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Puella Magi Madoka Magica DVD/Blu-ray Collection 1 Limited Edition Anime Review

9 min read

The risk versus reward of being a magical girl in this series is seriously intense.

What They Say:
“Has a loving family and best friends, laughs and cries from time to time…” Madoka Kaname, an eighth grader at Mitakihara middle school, lives such a life. One day, she has a very magical encounter. She doesn’t know if it’s by chance or by fate yet, but this meeting will change her destiny. This is the beginning of a new story of magical girls…

Contains episodes 1-4.

The Review:
Please Note: The technical portion of this review covers only the Blu-ray disc included in the combo release.

Audio:
The audio presentation for this release contains a pair of audio tracks for English and Japanese in stereo using the Linear PCM lossless encoding. The show uses the mix well with the dialogue and action to provide for a rather engaging forward soundstage experience. The show moves easily between quiet dialogue and more intense conversations and it works very well with the surreal witches environments when those come into play. The action side of the series is strong as well with the various sound effects it uses with the magical moments and other segments as well. While we listened to this in Japanese, we did listen to some of it in English as well. The track holds up well overall but it also feels like it doesn’t quite blend as well since it’s a stereo mix. Most English mixes tend to be 5.1 and the dialogue is louder over the music and effects whereas here the dialogue is lighter than it for a lot of it. In the end though, both tracks sound good and are problem free when it comes to dropouts and distortions.

Video:
Originally airing in 2011, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. This release contains the first four episodes of the series with plenty of space to spare and it uses the space for the encoding as spends most of its time in the mid thirties for the bit rate. The show has a very good sense of design and color to it while having an almost pencil rough feeling to some of the character designs. There’s a good richness to the colors throughout this, whether it’s the real world segments with beautiful sunsets, bright colors in the school and softness in the uniforms and hair colors. The magical side of the series has a more diverse design to it with more vibrant colors and some very striking pieces when it comes to the transformations and the witches themselves. It’s a very appealing looking transfer overall that hits all the right notes.

Packaging:
Aniplex has gone all out with this release in its limited edition form. The set comes in a soft non-chipboard box that uses a soft white background with some pink dots scattered about it. The main focal point on the front of the box is Madoka in her transformed mode while the back puts Kyubey in the center in small form that’s just adorable. With the text all done in gold, it looks great with a sense of elegance about its design through the fonts and the subtle aspects. Inside the box we get a pair of clear keepcases, one that contains the DVD and Blu-ray while the other is devoted to the soundtrack. It also comes with several pack in extras that are very much worth noting. There’s a packet that has thick cards showcasing the preview gallery artwork from the first four episodes as well as a pair of stickers of Kyubey that are just adorable. We get a good foldout poster of the cast and there’s also a full color booklet. The booklet is great as it details the first four episodes with shots and dialogue, character designs, interviews with the creative staff and lots of artwork and some cute four panel strips.

The TV series keepcase has a very cute cover that has Madoka and Homura in their transformed mode over the city that has a soft but appealing look to it. Since it’s in the box it doesn’t have to sell it as strongly and it uses some artwork that definitely appeals to the fans for the show. The back cover expands on this with a greater look at the city but with more blues in the sky with a relaxing feeling to it. The soundtrack case is interesting as it’s an all black affair with a platinum embossing on the front that has some nice edge work to it and the Soul Gem in the middle. It’s simple and elegant in a way that fits it perfectly. The back cover is all black except for the lower left where it lists the musicians involved and the production staff for it.

Menu:
The menu design for the series is very fun and well designed to the theme of the series with some light bubbles floating across the screen with character artwork showing in several of the bigger ones. The logo is well placed along the upper left while to the right of it we get the static artwork of Homura and Madoka together that looks good. The menu navigation along the bottom has a good pink and purple mix to it that fits the show well with its font and flow. It also doubles as the pop-up menu which works nicely during the show itself as it doesn’t dominate and fits in better than one might expect. Submenus load quickly and everything is easy to navigate and problem free.

Extras:
The extras on disc are pretty slim as we get a couple of trailers for the series which runs about two and a half minutes. We also get the clean opening and the music video version of the ending sequence.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original work from the Shaft anime studio, Madoka Magica is a twelve episode series directed by Akiyuki Shinbo and written by Gen Urobuchi with original character designs by Ume Aoki. I’ve had a hit or miss relationship when it comes to the kinds of shows Shaft gets involved with, but when they work with serious material as they do here it tends to be more hit than miss. The series received a lot of critical and fan acclaim when it was originally airing and it’s proven popular enough to have three feature films greenlit for production. With all this buzz about the series, it’s definitely been a challenge to keep expectations in line so that it doesn’t turn into a disappointment because of all of that.

The series is one that takes place in the present day and does adhere to some of the usual magical girl elements. We’re introduced to several second year middle school students who are good friends with each other and are generally leading decent, happy lives. Or at least it seems that way at first glance as we do eventually start to dig into their issues as it progresses. The glue of the group is that of Madoka, a cute young girl who has a younger brother and both parents alive and healthy. Well, when her mother isn’t drinking to keep up with things with her bosses at work. Along with Sayaka and Hitomi, they make up a good little trio who have friends, are generally liked and decent students. There’s little that really makes them stand out but they’re not problematic kids either.

The problem comes for Madoka when she has a dream about the city being destroyed and being told she’s responsible for it. When one of the girls she saw in her dream, a dark haired beauty, suddenly ends up in her class as a transfer student. Bad portents all around, but it’s reinforced whens Madoka also keeps hearing another voice in her head asking her for help. What events turn out to be is that Madoka, along with Sayaka, have both been considered to be candidates for being magical girls by a very adorable creature/mascot named Kyubey who needs them for its own reasons and survival. But becoming a magical girl is a dangerous risk as not only do you have to face the witches that are out there, but you have to come up with a wish that will in some way determine just how powerful you are. And Madoka is revealed to have immense potential.

The first four episodes are a curious piece of work as it does things unlike just about all magical girl series as the two leads in Madoka and Sayaka don’t actually become magical girls for most of it and one doesn’t at all. When presented with this opportunity, the dream that Madoka has keeps her uncertain about what she should do. It’s made worse with the transfer student, Homura, actively talking them out of it repeatedly when coming across her. What provides the balance though is that the pair ends up meeting another magical girl a year their senior named Mami. She, along with Kyubey, talk about what it means to be a magical girl and goes into a couple of different instances of dealing with their enemy with the witches and their familiars.

Madoka Magica has a really good look to it when it comes to its animation as it doesn’t play things with the equivalency aspect of making the witches magic and locales look like everything else. By going this route, when they girls deal with the witches, it lets it feel very otherworldly and like a whole different kind of magic. It almost goes for a more simplistic approach with the witches with the primary colors and the large swatches of them, but it also goes pretty surreal in other ways that works well. And it’s a great counterweight to what we get with the rest of the animation which has a strong look with a lot of detail to it. The transformations are kept simple but effective as well and the magic used by the girls which is definitely to its advantage. It may not be hugely distinct, but it’s very well animated and has a smooth look to it.

In Summary:
Madoka Magica in its first third of the series offers up plenty of potential to it and it works in a curious way by spending this much time with the lead character not taking on her powers. It’s a very restrained series at this point, easing us into the world that the girls are going to inhabit and really making it clear that there are real dangers to be had here and lives can be lost. Brutally so. There have certainly been serious magical girl shows before, even at this character age level, but the structure and pacing of this one feels different from the start and the first four episodes really does bear that out. This first release has a lot going for it, both in how the package is put together, the quality of the disc involved and the show itself, but I will say the first four episodes are not a slam dunk in making it a must see show. It’s strong and offers a lot, but it didn’t win me over completely.

Features:
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Closing Music Video, Original Trailers

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: February 14th, 2012
MSRP: $94.98
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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