I’ve really touched on Madoka before when I wrote a feature regarding the Strange Case of Madoka Magica but I’ve not yet written an actual series review so I figured it was about time.
For those that don’t know, Madoka Magica is about Madoka who is approached one day by Kyubey and offered the power to become a magical girl so she can fight witches and all she has to do is make a wish. If that sounds too good to be true, then you have probably been paying attention. Madoka, unlike so many magical girls before her, takes her time to find out what being a magical girl means and to think about her wish before she decides to seal this contract. In the meantime, the other magical girls continue to fight against the witches and aren’t always coming out on top.
My feature that I wrote about this show already touched on my thoughts of people calling Madoka a subversive magical girl story. From my view Madoka is simply an origin story extended beyond the first episode for once and giving an outsiders view of what being a magical girl is like rather than subversive (mostly because our protagonist isn’t a magical girl for a large part of the series). So I won’t be rehashing that argument here and will instead just give my thoughts on this series as it stands rather than trying to classify its genre and purpose.
The first thing that drew me into Madoka Magica was the art style used, particularly for the witches. While I get it isn’t appealing to everyone (and having heard it described as an eye-sore or headache inducing by some critics) I find the visuals of this anime to be fascinating. Not beautiful because that isn’t really the right word for as many times the world depicted here is ugly and unsettling (intentionally so) and even the ‘normal’ world of Madoka is too clean and shiny, too orderly to really be considered beautiful. But it is the jarring contrast between the bathroom where Madoka and her mother prepare for their day and the sterile classroom environment to the realm the witches inhabit with their chaotic, cluttered and disorderly (somewhat nonsensical) appearances that really captured my interest in what was a somewhat mundane opening couple of episodes.
Sure the music is pulsating during the dream sequence opening and trying to ramp up tension, but you haven’t enough knowledge of the characters to really care about them at this stage and this sequence is more affective toward the end of the series once you know who these characters are and how they came into this situation. Madoka is also playing all the nice girl and unassuming protagonist tropes that she can in these early stages but mostly comes out feeling a little bland. So it is the visuals that really caught me and kept me watching the show.
Which is a good thing. Because by the end of the series, the characters have had time to win you over and even if you don’t agree with individual character choices or actions, you learn to understand what each girl is actually seeking and why they might have made the choice they did. You also fully realise the complete hopelessness of the situation all these characters find themselves in. That feeling of hopelessness is also accompanied by feeling helpless because in my case I couldn’t even bring myself to hate Kyubey for putting the girls into the situation.
Kyubey gets called evil a lot online and certainly he is the catalyst for all the woes faced by the girls however, his motives are never malicious. We interpret malice because of his emotionless demeanor and matter of fact attitude to the horror, but he actually doesn’t cause any of it. Kyubey has a clear job of collecting energy and the magical girl system is how that is done. He finds girls who have potential (more potential equals more energy so his targets make sense) and he offers them a choice. And that is important. It is always a choice. Perhaps his method is coercive at times particularly when he offers a wish to a girl on the edge of dying or the like, but ultimately the girl chooses and makes the wish she wants. The one thing you might claim malice for is that Kyubey doesn’t explain exactly what the transformation to magical girl entails or what the end result is. Of course, the girls aren’t exactly demanding answers to those questions and you would think at least one of them would ask.
Madoka Magica is a series that at the time felt fairly unique. It took all the sweetness and light of a magical girl story and turned it on its head, not just to say ‘hey we can do dark’ but to really explore the characters and how they would react when pushed to their limits and the choices they would make when they found themselves cornered. It ultimately was a deeply satisfying watch though probably one that won’t be as good now as it was when it was released. A lot of what made Madoka truly feel unique has since been cloned a number of times so now it will just be one of many such shows (though arguably the execution is Madoka is pretty solid and that may help it still stand above the crowd).
I really enjoyed this series and fully recommend at least watching once to most anime fans even if it isn’t your usual kind of genre. The influence of the series is unmistakable and it is a fairly decent narrative in its own right. With interesting visuals, good character relationships and development, and a story that isn’t totally eye-opening but still manages a few surprises, Madoka is well worth the time it takes to watch.
Don’t ask me about the movies, I haven’t seen them.
Thanks for reading.
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