Puella Magi Madoka Magica Review

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There’s no doubt that Puella Magi Madoka Magica has garnered some hype and fandom.  Mainly for what people call its “deconstruction of magical girls.”  While that may be partially true, its inner workings aren’t technically anything new.  It’s when these inner workings are exposed that the show itself gets slightly flaky and often cheesy.

This is because, while people may be upset by this, Madoka Magica is in fact a Magical Girl anime.  It may be darker, it may put things into a more realistic perspective and deconstruct it, however the elements are still the same.  That’s not to say it’s without some solid elements or even shock factor, however it must be noted.

Story
madokamagicaMadoka Kaname is your typical teenage girl living a typical teenage life.  However one day she encounters a rather cold exchange student who placed upon her a very stern warning that makes little sense to her.  Though it becomes more clear as she later encounters a small creature named Kyubey, that offers her and her friend Sayaka Miki the powers of a magical girl in exchange for granting a single wish.

Magical powers and grant a wish?  Sounds like a win-win situation, however over time it becomes obvious that this decision has more weight to it as the truth behind everything comes to light.  The witches that magical girls fight, the dangers of death, the fear of losing friends and family, the true intentions of the very task they take on is all questioned.

It’s very difficult to get too much into detail on the show as every moment is a plot reveal that may or may not be of interest to my readers.  Just know that Madoka Magica manages to bring a very interesting twist to the standard magical girl.  It’s still bringing the typical tropes that comes with a magical girl: teenage girls, frilly outfits, transformations, cute mascots, a powerful enemy, contracts, friendships, so on and so forth.  As I said earlier, it’s still a magical girl, just a very dark magical girl.

What Madoka Magica manages to do however is take apart each element of a magical girl and putting it into a web of very well designed risk and reward element.  There is weight to decisions and it’s not as black and white as your typical “girl accepts power and saves the world.”  Which is the main reason why I picked the show up.  Being as I’ll throw out a show the moment I see a mascot asking a girl to become powerful.  Instead, in Madoka Magica, I’m hit with interesting elements that make me really ponder what their power is and am constantly hit with surprises that really shift the show into a different and unforseen direction.  Which just doesn’t happen in most shows.

madokamagica2The problem really comes in how the story is portrayed.  While I found many story elements in the show entertaining, looking back it had more to do with shock factor than anything truly interesting.  Once you really peer into the substance of the show, it becomes quite shallow and convoluted with drawn out dialog of useless philosophical jargon or just repeated exchanges we heard a hundred times.  The same exchanges and conflict dialog from the beginning is repeated throughout the entire series as they struggle with the same topic.

Then there’s the forced elements that make for extremely awkward situations.  As characters discuss things, the viewer is constantly distracted by silly flings of hair or off-putting poses that do not fit the conversation at hand.  There were many points in which the story was trying to force direness to a situation by making one character, who would never think of killing others, so casually kill others.  It made absolutely no sense to her character.

Animation
Speaking of off-putting poses and silly hair flings.  One of the biggest struggles I had with enjoying this show was in the art style and animation.  To start, the art direction for this show was terrifyingly poor.  The characters were designed with overly wide faces and gigantic eyes, almost as to mimic the magical girls of old.  In the most sinful way possible.

Also in the category of art direction is the environments.  Now, I’ll admit at some rare occasions the visual style they threw out during certain set pieces was good.  Good angles to the characters and lighting was really stylish and enjoyable.  However this is rare.  Most any other moment it’s just lazy and simple designs.  That’s not even mentioning the labyrinths which are just awful looking and manage to break the feel of the show altogether.  I don’t care if anyone thinks it’s artistic, it’s disjointing from the show to the point that I can’t connect with what is happening to the characters and just looks stupidly lazy.

madokamagica3Now the animation itself was solid.  There were many fights and action sequences that I found very notable and well done.  Very easily over the top, but in a good way.  Every time Mami would get to gun slinging, I couldn’t help but get excited for what was happening.

Conclusion
Despite my heavy criticism, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a solid show.  Magical girl tropes can be ignored easily when watching the show and for many the animation may not annoy them as much as it did me.  Aside from the many plot issues I’ve explained, it’s still a show worth watching and definitely worth it to even the most magical-girl-phobic of us.

It’s difficult sometimes being a very critical person.  When something gets so much hype, I honestly desire to be a part of the hype rather than going against the flow.  However when something doesn’t vibe with me, I have to speak out and make sure I’m honest with those that read my work.  It’s a sense of duty.  If you differ in opinion here, throw a comment below and let people know why you like the show more.  We’re always glad to hear your feedback.

If you wish to hear a second opinion, we recently recorded a podcast in which Chris gave the show flying colors. You can listen to it here:
Animecast 12 – Madoka Magica, Steins;Gate, Future Diary

VERDICT: 3 / 5

Pros:

  • Interesting take on the magical girl
  • Dark and gritty moments
  • Good combat animations

Cons:

  • Shallow story under convoluted dialog
  • Absolutely awful art design and labyrinths
  • Repetitive dialog exchanges
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Co-Founder of OtakuSpirit.com and Co-Host of the OtakuSpirit Animecast. A huge fan of anime since the early 1990s, consuming over 800 shows. While he's late to the collecting scene, he's found a lot of joy in filling his DVD/Blu-ray collection as well as collecting figures. Once a week, he posts unboxing and feature videos on anime goods to YouTube.

  • Kamille

    what blows my mind is that you can score this show with a 3/5 but a show that rides on a gimmicky premise, with an absolutely terrible second half and lots of lame and irrelevant characters like Sword Art Online a 4.5/5. Based on this I could tell you that you will love Zero no Tsukaima to no end since it is a similar show but superior to it in basically every way except for the last 2 seasons.

    • Hey Kamille, thanks for posting. Sometimes a show’s weight in worth isn’t based on the entirety of it’s substance. In that respect, the first 7 episodes of Madoka is just as pointless as the second arc of SAO. The difference that makes SAO more worthy of a score than Madoka from my perspective is the entertainment value of each moment.

      SAO’s visual design, character art, musical scores, musical queues, and even the amount of situations it addresses far exceed Madoka on so many levels. You can argue that certain points of those situations may be of no value to you, but from my perspective it was far more entertaining than 90% of a series consisting of a girl not wanting to be a magical girl because she’s afraid.

      In regards to Zero no Tsukaima, while I got some chuckles out it, I didn’t care too much for it. Thanks again for the comment. I appreciate you sharing your opinion on the show, even if it’s different than my own. A review is of course one person’s opinion 🙂