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The Mahou Shoujo Must Go On 8 (Fandom)
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.

But of course, being me, I got thinking about the relationship between fan stuff and the original anime, or rather about the way I experience that relationship. So, this post is partly about Why Madoka is Awesome, as usual, and like my earlier posts on that subject it does have spoilers, so be warned; but it’s also about some more general questions, for which I’ll be using Madoka as my case study. Indeed, it turns out that to appreciate the Awesomeness of Madoka actually requires (for reasons that will I hope eventually become clear) a more general consideration of fan material, as well as of the general penumbra of official spin-offs, merchandising, etc., which I will call the show’s “cultural peritext”, following my student’s request of a few weeks ago. I’m also going to take as read the terminology of “foci of intention” and “black boxes”, which I developed in a more recent post.

Well then, how do we picture the relationship of canonical material to fan material? As a first cut, we might think of a Madokaverse in which there are degrees of canonicity, with the original anime at the centre, being orbited by the cultural peritext, then the fanosphere lying further out. We can picture it as a kind of Ptolemaic cosmos:

ptolemaic fan cosmos

This is of course an inherently hierarchical structure. It has a centre, and it has a periphery. There is also an implicit direction of influence. The anime, sitting at the centre like the sun (actually I suppose that makes it a Copernican cosmos – oh well), shines rays of influence over everything else, but is itself immune to influence – and in general influence is always conceived of as flowing in an outward direction. And what is true of influence is true too of normative concepts such as authority, authenticity, and indeed legal standing.

In the case of Madoka, the spheres of influence (to go Ptolemaic again) would look something like this, beginning at the centre and working outwards. We might quibble over some of the rankings, but you get the general idea:

1. The original 12-episode anime
2. The feature length theatrical releases (Beginnings and Eternal) that were made from the anime, telling the same story but omitting some scenes, adding one or two others, improving the animation and changing some of the music.
3. The sequel movie, Rebellion.

4. The manga based on the anime.
5. The PSP game.
6. The official spin-off manga which combine the same world and the same characters with different events. The CD extras, which were packaged with the DVD in America (I think?) and do something similar, would also fit here.

7. Fan fiction, fan art, games, etc.
8. Second-order discussion about Madoka, from fan speculation during broadcast to academic articles.

Within these divisions, 1-3 are the work of the same Shaft team that created the original anime, while 3-6 were created under licence, with some guidance and cooperation from that team (they briefed the mangaka, for example, and the PSP game used the character designs and the voice actresses from the series): thus our focus of intention when we read/play them is likely to include Shaft as well as the mangaka and the game company. By contrast, 7-8 are free-floating entities as far as the focus of intention goes.

In terms of my earlier post, we might think of this model in terms of a series of nested black boxes (convenient for easy storage!), in which each level of production “contains” the ones inside it. This puts constraints on what the “outer” productions can do, because they need to take into account the more canonical productions nearer the centre, but it also gives them some advantages. One is the opportunity for compression – and to illustrate this I’ll borrow a great example from Catherine Tosenberger, in a recent article about fan fiction:

a line in a Potter story as seemingly innocuous as “Ginny was keeping a diary again”, is in fact deeply ominous to a clued-in reader. (‘Mature Poets Steal: Children’s Literature and the Unpublishability of Fanfiction’, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 39.1 [Spring 2014], 4-27, 16)

Similarly, the Madoka spin-off manga don’t bother to establish who the major characters are or the world they inhabit and its rules: that expository labour can be taken for granted. When we read these manga, we put a “black box” around them as with any art work, but that box also contains the original anime. Fan work is again more independent here (there’s plenty of fan work that contradicts canon, introduces crossovers with other fandoms, etc.), but it generally takes advantage of these black-boxing rules too, as in Tosenberger’s example above.

This is a nice model, I guess. Unfortunately it’s inadequate as a way of modelling the reception of texts, cultural peritexts and fandom, for (at least) two reasons.

The first reason – which I won’t spend much time on here because it’s not so relevant to Madoka – is that the “official” model of canonicity may not coincide with the way that the works are actually received by readers (I’m using “readers” in this post as shorthand, to include viewers, players, etc.).

A couple of non-Madoka examples will illustrate this. What, under this model, is the status of the original 1992 Buffy movie, made before the series but so different from it in spirit and tone? It would seem perverse to put it at the centre of the Buffyverse, as the innermost “black box” used by Buffy fandom, but it’s hard to see where else a model like this could accommodate it. Again, for many of my students the Harry Potter films are far more central than the books to their conception of the Potterverse. Yes, I could tell them they are “wrong”, but that would be a Canutian exercise – and besides, I’ve no interest in doing so. Anyway, how could I make that case and simultaneously argue for primacy of the Buffy series over the earlier movie? (Actually, I can see a couple of possible arguments, but they smack of special pleading.)

The other problem with my Ptolemaic model is that influence is not all one way, and that later, more “peripheral” works, can alter our perception of works nearer the centre. This is hardly a groundbreaking observation, of course. Eliot anticipated it in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” over 90 years ago:

The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new.

So, in the Madoka anime there was a fleeting and ambiguous hint that Mami and Kyoko had known each other before the events of the story. (Kyoko comments, “Old Mami bought it, did she?” or words to that effect. And she seems particularly riled when Sayaka compares her to Mami unfavourably.) The spin-off manga A Different Story, as well as one of the drama CDs, Farewell Story, takes that hint and expand on it, showing Mami becoming a senpai to a younger, more idealistic Kyoko, and the sad end to that alliance after Kyoko’s father discovers her secret. When we rewatch the anime, as we surely will, the “knowledge” of Mami and Kyoko’s past cannot be entirely shut out, even though by the “black box” rule it should be. That is one reason I said in the earlier post that artistic black boxes were never entirely opaque.

Again, none of this is in any way unique to Madoka; indeed, it’s common. J. K. Rowling is particularly prone to retrofitting elements into her fictional world, from the “Dumbledore is gay” revelation to all the stuff on Pottermore (some of which has now found its way into editions of the books).

There are however two things about Madoka that strike me as more unusual (and of course Awesome) in this regard.

One is structural. Much fan fiction (if it doesn’t want to contradict the original text directly) has to find a “niche” where it can thrive without disturbing the canonical events of the story. There are many ways to do this: prequels, sequels, following minor characters whom canon doesn’t tell us much about, etc. All this is possible with Madoka too of course, but whether by accident or design - and there is evidence in the Shinbou quotation below that it was by design - Madoka has a structure that also allows, and even invites, the main events of the story to be told very differently without contradicting canon. This is an effect of its time loop structure. We know that the weeks in which the story takes place have happened on numerous other occasions, and we are shown four of those iterations in Episode 10, but the anime leaves it open how many more there have been. (Given the very substantial changes in Homura’s behaviour, it seems likely that there are numerous others; for what it’s worth Urobuchi has reportedly said that Homura relived those weeks getting on for 100 times.) This means that anyone can set a story in another time loop, showing how events played out differently for the main characters on that occasion. This is the approach taken not only by some fan fiction but also by some more “official” products such as the spin-off manga. One could also easily fit the PSP game (in which events work out differently according to how you play) into this model.

That’s a nice feature – but more important to me is the more inviting attitude towards fan involvement taken by the Shaft team. Shinbou in particular appears (in contradiction to the hierarchical model) to see fans as co-creators. A few examples:

• In the opening credits of the anime Madoka is briefly shown hugging a cat. When the series was being broadcast there was much speculation about that cat and what role it might play in the series. In the event, it didn’t play any role – but when Shaft made the first drama CD Memories of You, which is set in the first timeline, the cat was made the focus of Madoka’s wish, presumably in a nod to fan speculation.

• In the Region 2 DVD the “Next Episode” audio snippets are shown against the background of fan art pictures (of variable quality). I’m not sure whether this shows up in Region 1 editions. Is it commonplace to incorporate fan work into “canon” like this? Perhaps – but I’ve not seen it elsewhere.

• On the same DVD, the original ending credits for Episode 9 are replaced with a new song, “And I’m Home”, sung by the actresses who played Kyoko and Sayaka, and a picture of the two characters in which Kyoko appears to be rescuing an unconscious Sayaka (our Little Mermaid) from watery witchdom. Together, these are a clear acknowledgement and indeed endorsement of the shipping of these two characters by fans. (I must confess to being of their number in that respect.)

I’m sure that studios have made concessions to shippers before, and the Rebellion movie, in which Kyoko’s and Sayaka’s relationship is cemented further, can certainly also be seen in that light. But I really like Shinbou’s comment from the pamphlet accompanying Rebellion’s release (I am grateful to feral_phoenix for permission to quote their translation):

Sayaka is yet another character who’s been rounded out by the fans after the TV show ended. I think that we all created her character together.

Now, maybe he was just saying this to be flattering, but I prefer to take him at his word – because it’s true, dammit! Things the fans have said and done have made Madoka a better, richer anime. And I love the fact that he used that language, rather than the top-down, hierarchical language of the cosmos I sketched at the top of this post. It’s the difference between throwing a sly crumb of self-referentiality from the high table of canonicity to the hungry fans below (which we see on a regular basis in shows like Doctor Who), and recognizing them as the co-creators they are. And the effect, if we view the Madokaverse in that light, is to expand the focus of intention to include fandom itself. As Shinbou said elsewhere in the same interview:

Concerning the kinds of “spinoffs” and “prequels” you just mentioned, I think that groups other than Shaft should go ahead and make those as fanworks. Puella Magi Madoka Magica leaves a lot of room for fanfiction and fan interpretations, and we want all of those to be made. We don’t think there’s any need to close off the gaps fans have to create those kinds of works. Actually, we decided to continue the story specifically to make this world bigger and more fun to play with. I loved the characters in Madoka Magica, so I wanted to create the story of what happened to them next.

There is of course a potential cost to this – namely, that the integrity of the anime Madoka as a work of art may be compromised. I’ve mentioned that black boxes are actually translucent, but they still have to be visible in order to maintain our sense of a work of art as something we can “frame” and make distinct from the rest of our experience. How that balance can be maintained or adjusted is something I want to think more about. Personally I feel that Rebellion, for all its many fine qualities (gorgeous animation, etc.) suffers slightly in this respect: it is distracted by fan conversations, and its coherence suffers in consequence, notably in the figure of Nagisa/Charlotte.

But enough of that. It’s time for some light relief, and no doubt you have been wondering whether I too have produced any Madoka fan work. Why, yes I have! Here is my Madoka/Eric Carle crossover, produced with all the editing skills of which Microsoft Paint is capable, dedicated to Kyoko and based (you will note) not on the anime alone (in which Kyoko did not turn into a witch) but on one of the possible outcomes of the PSP game. Which, naturally, I have never actually played.

the very hungry mahou shoujo

I am fascinated (if bewildered). The anti-masque is delicious.


I'm working these things out as I go along, as you probably divined, rather than delivering long-settled ideas. Think of these as rough notes for something a bit more formal that may appear at a future date, but which I don't have leisure to write now.

I'm glad you enjoyed the anti-masque!

This is really, really interesting, and maps in a way over some of my own (largely inchoate) thinking about how canon and fan art, sequels-by-others and so forth fit together.

It's a complicated and rather messy picture, but the reality is messy too. I'm glad it doesn't seem wildly off-kilter to you.

I love your observation that the alternate timelines allow for an infinity of fanfic possibilities that contradict canon! <3

And haha Ptolemaic versus Copernican. If the universe had alternate timelines maybe both have been or are the case at once? :)


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