The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

Have You Heard? That Rumor About the Magical Girls: Magia Record First Episode Impressions and Review

“A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.” –Albert Einstein

Iroha Tamaki is a magical girl who made a wish for her sister to be cured of an unknown illness, but lost her memories of her wish in the process. Together with Kuroe, she fights Witches in her area and lives an ordinary life otherwise. Shortly after Iroha’s parents go on a business trip, Iroha begins to hear of a rumour specifying that magical girls can find salvation in Kamihara. On her way back from school, she and Kuroe find themselves in a Witch’s labyrinth, which pushes them to Kamihara. This Witch proves resilient against their attack, and Iroha briefly encounters a younger Kyubey mid-battle. Outmatched, Nanami Yachiyo arrives and destroys the Witch, saving Iroha and Kuroe. She warns the two that there is nothing for them in Kamihara, and the next morning, Iroha suddenly recalls her original wish. Magia Record marks the first time we’ve returned to the world of Madoka Magica since the Rebellion movie: Magia Record is based off the mobile game and sets viewers in a familiar, yet different setting. Witches, contracts and the cost of sacrifices return in force alongside a brand-new cast whose beliefs, intents and desires are completely unlike those seen in the original series. Even only after one episode in, Magia Record has done a phenomenal job of both establishing Iroha and her goals of finding her sister, as well as reminding viewers that this is Madoka Magica. The original series became a smash hit for completely defying expectations of what a magical girl was: rather than a saccharine, optimistic presentation on the merits of heroism and bravery, Madoka Magica suggested that the power and responsibility associated with being a magical girl came at a heavy cost, and that the duty itself was one that was a thankless one. This resulted in an emotionally-gripping series that left an incredible impact amongst viewers, whose perspectives of magical girls would be changed forever.

Gen Urobuchi’s Madoka Magica ultimately proved an enduring series, with themes and characters far more compelling than most anime of its genre and left an enduring legacy that Magia Record must pick up. However, Madoka Magica‘s success and audience reception means that, for better or worse, Magia Record has some large shoes to fill; during its airing and after the finale, droves of zealous fans spent countless hours analysing every frame in the original broadcast with the goal of deriving meaning from every symbol, motif and word in every sentence. Pixels were scoured by those looking to do a psychoanalysis on how Freud’s Id-Ego theory fit with the characters. Immanuel Kant’s works were referenced as the basis for rationalising Madoka’s choice and Kyubey’s motivations. The legend of Faust was seen as being required reading to understand what Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, Kyōko and Homura went through. Right up until the present, discussion on Madoka Magica never stopped: Rebellion saw Homura seize control of Madoka’s powers and rewrite reality on a scale that matches Thanos’ feats with the Infinity Stones for the sake of sharing a future with Madoka. The outcome of that, never satisfactorily resolved in an explicit manner, resulted in more speculation, drawing on antiquated and even flawed philosophical theories to rationalise why Homura chose this path. It has been seven years since Rebellion played in theatres, and irrespective of how factual or useful they might be, the amount of speculation, some of which ventured into the realm of tinfoil-hat theories, that have persisted is a testament to just how moved viewers were. Thus, with the high bar that Madoka Magica sets, Magia Record now exists in the shadows of a series whose very existence is often associated with philosophy, psychology and other facets of academia: the inherent danger in this is that of Magia Record does not involve those disciplines to the same extent, those fans of Madoka Magica might be more dismissive of what could still stand to be an inspired and enjoyable addition to the Madoka Magica universe.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • One episode is a bit early for one to gain a reasonable measure of what Magia Record aims to accomplish and much too early to assess whether or not the series was successful, but the rationale behind why I pushed a post out this early in the game was to establish my own expectations for the series – that Magia Record present an engaging and meaningful story for Iroha and what she discovers in Kamihara while she searches for Ui, and that even without an extensive background in philosophy or psychology, one can nonetheless enjoy this series in full.

  • Right out of the gates, Iroha is established as already being a magical girl equipped with a wrist-mounted crossbow. She’s seen fighting alongside Kuroe, who uses two batons as her primary weapon. The small scale of their weapons seem to hint at the fact that the two are still novices with the duties of being a magical girl – having seen the likes of Mami and Kyōko, who could summon limitless copies of their primary weapon for combat and engage Witches at an impressive scale, it becomes clear that these two are beginning their journey. In the game, Iroha is an excellent healer and is strong in a support role, lacking the weapons to deal effective damage.

  • Having Iroha and Kuroe save a child’s cat from a Witch’s labyrinth firmly establishes that in spite of their own doubts about the magical girl life, the two are still committed to good and conduct acts of kindness and compassion because they feel it to be the right thing to do. The first episode is set prominently on a train, and the first Witch that Iroha and Kuroe are shown fighting resides in a labyrinth of moving tracks, foreshadowing the idea that Magia Record is going to be about going to destinations that one might not expect.

  • Madoka Magica‘s architecture was very unique, bordering on the realm of the bizarre in some areas, but regardless of where Madoka and her friends went while they struggled to deal with the implications of being a magical girl, the one place in the series that always felt inviting and warm was the Kaname residence. Iroha similarly lives at home, and in Magia Record, I am inclined to say that the architectural style is actually much more normal than that of Madoka Magica; the unique cityscapes in Madoka Magica create an incredible sense of isolation amongst the characters, and as they became increasingly entangled in Kyubey’s machinations, the familiar cityscape gave way to intimidating industrial constructs.

  • It’s been some seven years since the last Madoka Magica work was shown, and the time difference between then and now is quite apparent: the artwork for the landscapes and cityscapes in Magia Record are more intricate and detailed than those of Madoka Magica‘s first run. The series received multiple retouches and remasters; the original televised run featured only minimalistic and rudimentary backgrounds, which were updated for the home release, and by the time the three films came out, the visuals had been masterfully updated.

  • The strong visual quality in Magia Record makes it a thrill to watch, and seeing all of the subtle details in Iroha’s world really gives the sense that this is someone’s home, inhabited by people, all of whom have their own stories to tell. Iroha’s home is quite unlike Mitakihara in its colour palette: Mitakihara was defined by shades of blue, but greens and browns are also present to give a more natural feel to the cityscape.

  • I’ve faced criticisms previously for suggesting that Madoka Magica could be enjoyed in the absence of philosophical and psychological principles. Many talks attempting to bring these elements in would resemble junior undergraduate essays in that, while they did demonstrate a case for the existence of a particular philosopher or psychologist’s principles within the anime, did not take things a step further and explain what its presentation in Madoka Magica meant with respect to what Urobuchi had intended to say. Literary analysis of significance aims to understand what the author was saying about a particular concept given their interpretation of a work, drawing the connection between a principle and how it was portrayed in a work of fiction.

  • Thus, in order for a talk to have academic merit, it is not sufficient to merely parrot the definition of a philosophical or psychological concept. One must sythesise things and explore why those concepts are present, and then explore what the series’ portrayal of said concepts say about them. The other aspect of Madoka Magica I’ve taken heat for was the dismissal of the application of thermodynamics Kyubey uses to justify creation of magical girls. Thermodynamics does not work as Kyubey suggests: in-show, Kyubey claims that the energy released from emotions produces a net gain of energy that can be harnessed to indefinitely stave off the heat death of the universe (itself a concept that physicists believe to be poorly-defined at best), but this implies the creation of energy. Since accepted models of thermodynamics trend towards an increase in entropy, and since emotions result from complex chemical reactions in the body, which result in a net loss of energy, from a scientific perspective, Kyubey’s explanation is, for the lack of a better word, bullshit, and therefore, not worthy of further consideration.

  • Having callously dismissed two of the topics that generate the most amount of intellectual discussion in Madoka Magica, I am considered to be anti-intellectual for my approaches. However, this labeling bears the hallmarks of an ineffectual argument: an intellectual is commonly accepted to be someone who uses reason and critical thinking to explore a concept, and to this, I append “for tangible applications beneficial to others”. Instead, I am strongly opposed to intellectual dishonesty, the act of using intellectual methods for things like deception, intimidation and personal gain (e.g. an increased social status).

  • This inevitably leads to the question of how to gauge intellectual honesty online, and fortunately, there is a simple test. If someone is honest, they will be open to discussion, have no objections to being wrong and maintain a very positive attitude. Someone who is intellectually dishonest will be adverse to being proven wrong, and be quick to point out flaws in the arguments that others present, or else insist that intellectual merit is a necessary feature in any work worth watching. Back in Magia Record, Iroha is shown to be kind and willing to lend a hand to her classmates where needed.

  • Having Iroha interact with her classmates creates a sense of ease: Homura, Sayaka and Homura were shown as being very distant from their classmates, and when the truth behind the Witches was made known, they had no one to turn to. Left to their own devices, Sayaka succumbed to despair and morphed into a Witch, Madoka gave her old life up to create a better world, and Homura would ultimately be driven insane by her desire to give Madoka happiness, creating a new world whose implications were never explored. By connecting Iroha with her classmates, it hints at the fact that she values those around her, in turn increasing her reasons for surviving and finding her sister.

  • Because of subtle differences between Madoka Magica and Magia Record, my inclination is to suppose that the overall themes in Magia Record will differ than those covered in the former. While some messages might make a return, the old themes of sacrifice are unlikely to take the forefront in Magia Record simply because that path has already been tread. A spin-off provides a fantastic chance to explore different ideas, and so, Magia Record has a strong opportunity to delve into facets of being a magical girl that Madoka Magica did not cover.

  • The Witch that Iroha and Kuroe square off against prove to far exceed their capacities to fight. Folks who’ve played the smartphone game will likely already be aware that Iroha was never geared for DPS, and Kuroe’s weapons seem similarly ineffectual. While Iroha and Kuroe seem the counterparts to Madoka and Homura, there are marked differences in their personalities and intentions, mirroring the idea that Magia Record is less likely to focus on sacrifice.

  • Mid-battle, Iroha is entranced by a smaller Kyubey and ceases her attacks on the Witch. Alone, Kuroe’s weapons have next to no impact on this monstrosity, and her fate seems to be sealed until a new Magical Girl enters the fray. This is Nanami Yachiyo, a veteran Magical Girl with well-rounded abilities. Having been fighting Witches for seven years, she’s reserved, mindful of the rules surrounding Magical Girls and in the anime, summons spears as her primary weapon. She was originally more friendly towards other Magical Girls until learning that becoming a Witch was what awaited them.

  • Nanami combines traits from Mami and Homura: at the age of nineteen, she’s BTDT and strikes a fine balance between Mami’s confidence during combat, as well as Homura’s caution and reluctance to depend on others. Despite only making a short appearance in Magia Record‘s first episode to briefly lecture Iroha and Kuroe, the fact that she’s introduced so early on, and that she’s been around the block means that her character will likely return in the future.

  • After one episode, discussions on Magia Record are prominently focused on the characters and the series’ callbacks to the original Madoka Magica, although I’ve caught wind of at least a handful of individuals on Tango-victor-tango asserting that Magia Record‘s cast of Magical Girls is a study in the dangers of Faustian bargains. Colloquially known as “a deal with the devil”, the Faustian bargain entails a trade where one receives their desired benefit at a high moral or personal cost, after the medieval legend of Faust, who exchanges his soul to the devil for unlimited knowledge and ultimately agrees to being enslaved by the devil.

  • Of course, this is not a sufficient case to make: name-dropping Faust into discussions doesn’t do anything useful for the reader, and so, I’d follow up by probing into what Magia Record makes of deals with the devil. Since some Magical Girls make wishes with a less severe consequence than others, the themes of Magia Record is plainly not a 1:1 study of Faust in anime form, and the extent that Faust is relevant to Magia Record, then, can only be determined as the series wears on. This is what motivates my page quote: in my experience, folks who are aware of how much they don’t know are considerably more knowledgable and useful than those who give the impression they know more than they do.

  • The first episode’s literary hook lies in the mysterious rumour surrounding Kamihara: Iroha’s begun hearing these unverified claims, and learns that other Magical Girls have also had strange dreams surrounding the phenomenon, that Magical Girls will find salvation in Kamihara. This stands in direct contradiction to Nanami’s word of warning, that Kamihara holds nothing for Magical Girls. The initial contradiction here is what will drive viewers back to check things out, along with Iroha’s own story, which is only starting its journey at this point.

  • Having come into contact with the young Incubator, Iroha suddenly recalls her original wish: she had wished to heal her sister, who then disappeared. While Magia Record is the sort of series where every episode could have something relevant to keep an eye on, I’m going with my usual format for discussions. Two more posts are lined up for Magia Record: one after three episodes to gauge where things are headed, and then a finale post to see if the series succeeds in delivering a satisfying and distinct story from Madoka Magica.

Because my background is in health sciences and software development, disciplines driven by facts and reproducible, refutable results, I’ve never really had a taste for introducing obscure philosophical and psychological topics into my discussions of Madoka Magica where a great deal of interpretation and subjectivity is present. While Madoka Magica had been groundbreaking for painting the duty of a magical girl in a new light, it actually did not provide a revolutionary outlook on what heroics equated to. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy had succeeded in doing the same thing years earlier, similarly prompting discussions on the philosophy and psychology of Batman; both The Dark Knight trilogy and Madoka Magica were excellent works not because they synthesised new ideas (which is the requirement for something to be worthy of academic consideration), but because they presented a very refreshing perspective of what being a hero meant. The philosophy and psychology, while perhaps somewhat enhancing one’s experience, was by no means a requirement to derive enjoyment from either works, and as such, I’ve not bothered writing thousands of words on how Faust, Kant or Freud is intimately tied to either Madoka Magica or The Dark Knight. Thus, for Magia Record, I enter the series with an open mind – Iroha’s quest to find her sister and get to the bottom of whatever lies in the depths of Kamihara City, in addition to what she learns along the way, and how Magia Record chooses to convey this, matters considerably more to me than how well the series incorporates principles from philosophers and psychologists, or references to literary works, both famed or obscure. Magia Record should stand of its merits, and whether or not it succeeds as an instalment to the Madoka Magica universe will depend on how compelling Iroha’s journey and learnings are.

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.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion Movie Review

“Your world as you knew it is gone. How far would you go to bring it back? Kyubey created despair… but only we knew the truth.” —Madoka Warfare 3: Rebellion

The third movie in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica film series, Rebellion, is the final installment. A hundred and eighteen minutes after I started watching, I initially felt that I had been left with a film that raised more questions than answers. The ending itself leaves the possibility of a sequel completely open. Of course, this is part of of the entertainment factor: the Madoka Magica series has in the past, excelled at presenting a brutal re-imagination to the magical girl genre, stripping away the idealistic approaches previous anime have taken and placing human emotions at the forefront of the story. The third film doesn’t deviate from this approach: through the Incubator’s intervention, Homura’s consciousness was confined within her soul gem when despair placed her on the edge of becoming a witch, with the aim of ensnaring Madoka to understand and control her powers. As such, much of the film is set within a surreal Mitakihara and the barrier projected by the partial form of Homura’s witch. This is somewhat inconsistent with the parameters outlined at the end of the second film and TV series (where the Law of Cycles helps despairing magical girls fade into oblivion instead of becoming witches), although I will simply pretend that there may be an exception somewhere to have allowed things to reach where they are at Rebellion‘s exposition. Things are initially slow to start, easing the viewers into the ever-so-familiar sights of Mitakihara and the lives the magical girls lead: in this universe, it was quite comforting to see all of the girls fight as a team for the first time. Whereas the previous films and TV series had most of them fight alone, here, the girls come together to take on nightmares, but soon, Homura realises something is amiss and in one of the more exhilarating battles, fights Mami Tomoe to a standstill. As the film wears on, all of the pieces fall into place, with the Incubators having turned out to somehow maniplate the turn of events for their own ends, answering some of the abnormalities initially seen. By the film’s climax, a combination of a spectacular battle to save Homura and the exchange of dialogue reminds viewers of the true nature in Madoka Magica: that the ideal, happy ending people are wont to expect in a story is simply not going to be the case in this series. Instead, there are no free lunches. Homura is able to save Madoka from her fate at the end of the second film (and TV series), but has become a being that will likely clash with Madoka in the future.

Rebellion excels where its predecessors excelled, although as per usual, underneath all the plot twists and unexpected events, the central core of the movie is rather simple. Homura’s determination to protect Madoka transcends love and friendship, becoming an obsession to prevent Madoka from succumbing to an unpleasant fate. She acts out of a combination of wishing to help Madoka as a friend, as well as to stave off her own loneliness. This type of behaviour is innate in any social animal, whose evolutionary wiring encourages social behaviours over being solitary. In part, this forms the bulk of Homura’s motivations: the sacrifices she makes for Madoka are done primarily to fight off loneliness, suggesting at just how far individuals will go to avoid being left alone in the world. This is my take on Homura’s actions: despite coming across as being aloof and arrogant, having seen the story, I realise that Chiwa Saitō does a phenomenal job playing Homura’s part. On one hand, Homura is a shy and timid girl who desires companionship above all else, but on the other hand, she has no qualms about doing all that is necessary to ensure Madoka’s happiness and is even willing to exchange her life for it, regardless of whether or not the others understand her intentions. In fact, after the movie ended, I held mixed feelings about Homura’s decisions throughout the movie, but the reality is that extreme circumstances force individuals to extreme actions. In Madoka Magica, the fact that there are magical girls and witches acts as this catalyst, so under such conditions, it is plausible that, when human nature is put to such a test, that these consequences may arise. These are merely my thoughts, though: my approaches to all anime in general is that of Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is the most effective one until further evidence necessitates greater complexity, and for me, the movie merely illustrates the destructiveness of Homura’s single-minded goal of making the world a better place for Madoka.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I imagine a large number of individuals will initially be looking for screenshots of the movie. Unfortunately, the complexity of this beast means that 1) this post will by definition be filled with spoilers and 2) contain screenshots taken in a stochastic manner, so not all moments in the movie will be equally represented. As is typical of my movie discussions, I have thirty, and although I probably won’t have the most screenshots or philosophical discussions, this is probably one of the first set of screenshots to arise.

  • As is typical of Madoka Magica, the movie starts out with a dream, followed by Madoka heading off to school. The environments are one of the strongest elements in Madoka Magica, as they convey a sense of distance and detachment. Of all the places in Mitakihara, Madoka’s house is the most warming and welcome.

  • Initally, it would appear that nothing is out of the ordinary: the full cast is present, and curiously enough, Kyouko is a student, as well. There’s a substantial amount of fan-art depicting Sayaka and Kyouko as friends: the latter admits that had they met under different circumstances, they might’ve been friends in the TV series (or the first two movies). The third movie finally gets to showcase how that works.

  • The amount of visual elements in Madoka Magica pertaining to the witches’ labyrinths and designs, as well as the composition of some scenes, have led to numerous projects to interpret, analyse and catalog every theory conceivable to the fans. I personally find that Madoka Magica isn’t inherently complicated, although some fans do derive fun from coming up with analysis of the different elements seen in Madoka Magica to produce some interesting interpretations.

  • I personally don’t have an inclination to analyse anything from Madoka Magica in great detail as a hobby because I already spend enough of my time working on things that demand a great deal of mental power (iOS software development, visualising fluid flow in the nephron, and trying to learn simulation paradigms, to name a few). I prefer to be doing things that don’t require much brain power in my downtime, such as playing Battlefield 3 or reading Tom Clancy novels.

  • The magical girl quintet deploy for the first time in the movie proper after Hitomi’s discontent about being unable to spend time with Kyousuke produces a physical nightmare, Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, Kyouko and Homura set out to set things right. The love triangle between Sayaka, Hitomi and Kyousuke had dramatic consequences in the TV series, leading Sayaka to succumb to despair and take on a witch form. Kyouko’s final decision to keep Sayaka (in her witch form) company was perhaps one of the most poignant moments in the entire franchise.

  • Rebellion takes some liberties to reintroduce elements common to the magical girl genre, through excessively long but entertaining transform sequences, announcing attacks and so forth. For me, it was most welcoming to see everyone operate as a group for the first time in this franchise’s history: to the best of my recollection, everyone has more or less been operating independently for the TV series and first two movies.

  • People have waited a very, very long time to see and hear the cake song again. Set in a “Sprechgesang” style (lit. “spoken song”), the lyrics are nonsensical and have a very light-hearted feel to them that stands in stark contrast to the remainder of the movie. While amusing, the girls probably would not have beaten Bane’s skill at freestyle. I imagine the cake song is supposed to give the impression that being a magical girl is fun and games, even though viewers would doubtlessly be aware that this is clearly not the case in this franchise.

  • After the magical quintet defeat the nightmare, Hitomi is released from her nightmare. The movie incarnation of Sayaka seems to be at ease with Hitomi dating Kyousuke and comforts her, reassuring Hitomi that things will be alright.

  • While the series might be called Madoka Magica, it might be more appropriate to characterise Homura as the main protagonist of the series, as her actions catalyse everything that had transpired. I feel that Homura, whatever her intentions might be, was a remarkably difficult character to sympathise with until her story was told, and even then, her means to an end are oftentimes questionable.

  • Surrealism dominates the movie, whether it be the unusual bus routes or appearance of other-worldly entities. This is the earliest hint that something is off, although Homura is the only individual that notices. I draw a comparison to the mega city in The Matrix, where the immediate world is built to mimic reality but is limited in scope. This pseudo-Mitakihara cannot be departed from, and in The Matrix, the mega city is a massive metropolis that forms the setting for everything: it is left ambiguous as to whether or not the rest of the world exists.

  • After Homura begins challenging her environment, Rebellion begins to take on a Matrix-esque feeling as what is and isn’t reality is thrown into question. Emmanuel Kant’s Theory of Perception is involved to an extent in both: Kant stated that one’s understanding of the external world has foundations in both experience and a priori knowledge. In other words, both the Zion rebels and Homura are able to reject their respective realities because they understand there is much more to their worlds than what is immediately apparent. Because I am ill-equipped to discuss perception and knowledge, I won’t pursue this any further.

  • I made a parody of this scene and uploaded it to this site’s Facebook page purely for amusement a while back, depicting Homura interrogating Bebe to figure out where the other drugs were going. One thing is for certain: they definitely weren’t going to the Narrows.

  • Homura’s old tendencies draw Mami’s attention after the former holds Bebe hostage and demands answers about their world, under the impression that Bebe was responsible for creating this illusionary world. Besides Kyouko and Sayaka’s friendship, Mami is exceptionally close to Bebe, a nod to some of the interactions fans have long been wishing to see in Madoka Magica.

  • Homura is seen wielding a Škorpion vz. 61 submachine gun in her duel with Mami. Despite being said to be inferior to Mami in terms of raw power, Homura has experience on her side and is able to fight Mami to a standstill. Homura also has an LMG of some sort, although I can’t readily identify it.

  • Anyone who has seen the fight scenes from The Matrix will probably find some familiarity in what is the movie’s first serious one-on-one duel. It is thrilling to watch Homura and Mami counter each other using their respective weapons, leading to the same kind of destruction seen in the lobby scene from The Matrix.

  • Being masterful at deception, Homura tricks Mami into thinking she is rage-quitting, and manages to escape. However, it turns out Mami was using a duplicate of herself during the engagement, hinting at the extent of her skills, which Homura must overcome with resourcefulness.

  • Before she became the witch Charlotte, Nagisa Momoe was also a magical girl. Her wish and origins aren’t explored in the movie, but she is shown as being quite perceptive and remained as Bebe until this point. She has a particular fondness for cheese.

  • An unusual boat glides the canals in Mitakihara: Homura encounters Madoka here outlines her beliefs that the individual who created the barrier had abandoned the responsibility of fighting wraiths, giving up and escaping into a Utopian prison. There is a bit of foreshadowing here as to who the culprit is.

  • The flower fields scene reveals that Homura’s feelings for Madoka have never wavered; despite everything that has happened, and wonders why Madoka would have made the sacrifice knowing she would lose everything.

  • This scene reminds me of the lyrics from DragonForce’s “Soldiers of the Wasteland”: Riding through the starlight and smashing the boundaries as hellfire falls from the sky/A shadow of pain will arise from the ashes of those fallen ones who have died. Homura eventually comes to understand that the barrier she’s encountering, as well as all the abnormalities, stem from the fact that she herself is the witch.

  • It turns out that the Incubators have somehow managed to break even Madoka’s Law of Cycles, isolating Homura’s soul gem as it undergoes corruption: Kyubey realises that the old system, prior to Madoka’s wish, was more efficient and set about figuring out how to introduce this system into Madoka’s current universe.

  • There is a limit to what images are capable of conveying, so I have reduced the number of images in the actual combat between Madoka, Sayaka, Mami and Kyouko against Homura’s witch form. The combat is beyond words, and must be seen to be believed.

  • This moment sent chills down my spine when it occurred: Homura’s desire to create a universe where Madoka can exist happily undoes reality itself, illustrating how strong these feelings are. It is precisely this that makes Homura so difficult to sympathise with, and indeed, one might consider Homura to be an antihero, lacking the same moral character and integrity as Madoka. Instead, her actions are selfish, motivated by her desires to be with Madoka regardless of the cost. This stubbornness lends the movie its title, as Homura is rebelling against the system Madoka created for her own ends.

  • By now, this moment has been duplicated, and duplicates of the duplicates have been made as fans began uploading fan-arts of this moment to all image boards. Through her actions, Homura has surpassed Madoka in existence, driven entirely by the single-minded desire of making Madoka happy regardless of the cost to herself. This behaviour has transcended what one might normally consider to be admirable and borders on insanity.

  • A new equilibrium  is reached, and as such, the world returns to a cleaner, more realistic design. The skyscrapers of Mitakihara can be seen in the background, and the environments feel far warmer than they did for most of the movie.

  • The newly created reality bears much resemblance to the previous ones, although given how the entire Madoka Magica franchise is constructed, the new equilibrium may be disrupted yet again in the future. If memory serves, this will entail a third rebirth, and I imagine that the creators will have become exceedingly efficient and writing out such a path.

  • Madoka is re-introduced as a transfer student in a familiar setting. The locations depicted over all three movies are rather more impressive than those of the TV series, and for individuals who have seen the TV series but not the movies, I recommend that they give the movies a shot. Despite having near-identical stories, differences in the details make the movies worthwhile.

  • Homura finds Madoka and, in conversation, finds out that this Madoka retains her powers and continues to believe that the greater good surpasses personal desire in terms of importance. Homura is unable to accept this and warns Madoka that their paths may cross again in the future, with the two on opposite sides. This aspect may potentially lead to future works, and if this is the case, I will rather look forward to seeing how that is handled.

  • This ends my reflection, a monstrosity that weighs in at nearly three thousand words (including the figure captions) and took some three hours to finish. Before I depart, I will note that this reflection was primarily designed to express my thoughts on Rebellion‘s execution as a movie and its contribution to the Madoka Magica franchise.

At the end of the day, Rebellion represents a somewhat surprising conclusion to the Puella Magi Madoka Magica film series. I’ve come to expect nothing less than a thrilling film, and Rebellion delivered as expected. While the story is a little difficult to follow at times, the build-up of tensions and conflict kept me engaged for the entire film’s duration. In particular, the fight between Mami and Homura, the girls’ final push to try and save Homura and the exchange Madoka has with Homura illustrate the movie at its very best, showcasing the tensions the characters experience throughout the film and kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire running duration. This is saying something: the last two films to have done that for me were The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall. Now, those are particularly good movies, which should bear testament to the quality seen in Rebellion. The film is a must-watch for all fans of the series, although it is not a film that is accessible to first-time viewers in that there is far too much background. Individuals considering watching Rebellion should at the minimum, watch Beginning and Eternal in the Madoka Magica film series, or the TV series, or both. With stunning visuals and sound, the film has been nominated as one of the Best Animated Features for the 86th Academy awards, testifying to its impact. The ending of Rebellion is open to interpretation, and as it stands now, I wouldn’t rule out or mind seeing a future iteration of this series.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Rebellion: Blu-Ray release date set for April 2

Those seeking screenshots and my own reflection may do so here. Spoilers follow, so don’t click if you don’t like spoilers!

The Puella Magi Madoka Magica Rebellion movie now has a known home release date: said date will be April 2, 2014. Released in North America back in December 2013, Rebellion quickly became the highest grossing movie in Japan, earning 1.93 billion yen to edge out the K-On! Movie, which premiered back in December 2011. The film is praised for its gorgeous visuals and creativity, as well as the fluidity of the character emotions. The home release will come in three different editions: a standard edition DVD (4500 Yen, roughly 48 CAD), a standard edition Blu-Ray (5500 yen, or 58 CAD) and a complete special edition Blu-Ray that will retail for 9500 yen (100 CAD). The special edition will feature the movie’s original soundtrack (so the Rebellion OST is also releasing on April 2), a movie booklet and other bonuses. That is to say, the “cake song” that everyone’s been looking forward now has a known release date.

  • For this post, I’ve decided to go with something that doesn’t involve spoilers, since those are problematic for some. Apparently, Rebellion is serious business, and some individuals see it necessary to add meaning where there is none, resulting in discussions that lack coherence or direction. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is not complicated: what the anime is really about is the duality of miracles and the costs associated with miracles.

Earlier predictions suggested that the release window for Rebellion would be somewhere in July or August 2014: a long ways away. This turned out to be incorrect, although predictions from the same sources correctly supposed that the soundtrack would accompany the Blu-Ray release. I am greatly looking forwards to this release, for it will represent a chance for me to finally see the movie in high quality. As per my typical operation, I will publish the review here, coupled with screenshots taken from the movie, to produce what will probably be the internet’s first (if not best) reflection on the movie after April 2.