Synopsis: Madoka Kaname and Sayaka Miki are regular middle school girls with regular lives, but all that changes when they encounter Kyuubey, a cat-like magical familiar, and Homura Akemi, the new transfer student.
Kyuubey offers them a proposition: he will grant any one of their wishes and in exchange, they will each become a magical girl, gaining enough power to fulfill their dreams. However, Homura Akemi, a magical girl herself, urges them not to accept the offer, stating that everything is not what it seems.
A story of hope, despair, and friendship, Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica deals with the difficulties of being a magical girl and the price one has to pay to make a dream come true.
I’m probably asking the same question you are: “How has this anime not been reviewed yet?!” I don’t know the answer either, but the time has come to right that wrong and give this anime all of the praise it rightfully deserves. I tried to keep this review relatively spoiler-free, but I probably let one or two spoilers slip, and then there’s that slideshow that spoils everything… 😀
Proceed with caution!
What can you say about Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica that hasn’t already been said? At a point in time, it felt like magical girl anime were nothing more than sparkly transformations and the power of friendship. Then this series came along, and everything changed. Thus dark magical girl anime was born, and compared to the all-too familiar formula still seen in most other anime in the magical girl genre, the story in Madoka Magica just feels like it’s on a completely different level. The beauty is how the series takes some familiar concepts into new and exciting directions. Up until a certain point, this doesn’t feel that dissimilar from other magical girl anime, but after that? We’re in for a wild ride~
This series doesn’t follow typical magical girl procedures, so death, tragedy, despair, and hopelessness become the order of the day, yet it all comes together so well. All of the plot twists and turns are so well thought out and extremely well-written, and that falls at the feet of Gen Urobuchi, the scriptwriter. By the end of the season, we’re dealing with a magical girl anime that’s introduced such complicated topics as time travel, parallel worlds, and thermodynamics into the equation, but somehow, it just works. Due to the complexity of the plot, I’d definitely recommend watching this more than once, and that goes for every major installment in the series.
The pacing is pretty deliberate, with a strong emphasis being placed on the storytelling rather than just some cheap fights between magical girls. Right off the bat, we’re given a glimpse at a fascinating plot point—before we’re even introduced to any of the characters—and from then on, it’s hard not to be compelled by the story. In other words, it hooks you early on and doesn’t let go. You can’t say this about many magical girl anime, but the story is legitimately emotional, and you’re going to get overly attached to the characters. And for the most part, I think character development is really good, with some characters faring better in this regard than others.
Rewatching this, I was really bothered by a couple of things. 1.) How no one asked what Kyuubey was and 2.) How quickly the girls just naively entered into a contract with him. If a cute cat/fox-looking thing started talking to me and wanted me to sign a contract, I’m going to have some questions. And the girls never bothered to learn about what they were really getting themselves into, so they’re not without fault here. Read the fine print, kids! 😛
Lastly, something else I loved about this series was how serious the tone remained throughout. In most other magical girl anime, you’ll usually get some filler consisting of comic relief and cutesy slice of life moments, but you won’t really find that here. Madoka Magica goes all-in on the despair, and that reluctance to compromise deserves some applause. So it’s safe to say that the story blew away expectations, and if the recent wave of dark magical girl anime that we’ve experienced in the past several years is any indication, this is the magical anime that others aspire to be.
As well as the story was written, I think the characters were nearly as good.
Honestly, on her own, Madoka’s not a great character. At least not on her own. She’s similar to other “ordinary” magical girl anime protagonists, kind and incredibly sweet, yet she doesn’t even become a full-fledged magical girl until the final episode. So it’s easy to think that she’d drag the story down, but that wasn’t the case at all. In addition to her incredible potential that we’re reminded of again and gain, her intriguing relationship with Homura is what helped make her a fascinating character to me. Madoka is likable and displays some charisma, yet she just so happens to be paired with one of the most beloved characters in anime.
And her name is Homura. Is there a person that doesn’t love Homura? She’s like the ultimate mysterious badass that sacrifices everything for the girl that she loves. From the beginning, you’re not sure whether Homura’s a friend or foe, but it doesn’t even matter. You already got the sense that she was going to be an amazing character either way, and that definitely comes to pass. As good as every episode was, episode ten (Homura’s backstory), stands out from the rest, and it cements her legendary status. Shockingly, she becomes an even more interesting character once we learn her story, and that’s usually not the case for the mysterious-types Like Madoka, Homura’s at the center of the story, but unlike Madoka, Homura actually plays an active part in shaping it. Now, about that pairing…
Similar to everything else about this anime, the main pairing here is a lot deeper than what you’re going to find in most other anime. So unlike other pairings, Madoka and Homura don’t kiss, they don’t explicitly say they love each other, they don’t hold hands, they don’t blush when around one another, yet despite all that, they’re STILL one of the best yuri pairings of all-time. It’s not about what they say, it’s about what they do, and all they do is put themselves through hell in order to protect the other.
All season long, their relationship had been leading up to what transpired in the final three episodes, and through all of the tears and all of the sacrifice, you can’t possibly deny that they don’t love each other. Of course, people would prefer to see romance between their yuri pairings, and while they’ve yet to get that from MadoHomu, such strong subtext can’t be ignored. Just look around the internet to see how impactful this pairing has been. Tons of fanfics, tons of doujins, tons of merch, etc. Looking back, I’m a little disappointed that MadoHomu only made it to the semifinal round of our Best Yuri Pairing tournament, because if you were to ask me, they’d probably be my number one yuri pairing. If there weres any doubts, watching this a second time erased those.
Moving on, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Sayaka, and of all the main characters, she was definitely my least favorite. She wasn’t the cute one or the badass one, she was the skeptical one, and opposing Homura for so long certainly didn’t do her any favors. Her romantic interests in a boy didn’t help either, and her and Kyousuke’s story was perhaps the thing I enjoyed the least about this series. On a brighter note, I think Kyouko turned out to be an enjoyable villain-turned-unlikely-ally, and seeing her change over the course of the series was interesting. Given Kyouko’s tragic backstory, I felt a lot more sympathetic towards her than I did towards Sayaka, so that’s another reason why I liked her more. But there are some people that ship these two together, though, personally, I don’t really see it. I guess it’s due to their rivalry and how it seemed like it was destined to turn around, but I just can’t forget about Sayaka essentially trading her humanity to help a boy that she liked. So while MadoHomu is universally considered as one of the greatest yuri pairings of all-time, Sayaka x Kyouko feels to me like a forced union created by Madoka Magica fanfic writers that want something else to write about. Sorry, those who ship them! 😀
Lost in all this was Mami, who was on track to be another very interesting character, and then THAT happened. That was the moment that shit got real, so it was a necessary sacrifice to the yuri goddesses. Unlike Kyouko’s, Mami’s backstory flashback was super brief and didn’t do much to endear her to me, yet those fight scenes involving Mami are some of the things I remember most about her. Tiro Finale, anyone?
Oh yeah, I can’t forget to talk about how hateable Kyuubey is. To me, some of the most interesting villains are the ones that don’t believe they’re doing anything wrong. So this being without an understanding of morality and an inability to feel emotion, sees no wrongdoing in what’s going on. To it, it’s doing what’s needed in order to preserve the universe, so can it really be considered evil? It makes a great point by comparing the Incubator x human relationship to that of humans and livestock, so the more it talks, the more it actually makes sense, and the more I hate it as a result. Like other aspects of this anime, the inner workings of the main villain are a lot more complex and fascinating than you’re likely to find in other anime. A great protagonist deserves a great antagonist, and Kyuubey is exactly that. But I still hate that bitch…
They’re not canon, but Madoka and Homura eventually provided all the yuri subtext you could ask for, and this is in addition to them being such interesting characters. Like the story, a similar level of care went into making this cast as memorable as any you’d find in anime, so just know that they’re great. It’s as simple as that.
Visually, Madoka Magica retains a similar style as fellow Shaft anime Hidamari Sketch, with those wide, angular faces that are equal parts cute and awkward. That’s all well and good, but the obvious thing that stands out when you talk about this anime is the art style during the battles with the witches. Compared to some other magical girl anime, I wouldn’t say that there are a lot of battles, but each one in Madoka Magica feels like a major event, and the reason is clearly those surrealist landscapes that remain some of the most visually compelling imagery in the history of anime.
That’s some high praise, but I wholeheartedly believe that. Those visuals were just so unlike what you’d expect to see in anime, but given the other unexpected twists this series produced, maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising to see it go above and beyond. On a less positive note, every once in a while, you’d get glimpses of some rushed art/animation, yet I think these instances were few and far between, so this really isn’t that big a deal.
As great as the visuals were, the sound had a lot to live up to, good thing the music was left in the very capable hands of the one and only Yuki Kajiura, arguably the best composer in the entire anime industry. I already mentioned how Madoka Magica wasn’t particularly action-packed by magical girl standards, yet the music shines in other ways, especially in terms of creating an eerie and foreboding atmosphere.
In a lot of other anime, you don’t really notice the music until it’s blasting as the forces of good are fighting with the evildoers, but here, even the more subtle musical moments stood out to me. The voice acting and sound design are also superb, and together with the music, this is a fantastic auditory experience.
Considering that both L and I ranked Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica in the top four of our Top 10 Yuri Anime lists, it was inevitable that we’d both give this an extremely high score.
After all, it completely changed how people view magical girl anime. All the established rules that creators were content to follow were broken, and out of it came this phenomenal anime that succeeds in almost every regard. Often imitated, never duplicated, Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica is easily one of the best anime that I’ve had the pleasure to review, so if you haven’t already, you REALLY need to watch this~
*goes to rewatch Rebellion*
+ Seriously great story
+ Seriously great characters
+ Two words: Homura Akemi
– Just make MadoHomu canon already
– Sayaka x Kyousuke wasn’t needed or wanted
– Wanted to see more of Walpurgisnacht