Archive for September, 2011

Inside my heart, I desperately try to recall Mami’s smile

The kind smile which has always given me courage and comfort

But what comes to mind

Is only the cruel image of a yellow dress torn into shreds…

Mami’s body with nothing above her neck…

Character relationships and scenes that benefit from insight into characters’ emotions are the novel’s strong points. But what the novelization cannot escape are the comparisons to the anime scenes made memorable by Shinbou and Inu Curry. The battle against the TV witch which takes advantage of Madoka’s guilt over Mami’s death is no less engaging in the novels thanks to the psychological aspect. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for other scenes involving battles and magic. Descriptions in those scenes tend to be underwhelming, too short and simple to paint a vivid image. Mami’s “Gate of Babylon” barrage from episode one, for example, is described as follows:

“Suddenly, she released a great number of rifles into the air and fired them all at once. The projectiles rained mercilessly outside the ring of light enveloping us, blowing away all of the eerie things surrounding us.”

While there is nothing wrong with the description, it probably doesn’t measure up to the image conjured in the anime.

The battle against the garden witch, seemingly a golden opportunity to play around with the concept of a magic battle without the time restrictions of an anime episode, feels more like a laconic summary of the moves exchanged in the anime and does not attempt to create a true feeling of tension. Charlotte’s transformation scene also doesn’t live up to its full potential.

It could be argued that the simplicity and brevity of those scenes are a conscious decision on the author’s part, necessary to stay true to Madoka’s voice as the narrator. But it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the author takes magic, something incredible and unfathomable, too much for granted.

Other scenes where the anime remains ahead of the book are those where Shinbou shows us the power of detailed visuals. The restaurant scene where Homura recreates Mami’s final moments by twisting off the cover of her coffee, the incredible clash of the mundane with something cruel and macabre, is missing from the novel. Similar details in other scenes are also lost in the transition. Of course, those scenes are more proof of the anime’s quality than any particular fault of the writer.

Yet another similar issue arises with the lack of voice acting. While it is the advantage of a novelization that it allows the reader to find a new voice for the characters, this doesn’t work as well for characters we aren’t supposed to understand in the first place. It is a shame there is no way to transplant Katou Emiri’s stellar performance as Kyuubey into written form.

As the novelization is made up of two volumes, I’d like to applaud the way the material is divided. The first volume covers events up to episode six of the anime While this may appear as an obvious solution, splitting the story cleanly in half, the trick here is that the events of the last minute of the episode are left out along with everything Madoka doesn’t see for herself. Separated from her soul gem, Miki Sayaka collapses lifelessly to the ground. Akemi Homura disappears without a word. And finally, Kyuubey opens the jar of truth, his words slipping out like maggots starved for food, corroding hope with despair. The book closes with Kyuubey’s exasperated question “I don’t get you. Why do people care so much about the whereabouts of the soul?” This is the moment which transforms a world filled with danger and adversity into a cruel farce where despair was the only choice to begin with. A great way to end the volume.

On a technical note, this volume contains 291 numbered pages, including ten pages of full-color illustrations. There are also some extra pages with advertisements for Madoka goods and some other books. While text density per page is the same as in an average pocket-size light novel, the format is bigger and allows for a bigger font (making it easy to read, but difficult to carry around.)

The story uses little flowery language (due to Madoka’s narration), making the reading difficulty level quite low. On the other hand, it uses very little furigana, requiring a very solid grasp of kanji to be enjoyed.

The removable cover is beautiful but dark, showing the main characters on a black background with looks of worry, anger and yearning on their faces. This is a more honest approach to what’s actually inside than with the anime… but the contents page is as pink and kawaii as it gets. The inside cover is dark purple with a subtle pattern of Kyuubeys, soul gems and other symbols, and it displays the title proudly with large letters. Again, not something easy to walk around with and read on the train, but it looks great on the shelf.

Bottom line: The strengths and weaknesses of the novel are different enough from the original to keep things fresh and interesting throughout. While the novel can’t replace the wholesome experience the anime offers, it is not a bad read in itself.

(Review of the second volume to come sometime in the future. Also to all of you who have made it this far… have some chibi Saya and Madocchi. Sorry for the quality ;])

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Do you remember this girl? This is a story about Kaname Madoka

A story that tells of her undeniable existence

How much of the impact of the explosive mixture known as Madoka Magica should be attributed to each of its components? Urobuchi’s devilish story, Shinbou’s artistry, Kajiura’s captivating compositions, Ume’s deceptively cute character designs… all of them fit together like puzzle pieces to form a single, bigger picture. But now, the novelization of the record-breaking anime series gives us the opportunity to isolate one of those pieces and judge it on its own merits.

The name behind this book is of course not Urobuchi himself, but one Hajime Ninomae, who’s famous enough not to have his own page on the Japanese wiki. The afterword says he is the author of Yuushiki and Kukurikuri, neither of which gives any good hits on Google… Research shows that the former is a fairly typical romance-and-ghost story, while the latter a love story between a stalker guy and a suicidal girl too unlucky to succeed in her attempts to ‘reach the other side’. Wait, that actually sounds kind of interesting!

So the quality of the writing is a complete mystery. Well, make way for the trailblazer!

It is so delicious, it makes me feel guilty…

And I realize once more that I am alive.

That I can taste something delicious…

What I took for granted was actually such a blessing…

The fundamental difference between the anime and its novelization is perspective. While the anime could be considered a recording of events revolving around Kaname Madoka, the novel takes things a step further by retelling those events through her eyes. This decision brings with it a challenge that needs to be overcome by the writer.

Copying the anime scene for scene would require a third-person omniscient narrator, as some developments take place without Madoka’s knowledge. One example is the entire Sayaka-Kyousuke subplot with its numerous hospital scenes. The novel deals with that part of the story through Madoka’s guesswork and observations, and sometimes even strays slightly from the anime script to add new conversations or slip the pink-haired heroine into some scenes she does not originally appear in. Ninomae manages to weave a sensible narrative without losing any key information in the process, and we get a fresh look on some of the scenes.

Once that difficulty is resolved, it is time to enjoy the benefits this kind of narration bestows on the story. With direct and constant access to Madoka’s thoughts, we always know when she notes a minute change in a friend’s expression and we can follow the reasoning leading her to make particular decisions. The author is granted the license to add any kind of new information at the drop of a hat, as long as it is at least peripherally related to Madoka. This is not to say that Ninomae goes crazy with reinventing Madoka, but neither is he afraid to develop some of the ideas presented in the anime.

Some of the themes Madoka’s narration allows us to better understand include:

  • The importance of Mami as Madoka’s role model. Madoka creates the magical girl version of herself in Mami’s image. But to Madoka, the magical girl persona overlaps with her vision of who she wants to become as a person, her ideal self. Fearless, invincible and infinitely kind to those around her… Through her meeting with Mami, Madoka finds a goal to strive for. The confident Madoka we see in the original timeline is probably the result of that pursuit.

  • Madoka’s relationship with Homura. The weak crybaby that Madoka is, she can’t help being afraid of the cold and silently angry Homura. But because she thinks about others more than about herself, there are also some things she notices. She doesn’t know why, but she realizes that her words often seem to hurt Homura, filling the girl’s cold eyes with flames of pain, anger and regret. Madoka helplessly tries to break through to the person she sees in those fleeting moments. In a way, Madoka sees a reflection of herself in Homura – it is revealed Madoka had had to transfer schools in the past, experiencing the feeling of being all alone in a new place.

  • Madoka’s relationship with Sayaka. Sayaka was Madoka’s savior when the latter transferred schools. And when the two became friends, Sayaka would always stand up for and protect Madoka. But Madoka’s gratitude is mixed with feelings of inferiority and guilt. If there is nothing she can pay Sayaka back with, can Madoka really call herself Sayaka’s friend? Madoka’s burden only grows heavier when Sayaka becomes a magical girl. Madoka’s greatest fear is coming true. She will be left behind, alone, because she isn’t strong enough to stand by Sayaka’s side when Sayaka needs it most. Because she never had the right to call herself Sayaka’s true friend to begin with…

(Continued in part two…)

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