BHS Blogress Report: 2021, Week 4 – I Breathe Again

Week 4 – I Breathe Again

I’m not going to go on and on about it, because everybody else is already doing or has done their takes on Inauguration Day. Suffice to say, I feel immensely more at ease since Wednesday. In fact, I feel more like myself, more normal than I have in years.

I attribute part of my recovery to my decision to watch the Les Misérables movie again… I had been meaning to save it until I felt secure again, as a release for all my pent-up emotions. In that regard, it worked like a charm: I had myself several good cries, which was exactly what I was hoping for.

See, I had been worried, because sometime around spring of last year, after months upon months of anxiety and upheaval, I just started to go numb from it all. I still felt sad, but in this awful, dead-inside way. I knew it wasn’t normal, being as emotional a person as I normally am. The longer that feeling lasted, the more scared I got. I started worrying if I had just… broken, under all the stress I was going through.

So I saved Les Mis for post-Inauguration, because I legitimately didn’t know if I’d be able to handle seeing it again it beforehand. Anybody who knows the story knows that it’s not a happy one; the title does translate to “The Suffering Ones”, after all. What elevates it above other stories and other musicals, though, is its message of hope at the end, after all the heartbreak and bloodshed. Yes, the rebellion failed and the students who tried to overthrow the corrupt government didn’t last the night, but they paved the way for those who came after them and did succeed. It wasn’t all for nothing in the end, and that makes all the difference.

After the trauma of the last few years, being able to let go and cry it out and feel hopeful again was… cleansing. My emotions weren’t irreparably broken after all. I made it through the storm, and I’m on the other side of it now. It still remains to be seen where I go from here, but I’m finding myself smiling a lot more often… it’s a start. One step at a time.

– BHS

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BHS Blogress Special Report: You Are Not Alone

You Are Not Alone

Puella Magi Madoka Magica first aired ten years ago today. Of all the many works of media I’ve seen, read, listened to, or experienced in the last decade, only Steven Universe has had the same kind of massive impact and influence as Madoka Magica has on my life, and on who I am as a person.

I didn’t think much of it at first. I saw fan art flying around, but you always see that happening with whatever the hit anime of the season is. I was interested because it was magical girls, but I heard it was really dark, and I was afraid it would be some tasteless bloodbath gorefest. It was only when I heard that my beloved Emiri Katou, my favorite voice actress and voice of my girl Kagami Hiiragi from Lucky Star, was in the cast that I started to take notice. My interest picked up further when I heard that Yuki Kajiura, who had written two of my favorite anime soundtracks ever, was the composer… I love Kajiura’s music so much that I count her soundtrack for Noir as one of my favorite OSTs ever, despite the fact that I’ve only seen one episode of the anime. Both Katou and Kajiura… I decided it was at least work checking out.

I went in with tempered expectations at best. I distinctly remember my first impression of Homura being “Oh, great. It’s the show’s obligatory Rei Ayanami / Yuki Nagato clone. She’s going to be tiresome.” An early guess of mine as to the twist was, “It’s some kind of sadistic game they’re being set up to play, I bet. Like magical Hunger Games.”

And then episode 3 happened.

Within 48 hours of starting the series, it was one of my all-time favorites. When I finished episode 10, the latest at the time, I sat shivering in my chair, stunned, with tears in my eyes. I had that same feeling that I had when I finished Princess Mononoke for the first time: the absolute certainty that I’d just seen something that would change my life. My entire world felt upended. This wasn’t just my new favorite anime… it was something powerful and meaningful that spoke to my soul. An exquisite, devastating, almost perfect tragedy… but one with enough of a chance that it might turn out okay that I couldn’t despair. I couldn’t. There was still a chance. That’s a delicate balance to pull off, one that most dark series fail.

For the next month, my love for the series grew as I waited for the final two episodes. The Great Tohoku Earthquake had just happened a week or so before, and the last two had been delayed due to the sensitivity of the apocalyptic imagery. Understandable, I thought. I saw rampant speculation leading up to it: how painful would the finale be? Would they kill everyone off? Would the real-life circumstances force SHAFT to change it? Would it air at all?

And then, on Good Friday 2011, appropriately enough… the ending, at last. With that, Madoka Magica ascended in my mind from “excellent” and “mind-blowing” to “masterpiece”. I wept, as I do every time I watch the final episode. Endings are always hard to pull off, anime endings especially so, and hyped-up endings nearly impossible… and Madoka’s was perfect. Glorious. Victorious. Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure. A triumph of hope from the depths of despair… and for someone who knew those depths, who felt trapped in them at that point in my life, seeing people who should have been lost overcome their pain and rise up stronger in the end… it meant more to me than I can express.

There’s more that I love about Madoka than I could say if you gave me a thousand pages: the masterful execution of its twist in episode 3. The intricacy of the plot. The depth of the characters. The gorgeous art design, which incorporates multiple mediums in order to portray a feeling of wrongness. The majesty of the soundtrack, Kajiura’s finest work of her career.

But the primary reason I treasure it, and will treasure it forever, is because of how close to my heart the story hits. As I’ve said, I’ve been in the depths of despair. I’ve been lost in the abyss, feeling like I’m worthless to the world and would be better off dead. I know all too well the feeling that the sun will never shine on me again. Madoka understands that feeling, the raw emotional agony of it. And likewise, I know the feeling of meeting someone for whom simple love or friendship seems too prosaic a word… someone who pulls you out of that darkness you didn’t know you were in and shows you light you never knew existed. I know the anguish of seeing people like that suffer, the all-consuming need to do whatever you have to do, go to whatever lengths you need to go, to save them like they saved you. Yeah, I know those feelings. That’s why Homura’s story speaks to my soul.

When Madoka Magica first aired, it was at a time when I needed both hope and emotional release, and it brought both. It’s continued to do so for ten years now. I’ve used the great words from the final scene on any number of occasions, during some of my darkest hours. The idea that someone would love the world so much that she’d make kind of the sacrifice Madoka did… I’ve never been a particularly religious person despite being raised in a Christian household, but after seeing that finale, I told people that I finally got it. I finally understood the idea of a loving and omnipresent God. A higher being always watching over you, no matter where you are or how far you go, with a love that’s absolute and all-encompassing… If people can find comfort in that idea, well, I can get behind that even if I might not believe the same way as they do. Yeah, there’s obvious Biblical symbolism there, but the series earns it in a way that very, very few pieces of media can ever do.

That’s what it comes down to, for me. That’s what makes Madoka different from all the clones that it inspired: it’s not about the darkness, it’s about the light at the end. It’s about hope overcoming despair, and love overcoming loss. I can’t think of many things more inspiring than that.

Of course, Madoka has had a phenomenal influence on my creative work as well. It was in September of 2011 that I started Stars Above, working off an intial frenzy of creative inspiration that still has yet to really peter out all these years later. I put three years of my life into that story, into writing something that I hoped would affect my readers as deeply as Madoka affected me… and I’m still damned proud of the results. Without Madoka and without Stars Above, I wouldn’t have rediscovered my love for the magical girl genre, and it goes without saying that Shattered Skies: The Morning Lights, my other hugely ambitious fan fiction project, wouldn’t exist without it. Without Madoka, I wouldn’t have made the dear friends that I have in this past decade… I wouldn’t be part of this community that I’ve given so much to, that’s given so much to me in return. It’s no exaggeration at all to say that Madoka Magica changed my life for the better. I can think of no higher praise than that.

Times have been dark, and the world seems to have grown crueler. But when I’m lost, I try to think of those words…

Don’t forget.

Always, somewhere,

someone is fighting for you.

As long as you remember her,

you are not alone.

-BHS

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