Anime Review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

If there is one phrase that the cover of Puella Magi Madoka Magica brings to mind, it’s probably something like “ridiculously girly”, “magical girl shoujo”, or “very pink”.

At first I was put off by this anime since it seemed like a standard magical girl series, which is something I’ve avoided ever since my Sailor Moon and Tokyo Mew Mew days in elementary school. But after hearing favorable reviews, I decided to give it a try and I was stunned by this series. I’ll just let you all know right now: this is not a magical girl anime in the standard sense. It is a deconstruction of that genre.

The anime begins with the main character, Madoka Kaname, watching a fight that is going on in a futuristic city. A dark haired girl is battling a monster and is being heavily beat down. Later that day the same girl transfers into her class, to Madoka’s bewilderment. After school while in a music store with her friend Sayaka Miki, Madoka hears a voice calling for help, and as she follows the sound, she comes across a wounded creature named Kyubey that is being hunted by the dark-haired girl, Homura Akemi. As she rescues the creature and runs away with Sayaka, the space around her warps and turns into a strange alternate dimension. From there, her life is forever changed, as she is introduced to the world of magical girls and witches, and is pressured to make a decision to become one herself by Kyubey.

I found this anime very thought-provoking and eerily dark. The entire series is all about taking conventional ideas and twisting them around. The first two episodes are rife with beautiful transformation sequences and attacks, which is starkly contrasted against the creepy and unnatural dimension where witches live and magical girls fight. Even the opening gives a false feeling of cheeriness and optimism. This facade all falls apart by episode 3, where everything goes downhill and the series steadily gets darker and more sinister. I’ve seen comments from people who assumed wrongly about this anime (aka everyone) and were legitimately horrified by the events of episode 3 because it was so out of the blue. Being only about 12 episodes long, I’m quite glad that the cast was not as extensive as the one in Angel Beats. I actually managed to learn all their names this time.

If you are into symbolism, I feel like you will definitely like this anime. I myself have not read it, but I have been told that this anime is actually a parallel of Goethe’s Faust. There are numerous deliberate references to it through runes, which people have taken the time to translate. The runes themselves are frequently used in the witch world and in magical girl attacks. This is unbelievable to me, since from what I’ve read of the translation process, the runes themselves are all made up and are used to replace German characters. People had to figure out exactly which rune corresponded to each German character, and then translate the runes to German. From there they were translated to English. I am in awe of people who are that smart, and in awe that the creators planned this. The amount of research that went into this anime is incredible and really shows. I personally can’t even wrap my mind around this codebreaking process, which was evidently very difficult due to many different factors, one of which being that there were 3 different sets of runes. (Modern, Archaic, and Musical.) I applaud everyone who took their time to break all of those codes @_@

The animation has a tendency to be strange. While I was a fan of the general art, except for this eyes which threw me off a little, the witch dimension was undoubtedly weird. The animators purposely make it look like a collage of jerkily animated magazine cutouts. This is a dramatic contrast to the smoothly animated main characters, who thus stand out in the strange world of witches. This is, as odd as it may sound, a good thing. I found the artwork in the witch dimension incredibly captivating and very groundbreaking in that is was so unexpected and new. Puella Magi Madoka Magica did many things that I have never seen any other anime do, and had a tendency to take every assumption you were led into creating during the first two episodes and stomping them into the ground.

Again, while this looks like a beautifully crafted, light, and happy magical girl anime, it’s not in the slightest. Believe me when I say this is not Sailor Moon. This series is rated PG-13 for a reason, and I would probably not even recommend watching it if you’re 13. If I had a say in the rating, I would recommend PG-15 for violence, disturbing plotline, and some minor nudity during transformations. (Think Sailor Moon’s whited out body as she transformed, it gets no worse than that.) Even so, I highly recommend this series and I firmly believe it is one of the best of 2011.

Normally I would post the opening to the anime but there is again some minor nudity due to transformation sequences. Instead, I’ll leave you with a scene of a witch fight from episode two, which has no bearing on the rest of the plot.

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