Madoka Magica: Episodes 1 – 6
Before I started watching Madoka Magica online, I didn’t know that mahou shoujo translated to Magical Girl. I also didn’t associated the popular anime series Sailor Moon with the magical girl genre. Usagi, Sailor Moon herself, is indeed a magical girl, complete with transformations, and a clash between extraordinary and everyday life, where the mundane meets the fantastic.
Madoka Kaname finds herself draw irresistibly into similar circumstances. Although, the similarities reach no deeper than the surface. One night, Madoka has a dream. In a ruined city, a black haired girl faces some kind of giant, dark force with a small fox or cat-like creature. The battle rages, but Madoka wakes, and gets ready for another day of school: meeting with her friends, and learning about adverbs and auxiliary verbs. The day progresses, and Madoka makes comments on how little she stands out from her peers, and how unremarkable she believes she is – Madoka makes these self-depreciating remarks throughout the series.
Magical elements slowly intercede into Madoka‘s ordinary world. Homura – the black haired girl from Madoka‘s dark dreams – arrives as a transfer student. Kyubey, the fox-cat, also appears. Madoka and her friend Sayaka rescue the seemingly cute Kyubey from a relentless assault from Homura. Supernatural events proceed to take over: a monster invisible to humans called a “witch” appears. This monster is promptly slain by a blonde girl named Mami.
The anime’s plot is made clear. Homura and Mami are magical girls, granted extraordinary powers by Kyubey. They fight off witches, protecting ordinary people from their depressing influence. A witch has powers similar to the ghastly dementors from the Harry Potter books: non-magical people cannot see them, but they experience depression in the presence of a witch. But why then is Homura attacking the venerable, adorable Kyubey? The answer is in the contract – Kyubey grants young girls a wish in exchange for defeating witches, and gathering objects witches leave behind called grief seeds, which Kubey uses as a magical fuel source. Contracts, wishes, and magic are not to be taken lightly, however.
While the art might seem unoriginal, where characters in costumes dripping with frippery pose for the posters and box-set artwork, this is only the surface. Madoka Magica is all about what’s going on past the surface, in the depths. The animation colours shift easily from a bright setting, such as Madoka‘s bedroom and the school buildings, to a moody setting: the unlit, backrooms of a shopping mall and the alleyways between city buildings. fight scene animation is fun to watch, as the director expertly positions the audience around the characters, moving them across the screen so that the scene feels uncluttered.
Some of the best artwork can be found in the battles agains the witches. These creatures are not simply a monster. A witch creates a psychedelic space filled with confronting and disturbing images. Hospitals are warped into prisons filled with Victorian kitsch, where gothic dolls and long abandoned tea sets spring to life and attack those unfortunate enough to be trapped in the witch’s labyrinth. A magical girl can use her weapon – a spear, a rifle, a sword for example – to find the witch’s heart and destroy it. If she’s not up to the task, the consequences are dire.
Madoka Kaname is a likeable enough hero. She does complain openly about the violent life a magical girl leads, which can be a little annoying. Homura brings a pragmatic and calm approach to her work. Conversations between her and the other characters are to the point, and without any dross or emotion. Sayaka is a passionate person, who censors herself around others. Mami has a bright and welcoming personality.
It’s in Kyubey that character complexity appears. charming and straightforward appearances later give way to something subtle, manipulative, and deceitful.
Themes, Ethics, Values.
Becoming a magical girl is like taking a step from an innocent world into a darker one, where actions have consequences and pain attached. It’s like stepping from childhood into adolescents – a dark fantasy representation of a coming-of-age story. Themes of exploitation are re-stated throughout the first half of the series. The key ethic is advising the audience to take caution. Madoka is faced again and again with situations where she must make decisions that could have costly mistakes. Rationality over emotional thinking is emphasised more than once. Other themes include manipulation of the young by older characters, temptation, power, selfishness and altruism.
A bit more on Madoka Magica
A dark, cautionary tale begins as Sayaka and Madoka are led deeper into the world of witch fighting. What seems like a fantasy anime with some dark notes quickly takes a step in the direction of a psychological thriller: completely crossing over the tone established by the cute and bright promotional material of Madoka Magica. By episode three and four things start to unravel. by episode six, certain manipulations and deceptions are made clear, and Homura’s violence seems justified, and even necessary. Madoka Magica might appear to be aimed at a younger audience, but it’s themes are definitely aimed at a mature audience. Younger viewers should instead seek out series such as Sailor Moon, or Cardcaptor Sakura. Madoka Magica is a challenging series with some clever subversion of the magical girl genre, offering a deep, cautionary tale.