The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Architecture

Distant Wishes: The school rooftop in Madoka Magica as a visual metaphor for the implications of being a magical girl

“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.” —Alan Turing

While it may be a subtle component within Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the architecture and interior design aspects within the anime have a substantial role in setting the mood. Previously, the architecture within Tari Tari was the central focus, and Madoka Magica was briefly mentioned as another example of where architecture is able to impact the atmospherics within an anime. In Madoka Magica, however, the architectural elements are used to both deceive the viewers and alienate the characters from their settings to emphasise the anime’s point: that magical girls become highly detached from their surroundings. Beginning from the warm, brightly-coloured settings in the series’ openings and the girls’ frequent hangout spots, to the mechanised, predominantly metal construction in the industrial areas, the settings serve to draw a juxtaposition between the girls and their environment. This use of architecture and interior design is nowhere as apparent as in Mitakihara’s school rooftop, which Madoka and her friends frequent during lunch hour. The unusual combination of familiarity and distance come together at this unique location, acting as a visual metaphor for the intermediate stage of doubt and mystery that Madoka and Sayaka experience after befriending Mami and learning of the existence of magical girls.

  • I have an inkling that readers often do not read the main paragraphs and choose to stick with reading the figure captions. They aren’t the entire post! Returning back to the image itself, Mitakihara is a relatively modern city, featuring buildings of a relatively modern design. Despite being similar to that of the Mega City in The Matrix, the Mega City was intended to create a sort of hyper-reality with its massive urban build-ups such that the inhabitants did not challenge their living environments. In Madoka Magica, the city’s size allows the writers to constantly alter the mood as things gradually worsen, presenting different sides of the city as the story calls for it.

  • In the series’ beginning, Mitakihara is presented with predominantly blue lighting to emphasise that, contrasting the greys and greens of the Mega City within The Matrix, Mitakihara is set in the real world. At this point in time, things are reasonably normal, and the characters (Madoka and Sayaka) lead normal lives as ordinary middle school students.

  • The Neo-Classical design found at the school rooftop bears some resemblence to Pietro Perugino’s Delivery of the Keys; the keys are supposed to represent the power of forgiveness and the right to enter heaven. The original painting gives the sense of an infinite world that stretches across the horizon, giving the sense that everything in their world is visible from their perspective as responsibility changes hands.

  • Madoka Magica probably drew inspiration from this painting to give the series a similar feeling: the keys depicted in Perugino’s painting are represented by contracts and magic, while the sense of space is conveyed by a vast cityscape rather than hills and trees. Here, Madoka and Sayaka wonder whether or not they could make a meaningful wish because their lives have been reasonably trouble-free insofar.

  • The deliberate inclusion of vast fences reminiscent of Renaissance architectural forms suggests that Mitakihara Middle School’s rooftop was deliberately intended to be a gathering place for students; the fences prevent any students from accidentally falling off the roof. The general architecture brings to mind the forms that Renaissance-era cathedrals took. Associated with the Church and the sort of mysterious higher powers, cathedrals were grand places of worship.

Given that the school rooftop is a highly prevalent location in anime, it is not unreasonable to surmise that the location might hold some significance. In typical anime, the school rooftops are used as a location for solitude by students; in Kanon, Yuichi and Mai train using bamboo swords on the school rooftops, while CLANNAD has Nagisa asking Ryou about joining the drama club. Students hang out on the school rooftops for lunch in Azumanga Daioh, go out there to vent off steam (K-On! Movie), or even discuss what it means to be idols (Locodol). Why the school rooftops are chosen is probably to confer some solitude, offering a tranquil spot amidst the hustle of an urban locale for individuals to relax or look back on things. In densely built areas, especially in Japan, the skyline might be visible, providing a distant backdrop for the events that occur in the school rooftop. This forms a juxtaposition; the school is a well-traversed, familiar location, but beyond their world is another, one that is perceived to be more unfeeling and detached. In Madoka Magica, when Madoka and Sayaka discuss their wishes up there, the locale immediately gives the impression that the girls are considering things that are equally as distant in a relatively friendly setting, subtly mirroring the fact that individuals become a part of that “distant” world once their education is complete. It would therefore be logical to be discussing the future (in this case, wishes) in a location where the familiar and the unknown are simultaneously visible and become things that must be considered.

  • Mitakihara Middle School is probably composed of multiple structures: the student classrooms, main entrance and other areas of the school take on a Neo-Futurist design, and the rooftopis nowhere to be seen from the main entrance. In the original TV series and Blu-Ray release, the school rooftop had significantly less detail, having a pure white surface. In the movie, the environments are far more detailed, although for the most part, the dialogue and flow of events have remained unchanged.

  • Sayaka and Madoka find their world has completely changed following Mami’s death. With its impact still sinking in, they remark that their school feels completely foreign to them. The school’s interior, with its minimalistic glass classrooms are highly modern, although this sort of minimalism serves to distance Madoka from her surroundings even earlier on in Madoka Magica, before she becomes entangled in the world of magical girls.

  • This image captures the level of detail in the fences that enclose the school rooftop. I’ve actually been meaning to do this talk for quite some time now: when I first watched Madoka Magicathe school rooftop immediately struck me as something worth mentioning, although for the longest time, I could not put my finger on why it was worth mentioning. Thoughts of this topic fell from my mind, but upon visiting a similar part of my campus, I soon found an answer, and this post began taking shape.

  • After Sayaka takes a day’s absence, Homura confronts Madoka. The school rooftop is shrouded in shadow, darkening the atmosphere and sharply juxtaposing Madoka’s comfort level when she speaks with Homura with how she feels when speaking with Sayaka; typically, Madoka and Sayaka’s conversations are under sunlight, even if their topics are darker, showing how Madoka may trust Sayaka to a greater extent before Homura reveals the truth to her.

  • Readers are probably wondering if I would make a contract and wish, provided I had the same level of knowledge as Madoka and Sayaka by episode two: the answer would be no. I do not make decisions until I am reasonably satisfied that I have enough information to make an informed, rational choice. Given the limited information Kyubey and Mami have provided, I would probably inquire for more details and make my decision from there. Given Madoka Magica‘s outcome, I would imagine that deciding against making a wish is probably the best course of action.

Ultimately, Madoka and Sayaka do not come to a final conclusion here, as Homura interrupts their conversation. The next time Madoka and Sayaka spend time together up on the school rooftop is after Mami’s death by Charlotte’s hands, and it is here that the setting truly becomes disjoint: as Madoka later learns, no one else will know of Mami’s death. The world is indifferent, apathetic to Mami’s fate, and this sense of detachment is reflected in the architecture, which coldly adjourns the scene. It is from here that Madoka Magica steps away from a traditional magical girl series and begins to depict the magical girl’s role as one of tireless, thankless effort, rather than the idealistic, optimistic approaches taken by more traditional anime. This element is subtly enhanced by the choice of architecture within Madoka Magica; locations gradually become more industrial and minimalistic as the series progresses to emphasise that the girls are alone. Their settings (and the people that inhabit them) will only observe without compassion, leaving the magical girls alone as they struggle to come to terms with what their decisions led to. These visual elements are seamlessly integrated with Yuki Kajiura’s “Sis Puella Magica!” (Let’s become magical girls!) in several scenes. “Sis Puella Magica!” is a cold piece that accompanies scenes explaining details behind the magical girls, to give the sense that being a magical girl entails much more than is immediately apparent, and like the song, is a role filled with enigma that, paired with the visual elements, produces an atmosphere that leads even the viewers to ask themselves: is there something you want so badly that it’s worth putting your life in danger for?

Revisiting Tari Tari: The architecture that talks back

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” —Winston Churchill

Aside from being one of the premier anime of the Summer 2012 block for its touching story of a group of high school students who sought to make the most of their lives before graduation, Tari Tari also stood out for its visual aesthetics; beyond the absolutely stunning quality of the landscapes, P.A. Works also invested a substantial amount of effort into its architecture. Architecture often goes unnoticed in an anime such as Tari Tari, where the character dynamics are more noticed and discussed compared to the setting design. Upon re-watching Tari Tari, perhaps more so in other anime, the architecture does seem to make a rather subtle statement about the major themes in Tari Tari. As an anime that strives to breathe insight into the character’s lives, buildings are constructed with large glass façades, allowing light to stream into the building’s interiors and providing its occupants with much natural light. Much as how Shirahamazaka High School’s gymnasium, canteen and classrooms have a significant glass component in its design, the glass doubles to reflect on the duality in each character’s interactions: glass is transparent, allowing observers to peer into a building to some extent. Wakana, Konatsu, Sawa, Taichi and Wien experience problems from within, but learn the value of being transparent about their feelings to one another, in effect, allowing the others to peer into their mind. Similarly, by allowing their friends to aid them, each character is able to experience the benefits of having this support, much like how buildings gain a sense of warmth when allowing sunlight their interiors. More so than Hanasaku Iroha, the architecture subtly reflected on the character’s predispositions: just as buildings become more energy-efficient and aesthetically pleasing with the appropriate application of glass elements, individuals find that their inner lives can be enriched when they allow others to help them.

  • I’ll open with a screenshot of the school gymnasium, a large structure with a glass façade and buttresses to the side. The gynamsum appears to exhibit characteristics from the structuralism architectural style, with regular repeating patterns in its design. Moreover, use of glass allows for the juxtaposition of the interior and exterior. The skating rink on campus, designed for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, also is also an example of structuralist architecture.

  • The school canteen makes liberal use of hardwood and glass in its interiors to elevate the sense of invitation. This design subtly encourages students to enjoy their time at the canteen (cafeteria), providing them with plenty of natural light while the hardwood evokes feelings of home.

  • Shirahamazaka High School is a very unique school, even by anime standards. The school consists of two main buildings; one houses the faculty of general studies, while the other houses the faculty of music. The two buildings are connected by a pair of sky bridges for ease-of-access. I would hazard a guess that this school is probably inspired by the internationalism movement.

  • However, since I’m no architect (and do not have any formal experience in architecture), I cannot say with any certainty or authority that Shirahamazaka High School is indeed an instance of internationalism. However, it should be clear that the architecture in Tari Tari does not have a Zen aesthetic: that would be the show’s art style, which is completely different compared to the anime’s architecture.

  • While anime like Tari Tari features excellent artwork, the clean, polished environments give the impression that Shirahamazaka High School is newly built. However, the prevalent use of hardwood, plus the fact that the school’s interior resembles K-On!‘s Sakura High, indicates that the school is much older than it looks. Mahiru, Wakana’s mother, was an alumni, as is Naoko, suggesting the school has had at least twenty to thirty years of history. While others may find this to be “disconnect[ing]”, I find that said individuals may have also failed to take into account the building might have been renovated before and is generally well-maintained, hence its sharp appearance.

There is another passage about Tari Tari‘s architecture out there that motivated this post and whose origins escape my memory. This passage is stymied by a lack of discussion on how Tari Tari‘s architecture seems to fit with the anime’s message, and possesses several inaccuracies that merit correction. The main inaccuracy is the passage’s implication that Shirahamazaka High School is classified as having a minimalist, modernist design. In the original passage, the author argues that the use of glass, coupled with the use of gentle curvatures in the buildings, embody a Zen aesthetic common to minimalist architectural style. By definition, minimalist buildings make use of rectangular designs, horizontal and vertical lines, large spaces that are sparsely furnished and a reduction in elements not essential in the building’s structural components. From the exterior images, Shirahamazaka High School does not follow this pattern. The school is composed of two main buildings, each having a brick exterior and large glass windows on each floor, as opposed to the straight lines and the monochromatic colouring that defines minimalism. Moreover, the interiors, such as the canteen, make extensive use of hardwood and have a very warm, inviting feeling, compared to the colder feeling imparted by the minimalist design. The school’s design is characterised by the predominant usage of straight lines in its form, glass surfaces with minimal ornamentation and open interior spaces, characteristics of the International style (although the lack of cantilever construction and presence of a curvature in some parts of the main structure makes it more difficult to readily classify the school as such). While Shirahamazaka High School may be of another architectural style, it should be clear that minimalist, Shirahamazaka High School is not. Rather than emphasising the Zen aspects inherent in Japanese culture, Shirahamazaka High School incorporates more Western designs through its use of furnishings and interior design choices, which are more ornate relative to the Japanese interior aesthetics. The end result is a building that combines a liberal use of glass façades to encourage the permanence of natural light and interior concepts that serve to give the building a more inviting feel to it. Even if the building’s style cannot be readily discerned by those outside the architecture discipline, at the minimum, the building cannot be considered as minimalist, as it lacks the simple and well-defined contours characteristic to this particular style.

  • Here is an overhead view of the school: such a building does not exist in Kamakura, illustrating how anime sometimes necessarily needs to create fictional settings in order to fit with the story. In this case, Shirahamazaka High School bears no resemblance in design to a standard Japanese high school, which usually consist of one main building. The fact that there are separate buildings for the music and general studies departments reflects on the notion that music and everything else seems to lack overlap, but can nonetheless be linked together.

  • I particularly like this moment, as it captures the feel of a rainy day very nicely. Compared to many anime, P.A. Works takes the effort to really give the impression of rainfall through its use of lighting and reflections on the ground, as well as colour patterns to mimic wetness.

  • The local bus station features straight lines and makes use of glass to expose the building’s internal structure. I note that the real-world architecture in Tari Tari, though remarkably well-done, does not impact the anime’s central message to the same extent as the school’s design.

  • After the principle’s accident, he’s admitted to the hospital where Tomoko Takahashi (Wakana et al.’s homeroom instructor) is. Despite being on maternity leave, Tomoko provides advice to Konatsu and the others regarding music.

  • Wakana rides her bike under gloomy skies from Kamakura back to Enoshima Island. Tari Tari may make use of architecture to subtly push the story along, but this depends on the architecture being of the right type.

Settings have a substantial impact on the story, and if Tari Tari were to indeed adopt a minimalist, modern architectural style, the anime’s central themes would not have been succinctly portrayed. Such a setting would not be able to accurately convey Tari Tari‘s warm, inviting feeling. In such a simple setting, the anime would show that the characters and their problems were detached from their world; this is not the case, given that Tari Tari is about how trusting one’s friends is a step towards addressing and solving personal problems. From the perspective of any one character, one’s friends can be said to be part of the environment, and that the environment, through its architecture, could reflect on the dispositions of those occupying the environment. A cold, simple environment gives the aura that its occupants are of a likewise manner, focused only on what is necessary; were Tari Tari to make use of such a form of architecture, it would give the sense that Wakana, Konatsu, Sawa, Taichi and Wien would have been alone in their problems. This sense of distance is used in Puella Magi Madoka Magica to great effect: Mitakihara is portrayed as a vast city with clean, modern skyscrapers and vast industrial complexes. At the series’ inception, Madoka’s house is shown, alongside the promenade on the way to school. These places are inviting, being vividly coloured and giving viewers the sense that these are places Madoka is intimately familiar with. Similarly, the mall that Madoka and Sayaka visit has the hustle and glitz of a well-tread shopping centre. However, after Kyubey appears and begins explaining the terms of the magical girl contract, Mitakihara suddenly feels more distant, and as the series’ mood darkens, industrial complexes dominate the scenery. Madoka, a kind-hearted girl, seems exceptionally out of place in an artificial, hard environment, illustrating how detached she becomes from her world as she learns more about the secret behind magical girls. Minimalism, though appropriate (and well-executed) for an anime such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica, is not conducive to the themes and story in Tari Tari and accordingly, is not an architectural style that is prevalent throughout the series.

  • Besides presenting gorgeous depiction of modern buildings inspired by Western styles, more traditional, Japanese buildings are also showcased. Wakana’s house is modelled after Aburaya shoten in real life, located on the southwest end of Enoshima island.

  • Sawa’s home, on the other hand, has Shinto elements; this should not be a surprise, considering that her father is a priest. Shinto architecture is incredibly diverse and varied.

  • This is a station located on the Shōnan-Enoshima monorail line, the first of its kind in Japan when it opened in the 1970s. The station itself has what is considered to be hi-tech architecture, placing the building’s structural and functional elements in the open for everyone to check out.

  • Tonight is the opening of the Giant Walkthrough Brain show at Beakerhead: I spent most of yesterday at the Telus Spark Science Centre’s dome theatre setting up the software component of the show. We arrived at around three in the afternoon and after setup, stopped by a restaurant in the neighbourhood for dinner (chicken pizza from a wood-fired oven) before returning to see how the updated software worked with the live-performance.

  • This is an exterior shot of the café that Sawa and Konatsu are fond of visiting, illustrating the photorealistic quality of the artwork in Tari Tari. The performance will be opening in a few hours, so I’ll wrap this post up real quick, and then subsequently finish the talk on the whole anime. After that comes getting a bit of food energy into my systems before making my way to Telus Spark and attending opening night.

Shirahamazaka High School is, at the end of the day, a fictional building that was designed specifically for Tari Tari. Its importance to Tari Tari cannot be understated. However, outside of the high school, Tari Tari was inspired by the real-world buildings in Enoshima and the surrounding area, once again illustrating how meticulous P.A. Works was in their efforts to give the anime as much of a life-like feeling as possible. The use of real-world location gives the story a sense that it could happen to real people, as well, adding weight to their story. Some buildings from reality are showcased, including a transit station; these structures are modern, reflecting on the Japanese willingness to adapt international concepts and apply their own twist to things. Through some of these scenery stills in Tari Tari, more traditional structures, such as the Sakai and Okita residences, are depicted alongside stunning visuals of the entire region. This unique combination of real and fictional settings allows Tari Tari to portray a convincing, relatable story to its viewers, providing a setting that the characters fit well into, in turn amplifying the sense of realism within the story, although the impact factor in Tari Tari is ultimately a consequence of making use of a dedicated, fictional setting to amplify the characters’ situations in conjunction with a real world setting.