Earlier today (or tonight depending on timezones), the 12th and final episode of Puella Magi Madoka Magica aired on Japanese television. This isn’t an actual review, just my quick thoughts now that the shows has reached its conclusion. I’ll also try to keep spoilers to a minimum.
There are anime fans and then there are anime critics. Most people start out as fans, at least I did. I watched everything, and liked everything. Anime was still new, fresh, and foreign. Sometime down the road, most people start to change from fan to critic. We start to become aware of anime culture, anime fandom, and the state of the industry. Slowly, our tastes become developed and refined. We are able to recognize the differences between good and bad. No longer the happy-go-lucky newfag, we begin to subconsciously look at a show objectively, critiquing certain portions of a show, recognizing its triumphs as well as its flaws, even going so far as to make an anime blog dedicated to such endeavors (in before I have no life).
Madoka Magica, has been able to do something which no movie, series, anime or whatever, has been able to do for a long time, and that is turn me, for the short time in which it was aired, back into a fan. When the show was first announced back in Fall 2010 and the VA cast and production crew was revealed, I immediately thought to myself that surely the show has the pure star power to succeed. The question was whether or not it would deliver. For the longest time I remained skeptical, even during its broadcast. I have never been a big fan of magical girls, moe, or generally cute girls doing cute things.
When the first episode aired in January, I wasn’t disappointed, yet I wasn’t blown away either. My first impression was that Madoka was an interesting and decent take on the magical girl genre, but nothing special. Then came the third episode, which took much of anime fandom by surprise. It was at this point when I realized, Madoka Magica was something different. Whether it was a slight subversion of traditional mahou shoujo tropes, or was it a full deconstruction of a genre remains up for debate. However, when episode 3 came about, the general consensus was that this show was something else. Even still, I remained pessimistic. Shinbo, Magical Girls, SHAFT, the formula for disaster was waiting to happen. But that’s just the thing…it just kept on getting better and better. Every week, it kept surpassing my expectations.
It took until episode 10, when I just said, screw it, this thing is fucking good. It was at that time when I officially turned from casual anime critic to full-time fan. Madoka Magica isn’t perfect by any means. In fact, the show has its fair share of flaws. But one of the aspects of becoming a “fan” is the ability to forgive such flaws. This is perhaps one of the reasons why I won’t be able to write a review of the show for some time. I’d have to wait for the fan inside of me to eventually get bored and leave while I return to my normal, cynical, critic self.
Regarding the Evangelion debate:
There have been some heated discussion across the internet (although most of it has died down since then). Among the topics of debate is whether or not Madoka Magica has become the Evangelion of this decade. This has drawn much debate from fans and naysayers alike.
Foremost, what does it take to become the next “Evangelion?” What exactly did Evangelion accomplish in terms of changing anime? Originality has its respective genre defining trope makers. Shonen fighters have Fist of the North Star. Shoujo dramas have Rose of Versailles and Revolutionary Girl Utena. Gigantic mechas have Mazinger Z and Tetsujin-28. Space Operas have Yamato and Captain Harlock. Real Robots have Gundam and SDF Macross. Where does Evangelion fit in? Certainly not among those previously listed. Evangelion borrowed heavily from Gundam, Ideon, and Raideen from decades past. Despite what RahXephon and Zegapain haters would say otherwise, Evangelion was certainly not the most influential, that honor goes to Akira. It wasn’t the most popular series in the 90s either, that honor goes to Cowboy Bebop. As far as provocativeness goes, Evangelion is eclipsed by the likes of Ghost in the Shell, Lain, Boogiepop Phantom, and Texhnolyze. Even FLCL does a better job conveying the same message, in 1/4 the time, and twice the amount of awesomeness.
So then what exactly did Evangelion accomplish that hasn’t been done before? The answer is right there in front of us. Evangelion changed the way the audience perceived the anime medium. Never in the history of anime, had there been as much discussion, speculation, and analysis (despite the vast amounts of faux symbolism) over a single show. Perhaps the most important aspect is the fact that after a decade and a half, fandom is still strong and people are still talking. There’s an entire wiki dedicated to Evangelion speculative theory and analysis. Several famous new age directors have even composed their thesis around End of Evangelion. And now the same phenomenon appears to be occurring with Madoka Magica. Is Madoka Magica the next Evangelion? I’ll let you know in approximately ten years.
A word of advice for those who have yet to see Madoka. If the show interests you, I highly recommend watching it sooner rather than later. I believe, Madoka is a lot like Code Geass in the sense that the magic of the show is not knowing what will happen next. Every moment you put it off, is another moment that the internet can potentially spoil it for you.