- Genre : Magical girl; feelings
- Episodes: 12
- Studio: Shaft
A reserved but kind-hearted girl is suddenly pulled into the dangerous world of witch hunting after she rescues a sentient stuffed toy for the mysterious new blade-wielding exchange student with social acclimatization issues.
For those of us who consider ourselves anime enthusiasts (I am by no means an aficionado, yet!), Madoka is something of a modern-day classic. At its release, it was considered a game changer that completely upended the popular Magical Girl genre which had up until then had been made up of generally saccharine PG titles possibly best represented by the very famous Sailor Moon. Although at first glance Madoka may seem to be simply following the herd, it becomes very apparent, very quickly – let’s say, um, I dunno, episode 3…, – that we are dealing with a very different, surprisingly violent, ruthless and yet frail little animal.
It’s pretty easy to see where Madoka got its reputation. It is a thoughtful and profound deconstruction of the genre. The magical girls in question here are almost cruelly normal and very endearing. Not untouchably innocent maidens with the souls of heroes here to protect us all. Madoka and her friends are simply, every day, charming little girls, the type you’ve probably known or even have been. Madoka herself is hesitant and shy, a little scared and understandably overwhelmed by the circumstances. She is unable to truly grasp the enormity of the tasks presented to her so instead she concentrates on trivialities, like her costume, and spends much of her time looking like a deer in the headlights. Possibly the most relatable magical girl there ever was.
The visuals are incredibly deliberate and well thought out. Visual cues are at times a bit obvious but they are always interesting and smart foreshadowing. Contrast, sometimes jarring sometimes subtle, is absolutely all over this series. For example, Madoka lives in a beautiful world of soft colours and glass walls which allow every corner to be bathed in sunlight. It is one of the first animes where I was really struck by the architecture, and not because it was odd but because I wanted to live there.
Her world is bright and warm but also very still, almost sterile. Basically, it is the opposite of the witches’ labyrinthes, constructs of warped reality which are a jumbled mess of intense garish colours littered with menacing shadows, completely impervious to the natural and physical laws of the surrounding world. These pocket universes are menacingly beautiful in their own way but I definitely would not want to live there. It is a blunt portrayal of Order vs Chaos which becomes more significant and less clear-cut as the reality of Madoka’s universe reveals itself.
Unfortunately, there are a few problems. For one, the show suffers a bit in its pacing. Because it tries to pack so gosh darn much into 12 episodes, supporting characters get rather rushed in their development. The early episodes often seem to lazily drift along as we enjoy Madoka’s time with her family and friends but as the reveals start piling up (oh boy is this show twisty…), the story speeds up drastically and huge events start happening one after the other with hardly the chance for anyone, audience included, to catch their breath. As a result, I think we get robbed of the emotional impact certain character arcs could have had. We aren’t as attached or as close to these girls as we could have been and as a result some things are shocking or sad when the could have been astonishing and devastating. This said, I wouldn’t really know how to resolve the timing issues without adding extra episodes. I think the slow and calm episodes at the beginning are absolutely necessary to really get the full visceral impact of everything that happens after. A big part of how meaningful the events of the second half are is how they compare with peaceful and serene life Madoka had been living.
If you hadn’t gotten the gist yet Madoka is essentially an emotional rollercoaster in anime form. As I was trying to write this, I realized it was almost impossible to discuss particulars without huge spoilers. Every other episode is chock full of unexpected developments (I couldn’t find a synonym for plot twist). Some of these succeed better than others. For instance, I was willing to forgive almost all of the series flaws when episode 10 came around, finally giving us a glimpse into Homura’s past. This was an interesting exercise as it essentially developed the character in reverse. Rather than growing with her, we got to see a very different younger Homura and were left to infer how she became who she is, knowing what she must have gone through. The ultimately brutal irony of the reveal was simply delicious.
On the other hand, one of the most intense moments which reveals not only one of the main character’s true nature but also the fundamental truth behind everything that has been happening, manages to be both hit and enormous miss at the same time. The character reveal is great. I didn’t see it coming – I suck at those things, I’m probably being catfished by 6 different people as we speak – but even if I had it would still have been a visceral gut punch. The central conceit – the actual reason for everything is …just… mindnublingly… stupid. It makes no sense whatsoever. I was so mad, they were so close. If you’re the type of person who was put off by the huge plot holes in the Matrix, then you’re in for a rough ride. And you can tell someone but time and effort into this line of reasoning. It’s not just some half thought out last-minute throw away explanation. Once you know you can see that it was obliquely referred to all along. That someone probably thinks it’s genius, that someone is wrong.
The narrative wraps up neatly enough, although I felt that it was a little anticlimactic but I can’t point to a clear reason why. Maybe I was just so out of breath by then…
Finally, I figured I’d just say a few words about the whole yuri undertones of the series. Really yymv on this one. I’m personally not a fan of adding extra romantic or sexual context to a story, especially when the actors are children so I didn’t really see it but I do get why some people might. To me, you can love a friend and not want them to die in agony without necessarily wanting to smush bathing suit bits… What I’m trying t say is, if you’re thinking of watching this for the hawt lesbian action…you know what.. go right ahead…..
No matter what you may think of this series. Whether you think it’s an overhyped piece of tripe or that I’m a complete moron who’s too dull to understand the brilliance of the central premise, you can’t deny its impact on anime. Madoka’s legacy is apparent every time a series layers cute imagery over buckets of blood or throws vulnerable every day people into epic hero roles and then gleefully watches them fail. If you liked the series, Yuki Yuna is a Hero is a pretty obvious homage. It’s worth noting that when I originally watched this show a few years ago, I was a little disappointed. By then this show was already considered more or less compulsory watching for any true anime fan and I thought it didn’t quite live up to the hype – stupid twist and all that….But when thinking back on it for this review, I remembered it very fondly. I also found that, even years down the line, not only did I remember every single plot twist, but I remembered the exact episode number in which they occurred. This thing is memorable is all I’m sayin
Favorite character: Kyubey!!!
What this anime taught me about myself: I have the priorities of a child. I would also immediately start designing my costume in the same situation.
“If God had intended us to drink beer, he would have given us stomachs.”
Suggested drink: Walpurgis Night Cocktail
- Every time they go into a witch’s world – take a drink
- Every time someone mentions a contract – take a drink
- Every time someone mentions a wish – take a drink
- Every time Kyouko eats – have a snack
- Every time Kyubey gets hurt – take a drink
- Every time you see a soul gem – take a drink
- take another if it’s black
- Every time Homura flips her hair – google hair care tips
- Every time you see Madoka’s bathroom – consider renovations
- Every time you see someone from Madoka’s family – take a drink
- Every time Homura saves Madoka – Cheer!