Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

Alt titles: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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VivisQueen's avatar By VivisQueen on May 5, 2011

Story

Adorable little magical girls have been getting into contracts for decades. It’s about time that someone asked what would happen if those contracts went wrong. Of course, the concept has worked in other genres (mecha show Bokurano is a strong recent example) but considering the magical girl genre hinges on naïve, wide-eyed adolescents trading security and peace of mind for adventure, more anime should be dedicated to the implied nastiness of it.

In fact, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica exploits this contrast to brilliant effect. The magical girl genre was arguably the final bastion of innocence - almost every other had been corrupted by the cynicism of disenchanted youth. Short of turning Chi’s Sweet Home into Chi’s Domestic Violence, Madoka Magica represents one of the starkest genre subversions on the market. It takes all the sugary tropes - transformation sequences, colour coordinated outfits, hamster-cheeked character designs - and defaces them with an Immediate Threat of Death. The sheer novelty of seeing cheerful baby faces swallowed by a deep, groaning horror that just wouldn’t exist in the schema of Sakura Kinomoto (Card Captor Sakura) is enough to hoist us along on this bracing ride.

I sometimes struggle to recognise Madoka Magica as ‘mahou shoujo’ because of this. It wears the right costume but its feminine soul has been gutted out and replaced with the hot-blooded bravado of shounen. Just consider the macho dialogue and the stylised action focused on making everyone look cool; not to mention that cute girls acting violent is a gimmick more commonly targeted at male audiences (Elfen Lied, Narutaru, Gunslinger Girl). Often, I am tempted to describe it as Bokurano with magical girls and leave it there, although that again would be flippant and dismissive of Madoka Magica's special success.

On the other hand, I hear murmurs of ‘revolution’ in corners of Madoka Magica discussion, that it might do for the genre what Neon Genesis Evangelion did for mecha. If the argument is made on the basis that it brings dark, sophisticated themes to an otherwise shallow genre, then the revolution already happened with the superior Revolutionary Girl Utena and Princess Tutu (WATCH THESE SHOWS!). But if we mean attaining a broader, more financially rewarding appeal that might encourage further copies, then Madoka Magica is indeed well placed for such a title.

In any case, while the show may not be a fount of heretofore undiscovered genius, it wears ‘old hat’ stylishly. If we can laud James Cameron’s Avatar for being a smart person’s Fern Gully, then we can celebrate Madoka Magica’s more visceral recasting of everything Sailor Moon. Director Akiyuki Shinbo shows a surprising sleekness and control here considering his repertoire of scatty, irritating comedies. So bright and glossy is the story he weaves that the plot holes and frayed ends (often a result of the girls’ unique powers) hardly seem to matter. The show is able to give us a general sense of its trajectory while dropping thick breadcrumbs of surprise and beautifully designed battles to keep us skipping joyously to the end.


Animation

The cute human character designs by Ume Aoki (Sunshine Sketch) are the visuals' weakest aspect. All the girls in Madoka Magica have the same bland, bulbous appearance and are distinguishable only by their colour-coded hair and costumes. But as soon as the witches (the show’s antagonists) turn up, the animators begin to party. With monstrous bodies made of mechanical and organic parts, the witches look as tortured as implied. They bring along dancing evil spirits whose body parts are a collage of crayon drawings, photographic images, and CGI.

Their presence also warps the world into technologically crisp displays of smooth motion and atmospheric environs. The opening sequence sees the protagonist, Madoka Kaname, running through a chequered black and white world seemingly inspired by M.C. Escher. It's one of those nightmarish places where the landscape never changes no matter how far you run. And, though vibrant in some sense, Madoka Magica takes a leaf out of the Princess Tutu book and stuffs every fluffy nook with palpable wrongness. For instance, as Madoka and her friend Sayaka Miki sit on a riverbank, notice the eerie white wind turbines superimposed upon a jet-black silhouette of the city behind them. This approach of washing everything in murk is arguably heavy handed: the whole world is seemingly lit by a low-hanging lime light so that even scenes in broad daylight feature shadows slashing ominously across the ground. But it nonetheless succeeds at illustrating the show's uncompromising malevolence.


Sound

Yuki Kaijiura (the lady who made Tsubasa Chronicle sound epic even though it’s not) lays on a dramatic score whose main expressions are loneliness, despair, and disquiet. Some of the ditties on offer include euphoric choral works with grand, floating strings during action scenes, echoing xylophone tinkling for the more personal moments, and, when real gloom descends, eerie dance tracks with portentous wailing like angels singing warnings from the sky.

The appeal of the main themes seem less obvious. While the formulaic J-pop opening theme does not tickle my ear, the ending theme with its metal guitar and keening strings guided by brooding female vocals sure does. For younger or more traditional magical girl audiences, it could be the other way around.


Characters

Homura Akemi is not the titular character. She is nonetheless the standout one. She stalks through the narrative, emotionlessly delivering bursts of glorious action, all the while making perfectly clear that she knows something we don't know. Her emphatic performance is a welcome one because her co-star Madoka mostly remains a formless concept. While the script likes to remind us again and again that There’s Something About Madoka, mostly through prophetic lines of dialogue about her latent potential, she is ordinary and often watches confusedly from the sidelines while the horrors of battle unfold. The conclusion finally sees her take centre stage but that is too little development too late to encourage any attachment to her.

Sayaka, Madoka’s blue-haired friend and the only other memorable girl, falls squarely into the trench of subplot melodrama. But her idealism contrasts well with the show's cynicism and makes her role all the more poignant as soon as the main conflict kicks in.

And then there’s Kyubey, the show’s sardonic attempt at a mascot. Whether accident or not, Kybubey will throw up sharply unnerving memories of Dung Beetle from Bokurano. This is partly because Dung Beetle's sneering, pitiless performance is so indomitable that it haunts us at the slightest provocation, and partly because the two characters embody the same idea: cute things that are creepy. Kyubey’s wrongness stems from the disconnect between his sugary vocals and unsympathetic attitude; even the way he insists on asking the girls to contract with him at every given opportunity ceases to seem like genuine attempts to help and more like… something else.

7.5/10 story
9/10 animation
9/10 sound
7/10 characters
8/10 overall
faizdanyal's avatar By faizdanyal on Apr 22, 2011

WOW!! What a ride I have been. This anime has redefined anime for what supposed to be a proving ground to creators to make an impact in today's world and Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica does it all. No wonder every people being hyped with the series from the start. I mean seriously, this anime make me feel that every single despair and sorrow that every people in this world experienced cannot dissapear but we must believe in ourselves that we can change these despairs into hope for the better. That is what we learned from this anime and this anime proves to inch out every single detail about the message for not only youths but for the entire world to believe in yourself and fight no matter how wretched incidents happened.

STORY: 9.7/10

Let's start by saying that the storyline is WAY more than meets the eye. The story starts with the usual, a girl (Madoka) finds a cute, fluffy creature (Kyuubey), hurt by an apparent mysterious villian (Homura) and then Kyuubey wants her to accept a contract in becoming a Magical Girl. Pretty simple for a magical girl anime. However, by episode 3, the dark ambience of the storyline really kicks in and the outcome, an emotional and mind blowing developments. This is more like I'm watching a movie directed by a world class director that I think even exceeds Christopher Nolan's standards. The gruesome and life-threating situation every single Mahou Shoujo have encountered just making the story so unique and full of plot boosting that I was not expected from an anime. The ending also really captivated me on how the remaining main characters have potrayed in what I considered as the "Change the World" phase. Overall, the story really exceeds my expectations and coexist with the dark deep plot that they executed. Well done, SHAFT!! Well done!!

ANIMATION: 9.3/10

The art for this series really amazed me on how they draw the entire atmosphere into one hell of a bizarre universe that some people said that this is not their cup of coffee. The facial expression of each of the character is really wierd and different than normal animes. However, the fight scenes is done with the perfection. I can see every angle of the action as if this is like the real thing. The two last episodes also have mindblowing art that I think shines and makes it even more exhillarating to watch the finale. The art styles, however, does seem a bit too scary and maybe haunt me to nightmares but this is a slight minor scare that I can see.

SOUND: 9/10

The soundtrack in this anime is my another great praise to this series because Kaijura Yuki does every single theme matched the conversation or certain events that accompany, just like bread and butter. Most of the soundtracks have certain emotions inside the story, like despair, hope, jealousy, worries and more that I really enjoyed. Plus, the opening theme (Connect by ClariS) in my opinion, match what Madoka expressions are in her road in becoming a Magical Girl. The ending (Magia by Kalafina) also redefines the characeters of Homura with sadness and wiltedness of her feeling in true meaning.

CHARACTERS: 9.5/10

Not only the storyline is awesome, but the characters are well developed to its fullest. We have Madoka, who at first glance, she's just a crybaby desperate in holding on to her life in the midst of their friends' death. However, she growned up every single episode and thus, becoming a girl with hope and meaning to make every single people in the world end their suffering and start on a new chapter in this world. There is also Homura, will-hearted, brave in facing challenges, and never gives up on fighting to protect the ones that she loved the most, Madoka. Then, there's Mami, who is shy, polite and caring, Sayaka, naive and in desperation trying to impress her love ones who he is a violin meister, and of course, not to mention, the devil in teddy bear's shirt (my description), Kyuubey, cute but evil,enough said. Every single character have their own perspective in elaborating their own stories that are perfectly done. This series also implicates what every character's emotions deepens from start to finish thanks to a great interaction. Even I'm also impressed about the Kyuubey's World Balance theory and explained information really precise about the life of an incubator.

OVERALL: 9.4/10

All in all, I got to say, this had been a wild and treacherous ride from start to finish. Madoka Magica have defined Magical Girls anime in a whole new level and way exceeds the quality of the Magical Girl animes from the 60's. This anime also redefined the way how an anime could elaborate on a real world situation that is rare for anime nowadays. Excellent storyine, great art design, weird and dark atmosphere, great soundtrack, superb characterisation and amazing plot development made this series a true classic. I mean, what animes could match this masterpiece that came from nowhere and we have never saw a true classic during the 2000's era. This absolutely blows ALL the fanservice, moe animes that have become a trend. It's a piece of magical powers, sci-fi, social issues and dark plot that made this a must watch for all otakus. By far, in my standards, this had to be THE BEST ANIME OF 2011, better yet THE BEST ANIME OF THE 2000's or maybe become AN ALL TIME CLASSIC. Seriously, even Deadman Wonderland or Hyouge Mono or other anime could NOT match this superior masterpiece. Thank you, Urobuchi Gen! Thank you, Kaijura Yuki! Thank you, Magica Quartet! And most of all, THANK YOU SHAFT!! You're all AWESOME!!

9.7/10 story
9.3/10 animation
9/10 sound
9.5/10 characters
9.4/10 overall
eaper's avatar By eaper on Apr 22, 2011

Coming into this series, you just see another lame Magical Girl series... but what caught my eyes was the studio that was making this series- Shaft. Seeing this, I decided to give this series a try... and I am very glad that I did. It took all of my preconceived notions about what a magical girl series is, and destroyed them. That being said, if you are to only watch one Magical Girl series ever, this is the one you should try.

Story: 10/10

This series is, in a word, dark. The ending, in a word, is bitter-sweet. This series manages to conceal the ending while making it painfully obvious. It manages to hide the main character while making her be extremely obvious. While leaving the viewer extremely satisfied, you're left wanting more. The ending hits on a somewhat philosophical note while not being as absurd as some endings (See Evangelion). As a whole, this will be one of those must watch series in the future.

Animation: 9/10

This series bares a very distinct style of character design and a style of animation that, in itself, can be quantified to nothing other than Shaft. While having constant art shifts in a very well preformed method. If you can get past the original character designs, then there is no reason to complain- this blend of different mediums, smooth animation, and often detailed backgrounds is very well done.

Sound: 10/10

Both the themes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBYbBrnexOQ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlL1hMwLaZw (just the songs are the same) and the actual soundtrack are extremely well done. While blending in the ED into the sound track, they do an excellent job of intensifying the emotions felt in many of the scenes. The voice actresses themselves do a great job and are, for the most part, fairly well known, ranging from Aoi Yūki to Chiwa Saitō and Eri Kitamura.

Characters: 10/10

The characters in this series manage to, in many cases, change dramatically, both in the series and simply in the viewer's eyes, while maintaining a sense of reality in them. Several of the characters are extremely well developed and almost all of them are very likable. None of the characters fall neatly into a trope which is very rare these days.

Overall: 9.75/10

If you are going to choose just one series from the Winter 2010 season to watch, it needs to be this one. It was very well executed and I can say that the delay getting the last two episodes (caused partially by the earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan) made the wait terrible.

10/10 story
9/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
9.8/10 overall
XxZeroeZxX's avatar By XxZeroeZxX on Apr 24, 2011

An epic, not without it's flaws, but an epic nonetheless

Final review of the Winter 2011 season! After an extended period of delay following the recent tragedy in Japan, Madoka has finally come to its dramatic conclusion. The community here has already done a great job of covering the basis of this series, so I'm gonna try something new with this review. What I’ll do is provide a somewhat in depth plot summary and cut in from time to time with what I feel it to be relevant. As such, know that there will be SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS in this review. The short story is that this is possibly the greatest 12 ep anime of all time, a must watch as a true anime fan no matter your genre preferences. I'll refer you to the first few reviews which were uploaded on the site if you have yet to watch this series. Now then, the first 3-4 eps of the series are incredibly slow-paced which I know turned off some people. But as it turns out, this was meant to lull the viewer into a false sense of security as in quite a surprising turn of events, Mami (Madoka's mentor in no small terms) is killed by a witch. Honestly, me personally, I never felt a very strong connection to Mami as I know a lot of people did. But of course, I did see her significance as the story developed, and her early exit from the series was a shock. This moment set the hook for the series, and you knew this wasn't just some cliché Mahou Shoujo anime. But against what the title might imply, it's Madoka's best friend Sayaka who is first to make her wish and become a Mahou Shoujo. Sayaka struggles to adjust to her new role, in part due to the introduction of a rival Mahou Shoujo, Kyoko. Their final confrontation yields the climax of the series, as you find out the dark secret of becoming a Mahou Shoujo. This moment sets the dark tone of the remainder of the series, and exposes Kyubei to be one of the greatest villains in recent anime lore. This was a great scene and once again unexpected. Also, for me, quite possibly the greatest fault in this series is that they never manage to kill off Kyubei. Moving along, Sayaka is utterly distraught by what she has become and goes into an incredibly rapid tailspin. This starts with a light-hearted scene between her and Madoka which is rather touching in that way. However, Sayaka then completely loses her sanity which eventually leads to her tragic demise (and simultaneously that of Kyoko). This moment is so powerful and eerie that it might be considered a sort of "anti-climax." Once again, I did not find myself particularly attached to Kyoko; however, Sayaka’s character provides an interesting table for contemplation. While her participation and significance in the series does not equal that of Madoka or Homura (still to be mentioned), Sayaka may well experience the most depth of traditional character development. Madoka is rather one note throughout the series and then explodes in the ending as we’ll see and Homura’s entire character progression takes place in a flashback ep which certainly doesn’t provide adequate depth (I’ll revisit this topic). Anyway, this leaves among the cast of protagonists only Madoka (who has still yet to become a Mahou Shoujo) and the mysterious Mahou Shoujo Homura. In ep 10, you learn of Homura's tragic story and her connection to Madoka. I was torn with this ep. The tale of Homura’s origins is compelling to be sure, but there are two flaws I would point out. The first is that I think they went overboard with the shy, sickly girl thing. It’s one thing to portray the most intense character in the series as a once shy, sickly young girl. But it’s quite another thing to portray her as the most cripplingly shy character in the history of the universe. This was seriously over-the-top and lacked any believability even in this context. The second flaw I found was that they did not portray Homura and Madoka’s relationship nearly strongly enough. I couldn’t come to an understanding as to why Homura was so dedicated to Madoka in particular. Why not try and save Mami or Sayaka? So Madoka was the first person to introduce herself to Homura at school, so what? But these would come to be minor details. The overall depiction of Homura’s transformation from a shy, innocent girl into a brutal, mechanistic being with only one purpose in life inspired some amount of awe. Now we come to the long awaited eps 11 and 12. I originally considered focusing my entire review on these last two eps, but as you can see I thought better of it. Of course, I’ve left out a lot of the plot development in what I've described so far (to retain some ambiguity), but here this will be less so the case. So to those of you impatient people who haven't watched the series yet and continued reading this review, STOP NOW, this will absolutely ruin the ending... Ep 11 begins with a scene between Homura and Kyubei, not unlike many they had through the course of the series. However, Kyubei reveals that Homura's endless journey to save Madoka may have just doomed her even further and causing her even greater suffering. This was a rather sad moment right off the bat which I applauded after such a long delay because it gave instant impact. While Kyubei continues to try and convince Madoka to become a Mahou Shoujo, Homura strives to defeat the strongest witch of all, alone. She fights valiantly, it's a brutal battle scene (which makes you understand the extended delay), but in the end she is no match for the Walpurgisnacht. Worse yet, as Homura is about to resume her endless journey, she recalls Kyubei's words and decides to give in. All hope is lost, and Homura's soul gem begins to be corrupted. At this point I was freaking out pretty bad, I had a feeling there was going to be a tragic end to this series, but this was too much. However, Madoka steps in. She has finally decided to contract with Kyubei and become a Mahou Shoujo. It's a bittersweet moment, as it would seem that Madoka's intervention would only temporarily halt Earth's now inevitable destruction. But Madoka's seemingly inconceivable wish leads to her ascension into godhood. This is a very interesting topic which I will not go into detail here, but what I will say is that this was quite a twist. The laws of nature are rewritten, the witches are destroyed, but Madoka no longer exists on the physical plane. As such, Homura's endless journey seems to have gone without resolution, but Madoka is able to provide her with some solace. Some people have dubbed this as the yuri scene which really isn’t fair. This seems to me more akin to a parody of the classic baby Jesus in the arms of the Virgin Mary. Regardless, after receiving Madoka’s blessing, Homura continues to fight the good fight as a new enemy presents itself. But my favorite scene from the last ep is probably the farewell scene between Madoka and Sayaka as it provides the feeling of a full-circle ending. Overall, the conclusion of the series is bittersweet, but while Madoka’s wish may not have worked out perfectly, you still get the feeling that the new threats to the mahou shoujos is lesser than that posed by the witches. And you’ve reached to the conclusion of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. It is perhaps not yet the thing of legends, but nonetheless a 10 out of 10.

10/10 story
9/10 animation
10/10 sound
8/10 characters
10/10 overall
FreddyCrab's avatar By FreddyCrab on Apr 4, 2013

Story: I really love magical girl anime, its one of my favourite genres, so I thought I'd absolutely LOVE this anime- I had always wanted a more mature mahou shoujo to watch, then Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magika came along. But I finally got round to watching it, and my hopes were simply too high. 

The story wasn't AWFUL- it just failed to fully attract and maintain my attention, with the exception of about 5 scattered episodes. The story in the first 7 or 8 episodes wasn't really about Madoka at all- it was about her friend Sayaka who becomes a Puella Magi, only for it to all go wrong. Whilst this was interesting in the last few episodes of Sayaka's story, I was getting a little frustrated. Madoka just sat there idely every episode, watching her friends fighting, watching them grow depressed and suicidal, and she just...sat there. It made her, as the protagonist, in Tim Rice-Oxley's words, ''completely fucking boring''.

However episode 10 was a big improvement. The last 3 episodes focussed on Homura instead, another Puella Magi and her relation to Madoka. But, once again, Madoka was still not even a magical girl. She was sitting there, being told she had all this potential and she was still just SITTING there, weeping all the time. Then the last episode came- and it was...weird. The last few episodes had upped my rating of this show barely to four stars, then the last episode appeared and back down to 3 stars it goes, I just found the ending...odd. It was an acquired taste. Someone is erased from everyones memories, and one girl who has known her  A MONTH remembers her- but oh no, her own mother and father don't! I just find that...too unbelievable. Homura's affection for Madoka what she gathered up within just a month? How can you grow so incredibly all-loving of a person in just a mere month? It was too short a timeframe for it to be even mildly believable for me.


Animation: At first I thought the animation of characters could look rather plain and perhaps tacky- but I gradually warmed up to it, the characters just naturally do seem rather plain to the eye. The character designs weren't particularly inspiring- the typical colour coordination, pink-haired protagonist and the darker character wearing black. But the witches made up for it, the animation during battles and of the other realms was amazing, bright and lively. 


Sound: It set the mood well when the characters were depressed. There was a lot of silence without music too. But none of the music really reached out to me and grabbed me, without a few rare exceptions.


Characters: Meh. The protagonist did absolutely nothing for about 11 episodes out of twelve. Literally every single character except for Homura was barely developed, or their past wasn't brought up, except for maybe Sayaka. Other characters such as Mami or the red-haired Puella Magi seemed just to be there to demonstrate how many different coloured magical girls they could have. 

Kyubey really irritated me. I've never been a huge fan of the magical girl familiars, but Kyubey was plain detestable. His species' inability to have emotion could make him very frustrating to watch, and all he ever did was try to CONSTANTLY turn Madoka into a Puella Magi for his own personal gain. If her friend had died? ''Oh care not Madoka, if you become a Puella Magi...'' If she was worried about witches taking over? ''Madoka, you'll be strong if you become a Pueklla Magi...'' If shes eating some canned brocolli and watching Doctor Who? ''Madoka, come become a Puella Magi...'' he just pushed it too hard. 


Overall:  Meh. It IS darker than other magical girl shows, but I wouldn't say that makes it any better. I am very relieved it was only 12 episodes long. Its definitely different from other mahou shoujo's and is worth a watch even if you don't like the genre...but its a acquired taste. And I think perhaps slightly overrated.

7/10 story
8/10 animation
7/10 sound
5/10 characters
6.5/10 overall