As I scrolled through fandom-related news on my lunch break yesterday, I found myself intrigued by the idea that the Madoka Magica anime was awarded a Sense of Gender Award by the Japanese Association for Gender, Fantasy & Science Fiction.

I'll start my thoughts on this with a wholly uncreative statement: Madoka caught me quite off guard.

I knew that it was the big shit deal of the 2011 spring season. I knew that its viewership had mainstreamed a bit, and that our otaku counterparts drew strength from their expectation of the last two episodes, as they and Japan simultaneously weathered the heartbreaking tsunami crisis. But it was only when I caught Hulu's webcast of it this year that I finally understood the weight of its quality and, to be frank, its cultural significance to anime fans everywhere.

Even so, I was surprised and rather delighted by the very concept of this particular award. A prize for exploring the intricacies of gender in an entertainment medium? In Japan? Even as I write this out, I reveal a sort of close-mindedness that I hardly think of myself as possessing at any other time of day. It was more expected that Madoka has also earned a Seiun Award this year. That made sense to me.

It was a rather awesome discovery to me that my favorite mangaka, Yoshinaga Fumi, also won this award for her amazing Ooku (not that this particular series doesn't win awards right and left, or that Yoshinaga herself is a stranger to media prizes). That actually told me a little bit more of what I wanted to know about the Sense of Gender Award, and revealed yet another facet to my true geekery related to/vested interest in gender studies as a matter of course (thus, the title of this here post).

Overall, this whole thing makes me wonder about which particular elements contributed to the show's selection for the prize. There is a strong, majority female cast, yes, but this has become commonplace, I think, in most Japanese anime (particularly those aimed at the stereotypical otaku, who also sinks his/her teeth in sci-fi/fantasy, in general). There are issues of friendship, relationships and their cost, which may or not cross over into the realm of the subtextual, but this seems to occur pretty often into the most passionately earnest shows that resonate with fandom at large.

I'm not trying to be coy (well, not entirely); I just find myself frustrated by the limitations of what I, as a "western" fan, can glean from the sites out there that could shed some light on the specifics of awards like these, beyond the committees involved. I can only speculate or allow my own thoughts as to the merits and achievements of the series be quietly affirmed (or, in an obvious variation, see them affirmed through a retrospective group discussion of the show's particulars).

Also, just who gets these awards? The members of the production committee? Shinbo Akiyuki, his assistant director, and the script writer, Urobuchi Gen? To my way of thinking, Urobochi might be the most deserving here. But do the animation studio and character designer Aoki Ume get their "cut" too? It's a curious mystery to me.