Maho Shojo. Magical Girl. Perhaps one of the most well-known and enduring genre in Anime. With my only experience in Maho Shojo being Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura, I don’t have a firm grasp as to what typical elements make Maho Shojo; Then I had heard of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, one said to have a drastically different take on the entire Genre.
An incredibly dark take.
Should you make the contract or stay away? These are my thoughts on Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
(Note: This will be as spoiler-free as possible. I do not own these pictures.)
Puella Magi Madoka Magica takes place in a seemly futuristic city named Mitakihara and follows Kaname Madoka, a 14 year old girl who lives a normal life attending school and spending time with her friends and family. One night, Madoka has a strange dream involving a destroyed city, a girl who can seemly control magic, and a strange white creature.
The next day, a girl by the name of Akemi Homura transfers to her school and class. Madoka recognizes the girl as the same one from her dream, and she and her friend Miki Sayaka encounter a creature named Kyube, who is being hunted by Homura and is the same white creature from Madoka’s dream. Kyube claims to have the ability to grant any wish if the girls form a contract with him to become Maho Shojo. In exchange, the Maho Shojo must battle Witches, evil beings that can cause diseases in humans and even forced them to commit murders and suicide.
Characters (note: All names are displayed with surname first, then given name):
Kaname Madoka (Seiyu: Yuki Aoi):
The main character and heroine of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. She is a 14 year-old girl who lives with her loving family, consisting of her mother Junko, a business woman who serves as a mentor to Madoka, often giving her advice; Tomohisa, Madoka’s stay-at-home father; and her little brother Tatsuya. She lives a privileged, normal life attending school until she encounters Homura and Kyube. She is extremely kind and caring, but only sees herself as a normal girl without any special traits.
Miki Sayaka (Seiyu: Kitamura Eri):
Madoka’s classmate and very close friend. She’s kind and loves to help others, especially her friends. She is often seen visiting a boy named Kyosuke in the hospital, who was a talented violin player, but was involved in an accident which took away his ability to play. She and Madoka encounter Kyube together while Homura was hunting him.
Akemi Homura (Seiyu: Saito Chiwa):
A transfer student to Madoka’s school and secondary main character. She is first seen in Madoka’s dream wielding magic and fighting against a mysterious being. She is a cold and very stoic girl who seems to know quite a bit about Madoka. She is adept in both academics and athletics, and becomes very popular at school. Madoka and Sayaka encounter her outside of school hunting Kyube, revealing her Maho Shojo status.
Kyube (Seiyu: Katou Emiri):
A mysterious, white creature that Madoka and Sayaka first encounter being hunted and chased by Homura. He claims to have the power to grant any wish in exchange for making a contract with him to become a Maho Shojo, giving the potential girl magical powers. His only requirement is that the Maho Shojo must fight Witches. He seems to have a severe interest in making a contract with Madoka.
Tomoe Mami (Seiyu: Mizuhashi Kaoru):
A senior at Madoka’s school who is a Maho Shojo. She befriends Madoka and Sayaka and exposes them to the world of a Maho Shojo. She has a different motivation from most Maho Shojo. She is cheerful and friendly. Despite her outward appearance, she a very strong Maho Shojo.
Sakura Kyoko (Seiyu: Nanoka Ai):
A Maho Shojo who comes to Mitakihara to claim it as her territory. She is very experienced as a Maho Shojo. She comes off as very blunt and uncaring, and is always seen eating or in the possession of food.
Shizuki Hitomi is a friend of both Madoka and Sayaka, and often feels like a third wheel between them in terms of friendship. Boys fawn over her because of her looks.
Kamijo Kyosuke is a boy who was a skilled violist lost his ability to play due to an unfortunate accident and is now in the hospital. Sayaka visits often to keep him company.
This anime doesn’t really have anything in term of major character development. Actually, I take that back. There is character development, but it is done in a different way. I can’t say what it is, but I’ll say that certain revelations cause some changes.
So, here we go. The story. Normally, Maho Shojo involve a happy, light-hearted atmosphere, which we do get. One thing leads to another, and Madoka and Sayaka encounter Kyube, who is being hunted by Homura, and Mami. Kyube offers to contract with Madoka and Sayaka, to turn them into Maho Shojo and grant them a single wish in exchange for their services in fighting Witches. Kyube is especially interested in contracting with Madoka, to which Homura is against. Reluctant to decide, Mami offers to takes them along in Witch hunts so they can see what it is to be a Maho Shojo. Excited, the girls agree.
And then, the show bares it hidden fangs.
The show takes an extraordinarily dark turn. Gone is the fun, happy atmosphere, replaced with fear, pain, terror and despair. From this point, this series is unlike any other of it’s kind. Not only are there spectacular, epic battles against the Witches, it also deals greatly with the psychological and emotional pain in these fragile girls, who even as they do their best to fight evil, they themselves have to shoulder all of the despair and death around them and fighting to stay sane and from breaking down entirely. The way these emotions are conveyed are spectacularly executed and intensely powerful. Without going into detail, it’s shocking to see how dark this anime gets, especially when the truth comes out, leaving the girls to re-evaluate their morals. This is truly an emotionally driven anime, and you will feel emotion throughout, guaranteed. I was absolutely blown away by the level of emotion, atmosphere and intensity brought by this 12 episode Magical Girl anime. Do not judge this book by it’s cover.
Leading this project we have Shaft, the animation company behind series such as Bakemonogatari, This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase and more recently, Arakawa Under the Bridge.
The animation is, as always, very fluid, especially during the monumental fights. The scenery is very vivid and colorful, with the town itself being very clean and has a futuristic feel; towering, cutting-edge buildings everywhere. The classrooms have automated desks and digital white boards, complimenting the overall setting, and the homes being large and drawn to have a modernistic look about them. I really like it.
Another striking element are the worlds that the Witches reside in. The worlds are extremely surreal and are very distant from the real world. It’s a stark reminder of the despair and terror the Witches harbor within themselves.
The character designs are very well done. The girls look great and look absolutely stunning in their Maho Shojo forms, and the staple of all Magical Girl anime, the transformation sequence, is present and still as awesome as ever.
However, I do have one problem with the character designs: Their faces, or rather, their heads. Don’t get me wrong, they are very cute, but the problem lies within the consistency. In some scenes, their head is drawn fine; In others, the head looks flat or somehow squished (see above). It’s not a big problem, but it is noticeable.
Alright, I have to address the opener. The opener is a very bright and colorful one, but it’s extremely misleading. If I were to make assumptions on the anime based upon the opener, I would be wrong every single time. I think it was a great choice to have viewers mislead into thinking the anime would not be this dark, making key moments all the more effective. Although now it won’t be a surprise to those of you who have read this far and haven’t seen it, it’ll still shock you. Trust me.
In the sound department, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is top notch. The voices behind the characters are well-casted and befitting of the characters and their personalities, and being able to handle the range of emotions required for this anime is no easy feat. Not much to say, here.
In terms of music, the opener and closer are complete opposites of each other. The opener is called “Connect” by ClariS. The opener is very bright and colorful, and the song is upbeat, yet sad. It’s a great song.
The closer is “Magia” by Kalafina. It contrasts the opening by being far darker and more sinister sounding. Not too big a fan of this one, but it fits.
The show-stealer here is the musical score composed by talented veteran composer Kajiura Yuki. The music in this anime is simply beautiful. Ranging from powerful battle hymns, stirring orchestrals, dramatic laments to emotional, melodic pieces, often all in one song. The pieces themselves are grand in scale, adding to the tension, atmosphere, emotion and situation with perfection. It’s nothing short of astounding, and I would expect nothing less from Kajiura-san. Don’t believe me? Here’s my favorite piece in the entire series. To me, it is the definitive piece and the one that capture the true essence of the anime:
If you have any love for soundtracks or orchestral music, I find it impossible not to find this piece incredible.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an anime that takes the beloved Magical Girl genre and turns it into something different. It’s a dark, psychological assault on values and beliefs, brimming with emotion and intensity. It replaces happiness with sadness, light with dark, and hope with despair. It’s atmospheric and great to look at. It’s a brilliantly crafted work of art that forces us to question our values, what is right and wrong and the morality of decisions. Despite all of the darkness and adversity, this series teaches us to fight on, holding to both hope and our friends. Don’t ignore this one, make the contract and watch it, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Highly.