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 5-8.
Please Note: The technical portion of this review covers only the Blu-ray disc included in the combo release.
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.
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 second batch of 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.
Aniplex has once 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 yellow dots scattered about it. The main focal point on the front of the box is Mami in her transformed mode while the back puts Sayaka in a cute way as she’s in her costume as well. 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 four episodes. 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 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 moody cover that has Kyoko and Sayaka in their magical girl outfits with very serious looks about them while set against some stained glass style imagery. 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 stained glass style artwork with some really nice reds to it. The soundtrack case is interesting as it’s an all black affair with a dark blue 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.
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 Kyoko and Sayaka 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.
The only on-disc extra we get with this release is the clean version of the ending sequence.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first set of Madoka Magica did a good job of introducing us to the magical girl world it wanted to play in, something darker and more sinister than most of them go. And even a bit more than others that intend to try and play it dark do, which was a welcome change of pace for things. With some striking visuals to it all, it sold itself as an atmospheric piece but left me a little cool on the characters. I liked them as much as I could, but there was something of a distance that emanated from them that made it hard to really connect with. What saved them from being stereotypes though is that they all had just a little bit more personality to them, some quirks that weren’t exactly quirks, that made them feel a little more real.
With the surprising events towards the end of that first set which resulted in a death, it’s certainly proven to be a shock to Sayaka and Madoka. They aren’t exactly handling it well, but they’re not collapsing into a puddle of emotional goo either. Sayaka for her part is still going the magical girl route and hunting witches, but her successes aren’t a lot to speak of. And to complicate matters, Homura is still in the picture as well and there continues to be that odd vibe from her that confounds them since she doesn’t outright help or hinder but in her own way tries to dissuade. What really complicates things is Kyoko as she views them all as competition and she doesn’t stand for that in the slightest.
What this set of episodes does is something that I really found engaging and is entirely spoiler material in order to be talked about. With what Kyubey is doing, there’s a lot of mystery behind it and plenty of sense that he’s otherworldly in a way we don’t normally get from the “mascot” character like this. As is related by Homura at one point, he’s essentially an alien and doesn’t grasp human emotions which makes understanding him all the more difficult. That disconnect is really interesting but what it needs is for something to happen that’s tangible in a way to express that disconnect. And what it turns out is that the soul gem’s that the girls carry is their true selves, meaning that their bodies are nothing more than shells. Which makes sense considering the damage that they can take and have to heal from.
For Sayaka, that has her feeling like she’s little more than a zombie after things go badly with Madoka at one point and she gets separated from her gem. That small death she goes through definitely shakes her when she does get recovered later and it makes what looks to be a lasting impact on her. While she can certainly do and be things with the body she has, mentally she’s made the disconnect now and realizes that she can’t experience the life she wanted to have because of it. She made the deal not understanding the true reality of things and she’s even making accusations at Madoka about how she can even the score a bit, something that’s rather unfair but feels right in how Sayaka would act at this point. It’s a rough couple of episodes in watching how this unfolds for her. You really feel like she’s the lead of the series at this point rather than the titular Madoka.
While I enjoyed the first outing of the series, it was so laden in hype from fans for so long that it worked against it for me. It had things I like but the characters didn’t connect well. With this set, the show moves into some very appealing territory and really challenges the characters to deal with things in a way that is pretty hard to imagine. Madoka herself continues to be the weak link, but she’s not all the central here when you look at what’s happening. Homura plays a bit of a catalyst while Kyoko goes for that role outright as she makes her revelations about how she views the chain of power when it comes to her position. But it’s Sayaka that steals the show as she grapples with what she’s learned and how it changes her view of herself, something that strikes deeply at her. And she’s become the main draw for me with the series at this stage, though I can imagine it’ll change with the next volume and looking at the series as a whole.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: April 10th, 2012
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
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.