Madoka Magica: Magical Girls at Christmas

Last night at dinner, my daughter hit me up about going to see a movie that started at 7:00 pm — of course, it was a limited run, one-showing flick that surprisingly had a showing in our little neck of the woods. Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion or, as is more commonly known, Madoka Magica, Movie #3.

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As you can see from the movie poster pictured here, it is a Japanese anime, which (thankfully) is subtitled. My first question was, “Ok, what’s it about?” After a brief recap courtesy of Wikipedia, it sounded intriguing to this geek mom so in spite of the last minute notice, I decided to give it a shot. After all, this was probably the only chance we’d ever have to see it at the theater.

To make a long story short, Madoka Magica turned out to be a classic good vs. evil story, with a few twists turned in to boot and told in a way that only the Japanese can. (To the Madoka Magica fans who might be reading this, please forgive my over-generalizations — I realize it’s really much more complicated than this but space limits my recounting of the plot.)

Basically, a few middle school age girls can have one wish granted in exchange for agreeing to become magical girls who live to fight evil. The only catch is, they have to give up their soul to do so. But they’re fighting evil so that’s not all bad, right? Catch #2: fighting evil turns out to be so difficult that eventually some give in to despair — and it is at that time that they become one of the evil witches the magical girls are tasked with fighting.

The anime artwork in this movie is very unique, chaotic even, but beyond that, the story line delves very deeply into human nature, motivations and the good vs. evil struggles buried deep inside every person on Earth. Like I said, it’s complicated. But it stuck with me.

As I rolled it around in the back of my head last night and then this morning, it occurred to me that within the story line lies a core theme that is very close to our own Judeo-Christian beliefs. We too have an enemy that tempts us constantly to sell our souls to him, to give in to despair that despite our good intentions, can destroy us in the end, even to the point of turning us into bitter, black-hearted creatures more aligned with the enemy’s purposes than God’s. The only way we can overcome this reality is to never give our souls over to the enemy in the first place.

Like Peter said, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He goes on to say in verse 9, “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”

And hence lies the lesson for us all. Commit your heart and soul to God, stand firm and don’t give in. I pray that all of you who read this don’t give into despair but rely instead on God’s saving, victory power. What better message to dwell on at Christmas-time than this?

MadokaAdmonishesMeanwhile, based on this quick sketch that I found on my computer monitor this morning, I think someone wants me to catch up and get all the backstory in movies 1 and 2 so I can see what brought the magical girls to this point in their lives. Well, Christmas vacation is coming. We’ll see what happens.

Pictures from Anime Expo 2013!

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I went to Anime Expo 2013 on Saturday, an experience that is difficult to put into words, but since I call myself a writer, I’ll give it my best. My daughter has wanted to go for a couple of years so this year we decided to give it a shot, much to her delight.

For those of you who are not familiar with AX, it’s the largest anime and manga exposition in North America and is held annually in Los Angeles the first week of July. It is a 24-hour a day, 4-day party devoted to all things anime and manga and then some (including Disney characters). Needless to say, we weren’t there for all four days. I was lucky to get in most of one day. By late afternoon, Panera for dinner sounded like a wonderful plan.

The best adjectives to describe my Saturday at AX2013 are: busy, crowded, amazing, hilarious, jaw-dropping, and…exhausting. The picture below shows about one-third of the main lobby and the crowd you see there never thinned. And I mean never. At times it even got busier. We’re talking shoulder-to-shoulder from one side to another. So please forgive the busy background in most of my pics. It was that or no pictures at all. If you look closely, you might even find a couple of characters you recognize. Kind of reminds me of “Where’s Waldo?”

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Now for my pictures of cosplayers. Below is a picture of Astrid from “How to Train Your Dragon,” obviously busy texting Hiccup, telling him all about her busy day.x

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The Link dudes (below) were hilarious. On the left you have the four Links from the “Four Swords” video game. These four had a boombox that they carried everywhere, playing the theme song from the game. You could hear them coming, that’s for sure. On the right are two other Link characters that they matched up with for the picture.

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Here are a few characters from the web comic “Homestuck.” I don’t know too much about them, but the costumes were pretty cool.

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I have no idea who or what this creature is (below), but he was BIG — the picture really doesn’t do him justice. I wish I could’ve caught him with his wings extended. Quite impressive. Note the guy on the left. That is his handler/prop-master because the cosplayer had a little trouble knowing where he was going.

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And what’s a Con without Star Wars? I love the detail on these guys’ armor. Very nice.

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Generally speaking, I recognize quite a few anime/manga characters because of my kids, but I’m not an anime/manga expert so I couldn’t identify who all the characters were — my apologies to the cosplayers. Here’s one example below. I have no idea who this girl is portraying, but she obviously put a lot of work into it and she was so happy (with her short sword in hand). Pretty wings, pretty girl. (If you recognize the character, please leave a comment below. I’d love to know.)

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The next two images have to go together. The first one shows what happens when you let your kids play with rogue robots. The poor little girl was about to lose her head but she had no idea the danger she was in.

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But not to worry! There was a rescuer! Just goes to show you, don’t mess with an angry mom or her kids.

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Then we stepped outside to head from one hall to another and what did we find? A dapper young gentleman adjusting the motor on his motorized bicycle. How very steam-punky cool.

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And last but not least, Batman and Spiderman. ‘Nuff said.

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Now it’s your turn. Do you have any favorite anime and/or manga characters? Or if you were to dress up in costume, who would you be?

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Links of the Week

It’s Friday! Yay! I love to bring you links to the stories and stuff I found the most interesting this week. And it’s that time again. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did.

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That’s all, guys! If you have a favorite that I missed, won’t you give us the link? Just click on the comment bubble in the top right of this post. Thanks! I love to hear from you.

The Good and the Bad of “The Blue Exorcist” Manga / Anime

The main characters of Blue Exorcist Clockwise from center front: Rin, Yukio, Konekomaru, Shura, Izumo, Suguro, Mephisto, Renzo and Shiemi.

To some of my readers, the title The Blue Exorcist conjures up all kinds of negative emotions. For others, not so much. As for me, I see pros and cons, both good and bad in this particular series. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the manga or anime (subtitled) series created by writer and illustrator Kazue Kato, here’s a recap of what it’s all about.

Basically, The Blue Exorcist is about a group of teenagers enrolled in the True Cross Academy who are studying to become exorcists through the use of quoting Scripture and using weapons (like holy water bombs) built specifically to combat demons and other evil creatures. The genre is Action, Supernatural, Comedy. Okay. So far so good. From what I hear, The Blue Exorcist is quite popular in Japan and has now made it’s way across the Pacific to the U.S.

The main character, Rin Okumura, was raised, along with his younger twin brother Yukio by Father Shiro Fujimoto. Soon after Yukio leaves to study at the True Cross Academy, Rin learns, much to his dismay, (ready for the big twist?) that he is the son of Satan. Then watching Shiro die trying to protect him, he does what he had promised his guardian never to do — draw the demon-slaying blade Kurikara. In doing so, he releases demonic features (including fangs and a tail) and powers that had been trapped in the sword, including the power to ignite himself into blue flames that can destroy anything they touch. Ironically, he uses these powers to battle evil, hence the title The Blue Exorcist.

The cover of 'Blue Exorcist' volume 1 as published by Shueisha

I can practically see some of you rolling your eyes about now, but stay with me for a bit. Like many popular stories, the key of the plot is the ultimate struggle of good versus evil, about people who are unwillingly pulled into situations not of their choosing. In Rin’s case, he doesn’t want to be the son of Satan, but he obviously has no choice. In exploring these aspects of the plot, writer and illustrator Kazue Kato has thoroughly explored — and accurately portrayed — the depths of human struggles and emotions.

In addition, there is no shortage of action and the artwork in the anime series (I haven’t seen the manga books but can only assume it’s similar) is top class. Also, there is a fair amount of humor, which really helps to break up the seriousness of the storyline. The occasional blue horns aside, Rin is really quite a funny guy and humorous moments and scenes abound.

That’s what I liked about it. However, there are some aspects of The Blue Exorcist that make me uncomfortable. In this physical world, and particularly in American culture, there is a definite demarcation between good and evil, with demons on one side of the fence and angels on the other. In The Blue Exorcist, there are good demons and bad demons. I suppose if the story was written by a Westerner, the good demons would be called by some other name, like brownies or mischievous fairies because that is actually how they appear in the manga series. Other things that make me uncomfortable are instances of strong language, some gore and one particular scantily clad female warrior, which I realize can be fairly common fair in manga.

However, the biggest thing I object to is that not only do the exorcists quote Scripture, but they also pray to Buddha for help and summon familiar demons to aid them in their quests. As a Christian, I must point out that it doesn’t work that way in the real world. I’m sorry if some of you consider me intolerant of other faiths, but as the Scriptures teach, there is only one way to God and that is through his son, Jesus Christ. No ifs, ands, or buts. I place my trust in Christ alone.

So there you have it — the good and the bad in The Blue Exorcist. My takeaway is that, as a writer, I hope that I can combine the basics of human emotion and struggle with action and humor as well as Kazue Kato has. I think that skill alone is the biggest reason for the popularity of The Blue Exorcist.

What do you think?