I finally got off my bum and watched the one “magical girl” anime everyone’s been ranting and raving about: Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
Jumping into the series, I’ve already heard that it wasn’t your average magical girl anime. Actually, that’s the reason why I even attempted to watch it in the first place (aside from the awesome opening theme). Because, let’s face it, magical girl stories made after the late 90s are less than stellar. Shugo Chara!, while being extremely cute and rubs my moé in the right ways, isn’t the most amazing thing out there.
Unlike other series that have hyped centered around it, the hype was actually a benefit to my viewing experience. The most I have heard from fans of this show was that this series features “many deaths” and is very “dark and gritty”. My overall impression from the hype? I wasn’t going to enjoy this show because it’s going to try too hard being dark and edgy. Yes, I jumped into the anime assuming I was not going to like it at all. Maybe I would have had a different initial impression of the fan reception if I knew it was written by the same dude that wrote Saya no Uta, the most disturbing visual novel in existence.
How did I feel after I found myself plowing through six episodes of Puella Magi Madoka Magica? “Man, this actually has a pretty depressing and realistic feel for a magical girl anime.” Yes, in contrast to other shows of the same genre, this anime was not so much of a happy-go-lucky and warm show aimed at girls nor a try-hard dark and edgy deathfest as I initially thought it was going to be. In many of the episodes, the story depicts everything you would usually see in a typical mahou shoujo anime as being too good to be true. And it does a pretty good job of it. The fear of death is high when you’re in the position of a superhero and whatever you wish for, may it be selfish or selfless, may not be worth the trouble of trading your life and humanity for.
As you can tell from the true translation of the title, deception runs high in this anime, in more ways than one. Along with the excellent twist of the “cute anime sidekick” playing the magical girls for fools (had my suspicions about that little asshole from episode two seeing how creepy it is), the series deceives the viewer past the forth wall. The opening, at first glance by a person who has no idea what they’re getting into, appears to be your standard magical girl opening featuring your main character, surrounded by fluffy cuteness, transforming into her super alter ego. Funnily enough, the main character is the only one without powers for the majority of the series, and you realize that an entire focal point of the plot is her not becoming a magical girl, or rather the prevention of it.
Another added amount of shock comes when Mami gets her head bitten off by a witch and the ending theme changes from the fluffy Mata Ashita to the very dark Magia… basically telling viewers during its first run that they’ve been HAD.
There are absolutely no shock absorbers in this series, akin to Neon Genesis Evangelion, presenting us with a realistically screwed up atmosphere and realistic characters in a genre of anime that’s commonly seen as unrealistic. One can compare Sayaka’s eventual breakdown from loneliness and despair to Shinji Ikari’s breakdown in End of Evangelion.
Overall, I thought the series was an excellent deconstruction of the magical girl genre (and, in reference to Sailor Moon, the sentai genre). But it isn’t only good for being different. As a series, it provides a great plot and characters with solid characterization. Basically, it’s worth a watch for anybody that appreciates a good story. The main character, Madoka, can only be described as a true hero. The ending of the anime got to me, to be honest. If Sakura Kinomoto from my beloved Cardcaptor Sakura made the kind of sacrifice Madoka did (and, in all honesty, I think she would if CCS had taken such a dark direction) I would cry forever.
(The colored sketch of Madoka that you see above was done by me, found on my DA account xiaolongli. Click to enlarge.)