With an abstract, ominous magical setting reminiscent of German Expressionism
with dark, unpredictable plot developments, Puella Magi Madoka Magica
has proven not only to be a standout Winter 2011 title, but a potential watershed series in the Magical Girl
genre. At the end of its first quarter, Madoka Magica
demonstrates a self-awareness of its ominous themes and explores them ambitiously - unafraid of dealing even with death.
This beautifully animated series not only executes its setting perfectly, but also enhances it by implementing high-contrast lighting and a wide-ranged color scheme, as demonstrated by the images above and below.
Allow me to first elaborate on how I've described Madoka Magica
as a Faustian
Magical Girl. Beyond its grim, abstract setting and nature, there is a critical point behind how magical girl contracts are formed in the universe of Madoka Magica
that makes it Faustian: magical girls can gain their powers and contract only if they make a wish. Due to the nature of the contract, the consequences of the wish are irreversible. The contracted magical girls are then obligated to "return the favor" for the wish by indefinitely fighting against witches (the mysterious source of this series' abstractions as well as imbalance in the magical world that sometimes puts our own world at risk) no matter whether or not the products of the wish were actually agreeable to the magical girl in the long run. As such, the magical girls in question risk betraying their moral integrity for outcomes they may not have necessarily wanted. In the cases of Madoka and her best friend, Sayaka, they additionally risk losing the security and comfort of everyday life.
One of the comforts of everyday life: after school tea time. (From left to right in the above image: Madoka, Sayaka, Mami)
After school tea time, canceled.
Our protagonist, Madoka, is a lucky girl (along with Sayaka, who is her classmate and also a girl lacking magical powers but sticks around with her and works actively to protect her). She is able to get a glimpse of the world of magical girls after a strange turn of events following a dream foreshadowing how drastically her life was about to change. Not only that, but she is soon able to find a mentor in the form of Mami - a competent, mature upperclassmen girl well submerged in the world of magical girls. She can defeat most witches effortlessly through her skills of conjuring and firing multiple matchlock rifles and pistols on command.
Notice how beautiful, vibrant girls (Mami above) are nicely juxtaposed to these sinister, alien settings.
As a foil to Mami we have Homura, another powerful magical girl who actually wants to prevent Madoka from becoming one as well. It is actually Homura who is the defeated magical girl from Madoka's initial dream foreshadowing her introduction to the world of magical girls. While Homura isn't explicit about the reasons why she does not wish for Madoka to get involved, she warns her about possibly having to turn away from both family and friends in order to become a magical girl. It is clear through Homura's quiet indignation and the clues she's dropped thus far that probably she has had some bad experiences in her past.
Homura literally doesn't even share the vibrancy of the other characters!
Most intriguing and at the center of this is the enigmatic familiar, Kyubey. While at the surface Kyubey appears as a benign minister of magical girls, offering Madoka and Sayaka powers while even offering to grant a wish for each of them, Kyubey isn't clear about a lot of things behind becoming a magical girl like Mami is. Personally, I feel like he is the most suspicious member of the cast. Considering he is the only character we've met thus far that actually originates from the world of magic, I have a lot of questions about him.
His face is always like that. It's almost creepy!
What I appreciate about these characters isn't only how they're well-fleshed out, but how they also have the potential for character development unlike any I've seen from the genre. The magical world is malign to the point of being traumatizing, as certain events in these first three episodes proved. I am especially engaged in following this series to see how Madoka will react to the twisted world of magic. She seems like a nice, honest girl and the last person I'd want to see get involved in a world like that. Considering how many clues the series has been dropping so far, though, the forecast isn't pleasant.
Overall, as an anime series at its third episode, Puella Magi Madoka Magica
definitely delivered the expectations I set for it when it first blew me away about two weeks ago. This series isn't simply experimenting with a malevolent magical setting, it is bringing its dark themes to the forefront and exploring it in ways unlike I have ever seen seen from any magical girl anime before this. It is putting its cute, Hidamari Sketch
-like (the person who designed that franchise's characters actually also developed Madoka Magica's
) characters into the worst situations possible under the most stressful circumstances. Puella Magi Madoka Magica
is promising to be a thrilling ride!
Is that Madoka in the eye of Mephisto?! Definitely a bad sign.