Up Close With Madoka

You know, plenty of people want to change the world. Most of us won’t ever be given the chance to. But what if one day a small, white, bunny like creature appeared and told you that you could make a wish, and because of your great potential you could wish for almost anything you wanted and it would come true?

Would you end up like the Rat from Juni Taisen who simply wishes to forget everything that has happened so that he could find some peace? Or would you manage to find a wish worth changing everything for?

This is the question Madoka is confronted with early on in Madoka Magica and it isn’t really surprising that it takes her the full series to finally come to a resolution. Madoka is living an ordinary life. She is an ordinary girl. This wasn’t a case of her being reborn in human form or born into a family of magician or anything along those lines. Madoka is painfully ordinary and she is well aware of the fact.

Madoka Magica - Madoka's Family

That said, her family interactions are adorable. She has a career driven mother who still tries to find time to bond with her daughter and to support her through the awkward transition into adulthood sharing small pearls of wisdom while preparing for a day of work/school. The father prepares meals and takes care of the younger brother and again provides that quiet background support within the story. Madoka’s home life is well established and her family feels warm and caring, though also busy with their own concerns. I would have liked to have seen more of hose Madoka’s choices impacted upon her family but realistically in the episode count they had they did a great job with this.

Madoka also has well established friendships with Sayaka Miki and Hitomi. These three are very well grounded and while Hitomi gets sidelined a little from the main action, serving more as a catalyst for Sayaka’s disintegrating mental state, early on it is fun spending time with these characters as they head to school and the like.

Madoka Magica - Sayaka

So from this very ordinary beginning, Madoka is asked to consider making a wish that might very well change the world. It isn’t that she doesn’t want to become a magical girl. It is clear early on she is interested as even the prospect of it has her daydreaming and drawing potential costume designs while at school. She also jumps at the chance to observe Mami in action so that she knows more about what a magical girl is.

The problem Madoka faces is she doesn’t want to waste her one and only wish and yet she doesn’t want anything badly enough to wish for it. Her life is settled and happy. Good family and friends. It makes sense that while she has things she’d like, none of them seem like something that are worth using such a wish for.

Of course, this is where things get ugly, because being a magical girl isn’t all it is cracked up to be and as Madoka witnesses the tragedies of the other magical girls and ultimately the threat to her family and friends from a witch that is really too powerful to be fought, Madoka finally does find her wish.

For a character who is fairly unassuming and comes from such an ordinary background, Madoka really does think this one through and while there are consequences and implications she couldn’t possibly have imagined, her wish really did change the world.

Madoka is a great character. She truly transforms in response to the circumstances around her and ultimately manages to figure out what it is she wants and uses her one and only wish to ensure it happens. Watching the journey as she tries to figure out what is really worth wishing for is truly a rewarding experience and one I absolutely loved.

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Karandi James
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Top 5 Magical Girl Anime

Tuesday's Top 5

Welcome to another top 5 list for Tuesday and this week I am counting down my favourite magical girl anime, mostly inspired by how much I’ve been enjoying Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka (while not perfect, it has been quite fun as a darker magical girl series). I’m not convinced I haven’t already done this but if I did I can’t find it so let’s all just go with this is the first time I’ve put this into a top 5 list. Now magical girl anime and I have a real nostalgia thing going on as some of these were the shows that got me into anime and they really stuck with me. While there are some more recent entries in the list, the nostalgia is strong with this one.

With that in mind, I’d love to know what magical girl anime are your favourites and why. Is it something a bit older that reminds you of your childhood or are you into some of the more recent entries into the genre. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Honourable Mentions: Kamichama Karin

This one is a bit of a weird one, but for whatever reason I kind of got stuck on it a few years ago and I’ve binge watched it a couple of times since. While it doesn’t stand out as much as some of the other entries on this list, it is a fairly functional magical girl show and it is very easy to get caught up in it and lose track of time.

Number 5: Is This A Zombie

It feels weird to give the number 5 spot to a comedy anime about a male zombie character who manages to acquire the power of a magical girl and then undergoes a transformation into a cute pink dress complete with chainsaw. I do love that as his power level rises the frilliness and flowery add-ons on the dress get even more over the top. It is a great jab at some of the impractical magical girl costumes out there. Whichever way, when I think about magical girls, there is literally no way to not think about Ayumu so that is why he got the number 5 spot on the list even though technically he’s a zombie who is borrowing magical girl powers.

Number 4: Madoka Magica

The only ‘dark’ magical girl story that made it onto my list. What can I say? As much as I love horror and dark stories, when I got to watch a magical girl story I kind of go wanting something a little bit more sparkly. Madoka Magica managed to balance its darker subject matter with some really great magical girls, cool powers, and spectacular fight sequences in a way that while it was dark and serious, it still felt like a magical girl story and not a horror that just happened to feature magical girls right before they got slaughtered. I really did enjoy Madoka Magica and it is another anime I regularly binge watch.

Number 3: Cardcaptor Sakura

Despite the heavily edited version of this that I saw originally, complete with a truly terrible English OP, I really did get caught by the plot of Cardcaptor Sakura so when I was older and I could access a translated but less edited version of it, I jumped at the chance to watch this anime again. Syaoran and Sakura are beautiful in the leading roles and I just love how cute and happy this anime is. While Sakura doesn’t include some magical girl tropes, no spinning costume transformations, Sakura actually has to change clothes if she wants to wear one of her friends’ hand-made costumes, it very much captures the spirit of Magical Girl anime and is an excellent started anime if you have kids you want to introduce to something without worrying too much about some of the anime tropes out there.

Number 2: Shugo Chara

Another super adorable, super pink Magical Girl anime. This one grabbed me because of Amu. She’s got such a mismatch between her inner and outer personality and I love how she struggles with figuring out who she is, particularly when she has so many guardian characters with each one presenting a different aspect of who she might be. While the overall plot of this one is a bit harder to take seriously, there are some really excellent character arcs for a lot of the cast and it ends up being a story well worth the effort of investing your time into.

Number 1: Sailor Moon

Did you expect anything else to top this list? I mentioned at the start that this was a nostalgia fuelled list in the first place and Sailor Moon is the starting place for me and anime so of course it was always going to be number 1. Serena and the Sailor Scouts are characters I grew up loving and I don’t think anything is going to change that anytime soon. While Sailor Moon villains might border on the idiotic or ridiculous, the core cast remain full of heart and life and if you want cute costumes and pretty sparkles, Sailor Moon has you covered. Also, some darker moments and real danger which certainly pushed beyond what a lot of ‘girls’ TV shows were doing when it came out.

So that is my list of my favourite magical girl shows. I’d love to know yours.

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Karandi James
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My Pirate Crew

So Lyn Sheridan kicked off this tag and it seems like it could be great fun. You know, other than the fact that I get boat and every-other-mode-of-transport sick I think being a pirate could be great fun. Is there a job for pirates who walk? Anyway, huge thank-you for the tag and let’s see who I’m including in my crew.

The Rules

  1. Display the My Pirate Crew logo and add ‘My Pirate Crew’ as a tag.
  2. Thank the blogger who nominated you and post a link to their blog.
  3. Link back to the original post here (so I can compare your crews to mine).
  4. Select seven anime characters and give them a position on the crew. These are the positions you can to fill. Warrior, sniper, chef, doctor, scientist, navigator, strategist, mechanic, entertainer.
  5. Nominate 5-10 bloggers.
  6. Set sail and rule the seas!

The Crew

Let’s start out with a navigator because I’m going to get hopelessly lost. This may be a weird choice but I’m picking Homura from Madoka Magica. I’m not entirely certain about her map reading ability or even navigation but that’s kind of pointless. She can just go back and fix it if we make a mistake so I’m thinking this is the perfect choice for a navigator.

Homura Akemi Madoka Magica

Next, we’re going to need a chef because food is really important to maintaining morale, and you know, just because food is really good. I’m actually cheating here and I’m going to bring all four of the guys from Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori because food, dessert, tea and coffee are all super important.

The mechanic is perhaps the easiest position to fill. Winry from Full Metal Alchemist. Seriously, why wouldn’t you pick her? If Kaylee from Firefly were an anime character I’d have picked her but she’s about the only person I’d pick over Winry.

Winry Rockbell Full Metal Alchemist

Right, so warrior, because I probably need someone who can fight in this crew if I’m actually putting together a pirate crew. There are many incredibly strong fighters in anime but then I had to think about who I’d actually like to spend time with in close quarters and I ended up deciding Hei from Darker Than Black. He doesn’t talk all that much but he’s pretty proficient and I’m certain that electricity and water couldn’t possibly be a terrible mix.

Strategist is again and easy one to pick. Admittedly, she didn’t do so well out of her strategist in Katanagatari but things worked out for everyone else so I’m definitely picking the self-proclaimed strategist Togame. While I’m not entirely sure that her motives and mine will align, I’m certain that she’ll lead us to some interesting pursuits.

Katanagatari - Strategist Togame

For the doctor, much like my navigator, I’m not so worried about them getting it right. I’m picking Orihime from Bleach and she can just reject the damage and reverse it back to before it was. It’s a neat trick and works on all injuries. Not so sure whether its effective on things like catching a cold but I’m thinking given she’ll bring you back from being pretty much dead she’s definitely worth having around.

Bleach Orihime

Finally, entertainer, because everyone needs entertainment. I’m definitely hiring the duo of Yuri and Victor from Yuri on Ice (and please don’t point out the lack of reality of having an ice-skating rink on a pirate boat). You know what, we’re going there and if worst comes to worst they can just get drunk and have a dance off.

Yuri on Ice Episode 8

And that would be my highly dysfunctional crew. I’m sure we’d have fun. Or sink. Either way.

The Nominees

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Three Big Lies We Tell Ourselves in the Face of Love

Bloom Into You is full of characters who tell themselves lies – but are these lies we tell ourselves?

Watching Bloom Into You, despite finding Yuu’s struggle to reconcile her rational mind and her feelings fascinating and beautifully nuanced in the way it is presented, really makes me frustrated. I’m watching a character who is clearly genuinely in love with another, who has opportunity after opportunity to act on her emotions with few genuine obstacles, and yet time and time again, she creates a barrier between herself and the object of her affection.

Bloom Into You Episode 5

It almost makes me wonder how they’ll play it at the end. If the end up together, Nanami probably deserved better than being strung along by Yuu for so long before Yuu finally accepted what was true from nearly the beginning. If they don’t end up together, than Nanami will be Yuu’s one-who-got-away and she’ll have nobody to blame but herself and her own self-deception and indecision. Either way, while it might seem sweet and it certainly keeps the story moving, the reality is that if this romance were not a fictional construct, this would be a really bad place for the characters to be in.

While it might seem fine to see it as only a work of fiction and to dismiss these characters as exaggerated for affect, these characters, like many others in anime, really do seem to echo their creators and when it comes to love, you have to admit, people do some pretty silly things.

Bloom Into You Episode 3

So Yuu represents the first big lie that people tell themselves. It isn’t love. Yuu is hardly the first anime character to convince herself that what she is feeling isn’t love. She joins a long list of anime characters who insist that they just like the other person, or worse, that they are just playing around. For Yuu, she’s convinced herself that she admires Nanami for all of her outstanding qualities, but that is normal. It isn’t love.

We see a more extreme case of this in Ririchiyo Shirakin who not only doesn’t really she is feeling love (or at least strong like) but manages to self diagnose herself with potential arrhythmia. Now, I’ll admit that most people are at least aware enough of their own emotions to understand that they aren’t genuinely feeling ill when they get that tightness in their chest or their heart goes doki-doki, but Ririchiyo is a fairly special case in terms of being unaware of how to deal with emotions.

And when we ask why do characters do this and make statements about how dumb it is and why can’t they just be honest… You start to think why don’t people in real life. Why aren’t people honest about how they feel?

Which actually brings us to the second great lie that people tell themselves. I’m fine the way things are. This one is illustrated through Sayaka in Bloom Into You. As Nanami’s friend she wants more but for various reasons has decided that she’s fine with things the way they are. She isn’t honest at all about what she wants from Nanami but still feels jealous when she sees how close Nanami is getting to Yuu.

Bloom Into You Episode 6 Sayaka

So why wasn’t Sayaka just honest about how she felt? 

Because, like most sensible people, she was afraid of losing what she had. It wasn’t so much that she was fine with things, but more the loss of what she had was more than she was willing to gamble. If she’d thought she’d had a sure chance, she might have made a move, but there’s no certainty in love. And with Sayaka’s background, can you blame her? Dumped by her former senpai who then made her feel twisted and wrong about her sexual preferences, Sayaka isn’t exactly wanting to dive head first into another relationship. She’s got plenty of reason to doubt and more than enough reason to try to hold onto what she has.

But, Sayaka isn’t alone in this. In fact, she shares this trait not only with many anime characters and people, but she also shares this trait with another Sayaka. Sayaka Miki from Madoka Magica who uses her one wish to save the one she loves and allow him to play his violin again but in all the time he was hospitalised, despite visiting him, talking with him, being with him, Sayaka never once confesses how she feels. And then her friend announces that she’s going to confess and Sayaka is left in an absolute state of turmoil which more or less leads to her downfall. 

So could Sayaka Miki have confessed? Was she fine the way things were? It is kind of too late to know but these characters represent the very real fear people feel about being open and honest with their feelings and the very real potential downside of holding off too long.

Bloom Into You Episode 1

Finally, Nanami gives us the third type of lie people tell themselves in the face of love. Even if you don’t love me back, I’m fine just loving you. One sided, unrequited love makes for excellent story fodder but the reality of it is pretty crushing over time. No matter how generous a person is, pouring love and affection toward another and receiving nothing back is exhausting and for most not something that can be sustained (most, not all). Nanami tells Yuu it is fine if she doesn’t fall in love. Later she tells Yuu not to fall in love with her. Yet despite that, Nanami keeps pushing the relationship forward wanting more and more from Yuu.

No matter what Nanami says her actions speak louder than her words. Her request of Yuu at the sports carnival, that Yuu initiate a kiss, speaks volumes. Nanami wants Yuu to reciprocate. She doesn’t want to be holding up a one sided affection. While she rationalises and says that she’s fine just being in love, ultimately what she wants is more than that.

Looking at another anime character, Linda from Golden Time tries very hard to wish Banri the best. She loved him but because of his accident he forgot her and she left to let him move on with his life. Reunited, she tells herself that she honestly wants Banri to have the life he chooses but deep inside it is killing her to see the boy she loved not know who she is and with Koko. Admittedly, the amnesia aspect of that makes it somewhat less relatable to the average viewer, but it is still an interesting love story.

Bloom Into You is a beautiful anime. The direction, the music, the characters are all beautifully put together. But where it gets a lift beyond just being another pretty anime about high school love is in its exploration of people in love and the lies they tell themselves. This is what makes this story and the characters compelling and brings us back week after week. That and it is just really pretty.

Bloom Into You Episode 6 Nanami and Yuu

Well, if you made it to the end of this ramble, I’d love to know your thoughts on love in Bloom Into You or in anime in general.

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Karandi James
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Friday’s Feature: Make A Wish, But Will That Help The Story?

It is a fairly common moment in stories where a character wishes for strength or power or to undo something terrible that has happened or even wishes to save a friend. While the vast majority of these wishes will go unanswered leading to some kind of tragic moment the character must overcome through non-magical means, occasionally a character will be granted their wish. But does this lead to a satisfying story for the audience?

The answer to that really depends on how the wish is framed within the narrative and the results of the wish. For example, a story like Aladdin kind of requires a few wishes to be granted. Without the genie and magical wishes you kind of don’t have a story at all. Then again, it can also be used as the cheat card, particularly in Christmas movies. The plot ties itself into ridiculous knots and then a character usually looks up at a star and makes a wish squeezing their hands together earnestly before a miracle happens and somehow everything works out okay. While this might make for a feel good scenario it also kind of makes all the effort or attempts by any of the characters to resolve the situation prior to the wish feel mostly futile.

Today I want to look at some examples of anime that deal with wishes and the different ways they are used. Yes, this post was definitely inspired by the final episode of Juni Taisen and yes, there will be spoilers for the anime below so if you are concerned, thanks for reading this far and please check out some of my other posts.

I’m going to start with the easy one, xxxHolic. This one is easy because it plays on one of the most common tropes of being careful what you wish for and the idea that nothing comes for free. While this theme is heavily embedded in all of its stories, the super obvious one with the story of the Monkey’s Paw. Now you’ve probably heard this story before because it does the rounds as an urban myth and has been used in almost every collection of strange tales ever but essentially a character finds a tube containing a monkey’s paw and it gives them five wishes, one for each finger that of course break with an ominous snap after each wish.

xxxHolic8b.jpg

Which would be all well and good except that the wish maker in this case, and in most cases with this style of story, makes wishes for selfish reasons and doesn’t really think through the consequences of their wishes. Ultimately their wishes lead to the death of another and finally they are killed.

xxxHolic8a

Much like Aladdin, the story here wouldn’t exist without the wishes coming true, albeit in a horrible manner in this case. It isn’t a cheat to solve a plot problem, but rather it is the problem or the source of conflict that will ultimately drive the story. So while you might accuse this of being cliché, it fundamentally works as a narrative.

On the opposite side of this, we have a story like Ah! My Goddess that also starts from a wish, only in that case the wish is granted without tricks or traps. It still does have the pitfall of poor wording and not quite thinking through consequences even if ultimately things work out.

Goddess.jpg

For those unfamiliar with the story, Keiichi is down on his luck and kind of a doormat but has a real love for working with mechanical objects. When left to look after the dorm one day he receives a phone call from a Goddess who claims she will grant his wish before she appears through the mirror in his room. After his initial skepticism is met with upbeat and positive answers, Keiichi makes a fairly rash wish that a goddess, like the one before him, would stay with him. And just like that heaven grants his wish and Belldandy, the Goddess, is now going to stay with him.

It isn’t all smooth sailing as Keiichi is thrown out of the dorm and they at first struggle to find a place to stay. Other goddesses and even a demon show up and at times really cause issues for Keiichi. At one point, due to a computer error in heaven, the wish is lost and Keiichi needs to use the exact wording to remake the contract with Belldandy but can’t remember what he said on the spur of the moment.

Goddess2

The point however is, that once again, the wish is what kicks the story into gear. There’s no other reason for a goddess to be bound on earth and living with this ordinary guy and so none of the story that follows could happen without the wish. What I do like about Ah! My Goddess is that even though Belldandy and the other goddesses do have some significant power, there are some incredible restrictions on the use of that power on earth. Many issues come up during the story and for the most part when they are mortal issues they are dealt with through mortal means with magical solutions being reserved for more magical problems.

So despite the wish itself not having strings attached or some moral message about not making wishes, this story looks at the aftermath and how just having a wish granted isn’t enough to solve all your problems as new problems will continue to arise and it is only by facing them one by one that progress can be made. The wish is again fundamental to the operation of the story and the themes being constructed.

But what both of these stories have in common is that they uses wishes as a catalyst for the story. What about anime where the wish comes later in the series and we have two very good examples of this in Madoka Magica and in Juni Taisen.

Starting with Madoka Magica, making a wish is what makes the contract with Kyubey to become a magical girl. If you don’t make a wish you can’t become a magical girl and Madoka, our title character, can’t decide on her wish. More importantly, the longer she delays making her wish, the more she learns about the consequences of wishes and of being a magical girl.

madoka

Sayaka, Madoka’s friend, jumps in early at making a wish and uses it to heal a friend who has been in hospital. She clearly has deeper feelings for her while he sees her as just a friend, but she uses her wish on him and becomes a magical girl. Because of the nature of her wish, Sayaka has incredible self-healing power but is otherwise fairly inexperienced as a magical girl.

Sayaka.jpg

Imagine her surprise then when the boy she literally gave her soul to bring happiness to ends up accepting a confession from another friend. Emotionally unbalanced, she swiftly descends and falls from being a magical girl to become a witch.

Much like xxxHolic, there’s a lot of warnings about being careful of wishing for things and realising that nothing is truly free. However, Madoka’s wish doesn’t come until the very end. When things are at their worst and we know Madoka can make the most powerful wish ever which in turn will lead her to become the worst witch ever, and you have to wonder how the writers are going to pull out of this loop they’ve written themselves into. And then Madoka literally breaks the world with her wish.

Madoka.jpg

If this had been done poorly it would feel as much a cheat as a Christmas miracle but Madoka’s wish has some great writing backing it up. We already knew that Madoka’s potential was beyond any other magical girl and the audience knew she could make a truly amazing wish. We also knew the fundamentals of how the magical girl/witch system worked at that point and so Madoka wanting to save magical girls from becoming witches would of course require the entire system to be rewritten. The wish also didn’t come without a price. Madoka saved the girls from becoming witches but didn’t save them from dying and she also didn’t save herself as she isn’t in the new world that has been created.

Foreshadowing coupled with a decent price levied for the wish that was made ensured this didn’t feel like a cheap plot device designed only to bring the show to an end on a high note. It felt like everything had led the audience and Madoka to that moment and it was the perfect solution to the complications presented by the story.

And that then brings us to Juni Taisen (big spoiler ahead if you haven’t watched and don’t know who won).

Now, there are all sorts of issues with Juni Taisen in the way it executed its story, but the story itself does work. 12 warriors come together every 12 years to fight a battle royal and the winner gets a wish. It is simple and could have worked quite spectacularly. While I’m not going to get into what I felt when wrong with Juni Taisen here (I’ll save that for my actual review) I do want to look at the wish aspect of the story.

Juni12b

Very much like Madoka, Rat can’t decide what to wish for. He’s been given (or earned through the battle) a wish and the audience is told he can literally wish for anything. The mechanics of how or why someone else can grant any wish (including apparently resurrection) is something the show isn’t interested in getting into so unlike Madoka we never really know why such a wish can be granted. And so Rat begins to go through 100 options for his wish and for each idea he comes up with he sees an obvious down side or consequence and quickly dismisses the idea.

It is kind of the opposite of all those other stories where characters make rash wishes without thinking through the consequences, and was almost novel enough as an idea to work. All these characters competing for a wish and the one who wins it doesn’t know what to do with it.

Juni-Rat

Ultimately, Rat’s decision didn’t sit well with a lot of viewers. He wished to forget. Forget the tournament and the deaths and the 100 paths he had to take to find victory. For some this wish seemed horrible given it essentially wasted an unlimited wish and for some viewers it seemed like it invalidated the deaths of the other warriors.

I actually really liked Rat’s wish as I kind of felt it fit the show thematically in that so much of everything was pointless and unexplained and none of it was going to bring happiness or contentment to a traumatized teen who had just experienced his own death 99 times. It was one of the few moments where I kind of felt a grudging respect for a choice the story had made.

However, like or not, does Rat’s wish work within the narrative?

I’d have to say it probably doesn’t work as well as a conclusion as Madoka’s wish did. With Madoka, we have spent a whole season with her as a character and seeing her learn about the consequences of making a wish and what it will cost and learning who she is as a person. With Rat we have two episodes really where we learn very little about him other than he has a general apathy toward life before he makes his wish. Also, while the wish at the end of the tournament is announced early on, the audience is never made aware of the mechanics of the wish or how it fits into the world being constructed.

So, yes Rat’s wish does end the story and the tournament in a way that we were told the tournament would end with a character getting a wish. But, it doesn’t leave the audience feeling satisfied with the overall story. The wish doesn’t address what the story was about but simply gives some closure to a character we’ve had insufficient screen time with to really care about whether they get closure. Of course, it probably isn’t the wish’s fault that the ending feels lacking and probably more a sign of deeper issues with the anime as a whole.

And this post got a lot longer than intended so I’m going to leave it there. Four examples of anime that all use wishes and for the most part integrate the wishes well into their overall narrative structure. What are some of your favourite examples of wishes in anime? Or do you find wishes a narrative cheat that you could do without? Let me know in the comments below.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica Series Review: Make a Wish, Pay the Price

Overview:

I’ve really touched on Madoka before when I wrote a feature regarding the Strange Case of Madoka Magica but I’ve not yet written an actual series review so I figured it was about time.

For those that don’t know, Madoka Magica is about Madoka who is approached one day by Kyubey and offered the power to become a magical girl so she can fight witches and all she has to do is make a wish. If that sounds too good to be true, then you have probably been paying attention. Madoka, unlike so many magical girls before her, takes her time to find out what being a magical girl means and to think about her wish before she decides to seal this contract. In the meantime, the other magical girls continue to fight against the witches and aren’t always coming out on top.

Review:

My feature that I wrote about this show already touched on my thoughts of people calling Madoka a subversive magical girl story. From my view Madoka is simply an origin story extended beyond the first episode for once and giving an outsiders view of what being a magical girl is like rather than subversive (mostly because our protagonist isn’t a magical girl for a large part of the series). So I won’t be rehashing that argument here and will instead just give my thoughts on this series as it stands rather than trying to classify its genre and purpose.

4-4753-18205-ggpuellamagimadokamagica010557c1c6mkvsnapshot220120110114173745jpg-620x

The first thing that drew me into Madoka Magica was the art style used, particularly for the witches. While I get it isn’t appealing to everyone (and having heard it described as an eye-sore or headache inducing by some critics) I find the visuals of this anime to be fascinating. Not beautiful because that isn’t really the right word for as many times the world depicted here is ugly and unsettling (intentionally so) and even the ‘normal’ world of Madoka is too clean and shiny, too orderly to really be considered beautiful. But it is the jarring contrast between the bathroom where Madoka and her mother prepare for their day and the sterile classroom environment to the realm the witches inhabit with their chaotic, cluttered and disorderly (somewhat nonsensical) appearances that really captured my interest in what was a somewhat mundane opening couple of episodes.

meguca_puella_magi_madoka_magica_-_01_bdh264-1080p_flac462e256b-mkv_snapshot_05-13_2014-05-08_16-01-43

Sure the music is pulsating during the dream sequence opening and trying to ramp up tension, but you haven’t enough knowledge of the characters to really care about them at this stage and this sequence is more affective toward the end of the series once you know who these characters are and how they came into this situation. Madoka is also playing all the nice girl and unassuming protagonist tropes that she can in these early stages but mostly comes out feeling a little bland. So it is the visuals that really caught me and kept me watching the show.

Which is a good thing. Because by the end of the series, the characters have had time to win you over and even if you don’t agree with individual character choices or actions, you learn to understand what each girl is actually seeking and why they might have made the choice they did. You also fully realise the complete hopelessness of the situation all these characters find themselves in. That feeling of hopelessness is also accompanied by feeling helpless because in my case I couldn’t even bring myself to hate Kyubey for putting the girls into the situation.

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Kyubey gets called evil a lot online and certainly he is the catalyst for all the woes faced by the girls however, his motives are never malicious. We interpret malice because of his emotionless demeanor and matter of fact attitude to the horror, but he actually doesn’t cause any of it. Kyubey has a clear job of collecting energy and the magical girl system is how that is done. He finds girls who have potential (more potential equals more energy so his targets make sense) and he offers them a choice. And that is important. It is always a choice. Perhaps his method is coercive at times particularly when he offers a wish to a girl on the edge of dying or the like, but ultimately the girl chooses and makes the wish she wants. The one thing you might claim malice for is that Kyubey doesn’t explain exactly what the transformation to magical girl entails or what the end result is. Of course, the girls aren’t exactly demanding answers to those questions and you would think at least one of them would ask.

Madoka

Madoka Magica is a series that at the time felt fairly unique. It took all the sweetness and light of a magical girl story and turned it on its head, not just to say ‘hey we can do dark’ but to really explore the characters and how they would react when pushed to their limits and the choices they would make when they found themselves cornered. It ultimately was a deeply satisfying watch though probably one that won’t be as good now as it was when it was released. A lot of what made Madoka truly feel unique has since been cloned a number of times so now it will just be one of many such shows (though arguably the execution is Madoka is pretty solid and that may help it still stand above the crowd).

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I really enjoyed this series and fully recommend at least watching once to most anime fans even if it isn’t your usual kind of genre. The influence of the series is unmistakable and it is a fairly decent narrative in its own right. With interesting visuals, good character relationships and development, and a story that isn’t totally eye-opening but still manages a few surprises, Madoka is well worth the time it takes to watch.

Don’t ask me about the movies, I haven’t seen them.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Uses of Dream Sequences in Anime

Tuesday's Top 5

Previously I looked at the best uses of phones in anime and this week I’ve decided to turn my attention to dream sequences. My criteria wasn’t that these were the best dreams but the best use of a dream sequence to serve either the character development or the plot. This is strictly my opinion so as always, I’d love to know what would be on your list.

Please Note – There are spoilers below.

Honourable mentions to Ouran High School Host Club and Card Captor Sakura.

Number 5: Madoka Magica

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Madoka Magica uses dreams in a similar fashion to a lot of magical girl stories. Our main protagonist starts by having a dream of fantastical and terrible events before waking in the mundane real world where she is decidely ordinary. However, what sets this particular story apart is the nature of the dream itself. Madoka is seeing alternate realities where she has lived through the events to their conclusion before Homura has rewound time start over to try to change the outcome. This makes the events of the dream fairly significant to understanding the eventual outcome of the story and gives it a bit more weight on rewatching than just a cool battle sequence to start events off.

Number 4: Another

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This one is as straight forward as it comes and yet very affective. Kouichi has started to get to know Mei and as a result has been ostracised by his friends (okay is being deliberately and entirely ignored). It makes sense that he is starting to have fantasies and dreams about the one person who is talking to him still. However, other than showing that the two are forging a bond, this dream sequence also gives the audience a space to take a breath. Another is continuously hitting its audience with a dark and gloomy atmosphere with each scene dripping in over the top seriousness, so this brief moment of respite, even though it is a dream, is welcome and also the calm before the horror that follows. All and all, it works well within the narrative.

Number 3: One Punch Man

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I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the biggest fan of One Punch Man but I did appreciate what they did in the dream sequence where we see Saitama energised and enthused in a way we rarely see him reality. What does a man who can defeat everything in One Punch actually want? Clearly, he wants a decent fight. Seeing his character quite literally come to life in the dream made the contrast with his everyday incredibly flat emotional state so incredibly clear and just made him a much better character because you could see he wasn’t bored and disinterested by choice. He genuinely wanted to feel alive. There just wasn’t anything left to challenge him.

Number 2: Sailor Moon

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Like Madoka, Sailor Moon also begins with a dream sequence where Serena dreams of the destruction of the Moon Kingdom as well as the guy she thinks she’s going to fall in love with. However, revealing their past lives isn’t the only thing dreams are used for throughout Sailor Moon. Villains attack characters through their dreams, the dead communicate with the living, future selves send dire warnings, and prophecies for the future all come through dreams. Then again, the entire show is about protecting the dreams of people so it makes sense that the idea of dreams is returned to again and again. Overall, remove the dreams from Sailor Moon and you wouldn’t have much of a show left.

Number 1: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

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The climax of season 1 (broadcast order) sees Kyon and Haruhi stuck in a closed space she created where the two characters get to spend some quality time together and may or may not reveal some fairly interesting points about their developing relationship. However, what I like about the sequence is that after it is over Kyon wakes up from a dream but the next day at school Haruhi has her hair up in a pony tail (a direct reference to something Kyon had said in the ‘dream’). They never actually confirm whether this is a dream or an actual alternate reality that was created and nothing more actually needs to be said. Whether it was a dream or a reality, the impact on the characters has been clearly established without further explanations. Also, when you place this story in the appropriate place from a chronological point of view it makes Kyon’s actions and acceptance of some of Haruhi’s worse moments a bit more believable even if the guy is still a little bit of a doormat who really needs to tell her to stop a lot sooner.

So that is my list of top 5 uses of dream sequences. I’d love to know your favourite anime dream sequences so be sure to leave me a comment below.


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