Madoka Magica: A Dark, Faustian Spin on the Magical Girl Genre

Topic started by EquitasInvictus on Jan. 21, 2011. Last post by ngkachun4 3 years, 4 months ago.
Post by EquitasInvictus (332 posts) See mini bio Level 15
With an abstract, ominous magical setting reminiscent of German Expressionism along 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.  
 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)         
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.
 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. 
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!  
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!
 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.     
 Is that Madoka in the eye of Mephisto?! Definitely a bad sign.     
Post by metalsnakezero (665 posts) See mini bio Level 16
Things are going grim pretty fast (Do not open spoiler till you watch episode 3)
Madoka Magica has gotten bigger than I imagine it to be (Which was Hidamari Sketch with magical girls and artistic Shaft animations and designs).
Post by Obsidian609 (260 posts) See mini bio Level 20
Yeah I am impressed with this new direction this magical girl anime is going. It's definitely getting better and better by the moment. But still sad Mami was killed.
Post by AURON570 (539 posts) See mini bio Level 15
Really? I was laughing my ass off when Mami died. It is hard to remain serious when a character gets eaten by a large, black, worm-face thing and they're fighting in what seems to be a large strawberry cake...
Post by sickVisionz (4,221 posts) See mini bio Level 24
Moderator
All of the descriptions I saw before it came out made it sound like yet another magic girl show but if people are getting clipped left and right, I might have to check it out.  Is this simulcasting anywhere?
Post by Gaff (213 posts) See mini bio Level 11
/on a break from ME2 PS3

Oh, this sounds really compelling. I should really pick this... Oh.

We need longer days!
Post by Obsidian609 (260 posts) See mini bio Level 20
@AURON570: Yeah I admit it was kinda funny the when the Witch ate bite her head off.
Post by sickVisionz (4,221 posts) See mini bio Level 24
Moderator
I checked this out... its visuals are pretty abstract at times and I wish they'd fight enemies that don't look like a preschool magazine clip-out art collage.  I'm not familiar with the magical girl genre and what specifically makes one show a magical girl show and another one just a show with magical girls, but I've seen a couple of shows where girls have magic powers or magic science powers and characters are dying left and right.  I've also seen a lot of shows that seem like they might be happy go lucky but get super depressing.  Because of that, I don't really see what makes this show a huge breath of fresh air other than the super abstract art style.
 
Certainly not a bad show though and everything doesn't have to reinvent the wheel, but I guess I was expecting a bit more on the dark aspects than what the show delivers.
Post by EquitasInvictus (332 posts) See mini bio Level 15
@sickVisionz said:

" I checked this out... its visuals are pretty abstract at times and I wish they'd fight enemies that don't look like a preschool magazine clip-out art collage."

While it seems weird to express the frighteningly strange world of witches/magical girls with the enemies appearing that way, I feel like like the style effectively reflects the madness of the world the girls are getting themselves into. Maybe it's just because I've watched one too many German Expressionist films, in which they took similar approaches to setting in order to emphasize themes of insanity and betrayal: 
    
 The background of this scene (from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) was actually a painting (note the emphasized wide-angle distortion). They used this approach throughout the entire film to emphasize mood quite well, which I feel like Madoka Magica is accomplishing with its own sets.
 The background of this scene (from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) was actually a painting (note the emphasized wide-angle distortion). They used this approach throughout the entire film to emphasize mood quite well, which I feel like Madoka Magica is accomplishing with its own sets.
"I'm not familiar with the magical girl genre and what specifically makes one show a magical girl show and another one just a show with magical girls, but I've seen a couple of shows where girls have magic powers or magic science powers and characters are dying left and right.  I've also seen a lot of shows that seem like they might be happy go lucky but get super depressing.  Because of that, I don't really see what makes this show a huge breath of fresh air other than the super abstract art style."
While anime series like the ones you're referring to (My-HiME/Otome comes to mind) do have girls with magic (science) powers with character deaths, the deaths were more contrived to drive the plot forward. The impact of death in Madoka Magica are in it's being witnessed by a middle-school-aged girl who is faced with the choice of taking up the lifestyle of a magical girl - risking her life - just for the sake of one wish (although her true intentions might even be philanthropic.)  
 
You can compare My-HiME's characters to young women who decide to enlist. If you think about Madoka Magica in context with that analogy, however, Madoka is essentially being coerced into becoming a child soldier.
  
The uniqueness of Madoka Magica in particular is that we have Madoka, who is essentially being forced to mature due to the crises forced upon her (a good analogy to make is with Neon Genesis Evangelion's Shinji, although his nature is much different than Madoka's, the development is very similar) - she's a child facing an adult's dilemma. If you want to take it a level further, she is potentially trading off her soul (hence its Faustian nature).  
 
I understand that right now there might not be much to see due to it only being barely one-third into its run. However, there's a lot of subtle hints at some very powerful character development and themes unlike similar anime. While My-HiME, for example, might have had some extreme moments, I feel like it has been superseded in impact and consequence by Madoka Magica. Maybe right now the only clear fact distinguishing Madoka Magica from it superficially is the difference in age/maturation, however I am almost certain these ideas will expand into even greater, darker themes.
Post by ngkachun4 (13 posts) See mini bio Level 9
After epiosde, @AURON570 said:
" Really? I was laughing my ass off when Mami died. It is hard to remain serious when a character gets eaten by a large, black, worm-face thing and they're fighting in what seems to be a large strawberry cake... "
In fact, I dislike the "Drawing" of this series, but I think the content is very terrible but attractive.
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