At some point, I will return to blogging about other things, if any fresh ideas come in (hint hint, suggest things to me!), but before then I thought around now, with the sweet soundtrack playing in my ears, was the right time to do another Anime Analysis.
For years, I have said Naruto was my favourite anime series, because it was one of the first I watched, because I had immersed myself in it’s fandom and continued to watch it episode after episode. I still love the series, but it’s crown of being my absolute favourite anime series has finally be usurped by this gem – Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Why? Because virtually everything about it is done PERFECTLY. The main characters are perfect, the villain is perfect, the pacing is perfect, the emotional impact is perfect, the music is perfect, even some of the visuals are so trippy and beautifully artistic, it’s just insane how brilliantly good they’ve been designed.
A lot of people have come out to praise this series, but I don’t many who would say this is their all-time favourite. Well, here’s one now – I don’t doubt that the series isn’t without it’s flaws, but I will address that later, along with everything else. I will try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible for those who haven’t seen the series, but for those who have, we can discuss the finer points privately. For now, I’ll just sum up, as spoiler-free as I can, what the series is about.
It stars a cheerful, highly friendly middle-school girl named Madoka Kaname, who lives an ordinary, happy life with her parents, little brother and school-friends. One day, Madoka’s class gets a new transfer student, a mysterious, soft-spoken dark-haired girl named Homura Akemi, who Madoka vaguely recognises from a dream she once had. Homura gives Madoka a dire sounding message concerning the life Madoka leads and how she should hold onto it, but is otherwise a mystery to both Madoka and her friends. Soon after, Madoka and her best friend Sayaka Miki find themselves inside an incredibly trippy Burton-esque environment, only to be saved from it by an older girl in their school named Mami Tomoe and a weird, small, white furry creature called Kyubey. They seem to be very chirper and friendly, but Homura seems to have a strange antipathy towards them. Kyubey reveals he wants Madoka and Sayaka to become what Mami and Homura are – magical girls! Although through these girls perspectives, we soon learn that being a magical girl is not quite all the glammer it first seems…
I have to admit I never saw a magical girl series before this one, although I was familiar with titles such as Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew and Cardcaptor Sakura, and had seen clips and pictures from them. The obvious girly and overly cutesy nature of the design was, and still is immediately apparent, and this is the kind of impression Madoka Magica is also supposed to give. I won’t give away too much, but what the plot does with the magical girl genre is so beautiful and terrible that it just needs to be watched to truly experience. I should point out that the type of magical girls in this story are the magical girl warrior types, rather than idol singers – and the enemies fought in the story are the previously mentioned Burton-esque type Eldritch Abominations, known as witches, which are absolute pools of creative and wacky design every time they appear.
And the way the story unfolds is amazing too – it starts of quite light and cheerful before going in a different direction, but none of how it happens feels unnatural in the slightest. I mentioned earlier how perfectly paced this story is, and I think part of that is to do that this was originally an anime – many other anime series were originally manga, or light novels or video games etc, but this was made to be an anime of 12 episodes and so the breaks in the story for each episode, complete with cliffhangers are done extremely naturally and well, leaving you in just the right spot to ensure you come back for more. One of the main reasons I have to tread carefully in this review is that the plot keeps giving and has several of what are known as Wham Episodes. This essentially means that there are several episodes in the series that change your entire perspective and mean that nothing after them is ever the same. Prime examples of the Wham Episodes are episode 3, episode 6 and episode 8, although opinion may depend on whether or not there are more. Another advantage to the fact that this was originally an anime is something I already mentioned. Not only is the animation on the characters fantastically done, with beautiful shots of the city they live in, but the designs of the witches are so horrific, and yet so unbelievable to look at, that the way they’re drawn and animated will stay with you forever.
And in this series, they are far from the only things.
The character design and development is yet another brilliant thing about this series – no character is wasted, every single one introduced plays a key and memorable part in the series, and I find it impossible to dislike any of them.
One of the key themes in this series (trust me, you will find plenty more) is the idea of what you want, how much you are willing to get it, and whether getting it is even the right thing. Kyubey makes girls become magical girl warriors in exchange for a wish – his ability to grant wishes appears to be fairly expansive, and so each of the characters have a particular thing they wanted that they got in exchange for gaining magical powers. How well these wishes served them are key parts to the storyline and character arcs, and you can draw your own conclusions about them in fun and thought-provoking ways. To give you an example, I’ll discuss the one who has this theme most clearly set out to them in their character arc – Sayaka Miki.
(Oh, she looks so happy here, doesn’t she? Yes, this is the kind of series we’re dealing with…)
I’ve already stated I virtually love every character in this show, but my favourite is undoubtedly Sayaka. Madoka’s closest friend, she is in many ways quite different to Madoka – whereas Madoka is meek, gentle, overly generous and very polite, Sayaka is headstrong, unbelievably stubborn, and whilst she has a strong sense of justice, she also has a warped view of the gap between what is right and wrong. She looks down upon magical girls such as Homura and a later introduction called Kyoko Sakura who are, in her eyes, too pragmatic. She refuses to associate with them, until Kyoko points out that she used to think much the same way Sayaka did, and that her wish, which was for another person, carried the same weaknesses that Sayaka’s did – she couldn’t rely on other people to be grateful for what she did, and nor could she let go of that, ultimately, what she wants may have come first, after all. Sayaka, who used her wish to heal a irreversibly injured childhood friend, dismisses this at first, claiming that she would never regret her actions, until she comes to realise that she’s not entirely above being selfish herself when unforseen consequences of her wish come to light – I won’t give away any more, but let’s just say, it’s beautifully and heart-wrenchingly done. I was moved to tears upon re-watching it recently, and I doubt that trend will vanish as I continue to do so.
The series does, in a way, have a villain, and I won’t give away their identity, although it will become more obvious as you watch on, as you grow increasingly disgusted with them. The way you’re meant to hate them, is, again, done absolutely expertly, and yet at the same time, you do understand their motivations, and the way they are written is done in a believable and almost a kind of defend-able way, although this is not something you’ll be prepared to do as you’ll be breaking your heart over what’s happening to all the other characters, including a belated backstory in episode 10 which will cause everything to make a beautiful and tragic sense.
The music? I really don’t know what to say. The entire soundtrack is filled with absolutely fantastic pieces of music, both personal themes, opening and closing themes and a lot more. Showing you all of them would hardly take less time than you just watching the entire series and experiencing them for yourself, so I’ll just share one gem – Decretum, Sayaka’s theme.
It’s very hard for me to think of anything wrong with this series, but I’ll suppose I’ll try and be as impartial as I can. Quite a few people dislike Madoka’s character, and on the one hand, I do see where they’re coming from. Madoka is a fairly typical protagonist, a cheerful, happy-go-lucky girl who’s also a little ditzy and occasionally naively pure-hearted. But I still like her, and more importantly, she is the perfect kind of character to have as the point-of-view character for this series, because it’s such a transformation to see her go from as cheerful as she is to absolutely horrified and broken by the trauma. Yes, I’m a bastard.
Another point I think is, although much of the applied magic and lore that goes on in this series is explained (Kyubey is our main exposition character) there are definitely some areas that are left a little vague. It’s quite understandable if you’re left after finishing the series with more than a few questions about why exactly everything went on: ‘Hang on, why etc, how come etc.’ But for me, this never caused too big a problem, as hey, you only have 12 episodes, and in those 12 episodes, the focus is where it should be, on the characters and storyline, not the few details. In fact, I’m still surprised they managed to accomplish as much exposition as they did without taking focus away. Applying thought to they way things could work, you’re bound to come up with a few potentially workable solutions, which is always fun. Another point is the ending – I will admit it’s not the strongest, because it leaves you, again, probably with a few questions, but the Rebellions movie (which I mentioned in my favourite animated movies list), which is a follow-up to the series, does clear up a few of the points you may be left with. The movie has a controversial ending too, but I personally like it, and I’m willing to explain my reasons to someone who has seen both the series and the movie.
Another point raised at one point was the fact that the opening theme of the series, whilst good, doesn’t match the increasingly dark tone of the show, unlike the ending theme, that changes accordingly. This much is true, but it’s really scraping the barrel of things to nitpick, and why? Because everything in this series works fantastically, and I will continue to hold by it and jealously defend it.
In conclusion, this series is wonderfully, spell-bindingly, unrelentingly, uncomparatively, tear-jerkingly and beautifully amazing, reminding us amidst the tragedy that hope can still be founds in times of despair. I highly doubt it’ll shift it’s position from the top of my list any time soon. If you haven’t seen it yet, THEN DO. IT’S ONLY 12 EPISODES, IT’S MORE THAN WORTH YOUR TIME, DAMN IT!!! If you have seen it, go and watch it again, because every time I do, it just keeps getting better.
Just one more thing to add to it’s list of merits – although it isn’t technically a yuri series ( a series about girl-girl romance), it might as well be, the undertones are so strong. And as the main picture of my blog might tell you, I am a die-hard shipper of Sayaka Miki and Kyoko Sakura.
And if this doesn’t persuade you it’s a series worth watching, then nothing will!
Seriously, I can’t recommend it enough. I wish I could somehow do it justice, and the only way I can imagine doing so is to watch it all over again. Send this to your friends, like and comment and give me an idea of what to post next. I don’t know when I’ll post something again, but hopefully I’ll see you soon!
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