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.
PS: Do not judge a book by its cover!
[Final score: 10/10]