This is not a child’s magical girl show like Sailor Moon. It is extremely dark and asked questions that may just make you feel very small in the world. Seriously, this show depressed me slightly with its sort of morbid idea of what a magical girl does. We follow a young girl who is given a rather rare chance to make one wish come true but in doing so, she must become a magical girl and fight evil known as witches. A no brainier right? Who wouldn’t want to be a hero and get their wish granted at the same time? But like all good things in real life, there is a price that has to be paid. Sadly, to tell you would ruin the whole mystery behind the show and so it leaves me at a loss, how do you review a show that you can say very little about without spoiling anything?
I will try to do as best I can without losing the mystery. We will start out speaking about the characters. Madoka Kaname is well… she was boring to me at first. A girl who was the typical cute and moe anime girl who had nothing bad going for her. Hell, at times I even thought this show was going to just be about how even more perfect she could become but I was soon mistaken as not only the story went down a dark path but also the imagery. She and her friend soon find themselves following magical girl after magical girl and their own takes on what it means to be a hero as well as what they wished for. Her friend had already picked her wish, so what would a girl who is so happy want? That was what kept me going, wanting to know more and more about what was going on. After a bit, it felt like they were just pulling me around.
The imagery is slightly troubling, sometimes rather clean and perfect and then other times it looks like puppetry. I’m not saying it’s bad, far from it in fact. The artwork is stunning but there are times like for the witches where the characters feel like they are paper puppets moving. Anything in the witch’s world is also this sort of puppet style with odd squiggles and designs drawn on them. The colors normally look like they are dark and settle. When you are outside the witch’s world, the show actually feels very minimalist and clean lined. It’s very futuristic with bright, almost blinding, lights and pastel colors. Surprisingly for Shinbo’s work, there is not all that much of the little girl naked images that we know from him so that was a bit of a plus for me. There was some but not much.
The dub voices are another matter though. Many of the voices just feel they don’t work. Madoka’s was just annoying at times because of her sweet and innocent voice that was so high pitched. Some of the other voices seemed a little to childish but then again, they are middle school so I guess it’s alright. In the end, the sounds were what brought everything all together.
I wouldn't exactly call Madoka overrated, since it's generally a good show, I'd say that it just got too much praise for so little it has done. I never had any major problems with it, the truth is, it’s quite solid in every aspect, but it’s bold to say that it exceeded in anything or that it was original. Pff. Anyone who saw Bokurano would know that Madoka wasn’t very original with its general themes and plot pattern, and since it’s a “whish type anime” I already knew the ending because every singe anime where something about wishes and fate is present as a major theme it ALWAYS gets the same firkin’ ending… I don’t want to spoil any other series for something silly as giving examples, so… if you really want to hear such huge spoilers for more than 10 series then contact me or whatever.
Even thought I’m already sick of psychedelic Shaft animations, I’ll just say that this one was superb and not comment on it further. I’m a huge fan of everything funky, unique and bizarre, so I can’t consider it bad in any way, but it’s just that Shaft is really starting to annoy me with its virtual LSD. And yeah, design was quite moe… so that’s a thing, right? Music was also great. It was rich in content and everything worked pretty well, however, there are no songs that really captivated me or the ones that particularly stood out, but it all fits so no complain there.
The characters are something else completely. While I did enjoy their arcs the show didn’t allow me to enjoy them enough since it’s too damn short to properly flash them out. Madoka Magica follows the formula I’m not so fond of, and that is introducing and finishing the arc of secondary character in one or two episodes, and not exploring them further later on. There’s just no way I can care for them after so little time. When the blonde girl died I didn’t even flinch, and the same happened with Homura who got her arc going way too late for me to develop some sort of liking to her. Even so, Homura and Sayaka were the only memorable girls, while others were victims of too little development to get us properly attached to them. Even Madoka, who was previously just a passive bystander, was not developed properly, since she took the stage way too late. Kyoubey is a weaker version of Dung Beetle, who does everything Kyoubey does, only sicker and with 100% more emotion and sadism.
Even if I sound negative, I still think this was a good show, and it’s definitely not a waste of your time even if this review somehow put you off. Sure, not much is original and it’s not a revolution of magical girls (Princess Tutu ftw) as some consider it, but it’s quite solid for what it is and I’m sure many of you will find a lot of things to like about it.
Best girl: Sayaka
I've read many people praising this show for its adult perspective on the magical girls genre. But I just couldn't get into it. Didn't like the pacing of the episodes, too much talking (and walking) - not enough showing, and while the characters asked adult-like questions (although, never asked for Kuybey to explain the contract in full) they were cute magical girls so I couldn't suspend my disbelief that they would ask such questions. It was like the concepts were 3D, but the characters were still 2D (no pun intended). I also never really cared for any of the characters, which I think is necessary to enjoy this show. How they show Madoka's family life in the first episode, to make her relate-able, was necessary but felt kind of forced. It adds to her story, but doesn't really make me care what happens to her.
Maybe it's because it's a magical girl show, and I didn't think Tweeny Witches was that great either. Both series have similar animation, so maybe I'm biased. My partner immediately compared it to Sailor Moon, but I've never seen Sailor Moon so I can only take her word on it. I wanted to like Madoka, but I found shows like Xxxholic and Shakugan no Shana more entertaining from the first episode.
A big problem for me was the lack of humor. For a show that was based on the concept of balance, I found it overly dramatic, and took itself way too seriously. Just a little bit of humor here and there would have made it SO much more watchable, but serious introspection and consequences can only take a show so far for me, and it became depressing in episodes 7 and 8 (just as I was starting to care for Sayaka). I did find their idea for the greatest source of energy in the universe pretty funny, although I probably wasn't meant to.
Episode 10 (showing the adventures of Homura) was good. More-show-less-tell. But having seen Serial Experiments Lain, I found the final episode predictable. In some ways Madoka may be this generation's Lain, except Lain kept its concepts mysterious and open to interpretation, while it felt like Madoka spoon-fed them to me. I'll concede Madoka looked fantastic, and it's only 12 episodes so I don't feel too bad about watching all of it, but I feel I wasn't its intended audience so I can't recommend it.
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.
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.