What does it take for a series to become a masterpiece? Take a look at Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, and you might find the answer to that question.
I'll start this review by pointing out that I was not expecting much from this show. I didn't really want to watch it, either. The Mahou Shoujo genre has never interested me, so when a friend of mine, who in the past suggested things like Mirai Nikki, Deadman Wonderland, Death Note and Psycho-Pass to me, told me to watch Madoka Magica, I thought he was kidding and I ignored the series for a while. Once a month had
passed, my friend insisted, and I ended up watching the first episode with my sister.
Throwing all my prejucide aside, I sat quietly and watched the first episode. I found it oddly entertaining, so I proceeded to watch the 2nd episode, and then the 3rd. After the 3rd episode ended, I was completely hooked. And by the end of the 12th episode (or the last episode, if you prefer), I was blown away. Gen Urobuchi had done it again.
– “Make a contract with me, and become a magical girl!”
The main character, Kaname Madoka, is a normal 8th grader. Albeit very shy, she is happy, and her family and friends love her exactly the way she is. However, her life takes a dramatic turn when, on a trip to the mall, she rescues Kyuubei, a cat-like being that was being chased by a mysterious black-haired girl. Kyuubei, as a reward, offers Madoka and Sayaka (one of Madoka's friends) a unique deal: he'd make any of their wishes come true, and in exchange, they would become Magical Girls. And that is how Madoka, and the viewers, are introduced to a world of magic and witches.
Not much else can be said about the story without spoiling anything. However, I have to point that this is NOT your typical Mahou Shoujo, and it's target audience is NOT little girls. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica is a very dark anime, please keep that in mind.
The way the plot begins to unveil is simply magnificent. The build-up of tension, the plot twists, the drama, the (really heavy) psychological atmosphere-- all contribute to create a story that will keep you on your toes at all times.
– “If someone says it’s wrong to hope, I will tell them that they’re wrong every time. I could tell them that countless times!”
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica has a pretty small cast of characters. Because of this, each relevant character grows and changes throughout the series in ways you wouldn't expect. We get to know a lot about the past of some characters, the reasons behind their actions, their feelings, amongst other things, and that makes each character feel unique-- they don't follow any usual patterns.
[Art & Sound]
– "Is she some kind of anime character or something?"
As usual with Shaft (Bakemonogatari, Maria Holic, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei), Madoka Magica has a very original/weird style of animation. The design of the characters is rather simple and features very light colors. However, the animations are good and fluid, specially during action scenes (more on that in a bit). Buildings, on the other hand, are very futuristic and look pretty cool. The use of glass and fluid decorations makes me think of a very peaceful futuristic world. Nature, on the other hand, doesn't stick out of the norm, but the mixture of green + the futuristic monochromatic buildings is a very neat contrast.
However, this wouldn't be one of Shaft's best works if they didn't add their “touch”. When Kaname Madoka and her friends enter the realm of the witches, one of the coolest styles of animation I have seen in anime to this day steals the spotlight. It's very hard to explain, since it varies from witch to witch, but it's definitly intriguing. And of course, Shaft's signature: weird cam angles during dramatic scenes. Both of these add to the overall chaotic feel of the series, so I have to applaud their use.
Madoka Magica's opening is “Connect”, by ClariS. Although it's nothing out of this world, I feel that it fits the “Mahou Shoujo” theme perfectly. The show has 4 different ending songs, but “Magia”, by Kalafina, is regarded as the “real” ending, since it plays in the most episodes, and denotes the dark nature of the anime. As for the background music, everything fits right into the scenes; whether it's to add intensity to fights or dramatic moments, the music helps and doesn't feel out of place.
– “With kindness comes naïveté. Courage becomes foolhardiness. And dedication has no reward. If you can't accept any of that, you are not fit to be a magical girl.”
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica has got to be the best anime I have ever watched. The way the producers trick the viewers into thinking that this anime is just another Mahou Shoujo is simply brilliant. The characters are interesting, the art managed to catch my attention, and the music is good, but this series' biggest selling point is definitly the plot. Plot twists, drama, heartbreaking AND heartwarming moments... all of these converge into a brilliant plot with a really good ending.
It's been a long while since I watched and completed a magical girl series. So when I first read about SHAFT's first original anime production entitled "Puella Magi Madoka Magica" I was a bit skeptical at first, seeing how I usually don't watched the genre but at the same time curious on how SHAFT and Shinbou Akiyuki will gonna make one with their very unique visual style that defines SHAFT animated works. After watching their previous magical and supernatural series like Bakemonogatari, Dance in The Vampire Bund, Negima, and Natsu no Arashi, I'm convinced that I should at least try the series.
It’s a magical
girl series by definition that for quite some time I’ve been avoiding because frilly clothes and magic wands is not something a young adult should be watching or so I believe. But after completing it, I felt fortunate and privileged that I tried it, rarely is a series that can be considered a game-changer, at least in my viewing experience as it convinced me that the magical girl genre can still be enjoyed by young adults like me. The end result is that I’m willing to watch more of this kind of animated works from the past and future.
It all begun with a strange dream followed by the introduction of the main character and the world she lives in. Then it was the usual setup in most anime, a new transfer student in the class that will call the attention of the main heroine, followed by a setup that will lead her to a world that she never dreamt existing – the world of magical girls and witches. The subsequent episodes will document the heroine’s journey meeting people, experiencing different events, journeying bizarre worlds, discovering the truth of the magical girl system and its purpose – all that will cultivate the one wish she will want granted.
The story is introduced into the audience in a well planned and carefully executed series of events that will reveal important elements of the plot to move the story forward. Every time it is done, it leads the viewers in the edge of their sit as they ponder what exactly is going on. New characters are eventually introduced along the way, each has an important role; their back story examined and will have their very own moments in the series. The pacing is excellent, never a dull moment in here as each episode is packed with excitement and the right amount of details to keep the viewers looking forward the next episode. It doesn’t help that some episodes ended in a cliffhanger, which lead the viewers particularly me dying from wanting to watch the next episode immediately and hope that it is already the next week. The series ended with a satisfying conclusion; it feels complete but still leaves the viewers wanting for more.
Knowing SHAFT’s notorious past regarding their animation works, in Madoka Magica there is a welcome change, no longer is the “NO-ANIMATION” as very evident in Bakemonogatari episode 10 will be seen in here, or the character only animation and simple colored background as seen in Hidamari Sketch. For this particular series, SHAFT has produced a world that is engaging with a futuristic approach in their architectural designs from the very spacious, technologically sophisticated, modern design of the main character’s house and the school where she study completely devoid of tight physical space. The background animation is superb, very detailed and probably rivals their other previous best background works in Bakemonogatari (provided there is an actual animation, not the random flashing wallpaper text thing). The color tones are dark and sometimes movie quality indicating how SHAFT probably gave everything they got to animate this one.
The modern architectural structures some of which are based on real life building designs used to create the cityscape of Mitakihara are very imaginative. The witch’s realm showcases a different kind of creativity in background designs, each realms are carefully designed to evoke emotions from the viewers. “Bizarre and surreal” are the proper terms in describing those otherworldly places which offers a hint of the witch’s past before being consumed by despair.
As for the characters, I like Aoki Ume’s “wide face” designs which gave the characters these “nice and cute” facial features, at the same time able to evoke such powerful expressions e.g. when the characters are sad, happy, annoyed, or worried, the wide face design allows the viewers to clearly see those expressions making it possible for them to relate and feel attached to the characters. The character designs used for the witches is a different matter, some look cute and very stylish (e.g. Witch Charlotte), some looked terrible and will give this unsettling feeling of being too real compare to its surroundings (e.g. Witch Gertrud), while some simply look too ugly and has a design that probably only a mother can love (e.g. Witch Oktavia von Seckendorff).
The transformation sequence are something to look forward also, Tomoe Mami’s transformation sequences are probably the most impressive transformation sequences I have seen to date, thanks mostly to the beautiful soundtrack that accompanies it. The transformation sequence from the other magical girls is all unique looking but not as equally impressive as the one above. The fight animation is also something worth mentioning about since the animators doesn’t cut corners on this one; the fighting scenes are very good and pleasing to the eyes.
Lastly, while I say a lot of very good things about the animation, it comes with minor flaws, one is about the character faces specifically the animation of the eyes appearing a bit off or distorted in distant camera shots and the animation in general is not very smooth for motion. There are also some production errors that are worth noting. Overall, despite the noticeable changes in the animation of Madoka Magica, the series still retains many characteristics that define the unique visual style done by SHAFT like the head tilts, close facial shots, and creative camera angles among others.
Music is one of the highlights of Madoka Magica. The OP theme “Connect” by ClariS is very catchy and pleasant to the ears, makes you want to become a magical girl and currently one of my favorite OPs. The ED theme “Magia” by Kalafina, meanwhile has this very eerie feel on it which is very good in expressing the dark undertones of the story.
The soundtracks created by the much famed “Kaijura Yuki” (which is also the behind the awesome soundtracks of Kara no Kyoukai, Gundam SEED/SEED Destiny, and Tsubasa Chronicle) confirmed that feelings I have, that when you listened to it, the music simply gets into you and all you can think about are magical girls, frilly costumes, and awesome transformation sequences. All the soundtracks are so memorable that I can immediately associate those to the events in the series where it is used as the background theme. My personal favorites in vol.1 and vol.2 are the “Sis Puella Magica!” (You Should Be a Magical Girl!) from the scene where Madoka finally said her wish, “Decretum” (Decision) Sayaka’s main theme, and “Credens Justitiam” (Believing in Justice) which is played during Mami’s transformation sequences. Equally impressive though are the soundtracks in vol.3 that are present in the final two episode of the series, the “Surgam Identidem” (I Shall Always Rise) during the battle of the hour, and the “Sagitta Luminis” (Arrow of Light) which can also be called the Goddess soundtrack, it is a very heartwarming theme created specifically for the events in the final episode.
Featuring the voices of Yuuki Aoi as the heroine Kaname Madoka, with Saitou Chiwa, Mizuhashi Kaori, Kitamura Eri, and Katou Emiri as support characters, the voices behind the characters in Madoka Magica is an all-star cast that made the overall viewing experience much fun just listening to everyone speaking.
Madoka Magica has a small amount of characters, mostly girls that are very cute in my opinion. Kaname Madoka, the heroine of the series is very convincing as a female lead, her struggles that results from the events leading up to her finally saying her wish as well as the measures that she used to counter it are very well portrayed. The other main character that is really well portrayed is Akemi Homura, just like Madoka, her descent to what she have become up to the very end is very well told, her actions justified. Tomoe Mami’s appearance is short but has a very lasting appeal, I always remember her as the “What a Magical Girl should be”, her performance, confidence, and graceful movements especially in her fights are very elegant to watch. Then, there is Miki Sayaka, whose story is just sad to watch. The other main character that is introduce late in the series is Sakura Kyouko, initially I hate her character only seeing her as a jerk and a warmonger, but as the episode progress and her past eventually revealed, I believe her actions are justified and I eventually liked her character. Lastly amongst the main characters, I’ll talk about Kyuubey, as a familiar, he is like no other, his performance as the acting villain is really a very wild ride, his words are very evil at the same time not really evil, and his trickery into convincing the girls to make a contract with him makes you want to curse him and shot him with weapons till his body broke into smithereens deserves a high praise and probably an award for doing so. In the end, when all is said and done, especially when he explain the purpose of his existence, I eventually seen him in a good light.
The minor characters which represents the rest of the cast like Madoka’s parents, brother, teacher, as well as Sayaka’s love interest and rival also added very important contributions that leads to the development of the main characters. Worth noting is Madoka’s mother Kaname Junko, her conversations and closeness to Madoka as mother-and-daughter is very touching and very refreshing to watch. Also is Shizuki Hitomi, as she did an important role in the middle part of the story. The Witches, while having no real character, with the only hints given about them concerning their past is the design of their realm also added a different form of storytelling.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is one of the most outstanding series I have seen in recent times. Rarely is a series that has its contents in the form of story, visuals, music, and characterization that are all equally impressive that results in me enjoying the series so much. Even more impressive is the fact that Madoka Magica is a “magical girl genre,” something I already avoided years ago thinking that there is nothing about the genre that will interest me anymore. After all, the notion about the genre is that it’s “too girly” and a “kid’s show”, this series proves that it is not, that it can touch audiences outside its main target audience. It also assures that the genre is something I will be looking forward with enthusiasm and eagerness. Appropriate also to say is that Madoka Magica is the kind of series that appears once every few years that really hit the right marks, the things that makes an anime very great.
As for my final note, I would recommend this series for viewers who like anime in general. Most recommended to individuals who like a magical girl theme anime that is geared towards the more mature young audiences as the series contains drama and dark themes that is not really very unusual to the genre, it’s just that the series used it correctly, and intricacies that could either make the viewers like or dislike the series.
Note: Updated, added additional impressions after completing BD release
I am the juice of my acid.
SHAFT is my body, and drugs are my blood.
I have created over a thousand seizures.
Unknown to DVD sales.
Nor known to stream on time.
Have withstood food to create many anime.
Yet, those hands will never hold money.
So as I pray, “UNLIMITED SHAFT WORKS”
-a rewrite inspired by those thousand freaking awesome muskets shooting at moustachioed dandelions during the end sequence of the first episode.
You have just stumbled upon the ultimate Mahou Shoujo, one that doesn't care if it's morally ambiguous or not, one with no stock footage, and one where the magic used substitutes candy for bloodbaths.
Story: Magical Girl overtones combined with
the trance-like aesthetics of SHAFT and the glorious character designs by a small green man who lives on top of an all-girls Japanese high schools dormitory (see Hidamari Sketch). The script is written by Urobuchi Gen, known for his work on Fate/Zero (hence the poem) and the highly-acclaimed (and crazy good) visual novel Saya no Uta. He's also noted for making me rub out to a pile of sludge. I really like Mr. Urobuchi.
The story is a dark Mahou Shoujo. Not like Nanoha at all. Nanoha had some seinen elements in it, but Madoka is a seinen. It takes all the elements of Mahou Shoujo, chucks them in the trash, and completely rewrites the genre. I should note that I have watched a fair amount of anime tagged Horror here on MAL, and not a single one has actually instilled fear in me like Madoka has. This is the only Mahou Shoujo I have come across that actually covers events like suicide, murder, and death in a serious manner and keeps them believable. There is a heavy amount of psychological elements in this anime, too, I should warn. In congruence, I want to laud how the characters mental states and characterization pushes the plot forward unlike many productions. The psychological aspect is so crucial to the story, that without it, the story would be nonexistent.
A slight digression on becoming a magical girl: (minimal spoilers)
Even after a couple of episodes Madoka does not become a Mahou Shoujo. I've heard a lot of complaints that "she isn't even a magical girl yet, this is stupid" etc. If you're part of this group, please enlighten yourself with this knowledge; Madoka takes a spin on many magical girl aspects. Thus, gaining magical powers, which usually occurs in the first or second episodes of most magical girl series is an event that is pushed farther off in Madoka. Don't get me wrong, the anime doesn't just do this to be nonconformist. Madoka utilizes the obtainment of power as a driving part of the story and character development. What Madoka factors into it's execution that other magical girl anime don't is the risk of death, and how gaining powers makes you even more susceptible to it. That is why I believe the anime didn't just give the girls powers very early in the series, and I hope this short blurb clears up this little misunderstanding.
Art: SHAFT WAS HERE (insert every other company name here) IS A LOSER
The dreamscapes in this anime are stupendous and the frightening nightmarish worlds that appear are undeniably scary. The expansive frontier that the cast is thrown into really delivers the sense of isolation that I believe the staff wanted to present. As for the normal world, SHAFT works it's magic on the buildings and rooms - applying an almost futuristic setting while still within the boundaries of reason. The skyline shots and the pans over wide areas are notably beautiful and quite reminiscent of Ef - a tale of memories (another SHAFT work). There has been some complaint about the character designs, but I would say that they're used in this anime the same way Higurashi used theirs. With the lure of a peaceful and happy scenario, fleshed out with a goofy looking set of characters, the anime seems so innocent. That is until you watch a little of it. Don't create a predisposition on this anime by it's naive appearance, this is one scary anime.
I would also like to praise the transformation scenes. They are never extensively erotic, as that aspect tends to be abused in anime such as Moetan or Nurse Witch Komugi, and they are always different. The second time a transformation scene happened I double took the scene and watched it again to make sure that my eyes weren't deceiving me (so I guess I ended up watching the animation twice anyways, but regardless). That's right, a magical girl transformation sequence that is different every time and isn't overused to consume air time.
Sound: The opening is like this fabulously intense orchestration that just makes you feel LARGE. The opening animation accompanying the sound definitely contributes to the song and I find it very fitting. One thing to note about the OP is that there's a larger portion of crying than there is of laughter, which should be hint enough to prepare you for an experience that doesn't want to make friends. The ending preformed by Kalafina (Kara no Kyoukai, Sora no Woto) is eargasmic. It has a brutal and rough distorted sound, and isn't full shown until the ending of the third episode. It's stark contrast with the opening really works. The animation set to the ending is a bit spooky if anything, and the hard angry vocals of Kalafina make it all the more intense. The sound track throws in some "acid music" (there's not a word for what SHAFT has done here) so just watch out for that music. Word on the street is that side effects include chronic arousal and aviator application. I can personally vouch though, that the soundtrack is varied and creative, and that it's hard to remove your sick shades for more than a few seconds while watching.
Character: Madoka Kaname is the average personality-less protagonist who is best described (by herself) as "kinda dumb" and "has no special skills." She leads an average life with a loving family. Her friends are a tomboy and aradere that at first prospect have no impressive qualities. Then Madoka learns about Mahou Shoujo who fight in secret to defend society. They fight entities called "Witches" that spread distress and anxiety. If you're expecting a happy-bubbly slice-of-life, you couldn't be anywhere further away from the mark. Mahou Shoujo Magica Madoka is a very dark anime. It quickly shifts from drinking tea to suicide's with unsettling skill. The characters are a whole lot more complex than the average Mahou Shoujo - where the characters often don't develop at all, within the first few episodes so much development occurs that you might be wondering if you're watching the same anime (and the development is presented incredibly believable). With Urobuchi Gen on staff mind shattering moments are abundant. Gen has even come out straight and said this is an anime that can be understood even better re-watched. The characters are a lot more in depth than you would expect from a Mahou Shoujo, and are surprisingly realistic. If you want moe~moe~ magical girls, then please refrain from watching Mahou Shoujo Magika Madoka, because Madoka deals a lot more with relationships and human issues than it does try to be cute and funny. Yoshinoya-Sensei also plays a cameo (but she's wearing a wig so watch carefully).
Enjoyment: This is your brain on drugs. Cue Freezepop's song Brainpower.
Overall: Madoka has an uncanny knack for going from quaint to disturbing incredibly fast. It also has the ability to BLOW YOUR MIND. So go watch it, okay?
After the final episodes have aired, I can say with confidence, if you're willing to brave through the first three episodes that totter between "cliche Magic Girl anime" and "mysteriously dark" then you'll be pleasantly surprised that the latter is what you'll receive throughout. Madoka ranks with very few anime. It is one that start with a whimper and ends with a whimper, but is packed with bangs throughout.
The following are notes I added after each episode aired between January 7th, 2011 and April 22nd, 2011:
PS: I WISH MY MOM GAVE HI FIVES LIKE MADOKAS DOES
WHAT AN EXECUTIVE
PS2: GIGA MUSKETTT BUREEAKKKKERRRRRRRR... and imma sip some tea now.
PS3: Needs a hardware update.
PS4: I cry out of fear watching this.
PS5: fat chicks yum
PS6: DON'T PLAY WITH MY EMOTIONS LIKE THAT HOMG
PS7: I can see Kyouko being all like "GIMME ALL YO FOOD, OR I WILL EAT YOU"
PS8: Fried Kyubey on a Stick - A southern American delicacy
PS9: I think I'm watching a Darren Aronofsky production
PS10: I liked this episode because they explained Homura's hair.
PS11: Battler would approve of this end
It's long been the case that specific genres of anime are often intensely focused on certain genders and age groups, and this fact is most apparent when one considers the mahou shoujo category. From Sailor Moon and Tokyo Mew Mew to Pretty Cure and Shugo Chara, the titles on offer that feature the exploits of one or more magical girls all seem to have several things in common - cute characters, cute outfits, cute sidekicks, "cute" costume changes, twinkly/sparkly/sugary atmospheres, and a penchant for appealing to the sensibilities of 7 to 14 year old girls.
Then there are the anomalous titles that deviate from the tried
and tested approach as they attempt to broaden the horizons of the genre, the most successful example being Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha. The franchise gave audiences a chance to see Takamichi Nanoha grow from a very young and naive magical girl into the Ace of Aces for the Time-Space Administration Bureau, and combat instructor to the next generation of heroes. The surprising thing though, is that somewhere along the way the series managed to successfully bridge the shoujo-shounen divide, which is a difficult thing to do in a genre that's generally aimed at girls who still think bright (sometimes almost fluorescent), pink is a good colour to wear.
Unfortunately there are only a few good titles on offer that have broken with the traditional mahou shoujo mould, which isn't surprising if one considers the difficulty of the task in question - take something for young girls and make it appeal to as broad a fan base as possible. Then again, Shaft seem to relish that sort of challenge, and while their take on magical girl anime retains a certain "fluffiness" that is prevalent in the more stereotypical shows, Puella Magi Madoka★Magica is an altogether different beast.
The story begins with a young girl looking for and exit with which she can escape a strange black and white checkered area, but instead of finding the outside world she finds that surreal destruction has come to Mitakihara City as a dark haired girl fights a very odd creature in the sky. A small white animal named Kyuubey advises her that she has the power to help the dark haired girl, to change this fate of grief and destruction, to be granted her heart's desire. All she has to do is make a contract and become a Puella Magi ...
And then she wakes up.
After the rather dramatic first few minutes the storyline takes on a fairly staid measure as the main plot is laid out and the characters are introduced, but while the narrative is relatively well constructed, it's not without its flaws. The series has a tendency towards melodrama that can sometimes slow the pace of events, and this brings into focus certain aspects of the plot which are very clearly designed to evoke a sympathetic reaction from the audience. In addition to this, while the rather obvious influence from Buddhism (the whole deal with maintaining balance, karma, etc), is prevalent for much of the show, the decision to broadcast the final episode on a specific date only serves to highlight the reference to Christian beliefs that forms the grand finale. That said, it's easy to overlook these as the main thrust of the storyline is entertaining , and much darker than one might initially expect, especially when one considers the character design and everyday scenery.
One thing that is interesting is the manner in which the writing team have tied in the importance of the third wish to the whole concept of resurrection (ask me if you want an explanation), which may sounds a bit strange at first but it actually works rather well, especially as the traditional "deal with the devil" scenario generally doesn't have any kind of achievable escape clause.
Unfortunately there are two problems with the storyline, both of which aren't immediately obvious. The first is the assumption that only girls of a certain age are ideal for becoming Puella Magi, with all that entails. The justification for this is debatable, and brings up the whole idea that "boys don't cry". The storyline is built upon the concept that adolescent girls are more emotionally unstable than boys of that age, yet this is an untrue statement for two reasons, the first one being that boys are also undergoing physical and emotional changes. The second reason is that boys are taught from a very young age that they shouldn't cry or show certain emotions, and the continuous bottling up of all those feelings more often than not manifests itself during the adolescent years.
The simple fact is that a race as advanced and intelligent as the one in Madoka★Magica would have known this, and would have experimented with male Puella Magi as well, yet the story makes no reference to this. Quite the opposite in fact, and the explanation given states very clearly that all Puella Magi throughout history have been female.
And before you ask, there are such things as male witches in the realm of the occult. They're called Warlocks.
The second flaw is the explanation given as to why Kaname Madoka has more potential than anyone else, which again makes a major, yet highly debatable assumption. The simple fact is that if one follows the idea to its rather logical conclusion, the most powerful Puella Magi should actually be Akemi Homura. It's a far more conceptual plot hole, but given the usage of the many worlds theory, especially at the end, it quickly becomes a major issue that could destroy the foundation of the story.
So it's a good thing the series is as entertaining as it is.
Now given that this is an anime by Shaft one might well expect a degree of experimentation with the visuals, and the opening sequence gives viewers some very clear signs of things to come. The character design is very similar to that of Hidamari Sketch, and while this adds a degree of cuteness to the show, it also emphasises the stark difference between the Puella Magi and the witches, especially in terms of their humanity.
The experimental nature of the series is prevalent during the combat sequences, and Shaft really have gone to town in creating surreal, mind bending environments that serve as a home for the witches, and the arena in which the Puella Magi must fight. The mixture of animation techniques on display during these scenes is surprising, not only in terms of application but also in quality, which is why it's somewhat disappointing that there are occasions where entire frames have been left out of the animation during everyday events.
That said, Madoka★Magica is a good looking anime for the most part, even though much of the effort has been expended on crafting imaginatively unusual other world settings and surreal enemies for the girls to fight. Strangely, this may actually be purposeful as while the everyday environments are colourful yet mundane, like the character design these emphasise the difference between the real world and the one in which the Puella Magi must combat the witches.
The opening theme, Connect by ClariS, is a fairly uplifting J-pop song that's set against a surprisingly routine (for mahou shoujo anime), sequence, all of which belies the darkness of the story proper. Thankfully the ending theme, Magia by Kalafina, is more in keeping with the atmosphere of the anime, especially with the ephemeral approach to visuals. The series is also littered with a variety of background tracks that are generally appropriate in their usage, and one of the high points of Madoka★Magica is the quality of the audio choreography.
As for the acting, the cast is made up of experienced seiyuu who add depth and nuance to proceedings, for example Kato Emiri's role as the amorally enigmatic Kyuubey really is something to see, especially with her off hand explanations and her ability to make the character sound devoid of emotion. The rest of the cast also perform very well, except for one, but the issue isn't actually with her skills. Yuuki Aoi (Kaname Madoka), generally works well with the other seiyuu and delivers her lines with a decent amount of passion, but she's unable to express the true depth of emotion that the character feels because the script simply does not allow for it, which is a shame as it's a minor blemish on a very good performance.
Scripting issues aside, it's interesting to note that the series seems a bit lacking in core characterisation, especially as Madoka, Sayaka, and Mami have personalities that verge on the mundane. It's this averageness that makes the story that little bit more accessible to audiences, even though some rather fantastic back stories have been used to justify the actions of one character or another. Which brings up an interesting issue with the developmental process as rather than try for an intuitive approach, Shaft and Aniplex have applied the "growth by numbers" method. Each character is given the opportunity to adversely affect Madoka in some way, and the order in which this occurs is dependent on the relationship between the two. The problem is that this methodical approach is in clear conflict with the experimental nature of the series, and while it can easily be overlooked or forgiven due to the entertaining nature of the story, it's still not what one would expect from a studio like Shaft.
Now I will admit that at first I was expecting nothing more than another cutesy mahou shoujo anime, so finding something that was more to my tastes was a bonus. That said, the series isn't without its flaws, but these can either be ignored outright or forgiven as the story is a very interesting and unusual take on what it means to be a magical girl.
It's just not as groundbreaking as some might believe.
While Madoka★Magica may at first seem like a totally unique concept, it should be remembered that the Nanoha franchise possessed some dark themes, Black Rock Shooter featured a young girl's alter ego fighting strange creatures in a surreal other world, and Uta Kata tried to show the breakdown of a person who becomes controlled by their power. There are other shows that explore some of the themes of the series, sometimes in more detail, but in truth these are only minor niggles as Shaft have managed to create a mahou shoujo anime that, like those that came before, successfully displays the true potential of the genre.
Which leaves only two questions. If Shaft wanted to experiment with the genre, then why not go the whole hog and have a mahou shounen? Why leave that sort of thing to comedy anime like Kore wa Zombie Desu-ka?
Puella Magi Madoka☆Magica managed to do what I thought was impossible - took over the position of my favorite TV anime series from the first Suzumiya Haruhi series, while still airing. And my rating of was only rising with every subsequent episode.
Even though the story starts like any typical magical girl anime, you can clearly see it is going to be different from the very beginning - it is the girls' choice, not fate, to go on the path of magic. Being a magical girl is rather a cold business deal rather than a divine blessing. And magic is not a perfect cure for everything
- using it can cause a strong and hard-to-predict backlash. All that is there as early as in the first two episodes. And then episode 3 happens, and while trying not to spoil the story, I must say that all hope of this series being a normal magical girl show is lost since then. Beginning with episode 3, Madoka★Magica follows the Hitchcockian principles of storytelling - with every following episode there is some unpleasant surprise, we can't wait to see what happens next - oh, how convenient it will be for all those watching Madoka after the whole series' original airing...
I can't really decide if I should call the story predictable or not. As you may know, the show has spawned an enormous amount of speculation and discussion on 2ch, 4chan and throughout the anime fandom in general. As the story went on, many of these speculations turned out to be true. When following the discussions on the Web, it's hard to tell if the story would be predictable to a lone viewer or not. But one thing is certain - Urobuchi and Shinbou managed to tell the story in such a way that even when you know what's going to happen, everything is still exciting and makes a huge emotional impact.
All of us fans were anticipating the finale, with much speculation about the ending going on. Since the actual last episode aired, opinion about the ending varies greatly between the fans - but my personal opinion is that the ending is as great as the whole show. Of course I won't go as far as to explain the ending, but what actually makes the ending good is its... well, I'd say ambiguity, but it's on a meta-level. There are ongoing discussions even whether the ending is ambiguous or not! It makes you think, interpret it your own way, and no thought is better than any other - but at the same time, it is not an open ending, the story is completely concluded. It is truly a sign of very good writing by Urobuchi Gen. It's often said that Madoka is the same to the magical girls genre what Evangelion was to the mecha genre years ago. And I won't be surprised if it'll end up becoming a cult classic of comparable caliber.
The story is heavily character-driven, with many events happening because of the characters revealing their feelings to each other. Even though many characters are quite clear from the beginning, nothing is certain, as the world - and other characters - constantly turn out to be different than we all thought. There is no white and black, characters are deep and believable, which is certainly one of the key factors of this show's enjoyability.
This show is quite unusual for Shaft, because it is very serious in atmosphere. There is not much comedy, and when there is, it's very subtle and natural in tone. This also means we won't be seeing Shaft's signature walls of flashing text and pushy creative typography (it's still there, though, in much less obtrusive form of runes). The art still manages to be very "Shafty" in tone, however. Slightly futuristic backgrounds, heavily inspired by recent architecture of the real world, look quite similar to what we've seen in Bakemonogatari - but are usually less symbolic and significantly more polished. The characters were designed by Aoki Ume of Hidamari Sketch fame, and bear significant resemblance to that series. Such bright and happy character designs may feel out of place for a series so dark in tone, but it's aiming for an effect much similar to what Higurashi did few years ago - and it actually works here, too. Unusual proportions of Aoki's drawings feel a bit strange at the beginning, but it's easy to get used to it after an episode or two, and then both background and foreground art blend well together.
The closed worlds where witches reside, deserve a separate paragraph. Shaft employed Gekidan Inu Curry for this part, and their creative potential truly shines there. The art is very abstract, animated with stop-motion and similar techniques, feeling considerably out of place, while still working out well. These visuals are often compared to opening animations of Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei seasons by fans, and Shaft's fans should recall this kind of art in other works of this studio, too.
Talking about voice acting is not really much necessary - there are many well-known and popular names in the cast, which alone gives some degree of warranty for the quality. The voices match respective characters' personalities well, too. There's nothing much more I can say about that. The music, on the other hand - it really adds up to the overall feel. The opening theme by ClariS (known for OreImo OP) builds up a nice innocent atmosphere... soon to be brutally broken by the plot and BGM, composed by Kajiura Yuki, best known as the founder of Kalafina - who also performs the outstanding ending theme - and for Kara no Kyoukai's soundtrack. Her instantly recognizable style fits astonishingly well with Madoka's atmosphere, and builds both a considerable tension and atmosphere of mystery.
The BGMs, though well-fitting, didn't stand out much for me at first. But with the progress of the story, with the mood getting darker and story more absorbing, the music also started to make more impact and I can even say that it has become catchy. The style of the soudtrack also shifts significantly during the finale, which makes it feel even more epic. Overall, I don't know if the whole OST will be worth owning, but there are few tunes which I'd really like to have is my music collection.
To sum up, Puella Magi Madoka☆Magica has got everything a good visual entertainment should have. I can only deplore that anime is somewhat looked down on outside the otaku community, because I truly believe that anime non-fans would also enjoy it. And the title sounds somewhat embarassing, too - but it's a perfect proof for that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.
March 12th - updated after episode 10.
March 14th - reworded some fragments according to a reader's notes.
April 23rd - updated after the final episodes.
We all have things in life that we treasure and hold close, whether it be friends, family, possessions, dreams, or just life itself. We tell ourselves that we will do everything in our power to preserve them, that we would never risk betting and losing them. But what, one day, you were given the opportunity to be granted a wish? A miracle, with no limits, that could give you something that you always wanted. Would you be willing to risk losing everything, the things you treasure, your humanity, and even your life, to have that one wish granted? If you would, would you regret it,
would you curse it, or would you fight to protect it? Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, or Puella Magi Madoka Magica, whichever you prefer, centers around these questions and gives us an outlandish tale of love and friendship, and how it can all disappear in the blink of an eye. Madoka, or "Dokes" as the internet now loves/hates to call it, has become a phenomenon in the anime community since it's release in 2011, garnering endless praise and a massive fandom in Japan and in the West, and like all popular works, the question that always arises is, does it deserve it? Well let's find out.
In a vague futuristic city in Japan, lives a girl named Madoka Kaname. She's entirely ordinary, and not very talented, but she treasures her life nonetheless and loves her family and friends entirely. But one day a mysterious transfer student named Homura Akemi gives her a warning, that if she truly loves her life and the people around her, that she shouldn't do anything that would change it. Her warning quickly becomes prevalent as she meets a mysterious being in the shape of a cute fuzzy entity named Kyubey that offers to turn her and her friends into magical girls. They will be granted one wish to gain these powers and in return they will be obligated to fight the witches that hide in the shadows of their city. Then..... well i can't really say. Basically everything that follows that basic description could be labeled as a spoiler, so if you want to know more, i suggest you watch the series for yourself. Hint though, if you're familiar with the works of Faust and Hans Christian Andersen, you might get some kind of clue as to what goes on. After 3 years since its premiere, it's common knowledge now that Madoka is not the moe fluff that it appears to be. There are many fans out there that will describe the show as a dark subversion that deconstructs the magical girl genre, and to this claim, i say that it's true. In the first two minutes of the anime, Madoka shows that it's not the happy-go-lucky magical girl anime from our childhoods, but a dark story that, along the way, points at some of the flaws and inconsistencies of the magical girl genre. But the thing is, Madoka is not good because it's a dark subversion. Madoka is good because it's terrifically written and has ended up being one of the few good modern tragedie. Nothing the show presents to us feels arbitrary or manipulative, but it feels inevitable, as though there was no way around it, even though our own ideals hoped that reality would stop crashing down on these girls. Of course this only works because the writing in the show is airtight, filled with foreshadowing, both subtle and obvious, and not wasting a single moment on scenes that could be considered meaningless filler, there is purpose to every interaction and every conversation. In fact there's so much detail in these short 12 episodes, that it doesn't just give it rewatch value, but it practically demands to be watched more than once, and from personal experience, it just gets better with each viewing.
The art and animation in Madoka was done by Studio Shaft, a studio known for it's high animation quality and obtuse visuals, and who i personally dislike for their vanity. Yet, i acknowledge good work when i see it, and to say their work on Madoka is just good is an understatement. Madoka's design has one thing that most moe shows lack, distinction. Their color palate, their ordinary pastels made extraordinary by crayon tones, and a certain flexibility that makes you really appreciate the work put into it. Not to say anything about the ever present city itself, large in scale, and containing areas both lavish and hollow. As the series progresses, the city continually gets more bleak and ill-boding to fit the tone, yet never losing the presence that it's had since the first episode. Still the highlight of the shows visuals is easily the witches labyrinths. Each of them is abnormal, outlandish, and unique with different themes and designs for each one, like one is designed after a hospital, another looks like a scrap book, and my personal favorite is where everyone in the labyrinth is depicted as a silhouette. It's unorthodox to it's core, and like the city, only gets more grim and uncomfortable as the series progresses. Not to say anything about the animation which meets the usual Shaft standards of high quality, with fluid and fast paced action scenes, and the notorious “sideways glance” that we see in every single Shaft anime. Madoka is art from anyway you look at it, and it's visuals to good to match it.
The score for the show was done by, Yuki Kajiura. Yuki Kajiura's soundtracks are well known for shedding a tear or two, and Madoka is no different. With a glorious blend of synths and electric orchestra's, weeping strings and piano, and, of course, a towering choir, the soundtrack to Madoka is attention getting to say the least. Haunting, mysterious, and at times sad, needless to say, the OST is good, almost too good in fact. It's actually kind of hard to talk about the soundtrack because it's, honestly, just something you have to listen to for yourself. As for voice acting, i'll have to go sub over dub. It's kind of hard for me to judge Japanese voice acting since, I myself, do not speak Japanese, but still, it's not hard to notice a great performance when you hear one. In Madoka, it just so happens, that all of the actors are equally great, both subtle and overwrought for whichever situation. As for the dub, well, it's listenable. To be fair, it's not a bad dub, but it's not very natural sounding and very wooden on places. I will give special props to Cassandra Lee Morris for her performance as Kyubey. She obviously got what kind of character it was and captured its essence enough to rival its Japanese counterpart. If you prefer dubs then go ahead, the dub doesn't really do anything to hurt it, but i recommend the Japanese track.
As a tragedy, Madoka only works to it's fullest with the stellar cast of characters they provide, although it may not seem that way from an limited standpoint. By limited standpoint, i mean those who follow a formula to judge what makes a character, one such as "background A + situation B = reaction C" characterization", rather them what's in front of you. The characters are humanized beyond their archtypes and over time, things like motivations change and the characters are corrupted by a situation that, despite being ideal candidates for, none of them were mentally, physically, or emotionally prepared for. Of course, in classic tragic fashion, the situation was a near impossible one that could've been avoided, if not for their own personal flaws. Their naivete, their desperation, their love, their desire, even things that seem like good attributes like kindness and courage prove to be more harmful than they seem. This is brought out through the contrast of the rookie magical girls and the veterans, those who went in with hope and the best of intentions, and those who have learned the hard way about the price of being a magical girl. Of course this applies to all the main cast, except for two. The first being out ordinary protagonist, Madoka, who consistently goes through the series with a justified indecisiveness towards becoming a magical girl, feeling the guilt of not doing her part, but fearing for what will come when she makes her wish. Her natural sense of what's right and what isn't, her own insecurities, and being witness to the consequences that unfold is what ultimately drives her character throughout the series, slowly building her up until the climax, and while she isn't the best of the characters, she is the one most suited for being the main protagonist. Then there's Kyubey, who i sadly can't go into much detail over, so i'll just give you the gist of it. Kyubey is the representation of logic versus emotion, and the needs of the many versus the needs of the one. It's indifferent towards the ideas of good and evil and acts however it feels is necessary to get what's needed. The mere fact that i've been using it for Kyubey, over him or her, should be indication that Kyubey is more than it originally seems. There's not much to talk about outside of the main cast, as there's only 6 other characters that aren't just nameless background fodder, but they still contribute their fair share to the story. The conversations between Madoka and her mother Junko often reveal a lot, how close they are, how much Madoka admires her, and often works as vessels for foreshadowing, and were always interesting to watch. Madoka and Sayaka's friend Hitomi is another story. She's not a bad character, but her switch from comic relief to super serious seemed a bit sudden, but even that's just a nitpick. The characters is Madoka are surprisingly complex and give off more than enough humanity to make this series exceed expectations.
Gen Urobuchi has stated in interviews that his intention with Madoka was to make an interesting, thought-provoking, fantasy set in an established genre. Did he succeed? More than i could've ever expected. Madoka is a masterfully written modern tragedy that works on par with classic european literature. Some may claim that Madoka is nothing more than shock factor with cute girls designed to be an instant hit, to which i recommend you rewatch it since you missed the point of what the series is about in the first place. As for others, while i can't guarantee that you'll like the series as much as i do, as with any other work, but i recommend you watch it, sooner than later. Few series seems to hit every target, from characters, to story, to themes, and work every way, inside and out, to make a series as, for lack of a better word, perfect. Anyways, that's all for now, til next time.
I feel like I'm in the minority here on MAL, and that's kinda depressing. Madoka Magica by and large is one of those programmes which receives no shortage of praise that I simply can't agree with one way or the other. I wouldn't mind it so much were it not for the fact that any sort of valid criticism or complaints anyone has with this series is instantly lost in a sea of downvotes and angry rants made by rabid fans who're breathing heavily whilst typing on their keyboards rapidly. Regardless, I'll make a feeble attempt at getting my voice heard. Will it work? Probably
not, but it's still worth a try.
What really baffles me is how Madoka Magica is a moe drama along the lines of Elfen Lied and yet people praise Madoka ad nauseum whilst talking shit about Elfen Lied at every available opportunity. Even people like JesuOtaku who generally have no patience for moe dramas ended up giving this programme a glowing review despite the fact that Madoka Magica and Elfen Lied end up trying to accomplish similar goals. It's amazing as to how much the power of emotions can override one's better judgement but then again, maybe that's why I couldn't get into it in the first place.
Let's just get this out of the way first: moe drama by and large is an extremely manipulative genre at its core that's rather poorly written in general. Why is this the case? Well, the writers know all too well that most viewers will gladly put up with all this shit so long as they get their cute girls in anguish that they can fantasise about consoling and/or fucking. Obviously, Madoka Magica has quite a way's worth of better writing put into it than Elfen Lied does but it still falls prey to the same traps that plague moe drama when it comes down to the writing.
The first biggest problem that Madoka Magica has is the fact that the pacing is horrendously rushed. I don't care what you have to say about the pacing, because quite frankly... it's shit. The 12 episodes we were given did not allow for the events taking place in the story to flow naturally and instead make this programme come off as a rather forced melodrama. Something is horrendously wrong with your programme if I cannot bring myself to feel even the slightest modicum of emotion for what transpires despite the characters making a big deal of it all.
Aside from the rushed pacing, another glaring flaw that Madoka Magica suffers from is the fact that it's heavily reliant on shock value, which is probably another big reason as to why this anime is so lauded in the first place. Shock is a powerful emotion indeed and it can definitely work to great effect to further strengthen the writing whenever necessary. The problem is that Madoka Magica goes out of its way to shock the viewer and then ultimately relies on manipulating your emotions to keep you invested and distract you from the flaws in the writing. People are definitely going to disagree with me on this one but please hear me out.
The way Madoka Magica's been marketed in the past by Aniplex is a dead giveaway that shock value is a major cornerstone of Madoka Magica as a whole. The trailers, the OP, and even the blurb on the back of the Aniplex DVD release basically paint this show out to be your typical magic girl show despite the fact that it couldn't be further from the truth. Granted, a lot of the punch has been taken out of that sort of marketing tactic given that Madoka has become so popular to the point where it's essentially common knowledge that this is a dark, angst-ridden magic girl melodrama but the point still stands.
It seems like Madoka Magica was fundamentally designed to be a smash hit. The very combination of shock and moe drama has been a proven formula for success (look at Elfen Lied if you want an example). However, Madoka Magica takes this a step further by being a magic girl show. Magic girl programmes (and battle shonens to a similar extent) suffer from this "image" that exists in the minds of most people as nothing more than childish drivel about friendship and idealism that can't grow the fuck up. Given the fact that Madoka Magica is a shocking moe drama as well as a magic girl show, the end result is basically having thousands of fans saying that Madoka isn't like other magic girl shows and is a definite must-watch.
Yes, Madoka isn't like most other magic girl programmes but then again, neither is Kill la Kill or Princess Tutu. A series doesn't automatically become a masterpiece just because it "breaks the mould" as the saying goes. If that were the case, films like "The Room" would have to be considered masterpieces of drama despite evidence to the contrary. Don't get me wrong: individuality in anime is a good thing, especially given all the repetition going on in the industry. What isn't good is relying on being different to be your main selling point. This isn't to say that Madoka doesn't have any other merits to stand on, rather the very merits it does have are flawed to high heaven.
Madoka Magica is often praised to no end as a deconstruction of magic girl anime. Yeah... I don't buy it. You mean to tell me that all it takes to be a deconstruction is psychologically torturing your characters whilst going out of your way to be as dark and edgy as possible? I thought there was more subtlety involved with the writing when it comes down to deconstructions. Say what you will about Evangelion, but one thing that Gainax has that SHAFT lacks in its entirety is tact. Don't get me wrong, subtlety isn't exactly Evangelion's strong suit either but it certainly has more than Madoka does, that's for sure.
We got to spend a good deal of time in our typical mech setting before shit got morbid and we realised that being a mecha pilot in the world of Eva isn't a walking sex fantasy. Sure, Evangelion sends us flying head-first into the plot like Madoka does, but once again: we're given time to actually connect with the characters which is something that Madoka's 12-episode runtime simply doesn't allow for. I understand that the length of a show isn't necessarily indicative of whether or not the characters are good because there definitely are 1-cour programmes that deliver quite a bit on the character front (i.e. White Album 2, OreGairu, Usagi Drop, etc). At the same time, this story contains far too much content for it to actually work with the 1-cour length.
I know that some people like to tout this 12-episode length as a strength, saying that it's free from all the unnecessary bullshit that plagues other magic girl shows and goes straight into the good stuff. While I can certainly reciprocate that praise to a certain degree (especially given that Madoka Magica is far more engaging than Sailor Moon is), people fail to understand that without the boring parts of a show, the good bits wouldn't be nearly as good and would instead become mediocre. Princess Tutu understood this concept quite well as it was able to balance out the otherwise boring bits about ballet with the deliciously macabre moments involving Drosselmeyer. Madoka has no such balance.
Another problem that the 1-cour length brings up is an over-reliance on plot twists. Now, plot twists aren't inherently bad and can definitely work to the show's advantage if it was given proper foreshadowing. Unfortunately, the short length doesn't allow for foreshadowing of any kind to really happen so they just take you by surprise (oh look, more shock value!). I don't know about you, but these plot twists don't do much of anything for me. In fact, it made me question the logic behind this show even more. I'd question why shit had to constantly get worse for the characters in every episode, but then I remember that this is moe drama and that it doesn't matter how nihilistic the world actually gets so long as we still have our cute girls writhing in anguish.
What really surprises me about Madoka is the fact that despite being a sadistic viewer who loves seeing cute things being crushed by nihilism, this show was enough to make *me* do a double take on what's being shown. Make no mistake: I couldn't find myself feeling any modicum of emotion (not even pity) for Madoka, Homura, Sayaka, Kyoko, and Mami but at the same time... there was just something rather unnerving about how their circumstances just kept getting worse by the minute. It doesn't help that the short length also brings up stuff that may very well qualify as fridge horror or unfortunate implications (I don't know which trope it is, so bear with me).
For example, the fact that magic girls have to be adolescents because apparently, they're emotionally volatile at that age range brings up so many questions that just don't get answered. For one thing, does this mean that boys that are of the same age don't go through emotional turmoil like teenage girls do? What of teenage girls who happen to suffer from psychological disorders/trauma? Why does Kyubi opt to only focus on teenage girls when there are many other people of both genders across all age ranges that are just as emotionally volatile if not moreso? There's also the concept of power with a price.
The whole "power with a price" concept is not uncommon in TV, film, manga, comics, literature, etc and there have been many twists on the same formula. Madoka tries to do this concept but it doesn't go all the way with it because of the lack of world-building. Because of that, it would seem that the price the girls have to pay is unending psychological torture which is all somehow the girls' faults by the end of it all. Basically, Madoka's flat-out telling you that you're fucked if you decide to remain a Muggle because you're going to die regardless and yet you're fucked if you become a magic girl because it means you'll go through continuous psychological torment. At the same time, it's also telling you that you'd be much better off as a Muggle because of the fact that you're going to die a lonely, merciless death where nobody's going to remember you if you choose to be a magic girl.
Now I could bring up the whole wish fallacy argument that plagues other shows that involve wishing, but then you have to remember that all the wishes that the girls made in Madoka horribly backfired because apparently, the wishes that the girls made were really selfish even though they seemed selfless at first. Even if Madoka herself was to make a wish like being able to grant her own wishes exactly as she intends for them to come out, there's no telling how horribly it can backfire because the world this show takes place in is an extremely cruel and nihilistic one. This actually brings me over to another problem I have with the show: how sexist it actually is.
I don't consider myself a feminist of any flavour, nor can I say whether or not a specific programme is female-positive media because I'm a guy. At the same time, I don't understand how people can just let all this bullshit slide. Have people forgotten that women have been pressured for millennia to be as selfless as possible and to put their own desires to the side? What's so wrong about wanting to be with the person you love? What's so wrong about not wanting to die or to actually eat something for dinner? Madoka's logic in and of itself is something that really just doesn't sit right with me one way or the other.
Am I reading too much into Madoka? I don't even know at this point, but there's no denying that there are many fundamental flaws that exist within Madoka Magica as a whole. However, there's this one aspect of Madoka that never ceases to piss me off more than anything else and that's how it ends. For a show that spends 11 episodes psychologically torturing its characters, I'd expect for the show to at least end on a downright depressing note but that's not the case at all. In fact, Madoka Magica's ending couldn't be happier. Fans like to say that the ending wasn't completely happy, but we all know that the circumstances the ending presents to us are infinitely better than what Homura et al had to put up with for the bulk of this show's run.
I don't understand how a show can simply spend 11 episodes saying that ideals will only result in permanent suffering only to do a complete 180 at the final episode and say that hope, happiness, and whatnot will always prevail. Then again, Madoka Magica IS a moe drama and we all know that moe dramas wouldn't be as successful if they don't end on *some* semblance of a happy note (I'm looking at YOU, Clannad: After Story!). One thing's for certain though, this ending is something that I take umbrage with on so many levels because it just forces a happy ending out of nowhere, which is the kind of ending that I really just can't stand.
All things considered, Madoka Magica is certainly an interesting beast to tackle indeed. I wouldn't call it average in the slightest because it managed to evoke this much of a reaction out of me and it's definitely a cut above the more typical entries of the magic girl genre. At the same time, this show gets far too much praise than it actually deserves. I'm not saying it's terrible, because it really isn't and I suppose you'll have a good time watching it if you don't read too much into the story. Regardless, I don't think Madoka Magica is a "good" show. Feedback is always welcome, so with that... I'm gonna start barricading my house so that you rabid Madoka fans don't come at me with the intentions to kill me. Peace.
“As much as I wished for the happiness of one, someone else must be equally cursed. That’s how the story of a magical girl goes…”
I finally understand why one should not judge a book by its cover. To be honest, I never liked the design of the characters in Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica and I’m sure there are those out there (like me) who may be skeptical with this show due to that fact alone. I mean … doesn’t the swollen, flattened, wide, and overblown faces turn you off? It sure did for me. But boy, I cannot describe how glad I
am now after marathoning Madoka★Magica in two days (despite all the assignments, projects, and exam deadlines)!
So what can you expect out of this show? Certainly not the typical magical girl story one would be expecting. Taking place in a futuristic world, the story started off like most other magical girl series. School setting, bunch of young girls hanging around together, the typical “happy care-free” life. But that quickly changed as the pace of the story drastically increased as well as the mood darkens at the same time. Soon the viewers are engulfed with deep hatred and sorrow and a wide range of emotions that will only leave one hanging and lust for more. To say Madoka★Magica is an emotionally driven show is not an overstatement.
The sound department is just as brilliant as the story itself. With the new junior high duo ClariS doing the opening theme and Kalafina doing the ending theme, that should automatically ring some bell for some hardcore anime followers. But putting the fame of these singer groups aside, both the opening and ending theme songs for Madoka★Magica are just splendid in itself. You know how some songs have to grow on you; where you need time to get used to it and even then, it might not be catchy enough for you to fell in love with? Rests assure there is no such problem with neither the opening nor ending themes for this show. As if that is not enough, Yuki Kajiura-sama herself is responsible for the BGM, theme song lyrics, and composition! We all know how emotionally driven her music can be, certainly one of the greatest musician in the industry to date.
Character. Can’t really say there is a lot of character “growth”, BUT, I can safely say they have enormous depth making them more believable and lovable. The depth mainly comes from the background stories of the girls. Viewers will find out why each girl chose to become a magical girl and how they live with their choice afterward. If you are a keen viewer, perhaps you may even be able to see through what each girl represents symbolically and relate their experience throughout the show with our own daily lives. On that note, I have to give the production studios (SHAFT and Aniplex) credit for a job well done as well as finding the appropriate seiyu to voice cast the respective characters.
On to our last topic, it’s also one that I have briefly mentioned in the beginning. Yup, it is regarding the animation of Madoka★Magica. Surely most of us are familiar with SHAFT and its style of production, but not everyone accepts the way SHAFT handle its own anime. While one can argue that SHAFT is being creative with their work, which certainly differentiates them from other studio, but for the everyday norm like my humble self I cannot say I appreciate their work of mixing reality into anime to create something nightmare-ish. By that I do not mean the incorporation of real city sceneries into the anime, but rather, I am referring to the infrequent random usage of flowers, candies, or butterflies that takes away any seriousness to the show. Perhaps I just don’t understand “art”.
Lastly, I wish to say that as an anime original work (not adapted from light novel or manga like many anime these days), Mahou Shoujo Madoka ★Magica certainly deserves some praise. If I were to describe the excitement level of this show, the closest I can think of is a mathematical exponential curve. The early episodes serve as the typical story foundation blocks, but right after that is done, you can sure as hell expect an emotional rollercoaster ride =D
Madoka Magica is a smart and yet cursed show. Many including myself have applauded the show for being a brilliant take and twist on the magical girl genre, a genre that is usually meant to be an inspiration to kids. Madoka Magica changes this concept of Magical Girls by making it realistic. Fighting monsters (or witches in this case) would be a dangerous task in our reality and that is the case in point Madoka Magica tries to bring forward. A great idea on the part of the creators but unfortunately some great ideas can only go too far and the story suffers a bit
as a result.
Thankfully, it is the characters that are the best part of the anime. Sayaka, Homura, Mami, and Kyoko are all fascinating to watch and each have their own layered characterization and moral philosophical themes that drive the story forward. Themes such as individual dreams, wishes, societal views and conflicts, relationships, etc... It's all so fascinating and brilliantly told. What is even more amazing about the characters is that they develop not only through great dialogue but also through visual means as well. Characters will change stance and opinions but the audience needs to pay attention to facial expressions and character actions throughout the show in order to determine where and when these amazing characters grew. The main protagonist Madoka is probably the most straight forward character of the bunch. She's definitely less fascinating than the rest of the cast but she is still fun to watch due to her kind nature and expressive personality. She believes herself as being a coward who can't help people, but low and behold she ends up being the smartest, wisest, and bravest of the show. She's a fine character and role model, but not a very deep one. Another little problem I had with the show is the adults of the world are all morons. How come the teenagers are the ones talking smart and philosophical while the adults are the unbalanced irresponsible weirdos who have no clue about anything? Also, there is some questionable character morals that will make you scratch your head and wonder if it is a legitimate reason to be frightened/traumatized, but they are still interesting to ponder about none the less.
Finally we must talk about Kyubey, who is probably one of the greatest villains ever to appear in an anime. This little cat like alien is fascinating in so many ways. He deceits, plots, scams, and lies all the way through the entire series all the while always having a permanent smile on his face (creepy). He tortures and plays around with the lives of these little girls all to further his plans, plans that are a bit understandable but completely unacceptable in the method that he's doing it in. He is the stark contrast of the usual talking cat side kick character found in magical girl shows which is once again the writers trying to play with our expectations. I love this villain yet hate him for being such an awful manipulator. This is exactly how amazing villains should be written.
*END OF MINOR SPOILER*
But now unfortunately we must talk about the curse of the show and how the magical girl theme while being its strength is also its weakness. The reason the Magical Girls genre is targeted to kids is because the premise is meant to make kids feel like they can be heroes with good moral values, but in a realistic premise it is simply ridiculous and implausible. It is also at points very silly because intricate plot details and philosophy concepts are being discussed by teenage girls, girls who have probably only recently been through puberty. There are many times when I simply laughed at serious smart plot discussions because I couldn't believe little girls were talking about such things. Just the concept of Magical Girls itself is ludicrous and yes, the story does try to explain why an alien cat would give little girls powers of incredible strength but it unsurprisingly doesn't make any sense and feels forced. The conclusion as well is a very lame and predictable anime plot ending. I don't want to spoil it but all I got to say is, "I bow down to our lord and savior Madoka, the perfect moral being!".
A part from these main gripes in the story, the rest of it is very good. The plot moves along with the character development very well and the main themes of the story are well handled. Themes such as natural order, space and time, etc.. all come together exceptionally well with the themes of the characters in order to create a very fascinating 12 episode anime series. The art is also very good but nothing too exceptional. It does its job well by showing us the character feelings and expressions, but it never "wowed" me in any way. I also never got used to the casts chubby looking faces (but that's just a bias opinion). I will say that the art style works well in order to create a magical girl feeling and the action was very well handled. The sound was also amazing in the show. The openings and endings of Madoka Magica worked in with the themes and moods of the series, and I found it very intelligent in how they used it. For example, the ending song of the first two episodes are very happy sounding melodies, which fit in with the happy magical girl mood the show first puts on. But then the third episode is where the series becomes serious and violent, thus it plays with the audience by having the ending song sounding dark and depressing as if it is stating, "prepare yourselves people because things are about to change". I like it when shows play around with music like that.
I definitely recommend Madoka Magica to any anime fan. It is a brilliant and adult like take on the magical girl genre. It takes the stereotypes and reverses it. As I explained before, there are limitations to the reversing of this genre, but it is none the less a brilliant effort that deserves praise.
Forget everything you thought you knew about the magical girl genre, because Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (or MSMM as I'll call it from here on for simplicity) is here to turn the genre upside down.
At its core, MSMM is a--like its title says--mahou shoujo. But it's what the series does with the genre that makes it something truly marvelous; the magic is in the execution. In the beginning, it may seem like any other, set up to be generally innocent, light-hearted, nonchalant, and fun; but by the time ED begins at the end of episode 3, the monster will be revealed for what
it truly is, and its true nature will be fully in the light.
I imagine MSMM's story like a tightly-woven rope kept perfectly taut: There are multiple sub-stories and issues going on at the same time, but they stay so close together that it may be difficult for one to discern them as individual pieces of the overall work. Unlike anime whose rope is loosely-woven or frayed (divided into clearly discernable arcs or things don't tie together well) or that curve or coil (ones that lose their way and stray from their path), MSMM stays concise, linear, and tight. Everything stays together, and it knows exactly where it's going; it's ultimately all the same story.
The pacing is consistent and fast; you will definitely be riveted to the edge of your seat. To some, it may be a tiny bit *too* fast, but I pose that this is because of the distinct lack of "fluff": everything is significant--nothing is pointless. The story is lean and completely free of excess fat. It picks its direction and chugs there headlong. It does a perfect job balancing the crucial elements of character development, plot progression, dialog, psychology, action, and emotional tension. Balancing this many aspects is no small feat, and MSMM is second to none at the job.
Equally as strong and as critical to the series is the cast--also free of excess fat. It is compact and devoid of unnecessary characters; all of them have a clearly defined role and bounds they do not overstep. The screen time is allotted appropriately between them. Each character has a distinct personality and already has depth to them before any development even needs to occur, and the personality that is set up beforehand helps the development they undergo stand out. Each of the magical girls are unique and go through their own trials and ordeals, which also affect each other; each plays integral roles in shaping other characters and progressing the story.
The tribulations the magical girls are subjected to is what MSMM is really all about. They--and you as the viewer--are revealed truths about what it means to be a magical girl that you never would've dreamed of. The psychological trauma they endure is painted on a dark and cynical canvas of reality for you to experience along with them; the joys and pains as the bonds of friendship are created and strengthened, strained and broken, will play with your heart strings. If you didn't know what it meant to be sympathetic before, consider this your crash course.
Complementing the anime is a beautiful and stunning OST composed by Yuki Kajiura. There is always the perfect track to accompany every scene--whether the mood be light-hearted, sad, ominous/foreboding, or exciting/thrilling, you can be guaranteed that the music will be there to help burn the feeling into your heart. The OP ("Connect") is great and serves as a constant reminder of the false sense of security constructed in the early episodes; the ED ("Magia") is phenomenal and much more accurately reflects MSMM's true nature (it's also used strategically during a couple scenes in the series, to great effect). There are some pretty intense sound effects utilized--particularly noteworthy are crashing noises and explosions. The seiyuu do a stunning job delivering their lines with the perfect levels of emotion and energy. They make their characters come to life so much so that one may think they've BECOME the character.
Some people may be slightly put off by the somewhat different character designs with their wider faces, but you'll get used to it easily. The animation in general is pretty spectacular, except for a few scenes where characters are shown coming "towards us" and end up looking like they're walking in place. Other than that, motions are fluid, and action flows wonderfully. The cinematography is definitely above average, with some pretty creative and interesting camera angles and close-ups. There is some particularly stunning artwork shown briefly, usually in transitioning from one scene to another--dank, cold alleys; bright blue and green neon bus stops; vibrant, warm, orange sunsets; the glow of lamp posts in the twilight; sprawling gray cityscapes under the shadow of a gathering storm. One thing I found particularly outstanding was the brilliant use of low-key and ambient lighting: The lighting harmonizes with the background music to create truly engrossing and vibrant scenes. Indeed, the manner in which the sound and visuals syngergize with each other creates an immersive and dark stage for events to play out upon.
In case you haven't caught the drift already, MSMM is an extremely enjoyable experience with substantial rewatch value. It's one of those rare works that get MORE enjoyable the more you watch it, unlike many whose flaws become more evident, or eventually get old. Genius incorporation of foreshadowing is so tactful and subtle that you might not even realize it was there until you watch it again. (Like I said, everything is significant.) I personally found the entire cast growing on me more and more each time through (except for Kyuubey, because he's a manipulative bastard, but still well-done nonetheless).
MSMM offers much: friendship, drama, psychology, action, story, character development, emotional involvement, and even music and animation--like I said, all working together and balanced beautifully, with no one aspect ever dominating the others: complete harmony. It's the only anime I'm able to honestly give perfect scores across the board for. But does that mean YOU will like it? As I've stated, it's mostly a dark and edgy series with characters enduring intense psychological strain and hardship, and there are times when happiness and hope seem impossible. The night is darkest just before the dawn, but if you don't think you can take the night, then MSMM probably isn't for you.
If you think you CAN handle it, though, by all means: WATCH THIS SERIES. It's a deep, exciting, shocking, and powerful ride from beginning to end, and I highly recommend it.
From all the trailers and ads that Aniplex and Shaft released for Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica, it seemed that it would be your typical magic girl show, a show along the lines of Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura. However, this had to be purposely orchestrated, as the show is nothing like that and it is clear from it's marketing that Aniplex wanted to surprise people with it, and they did a hell of a job.
This anime takes everything you know and love/hate about the magical girl genre and flips it 180. The plot starts off with your typical 'Magical Girl' traits and cliches, but soon takes
a turn for the dire. This anime's story is dark, really dark. It tackles issues and questions that should, but never really do, arise in other magical girl anime. Though previous magical girl anime have had dark aspects to them, all in all those aspects have never been dark to this extent. The darker than average plot comes as a shock to the viewer that was expecting another cutesy moe anime, but got something totally different. The story is rather complex, and the answers are not given to you. Meaning that you have to figure everything out for yourself, this might be a good/bad thing, depending on your taste. I personally found the story very enjoyable and intriguing. I was not all that fond of the ending mind you and I felt that they could of done a better job with it, but I think that's up to personal preference if nothing else. And it did not break my experience.
The characters are arguably the show's weakest aspect. They get plenty of development, but as the show goes on, their actions just become more and more unrealistic. I personally liked all the characters, and didn't find anyone annoying or not needed. I also liked their development, and didn't really care for their unrealistic actions. This again depends whether or not you let this kind of thing affect you. Seeing as I'm a sucker for messed up characters, I found Miki Sayaka to be highly enjoyable, and definitely my favorite character of the series.
The animation for Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica is great, studio Shaft did a splendid job with the character design and how they contrast the otherwise dark story. Although for some it might be the total opposite, and the characters might reduce your enjoyment of the show. This again is up to personal preference though. The anime gets really gorgeous if you watch it in BD quality. Shaft are known to rush out their products, but they are also known for polishing them up for the Blu-Ray release. So, if possible, do try and watch this show on Blu-Ray, as the animation is vastly improved and adds a lot to the anime.
The music is composed by none other than the masterful Yuki Kajiura. It contains pieces that range from cutesy moe-like themes, to intense battle choruses. And the ending song in particular is very memorable. One thing to note though is that parts of the OST sound really similar to other Yuki Kajiura works. So for instance if you've watcher Kara No Kyoukai, you will hear a lot of similarities, to the point where you can replace songs with one another from both shows, and it wouldn't matter. A minor nitpick.
All in all Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica is a great anime, and a must watch for anyone that is interested in the psychological genre. It's not the best at what it does, but it comes close to the heavy hitting contenders.
Madoka! An anime that has gotten tons of hype before its initial airing, even more hype once it started, and said hype went through multiple figurative roofs after everyone had watched the first three episodes. Truly this anime has become a phenomena and its just as interesting to watch everyone clamor around it as much as watching the show itself. A little context first though, a while back everyone was whispering about a possible Shaft Mahou Shoujo project with Akiyuki Shinbou attached as the director. In of itself, it wasn't too eyebrow-raising asides from the fact that Shinbou had directed the first season of Nanoha
(another Mahou Shoujo series that subverts a lot of the genre's tropes). Nope nobody was really interested until it was revealed that Gen Urobuchi was doing the writing and series composition, Ume Aoki was doing the original character designs and Yuki Kajiura was composing the music. Ignoring Kajiura and Shinbou, simply mentioning that Urobuchi and Aoki were attached was absolutely baffling. I mean one is famed for his grimdark writing style and the other is known for her disgustingly cute drawing style, it doesn't really take a genius to figure out that this anime would be something different. So the hype machine took off and here we are months later all caught up in the veritable frenzy this anime has left in its wake week after week. Does it deserve all the love and the praise it gets? Let's see!
Gen Urobuchi is known for a lot of crap, mostly for being one of the writers for Nitroplus and by proxy the brains behind Saya no Uta (a Visual Novel). Now if you haven't read it, I strongly recommend you do. It isn't particularly long so take a few hours out of your schedule and just read through the whole thing in one sitting. You'll thank me for it later. I'm mentioning this because there are a lot of similarities between SnU and Madoka, particularly in the overall themes that are presented in both works. The particular things I'm looking for are mainly subversion and corruption/perversion, which Madoka is rife with. Urobuchi's style really shines when he takes something that is considered sacred and paints in a horrific manner. In this case, he's taking Mahou Shoujo and painting it in the same colors or...dementia he used to paint SnU. Now don't get me wrong, Madoka isn't good because it's a piece of dark fiction, but because its a well-written piece of dark fiction. A lot people get too caught up in its grittiness and play up on how its a revolutionary anime because its DARK AND BROODING. But that's not really the case, it's more like Urobuchi's inherent style melds so well with the genre he's working in. Mahou Shoujo already some entries that take darker approaches to its cliches (the aforementioned Nanoha) and its even got some good deconstructions (Revolutionary Girl Utena and the second half of Princess Tutu). What Madoka does is twisting the guts of the genre only to to pull out every organ slowly and concisely, getting its hands completely bloody in the process while showing the audience the rotted flesh in its hands. It's plot follows the generic magical girl fight monsters scenario but the actual execution is very different. So much so that it gives off a distinctly different vibe from even the triple A anime in this category.
A good story generally is split up into 3 different Acts, the first is setting the stage, and the third is climax and resolution. The dramatic question comes up in the first act which is pretty much the goal the protagonist must achieve by the third act, and the second is about the protagonist doing what they must to answer the dramatic question. The importance of all that highbrow BS is simply that Madoka has a completely different dramatic question compared to the norm of the genre. In Mahou Shoujo or even Fighting Shounen, the protagonist gets power of some sort of power in the beginning and is asked by the plot whether they can/will defeat/save/restore something of importance. The question posed to Madoka is "Will you become a Puella Magi (Magical Girl)?". First things first, we know by definition that if this is the dramatic question, than we know for sure that we won't see Madoka become a Magical Girl half-way through the series or anytime soon for that matter. We know damn well that its going to part of the climax. Dramatic questions usually force the protagonist to be proactive: to change themselves so they are better equipped to tackle the question. Madoka's as you guessed, commands more a reactionary response. This in turn changes the focus to inwards instead of outwards so its fair to say that this is a primarily character-driven anime. Now that's not to say that the plot remains on the backburner for most of show, in contrary it keeps going with or without Madoka driving it. In that regard, both plot and characters are well done, and one isn't really sacrificed for the other. Both work together concisely to drive the experience home.
One thing Madoka manages to pull off consistently well is the feeling of uncanniness through out the entire show. In good horror/thriller stories, fear is either presented to the audience in three ways: through the "self", through "uncanniness" and and through the "other". Madoka employs all three to startling good effects. The "self" aspect really brings out the psychological aspect of the characters, its the parts where they sit down and sort of think aloud to themselves accentuating their thought-process and presenting it to the audience. This happens a lot, and more importantly each character has their own monologue. Its effective because the girls really convey their own fears to the audience and not only that but a lot of that fear is something most of us can relate to. The "other" is basically the unknown and things that we cannot understand. For example, all witch scenes and FX that are done by Genkidan Inu Curry. These scenes are very surreal and abstract which is meant to evoke an otherworldly feeling. Or better yet, Kyubey is a very good personification of the "other" simply because the audience cannot understand him or his actions with human perceptions and concepts. The final piece is the uncanny, or the feeling that something is slightly off. This is the one horror aspect that is present in Madoka all the time and its there to unsettle the viewer. Its not the direct kind of "Boo" horror, but its a more subtle variety which is designed to peeve the audience and to keep them thinking about it long after they've stopped watching. In this anime, there's always something off, and it really adds a lot to the atmosphere. And if I had to pick only one good thing about Madoka, its the atmosphere. Its essentially draped over the viewer like an enormous blanket and can very well become almost suffocating at times. Its something that made Silent Hill 2, and in my opinion also becomes the driving force behind Madoka. Its the one quality that really separates from it from other good anime and pushes it up there with the best of the best.
The music is really incredible and is probably my favorite soundtrack composed by Yuki Kajiura. The tracks are very beautiful and melodious, and also border on haunting at times. I really cannot describe how important the music is, because it really is the atmosphere at times. If you were to take the soundtrack away from Madoka, it would substantially worsen the final product. It really just draws the audience into itself and the show. While in some other anime the music can be mediocre and even forgettable, over here its absolutely pivotal. The audio design is also great, the right tracks and used at the right moments and are always in sync with the direction or composition of a scene. One thing I'd like to bring attention to is the script which I actually liked a lot. There's not much filler in the dialogue nor are there any meaningless lines. All of it is put to good use which is really pretty rare to see, most anime these days are rarely efficient with the allocation of lines or script writing. Shaft is especially a bit lenient with this quality and most of the dialogue in their anime can be rather gratuitous at times.
However if Madoka can be criticized for anything in its presentation, its definitely the animation. The art style itself is good and contrasts heavily with the subject matter, but the animation often leaves something to be desired. While there are some good action scenes and generally the animation fidelity is actually much higher than in other Shaft anime, it's still a bit choppy. There are also a bunch of art errors in every episode (Meduka Meguca anyone?). This does get better as it goes a long, and its apparent that Shaft saved much of the animation budget for later episodes which do look very impressive from an animation stand point (espeically episode 10, GoHands helped out with that one). Hopefully if Shaft ever decides to do a sequel, they'll budget this appropriately and save up all the money, hookers and blow made from the Madoka BD sales.
Overall, Madoka is one the best anime to come out in a few years. It's not based off of a manga which is based off of a light/visual novel, it's not a fanservice-ridden sack of crap, its not utterly and completely generic and most importantly its a big breath of fresh air compared to a lot of the anime that have come out recently. If you're not out to hate it the second you start watching, than you should be able to take away a lot of enjoyment from it because like I said in the beginning, it's a hell of a ride. To all the people who have already seen it, I strongly recommend just marathoning the entire series again after a couple months. Because honestly, Madoka will be an entirely different beast when marathoned compared to being watched weekly. The atmosphere practically begs the audience to watch the entire thing in one go and it'll definitely be an experience worth the trouble. For all those who haven't watched it yet, what exactly are you waiting for? More importantly, why are you reading reviews instead of watching this anime? It's a no-brainer, don't make me beg you all to watch it.
Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica wants be an outstanding show, something that wasn't delivered before, but fails at this feat in pretty much all departments of animation.
It's commonly conceived as a deconstruction of the mahou shoujo genre. However Madoka Magica merely twists some aspects of the mahou shoujo genre to give them a dark edge, but does not critically point out any potential flaws of the genre to make its audience question the genre's substance.
Starting off with the most obvious aspect, the visuals, Madoka Magica presents us with a lot of dark alleys and conversations without much animations going on. The few battles going on during
the show do provide us with some rather good animations, although the many immersion breaking paper cut-outs are rather forgettable in those scenes.
The plot of Madoka Magica really wants to be a strong point for the series, often creating a feeling that "something interesting may happen sometime" to the audience. The problem is that nothing out of the ordinary actually ever happens. Virtually every single part of the show's story is forseeable, to an extend that a lot of people had actually thought up the show's major plot points much earlier before they had come up during the original airing.
For an ending that feels like the author was not exactly sure on what it should be like, while not delivering anything new or exciting, Madoka Magica also does not deserve much credit.
Having spawned dozens of character fan arts, the characters should be the shows strong point, but even here it is lacking substance. Over the course of all 12 episodes, the characters are very hesistant on making decisions and moving on, reducing the show's story to a few stretched out, sometimes very forced key plot elements. Due to this behavior the characters appear very one-dimensional, although the writer's intend on making these characters feel like actual people does shine through occasionally.
Taking all of its flaws in consideration it, I find Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica to be a rather boring show to watch. The action is good and enjoyable, but the characters talking and bitching about the same problems for episodes, and not coming to any interesting conclusions, really wears down on the enjyoment of this anime.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Goethe. Voltaire. William Shakespeare. Charles Dickens. Oscar Wilde. These are some of the most critically acclaimed and influential authors the world has ever seen. They have written texts that have shaped way we perceive the world. They have introduced ideas and philosophies that were previously unimaginable, and as a result left a deep imprint on the Western and Eastern worlds. But alas, none of them compare to Urobuchi Gen's magnum opus, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. Never before was there such a profound piece of art on this level of brilliance. By comparison, all of the other authors mentioned seem like amateur fanfiction
writers. I had a hard time writing that with a straight face, but anyway onto the review.
Madoka Shoujo Madoka Magica is a supposed, "deconstruction," of the magic girl genre. I use the term deconstruction loosely. It gained popularity, or rather notoriety, due its "deep," themes, "symbolism,", "complex" characters, and of course Urobuchi's trademark cruelty. All of these factors combined should be the recipe for success, correct? Not in this case. Madoka isn't a bad show by any standard. It is a show that reaches for the stars and falls drastically short.
Story(6/10)- Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica starts off misleading the viewer into thinking it is just a regular magical girl show. You have a pink haired protagonist with low self-esteem, a blue haired tomboy-esque chick who serves a foil character, and a magical creature that basically grants wishes. This has been the formula for any magical girl anime released in the past decade. However, this is all a facade to mask the fact that Madoka is a relatively dark show. The titular character, Madoka, comes into contact with a strange creature called, QB, who makes her an offer that is hard to refuse. You will be granted one wish, and in return you will become a Magic Girl who has to fight these monstrosities called, "witches," to save the world. Sounds like any young girl from Japan's dream right? However, little does poor Madoka know that their are huge consequences that come with this contract. Very early on in the show, we witness the hardships of being a Mahou Shoujo. Death, loneliness, despair. These are all that await these young girls. Sounds enticing right? Well, the show's execution is flawed and I will explain why.
Firstly, the show's pacing is off. The viewer is quick introduced to events without sufficient foreshadow or buildup, thus all the plot twists come off as contrived. Madoka would have benefited from being a 24 episode show as opposed to a 12 episode series. Everything comes off as rushed. There is not sufficient world building or anything that makes the show come off as organic in terms of the narrative.
Secondly, there is an over reliance on plot twists but most of these plot twists are simply just shock value. You thought what happened to Character A was awful in every way? No, that was just the beginning, THIS is much worse. And what lessons do we learn from all this suffering and cruelty? Nothing. There is no greater insight in seeing horrible things happen to these girls aside that Urobuchi's sadistic tendencies manifest themselves in interesting ways. The central theme in Madoka is to, "be careful what you wish for," and it is made obvious the first couple times bad things happen to the characters. But constantly adding new twists every couple of episodes to make the main characters lives increasingly harder becomes borderline ridiculousness. It doesn't help that most of these twists seem to come from thin air aside from a few that were alluded to.
Third, it is advertised as a deconstruction but it is anything but. Madoka may be a dark show but dark does not automatically mean deconstruction. At its core, Madoka is the same as every other Magical girl show out there only more edgier. It does nothing to point out the flaws of the magical girl genre and give us deeper insight into what it truly means to put your life on the line for an empty cause. Side point, the show also has underlying misogynistic themes. If you look closely, QB says that many of the great women in history were magical girls but all failed or messed up in some way or form. Is this to say that women are incapable of handling any sort of real power? Who knows, but that is my take on it.
Art (8/10)- Mahou Shoujo Madoka was animated by Studio SHAFT, a studio best known for their eccentric animation style. Madoka is a beautiful show. The backgrounds are very detailed and are laden with symbolism. The lighting gives Madoka this dark and ominous feel which adds a lot to the immersion. It makes it very hard to take your eyes off of the show. The character designs are a bit off putting to me though. The faces of the characters are square and a bit pudgy. Pretty weird in my opinion.
Sound(8/10)- The soundtrack was composed by Yuki Kaijura, famous for her works on The Garden of Sinners and .Hack series. This is probably one of her greatest efforts to date. The soundtrack is composed of melancholic soundscapes with occasional orchestrated high energy tracks that suit the more tense fight scenes. The sound direction for this show is truly impeccable as each track captures every moment appropriately.
Character(4/10)- The character aspect is arguably the show's Achilles Heel. The title character, Madoka, has to be the worst character in the show. She starts off with low self-esteem, leading me to believe there is going to be some interesting character development but surprisingly she never changes. The entire show literally revolves around her and yet she does nothing of interest for most of the show. Madoka is a character defined by her environment, a reactionary character if you will. She cries and moans over the bad things that happens to her and her friends, but we rarely ever get a deeper look into her character.
Her best friend, Miki Sayaka is hardly any better. She starts off as brash and bold, but we slowly get to learn more about her character. However, her backstory isn't fleshed out sufficiently to the point where I feel like she is an actual person. Her wish, although understandable, lacks any substance behind it. What I mean is, there wasn't a sufficient explanation as to why she made this wish aside from, I like this guy. As far as we know, there is no deep history between the characters so the wish comes off as stupid to me. Although she does, develop throughout the show, it hardly makes her likable or a better character. Her character developments seem inorganic because once again, they rely on shock value via plot twists.
The other characters such as Akemi and Kyoko are only slightly better but their motivations and reasons behind most of the things they do, don't make sense within the time frame it occurs. Kyoko goes from hating Sayaka in one episode, so much so that she wants to kill her, and in the very next she is revealing to her a sad sob story about her origins. There was no build up. What made her change her mind so quickly? Yes, she did say Sayaka reminded her of herself, but that isn't an adequate reason to change your mind about someone you were going to kill the episode before. Their "friendship," was rushed to the point of disbelief, and didn't make sense. Akemi is the same way, although her situation is slightly more understandable. But the extent to which Akemi would sacrifice herself for Madoka didn't make sense because they haven't even known each for a year and barely even a month. It does not make sense. Nobody would go through so much turmoil for someone they just met. And Akemi also has a power that was poorly explained and comes off as a plothole but due to spoilers I will not say what it is.
My favorite character is QB. I felt as though he was the easiest person to empathize with and his reason for making girls sign the contract was understandable aside from a few gripes I have with his reasoning behind it. But I don't think the show wanted me to empathize with someone they painted as a villain, but I felt he was more realistic than the aforementioned characters.
Conclusion (6/10)- So in conclusion, is Madoka the masterpiece it was hyped up to be? Not at all. It did not do to the Magical Girl genre what Evangelion did to mecha, and at it is core it is the same as all the other anime in its genre. The comparisons made with it being similar to Faust and European literature are superficial and borderline offensive to the authors. Madoka does not match the quality of most literature so I thought I should just put an end to that notion. The reason I am so harsh towards Madoka is because I look at what it could've been and what it is, and I am deeply saddened it turned out this way. However, Madoka is not completely without merit. It is an interesting take on the magical girl genre, and has some phenomenal production values. I would definitely recommend a watch but don't go in with high expectations because they are bound to be crushed.
I'll be perfectly honest and upfront about that the fact that I'm very new to the world of anime and manga, and Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica is officially the first anime series that I've completed from start to finish.
I had no expectations really when I chose it from a list on Netflix, and had no idea of its popularity or anything. I simply thought the characters looked cute and the description sounded fun. Boy, was I in for a surprise!
✿~ Story ~✿
Simply fantastic! The story is much darker and deeper than I could have ever imagined, with twists and surprises thrown
in throughout. And it consistently grabbed my attention and left me wanting more at the end of each episode, dying to find out what happens next. Who knew that a story about magical girls and witches could be so complex and emotional? 10/10
✿~ Art ~✿
This category is probably my only real issue with Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica, and it's not even that bad. There's just a certain art/animation style when it comes to the witches and their strange labyrinths that I didn't entirely care for. It was too weird and trippy for me, and would have rather had those scenes match the artwork and animation of the rest of the anime, which was very beautiful and nicely done! Still, I have to admit that the weirdness of the witch and labyrinth scenes did fit with the mood of the story. 8/10
✿~ Sound ~✿
To tell the truth, I didn't notice the music very often during the episodes, but when I did, it was some amazing stuff! But that's one magical quality about music: there comes a point where you no longer hear the music... you feel it. And when the story gets so powerful and emotional, and the music is equally powerful and emotional, it's a beautiful thing. The intro song "Connect" and main credits theme "Magia" are especially good as well, and I'd often listen to them through instead of skipping past them. 9/10
✿~ Characters ~✿
I can't speak for anyone else, but my "favorite character" switched between each and every main character at some point throughout the anime! They all have something special about them and have so much to give to the story, and I became deeply attached to them all in turn, which made for quite the emotional rollercoaster! Any book or movie or show that can make me so emotionally invested in its characters definitely did it's job right! 10/10
✿~ Enjoyment ~✿
My knee-jerk answer is that I most certainly enjoyed this anime! But giving it some thought and thinking more critically, I have to admit that sometimes I did feel that it was progressing a little slow, or had some issues with certain aspects of the plot and character choices that I felt were unrealistic or just plain didn't make much sense to me, not to mention the wonky artstyle, etc. So was it 100% perfect? No, it wasn't, but far more often than not I was on the edge of my seat with my eyes glued to the screen! And I will highly recommend this series to anyone who asks. 9/10
"It sucks, but you can't reach a happy ending just by doing what's right all the time." - Kaname Junko
Now, there are already quite a few reviews of this anime out there (and more to come, most likely) but since all of them differ in some way, I might as well write mine too. However, the first thing I’ll tell you is that if you haven’t seen this show (or had it spoiled for you), and you have any intention whatsoever to actually watch it, then my tip would be to actually not read too much about the series before watching it...
Now then, let’s get
down to it... I was very much on the fence (and still am) about some of these scores, and whether they should actually be a 9 or 10, so take it with an additional pinch of salt (and remember, a perfect score does not mean it’s all perfect).
Story: (9 / 10)
In all its simplicity, Madoka★Magica is a breakdown and reconstruction of the “Mahou Shoujo” genre, in an attempt to make it more realistic and mature. And to be totally honest, they did a fantastic job with this.
The buildup, plot twists and all the emotional moments in this series really come together to make it all a wonderful experience. Now, I’m aware (and have been told by several people) that the start of the series is quite slow, but I really think that adds to the whole “psychological” effect of the anime. This isn’t your standard, fast-paced good vs. evil action series with a dash of romance and comedy (as many “regular” magical girl shows tend to be). No, this series is about following the struggle of a few select girls who can have anything they want, in exchange for everything.
At first there’ll be a lot of questions raised, many left unanswered until almost the end of the series, but thankfully there don’t really exist any gaping plot holes, nor are any questions really left unanswered in the end.
Art: (10 / 10)
Animation is done by Shaft, and if you’ve seen any of their other works (Monogatari series, Zetsubou sensei etc) then that should be all you need to know. The art is absolutely amazing, which you’ll see from just the first 10 or so seconds of the opening sequence. Aside from the great quality of the art, I really enjoyed the “clean” aesthetics of the environment/backgrounds, and the use of light colors for many of the characters.
Character design is well done, but nothing overly amazing, tho it certainly distinguish all the characters, and makes them more memorable in a way. As for fan service, well... There is none. I mean, there’s not a single indication of fan service anywhere... at all...
The animation isn’t anything to scoff at either. Fluid both during fighting scenes and... well, non-fighting scenes, some good animations really help a lot in the portrayal of characters and their feelings.
As for the opening/ending scenes, there isn’t all too much I can say. The opening really shines at portraying that “advertised” feeling of “this is a happy show about cute girls” that the creators wanted to convey. The ending sequence however, is more or less just a silhouette of the main character walking away to music...
Sound: (10 / 10)
Let’s talk about the musical score first. The opening theme, “Connect” by ClariS, is quite a happy song, and just like its accompanying opening sequence it does a great job of portraying that aforementioned “happy” feeling. Now, previously when I talked about the ending sequence, I was more or less referring only to that in which Kalafina’s “Magia” play, as this is the most “prominent” or well known of the 4 ending songs. The other 3 consist of the opening theme, “Connect”, a rather sad song called “Mata Ashita” by Aoi Yuuki, and finally a not so sad, but not really happy song called “And I’m home”, by Ai Nonaka and Eri Kitamura.
“Magia” however, receives quite a bit more credit because not only is it played in 7 of the 12 episodes, but it’s also the most outstanding of the songs. Aside from being the ending theme of the series, it’s also used quite frequently during some of the more “epic” moments of the series, such as fighting scenes, and it really helps bring out the feelings of certain scenes.
Speaking of background music, Madoka★Magica features quite an amazing soundtrack. It’s overall pretty varied, ranging from happy themes such as “Credens Justitiam”, to darker songs such as “Walpurgis Nux”, there’s always a song which fits the situation, and really helps in conveying the feelings which want to be conveyed.
Characters: (9 / 10)
Madoka★Magica consists of a rather small cast of characters, but interesting ones nonetheless. The characters all felt very real to me, and the amount of character development in this series is just great. It makes the characters feel even more “alive”, and really helps you relate and connect with them. The characters all (mostly) have solid and interesting backstories, however I feel like the reason this part is only a 9, is simply because of the fact that a certain character didn’t have as much backstory or information about her which I felt like she should have (but who knows, maybe that’ll change in the last movie).
There really isn’t too much more I can say here, without spoiling anything, to be honest.
Enjoyment: (10 / 10)
This is easily a 10/10 for me. I was lucky enough to not have anything really told to me about this show more than maybe “it’s a bit dark”, or “it’s pretty weird”, so the shock factor and all were quite high for me. All the emotions, and the lingering feelings of this show really makes it an amazing #1 favorite of mine.
Now, this is obviously not your regular “mahou shoujo”, nor is it intended for the regular audience of said genre, but rather for a more mature audience. If you’re a fan of darker, slightly psychological shows, then I assure you you’re gonna love this if you can ignore the slightly slow beginning.
+ Amazing plot, with lots of twists and drama.
+ Outstanding soundtrack.
+ Great art (as expected of Shaft).
+ Interesting, fleshed out characters.
+ Lots of heart wrenching / heartwarming moments.
- Starts out fairly slow.
- Shock factor of certain parts may decrease if you’ve read too much about the show.
In all honesty, I entered this series with optimistic skepticism, for as a general principle, I tend not to like highly rated anime. Far too often, I see a story with a great concept that misses several key opportunities to expand the plot [Angel Beats], or perhaps one whose characters simply don't seem particularly real to me [Hanasaku Iroha--at least, the first 4 episodes I watched before subsequently dropping the series]. To say the least, I expected this to be one of the same kinds of anime.
Boy, was I wrong.
Most reading this will know the story. Reading other reviews will reveal that
this is an anime that makes one think it will turn out one way, only to violently and, sometimes, unexpectedly switch gears. Since that has been hashed out so much, I'll skip that and cut straight to the ratings:
Beginning (15 points): 14
The story begins fairly simply, introducing the general plotline in the first few episodes. As the characters are introduced, their personalities are very slowly (sometimes painstakingly so) revealed as to show their hidden motives and interests, which piqued my interest early on. Curiously, characters' pasts are not well-documented here, unlike in some of the manga and even the PSP game that exists now. My only criticism of the introduction is that Mami and Madoka, the main focus of this arc, could have benefited from even a few more minutes of delving into their past and/or present lives, but even in omitting that information, the viewer still has plenty of information to understand the characters. Even still, this is enough of a flaw to deny the beginning a perfect 15. The beginning was sufficient in explaining the beginning of the character development, and it amazed me in how it very efficiently shifted the plot into the middle of the story and on into the climax--every single scene had a purpose that became crystal clear as the story progressed.
Climax (15 points): 15
The story continues, throwing plot twist after plot twist at the viewer. Not only are they true to their name in that many of them are simply unexpected, but they also have amazing cohesion into further developing the characters. Not only that, in the transition from the beginning to middle, I found the emotion on display during each episode to be so strikingly real, that my emotions matched each character's own feelings with disturbing consistency. In no other anime has my empathy been that strong and consistent with the characters. It's common to feel bad for the characters, but it's much more difficult to give a viewer that level of empathy. As much as I try to think of a flaw for this section, none comes to mind. As a result, the climax gets a perfect 15.
Ending (15 points): 15
At some points, I got a little misty-eyed towards the end of the climax section. In the end, I was holding back tears through most of it. The level of emotion easily eclipses that of the climax, making it very hard to keep a straight face, much less outright sobbing (Clannad After Story, anyone?). At first, I honestly didn't like how the very last episode worked, but as I looked into it through reading other reviews among other things, I realized that I simply didn't understand it, and then it really grew on me. I then concluded that there was no other ending I would have liked more than that one--for the dark nature of the anime, it really was a perfect ending in that it wasn't your stereotypical "Happy ending". It had a giant asterisk. What it was, well...you'll have to find out ;) Combining the emotional appeal of the episodes leading up to the final one as well as the conclusion of the last episode itself, I would have to say that the ending also earns a perfect score. If you are easily touched by happy or sad scenes, bring a hankie. You'll need it.
Character Quality and Development (20 points): 19
I'm really trying to find flaws here. In my opinion, it's damn near impossible. EVERY character has a 3-dimensional personality, and there wasn't a single main character who didn't seem real, human, and likeable, within reason. The weakest link of all the characters is really Madoka, but even her personality is realistic. The ONLY flaw I can think of is the lack of history in two of the five main characters (even the Pokemon reject Kyuubey gets his own development) that I mentioned in the "Beginning" section of the story review. One point lost for lost potential, but other than that, any criticism is really just splitting hairs.
Art (15 points): 15
The character art is pretty good stuff. As you progress through the story, the witch world art is absolutely surreal--the term I used to describe it after my first night watching was "Alice in Wonderland-meets-LSD hallucination". It was so good, and even haunting, that I had a dream where my surroundings were witch world-esque. The art was creepy at first, but it grows on you. I really liked it. Perfect score.
Sound (10 points): 10
Really hard to argue with the sound. SFX were as creepy as the art. BGM was probably a little thinner than most, but so many scores stuck with you. Stuff I hadn't heard in a week, I still remembered. The rest made it on my iPod. Really hard to criticize a soundtrack that you're listening to in your spare time.
Enjoyment (10 points): 10
I never thought I'd watch an anime that I would like better than Clannad. Till now. Though it's close, this has to be my new favorite anime, and I doubt that will change anytime soon. I spent several rewatches staying up until the wee hours of the morning simply because I couldn't put the series down long enough to go to sleep. With that kind of obsession with Madoka Magica, I can't give it anything other than a 10 for enjoyment.
Tally that up, and the final score for the series is a whopping 98/100, good enough for an easy MAL score of 10. Outrageous as it sounds, I've never had an anime that made me laugh, cry, and spend sleepless nights awake in a mixture of shock and horror as much as this one. I truly enjoyed it fully, and if Kyuubey were real, I'd contract with him to let me watch this over and over again for the first time every time.
This is Shinbo x SHAFT doing what they do best. The visuals are great and a major selling point. It touches on all the usual tropes as if to prove it's a magical girl anime like any other but then it goes and departs from all of that and gives us something new and unique. The story keeps you yearning for that next episode. As of episode 9 it hasn't lost steam.
This is an adult-targeted magical girl show. It's dark, heavy-hitting, suspenseful and the battles with witches are glorious and ridiculous. I'd go so far as to call it Magical Girlin' Lagann. It's even lacking
in nude transformations (not counting the opening) and other fanservice of underage girls, so you can watch it around people who aren't anime fans without feeling ashamed.
If you've never enjoyed a magical girl anime before then this could easily be the first. If you like more pure magical girls, maybe look elsewhere.
Of all the divisive figures in anime, very few can start flame wars like Gen Urobuchi. Most "elite" critics here on MAL and over on the bastion of sophisticated intellectuals that is 4chan, hate him and call him the Anti-Christ of anime. I personally find him extremely hit-or-miss. One thing Urobuchi has going for him is that like George RR Martin, he is a crusty old bastard that won't cave to fan demands and make a happy ending, sparing all of the fan favorite characters. When the viewer doesn't know who will live and who will die each week, it adds suspense and keeps things
from getting boring and predictable. He also IS actually a competent writer that can create beloved characters and keep a steady tone with occasional bouts of witty and sophisticated dialogue. "I have long since learned, as a measure of elementary hygiene, to be on guard when anyone quotes Pascal." The Achilles heel of Urobuchi is that the man doesn't have a creative bone in his body. ALL he does is rip off other authors, and he barely even tries to disguise it. Sometimes he doesn't even disguise it and explicitly mentions it, like Psycho Pass with the works of Philip K. Dick, notably Minority Report, a copy of which appears prominently in the background of one episode on a bookshelf! This generally means that the quality of the Urobuchi anime is directly dependent on what he is ripping off and if that work lends itself to easy adaptation.
So if Aldnoah Zero is a shitty Gundam ripoff and Psycho Pass is a surprisingly great adaptation of Philip K Dick's Minority Report, what is Madoka Magica ripping off? Mostly NGE actually. "WHAT!? Those 2 series are nothing alike! This reviewer must be on crack!" Allow me to explain what I mean. In the second half of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Anno decided to make it more of a psychoanalysis project, but during the first half, EVA was supposed to serve as a complete deconstruction of the "teens pilot giant robots" Mecha genre. A "deconstruction" , at least the way the term is used in conversation online, is when you break down a genre by identifying all the cheesy tropes and cliches, and turn them all around into something new. More often than not, this creates a dark new twist on the genre that basically shows what would happen if that genre happened in real life. For example, during the Gold and Silver Ages of American comics, costumed heroes received immense powers and never let that power corrupt them or isolate them from the rest of humanity. They fought crime without wanting anything in return, delivered cheesy one liners, and helped citizens basically all day out of the goodness of their hearts. This of course sounds completely bullshit and totally opposite of the dark reality that we all know and live in. In response, Alan Moore decided to create Watchmen to absolutely demolish American costume hero comics and show what would actually happen. The government uses super heroes to win wars by slaughtering millions of people, heroes develop God complexes, or are greedy, or are violent sociopaths. All of the cliches are turned upside down and all the bullshit assumptions of the genre were shattered. Neon Genesis Evangelion initially wished to do the same thing to the mecha genre and show why emotionally fragile teenagers suffering the angst that all teenagers naturally feel, would actually be HORRIBLE candidates to pilot giant robots and save the world from monsters. Madoka tries to be complete deconstruction of the "magical girl" genre of anime, which if that sounds like a stupid idea, it's because it honestly kind of is.
WARNING: Some Spoilers!
So what does a genre deconstruction of "magical girl" anime look like? Exactly what you think it would look like. Little moe girls receive magical powers, but this time those powers always come at a tragic cost and everything is extremely grim and depressing. I won't spoil too much of the plot, but basically magical girls have to give up their souls in order to get their powers and spend their days fighting monsters that they will eventually turn into once they become too tainted. “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”-Nietzsche in his book "Beyond Good and Evil".
Honestly, this WOULD have been a decent idea, if EVERYONE hadn't already done it before! Claymore did this back in the early 2000s! Berserk has dealt with this topic. Hellsing has dealt with this topic. Not only has everyone done it, but a LOT have done it better than Madoka did! As for the whole "brilliant deconstruction" of the magical girl genre, the freaking magical girl genre has ALWAYS been firmly tongue in cheek, so making a Sailor Moon version of Watchmen wasn't really warranted, it wasn't clever, it doesn't deserve heaps of praise! This anime is quite decent on a technical level with animation, voice acting, music, but I feel it is an insanely overrated series that didn't really even need to exist! EVERYTHING that this anime does and receives praise for, has already been done FAR better by loads of other series. Madoka isn't actually a bad anime, but it is NOT a freaking masterpiece that needs an 8.6 out of 10. If Watchmen in terms of quality as a groundbreaking deconstruction is on the 100th floor and Eva is on the 80th floor, Madoka Magica is somewhere around sub-basement 3. Madoka is basically a mediocre anime that receives absurd amounts of praise from noobs, who have no idea what a genre deconstruction is and think Madoka is groundbreaking and brilliant, when it actually isn't. In summary, FUCK this series! Although I DO love the pun that people keep shouting online: Rusev Madoka, Rusev Magica! It is rather rare to see Bulgarian/Japanese language puns. I guess if I had to pick the most positive thing Madoka contributed, it would be that.
Madoka Magica is a story of Hope, Friendship, Despair, Evil Fluffy Magical Creatures, Cotton Balls with Moustaches and Parasailing Men in Orange Jumpsuits.It's also the best damn anime Japan has put out in a rather long time.
I hesitate to use the word ‘subversion’ when describing Madoka Magica, as it’s a word thrown around by many, not understanding what it is Madoka is subverting in the first place. What I see is a group of girls, who otherwise would spend their time eating cake, being cute and generally being insufferably nice to each other, having great powers given to them and then made to suffer because
of it. This power is that of having their wish granted in exchange for being a magical girl, something other magical girl anime, and anime stories in general, paint as being a glorious thing. However in Madoka Magica, this wish and power bring each character nothing but despair. Not only do their lives effectively end because they became magical girls and suffer in the gruelling battles against the witches, their wishes that are meant to be an equivalent trade off bring them nothing but more misfortune as well.
Subversion or not, the main appeal of Madoka Magica is what a perfectly told story it is. There’s a very deliberate and clear path behind each character’s development. I found Kaname Madoka’s development the most fascinating, especially in contrast with what she could have been. Because of her own wimpiness and not becoming a magical girl, she keeps drawing more and more into herself, getting increasingly depressed with everything that happens to the girls around her. Shaft’s animation, often one that is more gimicky than useful, add hugely to the story-telling here. The alternate dimensions of the witches are frightening and bizarre places. The backgrounds have become increasingly dreary as the series goes on, mimicking the change in tone and depression of Madoka. Also special credit has to be given for the way they frame Kyubey.
Kyubey is magnificent. In a show with a cast of rather forgettable characters, if memorable stories, Kyubey stands out as the most fascinating and deadly villain since Johan Liebert of Monster. Again, full credit has to be given to Shaft’s artwork and how they frame Kyubey. How his shadows cast over the girls, standing on their shoulders or their windowsills, pushing Madoka into becoming a magical girl herself. How they frequently draw attention to his unmoving expression, one that doesn’t change no matter what latest catastrophe these girls he personally made magical girls face.
But what really makes him so chilling is how he simply doesn’t understand. What we and the characters see as evil is at a level he cannot comprehend. Kyubey isn’t evil, and never was, which is precisely why he works so well. Possibly the best line in the anime came in his conversation with Madoka and why he made them magical girls, saying “if you feel like sacrificing yourself for the universe, give me a call”. The heat death of the universe is so far beyond anything Madoka herself can comprehend or care about, entropy not having any effect for a bizzlion odd years, but equally Kyubey can’t understand why his actions cause the girls to hate him so much.
There are some problems with Madoka Magica though. Well, one specific problem. The characters are dull. Their stories are fascinating, certainly. I’ve gotten pretty emotionally invested in the wimpyness of Madoka and Homerun-chan the time travelling lesbian, but as people they simply don’t have much personality. Without Kyubey, this would just be yet another anime about a bunch of incredibly dull girls being insufferably nice to each other, except with some occasionally nice visuals. Well, not all nice visuals. I’m rather partial to the square-head design of the characters, but their facial features go rather array when the shot of it is anything other than a close-up.
Overall though, Madoka Magica is pretty fantastic anime. It’s perfectly constructed and very deliberately paced, keeping enough revelations with each episode to keep it riveting while keeping to the themes of the story without descending into shock tactics for the sake of keeping out interest. They had to keep the twists coming, otherwise the story would flounder when stuck with these boring characters, but it hasn’t done that once over the course of the show. Well, perhaps bar the first two episodes, but the speed at which it upped the ante after setting the scene means I’m willing to forgive the show for that.Heck, they even somehow managed to piece together an acceptable ending that fit the plot and themes of the story, something I really was not expecting.
In short, Madoka Magica is a bloody fantastic anime. It's not perfect, but damn is it ever entertaining. Highly recommended, perhaps not for a first-timer to the world of anime, but certainly for one who thinks anime hasn't been able to buy an original idea for years.