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Anime Expo Lite 2021 & Aniplex Online Fest 2021
Aniplex Online Fest 2021: Tracing the 10-Year History of Puella Magi Madoka Magica

by Kim Morrissy,

When Puella Magi Madoka Magica first debuted in January 2011, it caused shock waves around the world. The anime was initially promoted with cute visuals, until the turning point (or "Mami-ing Point," as it's colloquially referred to in Japan) in episode 3, when the series revealed itself to be a dark fantasy. The Aniplex Online Fest panel breaks down that watershed moment and what happened afterward.

What made this panel extra interesting was the presence of animation critic Ryota Fujitsu, whose insights about the storytelling and cultural background of Madoka complemented the experiences described by the voice actors and producers present at the event. For example, he explained the significance of the word "magical girl" (Mahо̄ Shо̄jo) in the title: although magical girls have been a prominent part of children's television in Japan since the 60s, it wasn't until the 90s that the word has been deliberately invoked in titles to parody the concept. Fujitsu suggested that Madoka uses the word in order to set up certain expectations for the audience, and producer Tatsuya Ishikawa said that was indeed the case.

According to Fujitsu, what stands out about Madoka 10 years later is how relatively small the franchise is despite being one of the representative anime of the 2010s. Anime these days tend to be part of sprawling franchises, but in 2011, self-contained original anime were more prominent. When Madoka won accolades and awards, its originality was frequently touted as a boon. The story had surprises all the way to the end; voice actors Aoi Yūki (Madoka) and Eri Kitamura (Sayaka) recalled how they, just like the audience, awaited each episode's script breathlessly to find out what would happen next.

Madoka shocked the world all over again when Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie Part 3: Rebellion hit theaters. The push and pull between Madoka and Homura was particularly striking; as Fujitsu put it, if the original series was a story about the friendship between an idealist and a realist that ends with the idealist rewriting reality, then the film is a story about how the realist in turn rewrites that reality. Yūki remarked on how sexy Homura's devil form was, and Ishikawa pointed out that the home video release includes an outtake with Chiwa Saito's original voiced lines for the character, which were delivered in an even more sinister way.

Although there was no new Madoka anime for several years after that, the characters frequently appeared in mobile game collaborations in 2015 and 2016. Then, in 2016, the Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story spinoff mobile game was announced as part of animation studio Shaft's 40th anniversary.

Magia Record provided a new take on Madoka's world and lore. The game's producer Yūsuke Toyama wanted Magia Record to have a long lifespan as a mobile game, so the challenge was in expanding the themes present in the original anime in order to create a compelling experience in its own right. Accordingly, the new characters are very distinctive; Momo Asakura (Iroha) remarked on how every character has emotional baggage, while Sora Amamiya (Yachiyo) commented on how the circumstances of every character can be portrayed in detail due to the game's narrative structure.

Fujitsu praised Magia Record's approach, saying that while Rebellion chose to "deepen" the setting of the original anime, Magia Record opted to "widen" it. Both works represent valid approaches to creating a sequel, and it is interesting to put them side-by-side. He also praised the involvement of Gekidan Inu Curry's Doroinu as chief director of the anime adaptation, as it allowed the series to thoroughly capture his vision of the bizarre witch worlds.

Speaking of Doroinu, he left a message to fans thanking them for their support and apologizing for the long wait for Magia Record's second cour. He said that although he can't go into spoilers, the team has been working hard to arrange the story about Doppels and the liberation of magical girls in an interesting way. He also lamented that he's been so busy lately that he doesn't even have time to play the game himself, and he's looking forward to getting that time again.

Ironically, the panel included a segment about the popularity of Madoka and Magia Record overseas, although it made no mention of the closure of Magia Record's North America server. A photo from Anime Expo 2019 showing prominent Magia Record displays feels bittersweet from this perspective. Nevertheless, the panelists were touched at the displays of love they saw from overseas fans.

The panel concluded with discussion about the announcement of the Rebellion sequel film Gekijōban Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magica: Walpurgis no Kaiten (translated officially as Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Walpurgisnacht: Rising). Although Fujitsu admitted frankly that he only knows as much about the film as any other viewer, he called attention to how "Kaiten" means "changing fate." Ishikawa also hinted that the film will focus on Homura's time-traveling powers.

The Madoka franchise is continuing into the next decade, and the panel concluded with the uplifting note: "Please look forward to the next 10 years of Madoka!"

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