Hey, I’m not dead yet.
As a frequent visitor to the SHAFT Bar & Girl, I was heavily intrigued the second I heard about rumors of the studio’s Power of Anime (Anime no Chikara, Aniplex’s now-defunct timeslot that pumped out three A-1 Pictures ventures of varying quality) series. Reports were swirling around of a SHAFT original cartoon, another promising entity. Put two and two together and that makes for Akiyuki Shinbo’s possible next big hit. Remember that Aniplex funded their very successful Monstory (Bakemonogatari). This project came to be known as Puella Magi Magica Madoka, SHAFT’s upcoming original magical girl series, to be airing this January. Aniplex has brought together a dream team of Akiyuki Shinbo as director, Ume Aoki as original character designer, Gen Urobuchi as scriptwriter, Takahiro Kishida working on the adapted TV designs, and Yuki Kajiura composing the music. The official site unusually features voice samples, as visual novels often do, of all five core characters. This means they’re serious.
I’m very excited for the Ume Aoki original character designs, which will be adapted for TV by the experienced Takahiro Kishida. Ume Aoki is the extremely talented artist behind Hidamari Sketch, another Shinbo/SHAFT show, where her character designs meld near perfectly with the themes and animation. Aoki is using her trademark faces and body structure in conjunction with a fantasy-styled aesthetic to unique effect. I can see shades of Yuno, Miyako, Chika, Hiro, and other classic Ume characters, delightfully. This happens to be the first time I’ve seen Ume-sensei utilize weapons in her drawings and that has me grinning ear to ear in sheer glee. Who doesn’t love short swords and rifles? I’m equally interested in her designing characters in a less cutesy, less rounded style for animation than she has in previously. Now what I hope is that Kishida respects Ume’s atypical style and doesn’t simplify or genericize them as he has done in the past. I wonder if he has muscle or desire to do so. Yes, I am aware that broadcast animation doesn’t lend itself to detailed character art as much as static drawings, yet Hidamari Sketch shows Ume Aoki’s art doesn’t need to be “dumbed down” to work. In addition, Akio Watanabe’s extraordinary Monstory designs indicate Kishida could choose a more faithful path, if he chooses. Another reason why Kishida attached to the series could work out greatly is his relations with expert animator Norio Matsumoto. I hope he draws some keyframes for an episode or three!
What captivates me most is Akiyuki Shinbo finally working on a magical girl series, a genre he has professed his love for before. He has talked about working on his own Comet-san remake in the past and was Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha’s director for the first season with Seven Arcs. Nanoha wasn’t particularly a showcase of Shinbo’s abilities, where his style was very muted and overshadowed by standard storyboarding and art direction. The story, as related through an interview (questionably translated here), goes that Atsuhiro Iwakami, an Aniplex producer who has worked with Shinbo before on Monstory and Hidamari Sketch, was taken by Shinbo’s affinity for the magical girl genre. Apparently Madoka Magica had been in development for some time with Gen Urobuchi and Ume Aoki about to be asked and Iwamaki felt that Shinbo was the perfect fit. With a decidedly different team of talented, creative spirits and Aniplex’s support, he should be able to show us the magical girl anime he has always envisioned. Madoka Magica may even end up becoming what the disappointing Dance in the Vampire Bund should have been, in terms of a stylized fantasy action piece. I hope he does storyboarding for the show, as he has for Hidamari Sketch!
Gen Urobuchi is the wild card that not many, certainly in English fandom, are exactly sure about. Urobuchi is best known as Nitro+’s writer of such games as the bizarre character piece Saya no Uta, the action thriller Phantom of Inferno, and Fate/zero, Fate/stay night‘s prequel light novel. Urobuchi will be scripting all of Madoka Magica’s episodes. To say that he’s known for writing dark, melodic stories is an understatement. From that, fans have humorously dubbed the series “Chidamari Sketch”, “chi” meaning blood. Of his games and such he’s shipped, all I’m familiar with is Saya no Uta, and I’d have to say that was a visual novel experience like none other. What I’m curious is if his style fits. The only other animated project he’s taken part in is Ichiro Itano and Gonzo’s disastrous Blassreiter, a series that is absolutely nothing like Madoka Magica whatsoever.
On the other hand, he has tweeted on at least one occasion with a Heartcatch Pretty Cure metaphor and there’s some speculation that Urobuchi wants to paint an entirely new, “cheery” image for himself from other comments. He’s talked about struggling to make the girls cute. Whatever the result is, it should be quite separate from the norm. Shinbo seems to be intrigued by Urobuchi’s style himself, based on his comments regarding Fate/zero.
Yuki Kajiura, the butt of many jokes through her many musical compositions for Bee-Train cartoons, yet still well-liked on the whole, has been critically acclaimed for her involvement in ufotable and Aniplex’s Kara no Kyokai movies. SHAFT series typically don’t feature popular anime composers, so I’m very interested to see how Madoka Magica will end up sounding. I hope Kajiura offers a different sound than Kara no Kyokai brought, which while engaging to the ears, may not suit what the show is going for. What I’m wondering is how Kalafina, Yuki Kajiura’s current trio of female singers, will fit into the mix. They were prominently featured in Kara no Kyokai’s soundtrack.
The voice cast, which I have to be jubilant about, features SHAFT standbys, both new and old, playing a foursome of magical girls. The up and coming Aoi Yuki, who I’ve ranted and raved about before, plays Madoka Kaname, the title character. I’m quite hyped to see how Ao-chan can show her acting chops again with a lead role in a high profile series. If nothing else, SHAFT’s Dance in the Vampire Bund jumpstarted her career at the time. Paired with Yuki is the dependable Shinbo favorite of many hats, Chiwa Saito, was casted as Homura Akemi. Homura amusingly reminds me of Hitagi Senjougahara, the character Chiwa played in Monstory. She also played a recurring character in Vampire Bund, who becomes a close friend of Ao-chan’s Mina. I listened to some bits of the Vampire Bund radio show when it was still going and it seems like the duo has much chemistry together.
Kaori Mizuhashi, of plays Mami Tomoe, a dignified lady who seems to be the most experienced fighter of the group. I have to point that Kaori is playing a blonde-haired character in a Shinbo series featuring Ume Aoki designs again. I bet Miyako is laughing somewhere as I type this, given her personality. Mizuhashi has an absolute breadth of roles in animation and games, so she should bring much to the table with her range. Of note, Kaori Mizuhashi worked with Shinbo on Nanoha previously.
Eri Kitamura, whose SHAFT experience is relegated to a minor role in Monstory, plays Sayaka Miki, an energetic girl who somehow seems out of place in a magical girl troupe. She happens to my favorite design pre-airing, though I can’t help but still laugh at how her thighhighs are utilized. With shin guards. Maybe that makes them less embarrassing. KitaEri has shown her competence in action (and magical girl) emotion before, meaning her performance should be a treat. Emiri Kato, who has been noticeably absent from the voice acting scene lately, plays Kyube, a mascot that seems to have walked right off her gig on Pokemon. Originally, many were speculating that Takehito Koyasu, who has magical girl experience (and well, everything else) himself, was to play the mascot after he talked about playing a cat in an upcoming anime. Maybe Koyasu was referring to the upcoming Suite Precure, which also features a cat mascot? Either way, Emirin is a surprise no one saw coming, though it is much appreciated.
There’s a very strong chance that other members of the SHAFT voice acting community, such as Yui Horie, Chiaki Omigawa, Kana Asumi, Yuu Kobayashi, Miyuki Sawashiro, Yuko Goto, and any mixture of their usuals will have voice roles in Madoka Magica. On a mysterious, unsubstantiated note, the initial Newtype article on the project talked about Kana Hanazawa voicing the title character in some capacity. It has been widely speculated that Hanakana could be playing Madoka as an ordinary student and Aoi Yuki as her magical girl form. It could very well be the case, considering the lengths to which Aniplex is going all out as is. Since that Newtype issue, there has no more word on whether it was a mistake or what.
I haven’t been this excited for a SHAFT series, since well, Monstory, and I’m confident the final product that Akiyuki Shinbo and his team delivers will be very special, indeed. Next month’s new season should be thrilling!