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Archive for August, 2011

Gen Urobuchi has recently given an interview to Asahi Shimbun (Japan’s second most circulated newspaper), where he talks about Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica in context of recent real-world happenings, making some daring statements in the process.

The following extract was copied directly from the Anime News Network site:

Asahi: Madoka Magica is an original story. Where did the idea come from?

Urobuchi: I received a request to write a bloody story where magical girls appear, and then drop out one by one. I paid attention to the aspects that are troubling or overlooked in the traditional magical girl genre. I’ve been thinking that magical girls who have acquired superhuman abilities will find themselves removed from the world, which would cause contradictions and reactions.

Asahi: Magical girls, who are full of hope and who strive to save the people, soon suffer from hatred and jealousy, which turn them into the enemy witches. The change from good to evil left an emotional impact.

Urobuchi: For example, Al-Qaeda brought down the Twin Towers due to their self-righteousness. Justice for some people is an evil for others. Good intentions, kindness, and hope will not necessarily make people happy.

The following is my translation of the remaining part of the interview.

Asahi: In the climax of the series, witches bring a disaster upon the city. Isn’t it that in modern society, people’s negative emotions are what destroys the world?

Urobuchi: One curse brings about another, creating a cycle of hatred. That’s what I find the most terrifying. Positive words like happiness, victory and glory are only spoken after being thrown into the same trash can with their opposites. Even if it starts smelling or maggots get out, we pretend not to notice and paint the world in bright colors. America, for example, could be seen as having gained and maintained its prosperity by forcing its own negatives on Third World countries.

Asahi: In the face of the disaster, one of the characters repeats the same time period in a loop several times. Her struggle to stop the event fills the viewer with pity. The usage of such loop has become a common form of expression since the last decade.

Urobuchi: I think it’s a useful way of conveying the feeling of entrapment. The panic of 1999 didn’t bring the end of the world. In the 80’s and 90’s there was a lot of shouting and worrying that the end might come, and many images of the apocalypse, like the nuclear war fallout, were created in the public mind.

Asahi: The end didn’t come, but it’s not like the situation has improved. Is seems those troubled days will never end.

Urobuchi: There is no absolute justice and no absolute conclusion. In the anime series, there is a scene where one magical girl argues that “By trusting in hope, you only bring about equally strong despair. The world is made to keep its final balance at zero.” Even if we chase after hope, despair is sure to follow. We must be willing to accept this from the beginning. To make some tempura, we have to throw out the oil used. It is impossible to create something beautiful without producing waste matter in the process.

Asahi: The nuclear reactors which were supposed to bring us abundant life now spread radioactive material. “Desires which go against logic bring about distortions”, this anime line sounds like a fitting aphorism for this situation.

Urobuchi: Now everyone goes on and on about saving electricity, but we should have thought about a world which doesn’t require such dangerous things to be built in the first place. I thought we were aware of the risk of radioactive pollution when we wished for the brilliant Christmas illuminations.

Asahi: But isn’t it that humans cannot live without desiring something?

Urobuchi: Getting back to Al-Qaeda, the desire to lead the world in the right direction is not wrong in itself. The decision Madoka, the main character, makes at the end of the series is the result of her not wanting to deny the fact that the magical girls held hope.

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The B side of the Negima/Hayate double-billed combo is Hayate no Gotoku – Heaven is a Place on Earth. Unlike the Negima movie, nobody was really sure what this one would be about before it was screened. Many hopes were dashed when it was announced that the movie would not cover the End of the World manga arc (one of the popular theories right after the movie was announced) but instead show an all-original country-themed story. So what did we get instead of our sword loli?

Warning: the following post may contain some slight spoilers (it’s mostly safe, though).

The movie opens with none other than the idol singer (and doujinshi artist) Suirenji Ruka. It will still be some time before we can see her in the anime, so Hata-sensei found a way to slip her in here. And what a first impression it is! With the spotlight solely on her flowing moves and the power of a cinema’s sound system to carry her singing, we see Ruka as Nagi must have seen her during their first meeting – a near divine, unreachable existence.

Other than Ruka’s dancing, the opening of the movie is composed of humorous still images showing Nagi and Hayate’s first meeting and some romantic scenes with all the girls of Hayate’s life (including those who have already gotten over him, like Isumi, and Athena attempting to kill him with her Gate of Babylon.)

The story is simple enough – Nagi tries to survive a week in the country (no games! iphone doesn’t connect!) and Hayate confronts a supernatural occurrence that threatens to tear him apart from his mistress. All of this is spaced out with a huge dose of heartwarming bonding and typical Hayate humor.

Visually, the movie is a joy to look at. The character designs in Hayate are so simple it’s difficult to screw them up. We all know Hata can’t draw to save his life (or rather, he can’t draw anything too fanciful), but he doesn’t really need to. Less is more. The movie’s bright colors really bring the characters to life. And where the characters are simple, some of the backgrounds are stunning. I’ve been to the country here in Japan, and I don’t recall everything being so green and full of life >_<.

The movie has some presents for fans of all the popular characters. It is particularly commendable how the fanservice never wastes time or feels forced. Even a Hinagiku bath scene flows seamlessly with the developing plot. Other than seeing the girls in a selection of unusual clothing (and, in Hinagiku’s case, the lack thereof) we also get some more fuzzy scenes sure to make the hearts of all the shippers beat faster.

There are also short battle scenes just to remind us that, yes, the characters who are awesome are awesome. Hinagiku summons Shirosakura at will, Isumi is being Isumi, Hayate has been practicing his jumping skills… and Nagi’s screams can destroy dimensions. Probably.

The plot wraps up nicely, not introducing anything new to the Hayate universe, but reinforcing the main message of the series. And the ending shows that the unluckiest butler in the universe knows exactly how blessed he is. I know at least a few other main characters who should take after Hayate and appreciate what they have instead of complaining all the time…

The movie closes with Heaven is a Place on Earth by fripSide. I guess fripSide can’t be accused of being too original when it comes to making songs, but I for one couldn’t help taping my foot to the rhythm when this one started playing during the credits.

Bottom line: Pure fun and a mandatory watch for all fans of the unlucky butler and his otaku mistress.

(Also, third anime season confirmed!)

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I’m back from the premiere of the Negima/Hayate double-billed movies. I’d be happy to hear your impressions from those of you who also went, but in the meantime, a review/preview for those who will wait for the blu-ray release. Starting with Negima – Anime Final

Warning: The following post does not reveal the ending of the movie, but does contain several smaller spoilers.

The first thing to get out of the way is the “production issues” fiasco. For those who still haven’t heard – twenty minutes of the movie were cut out (most likely because Shaft screwed something up, but I wouldn’t know). Akamatsu Ken, the author of the original manga, even felt the need to comment on this on his twitter account, stating that the script of the movie was changed in a way which makes it difficult to understand. Since your average Japanese author doesn’t usually make an effort to discourage viewers from watching their own creation a day before the premiere, most of us were really afraid it was just that horrible.

Well, it isn’t. There’s no gaping hole with something obviously missing in the movie. And I found the premise perfectly understandable from the dialogue at the beginning of the movie. They do get through the setup pretty quickly, but everything in this movie appears to be moving in fast-forward anyway…

The aforementioned premise: Negi has to choose one, and only one, partner to form a permanent pactio with. All his other provisional contracts will be removed along with the memories (concerning magic and Mundus Magicus) of the girls not originally involved with the magical world. With this setup, you could expect half an hour of Negi’s emotional struggle mixed with the girls vying for his affection… but thankfully nothing like that happens.

All the girls are actually highly accepting of the incoming resolution, Many of them are shown alone, making peace with their memories and trying to leave themselves something connected to their magical adventure – photos, manga pages, data backup on a usb stick…

We actually get more drama for the people who do not need to fear losing their memories. How will they be able to speak with their classmates once the worlds they know become so different? This repeated question gets different answers depending on the character mulling it over. Surprisingly (to me, at least) Natsumi x Kotaro fans get a treat in the form of a meaningful discussion between the two, analyzing the weight and meaning of memories and the trial the students have to face. Kotaro and philosophy?

Those few quiet moments are the only part of the movie where the pace is slower than a roller coaster. The remaining part of the first half of the movie is filled with all kinds of what could be considered (under a very broad definition) fanservice for fan-favorite characters. Kaede and Mana suddenly decide to fight each other, which is as visually impressive (and budget-devouring?) as it is pointless to the plot at large. Nodoka and Yue, weirded out at their classmates attempting to murder each other for no apparent reason (I’m with you on this one, girls), decide to investigate. But first they get long magical girl transformations… which again prove to be completely pointless plot-wise.

And if you’re wondering what the remaining characters are doing… well, they’re attempting to mass rape Negi. Not anything contract-related. It’s just that it’s their last night using all those funny pactio artifacts, so they want to take full advantage of the opportunity. This involves blasting Negi’s room to shreds (without confirming if he’s even inside). As in, they are running around using magic to destroy school property. Nobody attempts to stop them. Vandalism? Keeping magic a secret? Who cares?

In the middle of the movie, Negi looks up and notices that the world is about to end. Yes, you’ve read the previous sentence correctly. Armageddon comes, but luckily Negi manages to notice by looking up at the right time… It’s so ridiculous I don’t even want to spoil the details.

So, we’re informed that the only one who can stop the disaster is Negi, and the only way to do it is to improve Negi’s power level by getting that permanent pactio done with. This part also implies Negi is the only one (in Mahora, at least) who can become a Magister Magi… I thought that was just a title full-fledged mages got, not something legendary. Did I get confused on that one, or did they just make it up?

Regardless, what follows is a stream of fallacies so rapid it could easily carry Shaft’s studio away with it. Remember last time Negi broke the laws of the universe by kissing one of his students hard enough? Now it’s enough to hold hands, but there appear to be unfortunate side-effects to his students’ intelligence levels. Asuna forgets she has the ability to completely negate even the strongest magic (that’s a useless ability, anyway) and Yue dramatically yells that even a very powerful barrier isn’t infinitely powerful, so it will break if they all keep hitting it hard enough (is this the same Yue that came up with a devilish plan against Fate? Really?) Or maybe everyone is just too stunned to think straight after seeing Makie throw a ball at armageddon (an orbital bombardment wasn’t enough, but a ball might just do the trick… maybe). Some of the most powerful fighters in the magic universe watch this mess unfold without lifting a finger to help (they are not Magisters, after all, so they can’t do a thing. Unlike balls.) Not even the appearance of one of my favorite characters can do anything to salvage this climax scene.

It’s not that the movie is horrible. The army of seiyuu is a treat. The battle and transformation scenes are visually impressive. All the popular girls get at least one scene to themselves. But it’s not what Negima has gotten us used do. No ingenious twists, clever tactics and subverting the genre. Instead we get gratuitous beam throwing and convenient Hollywood logic. The pacing of the movie could probably greatly benefit from the lost twenty minutes, too. I think we can expect at least that part to get fixed for the blu-ray release.

Bottom line: Concluding an epic saga like Negima in a movie under two hours long is no easy task. But I get the impression that Negima – Anime Final gives up on living up to the Negima name without even giving much of a fight.

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