This is review number two hundred and two. This anime is part of the Winter 2011 lineup. The anime I’ll be reviewing is Puella Magi Madoka Magica. This is a super popular show so I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s a really amazing show and has a nice theme of despair that I really admire. The UroButcher doesn’t appoint. Let’s read on.
The anime is about the various magical girls that made a contract with a cute creature named Kyuubey. He grants any of your wishes but you’ll have to be a magical girl afterwards and fight “witches” that attacks the city. The idea of your wishes coming true is certainly an enchanting concept that the girls embraced. They aren’t aware though of the consequences that follows. The magical girls slowly discover just how much they gave up for their wishes to come true. Madoka Kaname is a girl with friends that had their wishes granted and became magical girls. Kyuubey wants Madoka but making a life changing decision is something that Madoka can’t seem to decide on.
Taking the Pants Off
I‘m sure everyone knows about this anime, right? It’s highly praised and I’m sure you’ve heard of how Madoka Magica changed the magical genre like how Evangelion forever affected the mecha genre. Back when this anime was first released, the magical girl genre is never really dark. It’s opposite, actually. It indulges in light heartedness and so much “girly” element because their target audiences are, basically, kids. I think pre-teen but, even when middle aged men started obsessing with the genre, magical girl shows always remain light hearted. It has a strong message about friendship and good forever prevailing over evil. It also has girls in colorful outfits that make impressionable audiences wants to be like them. Times were pretty simple back then and you seriously do not need to change anything with the formula. The magical girl genre is forever sugary sweet and people are fine with that. In the Winter of 2011 though, the director of Bakemonogatari and this dude named Gen Urobochi decided to give the genre an unpleasant spin. Take all the sugary sweetness and replace it with a strong dose of bitterness. Take the power of friendship and the notion of good forever prevailing over evil then replace with despair and a chunk of nihilism. The result, well, let’s just say that the genre is never the same after Puella Magi Madoka Magica graced us with its presence.
I think people were also not prepared for the anime. They didn’t think the magical girl genre needed a change and they didn’t think it was actually possible. When this anime aired, it was like a bomb that just exploded and it immediately had a lot of intrigue. After all, something so sugary sweet with the ideal notion of innocence given a dark spin was something that just made people curious. The initial shock is actually the sole reason why this anime is so amazing and has made a reputation for itself and the people behind it. I am actually a bit hesitant to make a review of this show. It’s so popular and everything that needs to be said has already been said. I am also re-watching something that thrived on the shock factor. I remember hating the ending of this anime but I just wanted to see how this dark anime would end. I recently watched it again and I finally see it now. After the initial shock subsided, I finally see the beauty of this anime. I must’ve been so emotionally invested back then because I had tears coming out my eyes when I saw Mami again after all this time.
The anime started like any magical girl show. We are introduced to Madoka, a normal girl living a normal life. She lives with a happy family and she has good friends with her. She’s a bit clumsy but she has a bright disposition that makes her the perfect lead. The anime took the extra mile to make sure you enjoy the warmth of Madoka’s life. It even had a colorful and cute opening and a bubbly ending song to completely capture the aura of a magical girl show. Back when this was first released, I remember the reception for the first two episodes were pretty weak. “Ugh, another transforming girl show?” is the basic reaction. It even had a cute mascot and you can tell the power of friendship will once again be the main theme of the show just like any other magical girl show. This anime tried to be as ordinary as it can be. While there were certain things that don’t quite fit, like the acid induced enemies or the heavy notion of your wish being granted, there doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary in this show. Our pink haired heroine and her friend will soon become magical girls and we can finally focus on the story. Everything was flowing pretty normally here until we got to the third episode.
You’re familiar with the particular scene that ignited this anime, right?
Things got progressively dark afterwards.
The premise of the anime is pretty simple. You get a wish granted. These wishes are along the lines of miracles and complete impossibility so there needs to be a catch. You must fight witches as a magical girl afterwards. It’s a fair exchange. You got your wish and you’re helping people as a magical girl. These witches bring disaster to ordinary people. The witches can’t be seen so they come in the form of accidents or suicides. Magical Girls are obligated to fight these creatures to ensure the safety of regular people. After the third episode though, things got very real. Just like how you kill witches with your powers, these baddies also has the power to end your life. It’s something preteen girls are emotionally unprepared for so the shock stays with them. It doesn’t end there though. As the anime progresses, they slowly discover just how much of a burden was placed upon them. This is an unbelievably amazing premise because it just counters the notion of how a magical girl anime should be. One moment, the girls were in bliss with the idea of how being a magical girl can be cool and then got a harsh dose of reality when they saw one of their friends die. I personally thought that it wasn’t supposed to happen and I was honestly not ready for it. I don’t think anybody was, to be honest. The moments after that were also some things that no one was really ready for. Both the characters and the audience.
The anime was really dark. The one thing that I really admired was how harsh the anime was towards the characters. Magical girls are supposed to be awesome heroes with a great sense of friendship. This isn’t the case for this anime. The idea of heroism is negated and you are encouraged to be as selfish as you can be. In fact, there are no heroes in this anime. No one has great sense of justice, no one believes in eternal good, no one has a strong will to overcome any challenges and they are as selfish and as stupid as any ordinary person. They’re human but they shouldn’t be. Being human in their situation is off putting to the very idea of their cause. Magical girls fight bad guys and sh*t like that yet you see these girls fall in despair and have reality lash out at them in the most bitter manner. It’s pretty ingenious, to be honest, and something pretty provocative.
The story was pretty straightforward after the third episode. The first half was mostly concerned about slowly revealing all the details involving a magical girl. They’re pretty simple to grasp and quite entertaining upon their reveal but it is pretty normal from there. The characters pretty much carry the show afterwards. They really made the show special because they all had an incredible role in the show. No one is wasted and every potential was drawn. The characters also had their own subplots related to the main story that made the show a lot more personal. The main character is Madoka. Upon seeing one magical girl die, she was now unable to make a wish herself. Things got a bit complicated though and she wanted to do something for the other girls. Like a helpless little puppy, she would follow the girls on their fights to make sure they are OK. Her role was pretty great because she was outside looking in. She saw how the other magical girls are handling their despair yet she cannot do anything about it. She’d bark out her concerns that sadly fall on deaf ears. Here’s the kicker though, Madoka has the potential to be the most powerful magical girl ever. So does she give in and help her friends or is she truly prepared for the same life as them? Can she even think of a wish appropriate enough to become a magical girl? It’s all heavy from here on out but Madoka is a girl that doesn’t easily give up though.
Then there are the other two magical girls, Sayaka Miki and Kyouko Sakura. Sayaka is Madoka’s best friend. Throughout the first half, the focus was mostly on her because she asked for a wish to be granted despite seeing one magical girl die. She was ready for anything just to see her wish granted. It was pretty good at first and she had a wonderful notion of being a hero of justice. She would save people and there was no burden or anything for her. She was happy living the rest of her life as a magical girl. It doesn’t last though as certain things took a tragic twist and Sayaka slowly find herself in a pretty miserable position. Cause and Effect and the reality of her wish soon took a dark turn. After all, magical girls are also human and humans are very fragile beings. As for Kyouko, she was supporting character at best. Her role didn’t mean much but she had an interesting stance regarding magical girls. It’s a stance that accepted the cruelty of life and the harshness of reality. It came at a time where the characters aren’t fully aware of the implications of being a magical girl but after the revelation, her role eventually became a lot more important.
There is also Homura Akemi. When I re-watched this anime, I had nostalgic tears for Homura. She is a bit cold and unfriendly towards the other girls. She also seems to be the most seasoned but she has an uncooperative personality. In the anime, she mostly moves in the shadows looking out for the girls. The other girls don’t appreciate her but she doesn’t care. She has one goal that needs to be achieved and she doesn’t care for anything else. She was a massive b*tch in the first half. She mostly tells the others of how pointless their efforts are despite seeing them do their best. In the second half, her role became clear. I can’t spoil much but the anime had a nice theme of tragedy. Homura seems to have the most tragic story to tell.
Lastly, there is Kyuubey. Oh, how I hate this creature. When I first watched the show, I was really against this character and then I realize he had a really amazing role to play. Kyuubey grants the wishes of the girls but for a price. As the anime progresses, he starts out as a cute mascot then turns into an evil conniving creature that takes advantage of the girls. It’s hard to define him, to be honest. He isn’t really bad but his intentions aren’t good either. He lacks the ability to care for others. He sees things pretty objectively which is ghastly considering how many lives this little cute fluffy creature has affected. In the anime, his role is pretty important though and his relationships with the magical girls are pivotal to the story of the anime.
The story itself is really good because of how it shook the magical girl genre but the characters made the show special. Their experiences and its relation to the events of the anime was really the reason I enjoyed this show even after the shock factor was gone. While we were never prepared for cute girls dying, the anime still had great value beyond that. It has a great theme of nihilism and a wonderful way of presenting tragedy. This show is particularly dark and tragic like no other anime has ever been and I think that’s one of the strongest aspects of the anime. Gen Urobuchi really knows how to make a story so intriguing until the end. As far as downsides, I do think the pacing was a bit slow at times but it only helps strengthen certain events later on. When I first saw this anime, I also didn’t like the ending. Like I said before, the shock factor was the driving force to finish the anime. Will they kill other girls? That’s the reason why I kept watching and I was honestly hoping everything would be cancelled out towards the end. It kept getting darker and darker that you only wish for the ending to be a happy one. When I first saw it, I didn’t like it. It felt forced and something Dues Ex Machina without actually accomplishing anything. I was wrong though. The ending was perfect and I really want to explain it but I already spoiled too much. It really came down to a cycle Kyuubey mentioned. In the end, that cycle was broken but the idea of “cause and effect” still applied.
This is an amazing anime. I don’t really need to say that. I’m sure people already know how awesome this show is. It came unexpectedly and the creator’s made sure the nihilism and the darkness wasn’t revealed until the show aired. The notion of sugary sweetness replaced by utter bitterness was the reaction they were counting on. It was effective. It was too effective. No other show can be as shockingly surprising yet amazingly structured as this anime. The way it just took a dark path so unconventional is something worth praising. This is truly one of the best anime out there.
Sight and Sound
Character design is pretty decent. The faces were a bit different though. The girls have large faces that are a bit more box-ish rather than a round face with a sharp bottom for the chin. Everything else looks pretty great though. They still have the great aspects of a magical girl anime. They have colorful hair, small frail bodies and their cuteness emanates above all else. Their outfits are pretty cute as well. Their uniform looks amazing with a nice plain look but it nicely highlights the features of the girls. I love the design of the skirts and the rounded shoulder pads. The magical girl outfits are pretty great as well. They mostly match their personality but they stand out in their own way. Some look regal while others look really bad ass. The magical girl outfits fits the criteria for being a magical girl with cute designs and a girlish appeal and cute weapons. There is an added twist of maturity though for the ones in this show because they are out to kill, for the most part.
I already know what to expect from the animation style of Akiyuki Shinbo. While the style in Madoka isn’t like his other works like the monogatari series, it’s still pretty prominent. The flashy camera angles and the stylish background designs are here. The use of single base colors and having empty spaces in the backgrounds are also among his M.O. You barely feel it though. I think Gen Urobuchi’s script was the perfect catalyst for this crazy director. Akiyuki Shinbo is known for assaulting his viewers visually though. While most real world scenes don’t have that, his artistic stamp was freely let loose once you enter the barriers. In the story, the witches create their own barriers so magical girls can’t easily hunt them. The animation takes a weird turn once they enter this place. There is no structure and there is no sense in them. It’s like a cross between collage and a very heavy acid trip. The imagination really runs wild inside the barrier but in a very dark and whimsical way. It’s very hard to explain until you experience it yourself, to be honest.
The animation is pretty great. The movements are smooth and clear. Despite the visual attacks, it doesn’t affect the flow of the story and the animation did a nice job of presenting it. The fight scenes are really amazing. The girls are drawn normally yet they are mostly fighting a bunch of collages and it doesn’t feel awkward. The animation was smooth through and through. This is a great example of the director’s great touch. There aren’t a lot of interactions though like enemies touching but the fight scenes are flashy enough to not care about the small details.
The anime’s OP is “Connect” by ClariS. This was one of the great mislead of the anime. The song itself is pretty good. It has a serious tone to it and the duo gave the song a nice personality. The verse was pretty decent but the chorus was really the stand out. The song also tells of hope among despair which was a nice theme in the anime. The OP sequence is about Madoka in a cute and adorable montage of being a magical girl. Nothing out of the ordinary here except for the first scene where Madoka was crying alone. There was also this nice scene of two Madokas embracing each other while another transforms that greatly summarizes the events of the anime. It’s all there really. The OP summarized the anime with a thick veil of mislead covering it.
The anime had three ED. The first one is “Mata Ashita” by Aoi Yuuki. This is sung by Madoka and the song is really cute. This was featured in the first two episodes where the darkness was still hidden and the notion of sugary sweetness was still the focus. The song is a cute one ad Aoi’s voice sounds very childish. It was a nice touch since the song is pretty laidback. The ED sequence features Madoka and her friends smiling happily in a nice portrait.
The second ED and the actual ED is “Magia” by Kalafina. This is a rock song and completely different from the image of the show when you first watch it. The song is about despair and longing with the singer’s nice voice giving the song a nice personality. The rather deep voice was a nice touch. The ED sequence features a figure of Madoka walking in a blue-purple background. It is the color of despair in the anime and as you watch it, she slowly runs and the background turns complete dark. It’s creepy and unsettling and I love it.
The third one, shown only once, is “and I’m home” by Ai Nonaka and Eri Kitamura. This was sung by Sayaka and Kyouko because they were focused in this episode. It’s a nice song and a little bit sad since it tied in with the whole episode. The song was really good and the theme behind it was a bit dark yet comforting. The ED sequence features an image of Kyouko holding onto Sayaka’s hand as they appear to be underwater. Sayaka is unconscious and Kyouko looks at her with a reassuring face. Again, it ties with the episode.
10/10 “A nice spin on a saccharine genre with a compelling story to go along with it”
Yeah, another perfect score. If I rated this back when I first watched then I would argue at the score as well but there were things that were only clear after the shock was gone. Does it deserve a ten? Yes. I stand by my score. If you enjoy dark and psychologically upsetting anime then you should watch this. If you enjoy Gen Urobochi works then this is for you. If you haven’t seen this then just go ahead and see it. I highly recommend it.