Puella Magi Madoka Magica (Eclpise)
Ah, Madoka Magica. What can I say about a series like this?
I can say a lot of things.
I never had the pleasure of not knowing what the series was about, but apparently people are dissuaded from watching because of the initial impression that the target demographic is children. I can tell you with confidence, that is not the case. Madoka is a series that, depending on how you watch, can be just a very entertaining series or one that can provoke a lot of critical thought. That is one of the main appeals of the show: accessibility.
Let’s start with the plot. If you were to just judge it by its cover, you might think Madoka is just a generic magical girl show and take off. Thankfully, it’s anything but. Madoka brings a fresh twist to the entire genre. Let me give an example. This is episode 1 stuff, so just skip the next paragraph if you don't want to read it.
Okay. In the first episode, we already see some divergence. The opening scene displays a ruined city with parts of buildings suspended in midair and everything is dark. After that there’s the offputting themes from Homura the transfer student. So near the beginning there’s already mystery and a sense that something bigger is going on. This serves very well to show that, hey, maybe there’s more to this than you thought. And later on we have Homura make a reappearance as the probable villain, shooting magical blasts at this adorable creature who was in the opening dream sequence and you see the damage. Chunks of fur are ripped off and it’s bleeding. Then a short while later Madoka, the creature, and Madoka’s friend Sayaka find themselves in a dungeon surrounded by disturbing creatures who are defeated by a girl whose magical girl power is guns. Many people say episode 3 is the hook, but, honestly, episode 1 serves as a great introduction to some of the overarching themes and tone of the series.
The plot revolves around the inner struggle of Madoka as she struggles to decide whether or not she wants to form a contract with Kyuubey/QB and become a magical girl. Throughout the series we see the pros and cons of being a magical girl, and that’s one of the biggest strengths. While you might start thinking that it’s an easy choice, the conflict is slowly introduced and more and more is presented about what it really means to be a magical girl. By giving the scenario cons, you are able to understand Madoka’s struggle with much less suspension of disbelief.
Aside from the plot you might be asking how the visuals will affect your viewing experience. In my opinion, while I don’t personally like the character design, the art style greatly improves the show. The simplicity of the foreground art is not only a great contrast to the stop-motion style witch lairs but also disarms you, making the emotional scenes come with greater impact. And the unsung heroes here are the background artists. The animation studio, [email protected], was able to use the extra budget from making simple character designs on complex backgrounds as well as the beautifully stylized action sequences. SHAFT was also behind Bakemonogatari and Mekakucity Actors among other things, and they always manage to have production quality on par with a full-length anime movie every episode. I can assure you with confidence that the art will be, more often than not, a strength of Madoka Magica.
To accent the complexity of the writing, the music displays a great range of emotion. While in past years the whole idea of choirs being included in the background music has become a bit played out, the angle Yuki Kajiura, the composer, takes it works very well. There’s a sense of consistency in the style of every piece; nothing feels out of place. While some might have opted to incorporate different genres to fit different moods represented, Ms. Kajiura kept with the orchestra and choir yet was able to make each track feel distinct by focusing on or adding in an instrument. She has also done composition for Xenosaga II and III, Fate/Zero, and Sword Art Online among others. One of the fantastic musical choices comes in at episode 3, so you can skip ahead if you don’t want that spoiled, either.
After the events of episode 3, the show’s ending theme changes for the duration of the series. That alone was one of the big reasons I enjoyed the show on its psychological level. As if to show how drastically Madoka’s view of what it means to be a magical girl changes, the tone of the ending changes to match. It was a fantastic choice that made watching Madoka that much more immersive.
And if you're asking whether you should be watching subbed or dubbed, I’m happy to say there isn’t much difference. Sometimes the English version has slightly forced acting and the translation I watched used wording that made the scenes have more impact, but I liked the English cast better in terms of voice matching character design.
Of course nothing can be without its faults, so let me quickly give you a vague sense of what I didn’t like. It’s really just one thing, but it might make or break the show for you. The ending disappointed me. The final two episodes are done very well, but the whole psychological aspect is dropped in order to wrap up the plot. As well, I’m still conflicted at the ending. It’s supposed to be big and surprising, but it was already hinted at in an earlier episode, so it didn’t have the same effect. I don't think it would be better to have it not hinted at, but maybe it should have been more subtle. Well, despite all that, the ending was still cool and the scene after the ending seems promising. I have my suspicions about what happens in the third movie. Exciting suspicions.
Even with an ending that changes the show’s pace, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a show that I honestly believe everyone should watch. There’s so much here that was done fantastically that it would be a crime to let the final two episodes ruin the experience. The characters are written fantastically and it’s a visual and audial treat. It’s one of my favorite shows of all time and I hope it becomes one of yours, too.