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