Tentacle-Free Anime: "Puella Magi Madoka Magica" Review
- by Kazekun, 6 July 2015
This 4th of July was a rather mundane one. Filled with fireworks, friends, and magical girls fighting witches... wait what? This year we decided to stay in and not do much. It was rather nice, and rather relaxing. A good friend of mine came over, and together we marathoned the entirety of a rather popular anime from the past few years that I had just never gotten around to watching until now: Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Blasphemous, I know, but now I've seen it, and I decided “why not give it a proper review for you all?” So, without further ado... Let's jam!
There are so many anime out there, that it's always interesting to me when one of them overshadows the others and takes the entire fandom by storm. Even more so when it keeps that large fanbase for many years to come. These are often the best of the best that the medium has to offer, not just a fleeting gust, but a stable breeze. When you meet someone who hasn't seen them, often times you feel the need to change that.
Clocking in at 12 episodes, no time is spared in telling you what's going on, why it's going on, and also throwing curve balls that – put on full display in episode 3 – prove this series is trying to get you to sit up and pay very close attention. Even the aesthetics, such as the Labyrinths the Witches make, are so unique in their execution that I can openly say I don't think I've ever seen this kind of story telling in another series. And I've seen Neon Genesis Evangelion (which is a good comparison to the likes of Madoka). You can tell the writers and the animators are putting their all into this series to make it as good as it can possibly be and give it the lasting impression it so surely deserves.
Many would also call this series a deconstruction of the magical girl genre, taking all the tropes of this genre and giving them a much more realistic, heavier feel. I would agree with this.
Unlike most first episodes, we spend several episodes thoroughly discussing the pros and cons of becoming a magical girl and stopping witches. Everything comes at a price, so don't throw yourself into danger unless you're ready to face the consequences later on.
I really enjoyed this, contemplating myself the entire way: “If a creature like Kyuube came up to me and asked me to become a superhero for him in exchange for one wish, would I be willing to do it?” These are real dangers I'll be facing and I might not even live long enough to reap the benefits of my wish, if there even are any. This series really gets you thinking on that level and if that was part of the creator's intentions, then he most certainly succeeded.
Unfortunately, it is with a heavy heart that I must become blasphemous as a fan once again...
Many fans regard Madoka as a high standard show, and it most definitely is, but many of them will also go as far as to say that Madoka is a modern masterpiece and if you disagree with that, well tough shit. And that's where the blasphemous part comes in. Maybe it was all the hype I was exposed to until I finally watched it, maybe I'm just a bitter old man, but in the end I don't think Madoka is a modern masterpiece. Or a masterpiece at all, for that matter. Don't get me wrong, it actually comes awfully close, but after 11 straight episodes of awesome build up, emotional suspense, and revelations that make you go: “Okay, now that is REALLY cool!” I feel episode 12 drops the ball just a bit.
After spending all this time with these characters, getting to know them, watching their health and mental states slowly break down, and even die, it made sense that Madoka would finally have to step in, make her wish, and become “the greatest magical girl to ever exist” as Kyuube and Homura have been prophesying throughout the series. But with great power, comes a great responsibility. Many terrible decisions were made by the characters in this series; not because they're stupid, but because they're naïve little girls.
In order to escape her fate, and to fix the fates of those Kyuube's race had tampered with, Madoka's wish was just the right loop hole this series needed to find its way out of a storytelling corner. In fact, you could call it genius. Madoka wishes to get rid of all witches before they are born. Madoka essentially becomes a god and erases herself from existence, so that witches don't exist anymore and her friends can return to their normal, happy lives. It's a noble sacrifice, but one I felt is handled rather poorly when Magical Girls end up continuing to exist, but, instead of fighting Witches, they're fighting emotionally fueled wraiths.
I may be the only one who actually thinks this, but if Madoka's wish was so powerful it altered reality itself and ended up creating a new universe from scratch, why not actually CHANGE it? In this new altered history, literally everything is the same accept that Madoka never existed and neither did Witches. But Witches are literally the consequences a Magical Girl faces for making a contract with a devil, and instead of just getting rid of witches, why not get rid of all of it? No more invisible villains for the world to fight, no more Magical Girls that are so intertwined with the birth of Witches. No, just bring all the characters back to life and give them all normal, boring high school lives. The logical consequence for all the pain and suffering caused by the fantastic: forever relegated to now living ordinary, mundane lives without their friend.
Unfortunately, this is not what happens, and really my frustration boils down to the fact that there was SO MUCH emphasis placed on changing literally everything, that I simply feel not enough was actually changed. Because Madoka is written from a defeatist p.o.v., in that even though you may try your hardest, there's no way you can actually change how the world works. Apparently not even when you quite literally destroy one universe and give birth to another.
All that being said though, Puella Magi Madoka Magica actually does offer a lot more good than it does bad. So I would definitely recommend this series if only because it's something incredibly different than what you normally see in, well, any medium. From a storytelling perspective and definitely a visual perspective.
On the subject of visuals, I REALLY enjoyed how this series looked. The moe art style of this world contrasts incredibly nicely with the paper cutouts that make up the labyrinths the Witches make, which are essentially a different realities. The Witches themselves are really unique, along with their worlds made literally out of paper and claymation. It's really cool, and something I definitely wasn't expecting when I jumped into this show.
The battles are really frickin' awesome as well. Each Magical Girl has a unique way of fighting, and can summon weapons to help them in their crusade against Witches. But it isn't just MG's vs. Witches; we also get Magical Girl on Magical Girl action, which is pretty sweet. The best fight though has to go to the one between Mami and Homura in the Madoka movie -Rebellion- which we will discuss in a moment. They're so stylish and smart in the way they're portrayed. This series has great action, if you haven't caught on by now.
I know I'm dragging on, but before we discuss the movie, I also just want to mention the music in this series, composed by one of my all time favorites in the musical industry: Yuki Kajiura, which means a lot of melancholy tones and themes of despair. Wrapped up tightly in a small ball of hope, which is what her music always does so well. I kept thinking the whole time that the soundtrack reminded very much of .hack//SIGN, which makes sense because she did the music for that as well. Her music has a very defined sound, and sometimes it can sound so similar that, unless you've seen the shows her songs feature in, you really won't be able to guess that they aren't from the same shows. You would imagine this would get tiring after awhile, but Kajiura's sound is so distinctive, that I just can't get enough of it. And it's ALWAYS a treat to come across it.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Movie – Rebellion – (2013)
I will try not to press too hard on this film, as, to be honest, there's just not a lot of nice I can say about it. While I did have issues with Madoka's original ending, at least it was concrete. You walked away from that original series with no need to question what you just watched. And ultimately you felt content. -Rebellion- throws a devastating monkey wrench into the whole mix as Homura finds herself overcome with despair over the fact that she lost Madoka at the end of the series. Kyuube's race is experimenting on her and trying to turn her into a Witch, something that shouldn't exist anymore.
The reasoning behind this is majorly flawed, but I was going to let it slide, if the ends justified the means. And where as I had major issues with the ending the original series, this was just a flat out travesty. Madoka's noble sacrifice was stolen from her because Homura loved Madoka so much, she was able to gather the power to become the Devil and completely rewrite reality as Madoka did just before. Madoka is returned to life, and completely ends up forgetting that she was ever a god in the first place. Homura basically takes her place, but instead of ceasing to exist, she becomes “the Devil” and watches over Madoka and her friends in this new world she created.
It's all incredibly convoluted, and it doesn't help that the end credits scene seemingly sees her somehow killing herself in the end for... reasons? I guess? I'm just not sure what was going through the writer's heads when they made this film. Yeah, Madoka wasn't perfect, but it was overall a solid, enjoyable series. And they just kind of... shat on it. This movie wasn't an atonement film for the sins Homura made in the series. It was Homura basically saying: “Hey, Madoka, I don't like that you died for my sins. So I'm stealing that choice away from you because I love you that much, and I'm going to trap you in this new world I created with no recollection of the being you once were. Because I'm a true friend.”
If there is one thing this movie has going for it, it's the aforementioned fight between Mami and Homura, as well as the gorgeous updated animation. If Madoka looks great, -Rebellion- looks even better. For the aesthetics, I would definitely say to go ahead and check this film out. The music, same as ever, is also on point. However, as far as the story goes, this doesn't do any decent service to the overall adventures of Madoka and her crew and drops the ball pretty hard because of it.
If you still haven't seen Puella Magi Madoka Magica, definitely go check out the series. I may disagree with how it ends, but I do that with a lot of shows. I do however believe it's a really good series overall and worth checking out. Do not bother checking out the films. -Rebellion- doesn't offer anything good, and the other two films cut down a 12 episode series into 2 shorter two-hour films, and that just no bueno to me.
Final Score: 3.5 Moe Magical Girl Tropes out of 5
Have you seen "Puella Magi..."? What did you think of it?