Going Dark: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Okay, let’s start with this: this could go on for a while. It might even end up being a two-parter. I’ll start writing and we’ll see.

Later: Yeah, it’s a two-parter. This is Part I.

You see, the cool thing about Puella Magi Madoka Magica is that it takes the Magical Girl genre and turns it upside down and inside out, and when it’s done with that, it blows the whole genre up…and salvages it at the same time.

As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Well, gol dang, Sergeant Carter.”

The Magical Girl is, I think, a very important, if trite, trope. You know it goes: the girl, who is just a girl at that point, mutters some incantation or wields some device and it turns her into a Magical Girl who has POWERZ.

In one sense it’s pure wish fulfillment. You may have an image of the audience as being “just a girl,” and seeing themselves in the Magical Girl, wielding the power they don’t have in their real lives in their imaginations. They see themselves in the Magical Girl.

I think that’s a good thing. It’s easy to be contemptuous of that sort of trope, to say that it panders to the dreams of girls (The audience for Magical Girl is largely female, right?) who are, for lack of a better term, losers.

That’s bullshit. Pardon my French.

The audience for Magical Girl is intended to be teen-aged girls, and that’s deliberate: they are a big market and making anime that appeals to them is financially reasonable. Further, as an audience, it’s FRESH: every three to five years there is a brand new set of teen-aged girls ready for a Magical Girl of their own. So the trope will always be fresh for that audience even as it seems repetitive to those of us who are older. Or Overage in my case.

I don’t have a problem with that. There is a critical thing to know about people, male and female, who are going through puberty, and that is this: They are CONFUSED. They have to somehow deal with the fact that biologically – as determined by literally a million years of evolution – they are adults, while sociologically they are children.

This gets worse as time goes on. We look at adolescence as the period between childhood and adulthood where the child trains to become an adult, and as society advances the necessary training gets longer and more complex. You know by now I am a university professor, and I can tell you that’s a quandary we face routinely: Is a college student – 18-22 – a child or an adult?

See what’s happened? Social adulthood has been pushed back from 13 – puberty – to 22. Or more.

So of course people in that age range are confused. They have a right to be. It’s normal. It has to do with the way society treats them. It’s not their fault.

Now layer the Magical Girl trope into that.

Okay, let’s stop for a second. I warned you this was going to get long, and it is. Sociology isn’t easy. People are the craziest people, right?

I hope it’s obvious that the Magical Girl is largely a trope that appeals to female audiences. I LIKE to watch Madoka Magika: I think it’s a clever story told well, both in terms of plot and also visually. As a trained animator I LOVE what they do with the labyrinths. But I don’t identify with Madoka, or Homura, or Mami. They are characters to me, not people in whom I see myself.

Magical Girl is for teenaged girls.

That’s not to disparage that genre or that audience: teenaged boys have Mecha.

The principle is the same. The confused boy and girl sees themselves piloting a mecha or being a magical girl and they have DIRECTION. They can be STRONG. They can go from someone being told what to do to someone who has POWERZ.

The tropes have the same function for their audiences, but they approach it in different ways. Look at the Mecha pilot: He is alone in his machine. It’s on him. He is the leader. He is the star.

Gundam. Right?

Look at the Magical Girl: She is never alone. She has friends. She and her friends are a team, and they are stronger together than they are separately.

Sailor Moon. Right?

I don’t know damnall about developmental psychology but it strikes me that neither of those things can be bad. One consequence of being confused, as adolescents are, is having a sense that everything is out of your control, feeling powerless. And BOOM. Here comes a trope that shows you that you can have power, that you can control your life, that you can tell those people trying to control you that, “Hey. Not me. I am magical/I pilot the mecha.”

In your face, pushy adults!

So, when we get down to the Magical Girl as a genre, as a rule the shows contain a number of similar traits:

1. Transformation, from girl to Magical Girl

2. A supportive community. Magical Girls work together, with mutual respect

3. Heavy doses of cute. Cute girls, cute dresses, cute pets. Magical Girls remain feminine no matter how powerful

Madoka Kaname

Cute and feminine: Madoka Kaname

4. Triumph. Magical Girls may lose a battle but they win the war

Does that sound like Puella Magi Madoka Magica to you? It doesn’t? BOOM. That’s the point. I’ll beat that horse to death next week.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

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