Review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica


Madoka Magica needs little introduction. Magical girls are a fixture of the world and the question appears not to be if they will survive the series, but instead what the protagonists will wish for in exchange for gaining magical powers and fairy costumes.

But then this is Madoka Magica – the anime even those that haven’t watched it describe as ‘very dark’. And they’re right to, this is no Sailor Moon, and if that’s what you’re after then go and watch Sailor Moon itself because I’m sure it’s fantastic for girls getting magical powers and saving the world. Madoka Magica on the other hand is not so simple

Happy magical girls anime anyone?
Happy magical girls anime anyone?

Background and Plot

Madoka is your average 14 year old middle school girl, living her life quite happily with her family and friends in what appears to be a near future world. Her world starts to change when the strange creature Kyuubey appears to her in a dream offering her the chance to become a magical girl.

Along with her friend Sayaka, Madoka has the dilemma of what to wish for in exchange for becoming a magical girl and fighting witches for the rest of her life.

madokamagica_2
No doubt the art isn’t typical of the anime style.

It doesn’t take long however for things to get that bit ‘darker’ as the reality of the world in they’ve been drawn into becomes apparent and the mysterious magical girl, Homura, does everything she can to stop Madoka creating a contract with Kyuubey.

The revelations which appear throughout the show are no doubt shocking not to mention the fact that they do defy the general stereotype of the magical girl genre. However, being different doesn’t automatically make a show brilliant.

Characters

Despite it’s name, it would be quite easy to argue that Madoka isn’t the true main character in Madoka Magica. Though she is no doubt important, she felt more like a plot device than a character that really got developed, especially towards the end of the show.

madokamagica_3
Madoka is an average girl that has average pink teddy bears…

The driving force in the final third, Homura is the character that is really separate from Madoka and her friends and for that reason she really stands out. However, in the beginning everything around her is a bit vague, which I realise is purposely done, but as a result I never felt like I knew her, making her actions later on a bit unbelievable.

In all, there are three other magical girls involved in the story: Sayaka, Mami and Kyouko. Of all of the relationships developed in the show, the one between Sayaka and Kyouko felt like the most genuine because of the time the show took to develop a back story in the show (as opposed to revealing at the end ‘it just is this way’).

madokamagica_4
Did I mention this isn’t for children?

Perhaps the most refreshing character though is the mysterious wish-granting cat ‘ish’ creature, Kyuubey. For whatever reason, he remains a central character who is constantly present, if not always actively involved. As a result, towards the end of the show when his role became more actively apparent, I was content knowing why it worked out the way it did. As a character, he was genuinely developed.

In the case of Madoka Magica, I wouldn’t say that I was desperate to know the build up to every characters end game from the start because I realise part of the draw of the show is the mystery. However, I felt like both Madoka and Homura needed more development than they were given.

Homura got one thing right. Killing this thing was definitely a good idea.
Homura got one thing right. Killing this thing was definitely a good idea.

Sound, animation and artwork

As I’ve already said, Madoka Magica is well known by the anime community as a ‘dark’ show. This is something I (quite obviously) agree with. It is often the case that anime that aims to be dark or horrific or something else in that vain relies on a very cliched soundtrack to create tension and jump scares. Now Madoka Magica isn’t like that at all. Maybe it’s necessary because of the magical girl genre within which it sits, but Madoka Magica can happily play songs such as this:

As well as tracks such as the one I’ve selected as my favourite track from the show below. The effortless switch between musical sounds was one of the really genuinely great parts of the show.

The artwork is certainly unique. You’re unlikely to watch many anime with artwork that is based on so much imagination and precision. At times, the art seems quite childlike, and in all honesty it’s hard to say if that’s as bad as it could be or if in fact it adds another dimension to the show. Very undecided.

The way in which the show is animated on the other is something quite special. What the artwork does is something because its different- the animation takes that and makes the show what it is. I can’t really think of a good way to describe it, but you’ll see it all by the end of episode 1.

Favourite Episode:

Episode 8: I was stupid, so stupid

If by this stage you hadn’t worked out that something bad was going to happen you probably haven’t been watching properly, but just in case you hadn’t, this is the episode where the big reveal happens. I chose this episode not because of what it does by itself, but because of how it brings together the breadcrumbs from the first 7 episode.

Best piece of music

When I choose my favourite piece of music from a show, I try and choose the one that I most associate with the show. If I have to look it up then surely it can’t be the best one? So, I’ve gone for Magia by Kalafina. Don’t be fooled by this anime’s cheery opening, looking for musical representations? Magia is the song.

Overall

There were lots of good things about Madoka Magica. In fact it’s not at all surprising that it’s a very popular show among a wide range of audiences. The art style is different, the animation and soundtrack are brilliant and it’s easy to like a show that takes a genre everyone knows and turns it on it’s head. It’s also worth saying that despite using a convoluted way to get there, I found the ending very satisfying – I couldn’t guess it and when it came it left me nodding and ‘hmming’ with satisfaction (just don’t watch the movie, it ruins everything – I mean it, believe me).

All of that said, I couldn’t help but constantly see flaws with the characters within the show. The main characters are wooden, a fact which the writer’s seemingly wrote in to add, quite unsuccessfully, to the ending. The side characters are generally better, but get sidelined or are completely cut out for several episodes at a time to try and build some mystery into the main characters and the story itself.

All in all, I can’t really recommend Madoka Magica in the same way as I do for many shows. Despite it’s conclusion, I think back on the experience as a bit of a let down.

Madoka Magica

If you liked this you’ll probably like…

Steins; Gate:

Mystery: Check. Time travel: Check. A non romantic relationship dominating said mystery: check. Magical girls: well there’s a girl that dresses (and often acts) like a cat, if that’s close enough?

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2 thoughts on “Review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica”

  1. I had really high expectations because of the hype around the show which probably contributed to feeling let down when it didn’t really live up to them. I can agree with you on Rebellion, it was a strange trip (which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing), but I didn’t enjoy the twist at the end one bit.

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