If there’s such a thing as the opposite of a clickbait, it’s probably writing blog posts about someone else’s fan fictions. But this is my blog, and if a fan fiction is what bothers my mind, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.
So today we’ll take closer look at Homura Akemi: Test Subject One, written by PK. Atomyst, a fan fiction based of Winter season 2011 show Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (魔法少女まどか★マギカ), or Puella Magi Madoka Magica, as some prefer. Or rather we’re going to take a look at certain “controversial” scene by the end of chapter 18, so if you’re not at least at that point, be wary of heavy spoilers ahead.
When author first mentioned the first part of the story will end with an escape attempt, the story could have basically gone only two ways from that point. It might have succeeded, with second part focusing on Homura and the others dealing with aftermath of said escape, possibly being forced into a hiding or something. I even theorized about a possibility Homura will have get out, but at the same time, Kyoko will have get captured, which almost became reality, as Kyoko actually got confronted by Dr. Kaiji while still inside the lab.
Anyway, with you reading this article, we both know that’s not what actually happened. The escape attempt was a horrible failure and things are surely about to get much worse for Homura from now on. But even I didn’t foresee how bad would situation actually turn out to be.
Before we start
Before I start talking about the twist at the end of part one, I’d like to dedicate few lines to mention that I really appreciate the way the escape attempt was written. Not having a clue whether it will even be successful or not made tension really high throughout the entirety of all the related chapters. Especially when rooting for Homura, yet seeing so many things going wrong and potentially destroying all her efforts and all the built-up hope of almost the entirety of the series thus far. And things did go wrong along the way: dead staff in the control room, Homura still feeling effects from the drug, Kotaro seemingly betraying her last second and so on.
At the moment she got to the elevator room, my heart was pounding fast. With narrative from that point being really descriptive and stretched out to build up the tension even more is probably where my worries started to rise in anticipation of bad stuff happening, yet at the moment I still hoped it was just my paranoia talking. When Tsarina pulled Homura through the wall, I felt my heart sink deep, as at that point, it became pretty clear what’s going to happen. Or at least general direction of what’s going to happen, I should say.
What I’m trying to say with those three paragraphs is that I really managed to connect with Homura and feel what she did at very personal level, to an extent that I actually had some serious troubles to even fall asleep from the emotional shock I received at the end. Which is, whether you liked or disliked what happened, a sign of good writing.
That’s not to say I only have positive things to say about how things turned out to be. If that was the case, there would really be no point in writing this article. But I was surprised at the wave of negative responses from various people. That’s why I’ve decided to actually talk about the positives first, by addressing some of the recurring complaints in the review section. Funny enough, my biggest complaint was not mentioned once, but more about it later.
“There’s no way out”
What probably struck me the most was amount of people claiming the situation is too hopeless to even deal with in the first place. This situation is unsolvable, or the only way out is deus ex machina. Really, if you ask me, I feel like after those thousands of words, I’ve managed to understand, at least to an extent, what kind of person Atomyst is as a writer. And if there is one thing about this whole situation I’m pretty sure is not the case, it’s those claims. I have confidence the author will manage to deliver satisfying continuation after the flashback chapters.
“You’ve crossed the line”
Those kinds of claims just make me smile. First of all, I should mention I don’t even believe there’s such a thing as “the line” to cross in literature in the first place, and in a way, these claims can almost be taken as compliments. Especially if we’re talking about fan fictions based on works by Gen Urobuchi (虚淵玄), original writer of Madoka Magica, and also writer of Saya no Uta (沙耶の唄), by far the most disturbing piece of literature I’ve ever read.
Here’s a random quote by Gen Urobuchi for you: “Sometimes when I see someone who’s a spirit of justice… I feel like I want to destroy them!” I feel like Atomyst delivered well.
Considered all this, you might agree with my statement of there not being “the line” to cross, but still complain that you didn’t sing up for a torture fan fiction. Which is a complaint I saw in the reviews for the chapter too, which is in a way legit and somewhat related. And one I happened to have slightly more complex opinion on, so I’ll just elaborate on it more later.
“It renders everything thus far meaningless”
This one is simple. It really doesn’t. Admittedly, the escape attempt took a lot of time and covers most of the entire first part of the story, but just because it was unsuccessful doesn’t render it meaningless. Because not only will the failed attempt itself have severe consequences, but other things were going on that won’t just get “undone” by the escape attempt failing. For instance, character development of Dr. Kaiji and his moral dilemma regarding the experiment, or Kotaro, who basically secretly allied with Homura. Not to mention Homura is now aware of existence of Tsarina and her motives. Nothing of that was rendered meaningless.
Besides, I’d argue that such a long chunk of the first part being taken by the failed escape attempt served an important purpose of tying our own hopes, as the readers, for that attempt, making it that more devastating to take how things turned out. Which is desired effect for scenes that are supposed to harm readers emotionally. And I’ll gladly refer you to my thoughts on the previous complaint if you weren’t prepared to be emotionally harmed.
“It’s diabolus ex machina”
With the nature of the concept coming mainly from an introduction of new event, character, or whatever, pulled out of author’s ass just to last minute secure things going much better for the antagonists, I can kinda see how this complaint showed up. But while Tsarina certainly did appear last second to do just that, there’s a distinct difference between her and what I perceive as diabolus ex machina.
I call an evil twist done right if you get glimpses of what’s about to happen throughout the work. Like pieces of puzzle that you realize are indeed there, but there’s just never enough of them to get the full picture. And then, when the twist happens, all the pieces suddenly snap together, turning your whole world upside down. The difference between that and diabolus ex machina is that diabolus ex machina won’t give you any pieces. It just appears out of nowhere in dissatisfying way.
Some people pointed out that Tsarina’s nature wasn’t foreshadowed nearly enough. To which I say, how much foreshadowing is enough? Give away too many puzzle pieces and you risk ruining the moment when it happens. I admit that perhaps it could’ve at least been a little more clear that the “blue lipped girl” was not part of the witch’s labyrinth, as many of us mistook her for, but the foreshadowing was still clearly there since chapter 11.
I feel like those are all of the most criticized points people had to say that I disagree with. Now for the rest. People really only complained about one more thing, that thing being newly introduced character of Tsarina being too overpowered. And I’d like to elaborate on that, and also on Axius27‘s response to it.
I’m the man to give a piece of fiction benefit of the doubt, especially if it comes to aspects, such as new characters, whose nature wasn’t explored nearly enough yet to draw that much conclusions from. But however is Tsarina’s set of powers going to be explained, let’s just list what she’s been shown to be capable of thus far:
Selective invisibility, invisible to some, not invisible to others, however she pleases, including her voice. Walking through any walls at seemingly no cost and being able to drag stuff with her. Cutting through shit with crazy sharp wires that can cut through limbs like it’s nothing, Elfen Lied style. And last, but not least, attaching said wires at anything and anyone as she pleases thanks to the ghostly movements and invisibility.
I mean, as much as I always hate to see poor Homura losing a fight, I’m not really mad about that aspect. In fact, being a rookie, yet having a strategy, knowledge of your opponent and moment of surprise to your side have proven to be quite effective in reality. Despite that, Tsarina’s set of powers really makes me anxious about how is Atomyst going to counter for that. A strict time limit or her ghostly figure being just some kind of astral projection came to mind, but those have already been proven wrong by new chapters, and explanation given doesn’t restrict her powers in any way so far. So I guess I’m just hoping some kind of solid weakness is going to be shown and of course properly foreshadowed in future chapters.
Sudden turn in mood
And finally, my second and biggest complaint. Since I couldn’t come up with a title that is descriptive enough, let me just explain. Madoka Magica as a show is many things, but if there’s one thing it’s not, it’s gore. I’ve kinda broached on this earlier already, with people complaining to Test Subject One becoming a torture fiction and whatnot, but the gore itself is actually not what concerns me.
What does, however, is the sudden turn towards gore. After more than hundred thousand words of fiction without almost a single drop of blood spilled, we’ve got to a dismemberment in matter of few words. And while I can appreciate throwing sudden new elements in to increase the shock even more, too sharp turns can feel a bit “inorganic,” like a poem that has one too many words somewhere, breaking the rhythm.
I could end the article here, but let me elaborate even more. Because before I even managed to put my finger on what is actually so uncanny about it, I immediately thought I’ve seen that scene before. To the slow motion when the fingers were being cut off, it’s remarkably similar to certain scene in Summer 2004 anime Elfen Lied (エルフェンリート).
Now don’t take me wrong. I’m certainly not suggesting that the scene was ripped off or anything. Perhaps it wasn’t Elfen Lied, perhaps Atomyst doesn’t even know the show and the resemblance is purely coincidental, but I’m suggesting that possible culprit could be an inspiration in a different piece of work. When it comes to sudden inspirations from watching a different show or reading a different book, it’s easy to be misguided and not realize at first that what sounds so cool in your head right now can cause this kind of uncanny turn in mood. I’d know, I’ve done that before.
And if you allow me to say just one last thing about Tsarina, whenever she’s being described, including her yangire-esque persona, I actually always think of Shiro from Deadman Wonderland (デッドマン・ワンダーランド). Not to say that yangire is a bad character type to work with, and it might be a bit premature to point this out, as Tsarina’s character is yet to be fully explored, but when it is, I sure hope she won’t end up a similar case.
I liked the twist. It made me depressed, it rendered me useless to do anything for most of the next day and it made me feel a bit of Homura’s despair, which is ultimately what psychologically heavy likes of Madoka Magica are supposed to do.
I’m looking forward to read the rest of the fan fiction and perhaps writing an actual review once it’s finished, because I find myself wanting to address a couple more things, both good and bad, but I think we all agree this article is going far too long as is.
In the end, the “controversial” scene is probably one of the moments that will make the difference few years from now, between how I view Test Subject One and how I view all the other Madoka Magica fan fictions I’ve read. If PK. Atomyst ever decides to write an original fiction in the future, I’ll be there to read it.