This anime has been very surprising to say the least. The plot was amazing along with the charaters and their roles. This is not your typical Sailor Moon, in fact, this is what would happen if Sailor Moon were more realistic.
First, the story
"I wanna fight for justice!"-said no one. This show takes the ideals of love and justice, and rips it into little pieces before spitting on it. Everyone is fighting for their own 'selfish' reasons. When becoming a magical girl, everyone gets one wish. Sounds awesome right? Actually it's not, because the cost of the wish is more than it's worth for the most part. Besides that, this story is actually pretty dark. Let's just say that episode 3 is when you realize this anime is a trap. Some parts can be confusing though.
It was good, even with the zoomed out shots. I don't really see any problems. I find the witch's animationa dn the transformations amazing. Not only do they both suit the characters completely,but they're also very unique and not generic in the least.
I really liked the transformation songs, they were suiting the character with rises and drops. The darker songs were also very well done and gave a hint at the dark side of the show. I also liked the opening, the cute melody lures you in.
All were unique and not all that generic. Homura Akemi is definitely the one with the most interesting past. I'm not sure if she's really developed or if she stayed the same. I'm sure a lot of people won't like her in the beginning but there's a reason for her cold attitude. Kyoko is in 2nd place, with the tragic back story. Her somewhat stuck up attitude is entertaining to some degree. I personally like her firery personality. Her wish had good intentions but ended in tears. Mami is kind of generic but not really as she has the role of the big sister/senior. I'm surprised she managed to stay the way she is given her past. She didn't really have a choice in her wish. Sayaka was the basic best friend of the main character, but also has a love interest. I liked her as a character and her wish was generous but sadly, didn't do much for her in the end. She contributes the side drama; the love triangle between her other friend and her male friend (love interest). Madoka was often called useless because she was the only team member who wasn't a magical girl. She was pretty average and cute, kind of like the Usagi of the series but a little more mature. Kyuubey is by far the most hated of the series. Although he might not seem like much, considering his cute appearence, he's actually very, very important. The only problem is that their pasts aren't explored as much as they could be but it is 12 episodes. Just a warning, don't get close to any of them.
Overall: Very good anime, I recommend this to people who are sick of cute girls prancing around in dresses and using magic wands. Expect the unexpected and if you get bored, sit tight until episode 3.
I abhor "Magical Girl" genres, finding the anime and manga with this staple to be full to brim with age-old cliches and overly-cutesy girly stuff that I truly am not into. That being said, if there are "adult" themes, or psychological components, then I'm in it to win it. And by win it, I mean devour it in one sitting.
So is the case of this anime, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. Here's my review and my thoughts...
The story sets itself up as innocent and one-sided in the sense that here is a magical furry cat thing, here's the ability to become a sparkly, well-decked out "magical girl" and you can fight witches! And have cool powers! And get your own outfit! And have cool powers! And a spirit gem! Did I mention the cool powers?! Sign right here, make a wish, you get it, you got it!
Only it is quickly divulged that not everything is as it seems, and it is so like a 12 or 13 year old girl to realize it only too late the reality of such a situation that inevitably unfolds when one decides to dip their toes in a confusing and uncontrollable element such as "magic", or begin to trust a furry white creature without knowing its origins or its true purpose and only taking its words at face value.
Sigh...that's life for ya.
The story sets itself up to be a Magical Girl, Slice of Life bore that is cute but inevitably lacks depth (at least to me these are what they end up being), but every episode has a final note of foreboding worry, a dark shadow that seems to be curling up behind Madoka and her friend Sayaka, though it doesn't take a definite shape until the latter half of the show. Such building of the tension in the back of your mind, the thoughts that echo "Maybe this isn't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe this is actually a bad plan. Maybe Kyubee is actually Satan's familiar. Maybe I should do my laundry..."
Wow. Just wow.
I hate, hate, hate pastels and "Easter dresses". I find them so bland and just blah; pastels to me are like taking the beauty of real life and washing it out so that its former energy is but a small pulse overtaken by starched beauty.
I absolutely loved the color palette for the girls. Their eye-hair color matching and overall auras as they embodied their colors played out very well. I simply just love looking at them, as for once the pastels are done straight and cutesy. I can't resist cutesy.
And the Witches + Familiars and their own mini-universes are simply eyegasms. So much subliminal messaging, random art, patterns, CGI, magazine, newspaper shreddings and clippings and cut outs are all pasted together to form a world of chaos that follows its own pattern like a sentient being's nervous system: It breathes, it exhales its sheer insanity of colors and sensory overload that one can't stop themselves from taking it all in and desensitize themselves from the clear break from reality that the characters have reached by journeying into such a "Labyrinth". Indeed, these "Labyrinths" are much like a psychologist would envision the human mind to look like. So many different references, bits and pieces from previous experiences, dreams, or second-long exposure to some advertisement, piece of art, etc. is morphed and transmorgified into something horrific and nonsensical..
In short, Freud would have had a field day dissecting everything thrown at you in each of these Labyrinths.
The opening theme and ending theme contrast each other beautifully; the former sells you the idea that this is going to be a bouncy, "oh darn!" collection of adventures of Madoka and her magical girl friends as they try to figure out the whims of magic and have some laughs along the way (ALL LIES). The ending theme has a nice vamping, haunting sound that somehow reminds me of that kind of tune that reminds you of Egypt..weird, huh? Everything in the ending is grainy and flickering, which is obviously a symbol for something but I'm too stupid to really understand it. All my analyzing days are over :(
Anyway, there are church pieces and little inserts of the opening or closing theme at certain times in the story which are nice nods, but personally the soundtrack seems to drown out the "emotion" of the moment at times. But it's still very nice to listen to. Dark, foreboding choir music is always a win in my book!
The characters are driven by their core personalities, and nothing much more. They aren't cliches, per se, but there isn't much growth except for Sayaka's eventual descent into madness. With the exception of Sayaka, once you become a magical girl it appears your personality and default disposition is frozen in time. Appropriate, I would say. Once you sell your soul to the furbag, it is only fitting that any "growth" that may be experienced within a soul left intact would be non-existent in a magical girl.
Kyubee was a manipulative little furball, but one easily picked up the signs that something was a little amiss with him, subtle hints were dropped that everything wasn't all sunshine and rainbows where he was concerned. At least to me. I mean, look at his fucking EYES.
Look. At them. Loooook at them!!
Doesn't that just ooze sociopathy? At least as human being like us equivacate it to?
Personally, I didn't see any problem with Kyubee. I found his preying on the human race to be a little disconcerting, and his pushiness to become a magical girl very antagonistic, but if YOU make the contract, that's all on you.
And Homura kept telling Madoka and Sayaka not to do it, but noooo don't listen to the girl who obviously knows what she's doing. Sigh... Always trust the tsundere! Always!
I am so surprised I enjoyed this. I really am. I loved the music, loved the colors and the Witch & Co. "Labyrinths" and I surprisingly loved the whole twist on this genre. I highly recommend it to those who want something with a sugary outercoating but a bitter and dark center.
Before anything else I'd like to point out that this is my first review so I do appologize if it isn't that spectacular or funny. I'm also not that fluent in English. While I was writing this review I found it quite challenging to explain what I thought about it without spoiling any real details. There's so much things I wish I could have mentioned or talked about but that is for you to discover throughout the series. Please do comment on how I can do better next time. Constructive criticism is apprieciated.
You came to the wrong neighborhood
Story: The "Magical Girl" genre. Usually the first few things that come to mind are an average adolescent school girl, dramatic transformation scenes, and a very frilly costume, not to mention the weekly monster wreaking havoc to the city each in their own weird way. Of course there's the very consistent plot that happens in almost every episode. It starts off with some average day problem, problem somehow relates to a monster, monster terrorizes the city, main character does the super moe transformation scene, finishes off the monster with a long named attack, and finally temporarily saves the town from certain destruction until the next bad guy comes along the next episode. This cycle continues again and again with a few minor changes here and there until finally the series ends with a super boss monster which she ultimately beats for the happy ending. There's the key word I was looking for - "Happy Ending". I have watched a handful of these animes such as card captor sakura and shugo chara but Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica definitely isn't your average magical girl anime.
So as I pray, unlimited gun works.
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica takes the magical girl genre into a different turn. We've always been seen magical girls living perfect lives but this anime simply changes that. It brings up the questions like: "How the hell does the power of love and friendship stop the monsters and saves the day?", "What if she makes one slip and fails to stop the moster?", and "Is it always gonna go that way and have a happy ending?". All of these questions boil down and form this anime. I'll say it clearly now that this isn't meant to be watched by ten year old kids hoping for the repetitive result they always want to see. The first few episodes seem nothing out of the ordinary but as you go along the series, you'll see how twisted it can get.
You will learn to fear her.
From the title itself, we can clearly see that Madoka's the main character. The whole story practically revolves around her more than it usually should. Despite this, the story shifts its attention to the rest of the main cast as the story moves on. By the end of the series I found myself believing that the story isn't mainly about just Madoka but on the painful endless struggle her friend has to go through just to help her. Sort of like how in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Haruhi's clearly the main character but we're all seeing it through Kyon's eyes. The show also shows no mercy on how brutal scenes can get. They first give you an illusion of victory and hope but slaps your face with a truck full of horrific disappointment (I'm referring to the scenes not to the whole story itself). Scenes can instantly turn that smile into a jaw dropping frown and make you tell yourself over and over again "That was not supposed to happen!". You'll get used to it and move on. By then it would seem impossible to look for the happy ending beneath all the list of things going wrong.
Definitely not your average kid in a costume
Animation: What first really caught my eye was how flat their chests faces were. Their overall character designs were very simple and plain. There wasn't anything spectacular about them. Then we see the Witches (the antagonists). At first I thought they were gonna be other adolescent girls in some dark colored witch costume but instead, turned out to be giant monster bosses that come in different forms. Their realms and minions were very unique from each other. Witch fights looked more like a clash between art styles ranging from cut-out magazine collages to Gothic clockwork dolls. It was simply a sight for sore eyes.
Music is good for the soul
Sound: The opening theme song "Connect" was beautiful. Not only does it sound great but the meaning of the lyrics seemed deep. One can't help but think that the song was the feelings of one the characters. Along with the tone of story, the music echoes off with a sense of despair and longing. Battle scenes were simply amazing with all the dramatic music pumping in the background. Overall the music blended in very well with the scenes. As for the voice acting, they were all pretty good.
"If someone tells me that it's wrong to hope, I'll tell them they're wrong every time."
Characters: As I've mentioned before, the story mainly revolves around Madoka Kaname. During most of the episodes, she is shown as powerless to do anything to help her friends. She's a kind and sweet girl and she cries at the sight of her friends in danger. All these descriptions actually categorize her as a supporting character. It really is an enigma how she's the main focus at all. This is all answered as the episodes go on.
Akemi Homura: Badass in the making
With a dark outfit, tragic past, quiet personality, multiple weapons such guns and bombs, and the work behind the scenes style of fighting, Batman Horuma is actually the real hero of the story. Most of the time in the show, she was seen as someone silent and mysterious but deep down, there's actually so much more. All of her actions, every single one of them, was all for Madoka. We notice at some point that she only cares about Madoka from the puella magi and question why. To some fans this reaches to a yuri context but we'll not cover that.
Kyubei aka The Devil
Then there's Kyubei, the cute iconic mascot of the series. He has been hated and loved by many fans of the series for many reasons. At first glance, Kyubei seems completely harmless and that is very much true. The thing is that one can't help but think that he's more than what meets the eye, that he's plotting something sinister. The very existance of puella magi are all because of him and his race. He is the main cause of all of the things, good and bad, happening to the characters. Many people accuse him of tricking the girls into these lose-lose situations. I believe that isn't completely true. Though he does seem persistent on it, his job is just to sign contracts with adolescent girls. The girl gets any wish she wants and Kyubei gets a fighter against witches. It seems like a fair trade, especially in Kyubei's eyes. It's also because of the fact that his race can't understand the concept human values and sins. Kyubei has been doing all of this for the common good. He has actually been honest the whole series but just fails to tell the exact details of what the contract does. Kyubei's intentions and personality is just really based on who's point of view you're using.
Once again Pocky has managed to slip itself inside a series
The rest of the characters each have their own backstory that they each dwell on in an episode but we won't be covering that here. Overall, I can say that characters are okay but could have been better. Some of them were irrational and careless at a few scenes but then again, the show rose in interest to the public because of it.
Cake is a lie
Overall: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica isn't for everyone. It's an aquired taste to get into animes such as this. If you've been watching too many magical girl animes and have been looking for something different, then have a try of this cake. I personally enjoyed the series and am hopeful to see a second season in the future (Yes, I know there are 3 movies).
Thanks for reading :3
One of the biggest new series this year is definitely Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. Despite the fact that the show primiered in January, it has already amassed a huge cult following, over 200 fanfics on Fanfiction.net, and been picked up by Aniplex to be released in North America, although whether or not there will be a dub is still uncertain.
With this in mind, I decided that it might be worth checking out. Despite what my Anime Watched library would currently indicate (I am utilizing a rather unusual system for it), I have watched several Magical Girl series, and was incredibly excited to see a dark subversion of the genre. With that in mind, let's dive in, and see why this series managed to have a great deal of promise that it in general just fails to live up to.
The idea of having a complete dark subversion/deconstruction of the Magical Girl genre is a brilliant one. It has always struck me as odd that with so many individuals desiring to defy sensibilities and warp that which we hold dear, the Magical Girl genre has managed to in general, remain a pinaccle of innocence. Sure, you get shows like Princess Tutu and Revolutionary Girl Utena that add mature themes, but there had yet to be a show that just completely twists the innocence of the genre as a whole- exactly what the idea of this show is.
So, in essense, the premise is that there is a being named Kyubey, who makes a deal with adolescent females: that he will grant them a single wish, and if it is within his relatively great power, he will make that wish come true. The limitations on what exactly this wish has to be are slim, and he will not deny any wish you ask for. There is a single catch- in exchange for the wish being granted, you will become a Magical Girl- a human granted with superhuman powers and abilities, whose duty it is to fight Witches. These Witches are mysterious malevolent creatures that wreak havoc in the mortal world, and are invisible to the eye of your average human.
Madoka and her friend Sayaka are unwittingly sucked into this world through a sudden encounter with Magical Girl Mami Tomoe. Mami and her familiar, Kyubey himself, immediately bring them into the fold, giving them the chance to become Magical Girls themselves.
Although the idea seems promising at first, the ominous warnings of a new transfer student (who turns out to be a Magical Girl herself) Homura Akemi turn out to be well-founded, as Madoka discovers that the world of the Magical Girls isn't as innocent as it first seems.
It's a very enchanting concept, that could make for a brilliant story. So... how does it hold up?
... Not that well, sadly.
An early problem with the show is that I'm not sure they were really sure what they wanted to do with the first couple episodes. Did they want to lure the viewer in by making it look like a general Magical Girl show, only to massively subvert their expectations later on, or did they want to note that there was something amiss about the whole thing from the beginning? The writers couldn't seem to decide, and it causes this odd dissonance, where the beginning seems like a typical opening for a Magical Girl show, but the various dark themes cause the viewer to know that the story is going to take a darker turn by the second episode, which does decrease the drama a bit when it happens. Although I will say that the way it happens still does manage to be extremely effective.
One of the key problems in the series, which I will get into further detail on later, is the fact that our main character remains an outsider throughout. Given that we are seeing the story from her perspective, and only occasionally see things from the eyes of the rest of the cast, for me, this caused a bizarre sort of isolation from the events themselves. Sure, every time she enters the world of the witches, she is putting her life on the line, but aside from one or two exceptions, her life is pretty much never in direct danger.
In addition, Homura Akemi quickly becomes a walking deus-ex-machina. For most of the series, when a conflict gets out of control, she'll end up jumping in and resolving it. While this could be effective if utilized once or twice, her continual interference in the conflicts caused me to know that when things began hitting the fan, she would end up saving the day.
While I will give credit to the show for beautifully subverting this at the very end, it simply is too little, too late. What concern for Madoka's safety I still had was almost completely drained by the fact that I know that if she is ever truly at risk, Homura will quickly step in and help solve the problem.
These two factors, and the fact that I just couldn't connect with the majority of the cast (which will be discussed below), caused the tension in the story to decrease dramatically for me.
Sure, one could argue that it subverts the typical Magical Girl formula for the main protagonist to not actually BE a Magical Girl for more or less the entire series, but there is a mantra I live by that I think is important to learn: just because something is subversive, doesn't make it entertaining television.
The show's continuity is kind of all over the place. Characters start developing a certain way, then their characterization suddenly shifts in the next episode. Character motivations are often rather vague, unrealistic, or not explored at all. Plot points are brought up, and then completely dropped. There are also a few plotholes present, that with a little outside-the-box thinking, could have been easily resolved. Now, much of this can be explained by unfortunately inconsistent episode scheduling, but the fact remains that it does detract a good deal from the plotline, sucking a bit of its soul with it in the process.
However, the story does manage to do quite a few things right. The battle scenes are well directed, and are fantastically done. The show channels quite a few shonen elements, blending them with a feminine brand of melodrama rather well, making a story that does feel like it could center around teenage girls, while still providing the audience with a great deal of action. The dialogue is similar- while it contains a good deal of shonen-style bravado and rather over-the-top dialogue, the phrasing and word choice manages to keep the lines from seeming too far out of place, and keep one from questioning the fact that it is supposedly 12 year old girls uttering them.
In addition, while Magical Girl shows having a dark side isn't new, this show definitely takes it farther than I've ever seen. Despite the various problems I've listed, the show still manages to hold your attention between fight scenes, never really letting up on shocking twist after shocking twist, including a rather clever play on the phrase "magical girl" itself.
However, the show's flaws manage to take a fascinating plotline and cripple it. An interesting premise and clever twists just can't save a show that has had much of its tension drained for 90% of the show's running time, and the myriad continuity and plot problems constantly causing a great deal of frustration.
The show definitely does deliver in way of animation. While the character designs are incredibly underwhelming- the facial expressions are incredibly simplistic, and all the characters look identical except for clothing and hair color- the scenery is incredibly well constructed. The initially appealing backgrounds often has a dark undertone lurking underneath it, when one looks closely enough. A simple gust of wind can turn an innocent looking scene into an eerie landscape, which definitely aids the dark tone of the show.
The world inhabited by the Witches is incredibly well done. The animators manage to keep a massive amount of variety to both the design of the Witches and their backgrounds, providing a new landscape each time. The lairs of the Witches remain thoroughly atmospheric throughout, and definitely fit with the dark undertone of the show. Character movements are incredibly smooth throughout, and look thoroughly realistic.
The main flaw in the animation is the overly enthusiastic use of shadows. Apparently somebody had just discovered that shadows= ominous, because the lighting of scenes are so dim that shadows constantly lurk below the feet of the characters. Rather than providing the ominous undertones it is supposed to convey, it just looks thoroughly over-the-top, and makes me feel like somebody was trying far too hard.
Who thought that it would be a good idea to start a show centered around subversion with a stereotypical J-Pop opening? The song itself isn't bad, but it sounds exactly like at least 5 other openings I've heard this year alone. The ending theme is much better, with a fitting combination of guitar strums and female vocals that are pleasing to the ear.
The music in the show itself is continuously effective. Yuki Kaijuira has outdone herself once again, with an incredibly impressive score combining beautiful choral tunes with amazing battle themes during the action sequences. And when things really start to get dark, the music turns outright eerie, almost sounding as if ghosts from above are wailing at the characters.
The voice acting is hit and miss. While most of the seiyuu provide adequate performances, Aoi Yuuki simply sounds annoyingly shrill as Madoka, causing me to grit my teeth in frustration more than once. And although Himura's character is forced to be consistently monotone, it causes Chiwa Saito's performance to become rather annoyingly dull at times. That said, when she gets the opportunity to emote, she does so with gusto.
The two main standouts are Ai Nonaka as Kyoko Sakura, whose performance manages to add a good deal of dimension to a somewhat dull character, and Emiri Katou, who manages a positively eerie delivery as the constantly peppy and cheerful Kyubey, as the series descends into absolute darkness and chaos.
Even with a flawed story, Madoka Magica could definitely have overcome its problems if the characters were particularly 3-dimensional. Sadly, that is simply not the case. The "protagonist" herself, Madoka, distances herself from the action thoroughly, constantly hemming and hawing about whether or not to become a Magical Girl. While her conundrum is certainly understandable, it causes a good deal of irritation in my opinion, since she's the protagonist. It makes me feel like she's rather self-centered, continually throwing herself into situations that could be quite dangerous, solely for the sake of protecting her friends- with little means to do so, I might add- without thinking of how exactly her friends would feel when she died. She is definitely not well developed enough by the end of the show for her actions to the climax to create that much sympathy by the viewer.
In fact, her friend Sayaka Miki, while not a particularly fresh character herself, manages to remain entertaining due to her continually optimistic and downright naive outlook on life, that continually spirals downward as the series progresses, earning the sympathy of the audience, and shock at her fate.
One could argue that if the script was adjusted, Madoka could more or less be written out of the show completely, which is a key flaw in any show.
Most of the side characters are practically non-entities, with the exception of Mami Tomoe, and she doesn't get enough development to be particularly interesting. This is particularly aggrevating when it comes to the character of Hitomi, Madoka and Sayaka's classmate, as she ends up being pivotal in Sayaka's downward mental spiral, making it rather frustrating that she hadn't undergone development earlier in the series.
The other disappointment is Kyoko, a character who appears approximately halfway through the show, and really does little beyond provide reactions to the increasingly disturbing relevations, as well as provide some mid-season conflict. Although the writers attempt to give her character some depth, her development is a bit too inconsistent for this to be particularly effective.
The true star of the show is definitely Homura Akemi. Initially a character lurking in the background, popping up either to save Madoka or to simply remind the audience that she clearly knows more than she's telling, she develops into a thoroughly sympathic character, whose motivations are incredibly heart-warming, and her personality thoroughly three-dimensional and compelling. She continually manages to steal the spotlight in almost any scene she's in.
The other real exception to the rule is Kyubey. While one may be suspicious about him from the start, perhaps due to his overly adorable apperance, or perhaps due to some rather suggestive dialogue informing the viewer that something is not quite right about him, it will still manage to completely stun said viewer the moment they learn exactly what that said something actually is.
Madoka is a show that could have been fantastic. Its premise is outstanding, its writing solid enough to be entertaining, and a plot that manages to pull you in despite its flaws. But as the flaws pile up, and the characters simply refuse to become relatable, frustration inevitably follows.
I've heard some argue that this series will do to the Magical Girl genre what Neon Genesis Evangelion did to the Mecha genre. I for one hope that this is the case, and that some writers attempt to emulate Madoka Magica, because this first attempt at a dark Magical Girl show is sadly underwhelming.
I'm a little late to the Mahou Shoujo Madoka party, so once again, between all the reviews already up on anime-planet, I'm not sure how new a spin could I give to this series. Nevertheless, I shall try. Here's a quick spoiler-free run down of my numbers on it:
The series started off well, raising just enough questions and dropping enough hints early on as to the show's direction, although given the series length of 12 episodes, the starting could stand to dawdle less. Right around episode 4 when the explanations start, the plot holes start opening and go on unplugged the rest of the way. I'm glad the ending wasn't entirely super-sweet like some other Mahou Shoujo titles I could think of, but it still reeks of the same inexplicably convenient stale fish I've known the genre for. Bonus points for trying new stuff though.
I love the work Shaft does, and with Madoka, while they took some obvious artistic liberties in some scenes, *cues music* "My Heart Will Go On aaaaand Oooooonnnnnnnnn~" .... -ahem- It's like the characters from Hidamari Sketch crashed into Manabi Straight's quasi-modern futuristic world, with the Witch dimensions looking like.... well, Production I.G.'s animated clip for Sakamoto Maaya's Universe. Butit'sstillawesome, rawr. And even if the style's not to your liking, you can still give them points for variation. The rest of the work, as far as I could tell, was consistently clean-cut and appealing.
As usual, Yuki Kajiura brings her brand of mysteriously soaring new age melodies to whatever she gets tasked to compose for. And I, like so many others, enjoy every bit of it. There was a scene or two where I felt the music didn't quite match up, but for the most part, it works, from conveying dramatic epicness, to disquieting and mysterious unease, to cheerful and ignorant gaiety. Her stuff doesn't work for everything, and she isn't the most versatile of composers, but we love her all the same.
Once again, I'm no great judge of voice actors, especially Japanese ones, but young Yuki Aoi's voice as Madoka got really grating by the middle of the series, though that's more the fault of the writing than anything else. Saito Chiwa, sadly, didn't get to portray quite as many interesting emotions as Akemi Homura, which is a shame as I'm sure most of us remember how compelling she was as Hitagi in Bakemonogatari. And special mention must be made of Katou Emiri as show mascot Kyubei for having the easiest and/or hardest role of all the VAs, simply 'cause Kyubei's speech NEVER changes from that whimsical and calm tone of voice. Except when he needs to manipulate the emotions of gullible teenagers with a soft spot for injured cutesy animals. What a douche.
I'd previously written that I found the characters here inconsistent and unlikable, but that's not entirely true now that I look back a little harder... To touch briefly on 3 of the main leads, I liked how cryptic and curt Tomoe Mami's back-story was, something I wish they took a few more cues from when fleshing out Sakura Kyoko. And as for Akemi Homura, while her back-story was essentially woven into the plot, I do wish the script writers had taken more time to consider her personality and actions. Without giving too much away, I'll just say "gradual and hinting" would've been preferred over "sudden and jarring".
As for our main lead Kaname Madoka? She, quite unfortunately, plays more like a plot device for the other dramas to center around. In fact, the blue-haired Miki Sayaka obviously got most of the script writers' attention, and if you can stretch your suspension of disbelief, it's quite a heart-wrenching story. All that said, I'm still of the opinion that there could stand to be more subtlety to the characters, and more than once, their decisions and actions seem to be dictated more by the script than their perceivable persona, which is disappointing in such a character-driven series.
The most consistent character would have to be Kyubei, who truly acts and sounds like what he is. But right from the get-go, he just seemed like a bad guy to me. Think about it: he goes around to young girls and offers to grant them any one desire of theirs in exchange for spending the rest of their lives battling deadly monsters. That's the premise right out the gate, and forgive me for activating Cruise Control© to point out the obvious here but HE'S THE DEVIL!!! Sure he isn't red, nor does he have horns and a pitchfork, or speak like a James Bond villain, but HE'S THE DEVIL!!! Sure, he might be all cute and whimsical, resembling a bunny and a puddy-tat spliced together with the colors and accessories of plush animals, but that makes perfect sense to me as a disguise seeing as HE'S. THE. FLIPPIN'. DEVILLLLL!!! I really don't see how anyone could see him as anything else.
Special mention must be made of Madoka's mother, who was for me, the most relatable and believable character in spite of her brief and sporadic appearances. Her strongest scene occurs in episode 6 when Madoka approaches her for advice on a situation filled with shades of gray. It's a situation I'm very sure everyone has been in, or will face sooner or later, and her mom puts to words the conclusion most of us reach at some level of consciousness. This is easily the show's most poignant scene and it still strikes a chord with me just thinking back.
All in all, despite the hype, I went into this series with pretty low expectations so I wasn't overly disappointed. Ah, it does pay to be a cynic, doesn't it? And if you can stretch your suspension of disbelief far enough, the series isn't terrible. It's a slightly darker twist to the genre that's presented very nicely, and personally, I thought the pacing was alright. While it did miss quite a few opportunities for driving home morales and lessons, there's nothing wrong with a show devoid of any, so there.
Hmm. Longer than I expected, but alright. I'm going to skip over discussing lazy writing and plot holes, because I'd run out of interesting ways to talk about each one before we were halfway through. Instead, let's talk a little about poignancy, which was a focal point of this series that wasn't carried out very well. There are very likely to be spoilers ahead, so quit here while you can.
....Are they all gone? No? ......Well, I'm going to start anyway. Poignancy refers to a state of keen emotional distress. In the context of writing, it's the difference between watching a woman carrying her newborn child getting blown away by a shotgun, and watching the same scene AFTER seeing the months heartaches and physical pains of the child-bearing process. Or the difference between an empty but blood-splattered room, and a blood-splattered room filled with kid's toys and a child bleeding out on the floor crying "I don't wanna die..." It's giving context to a scene to heighten the emotional distress conveyed.
One problem I had with Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica that I thought was rectifiable in spite of the plot, was how the emotional turmoil of the characters was displayed. After episode 3's so called 'twist ending' (which wasn't very hard to spot coming, by the way, even without prior knowledge of the series) the show decides he's shown his true colors as a edgy and angsty series, and never really reverts back into a state that can't be described with a manic depressive's vocabulary. The closest it gets is awkward, and that shouldn't be.
To give an example of this, in Futakoi Alternative, halfway through the series the main 3 characters are split apart as one of them sacrifices her freedom to let the other 2 stay together. After going through the heartbreak of her leaving, the next episode shows the two going about their daily lives, enjoying perhaps even more zany antics and situations than the previous half of the show, and having as much fun as they can. It all winds back down as they end up at a hotel ('cuz their place burned down) and break down crying in their separate rooms. The former scene, while over-the-top and wacky beyond belief, isn't the least bit joyful or humorous because you sense the characters are desperately trying to return to form, honoring their friend's sacrifice and hiding their grief behind bouts of hysteric euphoria, only to have the facade crumble away when they run out of things to distract them from their conscious thoughts.
Now, obviously not all humans act and deal with grief the same way, and I'm not suggesting they pull the same stunt in Madoka, but what's important here is the shift in tone. Madoka seems to finish episode 3 with Mami's death, and keeps piling on the angst, heart-break and emotional scarring up 'til the last episode. What tonal shifts do occur don't deviate too far from the depressing tone following Mami's demise, and it just gets tiring after a while. It's like how the climax of The Dark Knight movie seemed almost tiresome with how long it stretched, and this was only saved by how good the writing was.
That's not to say a show must revert to its former tone once it hits particularly jarring plot point, but it's particularly inexcusable when it happens within the FIRST QUARTER! I mean, imagine a roller-coaster ride that consisted of 20 seconds of variation, followed by a full minute of going down a steep slope. Sure it'd be exhilarating, but I'd bet you'd be sick of that slope before you even hit the bottom. Not to mention passed-out from the blood rushing to your head, but I'm stretching the metaphor a bit here. I can't state any examples at this point, but I know I've seen it done before, and usually past the half-way mark, you're pretty safe. At least in movies. Series' have longer running times to take into account.
Aaaannd that's my 2 cents as far as constructive criticism goes on Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. Feel free to mull over and voice your own views on improving the series (or my reviewing). Finally, as to why I wasn't mortified over the butchering of the plot, let's just say that any serious plot that makes use of both time-traveling and boundless wish granting is fundamentally broken to begin with. Neverending Stories 2 & 3 had problems enough with just the latter. Hell, I don't even know how to write something serious around that, so who am I to judge?
*EDIT2* Reworked the Character section, and while it's a fair bit longer than I'd like, it does the show a bit more justice. I lied about touching the Plot section, and I'm afraid the Overall score is going to sit right where it is, which you are free to hate me for =P