Sunday, October 21, 2012

Anime Analysis/Series Criticism: Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)

What can I say about this? What can I say that hasn't already been said? How can I add my little spin of thought to a "conversation" that's been ongoing while I've been in the dark? Mostly, how can this show be so good and SO DARK while having that happy little poster image up there. I'm putting this in my October reviews month for precisely the reason that this series has its elements of horror, can sometimes be very hard to watch, and is way too good to not recommend to anybody. While this is a fairly short series (12 episodes long, I assume that counts as short even with anime like this. I suppose I could be wrong though.) I never expected it to be so good. I also never expected this to be so horrific. I so was unsure if I would or could enjoy it at all. I have said MANY TIMES I am the exact opposite of a manga or anime fan, sometimes going to the other extreme and hating them completely and admittedly unjustly. I tried out Junji Ito's stuff on a recommendation and really fell in love with what he could do with both stories, worlds, and characters. Even if a lot of his stuff is kind of same-y or a little dumb, I enjoyed so much of his stuff (although admittedly I didn't really like the movies based off of his works) that I thought that I might be able to give this series a try without hatred clouding my judgment.

My girlfriend and a very good friend of mine both recommended this to me. They've actually both been recommending it to me for the better part of a year, and mostly I kind of ignored them, thinking that there was no way that this could be my type of thing. I'm a hardcore male who loves horror, great books, and serious business stories. I didn't think an anime about magical girls in fanservice costumes would be for me. How could I? Look at that art up there and tell me where the horror is. Tell me where the sadness and beauty of the piece is shown. All I see are two girls and flashy colors and stupidity, not the quality I was promised. Thus, I avoided the series. I avoided it for a year or longer. I avoided it until this week when after we all went to the New York Comic Convention together, both my girlfriend and my friend told me in no uncertain terms that I had to see this anime. Sure, I still balked at it at the time, but then I watched it. I watched it and watched it... and after watching it all... well, now I understand why they were so insistent.


I will say for anybody who hasn't seen it, this will have no spoilers, and thus not be the greatest review of all time. I'll say my thoughts as easily and simply as I can and concentrate on the horror aspects as much as I can. I'll speak in generalities because this is a series that should not be spoiled. I have been told by the internet that this series is already spoiled to everyone, but somehow I avoided every spoiler, so I want to give anybody else that same courtesy.

First off, if you are watching, make sure you watch through the third episode. Also, watch it here! I provided you a link. It's that easy to watch. Please take advantage of it if you have never seen it! As I was saying, watch through the third episode. The first two episodes are set up, and frankly are the two worst in the show. I actually was going to quit watching because those episodes did nothing for me. It introduced some of the main cast and was generally kind of boring. I mean, yes, you might get more out of it in multiple viewings (you almost certainly will actually), but watching it the first time just makes the entire series look like some weird Sailor Moon rip-off. (I've also never watched that series, but you have to realized I'm generalizing to what I know. I've always heard that Sailor Moon is a silly anime with girls turning into MAGIC girls with a MAGIC transformation so they can use MAGIC for some reason... I'm assuming against foes! All the while not being interesting to me in the slightest. Because even writing that description has put me to sleep in real life.) But this series, this Puella Magi Madoka Magica is something of a deconstruction... or at the very least a subversion to every magical girl series out there. It takes the basic premise and makes it both realistic and frightening. It's not about spunky girls in skimpy clothing. It's about the fight. It's about what one loses while fighting as well.

The story here is brilliant, alternating between character developments and story plot seamlessly. The character moments range from sweet to heartbreaking. And every major character has a backstory. They all have something that makes you care about them as both characters and people struggling to do what they need to do to counter the witch threat, Yes, witches are the main enemy of this series, but they are not like any witch I've ever seen before. Ranging from the cute Charlotte
all the way to the hideous Gertrud
the series shifts in styles at a drop of a hat when witches are involved. They, the witches, also comprise the major horror elements of the series. Well, them and Kyubey up there.

Or rather right here.

There is something intrinsically creepy throughout the series. The main premise, once you learn it, is undeniably creepy, but so also is the disconnect between the gravity of the situation for the girls and their outlooks on the situations. I am not easily horrified or made to stare slackjawed as something awful happens, but this anime caused me to do that more than once. The overly cute art-style may seem irresistible at first, but it hides a much darker face and makes the terrible things that happen throughout the series that much harder to swallow. Things like that should not happen to these cutesy anime girls. It's not really allowed in our conscious mind... or at least not mine. I've been taught that cute does not equal creepy or emotional or scary. And I was wrong. This series proved me wrong. My mindset was wrong.

 While the series does have moments about the POWER OF FRIENDSHIP, it's incredibly well done, and seems to more often than not rely on one of the girls dealing with problems on her own without any friends to help her at all. I like that. I like how it's not always friends that can help. Sometimes it has to be up to yourself to seal your own fate, one way... or the other. It's brilliant and beautiful and works so well. The sadness emanating from this series is terrifying in its own right, leading to a singularity of darkness and broken characters. I've... well, I've never quite seen that before. I've never seen the amount of broken and scared characters. I've never imagined the horror that these "magical girls" might have to go through (probably specifically because I've avoided those series like THE PLAGUE) nor have I ever thought about what the cost might be to sell your soul. I've heard the series compared to Faust, and it's pretty obvious why once you understand exactly what is happening.

As for everything else, I love the art shifts throughout the series, specifically when witches are involved. It makes the disconnect and the fear factor both go up infinitely. I love the character interactions and the character decisions, even the more over-the-top ones. I love that each character and mindset is different, and I love how everything about that is consistent. The series wows from Episode 3 onward and never stops. It only gets better as it goes.

While the series has no direct gore, it really is for an older audience. It's incredibly dark, even as an intelligent deconstruction and criticism of the genre. It's not happy days and gumdrops while it attempts and succeeds at showing a darker side of what a magical girl actually means. It's brilliant in scope, terrifying in implications, and well done all around. The music is really awesome as well and sometimes has GREATER IMPLICATIONS for the story as a whole than you might think. I have to say I like that a great deal. I also like how the "Chosen One" in this series is not just random. There's a reason for everything, and I don't think I'll ever not like that happening in fiction.

Anyway, I wish I could say more. I wish I could rant and rave and rant and rave forever and spoil every little thing and say exactly what I like and hate. But I can't. I don't think I should. Hopefully, if you haven't watched the series, this small generalized analysis will give you some interest in the series. If it does, watch it. Watch it at least until the end of Episode 3. If you're lukewarm even then, then Episode 8 is also fantastic... and 10 is by far the best in the entire series. I can't help recommending this. It is incredible and just a great ride. The horror elements are well done. The story elements are well done. The subversion and deconstruction and criticism are well handled. The characters are all meaningful and written wonderfully.



I don't know if I'll ever like another anime series, but this one... this one is near-perfect. It's unforgettable, and will stick with me for a long, long time to come.

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