At least according to the blogosphere’s biggest SHAFT expert.
Since I haven’t posted on Madoka here, I’ll explain the situation up to now. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica is the latest SHAFT offering, which garnered lots of pre-release hype because of the huge combination of cult-favorite creators brought together to develop it. Link’s introduction to the team is very helpful, as is ringOtamegane’s lengthy and detailed history of everyone involved in the production, which gives a great sense of why and how these people were brought together.
Read those posts for juicy details, but the important thing to this post is that this series is directed by Team Shinbo, written by Urobuchi Gen, and scored by Kajiura Yuki. Now, Shinbo has worked on many different kinds of shows, but his work feels most at home when he does big dark gothy nightmares such as The SoulTaker and Petit Cossette (pre-SHAFT) and gets to inflict a dark tone on a series, like in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and Tsukuyomi Moonphase. Petit Cossette happens to be my favorite of Shinbo’s directorial efforts, and it was also scored by Kajiura, both of which made it the purest expression of “gothic” (and “lolita”) in anime.
Urobuchi Gen meanwhile is a writer best known for his work on Nitro+ erotic visual novels, all of which are notably dark and violent. His most famous work is Saya no Uta, widely considered one of the greatest visual novels of all time, which is known for its heavy Lovecraft influence, intense scenes of rape and gore, and loli porn. Suffice it to say, Urobuchi has never written something lighthearted.
All of this is why it became confusing when the production team claimed that Madoka Magica was supposed to be a “traditional” magical girl series (see Link’s post), and that Urobuchi was trying to change his image and do something lighthearted. It only got more confusing when the show began and was clearly far darker and more sinister than a casual magical girl anime. Otou-san and I (via comments) speculated on whether the creators might’ve intended for a traditional show but just weren’t capable of it; sdshamshel, a mahou shoujo aficionado, has tried to help viewers who know that Madoka Magica is some kind of subversion, but don’t know what kind because they don’t know the genre well, understand how this show subverts classical mahou shoujo anime.
As one who champions creator’s intent in interpreting anime, I’d been curious about why this show was so blatanly subversive when the creators had so clearly stated that it wouldn’t be. According to ringOtomegane, that question has been answered: SHAFT trolled us all.
The case appears to be that SHAFT wanted to throw a curveball at audiences and purposefully made the show look like normal mahou shoujo on the previews. According to Urobuchi’s twitter, they’d intended to hide his involvement altogether, but since that proved to be impossible, they instead came up with the lie that he was trying to change his image. Urobuchi is apparently happy that he doesn’t have to keep the secret anymore.
So there you have it. Yes, they gathered my “gothic dream team” with the intent of doing something dark, yes it’s a subversion of the genre, and yes, it’s all intentional. (Apparently.)
Meanwhile, I’m planning to episodically blog this show once it’s all over.
Related: If you want to learn more about SHAFT, I highly recommend ringOtomegane’s detailed history and exploration of the studio’s personnel. It’s given me a much better idea of who does what at SHAFT.