Puella Magi Madoka Magica Review

Title: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (English: Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
Genres/Themes: fantasy, drama, magical girl
Number Of Episodes: 12
Animation Studio: Shaft
Director: Akiyuki Shinbo
Script: Gen Urobuchi

Plot Outline:
14-year-old Kaname Madoka is just your average high-school girl. One day she has this dream about another girl fighting and losing some creature. Incidentally, the next day the same girls appears in her school. Madoka and her friend Sayaka Miki then rescues a small being known as Kyube from the hands of that girl. Kyube can grant them magical powers and a single wish if they decide to make a contract with him. In return, they must fight magical creatures called ‘Witches’ for the rest of their lives. What is it to be a magical girl? Is it worth it? What should one wish for and who’s that girl that appeared in Madoka’s dream?

General Comments
Hype does not equal quality of the show. Look at Angel Beats!, Fractale and Black Rock Shooter. I’ve no idea why this show managed to attract this much attention. It may be because of the ‘magical girl’ theme and its broad fan-base, it might be because of Shaft working on the show, it might be because quite a lot of big-shots of the anime industry are involved in the production. Whatever the case, remember that one should only use that kind of information to generate some kind of expectation of the show, not to use it as an argument after you’ve seen the show to explain the quality of the show. With that in mind, please read on.

There are two awkward conventions Madoka Magica uses. One is ‘making a single wish’. It’s still kind of an awkward plot device, because we all know you can bypass it by wishing ‘I want to have more wishes’ or something like that. It’s a key decision the characters have to make, but any 6 year old is smart enough to make a decision in a whim.

The other convention is that the ‘magical world’ should be unknown and actively hidden from the people that are not directly involved in it. Another very old convention that doesn’t seem to make much sense and seems to be only used to simplify things.
Of course both aren’t big negative points, but it makes the show stand out less from the rest, as if it needs to stand out even more.

The Story
The questions I put in the plot outline basically illustrates the main questions of the show. The characters, mainly Madoka, will be experiencing events that will help them or complicate the answer to those questions. These include meeting new people, some fighting and some drama.

Being usual and surprising can be a double edged sword. It doesn’t help that the story of the show is quite the opposite of what you might expect from a magical girl show. For one, you never really see Madoka fighting till very late in the story. If you expected a lot of magical action, this show is definitely not for you; our little pink protagonist rather sits back and let others do the dirty work.

What sets Madoka Magica apart from most, if not all shows that include ‘magical girls’ and ‘fighting’ is it very dark atmosphere. There isn’t a single event in the show that can truly be called ‘happy’. The closest event to that can only be called ‘melancholic’. Death is most prominent making the show not suitable for the weak of heart. That’s good and all, but the story somehow fails to feel dramatic, thrilling or even surprising. Some scenes only manage to be shocking for a short moment. The only thing that prevents the plot from falling completely apart is the tragic tone of the story. The ending is as ridiculous as the ending of Clannad ~After Story~. One definitely shouldn’t watch this show for its plot, because it’s hard to even remember what the main problem of the plot was.

The Characters
The characters are not much to talk about either. Madoka is your average innocent little girl, Akemi your silent mysterious character, Sayaka the protagonist’s happy go lucky friend, etc. Madoka has to be one of the most passive main character I’ve ever seen! She basically does nothing but watch how the situation develops from bad to worse. Like Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha each character is given a certain kind of characteristic power that highly resemble your typical classes in a fantasy RPG.

For a show with five important characters and only twelve episodes, the character all get some decent development. Despite that, it’s they aren’t too likable, nor do you care too much about them and their tragic pasts; the latter are only amusing while the moment lasts. The reason for that is that each of them don’t really have too much screen time at all, because the story shifts from one of them to another. The only characters who are more persistent are Madoka and Akemi, but as the first one lacks guts and the latter not showing much personality till the end, it’s kind of a hopeless situation.

The Visuals
The visuals on the other hand are really stunning! It’s without a doubt the reason that you should watch this. It’s unique, it’s refreshing and it’s psychedelic. The ‘non-magical’ world is drawn and animated in the conventional way. There’s a lot of glass in Madoka’s world and thus, the buildings look slightly futuristic. Every object in the scene isn’t drawn in much detail, but there are a lot of objects around that you never feel the scenery is too simple or empty.

People who have seen the Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei openings shouldn’t be too surprised by the craziness of the magical world areas. I can’t shake the feeling that the producers decided on the magical girl theme just to show off those visuals, because the theme contains a very diverse world which you can animate in creative ways. Various screenshots in this review depict that world. It’s an abstract way of animating the scenery. Apart from the abstract shapes, the way things are animated is as if they were copy-pasted on there. The familiars and witches also have very weird, but fun to watch, designs. Remember the name Gekidan Inu Curry, as they’re responsible for that distinct animation style.

I can’s stress it enough how entertaining it is to watch those scenes. A battle scene involving Tomoe firing her trademark muskets perfectly illustrates that.

The Score
Just like the visuals, Madoka Magica is great when it comes down to the score. While the visuals are going crazy on your eyes, the background music seems so much more gentle, which only adds more to the confusion. It’s hard to say anything about the individual scores themselves though, because just like visuals, music is hard to put in words. All I’ve to say is that despite not standing out too much, they were good, really good. The only thing that pulls down the worth of the score is the actual plot itself; it’s hard to enhance an emotion that just isn’t there. But for atmosphere during certain highlighted scenes, it’s superb.

Summary
All in all, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a show worth watching, even if you aren’t in the magical girls stuff. In fact, it might be even better if you aren’t familiar with that theme, because it probably will disappoint you on that part. Watch it for the abstract visuals and the great score. Both are very enjoyable and definitely of a higher quality than the plot or the characters themselves. Although if you’re sick of the happy-go-lucky plots in all the other action anime, you might want to try this one for the story too.

Rating: 7.5 / 10

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About Lloyd

Game (Programming) and Anime fanatic
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2 Responses to Puella Magi Madoka Magica Review

  1. Wait… so the dark atmosphere sets it apart from most, if not ALL magical girl anime? Yeah, I don’t buy that. There’s plenty of dark magical anime (even Sailor Moon was pretty brutal at times). I agree with all your other points. It’s not scary or disturbing or anything. Heck, it’s not even that dark.

    • Lloyd says:

      I’ll be honest and say that I barely ever watch the magical girl genre. Sailor Moon was something I saw floating by the local television channels, so I saw a few episodes of that.

      Even so, I get the impression that most, if not all other magical girl anime can be watched by 12-year-olds. Madoka Magica certainly isn’t made with that age-group in mind. If I were that age, I probalby wouldn’t have liked the show in any way. You see, the whole plot is one that is kind of depressing and one without much happiness. They only had 12 episodes and all of them were dedicated to show the situation the characters were in. No episodes showing them joking at each other or having a pic-nic, or maybe even more importantly, that being a magical girl is fun. Yes, a lot of shows that include fighting have that romantic happy-go-lucky vibe as if it was some adventure that could be enjoyed. Not in this show and that’s why it feels darker and more unique.

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