The story is a deconstruction of the magical girl genre. The events take place in the fictional city Mitakihara (Japan) and focus on our five heroines: Madoka, Homura, Mami, Sayaka, and Kyōko, how they become magical girls and how they deal with the consequences of this.
Music and animation
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an anime series produced mainly by Aniplex and Shaft and for a little taste of what they can do, please read this post and do watch the video. The original character designs were done by Aoki Ume (蒼樹 うめ) and the music was taken care of by none other than Kajiura Yuki-sama (and just by adding that sama after her name I’m sure I don’t have to comment further on the OST)!!! Apparently the anime now has a manga adaptation as well as spin-off mangas, a video game for PSP, a magazine and if I got it right, even a series of novels by Nitroplus. The genre of the anime could be described as drama, magic, psychological, thriller.
I watched the whole series and all the films twice, which I hoped would help me to understand better…exactly what was going on. Of course, like always, I overthought things at first; I thought over and over about aspects which, as I saw later, might not have been overly important. I’m talking about symbols here, such as names, runes or colours – just everything really. Anyway, watching it again not only helped me get over the initial surprise at how the events turned out, but also helped to clarify some misunderstandings that I had.
Story and characters
The series seemed the usual magical-girl-series to me at first, especially since this is not the first anime of the sort that I watched (I watched Sailor Moon and Tokyo Mew Mew and a fair few others). Anyway, that’s what I thought at first. Basically, in the beginning it was nothing new to me – except for the art. Now that was a novelty to me. It was weird but good as well, I liked it but it took me a while to get used to it (I’m talking about the witches’ labyrinths).
So, everything was cool … until the dark stuff kicked in. I’m talking about the moment when I realised what being a magical girl meant (no, no, I’m not one of them, even though I know that by the way I put it, it could be understood so; and normally, I’d say ‘I wish I was’ but not now…no); the moment when I realised what the end of a magical girl was going to be and why that was – how that happened and what led to that end; the moment when what Kyūbey (キュゥべえ) or the Incubator (インキュベーター) explained how their race see humans, their feelings and emotions and most importantly, and surprisingly so, how they could not feel any of these. It took some time for those to sink in. I think that that was the concept of the series that I thought about the most. And I still do sometimes. I mean, I can’t not wonder what it would be like if I lost the ability to love, to hate, to be sad…
Now, I know that some think it is scary or evil. I disagree. I think that just because Kyūbey is part of a race which is totally different to humans, does not make it evil. No, Kyūbey cannot feel and therefore understand human emotions and feelings. But it does have its reasons and drives behind that behaviour – just as explained in the anime. I don’t see how that is evil. I will admit though that it did drive me really angry – what with that curiosity but still, it gave me a lot to think about regarding how humans see life, love, hatred – everything really; but perhaps most importantly, about wishes; what we wish for and the price we have to pay for it – can we cope with what comes after?
As you will probably realise for yourself from my next paragraphs, I did like how the characters were created and I do believe there is character development in this series, and quite a bit of it at that. What comes next is, as such, praise to the team involved in the creation, production, and release, of this series, for how well the series turned out due to the characters and the way the story unfolded itself. You may think you’ve it all figured it out, but you’re wrong, and the order of the episodes doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the pool of reasons why this story, the characters, the Universe – the whole series, is so bloody brilliant.
And now, as always, my opinion about the characters (do note that even if I say I hated or loved a character, that doesn’t imply that is was well, or badly created, respectively; it simply means that I hated or loved it).
Madoka Kaname (鹿目まどか) ….hmmm, I had mixed feelings about her.
I mean her sacrifice was noble (at the end of the series), but I don’t like how oblivious she was to other aspects. Such as how she goes around with Sayaka and does what she tells her to (here I’m talking especially about the times when Sayaka was just telling her to stay away from Homura or not to go somewhere and so on and so forth). I don’t particularly like characters who lack a will of their own, or at least some ability to some extent to judge a situation for themselves and to make a decision. Madoka is indeed sweet and cute and responsible and she is very, very caring, and these fight with what I said above and this leads to my having mixed feelings about her. Anyway, at the end of the anime series (and implicitly at the end of the first two films) she finally learns what Homura was trying to do and why and makes that wish and becomes the Ultimate Madoka (まどかの究極). I quite liked that idea – rewriting the laws of the universe, I liked why she chose that wish; she really redeemed herself (in my eyes) by making that wish.
Sayaka Miki (美樹さやか) is the next character that I want to talk about. I normally like tomboys, but I hated her. I despised her attitude and behaviour, especially towards Homura. I hated Sayaka as much as I hated Light from Death Note, if not more… maybe I’m taking it more personally than I should because Homura is my favourite character, but still. I despise that kind of poor resolve, that kind of bossy behaviour (I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with being bossy, but combined with all her other aspects it actually made me hate her even more), that kind of attitude where one completely discards another’s feelings or motives or intentions (yes, yes, yes and yes, I’m still talking about her behaviour and attitude towards Homura). So she becomes a magical girl for that reason and then when she finds out how it all works she is crushed by the reality – unforgivable. I mean, yeah, none of us know all the time what we’re getting into, and it’s completely fine. But she lacked responsibility there; she made a wish, she got it granted, she learned the truth, when she had to face her fears she couldn’t cope – that is unforgivable in my opinion. She chose that fate for herself – she should have dealt with it then. Life is not all pink and butterflies and rainbows. Besides, she had friends to lean on, so she really has no excuse. So considering how she took it all in (or rather how she did not) she becomes the witch known as Oktavia von Seckendorff (オクタヴィア・フォン・ゼッケンドルフ). I could rant about her for another few thousand words but I shall stop here.
Up next is Mami Tomoe (巴マミ) and I have mixed feelings about her as well. She does seem mature and in my opinion she is very, very responsible, helpful and caring – on the surface. She is apparently lonely and sad, in fact. She too, is a bit annoying sometimes, though. Anyway, she’s far from being as annoying as Sayaka. I would have really liked to be able to see her more in the series. I think I only started missing her after I watched the third film…I do understand though that she was created so that she could die, and thus leading to the development of Madoka’s character. I also tend to believe that, if a character is not strong enough, they are not meant to survive. A bit harsh on my part, yes, I know, but I tend to extend this in real life as well (yes, the harshness, too, unfortunately).
I’m getting to better characters – next is Kyōko Sakura (佐倉杏子). Now this is the kind of tomboy that I like a lot. I loved her attitude (as annoying as it was sometimes), I loved her drive and her reasoning. I also loved that she was good on DDR and that she was almost constantly eating Pocky!!! She might not seem so, but she really is mature in my opinion and devoted. I hated that she sacrificed herself with Sayaka, although the fact that she chose that end for herself and why she did it says a lot about Kyōko.
So, finally, my favourite character – Homura Akemi (暁美ほむら). She’s my favourite character because out of them all she clicked the most with me. In my opinion she is indeed mature (well….sometimes, I guess) and responsible. From the way she was when she first transferred to that school to the kind of person she becomes after facing that ending for so many times… that is what I call character development. Maybe she’s my favourite for that reason. Maybe because of how strong she is. Maybe because on of the biggest compliments I ever got was that I resemble her in many ways (I’m not talking about her appearance). There are so many maybes (just as usual). Bottom line is that I love her….yes, even considering what she became in the third film (I don’t think there’s anything that could make me ever love her less than I do right now). But truthfully speaking, I find it admirable, to say the least, what she goes through for Madoka. Who could bear to suffer so much, what’s more, repeatedly, trying endlessly and hoping for a different ending for the person she loves the most?? Not every character has that mental strength, that stubbornness, and that drive to push forward and not snap (I’ll get to her ‘snapping’ later).
The first two films:
Beginnings (始まりの物語) and Eternal (永遠の物語)
are a remake/recap of the anime series; however, they contain new scenes as well as new voice acting. Now, on to the even darker stuff – the third film: Rebellion (叛逆の物語). I have read the wiki and the wikia and blogs and comments and interviews and fans’ speculations… and I’m sick and tired of reading crap. Hell yeah I’m being judgemental right now.
I understand that fans like to speculate, they like to form their own ideas, have their own views and interpret the story in their own way – which is all fine and cool and normal… up to a certain point. I know what they say about Homura. I know what they say about Madoka. I know how they interpreted the end of the third film, and I do not agree with it!!! I do respect their views, but by no means do I share them. Here’s what I found and I loved [apparently this is official stuff from an interview in the NewType 2013-09 magazine, with the director of the series (Shinbo Akiyuki) and the screenplay writer (Gen Urobuchi)]:
Q: Finally, I want to ask a question on everyone’s mind, will Rebellion be the end of the story for the five magical girls?
Shinbo: Madoka isn’t a story where everyone comes out with the same feelings. I think different people will draw different conclusions about the ending. How they accept it will be up to the viewers themselves. We’re still working very hard in production, so please look forward to the October premiere.
And with that in mind I shall proceed with my own views. I loved the film – the second time I watched it. The very first time I was too shocked and it was also the raw version because I couldn’t wait for subtitles to come out (I really, really wanted to know!!!). These lead to quite a few misunderstandings on my part, as well as to some degree of annoyance and confusion. However, these cleared up when I rewatched it. So, I completely disregard the view that Homura is the devil or whatever else and Madoka an angel or whatever else. They are magical girls and I agree with what Moro said: the story, the characters, the concepts – everything – should be considered with regards to the Magical Girl Universe as is depicted in the Madoka series. Not in a religious view, not any other way. I’m sure that if the creators really wanted to make it so overly complicated with constant philosophical and religious symbols, they would have. But do read the quote above and see for yourself that what they did was really simple: no Faust, no Demons, no nothing of the sort. I mean, yes, there were certain stories, concepts, legends and myths, symbols and so on, which served as inspiration for this story – but inspiration is as far as it goes. That people want to call Homura a Faust, Madoka a Gretchen and Kyūbey the Devil, well, that is an entirely different – and wrong thing to do, in my opinion. Everybody is inspired by something when they start creating whatever it is they are, but comparing the Madoka characters with others (which merely served as a figment of inspiration for the most basic concept in character creation) doesn’t do justice to the series, the creators, and the whole team involved, this extending to even fans who choose to consider everything in the Madoka Universe as it is and should be…in, and defined by and considered only with regards to the Madoka Universe.
I was awfully intrigued by the new world. I did expect some degree of madness from Homura, but not to that extent. I mean, at the end of the anime series she fights Wraiths – I’m still not entirely sure whether these are the equivalent of the Nightmares in the Rebellion story. Besides, she basically created a replica of the city they used to live in and she actually brought back (and even dragged) the other magical girls into it (all four of them plus an addition…).
The new world is, in my opinion, normal to very Homura-esque. Long story short, it was Kyūbey (well, more accurately put, his race – the Incubators) who started this all. As far as I understood, the Incubator wanted to catch the Ultimate Madoka, in order to control the Law of Cycles. And what better time to do this than when she would have come to save Homura from turning into a witch?! Because according to the new laws, just before a magical girl would turn into a witch, the Ultimate Madoka would appear and prevent that and the magical girl would simply disappear, instead of turning into a witch. So, Kyūbey actually placed Homura into an Isolation Field inside which the Law of Cycles would not take effect. And what I truly believe is that inside her own mind, Homura finally figures out what is going on and so she becomes the witch Homulilly. However, all is good because Madoka and the other magical girls should be able to save Homura – which they almost do. Thanks to the Field in which the Incubators had put Homura, she only turns into a witch inside her own soul gem. However, once back to reality, Homura takes control of Madoka (not the Ultimate Madoka, but Kaname Madoka – i.e., Madoka before she became the Ultimate Madoka) thus becoming an entity similar to the Ultimate Madoka, an entity which is able to rewrite the already-rewritten-by-Madoka universe.
It was good to see all of the magical girls fighting together – plus a new addition: Nagisa Momoe (百江なぎさ), who, in the anime series was Charlotte (シャルロッテ) the Dessert Witch. I quite liked her as a magical girl. I liked that she helps the Ultimate Madoka; I liked her design a lot – she looked really cute. I also really liked the kind of relationship (or rather bond) that she shared with Mami.
I do believe that this series has certain symbols and hidden meanings, but they are not as complicated as some think they are. Just the normal-stuff-meant-to-give-you-some-food-for-thought-found-in-every-awfully-good-anime. I mean people are always going to find meanings to their names, the colours of their costumes, and so on and so forth, but just because the creators are not bothering to deny these fan thoughts/opinions/impressions/attributions, it doesn’t mean they stand. And as I said, it doesn’t do justice to the series, so here’s a question for you: what do you choose to think about when you watch this series?
No, the exam period is not yet over, but I really really wanted to write up this critique.