Thursday, February 28, 2013

Madoka Magica: A magical girl anime that will blow your mind

Yes, this is the cover. For real.
Before you start saying "Baron von Chop has lost his mind" (or something else), yes, this is a magical girl anime, and yes, I thought it was brilliant and you should go watch it. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an anime about young girls who are given a chance to become magical girls. In exchange, they have to fight witches, who represent fear and despair while magical girls represent hope and love. The brilliance of Madoka Magica is that it looks, at first, like any other cute, brightly colored magical girl anime. But as the show progresses, the characters start to learn what it really means to be a magical girl, and I guarantee you that you will not see it coming.
Color-coded for your convenience!
If the only thing that you know about the magical girl genre of anime is that Sailor Moon is an example, and that there are transformation sequences where the girls change from their regular clothing to their magical girl costumes in order to protect the world from evil, then you know enough to enjoy this show. The simplicity of the genre is a strength for Madoka Magica. That simplicity allows the show to play with your expectations and build something compelling on top of the basic premise.

My lovely wife, who would normally never watch a mahou shojo show, watched the whole series on Hulu, then talked me into watching it with her. This is one of those shows where, the less you know at first, the more you will enjoy the revelations and twists. That said, there are a few things I do want to mention.

The first episode opens with the main character, Madoka, running up a stairway in a dreamlike, black-and-white world. She reaches a door, which opens onto an apocalyptic scene. Chunks of skyscrapers float in the air as the sky boils with fury. Madoka sees a strange girl fighting an unseen force and losing. As Madoka becomes upset at seeing this girl get beaten, an adorable cat-like creature appears and tells Madoka that she alone has the power to change fate and stop this scene from taking place. All she has to do is become a magical girl. Then Madoka wakes up in her bed. She thinks it was all a dream, until she goes to school and meets the new transfer student, who looks exactly like the girl she saw.

Kyubey isn't trying to be cute, that's just his face
What is that apocalyptic scene? Who is the mysterious new girl Madoka saw in her dream? Should Madoka make a contract with Kyubey? Can Madoka change destiny? These are only some of the mysteries that drive the show. While many anime series dangle unknowns in front of viewers, forever teasing viewers but not revealing much, Madoka Magica proceeds at a quick pace, as the whole series is only 12 episodes long. And like the best mysteries, answers often lead to even more intriguing questions.

The animation of Madoka is simple, especially when it comes to characters' faces, but that style really works for the story. Despite, or perhaps because of, the simplicity of their faces, the characters are very expressive. That's good, because the characters' emotions are very important in Madoka. Keep in mind that the show's main characters are adolescent girls, and they're up against a lot, so be prepared for a fair amount of crying. It always felt appropriate, though, and if you can keep a dry eye through the whole series, you truly have a cold, dead heart.

Pose like a team
 For the simplicity of the designs, sometimes the animation is absolutely killer. The fighting is as over-the-top as you would want in an anime, with some truly epic confrontations and ridiculous moves. The standout scenes are the witches' labyrinths. When magical girls fight witches, the world around them turns into a beautiful collage. It's both beautiful and disturbing, and the weird settings and creatures in the labyrinths are one of the most unique things about the show.

When the magical girls enter a labyrinth, the music changes to beautiful, exciting orchestral music. I don't often pay attention to a show's soundtrack (my review of Cyber City Oedo 808 is the exception that proves that rule), but I often found myself commenting that the soundtrack to Madoka Magica is really, really good. Unfortunately, you can't get the soundtrack in the US for love or money, unless you buy the DVD/soundtrack combo on eBay. I just might have to.

The last thing I should mention is that you shouldn't judge the show by its opening sequence. My lovely wife described it to me as a fake-out, and that's what it is. At first I was bothered by how it alternated between obnoxiously cutesy and weirdly sexual, but don't worry. There's nothing like that in the show.

Still not convinced? Your loss. But if none of this has convinced you, I'll just say that my favorite character, Sakura Kyoko (the red one), is always eating in every scene, and her favorite foods are starchy snacks. I never thought I'd say this, but if I were a teen girl who fights witches, I would probably be Sakura Kyoko.


  1. I've wasted my time on weirder things on the internet. I might just check it out!

  2. I can just about guarantee it won't be a waste of your time!