Asano Inio on Madoka Magica (Comic Natalie)

Asano Inio did an interview with Comic Natalie on Madoka Magica in the presser lead-up to the third movie. The process of how they arrived at that particular person for that particular interview subject is quite fun, and outlined in the article. The main body covers how Asano came to try the series and which parts stood out the most to Asano personally. Nothing too revolutionary in the article itself, but it’s just generally fun to get great creators’ perspectives on great things, involvement be darned.

The interview is conducted in the leadup to the third film, so Asano hasn’t seen it as of this interview, though it does come up. As an amusing aside, while googling to see if it had been done, this article erroneously citing it as a source for Asano’s approval of the movie popped up.

Original Article:


Gekijouban Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica
[New Chapter] Hangyaku no Monogatari

Just what is the appeal of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, which Asano Inio describes as “perfect”?

<Page 1>

Main Text:

The movie continuation of the anime Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, which brought about a huge boom when it first aired on TV in 2011, Gekijouban Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica: [New Chapter] Hangyaku no Monogatari, has been unveiled. It’s the first completely new movie, the third movie following [First Part] Hajimari no Monogatari and [Last Part] Eien no Monogatari, which reorganized the 12 episodes of the TV series.

And so, on a certain day before the unveiling, Comic Natalie conducted an interview with Asano Inio, the author who became known through works such as Oyasumi Punpun. We spoke on his emotional investment in Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, his expectations regarding this coming movie, and other such things.

Interview+Text: Yasui Ryoutarou / Photos: Karaki Gen

I felt like I wanted to reject anime

Asano: Why was I called for this interview?

Interviewer: First of all, you previously wrote a magical girl one-shot (Asa no Nioi wa Mahou Shoujo wo Nidou Korosu) for Gekkan! Spirits (Shougakukan). That made me think you might like Madoka Magica.

Asano: Just that? I see-, that’s a bit of a thin motive. (laughs) I was sure you had heard something from one of my editors.

I: Does that mean I hit the nail on the head?

Asano: Yes. Plus the makers were kind enough to send me a Blu-ray set of the theatrical versions (laughs), so while praising the works of others isn’t exactly my strongest suit, I accepted thinking, “Well, if it’s Madoka Magica, then…”

I: As a second reason, Asano-san is quite popular at Comic Natalie, so I thought if it were Asano-san speaking, those words might resonate with the readers. Even if people from within the anime industry offer strong praise for an anime, the end reaction may be nothing more than “hmm”.

Asano: I see. Just with anime, it’s really true that the people who like it like it to a very large extent. The fact that those people might be thinking, “What is Asano Inio talking about in this day and age?” puts some pressure on me.

I: But we’re not an anime site, so rather than to anime anime fans, we can speak to the readers of Asano-san’s manga. About how, “There’s this really interesting anime.”

Asano: Understood. In the first place, up until now I’ve barely had any contact with anime.
Really, I hadn’t watched it since I was a kid, and from the past 10 years about all I’ve seen are K-On! and Madoka Magica. I think that’s because I felt a bit like I wanted to reject anime.

I: To reject it?

Asano: It’s true for manga as well, but anime has this characteristic pile-up of culture, and I think there are parts one can’t watch without a certain degree of background knowledge and compatibility. There are these seemingly guaranteed parts where ‘this character is the way they are because it’s anime’, aren’t there? If you don’t, to a certain extent, prepare yourself for that, even if the frame of the work is well-built, you’ll feel something’s off while watching it…

I: It can become a bit of a chore.

Asano: But there was this head editor with a magazine I was serialized in, and they knew all about anime and voice actors and idols, all the things I had been avoiding. You wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at them, though. (laughs) As an editor, they were good at putting things to words and explaining them, and they were able to convey the appeal in a crazily easy-to-understand fashion. And so, the fact that I had kept that sort of culture at a distance, it may have been that I just hadn’t had someone to talk with me about reasons to fall in love with it.

I: Though there are plenty out there who will loudly say “I love it-!”

Asano: That is true. But that person properly explained the appeal of it to me, so I thought maybe I could give it a try myself. And so, I watched K-On!, which was popular right around that time. And it turned out to be super-interesting. Just, after that, I didn’t really think about what I should watch next or how to branch out, but went “I’ll be fine with just K-On! for a while,” and kept rewatching K-On!

I: (laughs)

Asano: Some time passed like that and, when Madoka Magica was on TV, I heard about just the general topic, and thought, “Somehow or another it seems to be turning into something amazing,” but just couldn’t find a chance to watch it. Around the time when all the volumes had come out on DVD, I bought them all and watched it in one go.

It deconstructs the genre to start, then seems to rearrange it

I: So no one in particular served as an ambassador introducing you to Madoka Magica.

Asano: That’s right. At the time when I felt like making contact with anime, and that sort of culture, Madoka Magica was the biggest topic of discussion.

I: So before watching Madoka Magica, you  hadn’t seen any other anime?

Asano: Yes, none at all since K-On! (laughs) With Madoka Magica there was the fact that it was built around a script laid firmly in place, so watching just the once filled my stomach up quite nicely. And last year I went to the movies when they came out. That’s the whole of it.

I: The fact that you went to see the movies on your own must mean you felt that the TV series was interesting, yes?

Asano: Yes. I watched it to the end in one go, and the impression I got was, “Wow, this was interesting.” Like I just said, I had from the beginning a feeling of wanting to reject things like the conventions of anime, and yet why did I find this so interesting…? I tried to think on it later, and I think it’s because Madoka Magica starts by deconstructing the magical girl genre, and, while explaining how the traits characteristic of magical girl works came about, it rearranges the genre. Within that interval of space between those watching and the finished work, it distances itself from the characters’ dispositions and hair colors and such, by being clear that, “This is a work just made with these particular prerequisites,” or something? That’s maybe why I was able to accept them and watch.

I: You mean it took a meta viewpoint?

Asano: That’s it. Shinseiki Evangelion is also a work that deconstructs the robot genre and rearranges it, I think… Perhaps I fundamentally can’t watch anything but works of that type.

<Page 2>

Structurally speaking, Madoka Magica is perfect

I: Was your one-shot Asa no Nioi wa Mahou Shoujo wo Nidou Korosu something you drew because you were influenced by Madoka Magica?

Asano: What that was was, it was around the time I had just watched it and thought it was interesting, so I thought that, for the moment, I’d try writing something with magical girls as the theme. It got special pages in the magazine, and was something I poured a fair amount of my heart into. (laughs) I was worried that sort of thing might be something no one would read, but…

I: The article we wrote about it at the time (Reference: Asano Inio’s One-Shot in Gekkan! Spirits & Magical Girls and Crazy Discussion) resonated fairly strongly with our readers.

Asano: Ah, it did? I’m glad. I was uncertain whether or not the background knowledge on magical girls was well-integrated into the manga or not. Right around then, I was in a phase where I came to have a lot of interest in anime culture, and also what they call fujoshi culture, which I had avoided up until then. I listened to a fujoshi girl I happened to become acquainted with, but, in the end, I myself can’t enjoy those things in the same way.

I: You mean you can’t emotionally invest yourself in characters the way those people can?

Asano: That’s the case. But, if the more technical aspects, such as the overall structure and charm of the packaging, are done well, then I think the work is good regardless of media or genre. That’s why, as far as Madoka Magica goes, rather than it being ‘the anime I like the most’, but rather among manga and movies too, all types of entertainment included, it’s ‘a good series that stays with me’. It’s really perfect structure-wise. That’s true if you look at the overall balance of the series as well.

I: What do you mean by “perfect”?

Asano: As an example, while episodes 1,2 introduce the series to viewers and give the impression of ‘a typical magical girl work’, the third episode turns that on its head, and then it does so again midway through the series. Then, as it approaches the end, there’s a second protagonist, besides Madoka, present, and such. The way it properly intensified that sort of what you’d call sensitive storytelling, without self-destructing, I thought that it was just perfect.

I: Is that because you are, after all, an author as well, and your eyes are drawn to those points of finesse and sleights of hand?

Asano: That’s right. I think every author is like this, but I can’t watch anything but that.

It becomes a manga so long as there are panels and art

I: Is there anything the works Asano-san writes and Madoka Magica have in common?

Asano: I think the fact that Madoka Magica has a meta viewpoint alone means that it holds a bit of a critical stance on the anime made up until then. In the same way, the work I’m currently writing, Oyasumi Punpun, originates from the impetuous that, “manga is a bit weird.” For example, in manga you have these things called speech bubbles that are just naturally there, right? Even that is something someone decided on, and everyone follows that convention while reading, but there’s a sense of, “Isn’t this a little bit strange?”

I: Certainly there are a number of traits you inevitably see pop up while reading manga, but when you really think about it they’re quite strange.

Asano: That’s why I was wondering before Punpun started, “How much does one have to tear it apart before it stops being manga?”, and on the other hand, “What’s the bare minimum required for something to be a manga?” I came to the conclusion that one ultimately would be fine without dialogue, that it would be a manga so long as there were panels and art. That’s why the titular Punpun doesn’t use speech bubbles, and only speaks in monologues. Even with that, it’s read as a manga.

I: With Punpun, the main character doesn’t have a human form. Was that another one of your challenges to the medium?

Asano: That’s right. For example, in shoujo manga, you have cases where the art depicts someone as cute, and yet they’re unpopular. If you read it while thinking, “That’s just the way it is,” then there’s no problem, but I do think that that’s strange. That’s why, if it’s thought that, “It’s weird, but that’s the way it is,” then you’re fine whatever you sub in for the protagonist’s appearance. In fact, aren’t there stories you can tell because of that? Punpun started out from me thinking that way. And so, I think the critical viewpoint that Madoka Magica has is also present in Punpun.

I: Looking at it that way, I think once again that Madoka Magica is certainly an extremely interesting tale.

Asano: Yes. So for example, take this team-up of Aoki Ume-san and Urobuchi Gen-san; I think this too was a calculated action. The story is very hard stuff, but on the other hand I think having nice characters is a must. They were able to properly coexist…

I: Aoki-san’s contribution shows in a big way when it comes to the characters’ faces.

Asano: Aoki-san understood that her cute designs, that they could be used as means of conveying that criticism. That’s why with respect to the people making it, I think, “They’re grown up.” Manga has a single author, but anime is a group activity, so I think what we’d call challenging work is difficult because there’s that element of risk, but they really put themselves out there. And, in order to properly receive that work, those watching have to mature as well.

I: Certainly, this is something where if you did it 10 years ago it’s uncertain whether it would be understood.

Asano: That’s why, in a way, it feels like we have it now thanks to an anime culture that really matured.

I: That’s another meta way of seeing things. (laughs)

Asano: For me, after all, I can’t watch except in that way anymore. (laughs) In the end, I suppose I can’t become an anime fan. I haven’t been watching for basically 20 years, and at that point I kind of can’t catch up, so rather than as ‘anime’, I have no choice but to enjoy it as one kind of entertainment. But, because you can also look at it that way, I think Madoka Magica would make an excellent gateway for people who don’t normally watch anime.

<Page 3>

I like Sayaka because she’s the most human

I: Is there a favorite scene of yours from Madoka Magica, or one that left an impression on you?

Asano: What left a lasting impression on me was that scene where Sayaka is shaking, set on an image that’s a bit monochrome, a bit silhouetted. I liked that part the most.

I: That would be episode 8 in the TV series. Why was that?

Asano: Actually, I thought Sayaka was the best as a character… Madoka and the others, they’re a little bit, you could say they’re a bit too devoted; they’re really more presences, like a holy virgin or a god. (laughs)

I: Like a celestial being. (laughs)

Asano: Yes, like that. I was thinking that there was no one else among the cast who had been like that. In Sayaka’s case, she does it, at first, for the one she loves; it’s like she started from a very low level of self-sacrifice. Then, it seems like she’s become a bit of a hero, and there are moments where she becomes full of herself. One feels sorry for her at the end, but it also felt like, in a sense, she was reaping what she had sown… You could say she was the most human, or that I liked those aspects of weakness she had. (laughs)

I: You mean to say that that part where she’s sort of dealing with a girl’s karma really hit you hard?

Asano: That’s right. In the end, how to put it, when she was futily trying to conceal that kind of desire of hers, I thought, “That’s how you do it!” (laughs)

Even those who don’t normally watch anime can share in the fun

I: This upcoming theatrical release is a completely new work, but what sort of work do you think it will be?

Asano: I thought that this series had found a perfect balance as a 12-episode TV anime series. So I can’t imagine at all how I would create a continuation of that, and I think it will be very difficult to do. Those making it are probably doing so with some sort of conviction, so I’m really looking forward to it. It piques my curiosity.

I: It seems the magical girls – Madoka, Sayaka, the others – as well as Kyuubey, will, as always, be there.

Asano: Kyuubey, too, is a character who follows after the mascot character in the magical girl series created up until now. That sort of, that a work like that turns everything that had been there inside-out can happen, I think it’s thanks to the growth of those on the receiving end.

I: I see. Then to finish up, could we get a comment of recommendation for the fans of your manga, as well as the readers of Comic Natalie?

Asano: Let’s see… I think, whether you’re an anime fan or someone who normally doesn’t watch anime, you’ll be able to share in the fun of Madoka Magica as a series, so I recommend it very strongly. In spite of it all, the characters are cute, too. (laughs)

I: I get the feeling that the people who enjoy Asano-san’s manga would probably enjoy Madoka Magica.

Asano: That’s right. But you don’t have to take note of each and every bit of meta structure; it has a proper story and tempo, and the direction is good. First of all, its quality as a work of anime is high, and on top of that it’s structurally amazing and has good balance; I think it’s really good. Rather, I think it’s fine to just watch it and think it’s interesting. If you’re like me, just thinking of these bothersome things, it won’t make you happy. (laughs)

I: (laughs) Thank you very much for today.

4 thoughts on “Asano Inio on Madoka Magica (Comic Natalie)

  1. I can’t seem to find a copy of the Asano Inio magical girl one-shot anywhere. It sounds intriguing, was it really never scanlated?

    • It’s quite possible. Regular scans of non-major magazines are hard to come by, and Gekkan! Spirits only came into existence in late 2009. Half of its inaugural batch of serializations that are still running don’t even have their own wikipedia page, and you can’t get a physical copy of the December 2011 issue on amazon.

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