A Way In Which Madoka Magica Is A Deconstruction of Mahou Shoujo

(Ghostlightning’s been teaching me about literary theory during my stay with him. This post is based on a discussion we had about deconstruction, in which we attempted to see if a show popularly considered a deconstruction actually was one.)

The word “deconstruction” gets thrown around a lot in the blogosphere, and a recent case of it being used quite a bit was with Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. As it turns out, Madoka Magica might be as direct a deconstruction of the genre as imaginable.

To identify something as a deconstruction of a genre, we must first identify the constructs of that genre. Contrary to what some may think about mahou shoujo anime, this isn’t easy. Ogiue Maniax was the one who pointed out the misconception among bloggers that Madoka Magica subverted mahou shoujo constructs, when they weren’t actually constructs of the genre to begin with.

Art by takahashi mika

In his post, sdshamshel identifies the diversity of mahou shoujo and identifies a construct that he feels holds the genre together and may or may not have been subverted by Madoka Magica. I, however, don’t think that what he identifies is an absolute construct, and sought to find something absolutely definitive of mahou shoujo anime.

When considering all of the mahou shoujo anime that I know of, there’s only one thing that’s absolutely constant between them: they’re about a young girl who transforms regularly between her normal self and a more powerful version of herself for the purpose of accomplishing things that she can’t do otherwise.

Art by hinoki bayashi

This exists in Madoka Magica. When Madoka transforms, she also gains an enormity of power and fulfills her dream. Fair enough, but something’s missing here. There’s another construct in mahou shoujo that’s only identifiable because of its absence in Madoka Magica: in all cases, the mahou shoujo transforms on an episodic basis, or something very close to one.

There you have it. I can’t name a single Mahou Shoujo anime besides Madoka Magica wherein the magical girl doesn’t transform regularly. In that way, Madoka Magica deconstructs the only completely consistent construct in mahou shoujo anime besides the element that makes it a genre to begin with—being about a girl with magical powers. Because of this, Madoka Magica is definitely a deconstruction of mahou shoujo anime.

21 thoughts on “A Way In Which Madoka Magica Is A Deconstruction of Mahou Shoujo

  1. Well, the other girls do transform fairly often, even if we only get to see each full transformation once (as a kind of set piece).

    But there’s definitely something to be said for the disruption of magical girl chronology: Like you say, magical girls usually transform once per episode, at the climax of said episode, to deliver most righteous punishment upon evildoers. What Kaname Madoka does isn’t… different, exactly, but it’s stretched out over the entire series. So in that sense, Madoka Magica offers deconstruction in the way theorists like Derrida actually intended: Examining parts of media under a microscope and seeing how everything affects everything else.

    Excellent observation, cupcake. I can feel it; you’re growing, changing. Dear Michael is making you a man yet. ;)

    • ROFL, sure. But yeah the idea of this was “let’s use the real, true, core idea of deconstruction and see if Madoka does that.” We think it does.

      But we’re working on an even more exciting deconstruction of Kenshin.

      • When in doubt, scour TV Tropes, hee! After 15 or so minutes on the “Playing with Tropes” page, I think I’m ready to set up and ask a question:

        Though I was confused at first, this is starting to make sense. So deconstruction can’t happen w/o actual tropes to intentionally suspend, for exploration’s sake. Like the extremely long time Madoka has to choose (and the fact that she can) allows us to explore the assumptions that the the characters, the viewer, and even the culture bring to the table. Understanding “cost,” value judgments, etc. Even if these exist, though, they just aren’t uniquely mahou shoujo in nature.

        But what do you think about the supposed difference in how we read shoujo, what we expect from it? That is, the matter of personal growth? An oversimplification here, but I do get this occasional sense that there’s less a pressure for “what needs to change” and more a focus on what the individual wants to stay the same in the face of change- which may be more typical of other demographics. If there actually is a narrative legacy that made it from the demographic to the genre, might not that be a candidate? Of course, maybe that isn’t distinct enough.

        Anyway, considering that we were trolled with respect to our expectations of how to read this show, and it was intentional, could what I’ve said have figured in somehow? I mean, we are presented with the Marlowe/Goethe stuff. And the question of what Madoka actually “becomes” or “is” seems to matter, especially at the end. Like Dr. Faust, who chose between power and the “soul” (spiritual agency/whatever), we as the viewers question identity, what it means to keep what matters to us, to stay the same.

        I don’t know. My analysis is starting to look awfully like a force.

        • Your first paragraph, yes.

          As for the rest, you’re asking a lot of good questions, but I don’t have the answers. I think you should ask yourself those questions, come up with answers, and make posts about it, and then once you’ve got your points out there, I’ll reply with what I think.

  2. But do you think Gen Urobuchi was like “Let’s deconstruct the whole genre just for the sake of it ?” I think he took elements he liked himself and just put his own signature on the product, like all artists do. I have also heard about comparisons between Kyubey and Mephistopheles from Faust.

    All I know is that Madoka is pretty cool (coming from someone who didn’t understand the whole anime, but that’s why I plan to rewatch it)

    • I totally agree. I don’t have the image of Urobuchi as someone who goes out of his way to subvert a genre that as far as we know he may not be interested in. But it’s possible he purposefully subversively explored this cliche on purpose without the word “deconstruction” ever entering his head.

  3. Ah, Deconstruction and subversion. I get those two confused at times too. Speaking of which, didn’t ghostlightning post at Superfani before

    It is a good thing too learn theory and criticism, but don’t get too bogged down by their particulars. Anime is like Super Robot: You explain it with your heart, not Minosky Physics.

    I find myself a member of a one-person minority in that I feel that Shinbou was right to make his first original anime a deconstruction, or at least something with deconstructionist elements. It’s a lot harder to come up with, pace, plan, etc… something completely original there (Though Petite Cossette did kick ASS) and maintain a standard of quality than it is to play around with existing tropes, especially with a genre like mahou shojou. Plus,Shaft doesn’t have all that much experience with original shows, do they? By making this show a Satire, the show gains an intrinsic appeal without developing the other elements quite as much. Quite frankly, I don’t Shaft could’ve.

    It’s like Lord of the Flies, where in and of itself the book’s quite bland and boring, but once you see it as a metaphor, it becomes a lot more interesting. Madoka’s the same, except that it relies on deconstruction rather than allegory. Perhaps it was an excellent education for Shaft, and their next original show will be much better. Or maybe they should hurry the hell up and finish Kizumonogatari already.

    • This was NOT Shinbou’s first original anime. I mean, you even mentioned Petit Cossette, not to mention The SoulTaker, Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko, and most of his old OVAs from the 90s. SHAFT hasn’t done an original anime on their own before this, but their shows are violently different from their manga counterparts 100% of the time.

      • Ah, yes, how could I have forgotten The Soultaker. Well, bad memory, I guess. Thanks for reminding me.

        I never really considered the OVAs to be of quite the same caliber as, say, a 26-episode TV series. So, to me, they don’t count. And as for Yamamoto Yohko, they were based on a novel series, so not original.

        100% different? Well, maybe, maybe not. I always thought they managed to capture a lot of the original’s spirit, but in a clever and creative way. Like SZS’s incoherence being reminiscent of the original Manga’s organization/ a gag manga’s nuances.

  4. This is a good point, actually. Sure, we get a transformation sequence every episode… in the opening sequence. Mami has the most involved and drawn out, “full” transformation scene, if I recall correctly; and the rest don’t really have anything similar – most transformations are either off camera, or an abrupt flash into their costumes.

    Speaking of costumes… Cardcaptor Sakura technically had no magical girl “transformations” either; all her costumes were hand-made by Madison- er, I mean Tomoyo, after all. (that English dub left a lasting impression on the way I identify the characters…) But I suppose that the very formulaic binding of each of the Clow Cards fills the same role.

    • Speaking of that, we really need a shonen manga about tailoring and fashion design.

      “This backstitch of mine glows with an awesome POWER! Its impeccable style tells me to defeat you!


  5. Saw the entire series a week ago & thoroughly enjoyed it. My question is — once a genre is deconstructed does that mean all subsequent entries of the same genre are passé unless they become self-aware of the conventional tropes?

    I mean after Evangelion the mecha genre seemed passé , especially with GaoGaiGar, and it wasn’t until Guren Lagan that the genre rediscovered itself.

        • Because I love robot shows and mahou shoujo shows anyway, so I don’t see why I’d love them any less just because they’ve been deconstructed. The purpose of a deconstruction isn’t to somehow ruin the genre, and even if it was, it wouldn’t succeed.

          • I’m sorry, but I don’t see why making a genre passe is the same as “ruining” it. I think deconstructing the genre is actually a way of reviving it, by discarding tropes that have degenerated into cliches. Your love for mecha & mahou shoujo will actually benefit – unless you stop growing and start yearning for the good ol’ days and tell us all to get off your lawn. :)

  6. There was another mahou shoujo I saw a while ago called Umi Monogatari. I don’t recall it very well but the main character first becomes a magical girl in episode 3 and doesn’t transform every episode after because she’s angsty. It was largely traditional though, not begging to be called a deconstruction as much as Madoka Magica. I think you’re on to something though, and perhaps that Madoka Magica tries to make you hope Madoka would never become a magical girl is another way it deconstructs the genre.

    • Umi Monogatari is definitely a strange one, but since I didn’t finish it, I can’t say too much about it. All I can say is that it was directed by Junichi Sato, who did many of the best mahou shoujo anime around, so I think he may have been deliberately playing with the genre, being as he had a chance to do a mahou shoujo that was definitively not aimed at children (Umi Monogatari is based on a pachinko game).

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