Monday, May 25, 2015

"Puella Magi Madoka Magica" Review


What the heck. This is not the show I ordered.

Okay, that's not entirely true. I knew that there was going to be some dark twists and turns to this show based off of comments people have given about it. I mean, at first look, it's a really girly anime. It's about "magical girls" which are a pretty stereotypical character class in anime and it's even got a cat, like Sailor Moon. Pft. Whatever.

And then, you watch the first five minutes and realized that this is not what you signed on for. The song that plays, "Magia" is not one that flows with the all. But it does go with the rest of the series.

It's difficult to pitch this show to people who either have tailored tastes or just won't believe a word someone says about a show based on the first look without giving something away, or at least some major, cool plot element.

The series is about Madoka Kaname, a middle school girl who has a mysterious dream one night as a cat, Kyubey, tells her that she can "make a contract" with him. The next day, Madoka meets the girl from her dream, Homura Akemi, and from there, she finds that maybe her dream was not just a dream as she meets Mami, a "magical girl" who has made a contract with Kyubey. The way to become a Magical Girl is by simply having a wish granted, and it can be any wish imaginable. Thus, Madoka and her friend, Sayaka, discuss what kind of wish they should have, even though Homura desperately pursues Madoka to stop her from becoming a Magical Girl.

And that's pretty much all I can say. Normally someone can talk about things through at least the first three episodes, since that's usually the testing ground for if someone will like a series, but in this case I cannot since some pretty big things happen in the third episode. I won't even divulge why they are big, as some people may piece what happens together if they haven't seen the show.

Like most popular series, there are several loud voices online that claim this is "the best anime ever," or at least one of the best of the decade. While I won't disagree that this isn't a fantastic series, I won't say it's the best (though it was produced by the same company that produced one of my favorite animes of all time, Fate/Zero).

There are a few things that I didn't really buy into with the series and a few moments where I found myself scratching my head. I wasn't particularly fond of Sayaka's character and while I did empathize with her and her situation, her character took a dark turn that I didn't feel was wholly natural. The same with Kyoko's character, or at least in the beginning. At first she was the new Magical Girl on the block and set out to constantly fight Sayaka for whatever reason (probably Kyubey's whispers, since he did that a lot). While I did find her slow turn to siding with Homura more natural, it was her constant thirst for battle that was a tad boring. The trope of "renegade new character" is old at this point and I haven't seen it as much in many series. She did turn into one of my favorite Magical Girls, though, and her back story was pretty rough that helped add to her character later on.

Part of me didn't really enjoy the chalky art-style given to the girls, but I also thought it was cool and innovative. I suppose that if we're meant to buy that there are two worlds (since they slip into different "realms" made by the witches), then the very 2-D look of this world helps believe that there is an extra layer. The art-style also could be adding to the irony of this looking like a childish series when it is, in fact, far from it.

Some of the characters also don't really act their age. Kyoko's, sure, because she's in middle school and she can be obnoxious. But Madoka and Sayaka are both stated to be in either sixth or seventh grade, while the eldest girl is Mami and she both sounds (English dub) and talks like someone in high school, while she's only in ninth grade. Homura is in eighth but her excuse for sounding so educated and smart is explored and is a major spoiler for the series in the way you least expect.

Madoka is mentioned to be far smarter than her age group but still, eleven/ twelve does not provoke the smartest of people. She does tend to crack under pressure and yeah, that makes sense, but her rationale for some things just doesn't seem entirely believable.

There's also a love triangle that pops up and just made me roll my eyes wondering if one of their normal friends was there simply to force that and some...things...Sayaka will come to do. I'm not a fan of love triangles, especially when the plot starts to form and get dense, so to see that develop, as well as paint said friend into almost a villain, was just unnecessary.

I just realized that I'm harping on this and you should know that this is actually a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things. You really will come to forget how old these people are once you get into the show and you'll just think about it after you're done watching it.

One last thing to note is that the show slows down significantly until Kyoko begins to side more with our Magical Girls. Everything in between is Sayaka and Madoka dancing around becoming Magical Girls while Homura does her usual "no, Madoka, don't, you don't understand" schpeel.

After that?

The show takes off. Like, gone, out of the ball-park awesome. Things just start to snowball and get worse and worse for the characters until the very end comes and you're just left sitting in your bed staring up at night wondering how a show about Magical Girls got so...existential.

The characters, the pacing, the action, the music, heck even the STORY gets so much better as the show progresses. The investment in the characters becomes so much deeper as the dire situation begins to grow and all this time, you're just left with this sense of why Homura is so calm through all of this, and why Kyubey is the same way. What do they know, how can they stop this?

Characters make risky decisions but it's all for the betterment of their friends and for, they hope, the world. It all becomes more and more interesting as you can feel the tension of Madoka making her ultimate decision, since she's caught between a rock and a hard place. The whole time you're making up wishes in your head, but thankfully we were given a wonderful writing crew.

I was coming up with wishes Madoka should have been asking for as things continued on with the series but we got a stellar episode answering tons of questions that put all of those to rest and all I was left to wonder was, "Okay...what the heck is going to happen with two episodes left?"

Amazing things, my friends. Quite amazing.

Every twist and turn that the plot takes all makes sense given the rules that Kyubey has set before us. The show becomes exceedingly dark, and again, it's all believable. Kyubey doesn't necessarily undergo any character changes, we just learn more about him. I won't say what, because it will shock you, but just know that as we learn more of his character, the darkness the show embraces makes more and more sense. And unlike the twists that some shorter anime may take, each of these helps push the plot forward and even focus it on where it was before rather than spin it in a new direction.

See what I mean about pitching the show being difficult? It's so hard to not mention the spoilers of this show!

We're really only given five characters to root for (Mami, Kyoko, Sayaka, Homura, and Madoka), but I personally found the decision quite simple in picking a favorite: Homura. Madoka was too much the reluctant hero who only wanted to what was best for her friends. But Homura, given her extensive backstory, and the decisions she makes and the way that she acts, was my favorite character. She may have seemed selfish at times but she did know what was best for Madoka and the group. She wanted nothing but to save all of them from a terrible fate.

Kyoko also had a diverse back-story and was indeed an interesting character once we got to know her. Her motivations were muddled only because her personality was muddled. She was unsure of who she wanted to be and how she was going to become that person, adding to the intrigue that we receive from her character.

Because this show was composed by Yuki Kajiura, you already know that it's going to be pretty freaking fantastic. There are only a few songs that stick out but all the others do help add to the mystical atmosphere that the show was trying to achieve. My favorite song is the main fight song of the show, "A Duel with a Witch" while the song that most resembles a series that we're expecting about magical girls is Mami's theme--the name of which I cannot recall. "Magia" is still the song that I think of when it comes to the series, and was covered excellently by Amanda Lee--who I constantly mention because she is worthy of such praises--which you can check out here. I wasn't really a fan of the opening, but it's positive vibes do constantly add to the "it's not so bad" vibe meanwhile everything is falling apart around our characters. Life is fun that way.

In the end, you need to watch this series. It's 12 episodes long on Netflix, so, no excuses. It's an interesting take, if not a satire to what people expect, on the "magical girl" trope in anime and funnily enough is still the best of its kind. Don't be fooled by posters that this is all fun and games about girls and that like, and believe the hype behind this show.

Between the story, characters, intricate plot that is constantly twisting and weaving toward a major, epic point, it's a series not meant to be overlooked anytime soon.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @seanovan13 to stay up to date on when I post. Thanks for reading!

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