Category Archives: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 12 (Fin)(Retro Review)

Originally posted 25 Apr 2011 – And so, the best series of the Winter 2011 season ends – in late April – and not with a whimper, but with – what else – the re-making of the entire universe. Madoka can make any wish, so she decides to wish there were no witches, ever. This pisses off Kyuubey (AKA Incubator), but it happens. Of course, there’s a price to be paid. That price is: no more Madoka. Aside from episode 10, this is the only time Madoka is a maho shojo, and she’s nothing like any other; as her newly-gained godlike powers allow her to free the souls of maho shojo from soul gems all over the world, so they’ll never become witches. No maho shojo, no witches.

Of course, even though Madoka makes sure to be as explicit and detailed with her wish as possible, the universe proves just as devious as Incubator. The new universe she creates still has Maho Shojo, but they fight “magical beasts” rather than witches. Ah well, close enough! Kyuubey is still around, but it seems he’s more of a friend than a trickster. Also, in the realm/void between the end of the old universe and the birth of the new one, Madoka and Homura say their goodbyes, and Madoka gives her her hair ribbon. The result of this is, Homura is the only person who remembers Madoka. Even for her brother, Madoka is just an imaginary friend. While Madoka is now free of her fate, Homura can’t be all that happy her best friend had to sacrifice her entire existence in order to eliminate witches.

While this series has never been shy about highly abstract settings, especially when dealing with witches, the whole end-of-the-universe transition was a little sudden and overwrought, with whispers of End of Evangelion. The Naked Space Madoka and Homura bordered on silly-looking, and their tearful goodbye, while earned, bordered on sappy at times. Despite these issues, the series ended strong, and now complete, we laud it for its entertaining twist on the maho shojo genre. It’s also perhaps Akiyuki Shinbo’s finest non-comedy series. Don’t be put off by the girly opening and frilly costumes; this series has true grit.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 11 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 25 Apr 2011 – We feared the month-long hiatus would have killed most of the momentum gained after the milestone tenth episode that chronicles Akemi Homura’s odyssey through time and space to protect Madoka. Those fears were mostly allayed by yet another episode that, while not as action pack as last month’s, but was certainly full of crucial information and more startling revelations. Kyuubey figures out Homura’s power, but is never worried about it, and in fact is congratulatory towards Homura. This is because he believes by pressing the reset button so many times, Homura has allowed Madoka to become a more and more powerful magical girl, and thus her karmic burden grows more and more immense.

This is one last “f*** you” for Homura, who has apparently been working so hard to avoid creating exactly what her actions have created: a ridiculously-powerful Madoka. Worse still, even in this timeline, there is no way Homura can prevent Madoka from contracting. Everyone else is dead; Madoka is responsible, and even though she knows Kyuubey is up to no good, she is compelled to lend Homura a helping hand, even if it means abandoning her family. Madoka’s mind is made up once Homura finally opens up to her about what’s going on and why.

Homura initially tries to fight Walpurgisnacht herself, but not surprisingly fails, despite some impressive pyrotechnics (which seemingly destroy a fair amount of the city). Bloodied and beaten, Homura lies amongst debris, and for once, hesitates to turn back time; doing so would only hurt Madoka more, in her mind. With Homura down and out and no more magical girls extant, Madoka has to step in, stand tall, and make a bad deal with a cold, logical alien; taking her mother’s advice to stop being so good and do something bad for once.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 10 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 10 Mar 2011 – Did all that just flipping happen? After fleshing everyone else out previously, all that remained was Homura’s story. We got it, and it was fucking epic. Nothing in this episode would have made any sense without knowing everything that preceeded it, and at the same time, this added so much more dimension to an already excellent series by throwing time and causality into the equation.

Homura was once an innoncent, ditzy human, who transferred to Madoka’s school and befriended her. But in this timeline, Madoka and Mimi were already Maho Shojo. When the Walpurgis night comes, Madoka sacrifices herself to save Homura. Not yet a Maho Shojo herself, Homura contracts with Kyuubey with the wish that she be given the ability to change time – as in reset the timeline to the point she first met Madoka – and protect her instead of the other way around.

Not only is the initial role reversal of Madoka and Homura outstanding – Madoka is, in most timelines, a full-fledged, bow-wielding maho shojo – but the fact that things keep going so wrong - Madoka keeps dying and Homura keeps resetting – really drives home how tortured Homura is by the time we meet her in episode one. Hell, things go so awry, there’s even a scene where Madoka has to kill Mami by her own hand!

So Homura was never so much an aloof bitch. She’d just been downtrodden by so many lives and so many undesirable outcomes, and won’t stop trying to protect Madoka, out of her powerful friendship for her, no matter how many attempts she has to make.

This episode cuts back and forth through time a ton, yet stays expertly and confidently held together without a hint of repetition. We love Groundhog Day-type situations like this, but in this case the causality loop is neither involuntary or unwanted; it’s Homura’s will. The entire series we’ve seen thus far is only one of an untold number of timelines that have already run their course. And yet, Madoka seems almost fated to be seduced by Kyuubey – one way or another – fight Walpurgis, and become a witch so powerful she destroys the world.

The episode ends just as the series begins, only this time we hear what Homura is screaming in Madoka’s “dream”: “Don’t contract.” And to Madoka’s credit, she still hasn’t, as of episode nine. Will this finally be the time Homura is able to defeat Walpurgis on her own, without Madoka contracting? We’ll see. Fantastic stuff.



Rating: 10 (Masterpiece) ~series elevated to favorites~

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 09 (Retro Review)


Originally posted 4 March 2011 - Yikes, yet another one bites the dust, in short order. I’m tellin’ ya, this series has guts. It’s taking us to a very dark place. Sakura gets axed this week, fighing off the witch Sayaka has transformed into. Homura is now the only maho shojo that currently stands between the looming mayhem of Walpurgis and the city. This puts Madoka in a spot, and Kyuubey is going to exploit it.

Kyuubey also lets loose a little bit about what he is and why he does what he does. He and his ilk are after energy. The best way to get it is to contract with girls of a certain age, turn them into maho shojo, and then wait until they ‘mature’ into witches through the corruption of their soul gems into grief seeds. This means that all witches were probably human girls at some point, tricked into contracting and downloading their souls into gems by Kyuubey-types, though they don’t (and can’t) see it as “tricking”.

That would require an emotional position on the matter of turning girls, and Kyuubey, you see, lacks the capacity for emotion of any kind. As such we can’t necessarily label him as evil; he’s no different from a lion on the Savannah. It may seem cruel how they’ll pick off weak or tired prey, but that’s how a predator survives: by exploiting any and every advantage nature throws at it in order to acquire fuel to keep living. In this case, human girls are the prey, or rather a resource, that Kyuubey coldly, logically coerces into essentially destroying themselves.

This is why Homura, from episode one, has been so determined not to let Madoka contract with Kyuubey. Not because she doesn’t want strong competition; it’s because she doesn’t want her to end up like Mimi, Sayaka, Sakura, countless other girls…or herself. At this point, we really don’t want Madoka to contract either, and are glad she’s held out long enough to learn the truth. Why should she throw her relatively blessed, happy life, humanity, and soul away…just to become Kyuubey’s dinner?

Still, there’s no reason to doubt Kyuubey’s assertion that Madoka would be the most powerful Maho Shojo if she contracted. That could mean she’d ultimately become the most powerful witch…and later, a great feast for Kyuubey. Will Homura be enough to fend off Walpurgis on her own? We’ll see. Meanwhile, we predict it will be most difficult for future 2011 series top the consistent excellence of Puella Magi.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 08 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 26 Feb 2011 - The episode wherein Sayaka loses her hope, her mind, and what’s left of her humanity, and meets her downfall, apparently transforming into a witch. This was a stark, cruel, unforgiving end for Sayaka, who never recovered from Kyuubey’s scathing words that her soul was in the gem she bore and no longer in her body where it should be. That gem continued to degrade, and Sayaka gave her first grief seed to Sakura and rejected it from Homura.

In case we weren’t already well aware, Kyuubey is the main antagonist here, at least so far. He seems absolutely hell-bent on making Madoka a maho shojo, and she actually asks him to do so! But before he can oblige, Homura kills him just in time. Of course, he comes right back, the bastard; one can’t expect an entity that can cause miracles to happen to be defeated so easy.

If Sayaka is indeed gone, Madoka’s choices have multiplied, and none of them are easy: she can contract with Kyuubey, and trust that he speaks the truth that she’d be such an unparalleled magician as to be able to perform any miracle she likes. He could well be lying, but then again, it’s telling that someone so unwilling to become a maho shojo would happen to be the one with the most potential.

Now that she has not one but two friends to try to save from oblivion, the urge to contract is as tempting as ever. But this is like the apple the serpent offers Eve: it may taste good for a time, but it will cause her to be cast out of the world she knew forever and into a life of hardship.

A contract with Kyuubey could also be compared to deal with a Faustian devil: whatever wish Madoka will have, there will be a heavy cost – just as there was for Sayaka, Sakura, and Homura – that could not only leave Madoka wishing she’d never contracted to begin with, but wishing she’d never been born. This series has become our run-away favorite of the Winter 2011 season – even though the main character is still just a ordinary, whiny girl!


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 07 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 18 Feb 2011 – Even though Sayaka loves her friend Kyousuke, whom she healed with her wish, she can’t even approach him after learning what the bastard Kyuubey has done to her. And her friend Hitomi has decided to stop lying to herself and will confess to Kyousuke – unless Sayaka stops her, which she doesn’t; at least not this week.

This is kind of the quid-pro-quo Sakura warned of while talking calmly with Sayaka in her father’s church. She gains a lot more depth this week by revealing that her whole family was destroyed by her impulsive wish to net her radical cleric dad more followers. After that, she learned that Maho Shojo can’t truly help anyone but themselves. If they try, people will get hurt or killed. By the end of the episode, Sayaka seems to be warming up to that idea as well. Rather than shouldering her pain and anguish, she lets the magic absorb it so she feels nothing – not even the attacks of her first bona fide witch hunt.

This series keeps getting better as we become more engrossed in the story. We daresay it’s our favorite of the Winter 2011 season so far. There’s a lot to like: complex conflicts; ridiculously-flawed yet endearing characters with deceptively cutesy design; awesome, often trip-tacular animation; kick-ass battles; great architecture; and a rippin’ good soundtrack from start to finish.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 06 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 15 Feb 2011 The more we learn about the world of Maho Shojo, the darker, more twisted and messed up it gets. While Sayaka didn’t think about it at the time, she’s come to the realization that most Maho Shojo aren’t like the kind, gentle Mami, but more like Homura and Sakura – in it for personal gain and/or self-ingratiation. Mami was the exception, not the rule. Maho Shojo aren’t (always) good people.

Still, strong in will and ideals, Sayaka refuses to back down. She’ll fight whoever threatens what she holds dear – even other Maho Shojo. The only problem is, living a good pure life means living as a weak Maho Shojo: grief seeds must be collected to gain the power Sayaka desires. It’s a vicious cycle, and the weight on her slight shoulders is palpable when Sakura corners her outside her boyfriends house. Sakura is not weak or inexperienced. She’s been playing to win. If they fought seriously, Sayaka would be toast.

Meanwhile, the more Kyuubey says to Madoka, the more her reservations mount about becoming a Maho Shojo herself. She wants instead to be the angel on Sayaka’s shoulder that will tell her not to fight. But this insistence on peace leads Madoka to carelessly toss Sayaka’s soul gem over a bridge. Sayaka, in turn, goes unconscious and limp, as if dead, revealing one more tidbit: A Maho Shojo’s soul resides not in the body, but in their soul gem.

This is something even Sakura didn’t know, and when she learns of it, she’s devastated, putting her petty fight with Sayaka on hold.  This Kyuubey is quite the trickster – stirring up trouble in every life he enters, and putting them on paths he sets up. We wonder if there are other Kyuubeys out there, and if they’re such cold, calculating bastards as this one is. There have also been numerous situations in which Madoka could have contracted and saved the day, but this has yet to happen. Kyuubey has to be growing impatient with her at this point, but we’re not, considering what contracting would cost her.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 05 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 3 Feb 2011 – As Madoka continues to weigh whether she should become a Majo Shojo for a surprising fifth week, Sayaka reaps the benefits of doing so right away, as her friend is able to play the violin beautifully like nothing ever happened. But the price of doing what Sayaka did, according to Homura, is too high. She tells Madoka she can’t hope to protect Sayaka, and she should give up on her.

Majo Shojos all seem to be resigned to losing their lives at any moment, because, as Mimi demonstrated, they can. Their cute, cheerful outfits belie a tortured, ephemeral existence. Contracting with Kyubei is almost like dying itself; you just stick around to fight witches until you have a bad day, and then…pfft. I can understand Madoka’s reticence, especially since her wish isn’t as specific or clear-cut as Sayaka’s was.

Madoka obviously wants to protect Sayaka, but that isn’t a proper wish. Furthermore, when a new, hardened Majo Shojo appears and tries to shoo Sayaka off, provoking her into a duel, Madoka is moments from contracting when Homura shows up, to do just what she said she wouldn’t: keep an eye on Sayaka. She must really not want Madoka to become a Majo Shojo. Perhaps she knows, somehow, that if she did, there’d be no stopping her.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 04 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 29 Jan 2011 - Booyah! This was, in our opinion, the most powerful episode of the Winter 2011 season so far. The fact that Mami “bit it” but no one in the normal world knows, and she didn’t leave a corpse, really puts into perspective just how harsh and merciless it is to be a maho shojo. The dark undertone of this series so far is exactly what we was hoping for; the girls can’t just automatically contract with Kyubei; there has to be a deep, heartfelt reason to do so.

Sayaka finds it, as she can no longer live with the injustice of her friend – a violin prodigy – losing the ability to move his hands after an accident. His life of music was taken away, and there’s nothing a normal Sayaka can do about it, which crushes her. However, magic and miracles, she has learned, do in fact exist, and she decides to make that contract, in exchange for her friend recovering his gift and hence, his life.

Equally moving is how she realizes that she isn’t just doing this for him; there is a part of her she detests that wants to be the one to save him, and for him to fall for her in return. This personal stake makes the situation a selfish fairy tale in her mind, but it also happens to be perfectly doable. Considering the good her wish will do, though, we think she made the right choice.

We also like how we don’t actually witness Sayaka’s contracting and transformation; but she shows up in the nick of time to save Madoka, who is still too scared and indecisive to contract, and trapped in the middle of a group of people (including a classmate) charmed by a witch into poisoning themselves in a warehouse, possibly for nothing other than the witch’s amusement. This is dark stuff, and the suspense around Madoka’s peril is very well presented.

We’re really enjoying how witches and the creepy, crazy, messed-up way they futz with reality and perception. They’re so far removed from conventional reality, and yet know exactly how to manipulate humans, including Madoka, into wishing they had never been born, or to kill themselves at the drop of a hat, or whatever. To anyone who thought Sayaka’s decision was rash: Madoka and those innocent people would be dead if she hadn’t made it.

Anyway, Sayaka is now a maho shojo. Will Madoka follow suit? Obviously; I’m really looking forward to how. I’m guessing for now that Sayaka will start facing challenges from rival shojos wanting a piece of Mami’s former territory; and the rookie Sayaka unable to hold them back without Madoka’s or Homura’s help. But even though our main character isn’t a maho shojo yet, this episode rocked.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 03 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 26 Jan 2011 - Madoka and Sayaka tread deeper into the world of maho shojos and witches as they happen to encounter a grief seed while walking around. By this point, we learn that Sayaka will most likely wish for her ill friend to recover, while Madoka’s wish is simply to become useful and be good at something.  It’s also hinted that she has the potential to become an extremely powerful maho shojo.

Mimi warns her that being a maho shojo (at least in her experience) isn’t any picnic, as there’s pain, anguish, suffering, no time for boys, and no one to talk to about the weird shit going on in her life. Mimi puts up a brave front, but inside, she’s a mess. Madoka tells her not to worry; they’ll be a team and she won’t have to wallow in her loneliness anymore. Mimi is heartened.

But Mimi also underestimates the witch (despite some really slick gunplay) and apparently gets eaten. Madoka and Sayaka are moments away from contracting with Kyubei when Homura steps in to clean up the mess. Homura hopes this is a lesson to the girls to not enter her world, but with Mimi apparently gone (and “miracle” in the next ep’s title), there’s a possibility Madoka’s wish will be to bring Mimi back.

We definitely like the conflict already arising between the perks of being a maho shojo (powers, looking awesome, helping people) and the potential pitfalls (saying sayonara to anything resembling a normal, long life; the temptation that comes with those powers). This is no choice for the faint-hearted, and Madoka is so far being presented as someone hardly ready to make such choices.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 02 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 15 Jan 2011 – By episode’s end, Madoka and Sayaka understand a lot more about how a Maho Shojo operates, and so do we. We also learn that Homura wanted to snuff out Kyubei (Kyuubey?) so he (she?) wouldn’t create more competition for her. A Maho Shojo’s job may be all about hunting witches, but the inherent rewards can make the competition fierce.

Mami expertly shows them both the tools of the trade (soul gems, grief seeds) and how to find and destroy a witch. The abstract, surreal, downright unsettling way in which witches are depicted is particularly well done here: the different animation doesn’t come off as a gimmick, but rather a strange and alien world a witch creates to discombobulate and weaken their opponent. Still, this particular witch, while powerful, isn’t a match for Mami’s awesome rifles. Everything about their duel oozes style, originality…and confidence.

So Sayaka and Madoka need to come up with an ultimate wish that will be fulfilled by Kyubei in exchange for risking their lives to the witch hunt. They live great lives, so it isn’t immediately apparent what to wish for. After witnessing Mami in action, however, Madoka essentially wishes to be like her: someone “useful” who is strong enough to protect the innocent.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 01 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 6 Jul 2011Like Bakemonogatari, Puella Magi Madoka Magica immediately establishes itself as a very stylish enterprise. Very architectural, too. Ordinary settings like a house and a school are grand, impressive postmodern cathedrals. The polarizing Akiyuki Shinbo reminds me somewhat of Wes Anderson; with the tendency for his ‘camera’ to hang back and dwell on things and the careful attention to minute visual details. We like it.

We’ve never watched a pure “Maho Shojo” anime before, and it seems with Puella Magi, we still won’t; it’s obvious Shinbo wants to put a spin on the genre to shake it up a bit, while adding his signature (and very noticeable) style(s). The character design is simple, but clean. As discussed, the architecture is awesome and the entire world is bright and hopeful…until a witch shows up and starts bending everyone’s perception of it. The animation used there reminded me of the frenetic, freewheeling opening of (Goku) Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei.

Our protagonist Madoka (Aoi Yūki) and her friend Sayaka (Eri Kitamura) are faced with a choice right off the bat: continue their regular high school lives, or step into the world of magic. It isn’t for the faint-hearted: Homura Akemi (Chiwa Saito), who shows up both in Madoka’s dream and at her real-life school, warns her not to partake it if she loves her family and friends. But of course, she will enter the magical world. That’s what this is all about. We’ll see where this goes.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica 12

And so, the best series of the Winter 2011 season ends – in late April – not with a whimper, but with – what else – the re-making of the entire universe. Madoka can make any wish, so she decides to wish for there never being any witches. This pisses off Incubator, but it happens. Of course, there’s a price to be paid. That price is, no more Madoka. Aside from episode 10, this is the only time the heroine is a maho shojo, and she’s nothing like any other; as her newly-gained godlike powers allow her to free the souls of maho shojo from soul gems all over the world, so they’ll never become witches. No maho shojo, no witches.

Of course, even though Madoka makes sure to be as explicit and detailed with her wish as possible, the universe proves just as devious as Incubator. The new universe she creates still has Maho Shojo, but they fight “magical beasts” rather than witches. Ah well, close enough! Kyubey is still around, but it seems he’s more of a friend than a trickster. Also, in the realm/void between the end of the old universe and the birth of the new one, Madoka and Homura say their goodbyes, and Madoka gives her her hair ribbon. The result of this is, Homura is the only person who remembers Madoka. Even for her brother, Madoka is just an imaginary friend. While Madoka is now free of her fate, Homura can’t be all that happy her best friend had to sacrifice her entire existence in order to eliminate witches.

While this series has never been shy about highly abstract settings, especially when dealing with witches, the whole end-of-the-universe transition was a little sudden and overwrought, with whispers of End of Evangelion. The naked space Madoka and Homura bordered on silly-looking, and their tearful goodbye, while earned, bordered on sappy at times. Despite these issues, the series ended strong, and now complete, I can count it among my favorite anime series due to its highly original and entertaining twist on the maho shojo genre. It’s also perhaps Akiyuki Shinbo’s finest non-comedy series. Don’t be put off by the girly opening and frilly costumes; this series has true grit. Rating: 3.5

Series Mean Ranking: 3.750