- The Girl at the End of Time:Temporality, (P)remediation, and Narrative Freedom in Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Our world, increasingly, is populated by characters. They gaze out at us from posters, screens, pages, cell-phone straps, upholstery—even from transparent and volumetric “screens” that suggest a complete crossing from their world to ours. How do we, as producers and consumers of these images, navigate this liminal environment? And what considerations do we owe to these characters whose gazes we meet?
In my previous article, “The Girl at the Center of the World,” published in Mechademia 9, I explored the issue of character agency, noting in particular how characters, through techniques of direct address and the reversed gaze, reach out from the mediated world they inhabit. In the article that follows, and in keeping with this volume’s theme of parallel universes and possible worlds, I would like to explore a counterpoint: how characters might resist or redirect the act of viewers/producers reaching from the perceptible world of the here-and-now into the mediated world of the character. Specifically, I do so by considering the proliferation of narratives in the contemporary anime/manga media sphere—of the alternate, fungible futures posited by derivative fan works—and by examining how characters might hold users accountable for the directions these narratives take. In so doing, I will also examine how [End Page 195] the formal characteristics of text-based adventure games (“novel games” or “visual novels,” in their Japanese-market permutations) find expression in contemporary anime and manga.
I will situate this analysis by looking at a case study: the twelve-episode TV animation Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011). With episode scripts written by game-industry veteran Urobuchi Gen (who nominally works for developer Nitroplus), it is perhaps no accident that Madoka Magica cleverly remediates aspects of game time and player agency within its narrative arc. Drawing on Bolter and Grusin’s notion of remediation, I will argue that Madoka Magica does not simply repurpose elements from games (in the sense of “pouring a familiar content into another media form,”) but instead actively represents formal aspects of novel-game design within its narrative structure—in effect using the fungible futures generated by game time to depict a navigable world of potentiality.1 In addition, the series goes a step further, by highlighting the premediation (pace Grusin) of character imagery that serves as a defining characteristic of this media sphere, and by suggesting a strategy in which works (and the characters inhabiting them) might address this premediation.
To begin, I would like to outline the concept of game time, particularly as applied to the genre of adventure games. Writing for the journal KODIKAS / CODE in 2001, Anja Rau argues that video games, unlike novels or the cinema, exhibit a broken, discontinuous relationship to time. “In a book or film,” Rau writes, “the reader’s/viewer’s time would correspond directly to the amount of space taken up by the text.”2 In other words, a fairly indexical relationship holds between the amount of text and the length of time it expresses. Certainly, this is true in the case of the cinema, where we generally view films at a constant speed of twenty-four frames per second. The length in footage of a given shot thus gives us a fairly accurate idea of the amount of time represented by that shot.
By contrast, Rau notes that the time elapsed within the diegesis of the game, does not necessarily correlate with the player’s experience of time. In non-real-time games, where the game waits for player input before doing anything, the player is free to abandon the game and walk away to do something else—while time stands still from the perspective of the game world.3 Some games even allow the player to adjust the speed at which the game processes events, giving the player the ability to manipulate time outright. One of the [End Page 196] key features that Rau identifies is the ability of games to reverse or cycle time, whether through saving and loading game states, through player death and restarting...