steepholm: (tree_face)
I was kind of annoyed by a Film Programme discussion the other week with Stephen Woolley, the producer of The Crying Game. The thing that annoyed me was this discussion of the film's famous twist:

We started the campaign [not to reveal the ‘twist’] in the UK. I wrote a personal note to all the film critics when the film was released, and I think 99.9% of them kept it quiet. … That twist became part of the reason the Americans flocked to see the film. At the height of its popularity in New York I used to slip into the back of cinemas, just for the moment, just for the revealing moment, because the audience would go crazy. … Obviously, it did work as a sort of hook for the film.


Well, of course I've talked about that film here before, since (because I like it in other respects) it got me thinking a bit about twists in general, what they do and when and why they work, or not - and when they're plain objectifying. That discussion is here.

But Woolley said something else that was rather interesting, and tangential to the other discussion. They were talking about the positioning of the twist and its relation to genre. Many twists come at the end of the story - but in The Crying Game it comes somewhere round the halfway point. And the effect is to change the genre of the of film - in this case from a fairly hard-bitten thriller about the IRA into something quite different (what would you say the genre of The Crying Game is by the end?)

Woolley's comparison was with Pyscho - where the midway murder of the apparent main character signals the change from its being a crime thriller to a psycho-drama. Another example that springs to mind is, of course, Madoka Magica...

I feel there must be at least a few others - stories that that reveal that the audience (and possibly the characters) have been wrong-genre-savvy, and make them reevaluate everything that's happened through the prism of a different genre template, but that also give them the time to do so, rather than using the revelation as a final-scene pay-off. A twist in the tail is fine, but a twist in the torso is better. It's a model that appeals to me, anyway - but how common is it?

Examples, please!
steepholm: (Default)
I was kind of annoyed by a Film Programme discussion the other week with Stephen Woolley, the producer of The Crying Game. The thing that annoyed me was this discussion of the film's famous twist:

We started the campaign [not to reveal the ‘twist’] in the UK. I wrote a personal note to all the film critics when the film was released, and I think 99.9% of them kept it quiet. … That twist became part of the reason the Americans flocked to see the film. At the height of its popularity in New York I used to slip into the back of cinemas, just for the moment, just for the revealing moment, because the audience would go crazy. … Obviously, it did work as a sort of hook for the film.


Well, of course I've talked about that film here before, since (because I like it in other respects) it got me thinking a bit about twists in general, what they do and when and why they work, or not - and when they're plain objectifying. That discussion is here.

But Woolley said something else that was rather interesting, and tangential to the other discussion. They were talking about the positioning of the twist and its relation to genre. Many twists come at the end of the story - but in The Crying Game it comes somewhere round the halfway point. And the effect is to change the genre of the of film - in this case from a fairly hard-bitten thriller about the IRA into something quite different (what would you say the genre of The Crying Game is by the end?)

Woolley's comparison was with Pyscho - where the midway murder of the apparent main character signals the change from its being a crime thriller to a psycho-drama. Another example that springs to mind is, of course, Madoka Magica...

I feel there must be at least a few others - stories that that reveal that the audience (and possibly the characters) have been wrong-genre-savvy, and make them reevaluate everything that's happened through the prism of a different genre template, but that also give them the time to do so, rather than using the revelation as a final-scene pay-off. A twist in the tail is fine, but a twist in the torso is better. It's a model that appeals to me, anyway - but how common is it?

Examples, please!
steepholm: (tree_face)
Oh my! I only just realised, serendipitously, that the voice actress who plays Kaname Madoka in Puella Magi Madoka Magica is the same person who plays the vampire queen Mina Tepes in 2010's Dance in the Vampire Bund - which I reviewed rather lavishly here.

DITVB, and Mina in particular, made a huge impression on me when I watched it, despite being (by any objective measure) a flawed piece of work as a whole. I'd known it was a Shaft production and that Shinbou was director, but hadn't thought to check the cast list. I wonder if that voice in any way imprinted itself on me so that I subliminally recognised it in Madoka's, despite the huge difference in the two roles?

Obviously I'm going to have to rewatch DITVB as soon as conveniently possible...
steepholm: (Default)
Oh my! I only just realised, serendipitously, that the voice actress who plays Kaname Madoka in Puella Magi Madoka Magica is the same person who plays the vampire queen Mina Tepes in 2010's Dance in the Vampire Bund - which I reviewed rather lavishly here.

DITVB, and Mina in particular, made a huge impression on me when I watched it, despite being (by any objective measure) a flawed piece of work as a whole. I'd known it was a Shaft production and that Shinbou was director, but hadn't thought to check the cast list. I wonder if that voice in any way imprinted itself on me so that I subliminally recognised it in Madoka's, despite the huge difference in the two roles?

Obviously I'm going to have to rewatch DITVB as soon as conveniently possible...
steepholm: (tree_face)
In my Madoka Magica psychodrama, the part played by Sayaka Miki is of course central, and never more so than in her attitude to irrevocable decisions and regret. (No, this is not a post about Brexit.) Before she decides to become a magical girl she worries about regretting it later; having taken that step, the refusal to regret becomes for her a test of her own moral worth, and she constantly monitors herself for signs of it. It's a test she cannot possibly pass in the long run, of course. When the consequences become too painful for her to bear, she cuts herself off from her pain (using magic, but alcohol is an alternative).

I've been learning her signature theme, "Decretum", for some time now, and had hoped to upload a piano version of it before going to the hospital tomorrow, but it's not quite there. So, I'll have to make do with what for my money is the most painful of Sayaka's scenes, which features "Decretum" in full and, appropriately, much cutting off of heads.



じゃ、またね。
steepholm: (Default)
In my Madoka Magica psychodrama, the part played by Sayaka Miki is of course central, and never more so than in her attitude to irrevocable decisions and regret. (No, this is not a post about Brexit.) Before she decides to become a magical girl she worries about regretting it later; having taken that step, the refusal to regret becomes for her a test of her own moral worth, and she constantly monitors herself for signs of it. It's a test she cannot possibly pass in the long run, of course. When the consequences become too painful for her to bear, she cuts herself off from her pain (using magic, but alcohol is an alternative).

I've been learning her signature theme, "Decretum", for some time now, and had hoped to upload a piano version of it before going to the hospital tomorrow, but it's not quite there. So, I'll have to make do with what for my money is the most painful of Sayaka's scenes, which features "Decretum" in full and, appropriately, much cutting off of heads.



じゃ、またね。
steepholm: (tree_face)
I'll be off to the ChLA in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday - stopping for a night en route to stay with Rebecca in Boston. Is anyone else here likely to be headed to that conference?

I know nothing of Ohio - nothing. This makes it difficult to get as excited about going there for the first time as the place no doubt deserves, but it's too late to become an ohioologist in the short time remaining, so I'll have to wing it. One thing, though: after getting ill the last time I was at an American con through all the sudden changes between extreme heat and brutal airconditioning, I will be packing plenty of layers.

My talk? Why, it will be on Madoka Magica, of course. Specifically: "Shoujo versus Seinen? Dual Address and Misdirection in Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)". Right now I'm cutting like mad, because I have (naturally) far too much to say on the matter.
steepholm: (tree_face)
Good. My mission to squish Work and Fun together into a kind of beige doughy lump called Firk (aka Life itself) continues apace, as my proposal for a paper at this year's Children's Literature Association conference on the theme of Animation has been accepted.

My title? “Shoujo versus Seinen? Dual Address and Misdirection in Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011).” Well, it was never going to be anything but Madoka, was it? Now I just have to write the bugger.

The conference takes place in Ohio from 9-11 June, and I'll do my best to get some kind of stopover in Boston en route so that I can see any MA friends who happen to be about. (For some reason 80% of the Americans I know live in Massachusetts. Why that?)
steepholm: (Default)
Good. My mission to squish Work and Fun together into a kind of beige doughy lump called Firk (aka Life itself) continues apace, as my proposal for a paper at this year's Children's Literature Association conference on the theme of Animation has been accepted.

My title? “Shoujo versus Seinen? Dual Address and Misdirection in Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011).” Well, it was never going to be anything but Madoka, was it? Now I just have to write the bugger.

The conference takes place in Ohio from 9-11 June, and I'll do my best to get some kind of stopover in Boston en route so that I can see any MA friends who happen to be about. (For some reason 80% of the Americans I know live in Massachusetts. Why that?)
steepholm: (tree_face)
I've been trying to 'lay down' (as the young people say) some more Madoka Magica tracks recently, and today I had a go at 'Taenia Memoriae', which as I understand it (not having the Latin for the judging) means "Ribbon of Memories". And indeed that's very appropriate, since it is the background music for the scene toward the end of the final episode in which Homura, who retains her memory of Madoka through possession of her hair ribbons, talks to Madoka's mother, who first gave her those same ribbons at the start of Episode One.

I thought I'd run the translation through Google Translate to be sure, though, and was amused to find that it came back as 'Tape Recorded'. Well, you can see how it got there - but these days we're strictly digital:



Sadly, I get a text from Richard Branson at 1:02, but if Bowie could get away with the phone ringing at the end of 'Life on Mars', I suppose I can get away with that.
steepholm: (Default)
I've been trying to 'lay down' (as the young people say) some more Madoka Magica tracks recently, and today I had a go at 'Taenia Memoriae', which as I understand it (not having the Latin for the judging) means "Ribbon of Memories". And indeed that's very appropriate, since it is the background music for the scene toward the end of the final episode in which Homura, who retains her memory of Madoka through possession of her hair ribbons, talks to Madoka's mother, who first gave her those same ribbons at the start of Episode One.

I thought I'd run the translation through Google Translate to be sure, though, and was amused to find that it came back as 'Tape Recorded'. Well, you can see how it got there - but these days we're strictly digital:



Sadly, I get a text from Richard Branson at 1:02, but if Bowie could get away with the phone ringing at the end of 'Life on Mars', I suppose I can get away with that.
steepholm: (tree_face)
It's a long time since I wrote an entry on my Japanese studies, but that doesn't mean they haven't been proceeding. Recently I joined italki.com, in part to get through the summer break in my Japanese classes without losing momentum, but it's proving so helpful that I'm sure I'll carry on with it anyway. It's primarily meant to be a way of getting an online teacher, I think, but so far I've only used it to talk to native Japanese speakers who want to improve their English and are prepared to help me with my Japanese in exchange. This is very useful for me, because although I'm making some progress with grammar, vocabulary and even the kanji, tuning my ear into spoken Japanese is proving very hard, so real-time practice is invaluable. And besides, I've had conversations with some really lovely people. On the basis of my brief experience at least, I highly recommend checking out italki.com if you're learning a language.

I keep being struck by what a Procrustean language Japanese is, from the point of view of the pronunciation of loanwords. All languages adapt imported words to native habits of pronunciation to an extent, but Japanese doesn't even try to meet them halfway - it simply forces foreign words into its limited phonemic/syllabic range. Thus "hamburg steak" becomes "ハンバーグ", or "hanbaagu", because Japanese doesn't allow for "m" or "g" sounds that aren't followed by a vowel ("n" is the only consonant that doesn't need a following vowel, in fact). I'm guessing that the person who introduced the Hamburg steak to Japan didn't have a strong retroflex "r" in their accentual repertoire, or the Japanese might easily have been ""ハンバルグ" ("hanbarugu").

It's hard to see any pattern to the way that the names of European countries find their way into Japanese. In some cases they are approximations (with allowances for the Procrustean processes described above) to the native names: Germany is ドイツ (doitsu), Italy is イタリア (itaria). But in other cases the English word seems to have been used as the basis: スペイン (spein) is much closer to "Spain" than to "España", which would be more nearly rendered as エスパーニャ. As for Britain (イギリス - igirisu), it appears to be a bastardized version of the word "English", which is a little problematic... I imagine this piecemeal approach reflects the piecemeal nature of the cultural contacts between Japan and the various countries involved - but I don't know.

And now, a word from Madoka )
steepholm: (Default)
It's a long time since I wrote an entry on my Japanese studies, but that doesn't mean they haven't been proceeding. Recently I joined italki.com, in part to get through the summer break in my Japanese classes without losing momentum, but it's proving so helpful that I'm sure I'll carry on with it anyway. It's primarily meant to be a way of getting an online teacher, I think, but so far I've only used it to talk to native Japanese speakers who want to improve their English and are prepared to help me with my Japanese in exchange. This is very useful for me, because although I'm making some progress with grammar, vocabulary and even the kanji, tuning my ear into spoken Japanese is proving very hard, so real-time practice is invaluable. And besides, I've had conversations with some really lovely people. On the basis of my brief experience at least, I highly recommend checking out italki.com if you're learning a language.

I keep being struck by what a Procrustean language Japanese is, from the point of view of the pronunciation of loanwords. All languages adapt imported words to native habits of pronunciation to an extent, but Japanese doesn't even try to meet them halfway - it simply forces foreign words into its limited phonemic/syllabic range. Thus "hamburg steak" becomes "ハンバーグ", or "hanbaagu", because Japanese doesn't allow for "m" or "g" sounds that aren't followed by a vowel ("n" is the only consonant that doesn't need a following vowel, in fact). I'm guessing that the person who introduced the Hamburg steak to Japan didn't have a strong retroflex "r" in their accentual repertoire, or the Japanese might easily have been ""ハンバルグ" ("hanbarugu").

It's hard to see any pattern to the way that the names of European countries find their way into Japanese. In some cases they are approximations (with allowances for the Procrustean processes described above) to the native names: Germany is ドイツ (doitsu), Italy is イタリア (itaria). But in other cases the English word seems to have been used as the basis: スペイン (spein) is much closer to "Spain" than to "España", which would be more nearly rendered as エスパーニャ. As for Britain (イギリス - igirisu), it appears to be a bastardized version of the word "English", which is a little problematic... I imagine this piecemeal approach reflects the piecemeal nature of the cultural contacts between Japan and the various countries involved - but I don't know.

And now, a word from Madoka )
steepholm: (Default)
How exciting! I've had this book on pre-order for months, and it's finally arrived!

tart magica cover

As you might guess from the title, Puella Magi Tart Magica is a spin-off manga from Madoka Magica. I've already a read a couple of such spin-offs, one of which (The Different Story) was very good, while the other (Oriko Magica) I was a bit less struck by. This new effort is by the same artist as Oriko, but I still have high hopes for it because of its angle of approach. It picks up on a visual hint in the last couple of episodes of the anime that Joan of Arc (along with several other well known young women of history) may have made a contract with Kyubey, and become a magical girl in the fifteenth century. To quote the Amazon blurb:

Joan of Arc is revered as a hero of the Hundred Years' War and a saint of the Catholic Church. But her leadership and strength of character in her time did not escape the notice of Kyubey, who, even in the fifteenth-century, sought Magical Girl candidates for their valuable energies. With her friends and fellow Magical Girls fighting at her side, Joan fights the English occupiers of France--but will she soon find herself fighting something much more sinister?!


And, sure enough:

tart puella

(Yes, of all the many names by which Joan has been known over the years, the writer of this manga decided to go with Tart. Never mind; that's a but trifle here.)

I naturally hope the manga will be good, but even if it's embarrassingly bad it still ticks several of my boxes, particularly the ones marked "alternative history" (I've got to write a chapter on that for an encyclopedia by this autumn) and "canonical fanfic" (see these entries from before Christmas, which I'm also planning to work into something more substantial), and of course "Japanese appropriations of Western culture and history". Puella Magi Tart Magica may in fact be as close as I ever get to reading the mythical Pretty Petra Pope.

That said, there are limits to my taste for appropriation, and while I wouldn't mind seeing a spin-off based on Cleopatra, I'd feel queasy if they did a manga about Magical Girl Anne Frank - another of the figures whom the series glancingly suggests may have contracted with Kyubey. I just hope they don't go there.

Meanwhile, according to this report, "Tokyo's Tokai University, known for its focus on sciences and engineering, has started exploring how the emotions of young girls can stop the heat death of the universe". As the photos demonstrate, it's standing room only.
steepholm: (Default)
One of my favourite Madoka Magica pieces is "Pergo Pugnare", which plays right at the end of the very last episode, as Homura prepares herself to take on the challenges of the new dispensation (that seems a sufficiently spoiler-free way of putting it). Yuki Kajiura's lush-stringed original can be heard here; but it always struck me as a piece that could be transcribed for piano quite successfully. However, unlike most such pieces associated with this anime, "Pergo Pugnare" appeared to have no piano version (or sheet music) available. This of course is where it pays to have a brother who's a composer. It took only minimal wheedling to get mine to transcribe it. Playing it was another matter for one of my relative rookiness, but I've managed to crank out a passable version for the benefit of the wider Madoka community. I'm sure someone more skilled will pick up the baton.



I tried playing this and the original simultaneously to see how I did in terms of timing, that being one of my impressive collection of Achilles heels. I begin by edging ahead, then the strings overhaul me in the middle, and finally we breast the tape together. Not good - but not too bad either.

Tangentially: I was listening to a programme about the Institute for Advance Studies in Princeton the other day, and it put me in mind of the year (1999) my brother was employed by them as their Composer in Residence. Isn't that just the coolest gig ever for a geek?

Not that he is a geek, in fact; but I'm happy to squee retrospectively on his behalf.
steepholm: (Default)
My dad dragged me to the first performance of Hamlet yesterday. I wish he hadn’t bothered. It was so “blocky”, so full of overacting, and the bald guy playing the ghost looked about as scary as a pancake. The lighting didn’t help, either: in fact it rained. As for the OST, it was drums and trumpets! So 1580s. So predictable. So Chamberlain’s Men.

I came away with a strong, bitter taste of déjà vu. This plot is old. Hell, this exact same story was done – better – a few years ago by Thomas Kyd, and even that was just a warmed over version of The Spanish Tragedy. Now there was a real genre-busting piece! They don’t make them like TST any more. Ophelia, the Bel-Imperia character in Hamlet, doesn’t do much of anything – no stabbing, no poisoning. She’s basically just there for the fan service and to be a wuss.

She and Hamlet had, like, zero backstory, anyway, so how could they ask me to care about them? I’d have liked a Nine Men’s Morris episode or something, where the characters were just hanging out and we got to see a bit more of what they were like before they turned terminally angsty. In this play you only see them in a crisis, and that makes the characters seem – kind of thin, you know? Like they were just invented to move the plot forward? You can’t squeeze a story like this into just five Acts, anyway.

Laertes was bad-ass, though. Definitely my favourite character.

Simon Forman Jr., aged 13 and three fourths.
steepholm: (Default)
To give a full account of Madoka means saying something about the world of the show beyond the original 12-episode anime, and acknowledging the complex set of interactions between the anime and the various other manifestations of its world, both official and otherwise.

When I first thought of this post, all I was really planning to do was to point at some cool stuff that had arisen from Madoka. Things like this game, this article, this petition and AMVs such as this. There’s a lot more out there, of course, some good and some bad (in the usual Sturgeon’s Law proportions). This post could end right here.

Thesis )

Antithesis )

Synthesis (sort of) )

And an anti-masque )
steepholm: (tree_face)
To give a full account of Madoka means saying something about the world of the show beyond the original 12-episode anime, and acknowledging the complex set of interactions between the anime and the various other manifestations of its world, both official and otherwise.

When I first thought of this post, all I was really planning to do was to point at some cool stuff that had arisen from Madoka. Things like this game, this article, this petition and AMVs such as this. There’s a lot more out there, of course, some good and some bad (in the usual Sturgeon’s Law proportions). This post could end right here.

Thesis )

Antithesis )

Synthesis (sort of) )

And an anti-masque )
steepholm: (Default)
This started out as a Madoka post, but I think it will have to be the prolegomena for a future one.

In the West we’ve tended in the last 100 years or so to consider works of art (I’m thinking particularly of literature, but much of this would apply to music too, and to the visual arts) in two different ways: either as an expression of some idea, mood, state of being, etc., on the part of their creators or as autonomous aesthetic objects, to be considered without regard to where they came from or what anyone meant by them. Most literary critical movements can be lined up broadly under one or other of those headings: Freudians, Liberal Humanists, Feminists to the left, please – no jostling! - Structuralists and New Critics to the right.

“Intentional” reading

Those who think of art as human expression normally assume some kind of intention behind it, though this intention need not be fully conscious, nor necessarily articulable in language. The idea of a work of art that lacks any intention is troubling to them. Hence a piece of music generated by a computer will, however beautiful “in itself”, be less satisfying to them than an identical piece of music written by a human composer. A while ago there was a lengthy debate between John Searle and the critics Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels concerning the (im)possibility of meaning without intention. If the stones cast on the beach by the sea happened to fall in a pattern that spelt out one of Wordsworth’s “Lucy” poems, would that be a poem, or would it merely “resemble” one? I’m not going to be drawn: the fact that such a debate could even be thought worth having makes the point I need here – that there are people for whom intention is criterial to judging whether something is a work of art (or even meaningful at all), and a sense of intention is criterial to a fulfilling experience of art.

What I am interested in is where intention is located for people who feel this way. In literature, the usual location for intention is assumed to be the author’s mind. Even this is far from being a problem-free description, of course: the author’s intention evolves over time as the work is written; ideas occur during composition and are changed during editing. It may even be that the author goes back and revises published works, imposing on them a new intention: is that more, or less, “authentic” than the earlier ones? Or should we say that the new version is not the same work of art at all? But let that pass too for the moment. For the purpose of this discussion, the author’s mind might be called the “focus of intention” in the minds of many readers.

In collaborative works, the focus of intention is not so easy to locate. Take a feature film, for example: the director, producer, actors, screenwriter, cinematographer, composer, etc., all contribute to the work of art, so locating and delimiting the focus of intention is far less straightforward than in the case of the novel. (And even the novel, of course, has – in addition to the author’s mind in its numerous aspects – various editors, agents, friends and family, and the other usual suspects of the Acknowledgements page, all suggesting a rather more “distributed” model of authorship, and thus of intention.)

In the case of films, there is a convention – perhaps no more than a comforting fiction, for people who like their focus of intention narrowed conveniently to one human head – of treating directors as authors – or auteurs. Hence, in bibliographies it is the director’s name that is listed first, with others mentioned only if the context requires. This isn’t to say that directors don’t have an important role to play – perhaps the most important – but only to note that those who enjoy cinema may feel more comfortable thinking of a film as being “by Fellini”.

In other contexts, we may feel happy to expand the focus of intention. When we listen to “A Hard Day’s Night”, we may focus our sense of intention on Lennon as the song’s writer, or on the Beatles as a group, bestowing on them a kind of collective group intention. Depending on context, we may even expand beyond the Fab Four to include others with a hand in the recording, such as George Martin, who not only produced it but played the piano. The focus of intention may grow or shrink, in other words, depending on context and what questions we’re interested in.

How much wider can the focus of intention get? Quite a bit, I think. When I see commenters on Madoka’s style of animation say things like “That’s just Shaft [the studio that made the show] being Shaft”, then it surely includes the whole studio, with its distinctive approach to anime. The intention behind Madoka includes that, as well as whatever was going through the head of the Urobuchi (the writer) or Shinbo (the director). Or, for a far better known example, muse on the concept of “Disneyfication”.

Perhaps more controversially – and this will be my jumping off point for the next proper Madoka post, so I’ll just flag it here as a reminder to myself – we might see the focus of intention expanding to include fandom itself, through its transformative fictions, its speculations, and the overall reception of the show.


Black Boxes and Autonomist Reading

The focus of intention has more than one function, but an important one involves the way the “intentional” mode of reading interacts with the “autonomous” mode, in which we consider the art work as an autonomous aesthetic object. For, pace the critics, I don’t believe intentionalists and autonomists (for want of better names) are discrete groups of readers (or viewers, or listeners, or whatever). Incompatible as the literary theories supporting them may be, I suspect that as readers we are normally both simultaneously, and indeed that in practice the two modes are fundamentally connected.

Engineers and computer programmers talk about “black boxes”: a notional box with certain inputs and certain outputs. There may be many different engineering solutions to the problem of converting those inputs into the required outputs, but the point about a black box is that doesn’t matter which solution has been adopted: that process is opaque. I think that the autonomist position requires us to put the work of art into a kind of black box. “Yes, some process went on to produce this work, but what matters is the output, the work, so let’s not get distracted with the question of how it came to be” – would be the pure autonomist position. I don’t suppose many people read in quite that spirit – the opacity of artistic black boxes is never total – but constructing a black box is one way we mentally “frame” a use of language (or sound, or physical space) so that we can recognize it as an art work at all. (Note that this contrasts with and contradicts the demand noted above that classifying something as a work of art should imply ascribing an intention to it.)

My contention is that the construction of these black boxes is in fact intimately connected to the focus of intention.

I’ll give a Madoka-related example to illustrate what I mean. Someone mentioned on a fan board recently that the Faust references in Madoka, which include graffiti quotations from Goethe, did not originate with the show’s writer, Urobuchi. It was the design team, noticing some of the parallels the story had with Faust (most notably in the idea of a contract that costs one’s soul) who made that connection, and then incorporated Faustian motifs into the show. For the fan reporting it, this information tended to invalidate the Faustian elements. Because they didn’t come from the mind of Urobuchi, they weren’t an integral element but a bolted-on extra designed to flatter pseudo-intellectual otaku. For this poster, the show’s focus of intention was narrowly centred on the mind of Urobuchi himself, and anything (at least to do with the plot) that came from elsewhere was less authentic, less integral, and thus less fit to be considered part of the autonomous aesthetic object called Madoka.

Now, I happen not to see it that way. For me, the focus of intention includes the whole production team, and indeed the studio: I think of Madoka primarily as a Shaft show rather than an Urobuchi show. Consequently, what goes on within Shaft exists in a “black box”: it doesn’t matter that the Faustian references got added late in the process, or by whom, any more than it would have mattered to the poster had Urobuchi thought of them himself in a late draft rather than an early one. The difference in the foci of intention makes us see this feature of the show in very different lights.

I could multiply examples, but that will have to do, since I’m tired. I’m still thinking these things through, anyway. However, my tl;dr hypothesis is this: that even though intentionalist and autonomist positions tend to be viewed as incompatible, in reading practice they are intimately connected, because the focus of intention largely determines the dimensions of the "black box" that allows us to enjoy the work as art.
steepholm: (Default)
Although this is in part a Madoka post, and contains some spoilers, I haven't put it under my customary cut because it's as much about other things and is really a digression from my extended discussion of Madoka. (There's more of that to come, but I've got marking to do so my free time will be limited for a week or two.)

Liking as I do the aesthetics of Madoka, and also the only other anime I'd seen by Shinbo/Shaft, Dance in the Vampire Bund, I naturally sought out Shinbo's pre-Madoka hit, Bakemonogatari. I'll do a proper review of that once I've finished watching it (I'm halfway through), but suffice it to say that it's a collection of linked stories in which a high-school boy, Araragi (a recovering vampire), encounters a number of girls who have had troublesome encounters with theriomorphic spirits, often amounting to some kind of possession.

Anyway, one of these girls is basketball whizz Suruga Kanbaru, whose left arm has turned into that of a monkey. At first it was simply a monkey's paw that she inherited and kept in a box, but after reading W. W. Jacobs and wishing to be the fastest runner in her class she found that all the girls who were faster than her were mysteriously attacked in the night, knocking them out of the running, as it were. It was at that point that the paw attached itself.

First - I was surprised (but Japan never ceases to surprise me in this way) that W. W. Jacobs' story was well known enough in Japan to get an explicit name-check. I read it when young, when I was gobbling up M. R. James and his ilk, and it certainly stayed with me, but I don't remember hearing it mentioned much in the intervening years. How famous is it?

Still, I suppose the device of the badly-framed wish has a much longer history, whether it's misinterpreted through a kind of jobsworthy punctiliousness (as in the sorcerer's apprentice) or malice (as in the monkey's paw). Of course, anyone who has ever struggled to write a computer program will be familiar with the ease with which one of these can seem to slide into the other.

Suruga naturally attributes the injuries of her classmates to the monkey's paw. What's interesting is that she is wrong. The entity that attacked them, and that has attached itself to her, was actually a "Rainy Devil", the nature of which is also to grant wishes in a tricksy (but differently tricksy) way. The Rainy Devil knows that wishes have both a surface and an underside, and it's the latter that it grants. Suruga's wish to be the fastest in her class masked her real wish, which was to injure her classmates, and the Rainy Devil possessed her in order to grant that.

This psychologization of wishes, and the introduction (under a different name) of the unconscious is an interesting development, particularly when it's done as an explicit replacement for the old "monkey's paw" type wish, where the malevolence is outsourced to an evil spirit twisting the good (if unwise) intent of the wisher. Jacobs' story was published two years after The Interpretation of Dreams and two years before The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, but it's a pre-Freudian tale.

Not of course that the older kind of wish-twisting has been definitively superseded. Even though psychologists might like to claim that any sufficiently analyzed action is indistinguishable from a subconscious wish, it would be an arrogant kind of solipsism to suppose that there are no other forces in this world than human minds. But Rainy Devil vs. Monkey's Paw does offer an interesting choice of ways to tell the story of a wish gone wrong.

So, turning (inevitably) to Madoka and that other wish-granting entity of dubious morality, Kyubey, on which side of the divide does he fall? He certainly has an ulterior motive in wanting to grant girls wishes, and everything he does is aimed (ultimately) at bringing them to despair, so he might seem to have an excellent incentive to make their wishes turn out badly, either through some wilful misinterpretation of their words or through granting their unspoken rather than their spoken wish.

Watching Bakemonogatari brings home to me just how strange it is that he does neither. The wishes he grants are granted "straight": Mami lives and becomes a very competent Magical Girl (the Monkey's Paw might have let her live but in excruciating pain from her injuries); Kyousuke is healed; Kyoko's father is listened to by his flock; Homura really does go back in time to protect Madoka; and Madoka does remake the universe. Of course, arguably all these wishes turn out badly, at least in part. Mami lives, but she is alone and tormented by loneliness; Sayaka heals Kyousuke but loses him to Hitomi; Kyoko's father is driven mad by the discovery of what she's done; Homura's attempts to save Madoka turn Madoka in a potentially world-destroying witch; and even Madoka's wish, while it works out just as she intended, means that she ceases to exist in this world.

Nevertheless, these wrong turnings (certainly the first three) can't be directly attributed to wilfulness on Kyubey's part: they are simply foolish wishes. Mami, in her agony, didn't think to wish that her parents should also be saved (a regret that's brought out more clearly in The Different Story manga). Kyoko's was a child's wish: she didn't have sufficient understanding of her father's vocation as a priest to guess how he would react to having a congregation gathered by magic rather than faith.

And then there's Sayaka: here of course we really do have a two-sided wish, and Mami highlights the issue in Episode 3: "Miki-san, do you really want to make his dream to come true? Or do you just want to be his benefactor? The two may sound the same, but they are actually completely different." Of course, it would be unfair to say that Sayaka says she wants to heal Kyousuke but she actually wants him to be grateful so that he'll become her boyfriend. She wants both: her love of his music and of him as a musician are not simply feigned because she wants him (this is made clear in her final appearance in Episode 12), and her compassion for his suffering is also perfectly genuine. This is why, despite acknowledging the truth of Mami's warning, she goes ahead and wishes anyway: her conscious mind has a convincing (because true) story to tell that effectively masks the subconscious motivations that also exist.

Nevertheless, none of this is arranged by Kyubey: he didn't throw Hitomi in Kyousuke's path; he didn't tip off Kyoko's dad; he didn't refuse to save Mami's parents; he didn't know about the side effects of Homura's wish. What he does understand, and has found that he can rely on, is that human beings lack self-knowledge, and that for this reason their wishes will inevitably betray them. And that, my friends, is one reason why Madoka is more like Shakespeare than W. W. Jacobs.

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