[Script] Stop Calling Everything a Madoka Rip-off!

Comparisons between Yuki Yuna is a Hero and Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica are incredibly common, both in more casual circles and in more critical ones. It’s easy to see why. On a surface level, they bear a lot of similarities, especially to those who aren’t particularly immersed in the magical girl genre. They’re both fairly dark series with plentiful twists and vaguely similar aesthetics. Given that they’re part of the same subgenre, it’s only natural that comparisons would arise, which isn’t a real problem.

What is a real problem is the claims that Yuyuyu is a rip-off of Madoka. This is empirically untrue. Certainly, they bear similarities, as you’d expect from shows in the same genre. But to claim that Yuyuyu has no originality or to claim that Madoka created this entire subgenre of dark magical girls is factually incorrect and totally ahistorical. Both shows are massively influenced by past works in the genre and once you’re aware that they both sit within that framework, it becomes quite clear that, while Madoka may have influenced Yuyuyu, it is not a rip-off in any sense.

These two shows differ in so many ways, but I’d like to tackle three distinct aspects where comparisons are commonly made, so I can more easily show why they aren’t the same work. These aspects are the characters, the plot, and the themes.

The characters in these two works are totally different, from their designs to their actual personalities. To start, I’ve seen some criticisms of Yuyuyu for copying Madoka in terms of character art. I can only believe you’d have this problem if you know literally nothing about other magical girl series. It’s true that they both fall into the same general design frame of Super Sentai inspired magical girl warriors, but that’s been a popular style since Sailor Moon first released. You can easily see this color-coding in shows like Precure as well, and given that Precure is the most popular magical girl show of the last decade, it shouldn’t be surprising that others follow a similar formula.

And when it comes to the characterization, most of the comparisons are totally absurd. Madoka and Yuyuyu’s characters don’t evenly match up with one another. Sure, Fu might vaguely look like Mami while being the senpai character, but her personality is totally different to the point that you could call them opposites.

The only two comparisons which make any real sense are Madoka and Yuna as well as Togo and Homura or Sayaka. Even here though, there are significant differences between them.

Madoka is a character who’s timid and nervous in regards to making decisions but once a decision is made she’s steadfast and willing to stick with it. She’s certainly open to sacrificing herself for those she cares about with a smile on her face but she only really steps up when it’s necessary. She’s definitely all-loving, given that her initial wish was merely to save the cat we see in the OP, but I don’t think she’s a character who would make a wish merely to better her own circumstances or even just those of her friends.

Yuna is similarly self-sacrificing, but her interaction with others is very different. She’s bubbly, forward, and the kind of girl who would make friends with anybody she could. She’s certainly a bit prone to hiding things but in general, she’s very open. Slightly less academically inclined than her friends, she feels more along the lines of Hibiki or Usagi than Madoka. If anything, her eagerness to fight reminds me of Nanoha.

Again, there are similarities. They’re both pink magical girls, — though pink is the generic main character color — they’re both willing to lay down their lives for the world and those they care about, and they both have strong senses of justice. But those are traits which pretty much any magical girl heroine is going to follow. Even characters like Usagi, who can be quite selfish, are ultimately always willing to do what they have to in order to protect others, to the detriment of their own lives. That’s simply the way a good magical girl behaves, not something that Yuyuyu stole from Madoka.

Togo has also been compared to characters from Madoka, though strangely enough, the character she’s a rip-off of depends on who you’re talking to. I’ve seen her compared to both Homura and Sayaka, two characters who are quite different. While I can see aspects of her personality that are similar to certain elements of the other two, I think that going any further than that is really a stretch.

I’ll start with Homura. Togo’s most obvious shared trait with Homura is how absurdly gay she is and her willingness to take matters into her own hands when it becomes clear that they’ve been tricked. Homura is, as everyone knows, deeply in love with Madoka to an obsessive extent. Similarly, Togo is pretty clearly in love with Yuna. And just as Homura is willing to engage in a time loop and eventually strip Madoka of her godhood in order to make her happy, Togo is willing to destroy the barrier so that Yuna and her friends aren’t forced to fight until they lose all function.

But there are many clear differences. Togo doesn’t act anything like Homura, be it Homura’s initial personality or her personality after 12 years worth of resets. She’s much more outgoing, friendly, and willing to crack jokes. And while she’s certainly very gay and very in love with Yuna, she’s not exactly obsessed the way Homura is. She’s able to concretely recognize Yuna’s wishes in a way that Homura isn’t really capable of because she sees Yuna herself, not an ideal version that she made up. Certainly, love drives her actions, but it doesn’t make her anything like Homura.

And if Togo is different from Homura, she shares practically nothing with Sayaka. The biggest point of similarity between the two is that they react really poorly to the dark revelations about their world and the role they serve in fighting as magical girls. But this happens in very different ways. For Sayaka, it’s part of an ongoing downward spiral wherein she falls into depression and depravity before finally becoming a Witch.

Togo, on the other hand, was happy, if a bit suspicious, before all this. All her reactions are calm and measured, even if they are really bad ideas. Certainly, given her willingness to try killing herself in order to test the fairies’ power, she can’t have been in the best of mental states but she hardly reached the lows that Sayaka did before becoming a Witch.

The actual plot structures and story beats of the two shows are also quite different. It’s true that both have dark twists throughout the series which change how you perceive the characters’ struggles, but aside from that commonality, they aren’t all that similar.

Madoka is a fairy tale in anime form. Its characters are interesting and well-developed, but ultimately they exist in order to fulfill the show’s themes and philosophy. Much like Princess Tutu or Utena, this is an allegorical magical girl show, something which uses anime as a new medium for the ancient genre of folktales.

Yuyuyu, on the other hand, is a much more straightforward narrative, far more interested in exploring its cast. Madoka might not start off as dark as it eventually becomes but from the beginning it’s primarily an action-oriented magical girl show with clearly foreboding elements. Yuyuyu certainly has fights but its much more of a slice-of-life show for much of its run. Rather than using its first half to build up to the twists, it instead builds up the characters, making us fall in love with them.

For a more specific example, let’s look at the way the shows handle their various reveals. In Madoka, the reveals are set up to break down the resolve of the characters, primarily Madoka herself, forcing her to consider the many problems that being a magical girl causes before she finally makes her self-sacrificing wish.

In Yuyuyu on the other hand, the reveals do less to fundamentally change the nature of what’s going on. Certainly, they do shake the resolve of the characters, but this is only temporary. Because there is no big, self-sacrificing wish to be made here, the impact of the reveals and negative events is instead to make us feel bad for the characters we’ve come to love. As I said previously, this show is much more character-focused in its plot.

And that brings me to the themes, which is my final point of comparison. This is perhaps the area where they’re the most different, as what each show has to say is, while not opposed, certainly worlds apart.

Madoka is a series about rejecting a mindless utilitarianism, the nature of making selfish and selfless wishes, what love can drive someone to do, and the power of simply being a kind person. The entire show is, as I said, structured around these points, with the whole thing building up to Madoka’s eventual wish to prevent magical girls from becoming Witches. Madoka initially showing Homura kindness is the driving force of the plot and it’s Madoka’s kindness which brings it all to completion. Of course, if we look at Rebellion we can see some other themes pop up, but given that Rebellion is still lacking its conclusion, it’s better off if we just focus on the TV series for now.

Yuyuyu has very different themes. It focuses on the meaning of belief and faith, both religious and patriotic. It brings up the power of unyielding heroism even in the face of certain misery. It touches on how much we should be bound to our social roles. And, admittedly, it also focuses on love, though it’s more about how love can bring people together and how it’s ultimately a very positive thing, contrasting with its somewhat maddening implications in Madoka.

Certainly, both shows respect their protagonist for being self-sacrificing and believe that you shouldn’t give up even when the odds aren’t in your favor but again, that’s just something that most magical girl shows share.

I don’t want to say that comparisons between the two works shouldn’t be made. I’m not interested in stifling discussion and I’ve certainly seen comparisons of the two shows which were actually productive. But when discussing them, it’s really helpful to be more aware of the broader context within which they sit. You can’t go around calling a show a rip-off of another if you aren’t well versed in the genre they’re a part of.

Yuyuyu’s existence probably was influenced by Madoka’s popularity just a few years prior. But both shows draw from a genre which is already quite mature. You certainly don’t see too many people calling Madoka a rip-off of Nanoha, Tutu, Minky Momo, or Sailor Moon, despite the fact that it’s clearly influenced by all of those shows in various ways. And if you wouldn’t do that, then you shouldn’t call Yuyuyu a rip-off either. It’s simply not correct.

All art is the product of many influences. None of us exist in a vacuum and that applies to our works as well. The mere existence of genres is proof that all art is influenced by other art. Remember to bear that in mind before you accuse a show of being a rip-off. Does it copy the other work wholesale, or does it merely have a number of similar elements? It’s a discussion worth having, but please try and be productive with it, rather than using it to write off a work. Doing that only makes you sound ignorant.

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9 thoughts on “[Script] Stop Calling Everything a Madoka Rip-off!

  1. You and Remy are the people I know in this blogging platform that defend YuYuYu from being labeled as a Madoka rip-off. I do applaud you for this article. Even though I’m not familiar with those shows, I’m glad you did an explanation of the differences. From what I gathered about YuYuYu in my own free time, I didn’t even think it was a Madoka rip-off. Besides, the whole dark magical girl concept isn’t anything new. Shamanic Princess (even though I wouldn’t call it a magical girl show) used magical girl tropes in a dark fantasy context back in 1996, for crying out loud. I also hate when something gets called a rip-off when no evidence or logic to it, and this is coming from a guy who likes anime such as Paprika and Kimba the White Lion where both properties never got credit for the existence of certain more popular movies despite the evidence involved. Seriously, people need to calm down about this matter. If you’re influenced by something, then acknowledge it. Even so many shows and movies were inspired by something else.

    *gets off soapbox*

    Liked by 3 people

  2. A lot of shows get the Madoka rip-off label but the label that is bothering me at the moment are the number of characters being compared to Kirito (SAO) as if by merely mentioning they are a Kirito Rip-Off they’ve explained everything they need to about them.
    While comparisons will always be made between similar shows and characters, I think reviewers particularly need to think about their purpose in drawing that comparison and if they are just using it to avoid actually explaining why something is good, bad or otherwise than they probably need to rethink.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I thought this was going to be an intro to the history and context of the magical girl genre and how that led to Madoka–to show that Madoka wasn’t the OG “dark magical girl” show or something

    Like

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  6. WingKing

    Urobuchi has mentioned before that the main influences on his writing for Madoka were three of Shinbo’s previous anime that he went back and watched: Lyrical Nanoha (which also had another magical girl who was gay for the main character, long before Togo and Homura), Le Portrait de Petite Cosette, and Hidamari Sketch. I haven’t watched Hidamari Sketch, but there are callbacks in Madoka to the other two that are easily recognizable if you’ve seen them. Yuki Yuna’s staff have never mentioned any influences on the record that I know of, but it always felt to me like it drew its influences from Persona 3 and the Key Visual Arts stuff in addition to Madoka and Nanoha, and since Seiji Kishi directed Angel Beats (a Key series) and was also involved with the P3 movies, it makes sense that he’d bring those influences to Yuki Yuna.

    And yeah, as a Yuki Yuna fan I got fed up with the “ripoff” take years ago. My take has always been that Yuki Yuna acknowledges Madoka’s influence and perspective, but rejects its conclusions. One could even make a case that Yuki Yuna will play with your expectations if you’ve seen Madoka (like teasing all those death flags around the Yellow Magical Girl during episode 4), but that’s about as far as comparisons go for me. As you demonstrated in this excellent article, they’re not even close to the same show. Thanks for writing this!

    Liked by 3 people

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