Ah, another series review, rounding out two of the three shows that I really enjoyed for the Winter 2011 anime season. This time, it's concerning Puella Magi Madoka Magica (aka Magical Girl Madoka of the Mage), and I enjoyed it immensely. Even more than Yumekui Merry.
For the first few episodes, I thought this was going to be your run-of-the-mill, typical Magical Girl anime. Helped along this way by the sheer fact that that's what they called the show.
To me, Magical Girl anime are something of a mixed blessing. Basically, despite the oft cringe-inducing theories on how the power of love, hope and friendship will stop all the bad guys, this is tempered with the sheer exuberance which the shows are often drawn with. Sailor Moon and Lyrical Nanoha both often faced things which could destroy the world, and they rose to the challenge and whooped upon it. Most often, by turning the enemy from the first half of the season into a friend.
But I digress. The reason this show worked so well is the fact that they played with the normal dynamic which one expects out of these shows. And they did it in such a way that the shifting of the sands, so to speak, of the entire foundation upon which a magical girl show are built, actually helped the plot.
Basically, what I'm saying is that this show rocked because it had a great story
Of course, the characters played a huge part in that. After all, each character had to be enough of a well-defined model that they were able to play their part in the story. More importantly, the characters had to make us care enough about them, that as each soul-shattering aspect of just what being a Magical Girl in this particular universe means hit them, then we would cringe with them. Because we could feel the emotions behind what was happening, because we could understand the joys and the griefs, then we rooted for the girls and believed in them and the story.
It made the plot matter.
Of course, this all works so well because of the familiar. In most Magical Girl shows, the girls have a familiar. Someone or something which helps guide them through the steps of the wider universe the girls are stepping into. And while most of the time these familiars are mysterious agents, they typically have the girl's best interest at heart.
Ah, but this little psychopathic familiar was not that way. Despite being much… cuter than Luna for Sailor Moon, Kyubey was anything but. He pushed the girls into being Magical Girls for his own purposes, with the fore-knowledge of the pain that this leads too.
The other thing I really enjoyed was the shifts to reality when the Magical Girls fought either each other or a Witch. The chaotic patterns of designs and colors, which always had an overarching theme that hinted at a pattern beneath the chaos.
When used in conjunction with the 'real world' which Madoka inhabited, a world of glass and steel, and clean places, these witch realms were shocking and a mixture of insanity and a vibrancy which the clean vistas of Madoka's real world seemed to lack.
Like I said earlier, I really liked this show. Both for its great story/plot and for the way it tinkered with the foundations of magical girl genre. Even if it decided to hit the cosmic reset button on the way it had tinkered with those foundations. Truth be told, I'm fine with that. I don't want every magical girl out there to become some depressing anti-hero. I get enough of that from my Star Wars EU literature since Anakin Solo's death.
Was there plot holes? Were there moments when the animation wasn't perfect or the music somewhat disconcerting? Were there times when one has to wonder why Kyubey's mouth just didn't move? Yes to all of those things.
But even if there are unanswered questions, or things not explained perfectly, I'm okay with that. I still thought the series worked, and more importantly worked well.