The Rising Tide: Madoka Rebellion and Communal Culture
|Title:||The Rising Tide: Madoka Rebellion and Communal Culture|
|Creator:||b0bduh (Nick Creamer)|
|Date(s):||July 14, 2014|
|Fandom:||Puella Magi Madoka Magica|
|Topic:||Madoka Rebellion movie|
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The Rising Tide: Madoka Rebellion and Communal Culture is an analysis by b0bduh (Nick Creamer) of the 2014 Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion movie, a sequel to the hit 2011 anime series Puella Magi Madoka Magica. In addition to comparing the movie to its predecessor, and analyzing its strengths and weaknesses, the essay also also explores fanservice, fanfiction, and the relationship between fandom and creators.
- Analysis of the original series
- Aesthetic critique of Rebellion
- Character and thematic critique
- Art vs. fanservice
- Rebellion as a reflection of the relationship between creators, fandom, and transformative works.
Rebellion is very clearly an act of “communal creation” – most of the things it does, most of the turns it indulges in, are reflective of what the audience wanted it to be. It was actually a brilliant stroke of Rebellion’s creators to frame the story as an actual dream world, because little else could have justified the indulgences Rebellion wallows in. The entire first act is a kind of fanservice, offering the audience the happy dream of these characters it feels they’ve “earned.”
But as I said initially, defining Rebellion as a reflective work is only partially a condemnation. Because Rebellion isn’t just some isolated case. Rebellion is reflective of what all art is becoming, of shifts in media and communication that are changing the fundamental relationship between creator and consumer. Twenty years ago, creators created things and audiences consumed them. There were critics and public backlash and fandoms, but there was still a distance between creator and consumer. Today, fans talk to their favorite creators on twitter. Creators share things they’re working on as they’re working on them. Fans directly decide what they want to support, through vocal campaigns or fandom organizations or crowdsourcing. Ten years ago, you could just get away with being a creator of specific works. Today, creators are themselves brands, and their own platforms are critical. Creators are a component of their own fandom communities. And this doesn’t only go one way – this doesn’t just mean creators are moving closer to fans. It also means fans are becoming creators. It’s a trend reflective of web culture at large – people want to be validated, want to feel like they are contributing to something larger than themselves. As our relationship with media changes, the ways we reflect that relationship change as well – culture democratizes itself, and fandom shifts from a passive group of appreciators to a group of active creators, who recontextualize the things they love through community and the self-expression of fan art, fan fiction, fan theorizing. In the age of internet communities, media engagement is becoming a fundamentally performative experience.
Even if creators give us exactly what they think we want, we are smarter than that – we’ll demand the harshness of reality, the bracing wind of truth. Ultimately, art will win through – not just because artists are passionate individuals who will never give up its pursuit, but also because something inside us demands art, demands scathing reflection, and can see when the happiness we are offered is a lie. Just like Homura in Rebellion, who is given everything she thinks she wants, and yet tears it all down anyways. Just like Sayaka and Madoka at its end, who struggle against the pacifying influence of Homura’s selfish personal world. We rally against simplistic happiness. We cannot be contained. Do I think this message was intended by the text? Maybe, I guess? The film certainly does play in some interesting space with Homura’s desires, and her ultimate choices could easily be framed as the selfish, nearsighted desires of a jealous fandom. But in the context of everything I’ve just discussed, does that really matter? What we take from the text is our own – if a work is rich and strange and full of personality, we can construct our own meaning.
Yes, Rebellion doesn’t feel like a coherent sequel to me – and that saddens me, and I wish it were greater than it is. But as a child of the internet age, I can still find something worth taking in it, and share that meaning with others. We need passionate artists, desperately – they provide an immeasurable service to the world. And we need works like Eva Rebuild, angry at complacency, demanding better of us. But we also should be open to exploring the gifts of this new communal world of creation, and seeing what new meanings this strange evolution in media can provide. Creators should never stop bleeding themselves in the pursuit of truth and beauty, but consumers should also never stop constructing their own beautiful truths.
Works like Madoka are so intensely popular that fans will, over the years separating installments, have inevitably explored just about any premise the creators could dream up. Creators and fans are working from the same base product, after all! But this doesn’t make the creators’ work a hollow regurgitation of some fandom wishlist. Quite the opposite of bobduh’s interpretation, I see it as Urobuchi still staking claim over a story so many of us desire to take as our own. He may want fans to build upon the work, but he’s still leaving an indelible mark on the template they’ll be using. It’s obvious if you look at post-Rebellion fan works. Rebellion still managed to shock most of its viewers, me most certainly included. It was a huge challenge for me to process. I loved it, I adored it, it’s one of my top 3 films ever, but it affected me in very complex ways. As in, “took off work the following Monday because I could not stop thinking about it or concentrate on anything else” ways. For me, this was by no means but a feel-good popcorn flick that ticked off my fetish checkboxes. Obsessing over its “indulgent” nature, where indulgent is posited as the antonym of “artistic intent”, is something I’ll never understand.
Urobuchi gave fans what they wanted, premise-wise. He also showed them where it’d end up.
Fans were the ones who wanted their premise, and then also toy with the characters’ personalities and motives, twisting it all the way. He gave them the twisted premise, but showed them where the characters would take it.Fan-fiction can only exist as it does because it knows it’s fan-fiction, because it knows the original work is still there, safe from it. Well, what if it weren’t?
As someone who consumes more fanworks than original material, it always strikes me how little those who don’t partake in fanworks that much, from creators to other fans, seem to miss the mark in their perceptions of what we, who revel in fanworks, really want.
It is true that fanworks reflect things we desire that the source material does not give us. But part of the reason why things like Rule 34 and Rule 63 exist is that we recognize that fanworks are a declared fantasy space, meant to exist as an independent offshoot of the source material. The more a fanwork-maker or consumer appears to prefer more questionable fandom aspects, (especially unhealthy/taboo pairings) the more you can bet that they are very aware of how their fanwork preferences diverge from source material themes, and that the overlap in the venn diagram of “things I like in fanworks” vs. “things I want in source material” is tiny. (Just like the overlap in “things I like in characters/pairings” vs. “things I want in real-life friends/relationships”) I ship a lot of pairs that I know could not ever occur without some serious characterization changes, but I ship them anyways because that’s the freedom afforded to me by not having the responsibility of building canon. People can make some of the most amusing running gags in recaps or episode-by-episode reviews because they’re operating from a perspective that the recaps/reviews are for to be read by consumers only, not the creators. (Especially if they have those semi-sarcastic little “Author, if you’re reading this,” messages in their rants.)Most creators haven’t learned to parse out what we want in our source material from our fanworks. As more creators come from fannish roots, that gap is decreasing, but until then, we’re currently at this awkward junction where creators are massacring source material in order to give us what they think we want. As most of us are still used to the fan-creator divide paradigm, we’re used to not getting what we want, so we’ll take fanservice and enjoy it as empty carbs, but really, we just want the source material to be as good as it can be. (A note on who “we” are: the people making public reactions in the form of posts and fanworks, which then point to more specific desires than simply looking at who is buying what DVDs and merchandise. That’s why I can say with confidence that “we” aren’t the ones supporting the rise of pander-only fare.)
…Okay Bobduh, that was brilliant. I’m legitimately taking a class on this concept of digital identity and creating and contributing to pre-existing media when I start college next month and I’m trying to study and grasp concepts and ideas like that for the sole purpose of making a work of my own someday which does exactly that: Embodies a cathartic reflection of my own life filled with struggles and experiences and inspirations exemplified through non-human characters acting human in a fantastical scenario that is birthed through the laws of brutal realism. Exactly the same sentiments I have about a work such as Madoka Magica in all its incarnations…and why it is not only my favorite anime of all time, but also my favorite work of fiction and media franchise. …I…am speechless. You fucking nailed it.
At the end of the day I love Rebellion because it made my mind spin in a way no piece of fiction has ever done before. There are so many different interpretations on this film and it’s so fun to debate with people about its many themes. It doesn’t leave you with easy answers, but lays plenty of hints along the way and rewards multiple viewings. 
Normally I adore your essays, but I couldn’t get through this one without a sigh. You have actively faulty information in some instances (your assertion that characters come from multiple timelines when they do not; that the endgame involves Homura’s time travel powers when it does not), have failed to read into the piece as far as you should (for example, dismissing the cake song as a “non-sequitur”; it is anything but, although I submit that it’s really just an excuse for some cute-and-weird dream symbolism – but that’s not the same as a non-sequitur), and dismissed the finale as a “twist for its own sake”, when it is in fact Homura’s driving force – her determination – dragging her down to her metaphorical grave, in much the same way that the other magical girls were across Madoka-the-series; Mami by her longing for friends; Sayaka by her heroism; Kyouko by her lust. You’ve also made some generalizations about the fandom’s feelings that are anything but widespread. For example in my own wide experience dealing with the fandom, I’ve only met two or three other people who liked the Akuma Homura angle – the other few hundred people I’ve seen and interacted with have hated it, yet in your essay you suggest that it’s “something the fans were surely thrilled to see”. While a few hundred people is hardly a statistically-relevant portion of the fanbase, they’re without doubt the more vocal side of the argument, which makes it hard to understand where you’re coming from.