When You Wish Upon A Star: Hope And Despair in Puella Magi Madoka Magica #1

Part One – The Butcher Himself

Full disclosure: I have not seen Rebellion. Nor do I wish to see Rebellion, nor do I think I will ever wish to see Rebellion. The reason is because, unlike many other shows of its frilly ilk, Poofy Monster-Murdering Misses actually had a good ending. It was appropriate, bittersweet and hit all the right notes. Making a third movie that actively undoes this good ending is not just hitting the wrong notes; it is taking a fire-axe to the seats, sending the entire audience screaming down the aisles, and then setting the piano alight out of sheer spite.

I might have to watch Rebellion now, just to see if I’m right. But not yet, my dear non-existent audience, because today, we’re talking despair!

greatballsoffire_piano

Dramatic chords are markedly less effective on a burning piano.

Or rather, we’re talking about the sadsack behind all that despair. As you no doubt know, Perfectly Mysterious Middle-School Maidens was written by the great killer of characters and assassin of expectations, Urobuchi Gen. (More on him soon.) However, Urobuchi is so good at assassinating expectations, it’s kinda become an expectation for him to do so – and, true to form, he does it so often and in such an idiosyncratic way that one actually learns to predict him.

(But Troy, you cry, how can one predict the Urobutcher? Surely he is too subversive and too good at destroying the genre conventions!)

Let me explain what I mean, imaginary reader who is in no way a figment of my imagination. When I say that Urobuchi is predictable, I mean that he tends to exhibit certain observable patterns. Every prominent writer does that; we audience-types call it their thematic bent or style. A writer without a style cannot speak, and a writer with no themes has nothing to say. In storytelling, themes are truth and style is substance.

So, what does Urobuchi tend towards?

In his fantastic handbook, Character and Viewpoint, SF/F legend Orson Scott Card divides all speculative stories into four categories: Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. This spectrum is known as the MICE quotient. While every good SF/F story will contain all four of these factors in varying measures, most will focus on one or two to the exclusion of the rest. For example, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin is primarily a Milieu and Idea story, focusing on the anthropological features of a planet of sexless hermaphrodites, the Gethenians, who only assume sexual characteristics during a brief mating period known as kemmer. On the other hand (presumably the right one), The Forever War by Joe Haldeman is mostly a Character and Event story, focusing on the titular interstellar Vietnam War BUT IN SPACE, and the effects of relativistic time-dilation on its hapless hero, William Mandella.

 

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Not by any means to be confused with William Mandala, who was much too busy admiring his own intricate prettiness to shoot any Taurans.

Urobuchi Gen plays heavily on Milieu and Idea, but not primarily Character. Like every other writer in existence (except perhaps those goshdarn experimentuh literaree types), he uses Event to drive the plot, but his stories tend not to be pure Event stories, like, for example, H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, in which Martians try to kill Tom Cruise and make him sad. There’s not much else to it, I’m afraid.

waroftheworlds

‘So, uh, heya. Does any one of you fine humans wanna become a Magical Girl? You’ll be pink and frilly.’

 

Urobuchi is a competent character writer with a good handle on dialogue and motivation, but he tends to subjugate Character to Idea, turning them into blatant mouthpieces for some opposing philosophy or another and having them debate in, of all places, the middle of combat. He writes heavily to types, constantly reusing a well-worn wallet of standard character archetypes with variations, and does so confidently enough not to make it stale – but even so, he is more of a Milieu and Idea writer than a Character or Event writer.

(But Troy, you say, apparitating from the general area of my left armpit, isn’t telling and not showing a bad thing that shows the deficiency of the storyteller?)

To which I respond with a resounding mebbe. But again, more on that later. You can see what I mean about Milieu and Idea being Urobuchi’s focuses, and not Character or Event, simply by thinking about his shows.

The futuristic post-cyberpunk Japan of Psycho-Pass and its Sibyl System is realized well for the first half of the first season, but it suffers from a bland villain and unremarkable side-characters, which means that the quality tapers off as the plot picks up and everyone gets thrown together. The omnipresent Essentially Kerry, a dark and brooding character who is basically Emiya Kiritsugu from Fate/Zero (and hence the embodiment of utilitarian ethics) shows up almost unchanged in more than one show.

 

essentially-kerries

Essentially Kerries come in these exciting flavors: Original! Schoolgirl! K9! Ultra-rare 3D Winter Melon! Get yours today!

The Milieu changes with each new setting the creator invents. What, then, is the Idea? Again, there are as many as a man has stories. But I propose that Urobuchi Gen’s central Idea, the tainted spring from which all his other themes flow like dark and bloody rills, is the following:

The world is cruel and unforgiving, and will never allow any form of idealism to succeed. Hence, in order to be a hero and save the world, one must overturn the world system with magic, miracle, or both. Anything else is wishful thinking, and hopelessly selfish.

Hence, hope and despair, the core duality at the heart of Pouting Mouldy Manchild Mistresses; the impossible wish to save the world. We shall see how Urobuchi conveys this point as this series continues, and, eventually, whether or not he manages to succeed.

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4 thoughts on “When You Wish Upon A Star: Hope And Despair in Puella Magi Madoka Magica #1

  1. Nice work Troy! Really well though analysis and humor. This particular one is very interesting tematically and it’s always interesting to see an in depth analysis that gets to th hear of the stories.

    Keep the good work!

    Like

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