Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Addict Overview: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

Where young male anime fans have shonen anime, such as Naruto, DBZ, One Piece, etc, young female fans have mahou shoujo. Mahou shoujo, or Magical Girl, is exactly how it sounds; a show where a female character or a group of female characters use magical powers to fight off the forces of evil. Sailor Moon is the most common and popular example. At first glance a mahou shoujo series may seem cutesy, sweet and girly....and that's because a lot of them kinda are. There isn't much danger that the main characters could get in, the explanation for why they have these magical powers are simplistic and the opposing force they're usually up again don't really seem like they'd do much damage if they DID succeed. There isn't enough emotion, risk or characterization involved.....that is unless you're watching Madoka Magica, in which case you're in for a surprisingly intense ride.....

Madoka Kaname is your average 14 year old girl, living a pretty good life with a loving family and close friends. All that changes one day when she has a strange dream involving a girl she's never met fighting off a mysterious presence while a strange little creature tells her that she can prevent all this by becoming a Puella Magi, a Magical Girl. Even stranger, the girl in her dream shows up as a transfer student in her school and is hunting down the strange little creature in secret. All this leads to Madoka and her best friend Sayaka's lives being turned upside down as they are dragged into the conflict between the Puella Magi and the strange and sinister witches, who feed off negative emotions. Now reading this condensed version of the overall plot makes it seem pretty standard, but the events that take place over the month this series covers follows Madoka, Sayaka and the other Puella Magi they meet as they deal with mind blowing revelations, heartbreak and betrayal.

The story is one serious breath of fresh air to this genre. I've watched Sailor Moon when I was young and I've also watched Magical DoReMi. One was kinda Power Rangers-ish while the other was very kiddy. Pretty much what we all think when we think "Magical Girl". This is not the case with Madoka. The show actually goes so far as to give an explanation as to why Puella Magi are created and where their powers come from, something most Mahou Shoujo either skim over, simplify or just don't bother explaining. In fact, the explanation given makes the show more of a sci-fi series then a mystical one. All the characters are intriguing and far from dull. Madoka is a normal girl living a perfect life who now must deal with life-changing choices, Sayaka is friendly and fun-loving but also harbors a sense of duty to protect the innocent at all costs, a trait that begins playing against her over time. Homura, the girl from Madoka's dream, comes off as antagonistic, doing whatever she can to prevent Madoka from becoming a Puella Magi, but as the story goes on you become more sympathetic for her and understand what and why she does what she does. The second Puella Magi Madoka and Sayaka meet, Mami, is kind hearted and motherly but also has a strong fear of loneliness and isolation and sees Madoka as her salvation from this feeling. The third Puella Magi, Kyoko, is very stubborn and looks out only for herself but also has a reason for it. Lastly, there's Kyubey. At first this little creature seems like no more then your typical mythical animal companion, but as time goes on you begin to question his methods, reasoning and his true purpose for contracting young girls, begging the question of whether he's a force of good or evil.

The animation style and music are the delicious frosting on top of the deep, interesting story and characters that form the cake. The characters all have a sketchy look to them, particularly the eyes. This is a trait I haven't seen before but apparently the animators of Bakemonogatari worked on this as well, so the similarities will probably be more apparent to those of you who have watched it. Even more impressive, the style chances once you enter the realm of a witch. Everything changes from traditional anime to a very artistic and abstract style, usually with a theme based on what the witch is based around, such as an apple tree, a toy box or a tea party. The environments are visually stimulating and creepy as is the design of the witches themselves, ranging from deceptively harmless-looking to downright monstrous. The music is beautiful and somber, perfectly fitting each moment and never feeling out of place with ear-pleasing violin solos and angelic choirs. The closing theme, Magia, is also one of THE best themes I've ever heard and upon listening to it without knowing where it's from, you wouldn't expect it to come from a Mahou Shoujo series.

So what's the overall verdict? Well this probably isn't my best review because of how much I had to restrain myself from gushing about this show, lets put it that way. It does for Mahou Shoujo what Neon Genesis Evangelion did for the mechs. It takes a genre that has been done over and over in the same type of style and completely turns it on its head for the better, turning a seemingly girly concept into a fantastic ride with a strong story, strong characters, fantastic visuals and inspiring music. Highly, highly recommended and my pick so far as Best Anime of 2011.

1 comment:

  1. I've just watched the second episode of this series via torrent. I have to say the animation is a bit surprising. I usually wait after the 3rd episode to make a definitive decision. It’s a bit odd in my opinion.

    But you summed the anime up nicely. Once again, a vary nice review.