Animes that defy initially appearance are rare, but seem to be more common these days, some become better than they look, while others become worse. Magi Madoka is one such I am glad I gave a go, because it was much better than its ‘magic girl’ appearance. This is an anime that the less you know going in the better, other than perhaps it is an adult ‘magic girl’/Sailor Moon.
After coming off another highly rated (undeservingly so) anime ‘Attack on Titan’ it was a pleasure to have some anime with some depth and subtly to it. Magi is an anime that has depth to it, with subtly and nuance and ultimately ends up much more ‘adult’ than AoT does despite its heaping gore. Because what occurs in this anime takes reflection and thinking, you can strip away the action and the scenes, and you are still left with a plot and questions to ponder. Compare that to the popular AoT where if you take away the violence, you are left with nothing, a pathetic shell of an over-rated anime.
Now Magi is not a perfect anime by any means, it has some problems, but for what it is – a deconstruction of magic girl anime- it largely succeeds. A substantial portion of this anime centers around the girls getting their power, and the cost that comes with it. In the vein of not including spoilers, I will not, but what I talk about here will lessen some of the impact of the anime, that being said continue on to see why this anime works.
Essentially, girls are given the chance to become ‘magic’ girls in exchange for their soul, and they must forever battle endless evil until they themselves die. Now, consider this sentence, it is already much more ‘mature’ than an anime like sailor moon (which growing up I watched, so I am not criticizing), girls selling their soul, dying? Yes. That is why this anime is unique.
It is the pretty girls in their dressed fighting evil, but they are trying to avoid their own corruption of their soul, and avoid death which does occasionally strike. We rapidly see that the selfless reasons to fight are nearly non-existent and that a majority of the girls fight only to prolong their own life. Even the best wishes and intentions are ground down until it takes a near Battle Royale feeling to it for a moment about halfway through.
Now, despite its dark premise, this works from a character development point, because we see them at their highs, and their lows. We see unrequited love handled maturely, we see people on the same team fight each other because selfishness proceeds loyalty etc.
Really, it has a lot going for it. Perhaps other than a few points I will get into, the largest failing of the narrative might be the liberal sprinkling of ‘magical girl’ constantly in the dialogue, which decreases the investment I felt as a watcher. I would be actively engaged in a moving scene, only for it to be ruined by ‘that’s what magical girls do!’, for an anime generally subtle, the constant reminder caused a bit of grimacing.
One thing good about it, was the pacing was fairly good ONCE you get passed the first 2-3 which are horrendously slow. It never really dragged after, and some of the ‘omg!’ moments I was surprised to see 10 minutes had passed in a flash while they explained. Further, the main character pulls off the generally hard to do ‘nice, naïve girl who just wants to do good’ without becoming the typical annoyance they evolve into. Her friends were actually more intriguing like her friend Sayaka who trades her wish to help a guy, and finds her assistance unreciprocated and goes on a murdering spree.
Some problems now, first this is a Seinen and an ‘adult’ anime, not that it is a blood fest like Elfin Lied or Berserk, but it deals with suicide, betrayals, useless deaths etc. Now I find this intriguing, and generally missing from anime in general, but the large problem was the vehicle it came in: cute girls. Now I fully understand that is the entire point of this anime, but perhaps the problem I have is the constant devolution back into Sailor Moon with the occasional reminder that this is a ‘dark’ anime.
The problem I am referring to, is you constantly must remind yourself this is a serious anime, because cute smiling girls are in every scene, some person coming up to watch a few minutes would be thinking ‘wtf are you watching man aren’t you too old for this?’ and this destroys the sense of continuity. Notice for example Elfin Lied, very similar but different as both have cute girls, but within minutes in EL you are reminded of its adult nature typically by violence or desperation. Now I am not condoning violence as a way to make an anime more adult (Look at AoT, despite its violence, it is basically a kid show if you take away that) this anime suffered in my mind from a bit too much girlishness when it was already committed to the ‘dark path’ it should have stay there and upped the ante.
Also, despite being entertaining the first time though, it has some severe issues regarding re-watching it. The largest reason is the narrative is discovery focused and you watch to find out what will happen, as there is little within the plot that is entertaining beyond how it fits into the discovery. Thus, once it is all over, and you ‘know’ the end, you can sit back content you watched a decent anime, but you also know re-watching it would ultimately be painful.
Lastly, the ending did not really work, it was partially lead towards a resolution of this sort from the beginning but it left a serious of plot holes, and ultimately made everything up to it valueless in its execution. The ending lowered the rating for the series for me. A lot they had set up was systematically destroyed, and we are supposed to accept the weak, new rationales for these.
All in all, it is short, and can be powered through pretty quickly. There were a few emotional scenes, and watching the characters grow came to be a very welcome relief in a series of generally subpar ‘best’ animes out like Attack on Titan and Sword Art Online, this anime is better than those, no question. It is just a bit unfortunate that despite being a deconstruction of the magic girl anime it is still plagued by some of its tropes, and not in a good way. Worth a watch, but that’s about it, because you will enjoy yourself as it is happening, but at the end you will be left slightly unfulfilled looking back at the series.