Plotting the Potential of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Other New Series
It’s been almost five years since I’ve last seen the anime blogosphere go so completely head-over-heals for an anime like what’s currently happening for Puella Magi Madoka Magica. That last time was for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya and it pole vaulted everything from it’s voice actors to it’s animation studio into instant super-stardom. This time it’s the well-known combination of the Shaft animation studio and it’s super-director Akiyuki Shinbou. Which is a bit surprising, given the prolific nature of Shaft/Shinbou; there isn’t that blank slate to work their magic on which KyoAni had with Haruhi.
And much like Haruhi, the PM3 fascination is well warranted; even for this long time Shaft/Shinbou fan, I was astonished how quickly this anime become special. The logical next step for a blogger would to blog about it but did I really want to be the 89th person that pointed how just how creepy Kyubey is or how dark and twisted this world is or how Shinbou was deconstructing the magical girl genre. The answer probably should have been yes since the alternative – coming up with something slightly more unique – took more work.
I eventually thought of something and all I needed was to call on the power of graphing and Gurren Lagann and an idea that’s been bouncing around in my brain for awhile.
The idea started out awhile ago when I realized, when doing my weekly anime review posts, that splitting an anime series into smaller intervals (individual episodes) and focusing only on those smaller intervals it gave an incomplete picture of the series as a whole. I needed the equivalent of calculus to find the area under a curve when all I had was a handful of rectangles to use.
Conversely, looking at just the final grade for an anime series was helpful in a different way but so much was hidden behind that number. A series that started out great but then coasted could get the same grade as a series that tried to be ambitious and missed the mark by just a little or a series that was mediocre at the start but built up to a thrilling conclusion.
I had a half-formed thought about using some sort of graphing but when my weekly anime posts stopped, I stopped really worrying about implementing a new system. For Puella Magi Madoka Magica, I dusted off these ideas with the view of that I needed a good way to quantify how good I thought PM3 was and how quickly it had gotten good.
The result is the graph below. It’s still not perfect but it’s much closer to what I want then just saying the first four episodes of PM3 have all been 12/12 perfect episodes. Basically, the colored areas overlay my numeric grading system and correspond to levels of achievement that are possible once an anime displays a certain level of quality. These levels are progressively harder to attain and are a reflection of watching enough anime that I can accurately grade an anime. A note for clarification, the stripped triangles for each anime series shows my guess at the future potential of the show.
I used Gurren Lagann to compare the new series to because it is my number 1 show and the yard stick to compare all other anime series; though, the path Gurren Lagann took to reach number 1 is very interesting by itself. For instance, the big jump it took at the very end where it goes from being a fringe Top 10 anime to being my favorite anime corresponds to episode 26, aka the best episode of anime ever.
I put Puella Magi Madoka Magica into the “High Quality” level right away. It was during episode 1’s conversation between Madoka and her mom in the bathroom that I just knew. When the second episode showed no signs of letdown but only continued to impress me, it was upgraded to probably one of the best shows of the season (as measured against a “normal” season). The surprise at the end of episode 3 pushed the show into most likely earning the top spot for the winter season, assuming the rest of the series didn’t see a decline in quality, and moved it very close into earning a spot as one of the best series of 2011. (Again assuming a “normal” year, with this being just the beginning of the year, I’m using the past seasons and years as a guide in estimating.) The fourth episode didn’t disappoint either and Shaft/Shinbou made it clear that it had plenty of tricks left to play; meaning, PM3 is now all but guaranteed a spot on my top anime of 2011 list.
In picking the upper and lower bounds for how PM3 potentially turns out I decided even though it’s currently far surpassing where Gurren Lagann was at this point in time – it probably doesn’t have the spiral power to beat out Gurren Lagann in the end. Instead, I used the highest position of a Shaft/Shinbou anime series (Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei) as the probable cap. I could be wrong and it could go higher but I think PM3’s episode count being only half will limit it. For the low end, I just don’t see the show imploding and finishing any lower then maybe #3 for the winter season. My guess as to it’s most probably course would be for Puella Magi Madoka Magica to land in the top 5 – maybe 3 – of 2011 and just outside of my top 10.
I could have stopped here but there was plenty of space to graph several other new shows of the winter season.
The most talked about show behind PM3 is Fractale, the latest creation from disgraced anime director, Yutaka Yamamoto. Some have loved it, some have panned it, some just note the high degree of similarities it has with other well-known anime works. I see it’s potential but it hasn’t impressed me in the slightest, especially since I don’t think Mr. Yamamoto has learned from his previous disappointing efforts. I don’t mind the recycling of ideas used elsewhere if Fractale was going to do something interesting with them. And I don’t mean – “hey lets do a Miyazaki movie but add in fan-service and potty humor”. Better story-telling would help it’s chances, like getting us to like a character before the director kills him off. The result is, unsurprisingly, that it’s been hovering around my drop line (anything below a 6/12 B- is in real danger of getting dropped) and I don’t see Fractale ending that high. Maybe if it does everything right then it might just creep up to around a 9/12 A- level but I don’t think so. It’s more likely to finish in the 5/12 C+ to 6/12 B- range.
Currently keeping Fractale company is the “comedy” Rio –Rainbow Gate– from Xebec. The mere possibility that Rio could finish higher then Fractale is mind-boggling. I don’t think that’s going to happen; I thought the latest episode of Rio signaled that the creators were fast running out of entertaining ideas (the gate battle in this episode was so boring) but the possibility still exists. The problem is that it’s too difficult being unintentionally hilarious week-in and week-out; eventually the animators figure out how to just be generic and that ruins all the fun. Which is a shame because having visited Las Vegas twice, I sort of wanted this anime to be a success.
Another show I wanted to succeed was Mitsudomoe 2. The first season was inconsistent but ended strongly and I had a feeling that a second season would be awesome. So far that’s been pretty much the case but it has a problem as well – it’s only going to be 8 episodes long and I’ve already seen half of them. That makes Mitsudomoe have to work much harder just to keep up with shows like PM3 and Level E when there’s such a difference in episode count. The last episode, in particular, seemed to display the animators at the top of their game and it reminded me of the splendid work they did on Minami-ke S1. If the remaining four episode can stay at that level, Mitsudomoe 2 might just land near the top this season.
The final show I graphed was the anime that most astounded me this season for being actually good – Level E – and the only anime that I think that has a shot at beating PM3. Not a great chance but it’s not zero, which would be enough for Simon from Gurren Lagann. It should be mentioned that it bears no connection to any other anime that has “something E” in the title, which was why I initially passed it over – I thought it was a sequel. Nor does it rip-off the central idea to Men in Black because the manga actually predates the movie by a couple of years. It’s a SF/comedy series from the pen of the author that wrote Yu Yu Hakusho (which really deserves a new adaptation itself) and it’s refreshingly entertaining. Level E also has the largest potential range because I’m torn between how good it’s been so far and worrying about things that could drag it down. I wonder why this hasn’t been adapted in the 13+ years since it originally came out and if it’s short length (only 16 chapters) means that it doesn’t have a good ending and will the comedy hold up.
At this point, I figure putting any more series on this graph would just be overly messy looking so this is were I’m going to stop for now. I might revisit this graph with different series in the future but we’ll have to see. And in closing, I’ll say it again – Kyubey is freakishly creepy; though, I wonder if Kyubey barbecue tastes good.