Anime Monday - Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Gen Urobuchi is a name many anime fans will recognize. He's the one behind visual novels like Phantom, he co-wrote Fate/Zero, returned for the anime adaptation of both, and he's been behind quite a few anime originals like Psycho-Pass, Blassreiter, and even those new anime Godzilla movies. The guy's done a lot to say the least, but one of the most surprising things he was involved with is none other than the magical girl show Madoka Magica. You see, Gen's stories normally aren't so... Upbeat? To say the least? Most of his stories are dark, violent, and are filled with mature themes. Some of them can even be considered psychological horror! The fact that he'd work on a show that looks so kiddy just seems out of character for him. Yeah, I think that's why a lot of people realized it pretty quickly...

The first time I head of Madoka was actually from a friend. He sent me the link to the first trailer, and I honestly didn't think much of it. Back then I didn't realize who Gen Urobuchi was, and honestly nothing about the show's trailer caught my eye. All I saw was bright pink colors, with little anime girls going to school, and running around in funny outfits -- just like what I'd expect to see out of something like Card Captors. Mix in the happy up beat song playing during the whole thing, and I was completely turned off. "No! Give it a try!" He said to me, but nope I wouldn't listen. "But it's more for adults! Really!" Yeah, I think not. Anyway I ignored the show, and went about my day. Then after a few years passed and the thing showed up on Netflix, I finally decided to give it a go. By this point I realized who was behind it, and knew from the get go that it wouldn't be what I thought it was.

In reality Madoka Magica is not your standard magical girl show. Despite all the bright colors and kids running around, it is NOT a kids show. In fact this show is what nightmares are made out of. Now what do I mean by that exactly? Well... How about we start with the story?

Madoka Wants to be a Magical Girl:

The story of Puella Magi Madoka Magica is pretty straight forward. Anyone who has any experience with this genre will know what to expect from the get go, but that's not to say some things aren't different. Madoka is a normal middle school girl who likes to hang out with her friends, and cares very much about her family. One day when hanging out with her friend Sayaka, the two run into a strange cat like creature. In true magical girl fashion, it turns out the creature can talk and is actually named "Kyubey." Kyubey offers the two girls a contract, and tells them if they accept they will be transformed into magical girls. If they choose to do so, they will receive great power and be given one free wish, but in return they will also be required to use said power to fight monsters known as "witches" in order to protect the world.

While the idea sounds great, the two aren't sure if they want to go through with it just yet. The wish is a great insensitive, but is it worth it? They have time to decide, and understand that it will forever change their life. Meanwhile at school a transfer student named Homura, who for some reason seems to know Madoka. Apparently Homura is a magical girl herself, and she wants Madoka to avoid Kyubey at all cost, and to not accept the contract. This confuses Madoka and makes her choice even harder, but after meeting a girl named Mami, things start to become a bit more clear. Mami is a magical girl as well, and she decides to take both Madoka and Sayaka under her wing. She explains how witches are born from a type of seed, and even takes them into another world to fight said witch. Of course Mami wins no problem, and shows both of the young girls how great it is to have such power. They are helping keep the world safe, and to join her all they have to do is accept Kyubey's offer.

So, what should Madoka do? Should she become a magical girl and fight to protect those she cares about? Or should she listen to that weird girl's warning? Why should she stay away from something as "cute" as Kyubey? That's something she has to decide for herself, and what a large part of the show focuses on. Rather than just accepting her possible new powers like every other protagonist seems to do, Madoka doesn't find that answer so easily. Nor does Sayaka for that matter. She too has her own personal challenges to deal with, and becoming a magical girl just might help her find the strength she needs. But should she do it?

During the early episodes of the show, it doesn't seem too out of the ordinary for one in this genre. You see the girls hang out, fight off witches, and deal with different issues in their daily life. When not at school they dive into the strange world the witches create and live in, and when they're not living their secret life, they're at home with their families like nothing strange is going on. It's all pretty standard. And then it gets violent.

After a pretty graphic scene, Madoka realizes that being a magical girl isn't the happy go lucky life she thought it was. In reality it's a living Hell. Pain, suffering, violence, lies, and death. If she accepts that contract that is the world she'll be pulled into, and there is no coming back. She will forever be a pawn where fighting will only slightly delay her ultimate fate.

The Twisted Reality:

A few episodes in is where the show finally takes it's turn, and the truth comes out. Up until then it really seems like it'll be a standard show that is possibly aimed at kids. It falls in line with something like Sailor Moon, with characters younger audiences can relate to. However once that line is crossed, there is no coming back. The reality of Madoka Magica is that it's a dark show. A VERY dark show. Rather than fighting monsters and saving the day, it changes it's focus to being more on the characters, and the psychological impact the events have on them. These are middle school girls who are seeing death in all it's gory detail first hand, and they realize what will happen to them if they accept that contract. But on the other hand what will happen if they don't? If no other magical girls rise up to fight off the witches, what will happen? It might be a matter of either sacrificing themselves to protect others, or watching everyone die anyway. That is assuming they can believe what Kyubey tells them.

The thing about this series is that the anime itself is only one part, and it doesn't give you a clear picture the first time through. The first time you watch it you wont know what to make of things, but after seeing the ending you can no longer view the show as you once did. Watching it a second time is almost like seeing an entirely new show. While the animation doesn't change, your own perspective does. Seeing the same events unfold while knowing what the final episodes tell you will have you seeing everything in different light. What you once thought was one thing has now become something completely different, and you can't help but feel sorry for the characters involved. Sadly you do have to rewatch the entire series to see this, but thankfully there is a better alternative.

Madoka Magica has received three anime films since the original series ended, and it's with these first two films that things come together a bit more. Rather than being sequels, these two are retellings of the original series with some new scenes and other alterations made to it. While normally recap films are just to refresh you on what happened, due to the nature of the original series, Madoka's don't follow this standard. These movies allow you to see the "truth" of the series without having to rewatch the entire original anime, and they thankfully remove some of the dialogue that drug on a bit too long in said original. Then once the first two films are over, a third one serves as a sequel and brings the original series to a conclusion. (Putting aside the manga and mobile game.) In short, these movies are a great way to watch the series, but only if you've watched the original first.

Should You Watch It:

I'll admit it took me years to actually get through this series. It was something I would start and drop off and on for a couple of years, and when I finally made it to the end I still wasn't sure how to feel about it. It wasn't until I realized exactly what that ending was that I changed my mind about the series, and is the reason I can even recommend it to this day. So, yes. It is one that's worth watching, but only if you realize what you are getting into. Despite getting insanely dark and violent at times, the "cute" anime magical girl art style never completely goes away, and some of the issues these girls deal with might be hard for some people to relate to (including myself). However that doesn't mean it isn't a good show. Once you get past the first few episodes the series takes a turn for the better (worse for the characters), and after that it never stops. There are moments that drag on with too much dialogue and a bit too much back and forth between the characters, but it's not that bad. Again the recap movies cut most of this out, so thankfully there's that option for the future. That being said, this is a series that needs to be seen twice.

If you don't like the idea of rewatching what you've already seen, or watching recap movies, then that's fine. While you really do need to see it twice to fully understand what has happened, it isn't a requirement. It's a short series as it is, and if you want to just blow through it and not look back then that's fine too. It's just strongly recommended you don't do this. This is something you should go in to expecting to come back to it. Still it's up to you.

So yes, bottom line is you should watch it, but only if the style doesn't bother you. (Both the magical girl elements and the surreal horror.) It's definitely not a show for everyone, but it's worth at least giving it a try.

Where to Watch:

At this time Madoka Magica can be watched in a few locations. Mainly...

Netflix (Both sub and dub)
and Crunchyroll (Both sub and dub)

Crunchyroll being the free option.
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