Seeing the Darkness of Madoka Magica

Ever since episode 1 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, many bloggers have been making confident statements about how the show looks to be a dark subversion of the magical girl anime. While that is certainly accurate on some level, it seems to be the case that a lot of people don’t quite understand how exactly Madoka Magica is a subversion, simply because they don’t understand the subject itself. In other words, a good number of people writing about Madoka Magica don’t actually know the magical girl genre, despite the broad statements being made. Thus, I am going to address at least a few misconceptions.

Misconception #1: Magical Girl Anime Are About Good vs. Evil

Correction: Magical girl anime are about “before” vs. “after.”

While there are some shows which pit our heroine(s) against a dark force, the vast majority of magical girl anime and manga do not even factor in the good/evil dichotomy. Instead, they will focus on how the magic changes their own lives or how it changes the lives of those around them. Those shows which do have a good deal of fighting often have it in service to something else; in those instances, it’s generally more about protecting others than it is vanquishing villains. So when someone says that Madoka Magica is different because it doesn’t have “Good vs Evil,” they are basically incorrect in the sense that magical girl shows were never really about good and evil in the first place.

Misconception #2: Magical Girl Anime Say, “You Don’t Have to Change a Thing!”

Correction: Magical girl anime say, “the magic isn’t as important as who you are!”

Yes, the “Be Yourself!” message is fairly common in magical girl shows, but there’s a distinct difference between this statement and the misconception. One implies a static existence, while the other points to an active one. The self-improvement thus happens with the help of magical powers, but it is usually the catalyst for change, with the real reason coming from within.

Misconception #3: Sailor Moon/Nanoha is a Typical Magical Girl Show

Correction: Sailor Moon is more of a typical fighting magical girl anime and Nanoha is an atypical fighting magical girl anime, while a typical magical girl anime is more along the lines of Ultra Maniac or Fushigiboshi no Futagohime.

This ties in directly with misconception number 1 and it’s fairly understandable why people make this mistake. Sailor Moon is a very significant show in the magical girl genre, and for many anime fans the very first mahou shoujo anime they ever watched (myself included), but it wasn’t really typical for its time. Certainly it has had its influence on later series, probably most notably Pretty Cure, but Sailor Moon combined the magical girl anime with the team dynamic popular in live action tokusatsu and to a lesser extent giant robot anime, and used that as a platform to deliver action-packed fights, but don’t confuse what Sailor Moon added to the genre with what the genre is fundamentally about.

Similarly, Nanoha is a show made for otaku, taking the magical girl formula and targeting it directly towards an older male audience–much like Madoka Magica itself–but it draws a lot from Sunrise action and mecha shows and adds a cup of moe. It’s also understandable why this might be an anime fan’s main exposure to magical girls, as fans who might have avoided the genre as a whole may have been pulled in by what Nanoha did differently, but that is the Nanoha formula, not the magical girl one.

“So what exactly is Madoka Magica subverting, then?”

To understand the answer to this question, we have to know the basic theme of the magical girl anime, which is how magic can make your wishes come true, or let you do things you couldn’t before. This can be portrayed by having a character, generally a normal girl, come across their magical abilities, or it can directly target the audience (which it generally assumes to be young girls) and have a girl who already has magical powers from the start. Either way, a magical girl show typically says, “Wouldn’t it be great to be a magical girl?” You can see this in pretty much every magical girl show aimed at girls, be it Cardcaptor Sakura, Majokko Megu-chan, Shugo Chara, Minky Momo, Ojamajo Doremi, and yes, even Sailor Moon. If the show is geared more towards male otaku, then the theme might turn into “Wouldn’t it be great to know a magical girl?” but the opportunity magic gives you to change/better your life is the crux of it all.

On some level magical girl anime are about the exploration wish fulfillment, and when you keep that in mind the true nature “dark” element of Madoka Magica becomes clearer. The dreary aesthetic of the witch realms, the violence, and the ambiguous morality in the characters play a role, but the most important point to consider is how the magical mascot Kyubey offers the chance to make your wish come true at the “price” of becoming a magical girl. The fact that the wish-granting comes with some sort of unknown, unquantified, and unqualified cost is where the direct subversion is strongest.

“How much are you willing to sacrifice to make your wish come true?”

Shugo Chara Party! is a Kids’ Show

You’re probably looking at the title and asking why in the world would Ogiue Maniax be making such an obvious, brain-dead statement. Shugo Chara! was a kids’ show. Shugo Chara!! Doki was a kids’ show. What’s the fuss? Let me clear up something though. While the first two Shugo Chara anime were kids’ shows, Shugo Chara Party! is a KIDS’ SHOW.

The format of Shugo Chara Party! consists of 1/3 live actors introducing the show, 1/3 flash animation starring the Shugo Chara who proceed to engage in hijinks, and 1/3 actual anime episode. This is important to keep in mind.

While shoujo has traditionally been designed to target young girls primarily, there has been for many decades now a desire to implement a degree of storytelling sophistication. This is how the world got works such as Candy Candy and Onii-sama e, and mahou shoujo ends up being no exception. This sophistication is also what manages to draw in additional audiences outside of young girls to magical girls, be it older women, teenage boys, or adult salarymen, and while the manga for Shugo Chara! is running in Nakayoshi, very much a shoujo magazine, it is also written by Peach Pit, manga creators who know a thing or two about appealing to non-female audiences through seemingly feminine stories (Rozen Maiden).

The first Shugo Chara anime is regarded by fans as a very good show (and I would agree), with each sequel being regarded as inferior to the series that came before it. You may have seen back when the second series Doki was airing that people complained about it being significantly worse. They cited the large amounts of filler and lower-quality animation as evidence of the decline, and to some extent that is true, but what the fans of Shugo Chara were truly feeling was actually the sting of them being removed as a relevant demographic. In an old post, I talked about how the characters in Doki tended to talk directly at the audience in a manner reminiscent of Dora the Explorer, and with Party!, it is clearer than ever before that Shugo Chara is being turned into the type of show that kids enjoy at the expense of keeping older viewers and fans of the manga entertained.

Look at Shugo Chara Party! and compare it not so much with shows such as Pretty Cure or even the original Shugo Chara!, but rather Thomas the Tank Engine or Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. You have live actors talking to you the audience, asking you questions about how you’re feeling. The characters in the animated portions do the same. And while Mr. Rogers can certainly be enjoyable to watch as an adult in its own way, it’s always obvious that 20 year olds are not the target audience here.

In fact, the similarities between Mr. Rogers and Hinamori Amu really come to light when you consider the following famous saying by Fred Rogers.

You’ve made this day a special day
By just your being you
There’s no one in the whole world like you
And I like you just the way you are

Shugo Chara Doki, for the Most Shou of Jo

If there’s one big difference between Shugo Chara and Shugo Chara Doki, I think it’s that Doki is targeting an even younger age group than previous. With Shugo Chara Doki, there’s this tendency to directly address the audience and present things front-and-center. It’s less Raphael-from-TMNT-nudging-and-winking-at-the-audience and more of a Blue’s Clues/Elmo-style 4th-wall break designed to get young viewers involved.

I have to wonder if Satelight and everyone in charge of the anime are trying to draw it away from the otaku popularity it has garnered (check out Hinamori Amu’s high placing in Anime Saimoe 2008), and move it towards the intended Clock Show audience. Or maybe they already know that the otaku already dig it and thus they can concentrate on shoring up the younger side of the fanbase.

Of course, some will point out that Shugo Chara Doki is pretty much “filler” to the manga and will cite it as the primary reason the show seems so different. And while the show does seem incredibly episodic, I really do think the main cause of the show’s style changing ever-so-slightly is a desire to draw in younger viewers.

Mixed with the more elaborate transformation sequences and an Open Heart with recoil, Shugo Chara Doki beocmes a sort of Futari Wa Dora the Cool and Spicy Explorer.

Kagami Claims Saimoe Supremacy

Hiiragi Kagami, alias HIIRAGIIIII, has emerged as the winner of 2008’s Anime Saimoe tournament. All the more impressive was that her victory was over her own sister Tsukasa, in what is sure to remembered as a fierce battle where blood was not thicker than moe.

Kagami’s status as the Moest means a few things. Remember that neither Kagami nor anyone else from Lucky Star took the title last year. Generally after the first year if your show is truly just a flash in the pan you don’t get much further, but here we see the Lucky Star cast drive down harder than ever. So Lucky Star may not be the most enduring show ever, but it’s not as ethereal as some might hope.

Also of note are the high placements of Kawazoe Tamaki (Bamboo Blade), who made Top 8, and Hinamori Amu (Shugo Chara!) who was a force so powerful she had to be stopped by the tournament winner Kagami.

I know a lot of people who might have liked to vote couldn’t due to some of the intentional barriers put in place, but I hear there’s an (arguably!) more important vote coming up in the near future…

Hopefully the start of a good trend in fansubbing

I was spending many hours minutes seconds preparing yesterday’s post (which believes in cool and spicy and is therefore power), using chibi fansubs’ release of episode 1 of Shugo Chara doki. I got to that point in the opening and decided to take a screencap of Amu doing the monkey, but then I panicked.

“This is a softsub mkv, but I probably won’t be able to get a good shot free of karaoke,” I thought. After all, many fansub groups despite switching to softsubs still hardsub their karaoke directly into the file. “I’ll have to download the raw.”

On a whim, I decided to just try to turn off fansubs, and lo and behold the karaoke actually disappeared! Amazing!

Why is this amazing?! This should be standard!

Please, let this be sign that the disease known as Karaoke Effects is dying, or at least mitigated by being able to remove them at the viewer’s own volition.

Shugo Chara Doki, brought to you by Tomino Yoshiyuki, Tanaka Kouhei, and Fukuyuma Yoshiki





More Than Enough: Otakon 2008

I went to Otakon with one purpose in mind: to go see JAM Project. Everything else on my priorities list could be postponed or sacrificed as long as I would be able to not turn away, and not show my tears, because I have the power of love to take back tomorrow. I am glad to say that not only did I see JAM Project, but the overall experience of Otakon 2008 has made it one of the best times o my life. It’s a culmination of various parts of a long weekend which turned out to be all too short.

I arrived Thursday afternoon by train along with a number of friends who I’ve known for some varying numbers of years. The first pleasant surprise was the hotel itself. We had taken two rooms in the Radisson, and found the rooms to be spacious, far more spacious than the place we stayed at last year. This was very fortunate, as it meant sleep would be comfortable and not the hassle it usually is at a con. We were later joined by kransom and astrange of welcome datacomp, two happening guys, one of whom is currently on a plane to Japan.

Actually, scratch that. My first pleasant surprise was on the train watching episodes of Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san. I can’t believe how good that show is.

Thursday night was spent sitting back and playing Smash Bros Brawl with friends in the hotel room. The character choices among everyone were quite diverse, and this became a mainstay of practically every day we were there. As is always the case, Smash is simply a great way to unwind during conventions. kransom also showed me a copy of Patrick Macias‘ new book, Otaku in USA. The book is in Japanese, but it doesn’t seem to be a difficult read so I may pick it up at some point.

Friday morning, I went to the dealer’s room. While browsing DVDs, a dealer asked me what I was looking for, to which I responded, “Something for JAM Project to sign.” Luckily, a female dealer standing nearby pointed me out to a Gravion + Gravion Zwei combined thinpack that she was selling. She mentioned to me that the only reason she was here in the dealer’s room was so that she could be at Otakon to see JAM Project. To the kind woman who helped me out, I thank you, whoever you are. Other than that, I also accomplished another major objective that day.

(I also got an Eureka Seven poster.)

My first sighting of JAM Project was at the opening ceremony for Otakon, though I arrived pretty much just as they were leaving. I was there to see the Madhouse-produced opening animation, which basically involved Otakon’s two lackluster mascots fighting every anime character ever on their way to the convention center. Could have been worse, could have gone without it, the result was that I applaud their desire to celebrate their 10th anniversary with something big.

The JAM Project concert was to be held at the 1st Mariner Arena, a few blocks away from the convention center. After a bit of hassle, I managed to find a place in line with Sub from Subatomic Brainfreeze, and his friends, who I’ve met in the past thanks to a mutual friend of ours. There, we spent time enjoying the wonder and prestige of Sasaki Isao English renditions of Maginzer Z themes, who teaches us that, although humans can fight for good, give it all they’ve got, men are weak and they’re flesh and blood. Mazinger, however, is not. I could not think of a better way to pass the time.

At 7:00 we walked inside, me carrying a glowstick which I accidentally snapped. Sitting only a few rows away from the stage got me feeling anxious as I chatted it up a little with the people around me. Smoke began to fill the stage as I realized I was without my DS and could not participate in the inevitable pictochat. This only made me more anxious, as I knew it was almost upon us, the Japanese Animesong Musicians Project, albeit minus a few members I would like to have seen.

I am not a concert-goer, but I do not think any concert will ever top this one again. JAM Project are the masters of keeping the crowd excited with both their choice of music and musical style, and their sheer stage presence. JAM Project introduced themselves in English. You had the Lover of Amateur Rock Music Yoshiki Fukuyama , the Only Female There Masami Okui, the Youngest Member of JAM Project Hiroshi Kitadani aka Dani, the Most POWERFUL Member of JAM Project Masaaki Endoh (said while flexing his bicep), and the Leader Hironobu Kageyama. With an introduction like that, greatness was inevitable.

Their set included a large number of their combined efforts, such as Nageki no Rosario, Hagane no Messiah, and Breakout, as well as individual songs for which they were famous, which included Chala Head Chala, We Are!, Rinbu Revolution, Angel Voice, and Yuushaoh Tanjou! Knowing I had plans for karaoke the next day, I sang my heart out anyway, actively trying to destroy my throat as I yelled GOLDION HANMAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH. Totally worth it.

Especially impressive during the concert was Ms. Okui, who without Rica around had to sing twice as many lines as she normally would. Not only that, but Okui sounded better than I’ve ever heard her sing before. Usually her live voice is different from her studio voice, but on this night the two were one in the same. This, of course, is not to say that the others were anything less than outstanding. You could tell they enjoy their careers, and have a genuine love for anime music.

They finished off the main concert with GONG, then followed up with an encore comprised of Soul Taker and SKILL. I really couldn’t have asked for anything more, besides the presence of the God of Anime Songs Ichirou Mizuki! Sadly, my “Mizuki” chant did not work. By the way, that’s how I think Kageyama would have introduced him.

After the concert, a woman walked by with a sign saying,”Give your message to JAM Project!” All I could do was close my eyes and smile while clapping. I then gave a deep bow to them to show my gratitude. I hope you see it, JAM Project.

With the concert over, this was already the best con ever. I could have gone home that evening and been totally satisfied. Fortunately, the weekend was not over. After greeting Erin from Ninja Consultant (she asked me what I thought of the concert and my first response was to pump my fists), I ended up eating dinner with a mighty group indeed, perhaps the mightiest ensemble in all of Baltimore that evening had JAM Project not been around. This group consisted of myself, astrange and kransom, Mike Toole (whose panel I attended earlier in the day), ricequeen, Daryl Surat, and Gerald Rathkolb. It was an enjoyable dinner at a humble chain-like mexican food restaurant, where we discussed various anime-related topics. Kingdoms fell at our feet, while my ears continued to ring from being too close to the speakers during the concert.

The social aspect of the convention, which I was concerned about prior to attending, turned out to not be a problem, and was in fact one of the most enjoyable aspects of Otakon. While I ate with some anime titans of the internet on Friday, I ate with a different group of people every night that I was in Baltimore. Thursday night, I enjoyed extremely delicious Brazilian buffet at Fogo de Chão with my close friends from New York and college in Pittsburgh. There, while chowing down on lambchop, leg of lamb, pork sausage, garlic beef, filet mignon, filet mignon wrapped in bacon, chicken wrapped in bacon, etc (I tried to eat as wide a variety as I could), I talked to a waiter from Brazil. He mentioned his fondness for Saint Seiya and Evangelion.

Fogo de Chão is very pricey, so I wouldn’t recommend it as “con food” but as a place to enjoy the company of others while stuffing one’s face with protein-based brilliance, it is worth checking out.

Saturday evening, I ate with the internet. It was a Vegeta-mongling good time.

Afterwards, I ran to attend karaoke, where I gave a poor performance of Disarm Dreamer. There, along with astrange and kransom, I sat down and had a grand old time with wildarmsheero, Link, Omo, Anna, among others. You’ll forgive me if I forgot all of your names, but you were many. I sang along with a number of tunes, including Pegasus Fantasy, English and Japanese Pokemon themes, and SKILL, and tried my hardest to do my Souther impression for wildarmsheero. Watch out for it on his site. I was surprised to find someone singing the ending theme to the Sega Saturn racing game, Sonic R. I salute you as well. Unfortunately I did not have time to sing Minna Daisuki from Shugo Chara, which I had also planned.

While signing up for karaoke, one of the people working there asked me where I got my badge (see all the way up top), to which I said I made it myself. As he looked closer at my badge he suddenly said, “I read your blog!” Thank you, SSJSquall. You made my day in a day full of things which can make days with little difficulty.

On the same day was the JAM Project Q&A, which was a good time for all. There were many highlights to the whole session, but the absolute best was when Masami did an incredible Mizuki impression. Very few things in life will ever top Masami going, “[Mazinger] ZEEEET!” but one of them might be Fukuyama’s sheer antics. This guy is a joker through and through.

Sadly, I missed the Katsura panel because it interfered with the JAM Project autograph session, but I managed to attend the Maruyama/Madhouse panel, which is always a treat. I also sat in for the Fansubbers and Industry panel, which was informative if disappointingly peaceful. John Sirabella, head of Mediablasters, was a blast with his crotchety-yet-informative ways. I wanted to ask how buying region 2 dvds directly affects the region 1 industry if at all, but I was cut off. Maybe next year.

As for the JAM Project autograph session itself, I got to shake hands with them. As Kageyama signed my Gravion box, I pointed and said, “Sparking!” to which he responded in kind. After my friends and I all got our swag autographed, we got together in the dealer’s room to do a Whoa Bundy, the second Whoa Bundy of the day.

I also saw two incredible cosplays during the convention. First was a girl cosplaying as Rosalie from Rose of Versailles. Her outfit was this bright pastel blue, perfect for a shoujo character, and it was as if she stepped out of the pages of Riyoko Ikeda’s work. Second was a cosplay of Billy Mitchell, the first man to ever conquer Pac-Man. I failed to check if he had a bottle of Rickey’s Hot Sauce in hand.

At the train station, I saw Erin and Noah from Ninja Consultant, and wildarmsheero. Along with the friends who I came with, we had a good conversation to wind down the convention, and one of my friends read my blog for the first time. I hope it’s as frightening for you as I think it is.

There are two main lessons I took away from Otakon 2008. First is that on the internet it can become very easy to caricaturize those you talk to, to focus on only one aspect of their character and personality. In real life, we can get along without necessarily needing to debate or to try and make things “interesting.” Those things will come in time.

Second is that, according to Kageyama, this was one GAY 2008.

(It actually says 9 Aug 2008)

Filler is Not the Iru: Shugo Chara Thoughts, Yet Again

It’s recently come to my attention that a lot of the viewers of the Shugo Chara anime are disappointed at the amount of “filler” in it, especially when compared to the manga. I do not see what the fuss is all about.

I have not read much of the manga, so I do not have that basis for comparison, but I find the show at its current pacing to be very satisfying. Some episodes advance the overall plot, while others are fairly episodic and resolve themselves quickly. Either way, I get a delightful 20+ minutes of Cool & Spicy, and really, as I’ve said before, I wouldn’t mind at all if the entire show was episodic.

Are people upset about diverging from the manga too much? The Cardcaptor Sakura anime took a lot of liberties with the source material. If you compare the Clow Decks of the manga and anime, the anime’s Clow Deck is practically triple the size of its manga counterpart. That is a lot of added material! The character of Li Meiling didn’t even exist in the original manga.

People are even complaining about Shugo Chara getting a second season, for fear of even more filler. Worrying when a good show gets more episodes is ridiculous. This is par for the course for magical girl shows. Considering recent examples of other magical girl shows which got extended, I see no harm. Pretty Cure only got better when it became Pretty Cure Max Heart (I know there are other Precure series, but they use completely different characters), and Fushigiboshi no Futagohime Gyu! is just as good as the first Futagohime series.

I see no reason to despair. More Shugo Chara is good. Shugo Chara at its current pace is good.

Blasphemy is Kawaii

Thank you, Hinamori Yahweh.

Shut Up! I Know What I’m Doing!