Monday, February 7, 2011

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

First off, a surprised note from me on how this blog is still getting random oodles of pageviews. Quite unexpected for how sparse and barren it's been lately.

My girlfriend and I broke up about a month ago, so now I'm fully recovered, and one step closer to all the single-but-happy bros out there.


My latest obsession isn't a manga, but an anime. Puella Magi Madoka Magica, as its happy title might suggest, is a mahou shoujo anime following the experiences of a young schoolgirl named Madoka as she encounters the world of the Puella Magi.




Madoka Magica has a an interesting concept behind its initial veneer of normality. I won't attempt to analyze the magical girl genre, seeing as there has been plenty written on the subject both on /a/ and in other blogs, but I'll nevertheless point out a few notable characteristics of the anime.

You have the basic setup of a young, innocent girl that meets a magic little creature, who informs her of a world where things called 'witches' exist. Witches feed on human negativity and despair, and can cause people to commit suicides, murders, and other tragedies. Puella Magi, who are girls given magic powers, destroy these witches to keep humanity safe. These Puella Magi receive their powers from making a contract with the little creature, whose name is Kyubey, and in return for their dutiful work at killing witches, he grants them a single wish.

Our cute magical creature that grants wishes.
Madoka, our titular character, would probably happily make a wish and become a mahou shoujo in a normal, cheerful anime circumstance. And now we have the mysterious transfer student, Akemi Homura. Madoka recognizes her from a dream, and Homura seems to have only one objective in mind: to keep Madoka from becoming a Puella Magi. Their first encounter is one of vagueness; Homura asks Madoka if she loves her family--of course she does!--then tells her that if she does not want to lose her current peaceful life, that she should not strive to be someone whom she isn't.

Happy fanart of Madoka in her school uniform.
Things grow more bizarre for young Madoka as events unfold. Madoka and her friend, Sayaka, meet and rescue Kyubey from Homura, who is trying to murder the cute, fluffy, four-eared animal. Then the scenery takes a turn for the hallucinatorily insane, cottonballs with gaping holes for eyes gyrate and approach them while twitching, screeching scissors slice through the air, and blackened thorny plants sprout from the ground. Both the girls and the watcher at this point are dazzled with a severe case of what-the-fuck-is-happening. Then, Madoka and Sayaka are themselves 'rescued' by another girl named Tomoe Mami, a Puella Magi who wields rifles and blows the crap out of all the bad trip visuals. Homura leaves, and Mami thanks Madoka and Sayaka for keeping Kyubey safe, and she offers to introduce them to hunting witches.

What is...I don't...
Suffice it to say, the series begins with a very unique art style, stunning music, and an intriguing storyline. Yet, it appears to be rather straightforward fare. Without spoiling in this blog post, I'm just going to say that an immense amount of shit happens by the third episode, and the happy opening of the anime becomes accompanied by an unsettling ending sequence.

Resolutely walking towards a pale light, with someone reaching out to stop you. Not ominous at all.

The story concept expands to fill the holes presented by its mahou shoujo shape. Kyubey, it turns out, has a penchant for approaching girls who are near despair or in the midst of strong emotion, and enticing them to make a wish, contracting themselves to him in the process and permanently becoming magical girls. Fighting witches carries with it all-too-real danger and consequences, as demonstrated in episode 3, and the bits of references to the tale of Faust give a hint to the direction of the series early on. Kyubey himself takes on an eerie tinge with his unchanging expressions and constant pressure for contracts, and soon, the brief glimpses and face shots we get of the little fuzzy creature end up sparking a mix of dread, anger, and hate from us.

The tone of the series takes a detour for sobriety.
Different attitudes towards magical girls abound in the world of Madoka Magica. Kaname Madoka is overcome with fear at the risks inherent in the life of a Puella Magi, and does not form a contract with Kyubey. Yet at the same time, she shows a deep care and bravery for her friends, trying to help them in various instances despite the sheer lack of power she has. It's both rejuvenating and maddening to see how much she cares about her friends, and how naive she is about the people around her. Her friend, Sayaka, has her own share of worries. She doesn't expend much time on thinking, but rather flows with impulse, but she also carries the same naivete about desiring to help others.

From right to left; Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, and Homura.
Tomoe Mami also represents the optimistic, altruistic side; she fights enduringly to help keep people safe from witches. Unfortunately, there is a large amount of sadness for Mami. Homura and Kyouko, on the other hand, showcase a very different view of the Puella Magi world than the others. Theirs is a view based on survival instead of altruism, and they also have good reasons for why they view things as they do.


But enough of the exposition. The series has spawned a wiki, http://wiki.puella-magi.net/Main_Page, endless threads on 4ch /a/, and copious amounts of fanart from pixiv. The setting of the series is sure to be a boon to those who enjoy architecture and hints of futuristic style (glass buildings and rising structures abound), and perhaps most relevantly, Puella Magi Madoka Magica carries an interesting subtext of yuri with it. Understandably, with yuri goggles I can perceive a great deal that isn't there, but nevertheless Madoka and Homura have a curious relationship. I'll save that for another, more yuri-oriented post. For now, please check out the series if you have free time.

22 comments:

  1. I don't even watch this with yuri glasses and I still see Homura x Madoka stuff in the show. And she's always there to cockblock Kyubey.

    You know there's eventually going to be a scene where Homura spills her secrets and there's a warm moment with Madoka comforting her or something. I'm sure that'll happen before the series is over.

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