Steins;Gate, Madoka, and the Prospect of Shojopunk

2DTeleidoscope examines the connections between the tone and setting of the massively popular Steins;Gate with the genre of cyberpunk, and highlights the struggle between the ragtag laboratory group led by Okabe Rintaro and the science research supergroup CERN as one that is notably cyberpunk.  The nature of this struggle is very cyberpunk due to the sudden onesidedness of the affair, as well as the hope from the audience that rests on Okabe’s shoulders when their plans with the Time Leap machine get derailed (quite literally so).

It certainly captures that punk ethos that not only depicts the rebellion of a generation of children against the oppressive conglomerates who control government (or at least are immune to their socialistic regulations), but also depicts the maturation of those children into individualistic thinkers and revolutionaries of their kin. These are the stories akin to Robin Hood, except replacing Sherwood with Shibuya amongst other things, and in Steins’ case, replacing thievery with time travel.

And while Okabe’s character is a bit too kind-hearted to be an antihero like Case from Gibson’s Neuromancer, his gradual mental breakdown due to repeated time travel has potential for character development that leads to the sort of desperation that Case showed when he was betrayed by his criminal conspirators in the beginning of the story.  It’s the type of emotional breakdown that runs in the same vein as Akemi  Homura from Puella Magi Madoka Magica.  Because of this connection, I ponder the potential of Homura’s story in Madoka; if they had focused more on Homura and her time travel (like I remedied in my review), the show would have been less of a deconstruction of the Magical Girl genre (not that deconstruction is a bad thing), but rather a fascinating and crossover of the Magical Girl genre with Cyberpunk, either eschewing technology for magic, or even combining both together.  (While Nanoha definitely fits the bill for combining technology and magic, it simply lacks the punk ethos that pits socially marginalized groups against nearly impossible odds within the setting of a dystopic future.)

Here are a few things that would need to be modified in Madoka in order to create that awesome balance between cyberpunk and magical girl:

1. Kyubey becomes a more involved and present villain

Kyubey is the cornerstone of the cast that provides the magical girls with the contracts that grant them power at the price of their own souls.  It’s a neat twist that falls slightly flat due to the greatly understated nature of his race.  Instead of being indifferent and emotionless towards the plight of the girls they seek to enslave, Kyubey’s race should be aware of the marginalization and accepting it as a necessary cost to preventing the heat death of the universe.  It makes him less morally grey, and a clearer antagonist against Homura and the other girls.

2. Homura becomes the central character

As I mentioned in my review, the show needs to focus around Homura and her time traveling powers instead of Madoka.  While the original version is based on Madoka’s choice to become a magical girl, it should shift slightly more to Homura’s choice to prevent Madoka from becoming a magical girl in the first place.  With each time loop, we get a sense of her constantly evolving character, as well as the growing hopelessness of Walpurgisnacht.

Homura is also the anti-hero that cyberpunk is best known for.  By the end of the series, all she cares about is preventing Madoka from suffering.  While the yuri vibes are very strong in this show, I can’t help but feel that without the dystopic setting, the original pairings in the show felt more obligated towards genre fulfilment, as magical girls tend to shift that way.  If the theme of homosexual love was presented within the context of punk ethos, it would be better perceived as a statement of rebellion against social heterosexual norms.

Of course, by making Homura the central character, the title would have to be renamed as appropriate.  Given the genre-bending that this show does, I playfully deem the new title as Cyber Shojou Homura Magica.  It’s a mishmash of a title, but certainly not much more than the original!

3. Further integration of science and technology with magic

We already have a bit of a glimpse of this with Kyubey’s monologue regarding entropy, as well as the copious amounrts of time travel in which Homura engages.  By centering the plot around Homura as mentioned above, more emphasis could be placed on the time travel aspect, and its scientific rammifications on time paradox theory, and the entropic results that occur from it.

The prospect of technological integration isn’t too much of a stretch, as the setting of Madoka is conveniently quite futuristic.  While the original series puts an emphasis on futuristic architecture and scenery, there needs to be a more organic feel to the environment with regards to technological integration.  The Internet should be involved somehow, especially as a form of communication between magical girls.

Perhaps the show starts off with Homura being approached by Kyubey not in person, but as an online avatar on the internet.  You could even go so far as making all magical girls originally approached by Kyubey when they participate in a 2channel-like forum, much like Makise Kurisu does in Steins;Gate, or even the Dollars website in Durarara.

The concept of Kyubey approaching magical girls through the Internet is very much like beginning of The Matrix.  In fact, you can already see the similarities between the two, since Neo also has the choice to escape the Matrix, by taking either the red pill or the blue pill.  In the same vein, magical girls make the choice to become magical girls and escape their mundane lives and become something bigger than themselves.  The only difference is that Neo doesn’t become a witch when he escapes the Matrix, and Morpheus isn’t an interplanetary being trying to harvest energy.

That said, the idea of a digital alternate world could very much be incorporated in the form of Witch Lairs.  The alternate art style that was a huge hit in the original Madoka has the opportunity to take on a very digital spin.  By placing the witch’s domain entirely within the realm of an integrated alternate-cyberspace akin to Dennou Coil, you end up with a very awesome visceral experience in which good battles evil in the arena of a technological dystopia, much like those of William Gibson.

Speculation and Fanfiction

Obviously, Madoka has come and gone, and there is absolutely no way to go back and redo the show.  Even then, there’s no way of guaranteeing that Madoka would be as good as it is.  This post was simply an excercise in taking the cyber- from Steins;Gate, and incorporating it with Madoka Magica to bring out the show’s -punk ethos.  That said, it would make for one amazing fanfic if written well enough.

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11 thoughts on “Steins;Gate, Madoka, and the Prospect of Shojopunk”

  1. I feel that Homura shouldn’t be the main character of this anime. Even if she was trying to save Madoka all this time, Madoka is still the focal point of everything. Plus, it was a nice development in the later episodes – why rob that?

    1. Personally, within the context of the show as it is by itself, it was becuase Homura became the focal point during episode 10. The last 3 episodes were a very hard shift in character viewpoint which disrupted the development of the characters leading up to episode 9. Granted, all of them save for Homura and Madoka were dead by that point anyway, but Homura’s time travelling power and the multiple timeline theory placed a lot of importance on her in relation to Madoka, who, despite being the ‘chosen one,’ remained very passive throughout the series. I’ll even argue that she’s a darkhorse fan favourite who is a more interesting character than Madoka straight up.

      When it comes to time resets, it’s very hard to write character development for a character who essentially goes back to his or her initial character state because of the nature of temporal limitations generated by the loops themselves (see also, Endless Eight). In Steins;Gate and Madoka, only Okabe and Homura retain their memories of the events prior to time travel, and everyone else essentially remains the same. It limits the deepness of the other characters as a result, and Madoka only becomes important when she is focused on in the appropriate point in the repeated timelines. Otherwise, it’s all Homura doing the scheming and making all the decisions. She has the most power, and thus is the more compelling character.

      That said, this line of argument is beside the point of the post. I simply said that Homura’s time travel provides an interesting parallel to the cyberpunk nature of Steins;Gate, such that therein lies an opportunity to cross genres based on that parellel, resulting in a very intriguing speculative alternative of the original.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. This might be relevant to your interests:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberpunk_derivatives

    Unlike E Minor, I have a loose definition of what makes something cyberpunk. To be “cyber-,” it must exist in a datasphere (in the case of Steins;Gate, THE datasphere, the real-life World-Wide Web), and to be “-punk” it must be about the disenfranchised sticking it to the Man.

    So in that light, Madoka is already plenty shoujo-punk, such as it is. 🙂

  3. Although I like Homura better, it’s kinda necessary for Madoka to be the main character, in order for us to discover everything. Plus, if Homura was the main character, it’d take away lots of the mystery. Still, I’d like to see another season, where we see everything from the first season from Homura’s point of view.

    1. I’d rather have it done from homura’s point of view right from the start. surprise twists are nothing new and not needed for a show’s enjoyment. just ask shamylan or however you spell that guy’s name. you can play this premise straight and still have the same shock value.

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