Tag Archives: shaft

Madoka Magica

So, I’ve written about anime made by Shaft/Shinbo Akiyuki, and I’ve written about anime written by Urobuchi Gen. Now, to write about one they both worked on.

Previously, Shaft had only made adaptations of manga and light novels; this is their first original work. For such an occasion, with a fair bit of fanfare they assembled something of a creative dream team. Scripts by Urobuchi Gen, known for Fate/Zero, Phantom and more recently Psycho Pass. Music by Kajiura Yuki, known for Noir, .hack, Fate/Zero. Character designs by Aoki Ume, known for Hidamari Sketch. Directed by Shinbo Akiyuki, known for… a fair whack of what I’ve already reviewed, but also Hidamari Sketch, Arakawa Under the Bridge, Paniponi Dash, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, etc. And what did they all make as Shaft’s historic first original work? A magical girl show.

Magical girl wasn’t exactly unfamiliar territory for Shinbo, having previously done Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, but for the rest – especially Urobutcher – it seemed like an odd choice. But no matter, unlikelier teams have made unlikelier things well.

Madoka

Kaname Madoka. Poor girl has no idea what’s about to happen.

It all starts out relatively standard. The heroine is 14-year-old Kaname Madoka, an ordinary middle school girl with ordinary friends and a slightly out-of-the-ordinary family (a stay at home dad and a succesful career woman mother). She has a strange dream involving a girl she’s never met and some cutesy little talking critter. The next day, the girl from her dream, Akemi Homura, transfers into her class, and gives her some cryptic advice. Later, she gets a telepathic call for help from the talking critter from her dream… who’s being attacked by Homura. In the midst of this, they get pulled into the pocket dimension of an eldritch monster and then saved by a passing magical girl, Tomoe Mami. The critter, Kyubey, offers Madoka any single wish she wants granted in return for becoming a magical girl and fighting the eldritch monsters, known as witches.

Kyubey

Kyubey. Isn’t he cute?

Homura

Akemi Homura. Observant readers who have seen my Twitter avatar may have concluded that I like this character. Watch the show and find out why.

I won’t go into much detail about the events that follow, as anyone who does go on to watch this really should do so without any specific spoilers. What I will say, though, is that from the third episode onwards, things get much worse for everyone involved, and continue to get progressively worse with each episode. Magical Girl Madoka Magica effectively is to magical girl shows what Neon Genesis Evangelion is to giant robot shows.

Episode 10 has some major revelations about what’s going on (more so even than previous episodes, which had some pretty ground-shaking ones), and when you re-watch the show right from the start after having seen it, you see a lot of things in a much different light. Urobuchi Gen did some masterful work in his writing of the whole thing. And characters… what looks at first like a pretty standard set of magical girls (and normal human support cast) turns out to be anything but. They’re a seriously complex bunch.

Urobuchi has outright stated that he wants to write things that are heartwarming, but has for a long time been unable to write anything other than dark tragedy. With Madoka… he almost succeeds. It does warm the heart, but doesn’t quite manage a happy ending; bittersweet is the best we could hope for, all things considered.

Now, I mentioned Evangelion earlier in the review. Ever since it came out, so many shows tried to be the next Evangelion – mostly by doing dark, depressing robot shows and hoping for the best. But that’s the wrong approach; most of the ones that tried that tactic were forgettable at best. But Madoka Magica does it – or at least, comes far closer to it than anything else has to date. It hasn’t changed anime forever like Evangelion did, but in the post-Evangelion world, it’s basically impossible to do so. Madoka does succesfully challenge, deconstruct and reconstruct many of the familiar conventions and tropes of the magical girl genre.

I’ve made mention in other reviews of Shinbo Akiyuki’s interesting – unique, even – use of visuals. That is one of the major reasons I feel no-one else could have successfully made Madoka Magica. The art and animation for the witches and their pocket dimensions is downright deranged, and looks incredibly jarring and alien compared to the usual art and animation of the world and characters. Like with the Rebuild of Evangelion, this works very well for it. Shinbo is most typically known for his really out-there comedies, but he does horror very well too. (Occasionally both in the same show, see Tsukuyomi Moon Phase.) I almost wish he’d stick to comedy; when he does horror it hits you.

So anyway, in conclusion: Magical Girl Madoka Magica is one of the best anime I have ever seen. This is not a claim I make lightly, by the way – I like a tremendous number of titles, but few are actually this good. It won’t suit everyone’s tastes; some won’t like how dark it gets, others just don’t have the interest in magical girls. But for anyone willing to consider those two things put together, it’s brilliant.

Sasami-san actually is the best thing this season

Yeah, I’m posting about Sasami-san again. I like the show, okay.

Really though, it is actually a very good show. I will admit that when I first heard about it, I was expecting the series to mostly be Sasami staying at home and observing amusing antics between her brother and the Yagami sisters – and getting involved now and then – and this would have been a reasonably amusing show.

But instead… instead, in amongst the bizarre stuff it gets up to, there is something meaningful. Even Tama, who I thought would be the weakest character in the series, has more depth to her than you’d think. Rather than have Sasami housebound for most of the series, effort goes into sorting out her issues and getting her out and about – and in fact, she doesn’t stay hikikomori for more than a couple of episodes.

And then, when we think her family situation is on the improve when the Tsukuyomi Shrine is destroyed, her mother comes back from the dead and things get worse. It’s going to be really interesting to see where this show goes.

Tsukuyomi Moon Phase

As evidenced by the existence of a tag for it on my blog, I’m pretty fond of the works of Studio Shaft. One good example of their work is Tsukuyomi Moon Phase.

It’s a comedy. It’s a supernatural horror. It’s some major mood whiplash between the two on a regular basis. Particularly the opening theme and accompanying animation when coming before or after some of the more horror-ish bits.

Kouhei

Morioka Kouhei. The densest thing in the world.

It all kicks off when Morioka Kouhei, a man with zero supernatural abilities or senses working as a photographer for an occult magazine, is investigating a castle with some of his colleagues. There he encounters Hazuki, a young vampire who’s trapped in the castle and wants out. Hazuki bites Kouhei, Kouhei and co fight to free Hazuki, the castle gets destroyed. Kouhei and friends go home. Hazuki follows them. The people who trapped her there in the first place follow Hazuki. Fights happen, comedy moments happen.

Hazuki

Hazuki. Possibly the brattiest vampire in existence.

One of the comedy elements is that having been bitten by Hazuki, Kouhei should be her loyal slave, but isn’t. And Hazuki isn’t very happy about that.

Now being a Shaft production is something of a double-edged sword. You get a good, entertaining show with lots of interesting visuals, but they have a tendency to fall a little behind and scramble for deadlines, which means sometimes they get a little less animated than you really want. In this case, it happens in some of the major fights of the show. Still, for all that it’s still way more animated than something like the Violinist of Hameln TV series, and manages to be good enough.

It’s a very entertaining show, both for the horror elements and the comedy elements. It’s also one of the better examples of vampire fiction, with an interesting and plausible enough take on vampire lore. Recommended for anyone with an interest in vampires.

Sasami-san is the best thing this season

Well, “best” might be a bit of a stretch, but Sasami-san@Ganbaranai is certainly the show I’m enjoying the most this season. Episode 5 was fairly mundane compared to previous ones, but relatively mundane in this show is still pretty bloody strange by any other standards. I’m kind of tempted to do something about getting it screened at a convention I’m involved with, if only so I can include the phrase “at which point Sasami told her brother not to put sushi on his nipples” in correspondence.

Anyway. This episode deals mainly with Sasami trying to make friends, and in particular trying to make friends with Kagami, which I approve of. I’ve got something of a soft spot for androids and various other kinds of artificially created beings as characters. I’m also pretty fond of a deadpan delivery, and Hanazawa Kana is doing deadpan very well here.

Kagami and spilled noodles

Deadpan even in situations like this

And the above picture is the least of the problems Kagami has to deal with this episode, but fortunately it’s nothing a heavily armed divinity-powered robot girl can’t handle.

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai

The first thing I’m going to say about Sasami-san@Ganbaranai (Sasami-san@Unmotivated) is that it’s fucking weird. Three episodes in and it already manages to out-strange anything else that Studio Shaft have done previously. If you’ve seen Nisemonogatari (or if you haven’t, when I get around to reviewing it) you’ll see how significant that is. It was written by the same author responsible for Kyouran Kazoku Nikki, a well-known bloody strange show, and directed by Shinbo Akiyuki, who I’m convinced must be certifiably insane. But an insane genius, at least.

The main character is Tsukuyomi Sasami, a beautiful 16 year old girl who is a hikikomori (complete shut-in).

Tsukuyomi Sasami

Sasami the most active she gets in a typical day

She has an older brother, Tsukuyomi Kamiomi, who is a teacher at the school she is supposed to attend and is absolutely devoted to her, catering to her every whim and doing everything for her. And never showing his face. The rest of the cast are the three Yagami sisters; Tsurugi who’s also a teacher at her school and looks like she’s about 12, Kagami who’s her classmate and a robot girl, and Tama who’s nine years old but looks considerably older and acts a fair bit younger.

The cast

From left to right: Tama, Kagami, Tsurugi and Kamiomi

Yagami Tama

Yagami Tama. Nine years old.

The first episode starts with Sasami monitoring her brother’s every move from her computer via a staggering array of hidden cameras around him, and ends with at least the city, maybe Japan and possibly the world turned to chocolate and the Yagami sisters fighting against chocolate monsters. The second episode largely concerns an MMORPG that Sasami’s obsessed with which a lot of people have been trapped in, with a side helping of explanation about the chocolate thing from the first episode.

The third episode explains in more detail why all this strange stuff is going on with the Tsukuyomi siblings and Yagami sisters, but I won’t go into it here; it’s something you kind of have to see for yourself. What I will say is that the Tsukuyomi family situation is… complicated, to put it mildly and politely. Tremendously screwed up to put it more accurately. And the Yagami family situation is stranger.

Being a Shaft production, it of course does some weird things visually, which is very well suited to what’s going on. Another Shaft/Shinbo Akiyuki hallmark is the use of a familiar set of voice actors, notably Saitou Chiwa playing a childlike teacher again (having previously played Rebecca Miyamoto in Paniponi Dash), and another one of my favourites, Hanazawa Kana as Kagami. All are very well suited to their roles.

So it’s weird, but is it any good? Is it entertaining to watch? Hell yes. I’ve long maintained that a talented director can take just about any script or subject matter and make an entertaining show out of it, and often use Shinbo as an example, though even he’s had a few duds (Dance in the Vampire Bund is a crap show, BTW. Even Shinbo couldn’t save that.). The interaction between Sasami and Kamiomi is entertaining in a bit of a twisted way, but for me what really makes it is the interaction between the Yagami sisters and everyone else.

So. If it’s weird you like, this is the anime for you.

Bakemonogatari

So, first on the list to review is Studio Shaft’s Bakemonogatari, for no better reason than because I recently watched it on Blu-Ray and it’s therefore fresh in my mind. Well, maybe “review” isn’t quite right; you won’t get shows reduced to stupid measures like numbers, stars or a school grade, just my opinion on it.

The background: Araragi Koyomi is a part/ex-vampire. How did that happen, you ask? It’s a long story, which was compressed to a minute-long montage at the start of the first episode, but it’s not really that important at this point and gets expanded on later. Anyway. He encounters a series of girls, each of which has their own problems with supernatural Oddities, which he helps with – not always with brilliant results.

The first one we encounter (not counting the vampire in the montage, or the provider of the very long panty shot before that) is Senjougahara Hitagi, who had had a run-in with a crab god that took her weight and feelings, and after that’s resolved becomes Koyomi’s girlfriend. Whether or not that counts as a brilliant result is hotly debated amongst the fandom; Hitagi has a very interesting personality. I like her as a character, but would run screaming if I actually encountered someone like her in real life. The other girls have a variety of other supernatural problems, varying in severity from minor inconvenience to very nearly lethal, and all about as strange as Hitagi’s crab. And of course they develop a romantic interest in Koyomi.

Senjougahara Hitagi

Hitagi. The first thing she does is stick a knife in Koyomi’s mouth.

Knife goes in

No, seriously. Knife, mouth.

So that’s the basic what it’s about; now for what it’s like. Being a Shaft production, it does all sorts of weird and wonderful things visually, if somewhat minimalistically. Being based on novels written by Nisioisin, it’s also pretty twisted and very dialogue-heavy – which is why it’s good that it’s animated by Shaft; the visuals prevent it from just being talking heads. How twisted is it? Hitagi and Koyomi’s relationship would be dysfunctional and abusive in reality, Koyomi sexually harasses a ghost, most characters’ families are broken (some to old school fairy tail levels and beyond), and all the characters are varying levels of batshit insane. But hey, that’s the sort of thing a warped individual such as myself finds entertaining.

So is it a good show? Very much so. I love interesting characters and dialogue, and this show is all about that. It’s not one that suits everyone’s tastes, but this blog is all about mine, so that’s the verdict. There are also various other instalments in the franchise, which I will give my thoughts on at a later date. Probably Nisemonogatari, when I either get my hands on its Blu-Ray release or I get impatient and review it anyway. Or maybe Nekomonogatari, if my Horie Yui fanboyism takes over.