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What a better way to celebrate the end of holy week than with the transcendent conclusion of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a magnificent Winter 2011 anime series produced by Shaft. Specifically, this series is the conception of the Magica Quartet: producer Iwakami Atsuhiro (Bakemonogatari, Oreimo), director Akiyuki Shinbo (Hidamari Sketch, Ef: A Fairy Tale of the Two franchise, Bakemonogatari), writer Gen Urobuchi (Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~) , and character designer Ume Aoki (known for the distinct character designs of Hidamari Sketch, which also carried over to Madoka and friends, illustrated below.)
Indeed, the Magica Quartet proves to be an exceptional team. Beyond breaking the comfort zone of the average magical girl audience with foreboding exposition, uniquely abstract artwork and previously inconceivable twists for an anime series of the genre (one presented as early as episode 3), the team successfully deconstructs the magical girl genre unlike ever before.
I dared saying it earlier during its airing and I still stand by my claim: Puella Magi Madoka Magica is the Neon Genesis Evangelion of the magical girl genre. While one may argue what lasting impression it will leave when compared with Neon Genesis Evangelion's contributions to anime, many will agree that it ranks among the best series of recent years. It is now among my personal favorite series of all time.
Addressing existential themes amidst crises during which our magical girl protagonists (puella magi) face the consequences of making wishes, live lives of fighting and are distanced from the world-at-large as well as their loved ones, we are provided with a much edgier spin on the allure of the typical magical girls. For middle school girls barely missing puberty, these girls face developments that I would wish upon no child. Expanding upon my analogy to Neon Genesis Evangelion, these girls – particularly our heroine, Madoka – are much like Shinji Ikari in the sheer amount of trauma they face throughout the series.
As lovable as some of these girls are, they get absolutely wrecked. Even despite this, they all continue about the course they’ve set upon themselves. While it is arguable under terms expanded upon throughout the series regarding the universe of puella magi that they all have no other choice, it is still admirable how these characters face so much adversity and still continue to fight. In fact, the ability for some of these characters to hold on to hope within such despairing circumstances is a central theme to many of the series developments.
Character development is one of the strongest points of this series. At many points throughout the anime it is easy to sympathize for the puella magi, who are fleshed out unlike many of their magical girl predecessors. While some of them are harder to understand than others from the onset, writer Gen Urobuchi does an remarkable job at subtly leading up to much larger developments and revelations behind characters near the conclusion.
This leads me to the plot direction and writing of Puella Magi Madoka Magica itself. The amount of exactitude in detail and fluidity of development even through certain asynchronous moments later in the series are exceptional. The clarity in detail they are able to fit under the most seemingly ambiguous situations demonstrates how carefully woven the series was. There are no questions about the plot by its conclusion, when everything comes full circle.
Best of all, the ending itself was satisfying and appropriate for the themes of the series without compromising suspension of disbelief or “copping out” in any way. Amazingly, everything leading up to the conclusion and the conclusion itself all conform to the rules of the universe set by the series upon itself. As a result, both the story and the universe of the series feel complete and suitable. While it may arguably not be the happiest ending, it was the best way the series could have ended.
Everything about Puella Magi Madoka Magica is sharp and spot-on. The animation is absolutely beautiful and while some may have gripes with the aesthetic of the abstract aspects of the art and their characteristically low framerate, I feel that the abstract successfully conveyed the strangeness and the despondency of the world of puella magi. After all, the puella magi and the actions themselves are beautifully animated, so it’s clear that if Shaft wanted to animate the adversaries of the puella magi otherwise, they could have. The way they are able to effectively juxtapose the puella magi in the abstract, alien environments of their opponents, however, only emphasizes the quality of art direction.
Overall, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is truly a five star anime and sets yet another high standard for Shaft’s prolific productions. One can argue that it potentially even redefined the magical girl genre – only time will be able to tell, however. Either way, I would recommend that everyone watch this series – even those who don’t like the magical girl genre at all. Puella Magi Madoka Magica exemplifies what good writing, unique art direction, captivating character development and provocative themes can do for an anime series no matter what the genre.