Originally posted 6 Jul 2011 – Like 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)
While flying training maneuvers, Madoka, Lan, and Muginami are recalled back to base, as word has come down that the Chairmon of Novumundus is paying a visit to Pharos. Todoroko is surprised when the chairman’s great-grandaughter comes in his place, a curt young lady named Asteria. Novumundus’ goal is to prevent Rin-ne from re-blossoming, causing a similar calamity to one 20,000 years ago, for which there are no archaelogical records, but was the time of an advanced civilization. To that end, she grounds Aura and Madoka. Lan and Muginami lock themselves in the Vox hangar in protest, but a very appreciative Madoka convinces them to stand down.
Okay, so now all three sci-fi series we’re watching this Winter can each claim their own Lolita in a Position of Power, which we shall call LoPos, or lopes. The latest lope is perhaps the most dynamic thus far: Moretsu Pirates’ princess is fairly inoucuous, and we haven’t seen enough of Aquarion Evol’s chairman to form an opinion. But despite her awful aristocratic name (Asteria Lizamarie de Roschefall), we didn’t dislike her introduction. Despite her darling looks, she weilds her authority firmly without being an ankle-biting baby about it.
She’s mature beyond her years, and while she’s on Pharos, her word is law. Sure, she’ll cop the odd feel or pinch the odd bottom, but we can forgive such abuses of power as a glimmer of levity in her otherwise very businesslike M.O. There’s a certain comfort we get in knowing she’s taking this very seriously. After all, the whole reason she and her kind are out in space is because this Vox Aura went berzerk. That’s a very interesting development; these are no aliens, but humans long estranged from Earth. And Nuvomundus is all about keeping Earth neutral, relatively uncorrupted, and…intact (Asteria is to Earth as Madoka is to Kamogawa). Villagiulio? Well, he’s got other plans!
Called out by Lan, Muginami admits that the two of them are enemies who will inevitably go to war, but she wanted to enjoy student life with her and Madoka as long as she could. Madoka finally entertains Lan’s suspicions when someone Muginami claims to be her brother shows up, having befriended Uncle Hiroshi earlier. He is actually Lord Villagiulio of the organization known as Kiss, and he’s angry that Muginami took Vox for herself, and doesn’t consider her one of them. He tells Lan to have the Voxes destroyed, or he’ll come and do it for them.
Wow, talk about a lot of development in a short time…some light has finally shone on the somewhat annoying mystery of Muginami, and she shows her true colors, which aren’t that far removed from her manner with Madoka and Lan thus far. It’s very insidious how she talks the same way, only about much sterner things like war and enemies. She not only betrays her underlying arrogance towards her new (and she believes temporary) friends, but also a certain naivete when she acts as though her people’s conflict with Lan’s wouldn’t concern Madoka. This episode left us liking Muginami a lot more, despite her treachery. Also: Madoka is not always right!
Madoka is hurt, but that anger turns to pity when Villagiulio grabs her and dresses her down. Muginami acted of her own accord in binding herself to her orange Vox, which displeases him. That Lan knows him from her past (and even dreams about it the morning he arrives) shows us that Madoka has just stepped into some very complex and dangerous new worlds…and at this point it’s up to her and her Vox to protect Kamogawa. Being shunned and all but discarded by Villagiulio means Muginami has nowhere to turn but the comrades she’d silently looked down upon. This was an episode of bad blood, past wrongs, deceptive personalities, and hurt feelings. The honeymoon would seem to be over for the jersey club.
Madoka is locked in battle with Kirius, and makes great pains not to cause excessive damage to Kamogawa, eventually moving the action to a vacant lot. Lan gathers up the courage to go out in Vox Lympha, but Izo’s ovid leaps out of the sea to stop her from interfering with Kirius’ fight. Madoka keeps her spirits up by singing her Jersey club fight song, and by her words helps Lan overcome her fear and unleash Lympha’s warrior mode for the first time. Faced with two Voxes, Kirius orders a retreat. Victorious, Madoka and Lan meet up and name their Voxes Midori and Orca, respectively. In his cell, Array recites the legend Lan fears, in which the three Voxes are harbingers of destruction.
Ignorance is bliss, at least in Madoka’s case. Forced to improvise against Kirius, Madoka resorts to stopping his non-lethal sword strikes with Vox’s hands, and even tries to choke his ovid with an electrical cable. Such tactics throw Kirius off, unaware of just how inexperienced his opponent really is. But that same ignorance helps Madoka press on with Vox, something Lan can’t initially do, because she knows about the legend. Will Madoka lose her edge when she learns of the foretold destruction her green Vox might cause? Who knows; for now, she’s two-for-two, thanks to her obligation to “finish what she starts”, a tenet of the Jersey club to which she belongs (translated as “Sweats club” last week).
Also, she’s helped Lan achieve what she couldn’t before, which is a big boost to her confidence. Making the princess Lan more initially flawed than the tomboy Madoka makes her more interesting, and we like how she has the same seiyu as Chihaya. We were also impressed not only with the gorgeous battle animation, but both the producers’ and Madoka’s committment not to forget where it is she’s fighting: in the middle of a densely-populated town she loves very much. Not only is she holding her own with Kirius, but she makes every effort to minimize collateral damage, and even smashes away a flying vending machine with a baseball swing to save two schoolgirls, punctuated by her trademark “Maru!” (“circle”). We like this kid!
The attacker of Rin and Yukio’s monastery is a masked stranger who writes in Polish and uses a nasty spider-web like silk to envelop his victims. When Rin gives chase he immediately has his ass handed to him, and has to be saved by Yukio, who continues the chase and runs into Professor Neuhaus, originally believed to have retired.
After a “rest” episode, it was good to get back to the main story, but I feel like most of this episode was simply rehashing what’s already been said, done, and/or established. Rin should know by now he can’t just rush headlong into threats he doesn’t understand. He almost gets killed in the first five minutes thanks to his impatience and hardheadedness. He should know by now he can’t just do what he pleases – the Vatican has him on a tight rope as it is. All this just…seemed to have slipped his mind this week. At least later in the episode he finally gets the candle training right, and uses his flames like a scalpel, not a sledgehammer, to remove the webbing from his allies.
The enemy-of-the-week is also pretty boring at first. I mean, spiders crawling across his face? Seriously? Rin has already fought the Paladin and the Earth King…after those bosses this guy never seems like much of a threat. Things do get a little more interesting when a hostage standoff ends with the Paladin arresting Pheles for suspected illegal research, while Neuhaus shows up again, claiming the then un-masked woman is his wife. Yukio, getting more angsty for not being able to protect Rin, is suddenly summoned by…his grandfather, of all people. One we didn’t know he had…
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
I 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 may not have been as action pack as last month’s, but was certainly full of crucial information and more startling revelations. Kyubey 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 ef-u for Homura, who has apparently been working so hard to avoid exactly what her actions have caused: 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 Kyubey 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: 4