Anime after Madoka

Like most everyone else, I’ve enjoyed watching Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. I haven’t seen many other series directed by Akiyuki Shinbo, but I’m well aware he’s earned a reputation for weirdness. Even still, I’m sometimes taken aback by how abstract and artsy Madoka can get, and yet, in contrast to fellow auteurs like Masaaki Yuasa and his Kaiba, Shinbo’s eclectic style actually appeals to a broader range of anime fans than elitists like me.

Indeed, what’s particularly exciting about Madoka is not just that it’s such an unpredictable series, but that it’s also proving successful in challenging the visual derivativeness of anime. It’s nice to see that anime can be artsy and popular at the same time.

Its success just underlines my disappointment in the supposedly ambitious Fractale, a much hyped noitaminA series that many had high hopes for but that’s so riddled with tried and tested tropes and archetypes as to render it soulless.

If Fractale is a symptom of the lack of daring that’s seen the anime industry slip half into hibernation, then I really hope the likes of Madoka (and Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt!) can become an example to be followed. It’s a competently written and original series (i.e. not a manga or light novel adaptation), refreshingly strange and surreal and, best of all, people love it (or, at the very least, I’ve yet to read any one writing it off as pretentious!)

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

28 thoughts on “Anime after Madoka”

  1. Being able to manage the trade-off between artsy and accessible is one thing that Shinbo excels at these days. I haven’t seen everything he’s done – Maria Holic and Moon Phase, his really early pre-Cossette stuff – but he seems determined to put his own unique signature style on whatever series he works on…and they’re often very different in terms of content.

    Half the reason why Madoka is so addictive (I’m not the only one who’s impatient for each episode every week, and neither are you!) is I think down to the writing. Behind the kaleidoscopic and symbolism-laden visuals is a screenplay full of unpredictable twists and “I can’t believe that just happened!” moments. I love the Shinbo-isms but the storyline is the other thing that sends the blogosphere and Twitter batshit insane every time. I believe Gen Urobuchi’s responsible for that…sadly I don’t know much about him, although he did write the Fate/Stay Night prequel Fate/Zero, the anime of which will be out later this year. If Maoka is anything to go by, it should be fascinating.

    1. Gen Urobuchi is an interesting chap, that’s for sure. I just looked him up on ANN and it turns out I’ve enjoyed his two other anime series so far, Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ and Blassreiter. Like Madoka, both of them have some really interesting twists; particularly Blassreiter! Funnily enough, I’ve written about both, so I guess there’s more to my interest in Urobuchi’s writing than I first thought! The man seems to specialise in surprisng us! :)

      BTW, Madoka‘s totally convinced me to check out Bakemonogatari soon. I hope it’s good! :)

  2. I’m glad I made the right decision to drop Fractale.

    I still need to watch both Panty and Stocking & Madoka. I have heard good things about them both. I guess I missed out on a lot of good stuff recently. But sometimes it is better to marathon a good series than to sit week after week watching a disappointing series.

    1. If there’s one series that’s fun to watch week by week, it’s Madoka. I can imagine you’d really enjoy all the speculation and debate that’s currently filling up anime forums and blogs, but most of all, it’s just the way the plot reveals itself like a Matryoshka doll, each week another revelation hitting home. I’m not sure it’d be as fun to watch if marathoned. It’d be a totally different experience, at least; Madoka’s all about the plot twists!

  3. Yeah, EVERYONE is watching this series now. It’s not just your average fanboys and girls but the “clever people like me who talk loudly in restaurants.” I can’t count all the fan art I’ve seen (half of them involving Mami’s head or lack of, half Madoka/Homura yuri, and 189% of showing Kyubey stabbed, shot, skewered and roasted, all in satisfying ways. I believe my math is correct). Those of us who don’t do fan art write blog posts instead, or repies to them, ahem. The last time I remember so many people of different tastes rallying around an anime series was when Toradora! hit its stride.

    I think Martin nailed it: it’s the story itself that allows people of such diverse anime tastes to agree about this show. Without the info-bombshells or the cliffhangers so well-placed in each episode and the girls’ reaction to them, the jaw-dropping visuals (much as I love ’em) and the concept of an anti-magical girl show alone wouldn’t be enough to inspire the almost universal praise.

    I hadn’t heard of Shinbo before this show. When I looked him up I was amazed. “What? He did THIS? And THAT? And THAT??” So many of them shows that I may or may not have liked, but they are all interesting to look at. Also, I felt foolish. In my blog I once compared the visual style of Bakemonogatari to Hidamari Sketch, thinking myself clever. Little did I know! Needless to say Shinbo has become one of my favorite directors.

    1. One series that I often find myself comparing this to is Bokurano; the comparison now even more apt when you consider what it means to be a magical girl in Madoka ;)

      Also, Shinbo’s directed a hell of a lot of anime! Weirdly, the only other series of his that I’ve seen so far is Maria†Holic, which, whilst rapidfire, was no where near as eclectic as some of the visuals we’re seeing in Madoka. I’m hoping Bakemonogatari is as experimental! :)

      (For some reason your comments on this post got thrown into our spam filter, Peter. Sorry about that, but at least they weren’t lost! :))

  4. Naturally, agreed.

    I’ve often wondered what makes Shinbo so popular because (frankly) he’s a tough nut to swallow. Watching some of his works from 5 or so years ago (Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei springs to mind) they’re abstract to the point of being downright unenjoyable to watch – he flashes text across the screen at a rate no human, Japanese or otherwise could keep up, and engages in such a dry humor that it often doesn’t come across. But regardless, the man is a master of visual balance and color theory, and as an aspiring designer I have an incredible amount of admiration for him on that level.

    Until I watched Madoka, I was afraid Shinbo was becoming entrenched in his own Shinbo-ness: that he relied upon the same gimmicks that he always has (text, graphic elements, fast-paced cuts) to get results. Luckily with Madoka he keeps the best parts of his Shinbo-ness (his sense of pacing and graphic-ness) and drops the fluff. Shinbo is an interesting director to watch lots of series from because he’s continually evolving his style, and never seems to settle for too long – there’s a clear progression in his work which is beginning to make me keep coming back, wondering how he’ll tweak things the next time around. I think, given enough time, he could refine his style to the point of Shinichiro Watanabe’s – ever-present, unmistakable but not overbearing in his current fashion. And, much as I’m enjoying Madoka, I still find Shinbo’s style a touch overbearing.

    Check out Petite Cosette, by the by.

    1. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei aside, Shinbo’s anime often has a surface layer of otaku-ness about it. It’s the same with Madoka, really; I think people originally started watching this because they wanted to see a magical girl anime, whilst I was reluctant to start watching it for the same reasons. I’ve never really dabbled ‘in’ Shinbo in the past precisely because I get that sense of fan pandering from him, but Madoka‘s obviously proving to be so much better than that, so, yeah, Bakemonogatari and Petite Cosette are totally on my hitlist now :)

      1. I think, particularly as of late, ‘pandering’ is a hard term to attach to Shinbo. On the one hand yes, I see what you mean: he picks very typical ‘fan’ targets of affection for his main characters: the tsundere (Senjougahara in Bakemonogatari), or the loli (Madoka). However, at no point in Madoka (some of his other works aside) do I feel like he’s playing the loli aspect of the show simply to show a pair of prepubescent nipples, ie the opening. He walks a fine line, and the sexualization of that part of the opening is always a little weird, but I like to think he’s aiming for something above that.

        The opening in and of itself is designed to lead the viewers by their noses with this show, really: it’s a series of images of Madoka, in her imagined magical girl costume, proceeding about things in a decidedly magical girl way – when of course, she hasn’t become one as of yet (and likely will not). The one part of the opening that could be considered ‘pandering’, or the objectification and sexualization of a prepubescent girl is really just another way to mislead the audience via the opening sequence.

        To summarize: he knows what he’s doing (and who’s sick desires it will appeal to) but he doesn’t do it in an outright gratuitous manner (IMO anyways, I could be seeing things with rose-colored glasses at this point, I’m quite enjoying Madoka) – hence I can’t see it as “fanservice” or “pandering”, really. I think it’s just exhibitionism.

  5. I had such high hopes for Fractale. I’ve only watched the first two episodes but now I wonder if it’s worth going beyond that. Did the eps have any redeeming value?

    1. Taken in isolation, Fractale is a merely average series. It’s certainly not bad, by any means, but given the noitaminA brand and the money clearly spent on it, it’s disappointing to get a merely average series. Perhaps time will be kind to Fractale? I’d just rather see something like The Tatami Galaxy airing in its place, which is a little unfair, but I expect more from noitaminA.

  6. I think the best part of Madoka Magica is how incredibly deliberate it is. I mean, did anyone else get chills after the end of the third episode, when the ED played for the first time? That was a thematic statement of intent, right there.

    I mean, you can certainly argue that the characters aren’t as well-developed as they could be, that Madoka has changed frighteningly little since the beginning of the show and that the plot occasionally goes for shock value over actual substance. But I think it’s implicit in every frame of the show that its creators have ambition, and know exactly what they are doing. It’s pretty mesmerizing, really.

    Also, has anyone seen Episode 10 yet? It’s probably the best episode of the show so far, and pretty damn close to masterpiece caliber.

    1. Totally agree: episode 10 was amazing, and just goes to show how well-written/planned the whole thing has been; the way it joins with the first episode gives off such a fulfilling feeling; the action and emotion had my heart beating, and right now I’m going to quickly go back and watch some of the scenes again. Not since Gurren Lagann have I seen a series that so consistently surprises me and keeps getting better, episode by episode.

  7. Madoka is interesting, that’s for sure. The scriptwriter and director are both taking the magical girl genre and messing it up with their unique styles. Throw in Kajiura Yuki’s music, and the result is guaranteed to be something worth checking out.

    Personally, I’m not enjoying Madoka all that much. It’s interesting, for sure, full of good ideas and certainly different from anything I’ve ever seen before. However, it suffers from several problems both in writing and direction.

    First of all, the graphic randomness often spoils the epic battles and emotional scenes by making me laugh at their ridiculousness and by simply killing the emotional effects. That’s what I’d call and epic fail.

    Secondly, the characters are boring. Mami was likeable and interesting, but she was killed off early. Sayaka isn’t the type I generally like, but surprisingly, I did develop a bit of an emotional connection to her, which made the 8th episode quite good for me. Homura is interesting, she’s one of the last remaining mysteries in the story. Kyubey was interesting up to the 9th episode, where I believe he explained himself so thoroughly that there’s nothing interesting left in him. Kyouko was a bitch first, then she changed a little too quickly and died. No emotional connection. The worst of the lot is Madoka, the weak-hearted, angsty, thoroughly boring main character. This is up to the 9th episode, I have yet to see the reportedly amazing 10th episode.

    The writing is average: not balancedly so, but instead it has many high points and many low points. Lots of good ideas – some of them wasted. A twisty – if not as unpredictable as it’s hailed – plot, but it’s riddled with two epic-level plotholes so far. The storytelling isn’t particularly gripping. The dialogue has its high points, but most of the time it’s average, sometimes downright boring.

    The atmosphere is a strong point. The background art is pretty amazing at times, the BG musics are very good, and the ending music is the best part in the whole anime. Atmosphere is important for me, and once again it’s one of the things keeping me watching this otherwise quite average anime.

    All in all, up to the 9th episode Madoka has been a slightly above average watch for me. Entertainment value and characters are below average, but to balance that, the plot is interesting and above average. I’m giving bonus points for the unique experience and powerful atmosphere, so it ends up being above average. 3/5

    1. If you’ve been lukewarm on the show so far, than episode 10 probably won’t sell you on it. On the other hand, considering how much it accomplishes (giving Homura’s origin story, presenting an opportunity for awesomely animated witch battles, giving new depth to every magical girl to appear in the show thus far, explaining the opening dream sequence and practically legitimizing Madoka’s character arc) it’s probably worth watching simply on the basis of how ridiculously well-constructed it is. Not to mention being arguably the most emotional episode in the entire series!

      Also, I’d argue with Madoka being labeled as “weak-hearted.” So far throughout the series, she’s accompanied her friends into sociopathic mazes unarmed, witnessed the deaths of a number of her friends and tried her best (and failed) to keep them from falling into shadow, and she still hasn’t cracked. Then there’s what you learn in Episode 10, but that’s another story for another time.

  8. Is Madoka successful? Is it popular? Many imageboard and forum denizens, and bloggers, are watching it and talking about it, but it’s for the small late-night audience. Unless I’ve missed some vital facts about Madoka, it won’t make much money compared to a popular title, and its influence will almost certainly be limited to the insular world of future late-night productions.

    Though it may still be very good! — I know I’ve often enjoyed things which were recommended here, so I’m looking forward to trying Madoka when I get round to it…

    1. The manga sold over 91 thousand copies in three weeks. I think it’s safe to say that it’ll make good money, just like Bakemonogatari.

        1. Well, maybe I was wrong, and it will be very profitable — if so, that’s good. I hold to the popularity point, though: how popular is Madoka compared to a Sunday morning toy-vehicle kid’s anime? How does it hold up against something like Crush Gear Turbo or Pretty Cure? Because that kind of children’s television is the bread and butter of the magical girl genre. (Bear in mind that children, unlike the late-night crowd, don’t buy many blu-rays, though they do buy or cause others to buy a lot of toys.)

          1. At this point, I don’t think we can say Madoka is a magical girl anime, anyway. It certainly has elements of the genre, but the demographic of its audience is quite telling, in that it’s obviously not popular with young girls. I guess it’s a bit like how Watchmen is rooted in superhero history, yet grows into something entirely different to, say, Superman. Watchmen is a pretty ‘popular’ comic, too, but it’s no Spider-Man. I was more referring to that kind of ‘cult’ popularity when I was talking about Madoka in the post, it’s not that I think it’s going to be as popular as Sailor Moon, but I’m impressed that it’s been well-received by the community, particularly given that it’s an original anime, is quite experimental and probably doesn’t have much of a budget. Secretly, I’m sure Madoka is exactly the kind of thing, in terms of spirit, that most studios would love to be making all the time, and I really hope it’s giving them the daring to do just that.

  9. Eh, I have to confess I dropped this after the first uninspiring episode. It seemed from that and the blurb I’ve heard since that it’s very much a Mai Hime 2nd half repeat – sorta magical girls, lots of grim dark and ~shocking~ deaths. If that’s all it is (being prejudice here) then I don’t think that’s terribly original.

    Fractale’s getting a bad rap here but I don’t find anything wrong with it (not that it’s amazing or anything) and at least it avoids a lot of the clichés that I thought littered Madoka.

    1. You know what, Equitan? I was similarly unimpressed with the first episode! I was close to dropping it right there and then, but ended up sticking around for another week; the end of the third episode had me. Take my word for it; go back and watch the first 3 episodes. A few months ago, I tried to watch Mai-Hime and dropped it after 9 episodes. This is a totally different, darker, nastier series.

      1. Okay, your opinions are good, Bateszi, and I suppose I should try and see more of what the fuss is about. I’ll give it another go.

        (Oh, but Mai-Hime does take a radical turn for the grim-dark after its halfway mark. I’m not sure it makes it good enough for you to go back and pick up that series again but Madoka was making that connection in my mind).

      2. Keep in mind that for Mai-HiME, the darkness comes after the halfway point of the series. What the first half of the series does is introduce you to the main characters with great character development and sets up the world and situations so that when the hammer starts falling, there’s impact because there’s those characters that you know going through a wringer that no-one expected. You can’t go into it looking for a dark time, because there’s a lot of silliness that you have to go through first. But barring the ending of the show (which I didn’t mind, but many complain about), it’s definitely worth watching through.

  10. Masaaki Yuasa’s style doesn’t appeal to a broad range of anime viewers? Peeling off the visual experimentation and quirky animation he pulls off each time, his works are actually very simple and easily digestible for any fan of animation. And I’m not only saying that because I’m a huge fan of the guy.

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