Now that a couple months have lapsed since I first saw those spoileriffic conclusion to easily the most talked-about anime in 2011, what is there left to say about Madoka?
My own view of the show is not too far from Wah’s, at least on a technical level. [I get the feeling that he "criticizes" it only because he didn't like it, compared to the average Shinbo x SHAFT production (which he is borderline irrationally in love for), so I doused it with the proverbial grain of salt.] If I had to use one word to describe Madoka, it would be inventive. The most inventive thing about Madoka is its visuals. A lot of its sharp and jarring directorial cues and visual tricks were already hallmarks of another best-selling anime, Bakemonogatari. And others. To that end, and especially if you subscribe the view that SHAFT’s anime are like things coming out of an iteratively refining process, an assembly line of adaptations, so to speak, then Madoka is simply the latest and best thing.
In other words, I think what’s really inventive was all the contractors the producers roped into putting Madoka together. SHAFT is a studio that contracts out to some of the rising stars from the scene for their work, to the degree that they could. Madoka isn’t the first time they’ve done it; it’s better to say that they have been doing it for years, and the whole thing is finally coming together. It is a refinement. Still, in essence, Madoka was very much of a 1+1=2 product, in that the end result is the sum of its parts. Great parts, they are; I think people were right to assume that Shinbo x Urobuki x Aoki x Kajiura made a powerful combination, and the hype was well-deserved, if we can still remember the months leading up to Madoka’s debut.
Of course, I think it wouldn’t be fair to just say that Madoka was “just sum of its parts.” For one, great parts don’t always make great anime. It’s safe to say that the Madoka collaboration works because Shinbo is pretty good at this now. The original anime gambit pays off because things went according to plan, earthquakes and tsunami aside. There is evidence that magical girls show can sell if it channels some kind of character-centric pathos. And Urobuchi is pretty much one of the top VN hack dudes at this sort of thing. It’s funny, because compared to “Buchi’s” CV, Madoka is, hands-down, uplifting.
So you get an “uplifting” show with strong character-driven pathos as hook while featuring innovative visuals, hacked into the magical girls framework and expectation. The end result is a best-seller is probably not a big surprise to anyone. Well, it’s kind of a surprise in the sense that it bucks the trend. There are a lot of magical girls anime over the years, and especially the ones that appeals to that mysterious group of people so-called otaku; Madoka bucks that trend. And what makes it so is the something that still made Madoka a little more special, a little more attention-hoarding, than the average otaku anime of the same pedigree.
But that something isn’t something we’ve never seen before. I believe it’s the same thing that sold three seasons of Zetsubo-sensei and Hidamari Sketch, or Bakemonogatari. It’s the reason why Wah loves his little SHAFT thing. It’s also the same thing that I am getting rather weary of. Back in 2008 this something was the bee’s knees, but in 2011 it feels that Madoka was the corner that Shinbo should have turned years ago; instead of Bakemonogatari, we should’ve had something a little more ground-breaking already. In fact, one could even see the original Nanoha series as attempt #1, if we read into the history of magical girls for adults. Were we ready for this kind of stuff back in 2004-2005? We may never know. But to me that is just a sign that we’re years behind where we could have been.
I ask this question because I still remember 2005. I can tell you that something like Madoka is what we needed in 2005, something to punctuate the moe trend during its loudest hour. Because something like Madoka can actually stick, maybe, and by sticking I mean trending. Or alternatively, we just weren’t sufficiently sick and tired of it at the time and we didn’t complain as loudly as we do now. That is besides if Aniplex’s mercenaries can even do something like that, to pull off the troll, to get hype, during the coolest hour of Cool Japan.
Maybe we were not ready; maybe SHAFT still had a lot of kink to smooth out (see: how badly Bakemonogatari was delayed). Maybe the global great recession was at fault. I don’t know. It’s the fresh breath of air that we could’ve used, is all. It’s the thing that ef was (except nobody took it seriously), but now with 100% more star power (Tenmon is better than Kajiura, you heard it here) and not trapped by the weirdest content owners for anime ever. Madoka is great. It just came up a little too short, a little too late. I just hope SHAFTxShinbo and the rest of the industry are going to keep on playing catch-up.
[Homework: Imagine Geneon USA's last license was a show named Madoka instead of Nanoha...]