Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica

 

Related: Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie 1 & 2 (alternate version)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie 3: Rebellion (sequel)

Similar: Steins;Gate

School-Live!

Princess Tutu

Neon Genesis Evangelion

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Psychological Drama Thriller

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Relentless conflict against the characters.
  • Keeps getting better.
  • Superb development of the plot points.
  • Many beautiful art elements.

Negatives:

  • First two episodes are dull enough to turn people away.

(Request an anime for review here.)

“It’s a deconstruction of the genre – it’s so good!” Whenever I hear this word ‘deconstruction’ as praise for a series, I take it as a warning sign of incoming rubbish, for it’s often used as a blanket excuse to wave away the same mistakes from the genre it “deconstructs.” Throw in a moe style, and my hopes for Puella Magi Madoka Magica aren’t high going in. Let’s see what all the fuss is about.

My fears are realised in the first episode. Madoka Magica opens with an it-was-a-dream sequence – the worst opening type – and we soon meet a borderline Mary-Sue in the transfer student, Akemi (perfect at school, loved by all, etc.). Random psychedelic stuff happens suddenly to protagonist Madoka with no explanation, ending in an offer from a Digimon to become a magical girl.

Akemi turns out to be a magical girl. However, she wants to prevent the Digimon creature Kyuubey from contracting Madoka and her friend Sayaka to become magical girls. In exchange for service fighting evil witches, they would have any wish granted. What wish could these privileged girls want granted when they have never wanted for anything in their lives? Kind classmate Mami, also secretly a magical girl, takes them on a witch hunt to help them decide.

Episode two ends and I am still unimpressed. Studio SHAFT already wowed me with their visually superior Bakemonogatari, so the interesting world won’t keep me engaged alone (the giant moe heads don’t help). Seeing Mami summon rifles from under her skirt is…nifty (each girl has a different power), but where’s the hook snared in my brain to keep me until the end of the series?

And then episode three does something truly magical. It gives a third dimension to one of its characters. Mami says that being a magical girl is not fun, a lonely existence, and frightening. Something in her manner hints at the disturbing events to come.

From that moment on, Madoka Magica had me. The writers demonstrated they understood depth of character in that single scene, earning audience trust that we would not be lead into drudgery.

Despite Mami’s words and Akemi’s warnings, Madoka still wants to become the most wonderful of little girl superheroes because she feels it would give purpose to her bland life. She doesn’t seem to understand the terms of the contract – we do; the story makes sure of this. She must soon learn that being a magical girl isn’t a game.

Meanwhile, the promise of any wish granted looks tempting to her friend Sayaka when it can cure her hospitalised friend. He could walk and play music again. Will she feel he owes her love for what she has done for him? (I recently read a true story of a man who took a bullet for his long-time crush, causing irreparable damage to his spine. He feels she owes him love, even though he knows it’s wrong.)

With the approach of the all-powerful witch Walpurgis Nacht, the girls have to make a decision fast.

Madoka Magica improves so much that it manages to justify opening on a dream sequence and having Akemi approach Mary-Sue status. A rare feat, indeed. The twists and turns as we spiral down this story just keep getting better.

I still stand by my distaste of the first two episodes. I know Madoka Magica is supposed to start like any other magical girl story before it flips the table into a realm of trauma. Still they could have started better than the generic entries of the genre. Yes, the episodes that follow do lessen the impact of a weak opening, but better writing would have pieced out morsels of foreshadowing. The morsels would show us this isn’t like other magical girl anime, though we aren’t quite sure why…yet. Mami’s words in episode three is one such morsel.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica is not a happy anime full of wishful-thinking and fun times. It’s dark, disturbing, and – I cannot believe I am going to say this about a moe anime – receives my highest recommendation.

Art – High

I like the world – sterile, yet interesting in its space, almost like a dream world with so much infrastructure, yet so few people to populate it. Madoka’s bathroom for example, is gigantic and full of mirrors but in a house too small to fit it. At school, each classroom is a glass box, like the storage rooms in the Vatican library. That said, I am not a fan of characters with heads as wide as the shoulders, and the compositions aren’t what Studio SHAFT would achieve later in Bakemonogatari.

Sound – High

Fine acting – no fake squeaky voices! The Celtic music is a nice touch.

Story – Very High

A young girl is set to learn that the world of Magical Girls isn’t quite so magical. After it gets over the weak start, Madoka Magica dives into a world of psychological challenges, punishing conflict, and a beautifully meted out plot.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. I don’t care if you hate moe or magical girls, you must watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I cannot guarantee you will like it, but I promise you it will be different.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentFluid AnimationHoly S***Strong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative:

Terrible Start

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6 thoughts on “Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Anime Review”

  1. I was intrigued by the opening episodes of Madoka but that’s probably because I kind of like magical girl stories. You are right that it is episode 3 and beyond where things become more than just kind of entertaining and actually start getting good. By the end of this series I was totally hooked and completely in love with the story.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really like the narrative build-up of your review, as it greatly reflects the same emphasis made within the series. And though the narrative is a little more twisted than most, I think a large drawback of the series is a lack of relatability from the characters. When I watched it back who knows when, I thought the narrative didn’t do enough to make the characters feel like actual people rather than pieces in the puzzle that the story sets. I can’t recall her name, but the black-haired girl was the only person I ended up genuinely caring for. Great review, nonetheless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is the effect I was going, so it’s good you felt it.

      It is true that the characters, as much in art as in personality, are heavily stylised. Like the vast, yet spartan worlds they populate, the author was likely aiming for a similar effect with the characters, giving them a desolate feel. Whether it engaged or not is up to you, the viewer.

      Like

  3. Yeah, the ball definitely gets rollin’ fast down an incredibly steep slope after episode 3. I admittedly found myself dozing off during the first couple episodes, something that I never, ever do during anime. As much as I adore this franchise for everything its done, including its spinoffs and movie sequels, I’d still LOVE to see a film or better yet, a series dedicated to how Walpurgisnacht, witch of the night, became the biggest, baddest witch in all of history, besides the fact that Madoka’s fate kept leading up to that moment. I’d buy the heck out of that anime!

    Great review as always, glad to see you enjoyed this modern-day classic~!

    Liked by 1 person

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