meimichi: (utena + repent all your sin)
[personal profile] meimichi
Hahaha wow I don't even know what I think about this show.

MASSIVE TL;DR AHEAD



On a totally superficial level I was liking it okay just for how stylish it was (while the visuals being ripoffs of everything ever but especially Utena had me eyerolling), until episode 10 and it was only then I thought it got REALLY REALLY GOOD and everything with Homura made me cry FOREVER...

But then the more I thought about it the more I was creeped out by this show and everything it was saying until we hit the final three episodes.

I went through [livejournal.com profile] canis_m's list of meta posts, and nobody pegged what was bugging me about it aside from people saying "it's *~problematic~* but you can still see it as a feminist tale!"

I saw a lot of complaining about how it was a male director behind it, which is not my issue with it at all in and of itself (especially since aren't all anime directors male? certainly every major mahoujo show in the past has been directed by men, and never have I seen the maleness of the director attract this much commentary). I'm kind of frustrated in reading other people's writeups in how others seem to think the "male gaze" and moe bait aspect of the show is incidental, or "it's there because the director is a guy," when my read of the show is that is the entire point the show is trying to make.

Almost every mahoujo variant show I've really loved since Sailormoon (which is far from the first mahoujo series but is certainly the defining one for my generation) has been a meta commentary on the genre to some extent. I think the last straightforward, no-meta-frills take I watched and enjoyed was like, what, ten years ago with Pretear...?

The difference though, is how Madoka is really not a meta commentary on the straightforward take of the genre. I don't think it's talking to girls who loved mahoujo anime and manga as kids at all.

We've had countless deconstructions and meta commentaries of the mahoujo, made for girls (with the original manga concepts generally created by girls). Madoka couldn't exist without those stories: Utena and Jeanne are the two biggies it steals wholesale from a lot. But I don't think it wants to be in that company.

In a way it's trying to do what Eva did: it deconstructed the mecha fantasy for boys, and it was totally straightforward on what its message was. It basically was Anno going, "Stop running away by obsessing over anime escapism, otaku boys! Go outside and get a life!"

But this isn't about deconstructing the mahoujo fantasy for girls, because other stories have already done that. What I feel Madoka is all about is deconstructing the moe stereotype of a mahoujo that has become a sex symbol for fanboys.

Which is perhaps useful but really grosses me out at the same time, because I feel that it's deconstructing the moe stereotype of the mahoujo and not the mahoujo herself. I get the definite impression that it's aimed towards men perving on the Pretty Cure stereotype in a very sexual way. And it's trying to say, "The little girls you're perving on have some seriously depressing shit going on underneath their adorable moe exteriors, and being a girl in a man's world is really hard, and maybe you should think about that as you're lusting after elementary school girls in cute kneesocks and making the problem worse, k?"

Which...it just makes me angry that this is even necessary.

The mahoujo genre is supposed to be a fantasy for girls, and it's now turned into the object of moe sexualization to such a huge extent that we need an entire show basically serving as moe bait-and-switch for older men, just to scold them? This really makes me rage just thinking about it. My reaction to this is, "Fuck you, this genre isn't FOR you, it was never supposed to be FOR you."

Except now it is.

Because guys buy tons of moe merchandise, so now the mahoujo genre is now also for men, and these characters have to be designed to appeal to fanboys and cater to their sexual desires. Their buying power has made it acceptable for men to co-opt the genre.

Looking through the wiki, I was so grossed out reading the character designer's thoughts. Madoka's costume: "Madoka was drawn to be the very image of a magical girl. I added an almost fairytale-ish hints, so hopefully female viewers will be charmed by her as well." As in, "girls are not the target but it would be cool if they liked it anyway." Talking up how big Mami's boobs are. i.e. they deliberately crafted Mami as the "sexy one" so that male viewers would be attracted to her. They created her to play into the moe expectations for the sexy older sister senpai type. And then at the last moment she blurts out that her confident sexy senpai act is only a facade, she's actually miserable and lonely...and then is the first to die a shocking violent death.

It's so very, "Ha ha, take that, fanboys! We got you lusting after this fantasy object, and then showed you she was a REAL PERSON and not a fantasy at all, and then decapitated her!! BET YOU FEEL REAL STUPID NOW." (The whole opening animation is constructed as bait in this same kind of way, too... Obviously the song is super significant, but the actual sequence is just straight-up trolling and inviting you to perv on Madoka.)

Kyouko and Sayaka are much the same in how they balance out expectations of their moe trope vs reality, and they both end up dying horribly, after both of them used their wishes for men.

I love Homura and think she's by far the greatest character in the series, but she had to basically "overcome" her original persona as a shy meganekko with a freaking heart condition. You cannot get more absurdly pandering than that in terms of moe stereotypes. But she basically wishes her stereotype away by wishing to be a protector instead of the protected. From start to finish, she's the one who feels most like a success story.

Madoka herself is really just a trope rather than a person, which is unusual since 1) mahoujo deconstructions made for-girls-by-girls usually don't put a cliché protagonist in the driver's seat, and 2) the show lets her be herself to the end and play her moe trope card to the fullest.

Which in terms of the show's overarching *~lesson~* is, I think, a good thing... But on the other, I don't particular care for Madoka herself on a personal level precisely because she is such a trope and a meta device. I like the end message of the show okay but how it gets there bugs me, if that makes sense.

I'm not even predisposed to disliking the mahoujo who is a wonderful pure adorable type who loves everyone and sacrifices herself so readily over and over. Like, Usagi is my favorite senshi, and hey, she's also presented as mahoujo Jesus. But... I mean, the reason I love Usagi best isn't because she's mahoujo Jesus. I love her because she is the girl who wanted so badly to kiss her boyfriend goodbye when he died in her arms, and she wouldn't allow herself that because she decided it was wrong to allow herself a happiness the other girls didn't get to have before they died fighting. I love that moment more than I can say, because, yes, Usagi does stand up and go fight to save the world after that (even though her boyfriend told her to run away and save herself, loserrrr), but the struggle with this little selfishness she wants and denies herself is so beautiful and human to me. I love that tiny moment far more than the big showdown with Beryl that follows it.

So, where Madoka is concerned...

On the one hand I appreciate that the mahoujo cliché wins the day. It's good that love and hope triumph at the end of the day, especially because that's what Sayaka and Kyouko both died after dreaming of fulfilling that magical girl dream of love saving the day in the end. And also because if there isn't that element of the overarching mahoujo genre's main cliché saving the day, they just co-opted the entire mahoujo genre to use it as moe lolicon bait and that would render the show worthless to me.

But on the other I'm a little sad because it takes an impossible cliché of a messiah to win, and nothing less will do. The girls were all automatically doomed to their fates by the rules of the story. Kyouko's death is so tragic to me because she deliberately sacrifices her life for the mahoujo cliché, but it doesn't matter, because once you're trapped in the system no beautiful mahoujo cliché can save you. It's impossible for the girls to save themselves from their own fates, no matter how good they try to be. You can't just be an amazing ordinary girl; it takes a god to make everything okay.

And that makes me sad, because I would have liked it more even just if Madoka had even that Usagi-esque moment of being tempted by a tiny selfishness and then pushing it away before choosing to sacrifice everything and be a god. Madoka just doesn't feel human to me even before she becomes a god, and that takes away from the story for me on a personal level.

But the meta commentary of Madoka's parting with Homura is too lovely, because while she's a god...

She's a god who subscribes wholesale to the religion of the mahoujo genre.

"It's okay. It'll turn out okay for sure. Let's believe that. Magical girls can make dreams and hopes come true, after all..."

And that's really, really beautiful, especially given what the show starts out as.

Which results in my end take being: okay, so this show basically deconstructs the gross moe perversion of the mahoujo genre by men and then reconstructs it as a traditional mahoujo show, where because of Madoka's sacrifice, Homura and the rest of the team are able to become "normal magical girls" who fight on and believe in dreams and hopes and the power of friendship.

Which, I think the final three episodes are incredible and huge tearjerkers, and Homura is amazing amazing amazing I cannot believe how heartbreaking and cool and perfect she is, and I don't hate the end message because it does basically take the grossness of the beginning and twist the entire world around to MAHOUJO ARE ALL ABOUT THAT GOOD STUFF LITTLE GIRLS GREW UP READING ABOUT IN NAKAYOSHI AFTER ALL, BELIEVE IN HOPE AND DREAMS.

Buuuuut the aiming of the show at a male audience and using it as moe-bait... Like, using these devices definitely is intentional and speaking to an existing problem, but I HATE THAT THE PROBLEM EXISTS SO FUCKING MUCH to the extent I can't really get into the show completely. Since I feel like I can't really wholeheartedly be a fan of what I see as commentary on an animated child porn phenomenon.

And mahoujo is an escapist female empowerment fantasy and I love that about the genre, so even this show seemingly dealing with men trying to co-opt that fantasy for themselves in a smart way, has me going, "UGH YOU DON'T EVEN GO HERE." I don't want that problem to exist. I don't want to watch a show about it even if the end message is good. I love my escapist fun, and I love deconstructions of that escapist fun, but if I'm going to watch a deconstruction of it I want that deconstruction to be ABOUT GIRLS, FOR GIRLS.

So while the end message of the show seems to be "return the genre to where it belongs" I still don't feel like this show is for me, but for guys. It has feminist aspects but they seem purely incidental. I just don't feel like the show is at all speaking to girls and saying, "Yay, girl power!" so much as it's an instructive tale for fanboys going: "MAGICAL GIRLS ARE ABOUT LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP AND HOPE. THEY ARE NOT FOR YOUR PORNOS AND SEXUAL SATISFACTION, K?"

I hugely agree with that, but I don't feel particularly inspired by the show because I don't feel like it speaks to me.

/tl;dr I DON'T EVEN REALLY KNOW WHAT I THINK.

I think that I'm at "incredibly smart show, worth watching, worthy of much discussion, BUT..."

It's odd because I cried buckets over the final three episodes, and I'm sure if I rewatch them I'll cry just as hard again, so I hesitate to say, "This show left me cold." Yet that's exactly how I feel.

(Though everyone seems to agree on how amazing Madoka's mom is. I AGREE WITH THIS SO MUCH SHE IS AMAZING.)


I think I'm gonna rewatch this and try to sort out my *~feelings~*, then move on to Blood+. Which since my knowledge of it is all from [livejournal.com profile] missdeep means I am pretty sure this show will require no actual thought whatsoever.

Strangely I think I read all of her reaction posts back in the day and while I remember basically everything about how moe David was in his apron and how awesome Julia is, I DON'T THINK I KNOW A SINGLE THING ABOUT THE PLOT OR MAIN CHARACTERS. Except that Hagi goes "..." a lot and Kai wants to be Saya's bandaid. (There are vampires in this show, right??)
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meimichi

November 2011

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