I'm going to just call this anime Madoka because it's title is too long. Just thought I'd clear that up real quick.
Madoka is something I personally can enjoy looking back at my childhood of Cardcaptor Sakura. It is deeply moving and is exploitative of the fact that these girls go out and do what they do, yet never actually think about the fact that they could die. It's a heavy concept that Madoka deals out quite well, it comes together and is impactful to the viewer. The problem's with Madoka lie in the ending that leaves me scratching my head. And while I know that I have commended anime for this before, that I enjoy animes with really odd endings, this one is odd in the fact everything comes together somewhat, but it's such a mish mash and so many things just happen and so many of the final scenes are so forced and unimpactful because of that force, that the anime ends with you half feeling good, half wondering what the hell just happened. Especially the after credits sequence that completely leaves me bamboozled and if anyone can explain that final forty-five seconds or so to me, please do.
Madoka shines in the story department. It's a well thought out system of magic and as the story progresses, it certainly maintains a sad tone that just gets sadder, it also exudes an air of hope. It's also an anime that seems like it will be predictable, but characters are totally different from what you'd think and you are constantly surprised. That's not to say you are always surprised, the story does have some "duh" moments, but overall the story works will for me. It's full of symbolism and I guess there is some inherent message it is trying to get across that I'm too lazy to mull over at the moment because it's approaching one o' clock and I'm sleepy, but it all works well up to the ending that seems to tie everything up at episode eleven. Then episode twelve comes and it's necessary, especially the first half, but after that it becomes a confusing mess. I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't seen it, but I will say that the forced parts where Madoka meets with her friends just don't feel right and don't have the same emotional impact as when Homura spills her guts and cries on Madoka's shoulder at her house. That part was genuinely sad and made a tear come to my eye, but the rest of the "sad" scenes just didn't work for me.
The animation for the show is a mix of traditional and LSD inspired insanity. The traditional side looks good, but isn't anything to write home about. Characters look like loli girls and background all look good. Action is fluid. The LSD inspired action sequences when the girls battle the enemy witches are fantastic and I personally enjoyed the different styles and it was one of the best parts of the show to see what the next witch hunt would bring to the style.
Great voice actors compliment the show and bring emotion to the characters. The opening is good, though I thought it was too upbeat for something like this show. At least Elfen Lied had that terribly gothic and kind of sad opening with the bells and the lady singing in a very creepy yet soothing voice. This one has a J-pop opener that seems to be trying to make things happy. I mean, the lyrics aren't happy, but the song is too upbeat for an anime so seriously depressing. The ending is at least a bit more depressing.
Here is my biggest fault with this anime. The characters are...not the best. Not that they are bad, but most fall under traditional conventions and I couldn't attach myself to any of them besides Homura who I found to be the most fleshed out character of them all and the most likeable. Madoka is a good character, but she is kind of cliched up until the end when you see a very strong figure. The supporting cast is decent but most are just conventional-type characters who are put in a terrible situation.
(SPOILER)As I said in the story section, the relationship between Homura and Madoka is the best in the show. Madoka has her friends and they have decent relationships, but I found Homura and Madoka's friendship to be very, very touching and probably the series best point was when you find out Homura has been fighting to protect Madoka, unbeknownst to Madoka, for so long. And when Homura spills her guts to Madoka inside her house, it's a very emotional scene that does bring a tear to the eye. This relationship is great, and works well with the ending of the series.
Madoka is a good anime. It is well done, and you will feel bad and depressed for these characters while, and even after, watching it. Despite the flaws in the cast (generic characters mostly) Homura still stands out as a great character and it does have one of the most powerful scenes I've ever seen in an anime. Despite this, the anime really loses points from it's forced ending. It should have been sad, I should have really felt bad, but instead it's just a bunch of randomness that never congeals into something I can understand clearly. I know what happened in the end (minus the after credits thing), but the ending is just so hard to clearly understand. You'll get the gist of it, but you'll feel like your missing something, a lot of things, both because of the forced nature of the sad moments in the last episode, and the random scenes that just don't add to anything and confuse even more.
This is a good series. It is definately something you should check out if you haven't already, a fantastic new take on the "Magic Girl" genre that is sure to please even those who have never seen a "Magic Girl" anime before. But be warned that while the ending does complete the series, it is also where the series starts to lose it's touch.
Overall, an 9 seems a fair enough score. It's most assuredly going to be one of the best anime of this year.