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…)