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.