Madoka Magica (2011) Review

In the mass of Moe filled shows coming out these days, one would certainly not be surprised at the release of a cute magical girl show, and particularly from Studio Shaft who have done cutesy slice of life shows before. Indeed Shaft wanted us to think that Madoka Magica was nothing more then it appeared to be and it wasn’t until all the little Otaku sat down and saw the first few minutes that there was a sneaking suspicion that this show was not as it seems. Indeed Madoka Magica is not the happy-go-lucky anime its first couple episodes portray and is in fact a tragic deconstruction, and by doing so a subversion, of the magical girl genre.

For those who don’t know, the Magical Girl genre is one that consists of shows like Sailor Moon and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. It for the most part consists of girls being approached by an unusual animal of some kind and being asked to become a magical girl in order to fight the forces of evil, leading to wacky adventures and super-powered transformation sequences that are used over and over. Madoka Magica follows much of the same story. A girl named Madoka is approached by the mysterious creature Kyubey who asks of her one wish, which will then be granted and she will become a magical girl. The only problem is that Madoka can’t come up with a good wish, and as she and her friend Sayaka discover more about the world of magical girls and the witches they fight, they become uncertain of whether or not they truly want to be magical girls. Unfortunately I can’t go much further then that, as I would rather not spoil this show more then I have to.

It’s the analysis of what really is at stake when these girls fight the reality warping witches and what the true motivation of Kyubey is that leads to this show having its… darker tone. This tone switch is sudden and it’s really when the deconstruction of the cute and innocent world that’s been created begins, as well as its ultimate subversion. Don’t be afraid if you don’t have much experience with Sailor Moon and its colleagues because the story of Madoka packs a punch either way. In the 12 episodes it has, it manages to create a whole world and set of characters that you get invested in and then somehow manages to wrap everything up at the end that it wanted to. For a story of this caliber, it’s very tight and I think the series being any longer would have been detrimental. As it is, Madoka Magica is an easy watch. Every episode is important and progresses the story, but if you don’t want to marathon it all at once there’s still enough recap to jog your memory.

Shaft has really put there all into this series, as it is fucking gorgeous. The labyrinths that the witches create are all composed of random imagery invoking many different visual styles and it’s some of the most unique art I’ve seen in a while. The animation outside of the battle scenes is nice, but not great. It’s a softer style that reinforces the Moe aspect of the show, but it works nice when contrasting it against the dark events to come. The character’s faces all have this odd sketchiness to them, that I actually like a lot, since it made them feel less like the products of K-ON! and more like actual characters.

The music is composed by Yuki Kajiura and its quality is easily on par with the rest of the show. Everything from the victory theme, tragedy themes, epic choruses, and ending song are all fantastic and fit the show to a tee. Fortunately, unlike other shows with her music, the songs don’t distract you from the story, merely adding to it and this is due to (again) how engrossing the story is. The acting in the Japanese track is phenomenal, as far as I can tell, and far surpasses the english dub. It’s not that the dub is particularly bad, it’s just that the characters are defined by a lot of Japanese conventions that are hard to convey in English. I have to recommend subs on this one.

Madoka Magica is a show that’s hard to explain why it’s good without ruining what makes it good. Its play on expectations is exactly what makes its more dramatic moments work. At the end of the series you’ll find yourself attached to the characters, invested in the story and familiar with the world. Above all though, you’ll be satisfied. For only 12 episodes Madoka Magica is a marvel amongst modern anime. There’s really no excuse not to watch it. If the premise isn’t interesting to you, then don’t worry it’s not supposed to be and if you’re worried about time and availability it’s on Crunchyroll for streaming at the time of this review. If you’re tired of mediocrity or you recently got into anime then by all means watch Madoka Magica, you won’t regret it.

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