Now, think of any memorable anime of the magical girl genre. The first thing that would come to mind would be Sailor Moon. If you were me, you would say Cardcaptor Sakura (Can you blame me? Those asshats at the Indian network wouldn't let me see the former. Even then it was great, and you should totally check it out subbed). If you were a fan of Go Nagai, you would say Cutie Honey. These anime set the standard of the magical girl genre, with Cutie Honey setting the standards for magical girl transformation. However, by today standards, it didn't age well. Now, don't get me wrong, these animes are pretty good (If you don't believe me, check out the Nostalgia Critic's review of Sailor Moon, though he wasn't mostly positive about it [The guy almost got shot for it!]. But mentioning it was good enough for me), but not many people would be drawn into it today. Kids might get a kick out of it, and we may be no toddler, but we can grow to love these shows too. But showing it to someone else is like showing your mom your hentai collection, it's really uncomfortable. So, Akiyuki Shinbou decided to save the seemingly dying genre, and show fans everywhere, that the way of the magical girl still had that magic. Good news - It worked! It was critically acclaimed and loved by fans, to point of making their own community. It was a cutesy enough to fit the genre, but mature enough for the older audiences. The Bad news.....Gen Urobuchi is the series writer, so childhood memories will burn. So, let's grab our magical talking cats, don our flashy sailor uniforms and dive into the bright, magical, sick and twisted world of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica.
Story - 9/10
Now let's take the common elements of the magical girl genre and give it a good ol' twist. In a magical girl anime, we have the girls who gain magical powers to save the world, the cute mascot who gives girl said powers, monsters whose job is to wreck shit up, and the villains who wants to, stop me if you heard this one, take over the world *OF COURSE!!!!*. So, let's twist it a little. Instead of monsters, let's add witches who hold an eerie secret. And instead of a clear villain, let's give them minor ones who will only last an episode, but help interpret the eerie secret. Instead of a cute mascot, let's give them an even cuter mascot, who is responsible for witches who hold the answers to said eerie secret. And let's have the girls go out and save the world, only to lose their shit when they learn said eerie secret. See a pattern? The plot is basically a dark twisted version of the common elements of the magical girl anime. Some people think that a certain overused trope will grow and turn stale after a while. But in the case of Madoka Magica, you can point out the tropes, and notice that it isn't as stale as they make it out to be. Kind of like cheese, you keep it out long enough to remove its 'CHEESINESS', and it tastes great. If you love the magical girl series, you'll love it. Some of you might be riding on you experience and memories to get any enjoyment out of it (Although highly recommend AGAINST depending on the latter, otherwise it will end up breaking up like an egg under a steamroller with DIO doing Gangnam Style and calling you a pussy). If you want to introduce it to someone who just got into anime, then what the FUCK is WRONG with you?!?!?! Oh, and do watch something light-hearted afterwards, it may or may NOT help recuperate your newly added scar.
Art - 8/10 (7.65/10)
Don't let the low score fool you, the art is very well handled, considering the fact that Studio Shaft was behind the pencil of the series. The character designs were cute and very well designed, fitting for the genre. It definitely helps mask the dark themes and undertone. The transformation sequence, which is a staple in the magical girl genre, was pretty good, and it gets an even shinier coat of polish in the Blue-Ray releases. But by far my most favourite part of this department has to be the witch fights. At first glance, the witch's labyrinth looks like a psychedelic drug trip, but when inspected closer, it actually shows an image of who they were. Like the mask that Yamask holds, it reminds them of who they were in their past life. And you know what's even CREEPIER? It's the fact that the anime and the Pokemon Gen 5 games were released in the SAME YEAR! THAT'S #@&*ING CREEPY!! Well, Pokemon conspiracy aside, these battle scenes are very well drawn and choreographed. The witch's design and movement varies from one to another. One may look like a shadow puppet, which adds more to the aesthetic considering they are cruel puppets of fate due to aforementioned eerie secret, to something that came out of Merry Melodies on CRACK, which even helps in showing their inner crazy. Some shot compositions are very well done, showing the emotions and inner workings of the character's mind, even showing scenes where they feel like gritting their teeth and grimace. You ever felt like you want to punch somebody in the face, but you can't because that asshole is your boss, and he is marrying your sister, AND he is giving you a salary of a whopping $500,000, PER WEEK? Kind of like that. So, why the low score?
There are some scenes that fall in the 'what-the-#@&*-happened-in-the-middle' category. There are some scenes where the character's actions feel pasted in, and the middle part is cut off. It's like watching someone dive and that someone is Diavolo. He is up in the air, ready to dive, and the next second he's skinny dipping with Rihanna and a Tunisian Fashion model. WHAT THE #@%& HAPPENED IN THE MIDDLE? And there were some scenes where the character's mouth wouldn't move much. I can let it slide, if budget was the cause of this anomaly.
All in all, it's showcases what Studio Shaft is good at, pulling a Shaft, and that's a plus in my book.
Sound - 8/10
Nothing noteworthy in the Seiyuu (I watched the series subbed, and by the way, the Seiyuu for Kyubey is spot on), or in the OST department, unless we are talking about the battle music, with the opera and choir, in the background. Now let's talk about the OP and ED. The OP is pretty nice and beautiful. Definitely says, 'This is definitely NOT a psychological thriller'. The same can be said....for the 1st Ending. It's the 2nd ED, where it reveals the show's TRUE colors. This is 'Magia' by kalafina. Its dark, it has sweet guitar riffs, and definitely matches the tone of the show. For some reason, when I watch this ending I feel like I want to watch the next episode. It's like a glass of water. After you're done with the main course, and one glass later, you're ready for dessert. There's a reason why Watchmojo placed it at #1 in 'Top 10 Best Anime Endings'. It may not be MY favourite ED, but it's definitely ONE of my favourites. That’s a bit contradictory when I think about it.
Character - 10/10
***************Warning - Minor Spoiler Ahead. Skip this bit to enjoy the experience of the best part of the series***************
If there's someplace where the series REALLY shines, its character.
Let’s look at the characters and see what we have here? We have Madoka, the innocent main character, who wants to help save the world. Sayaka, she is the hopeless lovebird who can't find the time for love due to her responsibilities. Kyouka, the smug bitch who is competitive, who is basically a tsundere when boil down to it. Mami Tomoe, the one who introduced the girls to the world of magic. But I guess the best term to describe her would be (if you're a Megaman fan you'll get this) 'Zero'. That means a paramount figure, encouraging the protagonist, or in this case-the girls, to become stronger and better than who they are now. Kyubey is a, as I established before, a REALLY cute mascot who is, since the comic book 'The Sandman' by Neil Gaiman, is an accurate portrayal as the devil. But by far, my favourite character has to be Akemi Homura, who at first looks like your dark and mysterious anti-hero, who is kinda like the opposite of the main protagonist, but once you get to know her story, you want to give her a hug.
Noticed something funny? If you thought, "they were unique", well, with the exception of Kyubey, no. But you were pretty close. After all, unique elements come from original characters with a good ol' twist (YEAH!!!! TWIST IIIIIIIIIT!!!) If you chose "Hey, I saw those characters before", well, with the exception of Kyubey, yes. In fact, you DID see them before, but with a much lighter tone. What Urobuchi did is use those character archetypes and gave it a splash of grit, reality and BOOM! You have the best characters ever concocted by Gen Urobuchi, let alone in a magical girl anime. And can we talk about the side characters, with the little time they were given; they contributed SO much to plot and character development. Especially the mother, BEST MOM EVER! Madoka, you're a lucky bastard (And that's a compliment, considering the fact that the person who said that is living in the Bowels of Pain).
Many people usually complain about Gen Urobuchi's heavy dialogue and exposition. But he will always land an uppercut of good writing and excellent character that would give Charlotte a run for her cheesecake (I'M NOT KIDDING! There's a picture of him beating the poor thing!). But then again, we have the exposition-go-round from Fate/zero, so I see where you were coming from.
Did I enjoy it? Gee, I don't know, maybe the 9/10 wasn't good enough to convey the fact that I loved it. My only issue would be the one problem I mentioned in the art department, but does that really matter in the end? I mean, it’s good, no wait, that’s an understatement. I mean, it’s a masterpiece. The charm of the magical girl elements, mixed with mature themes really added to the enjoyment factor. The series twisted elements, that fans like us would appreciate, EVEN today, and what other modern day viewers would deem *ahem* "dated". That is, of course, until they come knocking at your door and asking for a DVD copy of 'Sailor Moon', who definitely watched Madoka Magica, and are now, eating their words with a dash of irony (EAT IIIIIT!!!). It definitely was the anime that saved the magical girl genre. Look at 'Yuki Yuna is a Hero', 'Penguindrum', 'Kill la Kill', 'YuriKuma Arashi', 'fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya' (TwiTcH tWitcH) or the 'Cardcaptor Sakura' manga reboot. If not for Madoka Magica, they would not be here today. For you see, Madoka Magica was to magical girl, what Neon Genesis Evangelion was to mech. However, if you're a magical girl veteran, you might get a kick out of it (Why not? You ARE a veteran, right?). My other issue might be the fact that there will NEVER be a show like this, EVER AGAIN. However, word in the grapevine says, which is weird and creepy considering grapevines do not talk, that Gen Urobuchi is working on a light-hearted magical girl anime. Yeah, why don't you tell that to Lupin III (Maybe we would've believed you, if you were Junji Ito)!
Overall - 9/10
Do I recommend it? Yes, mostly. Like I said, if you like magical girl anime, you'll love this one for its dark, mature take on the genre. If you love shows like 'Psycho Pass', then you'll love it too. If you are a newcomer to the genre, RUN. Stay AWAY from this anime and watch 'Sailor Moon', ‘Cutie Honey’, ‘Princess Knight’ or 'Cardcaptor Sakura' instead. RUN, before you find yourself under a steamroller, with Heaven's DIO convincing Kriemheld Gretchen to join his legion over Ginger Tea and Scones, while Vanilla Ice, not THAT Vanilla Ice, does the Can-Can and calls you a bitch. Honestly, I heard there was a movie trilogy, and I can't WAIT to check it out.
Now, if you can excuse me, I need to work on my next project. Elf spotting, Doppelganger fishing and, of course, a ride to.......the.....FUTURE!!!! Minus the hover boards………*Bummer*.