Story: Deconstruction shows are fascinating. After all, variation in a particular genre (in this case the magical girl genre) keeps it interesting instead of recycling a repetitive formula or certain characteritics that can be found in shows of this category. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica is a brutal take on magical girls, showing the darker side of what exactly your getting into when you become one. The themes of "be careful what you wish for," are ever so present as even the most innocent and well-intentioned wishes can take a turn for the worse. Is becoming a Mahou Shoujo really worth risking your life over? What if you had the chance to help others or even the world, would you take it? These questions constantly haunt our main character Madoka as she desperately wants to protect those precious but it isn't all as glorious as it seems as she comes to learn and it feeds into uncertainty.
The only flaw I'll point out is the opening which makes the show look like a typical magical girl adventure (openings like School Days are brought to mind here in tricking the audience), even if it does end up making sense in context. However I cannot emphasize enough that the show scores high points in many areas.
Animation: Never has visuals contrasted eachother so much and yet work to a brilliant extent. First, we have the everyday world that Madoka lives in. Animation is bright, extravagent in even normal places like school, and just overall gorgeous. Then we have the witches world where the fighting takes place. It is a dark, bizarre, and twisted world which is what I would imagine Alice in Wonderland would look like if taken up to a eleven. Yet colors are still vibrant and it's easy to make out all the strange looking creatures that dwell in this world (seriously there are cotton balls with mustaches). Think of it as a moving collage, random images pasted,and present together yet forming a theme. Regarding character designs, I actually think the design was perfect. Cute, moe style are present here and it works becaue it only makes you feel more depressed that these girls are thrown into a nightmare. It also lets you know that normal people can get involved in this mess. Outfits in transformation themes are detailed and match each character. The witches design are just as crazy as the backgrounds they surround themselves in. They vary from grotesque to cartoonish design, yet you never lose the sense that these creatures are off and even deranged . As for Kyubey, I leave you with this ／人◕ ‿‿ ◕人
Sound: The music is especially haunting in this series. The ending in particular is a dark piece of work that quickly gives away that this series is going downhill into terrorville. Special mention should also go to Mami's theme which had a beautfiul and hopeful tone in the chorus, and Sayaka and Kyoko's theme. Voice acting was excellent, which again makes it easy to symphasize with these characters. The only complaint I have is with the opening again. The song isn't all that spectacular and I think there could have been a better pick.
Characters: The characters here are well-developed and again very innocent, which it all the more depressing when they enter the contracts of despair. First we meet Madoka, a pink-haired sweet progtaginst who believes she isn't very good at anything which is one of her motivations into becoming a magical girl. But as I said before, she's in a dilenma about believing protecting others is the right thing to do yet she may end up only hurting herself in the process. Her friend Sayaka is interested in becoming a magical girl as well to help someone other than herself. Yet, she is cautious when she meets other magical girls. The magical girls in particular are equally developed and their reasons for entering the contract are all discussed and relate to their current personalities. Homura is definitely the most mysterious of the group and seems to know something about Madoka. Part of the good points of the show is the fact that all characters are given focus because while Madoka is not in any way boring, she is constantly questioning herself without really progressing forward with a decision. Without spoiling anything, it is hard to not feel anything for any of the characters in the end. Except for Kyubey, which while feeling no emotions for putting these girls into contracts, is a master manipulator in a facade of acting supportive as he originally came off.
Overall: A tragic tale happening to the youngest of characters and we hope throughout that a light at the end of an extremely dark tunnel will appear. This show deserves every bit of popularity that it gets as it delves into making tough decisions, if they are the right one, and what results from making such choices.