personal version of the Buddhist idea of Nirvana, or, alternatively, a version of the Beatific Vision).
I’m probably going to be writing the theological analysis of this series that I should have done last year. There’s a whole bunch to say about its view of the body and soul as well as theodicy. Stay tuned. :)
Note: the trailer for the third film, “Rebellion,” was shown after the end of the second film. It is a new story set after the events of the series.
LaMoe: I’m looking forward to it. But I don’t know how they will come up with a new story since the original seemed totally complete, as Madoka herself has already become metaphysical. Maybe by changing the point of view? Much of the story was from Homura’s POV, so probably they will shift it to Mami’s? I don’t think we know much about Mami, about how she made a contract with Kyubey, while Homura, Sayaka, Kyoko, Madoka’s stories are all clear. In Aoi Bungaku, the Kokoro arc had each episode from each character’s POV, and it worked really well. So maybe like that? But hey, Mami is the only one who got large oppai among the magical girls, yes, she is the oldest, senpai, mentor, so as an oppai-seijin (oppai-planetarian), I want to see her arc.
Winter: I’m going to be honest. After such a movie experience, and from the footage we saw, I’m not terribly interested in another feature film. I feel like Urobuchi truly bled himself for all to see with the series, and truly said all that he needed to say. It’s the kind of work that asks for no expansion. For me, the final moments are probably among the best I have ever experienced with an anime television series, and end with enough heartfelt emotion and energy to help me envision a burning stage, while Shinbo and Urobuchi slam the mike, throwing out one last triumphant “peace” sign before leaving. Works beautifully on its own.
Life goes on. The fight always lives. (No further elaboration required.)
gendomike: it appears that the new movie will continue the story from where the ending left off, under the new witch-less set of rules that Madoka’s work made possible. Homura and the other girls will continue fighting wraiths under the new dispensation.
In my opinion, this is a mistake, because it dilutes the power of the original ending. The ending was powerful because Madoka solved that world’s essential spiritual problem: the existence of the universe will no longer depend on the human sacrifice of young girls. Moreover, the ending avoided the usual deus ex machina glibness because Madoka’s work did not completely end evil and suffering; she just transformed it into something more like how things are in our own world. This feels complete as a story. It feels over.
I suppose one could, in Biblical terms, see the third story as being like the Acts of the Apostles and showing how the fight continues even in the new world, but this doesn’t seem as compelling an idea dramawise. It reeks of sequelitis and a desire to continue a profitable franchise beyond artistic reason, and it implies that there was something deficient about the original ending.
MLM: Contrary to what my intellectual friends Gendomike and Wintermuted felt, because of the new Madoka films, I’ve actually come to love Madoka more after watching the films with my beloved Anime Diet otaku fellows and hearing their great insights and points of view. I didn’t really get Madoka at first when I watched the TV series by myself almost a year ago. I had no clue what was going on as a slow learner, but talking to friends and watching it again in a form of film, now I can safely say that I am a huge Madoka fan, though initially it ruined my moe and didn’t leave a good impression, although I thought it was unquestionably a masterpiece. So, in a way, it has strengthened my affection towards Madoka with a more positive attitude, and thus now I’m waiting for the third film to come.
Why do people commit crimes? What makes people “good” to begin with, and are some people just born to be “bad”? The debate is as old as philosophy, religion, and ethics, and Gen Urobuchi—one of the most thoughtful screenwriters in anime today, and who has broached such subjects before in previous series—once again tackles the question in his new anime, Psycho Pass.
Gen Urobuchi needs no introduction and the moment I stepped inside the interview room, I sensed a unique atmosphere filled with the promise of a memorable conversation. Urobuchi-san exudes a professional demeanor where one could easily discern that he takes his job seriously even before he spoke. He often had a thoughtful look.
The Paper: Thank you for allowing Anime Diet the opportunity for this interview. Let’s start with something light. What was the last anime you watched?
Gen Urobuchi: Do you mean one that I have completed or still ongoing?
TP: Good point. Finished please.
GU: Kids On the Slope and Tsuritama, only because they showed them back to back on TV.
TP: You’re known for “darker” stories. What compels you to explore thus? What message are you hoping to convey?
GU: I got into anime during the 80s. Back then, there was no moe. Just about everything was “dark”. I am just trying to bring old sense into new styles.
TP: We heard you had the idea for Madoka for years. Why did it take so long for it to get produced?
GU: It wasn’t intentional. Studio Shaft was already fully booked at the time.
TP: The ending to Madoka has theological undertones. Tell us a little about your own religious philosophy and how it influences or guides your work.
GU: [He looks rather thoughtful] Hmm….As a genre, magical girls is a world view filled with emotions and kindness and happiness. Madoka came about as if emotions are not part of the girls but stood alone by themselves.
TP: There are a lot of aspiring writers. Unfortunately, most of them lead busy lifes…jobs, family, etc. What advice do you have for those with so little time?
GU: It’s not about having the time. It’s up to destiny. Screenwriting doesn’t take a long time. It’s inspiration that takes time. [He touches his temple upon the word inspiration] Time and training won’t give you inspiration. It’s almost luck. Writers are people just like you and me, people from various fields. There is no formula.
[Interpreter finishes translating and I am still busy note-taking when he continues.]
GU: One thing is for sure. If the chance arises and inspiration hits, you must seize it. In fact, having a busy life would lend itself to better writing. Put life experiences towards the writing.
[I am looking at my list of prepared questions and I hesitate because I had one asking about his impression of moe which he touched upon earlier. But I am running out of time so I went with something lighter.]
TP: Do you get much fan mail? What was the most memorable?
GU: It’s not often that I get fan mail. When others mention my work or praise them, I consider those fan mail.
TP: Again, thank you so much.
[He smiles and bows slightly.]
As I am standing to leave, I gesture to my shirt and remark that he’s wearing Rider’s tee. The interpreter translates and he nods rather charmingly in a solemn fashion almost as if it’s his duty to do so.