by Punch Rockgroin
The Puella Magi are not your average magical girls
I first saw ads for this show during the “break” in Arakawa Under the Bridge, which is a far different show from Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. All I could say was “Haha, another magical girl show? Is that so, Japan?” A few months later, I started hearing and reading about it, hearing that it was not the typical magical girl show. Far from it. For you see, the girls in this show not only fight, they also die.
I must disappoint the reader by admitting that I have not seen every anime ever made, so I can’t recall when any magical girl dies. They die in this show, I know that much. And when they do die, it’s usually in a most dramatic and grotesque fashion. The funny thing is, for the first two episodes, the viewer really has no idea what to expect. It looks like your typical magical girl show: some evil things are around, and there’s this little creature that can apparently grant a girl any wish, so long as she agrees to become a magical girl, and then she goes and saves the day, because that’s what magical girls do. And then you watch episode three.
The shift is abrupt and literally violent. From here, the show stops at nothing to make the viewer as depressed as possible. The only thing sweet in this show were the cakes and pastries that Mami Tomoe served at her apartment. Suddenly being a magical girl isn’t some happy and adventurous act, it’s now almost something that apes the drudgery of soldiering. Kyubei, the cutesy little red-eyed creature, is really not as cute as he appears. And for whatever reason, a mysterious girl named Homura Akemi is trying to prevent the main character, Madoka Kaname, from “signing” the contract.
The powers the girls are granted are magical only in the sense that they are beyond normal human abilities. Really, they’re quite destructive. Mami’s ability summons tons of muskets, and Kyouko wields a flexible and nasty spear. These are truly magical girls that came from the wrong side of the tracks. The enemies they fight, Witches, aren’t terribly nice either, and if given the chance will kill without a second thought. Upon being defeated, the Witches drop Grief Seeds, which the magical girls need to use in order to purify their powers. Why this is done isn’t readily apparent, but later on becomes a huge part of the show. There is nothing that’s really all that happy and feel-good about the show: it’s genuinely sad.
As depressing as this show can be, it’s a refreshing change for the genre, if not for anime in general. The characters are genuinely interesting, and the story isn’t completely predictable either. Like a fine and strong dark chocolate, the show is bittersweet, though it more often than not leans toward bitter. It’s one of those shows where I can really only stand a couple of episodes at a time, as it’s a lot of stuff to take in. It feels quite a bit like Higurashi in more ways than one, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. Still, if you’re a recovering melancholic you might want to sit this one out. To everyone else, watch this show with the idea that you’re getting more than you bargained for.
And now that the series has officially come to a close, I can assure you that this is worth a watch from beginning to end. It’s the best show of the winter 2011 season.
Ed Note: The original version of this article alleged that Sailor Moon never died, sparking fronds of otaku-froth on the Internet. Based solely on the author’s discretion, it has been modified for MaximumCorrectness.
Fuck Yeah, Look it up!
Puella Magi (Mahou Shoujo) Madoka Magica
Written by Gen Urobuchi, Directed by Yukihiro Miyamoto
Produced by SHAFT and Aniplex