Past and Present: Thoughts on Madoka Magica’s Synthesis of Magical Girl Tropes

Long fucking titles!

Oh, Madoka Magica. You depressing little thing, you.

Very short post here, as I really just wanted to make a small observation about Magi Puella Madoka Magica. Everyone has been talking a lot about what tropes it is subverting or how it is deceiving us, but I’m actually finding the most intriguing little detail its synthesis of elements from the original magical girl shows and ones of more recent vintage, and how it’s doing this.

Originally, the genre designation ‘magical girl’ was exactly what it sounds like – girls, doing magic. There wasn’t an over-arching good versus evil thing in these early shows, and if there was a distinct mission in mind, it was more like helping a princess pass her qualification for queenhood exam (Hime-chan no Ribbon), not killing bad guys with wands. The big thing was that these girls could do magic. If anything, I think these shows are best also carrying the classification of slice-of-life, since they tended toward being coming-of-age type tales. Atsuko is a normal ten year old girl… but she can use magic! Watch her go through life and run up against the regular problems of a ten year old, try to solve them with magic, and then realize that… magic isn’t always the best option!

Of course, then along came the whole fighting evil thing. While the girls doing magic thing didn’t ever completely fade out (they still pop up every so often even now), these shows with grand narratives about saving the world really took over the genre.

And in comes Madoka Magica, which scales the magical girl scope back down to a much more immediate and localized purview. Overarching evil? Well, only in as much as evil is a fact of the human condition. The “witches” don’t appear to have any organization, and I doubt that they ever will be shown to have any affiliation with one another. This is the death by a thousand cuts take on bad guys. There is no larger thing that needs to be taken down.

However, it was that whole wish thing that made me start thinking of the older magical girl shows in the first place. But here we find the whole thing completely divorced from the girls themselves – they have to agree to cede control in exchange for their wishes. The power does not rest with them. While the Sailor Moons and Pretty Cures of past years never appeared to have any ability to grant wishes, it was never something that was so explicitly demonstrated as we see with Madoka Magica. Its quite the inversion of the original trope.

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One Response to Past and Present: Thoughts on Madoka Magica’s Synthesis of Magical Girl Tropes

  1. Mystlord says:

    Hm that’s definitely an interesting way to think about it. I guess the difference here is primarily that there’s still an “evil” to fight, despite the lack of any centralization of evil. I mean in many regards, Cardcaptor Sakura dealt with the same issue, in that there initially wasn’t an “evil” per say, but rather just Clow Cards. Although, well, there wasn’t really a great evil there either, relatively speaking. I guess it’s just not a great example 😛

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