Like most Magical girl shows, the story starts out with our main girl, Madoka Kaname (Yuuki, Aoi), as she dream of some grim situation of her destroyed city as some girl struggles to fight off the great evil. A strange creature tells her that she has the ability to stop this if she is will to. She so wakes up to the real world, in which she lives in a very nice house, a father who is gardening, a cute baby brother (Aww), and one awesome mother. Her life is pretty normal with her nice middle school and enjoying it with her friends, Sayaka Miki (Kitamura, Eri) and Hitomi. One day her class is introduced to a new transfer student, Homura Akemi (Saito, Chiwa), and to Madoka it is the girl from her dreams. Akemi becomes very popular with the students of the school but Madoka finds that is something strange about her after being told by Akemi to "make sure to always be yourself". During the afternoon at a Music store with Miki, Madoka hears a voice in her head which lead her to a creature name Kyubey (Kato, Emiri), who is badly injured by Akemi. Not knowing what to do or what is going on, Madoka and Miki try to run away but are stop a mysterious evil force that look like cotton balls with butterfly for feet and mustaches. They also have throne vines and scissors so they really are dangerous. Just as the cotton heads are about to strike, Mami Tomoe (Mizuhashi, Kaori), comes to the rescue with her magic circle barrier and UNLIMITED MUSKET WORKS!!! After the battle Tomoe tells Akemi to run on or things may get ugly between them. A healed Kyubey tells the girls that she needs their help in order to fight this evil.
While the story is pretty straightforward as any magical girl show, it is the style that it is being told at that makes it different here. Its a much dark magical girl show with the unknown evil and their abstract forms with the grim dream Madoka had that states a possible end to everything she knows. A lot of the style is very similar to bakemonogatari with its dark themes and ideas. However, not all is bleak as the morning intro and school segment shows off the lighthearted side of the series which helps motivates the girl's decision to become magical girls. Characters are pretty lively, nice, and interesting in some aspects. Madoka is pretty shy when faced with the unknown but pure and innocent and as time goes by in this series she will develop. Miki will be the energetic one of the group and is there for support for her friends. Akemi is pretty much Senjougahara if she was in middle school and had magical powers (She was dangerous with powers -_-;). And the oneesama of the gang, Mami Tomoe, which to me is a bit weird as Mizuhashi Kaori had mostly enrolled in energetic girls like Miyako and Agnes, but she does a good job with the voice.
SHAFT is really pulling all the stop with their animation team with this one. Lots of large set pieces with all kinds of designs and colors. The dark grim scenes had a night time filter to them giving off a cold sad feeling as if the bad things that are happening are going down hard. While the lighthearted scenes have a bright feel to them with wonderful bright colors and warming lights. Many of the dark scenes have over the top abstract design and lots of use of real life objects to make the strangeness of the evil even more strange. Overall the character designs are similar to that of Hidamari Sketch with nice simple designs that are not overly complex but offer up good looking characters that don't make you look away. Also no big wide head moments here so far :D Music is outstanding as each tones and music cues fit each scene and flesh it out more like the dark Gothic rock at the beginning dark scene to the quiet piano of the morning breakfast scene.
Overall this was a very solid opening episode and it leaves me optimistic about future episodes.