Monday Anime: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

If you thought Angel Beats was too mainstream to make a list of little known anime, this one is bound to make you think I’ve gone completely crazy. Or more likely, just don’t know anything about anime.

I actually know a lot about anime, by the way. Not everything, and I don’t bill myself as an expert, but I know a lot. For example, despite the enormous popularity of Madoka Magica, it seems that almost nobody has heard of it. Which is incredibly weird, yet still very true.

Here’s how it is: The only time I ever saw Madoka Magica make any list, anywhere, was as an honorable mention on mature anime. That’s it. The only mention I’ve ever seen of the show on any list of anime. An honorable mention.

What’s even more surprising is that, despite the fact I watch a lot of obscure anime, such as Yami To Boushi To Hon No Tabibito, which I talked about a couple weeks ago, Madoka Magica didn’t even tickle my radar when it came out back in 2011.

Truth is, I didn’t hear a single word about this show, anywhere, until last year, when I happened across SF Debris video recaps of it. Also, I strongly recommend you go check those out. He does an amazing job of presenting the complex themes and emotions at play in the series. Plus, his tribute to Homura, set to “Time After Time“, is a thing of beauty.

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Even just the brief recaps offered by SF Debris sucked me in, and I ended up marathoning the series in a single day, blown away by what I can only describe as a damn work of art. How this show isn’t listed as one of the greatest animes of all time baffles me.

Here’s where I commit anime heresy, and admit, Madoka Magica is better than Cowboy Bebop. Before you get out any torches and pitchforks, let me add that the show has garnered a ton of critical acclaim, and commercial success, easily rivaling that of Bebop. What puts it over the top, for me, is the story, and the absolute dedication the writing team had to it.

The question remains, though, how did a series that garnered so much acclaim and popularity, go unnoticed? It certainly wasn’t for a lack of getting around. The show was given a truly excellent dub that ranks as one of the best I’ve ever come across, with every English voice actor nailing their roles perfectly. Plus, Madoka has been exported to pretty much every corner of the world, and received both critical praise and commercial success.

Somehow, though, despite all of this, the show remains under the radar, and little known. If there’s any reason for it, then I’d have to put at the feet of the most important descriptor the show has.

It’s a magical girl anime.

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Invariably, this conjures images of Sailor Moon, which is also an excellent and well received series, but kind of strangled the genre for any other show. Sailor Moon is such a dominant force, everything else tends to fade into the background when the term magical girl anime is raised. This makes it hard to get a lot of traction in that field. More importantly, Sailor Moon dominates the conversation, simply by being Sailor Moon, in all its glory. Bringing up magical girl animes is always going to start with Sailor Moon, and rarely leave it, which doesn’t always let other, equally good, or even better, shows shine as bright as they should.

I’m not blaming Sailor Moon, mind you. The success it enjoys is well deserved. It’s just that, when you start talking about the magical girl genre, it’s hard to get people past Sailor moon, to see other series that are just as deserving of praise.

Which Madoka Magica most certainly is. In fairness, it’s almost the Corpse Party of magical girl animes, with heavy themes, dark colors, terrifying visuals, and enough blood to make Alucard take a step back. It’s also one of the most powerful, brilliant, moving, and inspired animes I’ve ever seen, and sits at the number one spot of my all time favorites animes ever.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s a quick run down.

One day, average middle school students Madoka and Sayaka encounter a strange, cat like creature named Kyubey. An alien, Kyubey reveals to them that the world is full of evil entities called witches, who curse people with despair and depression, frequently driving them to suicide. These witches feed on the misery, and grow stronger. The only way to destroy the witches is through power that Kyubey can grant special girls who sign a contract with him, and become magical girls. In return, he will grant them any wish their hearts desire.

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Warning: Bunnycat is a dick.

At first, upon meeting magical girl Mami Tomoe, both Madoka and Sayaka think that being a magical girl is awesome and seriously consider accepting Kyubey’s offer. However, another magical girl, Homura Akami, makes them reconsider, when she warns the that Kyubey is just using them, and is more evil than the witches themselves.

Uncertain what to do, most of the show revolves around Madoka’s struggle to decide if she wants to be a magical girl, as she watches her friends suffer and die. Slowly, she learns the horrible truth about what witches really are, and Kyubey’s master plan, as a world ending threat begins to emerge.

The series deals heavily in the themes of grief and hope, loss and love, sacrifice and commitment. At every turn, Madoka is torn between these things, as her world grows ever darker, and she finds herself struggling to decide who she can trust. The balance of both the darker elements of the series, and the brighter, are handled with such expertise, it is amazing.

Seriously. This show is pure amazing.

The animation is simply stellar, with rich, vivid backdrops set against beautiful character designs, which in turn, deviate from the norm just enough to be a sharp contrast, without being alien. One of the more successful aspects is when the girls enter a witches domain, and the background animation changes to chaotic paper cut out style animation, creating a jarring, unsettling look that captures the wrongness of witches in a way that regular animation likely wouldn’t have.

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The musical score is perfect, and fairly memorable. It is used in the best possible way music can be used, by helping to tell the story, without ever overshadowing the visuals and dialogue. Unobtrusive, but important, it’s always well timed and well placed to elevate an already superb narrative to greatness.

As for that narrative, it’s unforgettable. Seriously. Once you have seen Madoka Magica, you’ll never forget it. Not the losses, not the love, not the sorrow, not the sacrifice, and most of all, not the incredible, unyielding determination that is the MVP of all MVP’s ever, Homura Akemi.

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There really is very little Madoka Magica gets wrong, so little, that I can’t actually think of anything at the moment, except maybe trying to capitalize on the success and keep telling a story that ended with perfection. Do yourself a favor, and when you reach the end of the series, stop there. It’s one of the most heartfelt, selfless, amazing endings in all of anime, and the studio messing with it in later movies is a terrible mistake.

Sometimes, you gotta know when to let the story end, no matter how successful it is, and no matter how much fans beg for more.

Now go watch Madoka Magica. You can either thank me, or get out your torches and pitchforks, when you have.

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5 thoughts on “Monday Anime: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

  1. Madoka is an absolute thrill and I think your review covers most of its appeals between its art, themes, and narrative. Especially liked your description of how the shifted aesthetic of the Witch’s domains alter the mood of the show in this chaotic, unnerving way. Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My pleasure. This is one of those shows I’d love to do a rewatch of, but I often feel Chuck over at SF Debris did it so perfectly, it’s hard to add anything.

      Besides of course telling everyone to watch it.


  2. I was blown away by this series. A friend was kind enough to recommend it without offering any details, simply saying “Watch it. You won’t regret it.”
    And honestly, that was the way. I started watching, and quickly developed a theory about what type of series this was, and in a move reminiscent of Higurashi, but far more surprising, the series took a turn for the dark, and I was both surprised and blown away.
    Not only is it a strong series in its own right, but the narrative used the stereotypical magical girl narrative, while also completely inverting those dominant storytelling conventions.
    Truly, a brilliant story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It definitely ranks as one of the best magical girl animes ever made, and not just because it gets dark, but because they make hope such a central theme to it, and in such a creative way.

      I happened to learn about it while watching some video reviews by a SciFi Debris, and gave it a go. Like you, I ended up being blown away by how deep, and powerful it was. Homura, especially, was amazing to me.

      SciFi Debris compared her to the Greek myth of Sisyphus, I think it was. Eternally pushing the bolder up the hill, but never giving up no matter how many times she failed.

      Just an amazing execution of a really creative concept, with powerful characters driving the entire plot. This is one that really does deserve to be called a work of art.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really loved how, in the process of pursuing her goals, Homura compounded the problem. I also thought it was interesting how thoroughly complex every character is.
        In the beginning it seems clear who’s good and who’s evil, but by the end they turn that on its head.
        The story just had a great way of surprising you. So many good turns in the narrative.
        And I do agree, in the end they made it a story of hope. They went very dark, and then turned it around in a wonderful resolution.


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