What You Need to Know To Become a Magical Girl

March 13th, 2011

I’m in the middle of watching Mahou Shoujo Madoka☆Magica (魔法少女まどか☆マギカ). A number of people mentioned I ought to watch it and a regular reader and commenter here suggested in conversation on Twitter that it would change the way I thought about Magical Girls Series. I replied that I felt that that was highly unlikely. Today’s post is why.

This is not a review of Madoka. I’ll do that when it’s complete. In short – I think there’s a lot of interesting elements in the story, both in terms of plot construction and visual design. I marathoned the first 8 episodes yesterday and am still watching, so that says something. ^_^ Today I want to explain, in a roundabout, allegorical way, why the plot complications in Madoka did not surprise me all that much.

Tools you need before becoming a Magical Girl:

1) Extensive reading of major literary works

This is why “average” middle-school girls are so often pegged by magical sidekicks to become Magical Girls. If you are an adult, former Comparative Literature major, you’d recognize irony and other literary plot complications when you saw it and not fall for things so quickly. So, make sure your kids read O. Henry and W.W. Jacobs as early as they are emotionally capable of reading them. Adam also suggests adding the story of Faust to the list and I agree. Perhaps some of the more annoying Arabian Tales, in which promises by genies are twisted, as well. dmunder7 also correctly suggests that Greek Myths – especially those involving Delphic prophecies be on your child’s early reading list.

2) A healthy dose of cynicism

Again, most middle-schoolers are not yet steeped in the ways of the world and actually think that they are important. If you make your kids aware of the larger world and the horrors humans perpetrate upon one another at a young age, they are much less likely to fall for a line, whether it be the guy who asks them to help him find his lost dog in the woods, or the cute magical creature offering to fulfill dreams.

3) A list of questions

If anyone offers you a chance to be a magical girl, start asking these questions. Unless you get a complete answer to all of them, say no and walk away:

– What are all my powers and what do I have to do to use them? This includes weapons, spells, mantras, poses, songs, familiars, etc….

– What is the downside/trade-off to using my powers (health, lifespan, suck energy from people, etc…)

– Who are my enemies, how do I recognize them?

– Do we have past connection, do we have a current connection? (If we have a past connection, how did I defeat them last time? If we have a current connection, how will defeating them affect their daily life now?)

– Why are they my enemies?

– What are the risks I am taking (death for me, death for my loved ones, destruction of everything in the known universe, etc….)

– What’s the long-term effect of doing this? (Do you wipe our memories, do we all die, but save the world, do we get to return to a normal life…how do I get out of it, once I’m done?)

– Do I have allies? How can I recognize them? What are their powers?

– Did we have a connection in the past and how does it affect our connections (if any) now?

– What else do I need to know that I haven’t explicitly asked, but will affect me if I don’t know it?

– What’s in it for you?

If you have any questions you’d add, feel free to do so in the comments. I’ll add the best in to the list.

I hope this gives you a better perspective of my perspective of Madoka, as well. I’m going to watch a few more episodes now. ^_^

***

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is not a list for Making a Magical Girl Anime. It’s a list to help you decide whether to become a Magical Girl…just like it says in the title.

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45 Responses

  1. I think what got me was that I was expecting something just a little bit more extreme than Nanoha for Madoka, but not what the series has become. Once it was reveled it made sense though.

    I like the list, and it makes sense. Not sure I want all my hero/Magical girl shows to follow it but it does make a real good checklist to follow :)

  2. @Richard – This was not meant as a checklist for the anime series. They already have one of those and we’re seeing the end product of it. (tsundere – check, genki girl – check, tragic best friend – check….) This is, in fact, one of my main objections to anything moe, because the checklists are obvious.

    The checklist I posted is for people in a situation where they might *become* a magical girl, so they don’t fall into obvious traps set by writers who are trying to be clever.

  3. Spinder says:

    I don’t think a show should be judged by how predictable it is but rather how well it is executed. Cliches are there because they work.

    I would rather watch a well executed movie full of predictable ideas rather than a mediocre movie who tries to be deep.

    And I think the show is already trying to do certain things on your list.

    The risks have been explained early on by Mami. You are putting your life on the line in being a magical girl, and you must cleanse your soul gem to keep being one by using grief seeds, which by the way.. is not always guaranteed to drop.

    It’s just that she does not know all the hidden clauses of the contract and QB is someone who will NOT tell.

  4. @Spinder – The list is not for the show.
    Why do you all keep thinking that?

    Read the title – What You need to Know Before You Become a Magical Girl

  5. oneplusme says:

    Of course, the tricky part is that an suitably malevolent writer will put you in a life-or-death situation, thereby giving you no time to decide, and a choice between magical-girldom and impending death. (Which is not, of course, to say that the latter may not turn out to be the better choice…)

    Given the propensity amongst magical girl-recruiting creatures to either not know, refuse to answer, or outright lie in response to the questions in the list, whilst asking them is certainly good advice, it’s unlikely to save you.

    Still, I’d like to propose a rule of thumb for avoiding angst-a-riffic doom: if anyone asks you to enter into a contract of any kind, run away. (Perhaps inserting a quick summary of Dr Faustus amid your child’s bedtime stories would help here.)

  6. I agree with the Moe checklist and Madoka, and even though I like a few Moe series I agree with you that the majority suffer from the checklist. In fact I’m hopping the ending to Madoka deconstructs Moe a bit though I suspect it will get ignored much like parts of the Eva ending was ignored (if it does deconsruct Moe).

    And yeah, I misread the intent of the list. And why it wouldn’t apply to say a Precure series or even Nanoha.

  7. @oneplusme – Excellent choice, I’ll add Faust to the list of required childhood reading material.

  8. @oneplusme Reading the fine print on any contract is always good advice. If the deal seems to be too good to be true than it probably is

  9. Spinder says:

    Well, I’m a bit confused. What kind of reaction are you expecting, then?

    You made a list on what a magical girl should know before she takes the job. And you said in a round and allegorical way that having this in mind the plot complications in Madoka did not surprise you all that much. A contextual connection has therefore been made.

    So are you saying you do not want people to talk about Madoka yet?

    Are you saying want people to add to your list for now?

    Well.. that’s a rather unusual response to be honest, but I’ll try.

    addendum: A magical girl should keep in mind that what is told to her by her magical mascot may not always be true, or if it true, it is only the partial truth or clever worldplay.

  10. AJ says:

    Obviously the most important question a magical girl has to ask is: How awesome will my outfit look? It’s not gonna be some fetish variant of a school uniform?

  11. Spinder says:

    Oh, an since someone mentioned Faust

    this is a screen capture from Madoka’s episode 2

    http://wiki.puella-magi.net/File:Ep2_Goethe_Quote.jpg

    This is in fact, a direct quote from Goethe’s Faust

  12. @Spinder – Feel free to discuss Madoka.

    The point of this post was that I was not terribly surprised/impressed/blown away (as many viewers seem to have been) by anything in the plot of Madoka so far because I have read a great deal of literature and do not find these plot complications to be terribly surprising – or unique – as many watchers do. When you read many, many great pieces of literature, no matter how clever the writers of an anime are, they will rarely be more original than the great writers of the ages.

    For me, the pleasure in watching Madoka has been enjoying the visual design and the execution of the plot complications.

    I was just having a bit of fun with the self-awareness of fans…and magical girls.

  13. @Spinder – Thanks very much for the link! Yes, that is one of the things that should have been an indication to fans (like Himura’s looks, Mami’s forthrightness, the unchanging facial “expression” on Kyubei’s face) as the the nature of what is “really” going on.

  14. @spinder I missed that quote. The fact that it is there pretty powerful foreshadowing.

    @Erica I think what made me be shocked is I was approaching this as any other anime. So I wasn’t really expecting things to go say different from the way of other anime shows. I should of picked up the clues a lot better but sometimes I don’t :|

  15. @Richard – You are not alone. Most people watch anime with a set of criteria layered around their own expectations. That’s totally normal. I just always keep my expectations low – especially when people start telling me how unique and game-changing a series is. ^_^

    In my reality, the few actual game-changing anime were met with confusion, or completely ignored. Anything hailed as zOMG awesome by fans is likely to not be all that unique, but will be tweaking a few key expectations.

  16. It’s not just an issue with anime, it’s an issue with pop culture as a whole. It’s hard for game changing works to get noticed at first sadly.

  17. That’s how outfits like these Get You, they go after archetypal young ladies with unrealistic or uninformed ideas about the magical girling industry. Next thing you know your image is plastered on unsettling JList products and the insects from Shaggai are in your brain and riding your body like a burning Harley over Snake River Gorge.

    Always make sure to go over your contract–and make sure it’s a physical contract without any 4th-dimensional fine print–with a trustworthy agent to make sure you’re not getting a raw deal.

  18. @Kriegsaffe No. 9

    /Applause/

  19. Spinder says:

    I think what you are hoping is for Madoka to be a SUBVERSION of the genre. And yes that is a game changer. But that’s not the only way to change the game.

    Instead, I think Madoka wants to be a DECONSTRUCTION

    A deconstruction means that you do in fact KEEP all the established staples of the genre but you reexamine them. You don’t change a thing about the staples. But what you do is show how this staples can bring forth unpleasant things.

    The point of a deconstruction is to show that being xyz is not as fine and happy as it seems to be.

    This is why Evangelion, and Watchmen are deconstructions.

    And I believe Madoka is one too. And to my knowledge it is the only magical girl show that has done so, and done so well.

  20. @Spinder You are making incorrect assumption based on a single, very important mistake.

    I do not *want* Madoka to be anything. I am seeing it for what it is presenting itself as.

    I’m not sure how you imagine you see me desiring anything in my comments which have repeatedly stated that I find it entertaining, yet predictable. But good job on finding such depth in it.

  21. Spinder says:

    well excuse me then..

    your tone seems to say that.. “oh this show isn’t revolutionary as the masses say, especially when compared to the classics. There is nothing new here”

    thus, I am arguing that no, I think it is indeed revolutionary, but not in the way that you expect.

    but if you don’t agree with that, I still agree with your last sentiment. In the end, it’s all about the execution that matters.

    After all..“It is better to be good than to be original.” Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

  22. @Spinder – I have absolutely no idea why you think there’s an argument here.

    I do not think this series is “revolutionary.” If you do, that’s great, you are not alone. Lots of people do. You telling me why I am wrong won’t actually change my opinion, though.

    More importantly, I find it interesting and entertaining and will continue to watch it.

  23. C. Banana says:

    If it’s so predicable, you should tell us what will happen in episodes 11 & 12.;)

  24. @C.Banana. Cute. ^_^ By predictable, I mean that when they lay out the possibilities at the beginning of the episode, that leads to certain specific endings that become possible – like an opening gambit in chess leads to certain scenarios. When I saw the first 10 seconds of Episode 10, for instance, the clue coin dropped from an earlier episode and I could see where they were going.

    I won’t know what possibilities are likely for 11 or 12 until I see their opening gambit, but I think a “Sunrise reset” is a high possibility for the ending.

  25. rockettubes says:

    My take from Madoka is that is a cautionary tale warning almost exactly these same good points.

    Don’t be simply taken in by the cute animal, don’t take “staking your life and soul” lightly. Be informed before making choices.

    Especially the last point. Most titular mahou shoujo are never given a choice, they are pressed into service, often to save a friend–Madoka differs in that regard as the entire series hinges around the question of that moment of decision.

  26. @rockettubes – Or, as G.I. Jpe put is “Knowing is half the battle.” ^_^

  27. Anonymous says:

    Personally, the main reason I don’t find Madoka totally revolutionary is that I already read something very similar 10 years ago: Sailor Nothing by Stefan Gagne. Here’s a link, and I highly recommend checking it out.

    http://www.pixelscapes.com/sailornothing/

  28. Spinder says:

    What’s a sunrise reset ending? Are you perhaps referring to Mai Hime? If so than I think it’s more accurate to call it a Mai Hime reset ending

    Most of the times, Sunrise do not build up their shows only to reset it to status quo

    and even IIRC, even Mai Hime’s spiritual successor Mai Otome didn’t have a reset ending.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Because I knew it was Urobuchi, I expected something grimdark. Even so, I was not expecting an emotionless cute little mascot talking young girls into a cycle of murder-death, with those in the magical girl phase of the cycle forced to kill those in witch phase or die in the process.

    Until apparently, humanity is destroyed in order to fulfill said mascot’s energy quota.

    This went well past my expectation of grimdark mahou shoujo, straight into pure horror with some moe trappings.

    Not usually what appeals to me, but in this case I’m completely fascinated.

  30. dmunder7 says:

    I’m looking forward to what you have to say about Madoka.

    May I suggest reading some Greek mythology (or Herodotus), paying close attention to the Oracle of Delphi. “If you invade Persia, a great empire will fall”, that sort of thing. Lots of lessons about hearing what is said instead of what you think you hear.

    Those might be less of a slog than Faust.

  31. @dmunder7 – I loved Herodotus. He’s got a permanent seat at my dream dinner party. You just know he’d have a story for every occasion.

    Anything remotely relating to Delphis is probably just as much a slog as Faust, IMHO, but Oedipus is something everyone should have read at some point in school and that has a lovely bit of tedious self-fulfilling prophecy.

    If a reader is not a child, I recommend Robert Graves’ Greek Myths. Does a great job of putting things in perspective.

  32. dmunder7 says:

    You just know Herodotus never had to buy his own drinks. I love Graves — I ended up reading his Homer’s Daughter led there by a path that began with Miyazaki’s Nausicaa.

  33. Anonymous says:

    agree with erica, if you have watch many many title anime or manga. you can “see” where it plot going.

    what make me surpirse it’s rare to see character died in 2nd episode (if you watch souykou no fafner, the plot are same but this one is mecha)

    btw: do you think all artwork at mahou shoujo madoka are cute? even the majou?

  34. I’d like to add two more:

    * Does the job includes additional danger pay, health benefits, insurance, etc?
    * In case should I fail defeating a monster and die, should my family receive survivor benefits as well? And cover the costs of burial?

  35. sarcastic_weasel says:

    You forgot the most important question an aspiring MS should ask:

    “What’s in it for me?”

    Yes, my favorite book was “The Prince.” :D

    (Oooo, now a MS series based on “The Prince,” I’d watch that.)

  36. deathcurse says:

    I think I understood what you were trying to get at with your post ^^.

    I’m heavily enjoying Madoka, since it’s different from the usual magical girl fare, even darker Magical Girl shows like Mai HiME or even the original work Sailor Nothing. That’s not to say that it is revolutionary/surprising–as you said, I’ve encountered similar themes in literature before, and while the story/plot is crafted well in terms of how all the elements fit together, it is not hugely original.

    But of course, that doesn’t make the show any less *good* or special, just because it is predictable ^^. In fact, I like how it is predictable to an extent (of course, each episode does still have me exclaiming with excitement/surprise/awe) since that shows good writing and foreshadowing. If things truly came as a surprise that’s bad, left-field writing. A good Reveal is always set up ahead of time, after all!

    What Madoka does so well is that it takes these dark, deconstructive themes and puts it into a Magical Girl show. It shows in episode 3 that the good guys can die…brutally, and without it being a heroic sacrifice. It shows us in Episode 5 why working together, a la Power of Friendship that most MG shows emphasize, is *not* a good idea since they need to compete for Grief Seeds. It shows in episode 8 how the cutesy mascot thing can’t be automatically trusted. And it shows in episode 10 how a desire to save someone doesn’t drive someone for the better, but turns them cynical and desperate. Those are all themes that appear regularly in literature, but are not common (or often found all together) in the idealistic Magical Girl genre. And that’s why Madoka is such an amazing show for me =D.

    I totally agree with your list; if most MG shows weren’t so idealistic, those girls could get into real trouble entering contracts without having a clear idea of what’s going on…Madoka is an example of a show that actually went there ^_^.

  37. Anonymous says:

    It’s not too late to become a magical girl! Join the TSAB today!
    I remind myself of Nanoha whenever I feel like I’ve passed the age where I can fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a mahou shoujo.

  38. TheSuna says:

    An important question to ask: “What is the attire?”

    As a guy, I’d like to know ahead of time whether it’ll be spandex or miniskirt. Neither’s a deal-breaker, I’d just like to know what the properties of them are:

    – Well, first, is there a uniform at all? Do I need to make my own?

    – Are they of the variety that never seem to get dirty or damaged, even though one’s been fighting some guys for the last 3 hours?

    If not, will I have to pay for them to be repaired/cleaned, or no?

    – Does the gear disappear once I exit the magical girl mode, or will I have to waste time hiding it and all that rot?

    – Is the clothing material of a worldly nature or not? I may be allergic to supernatural materials; I’m not sure Benadryl covers that.

    – Are any of my enemies perverts; or, more specifically, perverts with uncontrollable fetishes for the uniform one would be wearing?

    A lot of considerations there, in the clothing. (oh, and never watched the anime in question. I’ll check it out)

  39. Dop says:

    TheSuna said: An important question to ask: “What is the attire?”

    In episode 2 of Madoka, while Sayaka turned up carrying a baseball bat, Madoka turned up carrying the designs she’d done for her costume!

  40. Ashrie says:

    I had not heard of this show before your post, so I had to find more information about it. And I stumbled upon this parody video on Youtube…

    That made me laugh XD

  41. Anonymous says:

    I just saw another review of Madoka, and comments on it, that seems along these lines too:

    http://subatomicbrainfreeze.typepad.com/subatomic_brainfreeze/2011/02/puella-magi-madoka-magica-hey-little-girl-wanna-make-a-contract-with-me.html

    “…A lot of viewers, myself included, have noticed parallels to a sexual predator. Only after young girls, is invisible to adults, wants something she doesn’t yet have the capacity to understand… you get me here…”

    http://subatomicbrainfreeze.typepad.com/subatomic_brainfreeze/2011/02/puella-magi-madoka-magica-hey-little-girl-wanna-make-a-contract-with-me.html?cid=6a00d8345233f369e2014e5f494b39970c#comment-6a00d8345233f369e2014e5f494b39970c

    “I am leaning towards the show having a veiled look at the sex trade. There is Kyubey recruiting young girls to work certain parts of the city or the city itself. The grief seeds and or soul gems could be drugs which is oh so common in that trade and the wishes that are granted could be what usually pulls vulnerable girls into that line of work, a relatives surgery or sudden and disastrous life changes.”

    http://subatomicbrainfreeze.typepad.com/subatomic_brainfreeze/2011/02/puella-magi-madoka-magica-hey-little-girl-wanna-make-a-contract-with-me.html?cid=6a00d8345233f369e20147e2a969b4970b#comment-6a00d8345233f369e20147e2a969b4970b

    “Yeah I just think some of the images within point to it as well. Episode two’s witch is sitting on something you would not be surprised to see in a bordello and the latest episode has the equivalent of Kyubey giving a pimp slap, not to mention the battle Sayaka gets into, lot of grabbing hands and what she says as she beats down the witch before the credits roll.”

  42. Anonymous says:

    PMMM’s done, yet the ending has now divided almost everyone. I can’t tell much but there’s much to be filled out (I blame the 12-episode straitjacket for not allowing a bit more of universe expansion or worldbuilding).

  43. woceht says:

    Just found your blog and it’s been a great resource for finding new series. I loved this one. It’s a dark surreal Dave Mckean-esque groundhog day puzzle. My one gripe is with Madoka’s character; the extremely persistent weepiness is truly trying. She just doesn’t do anything for almost the whole series!

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