At it’s heart, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica presents a view of the magical girl genre that is strikingly different than how we usually see of it. Of this, we call it ‘deconstruction’: what we assume to be universally standard is suddenly thrown out in favor of something completely different. Neon Genesis Evangelion did it and now it’s Madoka’s time to shine.
It’s nothing that most anime viewers haven’t seen before. Take a normal kid, give them some super powers and wham they’re kicking ass like there’s no tomorrow. That would aptly describe your typical run of the mill shounen, but with the studio SHAFT and prolific writer Gen Urobuchi, you’re in for something completely different. Madoka Kaname is just another happy go lucky girl, until one day a mysterious transfer student appears before her and warns her to turn back before it’s too late. Confused by the girl’s warning, Madoka stumbles upon a mysterious being named Kyuubey and from there the show becomes an emotional ride of anger, despair, shock, sadness and frustration. These words are usually acquainted with Mr. Urobuchi’s works (including Fate/Zero), because of his penchant for heartbreaking and brutal imagery of hopelessness. Indeed, the main story (without spoilers) involves a very happy, cheerful girl systematically being mentally tormented by so many different factors in the slowest way possible. Imagine someone telling you that you were going to die either by a gunshot to the head or by slowly bleeding to death: In Madoka’s case her experience is of the latter, and we the viewer see every grueling second of it.But, it isn’t just her that’s suffering: every magical girl in this show experiences a pain so deep and emotionally scarring that they end up meeting tragic ends at some point in the show. The supposed mastermind behind all of this is a cute little..fox-cub..thing (What is Kyuubey?). Kyuubey’s personality towards the cast is still a controversial topic because of the fact that no one can seem to agree if Kyubey is truly evil or he lacks the emotional capacity to even be evil. To see such an otaku-coveted show tackle such dark and painful topics is a sign that great storytelling is still alive and well. – 9/10
Honestly, this is the most conflicting part of the show. As stated above, Gen Urobuchi is the real creative brain behind this show but one thing that I consider to be his biggest flaw is his lack of memorable characters. Now they’re still great characters, but not to the point where I’d consider them to be a classic. Madoka Magica in this regard is a bit of a mixed bag. I do consider a character to be memorable, but it isn’t our title character.
I consider Homura to be a much more developed character than Madoka, for one clear reason: episode 10. This was for me the series’ biggest highlight as this episode focused exclusively on Homura. To this day, I consider episode 10 to be one of the best episodes of any recent anime because of the staggering amount of character development for Homura. But the rest of the cast definitely stands out, notably Kyuubey. His (her?) role in the series is controversial as mentioned above, but I felt the character in a way is like Gen Urobuchi. Both of them tend to look at emotions in a skeptic manner, as Kyuubey feels no emotion towards the suffering that takes place and Urobuchi’s works are all very dark (Madoka), gruesome (Saya no Uta) and ultimately hopeless (Fate/Zero). Other standout characters for me would be Kyouko and Sayaka, who each received a fair amount of development. No offense to the Mami fans, but she..wasn’t on the show long enough to have any long lasting opinion of her. A decent character, but her end was more or less shock value (though up until the infamous episode 3, things were still relatively normal). – 8.5/10
The Production Values
Animated by the notable studio SHAFT with direction by Akiyuki Shinbo, there was indeed the ‘Shaft touch’ that applied to this show: the artistry and the head tilts. Usually my experience with SHAFT is very mixed, as I sometimes really enjoy their artistry (ef – a tale of memories) and other times it’s downright annoying (Bakemonogatari). But this show really leaned towards artistic, pretty much anything involving the girls fighting the larger creatures involved lots of abstract and surreal imagery with what looks like greek or roman letters spaced somewhere in the mix. Part of this is your typical SHAFT at work, but part of it definitely comes from Urobuchi. I really enjoyed the animation in this show, and I never felt that it distracted from the viewing experience. On to the music, we have another living legend in the form of Yuki Kajiura providing most of the music in the series. Tracks like ‘Sis puella magica!’ and ‘credens justiam’ (Mami’s theme) are absolutely beautiful and tell the story of each magical girl quite well with even little details like the sound of clacking metal apparent in Homura’s theme (representing the gears of fate spinning). Overall the production values are by far the best aspect of Madoka Magica.
I try to make the distinction between “I watched/am watching this anime” and “I experienced/am experiencing this anime” because these are two very different things and Madoka falls into the latter. I’ve never seen a show like this before and to not only have my expectations warped but everything I knew about magical girls to be broken on that infamous third episode, I commend Madoka Magica for giving me an experience that I don’t think will ever see again for a very long time. This is a show that you just cannot miss and I highly recommend you watch this show in one sitting as the emotional scenes will work so much better like that. To see such a show like this coveted by otaku is a sign that great storytelling still exists. Thank you Gen Urobuchi and thank you SHAFT for giving me and many other people an experience of a lifetime and others who haven’t seen it: the experience is there for you waiting
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Animation – 9/10
Story – 13/15
Sound – 8.5/10
Characters – 18.5/20
Enjoyment – 45/45
Total – 94/100