There are a few titles that have been on my “to watch” list for a while now. When I say a while, I honestly mean that they’ve been added to the aforementioned list and have just stayed there, forgotten about for years. This review is a review for a title that received that treatment.
Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica is by now a show that is certainly well-known within the anime community. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of the magical girl genre or not, you have probably at least heard of the show, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past eight years. Personally, I had definitely heard of the show, but I didn’t really want to give it a try, no matter how many times my friend kept asking me to. To me, it was just another magical girl series that, for some reason, seemed to be overly hyped up. However, Madoka had somehow managed to maintain this hype for nearly eight years. Everywhere I looked – online or at conventions – there was always something Madoka related. Was it really that good? I decided that 2019 was going to be my year to take the plunge and see just what the hype was about.
Madoka follows two middle school students – Kaname Madoka and Miki Sayaka. These two girls are just your standard middle school students, living ordinary lives. That is until they meet Kyubey, a cat-like familiar, and Akemi Homura, the new transfer student. Kyubey, upon meeting the girls, offers them a proposition: he will grant them one wish and in return, they will become a magical girl and gain enough power to fulfill their dreams. However, Madoka and Sayaka begin to hesitate when Homura, who turns out to be a magical girl herself, states that not everything is what it seems to be.
One of the reasons as to why it took so long for me to watch this show was because of how cliché the synopsis sounds. Sure, I was aware that Madoka is by far a cliché magical girl show, but the synopsis didn’t really push me to want to watch it either. The fact is Homura is completely right. Not everything is what it seems to be.
Because of my previous lack of interest in the show, I was able to (somehow) avoid all spoilers concerning it, which is impressive to me considering how popular the show is. For this reason, I’m going to keep the rest of the review as spoiler-free as I can. I don’t want to ruin people’s enjoyment of the series if they haven’t already seen it!
The series starts, right off the bat, with Madoka running around a black and white environment. The juxtaposition between this monochrome and rather a dark environment and Madoka’s bright pink hair and her cheery yellow clothing is the perfect start to the show. Why? This is a common occurrence throughout each of the 12 episodes. Sure, Madoka doesn’t look like it’s a dark show when you look at the character design or even hear the OP, but the more you watch the show, the darker it gets. And what I found to be some of the more interesting parts of the show definitely involves some of the darker material.
For example, something that I just love about Madoka is the animation. I realize that it can be ‘funny’ to point at the studio and laugh about their infamous neck tilts, but I also realized that there’s more to a studio than how they animate their neck tilts. Shaft did an absolutely amazing job when it came to animating Madoka. There were times, especially in the more slice-of-life scenes, where it wasn’t perfect, sure, but they won me over with the animation techniques (and the quality of it) during the battles between the magical girls and the witches. These scenes were animated by gekidan INU CURRY [sic] – an animation troupe inspired by stop-motion, as well as animation from Russia and the Czech Republic. It reminded me of Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei as well as Gankutsuou – if the latter was slightly toned down.
Another aspect of the show that I find interesting is the morals, messages, and ethics that are presented. On the surface, you could just say that it was like much other anime – magical girl related or not – with the warning to the viewer to not be selfish, to be selfless and to be careful what you wish for. However, Madoka also incorporates teachings from Buddhism. Many of these teachings come from the Four Noble Truths, the second of which I find to be the most prominent within Madoka. To quote directly from Buddhanet’s Basic Buddhist Concepts guide:
The Second Noble Truth is that all suffering is caused by craving. When we look at psychological suffering, it is easy to see how it is caused by craving. When we want something but are unable to get it, we feel frustrated. When we expect someone to live up to our expectation and they do not, we feel let down and disappointed. When we want others to like us and they don’t, we feel hurt. Even when we want something and are able to get it, this does not often lead to happiness either because it is not long before we feel bored with that thing, lose interest in it and commence to want something else. Put simply, the Second Noble Truth says that getting what you want does not guarantee happiness.
I won’t go too much into the Buddhism aspect of the show, as that’s really going into the nitty-gritty side of things, but it has certainly piqued my interest, so perhaps I’ll explore that at another time. Although the show uses these teachings to add to its psychologically-impacting storyline, let us focus again on the more usual features of anime for now!
I have previously mentioned, although briefly, the OP. As one might expect for a magical girl series, the OP is a relatively cheery J-Pop song. The vocals are sung by ClariS and, although it may seem a little too cheerful at times if you consider what unfolds as the story progress, it also fits the show quite well, especially if you look at the lyrics. (That is, after you’ve watched the show, of course!) In contrast, the ED is by Kalafina and definitely incorporates the darker side of the show, with a more gothic-y sound and heavier instrumentation. The fact that the ED represents the darker side of the show is also emphasized with the anime, with the same song being used, albeit as an instrumental, in the tensest of moments within the show.
I couldn’t really fault the voice acting either. The seiyuus were able to portray their characters, their personalities and their emotions more or less perfectly. Well, if the script actually allowed them to. Madoka certainly has an experienced cast behind it, which helps, but I do feel as if certain characters’ expressions, particularly Madoka’s, just lacked a little bit. I don’t have any complaints with Yuuki Aoi here (because let’s face it, I loved her as Peashy in Hyperdimension Neptunia) but I do have a slight complaint with the script. The script simply makes Madoka’s character in particular to be a little lackluster. We don’t really know that much about her and well, as a protagonist, she doesn’t really show that she’s a protagonist. I may be a little unfair here, but surely Madoka wasn’t meant to be so, well… two-dimensional?
To conclude, then, is Madoka worth watching? Yes, absolutely. Do I regret not watching it sooner? Yes, absolutely. However, do I think it deserves the hype it still receives after all this time? Eh, to a certain extent. Do not get me wrong, Madoka is a great show, but it’s not this almighty masterpiece that some people seem to think it is. It definitely still has its flaws. Although they might be small, I think people need to realize this. Whether the many 10/10s were given on quality or enjoyment, I don’t know and I won’t ever know, but I sincerely hope that people aren’t just labeling the show as a masterpiece for simply “breaking the mold”. Madoka was not the first show to break the mold and, as we’ve seen in recent years, it certainly won’t be the last.
If you’re in Australia, you can watch it on AnimeLab!
You can also purchase the Blu-ray or DVD of Madoka on Amazon!