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Text Interviews » Madoka Magica Hangyaku no Monogatari Interview with Yuki Kajiura


This interview with Yuki Kajiura is found in the English-release of the Rebellion Blu-ray. The original interview in the Japanese release can be found here and here.



-The Music of Madoka Magica- Taking Advantage of the Movie Format-


The first thing I’d like to ask is how you felt about Rebellion as it was completed.

KAJIURA: Whenever I write music, I re-watch the unfinished product repeatedly. It’s called storyboard shooting, and I wrote the music as I watched the visuals of the animate storyboards with the actors’ voices added in. So when I saw the completed film, I was surprised by the visuals. They surpassed my expectations – “I’m sure this scene is going to look intense” – and it was breath-taking to see. Another thing was that there were all these unique pauses that never would have worked in ordinary films, which seemed to have become even bolder than before. When I was writing the music, I wondered why on earth there were such long pauses in certain scenes, but then I saw why. It was really full of surprises for me. But my first impression was straightforward – “This is intriguing”.

Did you see any big differences in the final film in terms of pictures and directing?

KAJIURA: In terms of changes, it had become something completely different. The storyboard shoots were in black and white, and the artwork was abridged. That’s why, when I saw the finished film, all I could think of for every scene was “Wow! Amazing! Amazing!” But as for how the visuals would be set in motion, or at what timing the dialogue would be inserted, nothing was changed from the storyboard shoot version. I think that’s why the music for this film are all timed and they fit the atmosphere perfectly – they sound like music written for each scene.

You’ve done that before haven’t you? Written songs while watching the storyboard shoots for an animated feature?

KAJIURA: Yes I have. I think this is unique to anime movies, but if you can look at the storyboard shoots, it’s so much easier to add in the music. It’s not as if you absolutely have to have them, but in terms of getting the timing down, like “After this line, the music will come in with a boom, and it’ll fade out here”. I’m really grateful to the animators for rushing to shoot the storyboards, and allowing me to write the music to them.

So what kind of process is it, exactly?

KAJIURA: For this film, there are far more songs than we had for the TV series. So I wrote the music in two blocks, the first half and the second half. But when I started writing for the first half, I’d already decided what I was going to do with the second, so it was already an overwhelming process from the first half. The way I did it was, after first watching the storyboards to the end several times, I’d set music to them based on how I felt – “I want the music for this scene to be like so”. But if you focus on just one scene while you’re writing music, you start to get stuck in a rut, so I wouldn’t finish any of them. Instead I’d think of the overall flow, and just create the atmosphere of each score. I’d make rough demos of each score, just developed enough for me to be able to grasp their respective images, and then I’d be like, “Okay, maybe this is what this part needs”, by keeping the overall storyline in mind.

So it’s not as though you finish one song at a time.

KAJIURA: It’s more efficient that way. If I were to concentrate on just one song – “I want to make the song for this scene adorable!” even if I managed to do well with it, it may stand out in the overall flow. For example, in any story, you shouldn’t insert your most moving song before the most moving scene comes up. No matter how great the melody may be, it has to go with the emotional flow of the overall story, or it can never become a masterpiece.

So it wouldn’t work if you used nothing but songs to be moving.

KAJIURA: That’s right If there’s nothing but tearjerker-type songs, it’s exhausting to listen to, right? In a single title, there’s always something like a wave. I try to grasp what it is in my head, then start the detailed work after I’ve created the overall flow.


What do you mainly use to visualise the intensity of each scene?

KAJIURA: A lot of it comes from my impression of the dialogue. That’s why I might be writing songs while watching visuals that were shot before the dialogue was recorded, but then once the dialogue is added in, I have to do it all over. That happened quite a lot. For instance, I’d write a song thinking that someone was going to be saying, “Stop it!” But actually, sometimes the scene would feature a performance with the actor saying “Stop it…”. So then the song wouldn’t match at all.

How do you go about imagining the sounds? For example, do ideas strike you regarding what instruments you should use for a scene, or chord progressions?

KAJIURA: I think it depends on the situation. But since I do believe that the way the sound is first heard is so important, I often think about how the sounds are going to come in during that scene when I’m writing songs. Sometimes I’ll have the music start in a way that no one will notice; it’ll be playing before you know it. Other times, I’ll try to make an impression with the first note.

I see. What kind of requests did you receive from the animation production staff for the songs for each scene?

KAJIURA: “We need a ballroom dancing song here”, and instructions like that. I think that with Madoka Magica, I was always being instructed to use a waltz during the battle scenes. the familiars seem to be dancing, don’t they? So this film has two songs that are a little waltz-like, that sound like ballroom dancing songs, and I think that was true of the TV series, too. The battle scenes had no dialogue, and they often showcased just the music and the visuals, so it was very rewarding for me.


When you were writing the songs, were you conscious of following the pattern of the TV series?

KAJIURA: Yes, I was. Although Rebellion was a bit different in tone than the TV series. At the beginning of the film, there’s a slice-of-life scene that’s very close to the one from the TV series, but it’s not as sparkly as the latter. It is sparkly, but those aren’t “true” sparkles. That’s why for the first half, I gave the music a bogus sparkly tone, meaning that I made it more cheerful than necessary – an extremely glittery-sounding song. For the transformation scenes too, the songs are like “Transform! Ta-dah!” Almost too cheery.

I see, so in that sense, it was a slightly different approach than the one you took with the TV series.

KAJIURA: While I believe that the musicality and the way sound is used are both similar to the TV series, there just aren’t that many songs that are simply about anger and nothing else, or just sadness. There are so many scenes with complex, tangled emotions, and as far as I can see, there aren’t many scenes where you can just think, “Oh, I feel sorry for this girl.” So I think that compared to the the soundtrack and the TV series, there were a lot less songs that conveyed emotions in a straightforward way. It might sound arrogant of me to say this, but if, for example, there’s a scene where the two main characters are talking, and even if they don’t really display their feelings clearly, by playing sad music, that scene automatically becomes a sad one. That’s why music is such a terrifying thing. I know that I really need to grasp the intent of the movie, and work carefully.

So because there are no straightforward emotions, Rebellion is all the more difficult.

KAJIURA: I think you can divide the film into two major section, the first half and the second half. It was a lot harder to work on the second half once I knew that the world of the first half was bogus. It was quite easy to build the musical storyline as well. If the ending, when everyone rescues Homura, and Madoka comes to get Homura is the climax, then it’s easy to build. But although that was the climax, it wasn’t the real climax.

But you still had to pump up the intensity there.

KAJIURA: Right. That was something I agonized over from the moment I first read the script. On top of that, in the scene after Homura becomes a demon, I think everyone’s emotions were all over the map. But there’s no music that can make everyone feel the same way. That’s why it was hard. Because of that, there were several discussions when I had to consult the director – “What should I do here?” And the director said to me, “For Homura’s music after she’s become a demon, basically I’d like something beautiful.” That might have been the biggest hint I was given as to how to write the music for the second half.

Does that mean that Demon Homura herself was beautiful?

KAJIURA: I think it’s less about her being depicted as beautiful, and more about her being something that you want to play beautiful music in the background to.

Specifically, what kind of beauty do you think that is?

KAJIURA: I think it’s an image of tolerance. But regarding Ms. Chiwa Saito’s performance after Homura’s transformation, two versions were actually recorded. I’m sure that they had a hard time deciding which to go with. Because there’s no right answer, it was the same for me, but I’m sure that there was a lot of trial and error involved.


The film has many musical elements – there are scenes of the characters singing, and the transformation scenes are directed like ballroom dancing sequences.

KAJIURA: Yes, there’s even a rap song. When they first asked me to write a rap song, I thought, “Rap?!” But since it was Madoka Magica, I knew that an ordinary rap song wouldn’t do, so I made it somewhat cute…actually I made it into a weird rap song. Initially, I thought, “Maybe I’ll just make this one a full-blown rap song”, and I used this extremely heavy rhythm. But it just wasn’t a good fit. Once I made it into a Madoka Magica-esque rap, or should I say pseudo-rap, it blended in rather well.

Including the rap, this time you had songs that already had lyrics.

KAJIURA: Right. The “Not Yet” song from the first half, and the song of the witches’ familiars in the second half. It’s not just these songs, but usually when songs already have lyrics, the lyrics are longer than the scene. But I can’t bring myself to say, “There’s not enough time, so it’s impossible.” So it often turns into a challenge to see if I can fit the whole thing in. And these were lyrics written by Inu Curry, so I wanted to include them all, even if I had to stick them into a chorus. I did manage to fit in all of the lyrics that I was given.

Song-wise, were there any similarities with the TV series in terms of image?

KAJIURA: I did a lot of theme-like melodies from the TV series. For example, even in the first half, when no one’s realised that it’s a fake world, I have snippets of a more upbeat version of Homura’s melody playing. And when she realizes that she’s actually a witch, I have a version of Homura’s theme booming throughout. Also there’s a song we called “Mami’s Theme”, which had an image that should raise red flags everywhere; this time, we played it where it belonged, when the magical girls are fighting so vivaciously.

So you’re using each character’s theme song in new ways?

KAJIURA: For the transformation scenes, if that character had her own theme, I tried to play it as much as I could. But Kyoko was the only one who didn’t have a theme, so I did write her one from scratch.

What kind of image did you base Kyoko’s song on?

KAJIURA: I could’ve written her a prettier, sweeter, more refreshing song, but in the storyboards, Kyoko’s transformation scene was a little scary. So it has a slight ethnic flavor, and it’s a bit dark.

In the transformation scenes, each magical girl shows a different dance motif, but were you conscious of that?

KAJIURA: Yes, I was. But they requested that I connect the songs for the transformation scenes. And it’s difficult to change all those different types of music. Since Mami’s was the most like dance music, that was the only one I changed the beat for, but for the rest, I gave them a uniform tempo and changed the melodies. Also, for that scene, they already had the visuals of their poses, and I was asked to set them to music. That was pretty difficult and I spent about a week adjusting the sync – “If we go on at this tempo, this girl’s gonna go out of sync right here”. That scene actually took a lot of time to make.


What image did you base the ED theme on?

KAJIURA: This was hard, too. But the part that I was most careful about was not making Homura out to be neither good nor evil in the ED theme. If you determine who’s good or evil through music, then the viewers would think the same way. We have to leave it all to the audience to decide whether Homura becoming a demon is a good thing or a bad thing.

So for what happened in the story, you didn’t write songs that would explain how things should be interpreted.

KAJIURA: That’s right. I wanted to write songs that weren’t from the girls’ point of view. Normally, I think that music portraying the strong emotions of middle school-age girls would be a better fit for Madoka Magica. But in the case of Rebellion, if you emphasized the girls’ feelings, you’d have to settle for one interpretation of the story.

I see. The meaning of the story is interpreted through those girls’ emotions.

KAJIURA: I wanted to avoid making the lyrics determine whether Homura was a good person or a bad person. So both the lyrics and the song stayed neutral – she’s neither good nor evil. It’s as if the music drew further and further away, from the girls’ emotions to the overlooking view. In that sense, I had no choice but to set the music to this film differently than when I did it for the TV series. Particularly in the second half, it’s moving further away from the girls’ emotions, and moving towards the background.

But it must have been hard to write the ED theme, in other words, the main theme, without clarifying the meaning of the story.

KAJIURA: Yes. That part, I’d made up my mind to write from an overlooking view. In other words, it’s not a song sung by younger girls, but a song by “something” that’s looking at the girls. It doesn’t matter what that “something’ is, but I meant for it to be the closest to the viewpoint of the people who’d come to see the movie. Either way, they’re not thinking that the girls are right or wrong, they’re just watching. I thought it would be good to have a song written from that point of view.

“Just watching” doesn’t mean they’re distancing themselves, but that they’re quietly observing what the girls are doing.

KAJIURA: I’m an athiest, but if God did exist, I’d think he was something that was “just watching”. Even when we see ants, it’s not as if we want to guide those ants the right way. If there was a god, then I’m sure that’s what he’s all about. It was one of my themes, to write lyrics from an objective point of view, neither affirming nor rejecting anything.

Did you think that that kind of attitude was necessary for this movie’s ED theme?

KAJIURA: The people who finished watching that movie, especially those who saw it for the first time…I think that at least 95% of them were left in a daze. I don’t think that it is right to create lyrics that would lead them to one answer. You can’t make them think, “This was actually a good story”, or “This was a scary story”. In a sense, when viewers are left hanging and then tossed out, you shouldn’t let them land. I wanted the songs to leave them in a that dangly state, and make them vacillate. I didn’t want them to be songs that would dump its emotions somewhere, and that would be it.


Do you always make an effort to write music that doesn’t try to explain the story from the music side, like you did with this film?

KAJIURA: No, it was the same for the first half of Rebellion, but when the content is the kind that will cause most people to feel the same way, I write songs that accommodate for that. If it’s a title that makes its viewers happy, I write music that amplifies that happiness. But as far as this movie, especially the second half, was concerned, it would have been extremely difficult, and I felt that it shouldn’t be done.

Do you think that it’s the fact that it makes the viewers feel like they’re dangling that makes Rebellion so intriguing?

KAJIURA: I don’t know. I think there are lots of other intriguing things about it. But I do feel that this title has no contradictions. Homura’s actions are remarkably consistent. Whether or not she became a demon, in the end I don’t think it mattered to her. It didn’t matter whether she became a demon or an angel, if she lived or died; I think that if she could just go through with what she wanted to do, it would be enough for her. It was just that in the end, when she chose the best method, she happened to turn into a demon. That was all. In the final episode of the TV series, Madoka also chose the best method, and turned into the Law of Cycles. I think it’s the same thing.

So that’s what it means, not to be able to distinguish between right and wrong. That was just the end result.

KAJIURA: Yes, that’s true. It may be a bit shocking to those watching, but after a process of trial-and-error, that turned out to be the best method for her.

I see. Lastly, Rebellion didn’t explain the meaning of the story through the music, but do you have any thoughts on how you’d like people to watch the Blu-ray?

KAJIURA: I never think, “I want people to see it this way”, whether it’s music or anything else. The viewers are free to do as they wish, and it doesn’t matter to me how they feel about it or how they enjoy it. That said, it is a title that’s chock-full of various elements, and personally, there were a lot of scenes that were so cool it gave me goosebumps, but I’ve still only seen the finished film twice. So once I get the Blu-ray, I’d like to watch it thoroughly myself.

YUKI KAJIURA: Composer, music producer. Debuted in 1992 as unit See-Saw. Has contributed a wide range of songs unlimited by genre, including TV, commercials, films, anime, and games. Also works as a sound producer.

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