Once in awhile, there comes a show that abolishes all expectations that I had for it. However, pretty much everyone who kept up with anime during 2011 probably already knows this, but hey, more exposure never really hurt anything if it is done by people who understand the product, and I think I do. Yes, this is a magical girl anime, and I can safely call it badass.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica (Sub) Anime Review
Studio: Shaft, Aniplex of America
Length: 12 episodes
Available in Subtitles for free at Crunchyroll and Dubbed from online retailers.
Based on what I have read about this show, I can compare its history to things like Spec Ops: The Line. with how it twists your expectations into something that barely resembles the goal of the final product, and instead making a very interesting deconstruction of its respective genre. Before the show aired back in early 2011, I know, I know, I’m way late to the party, the adverts and teasers displayed something that I would not necessarily call a good representation of the show. Even the intro was pretty misleading when you look at the final product, but I think that as long as you make something good, what does it matter if it is “what you wanted”.
Moving along to deploy a paraphrasing of the Wikipedia entry. The show centers around a group of middle school girls who either are, or know about that fact that magical girls do actually exist in this world. However, in what is the most spoilery part of this review, but one still explained too early for me to not mention, the girls are forced to battle this show’s variants of monsters, called witches. Who are some of the most unconventional and downright strange enemies that I have seen in all the media that I have consumed. Yet, this show takes the entire concept to an extreme by making it so that people actually do die, even the magical girls.
Oh, it gets better, if they decide to play it safe, which is presented as a non-option by how vicious these creatures can be, they also die. And this is not a show that have people falling to death left and right, with a large squad of characters for them to pick off. It is one where the writers, directors, and everyone else tries their hardest to get you to sympathize with its characters, get to know them, and then kill them off when they seem to be genuinely good individuals. Hell, they even reflect that through their powers. All while maintaining a thick air of suspense by not having a lot of clear stopping points between episodes, maintaining a sense of constant flow that I cannot recall seeing in recent memory. Which is still just a few months, but it is hardly an insult. Seriously, that’s the one bad thing about consuming all of this media, it is hard to rank it without a very specific category!
I actually get a vibe not unlike the one found in the first arc of Berserk. Where power is practically in the palm of a main character, and said power only needs a relatively simple command to awaken. Even though the risk for it is so massive that everything could crumble if not done perfectly. All of this while maintaining a very strong sense of despair and melancholy by following what I mentioned earlier, and making death a massive turning point for everyone. The sheer depression of the entire affair, while not feeling notably preachy or taking light of the situation, is something that I hold so much respect for. And not just because the show counters some of my own philosophical beliefs on life, morals, and human behavior, although that does help a lot.
Yet, while I can praise the show’s narrative for doing dark drama very, very well. I do have a problem that is, oddly enough, the same problem that I have with Berserk. To not give anything away, I just have trouble following how exactly something happened, at least within the confines of the show. Now, I did watch this right before I went to bed, and I might have not fully read every line of the subtitled version, which moves a bit faster than I think it should, not that I can do anything about it.
There is indeed a chance that I was just missing the “how” of it all. I know why things happen, but even when I was devoting all of my attention to the finale, I was still a bit confused how the very… significant ending worked out. Part of me thinks this might be more clear in the expanded universe, and part of me thinks that I must just have a crap attention span, and need to take notes on every show that I watch. Even though reading, writing, and watching all while forming a critique, seems like a bit too much for me, and not just because my penmanship is nearly illegible unless I look whilst writing. And I should be able to understand the lore of a four and a half hour long series without needing to write it down.
Pile on how the visuals of the show would prevent me from looking away, and the very idea just seems a bit silly. It is hard to find the proper words in my vocabulary in order to describe this show’s visual direction. But in an attempt to try, it keeps a relatively safe set of designs for the main characters, with hair being the most key feature to designated the five significant magical girls. All of whom I found likable given their backstories and their reasons for taking up this dangerous profession.
Meanwhile, the world they are in is just off in a very slight way. I am not sure if it is stylization, a view of the future, or both. The environments in the show felt very dream-like, with a lot of odd architecture. It is never acknowledged, and might not even serve a purpose, but things like the classrooms in glass boxes, and the maze like crossroad above the freeway, both are ingrained into my memory.
In a similar fashion, the Witches that serve as the monsters of the week in the show contained some utterly out-there designs, utilizing different animation styles for most of them, and really helps the show reach what I call, “The Killer7 Point”. Where a piece of media is just as bizarre and unconventional, that it is naturally intriguing. And when they are on screen, it is not just them, the entire world shifts for them, resulting in some lovely fight scenes where the main characters get simply wrecked.
However, the Witch designs do have one problem. What do they represent? These Witches are not just creatures from another realm or anything like that, they are suppose to symbolize something, but I’d be damned if I could figure it out with the one we do get a backstory for. I should not complain, seeing as how I adore the designs despite the excellent animation direction they altered for nearly all of them. I will not spoil how they are made, yet when you are doing things this tightly, and place so much weight on them. I feel like explaining your symbolism, assuming it is not just insanity, should be something that the average viewer could at least take a jab at. Seriously, you see the pictures, what are these things suppose to be? Seriously, what would wagon wheels even represent?
Just from how smooth the animation is, to these monster designs that I can not do justice in describing. I think it is safe to say that the show manages to do more than just succeed in both regards. Oh, and the music? It fits like a glove, happy during the early half, and either just much appreciated ambiance or heart pounding during the later. All on top of being effective through its own absence during some of the more depressing or sorrowful scenes. Yeah, the intro is a bit of a distraction, but it is for juxtaposition, and you can just skip forward a minute and a half to get past it.
In a cute pink box that is stained with blood from an unknown individual, I only scratched the surface of everything that I love about the show. The amount of weight on the story, the atmosphere of its nearly uncanny looking world, and even the characters who I barely mentioned for the sake of saying too much. There is just so much that is good and, well, badass about this show where 14-year-old girls become superheroes who fight for the rest of the world. Yes, the explanation of a lot of things can be faulty, but with a story like this, I am surprised they crammed it down to just 12 episodes, when it could have lasted far more. The title, which loosely translates to Magical Girl Madoka of the Magus, is certainly fitting. Because despite a few unkempt hairs, magical is a pretty damn good word to describe this show… I like puns, alright… Seriously, it is free and just has one break of ads at the beginning of each episode.