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…
This limited edition combo box set includes the third soundtrack CD, an exclusive collector’s box, two double-sided posters, collectible postcards, and a deluxe 24-page booklet with character designs, a special short manga by Aoki Ume and more!
Contains episodes 9-12.
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 silver dots scattered about it. The main focal point on the front of the box is Homura in her transformed mode while the back puts gives us all the magical girls in small form lined along it in a very appealing way. 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 pair of foldout posters 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 good looking cover that brings all the girls together and really expands the scale of it in a way that feels odd without having seen the show, but fits perfectly afterward. 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 as it’s really a wraparound cover, though there’s no character artwork itself on the back. The soundtrack case is interesting as it’s an all black affair with a dark purple 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 opening sequence.
Well, how about that.
When it comes to the Madoka Magica series, I definitely found myself enjoying it in the first eight episodes as the first two sets came out, but it didn’t knock my socks off. It gave me a lot of things to enjoy but it didn’t sell me in a way that demanded I return quickly, or that I re-watch it right away to see how it ties together with new knowledge. The first set gave me a fairly standard story idea with some gorgeous animation and a few hints of what’s to come. The second set capitalized on that and brought in real emotion and intensity with some of the characters, but it also felt weak because Madoka wasn’t a magical girl in it yet. Which is unusual, being the title character and the name of the series. The third volume… well, that one gave us Madoka as a magical girl. In spades. And then some.
With the show having spent its focus across several characters while putting Madoka in a more supporting role, that doesn’t change so much here as the girls deal with the death of Sayaka in the previous set. It’s been a harsh lesson, especially with how it happened and what she gave up everything for, but it’s also been instructive. While we’ve seen the girls fight and deal with the witches and the threat they possess, the instance here showcases just what happens to the magical girls themselves, as they turn into witches. It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise based on what was revealed before, but it’s a big hit to the girls confidence and it strikes particularly hard at Madoka, who now has to watch and be a part of events, not as a magical girl, that have to unfold in order to stop what Sayaka has become. It’s a beautifully sad series of events, but it’s the larger story that it opens up that really wins things out.
Where the show goes here is someplace I never expected, especially since it deals with Homura and does something unexpected. While the show is named after Madoka, this makes it clear that the show is really about Homura. We see how events play out for her, the end of the world and the look to her own past with how she herself became a magical girl. But we also get the expansion on her powers and how she can also travel backwards in time. One episode here becomes a huge Groundhog Day kind of event where we see that repeatedly, the end of the world happens. But that’s not what really drives it. By seeing Homura’s past before becoming a magical girl, before being tricked by the emotionless Kyubey, we see how she saw a world in which Madoka was a magical girl, one of the best, but ended up dying along with all the rest. Over and over and over.
By shifting the narrative over fully to Homura, she becomes a character that you can sympathize with and feel the pain of in a huge way. She’s been a decent if cold character up until thi spoint, but here she becomes something far more. It’s almost hard to put it into something simple, but it comes down to that you understand her pain and the way it drives her, both based on her past prior to becoming a magical girl as well as what she sees in watching Madoka live her life what must be countless upon countless times after that. The series does go big picture with it in the fight that has to happen with the most powerful of witches on the planet, but it’s made all the more compelling because of the sacrifices that Homura is making for Madoka, and the way Madoka doesn’t quite understand. Putting this alongside a better appreciation of who Madoka could be, based on those alternate negated timelines, it helps to strengthen the bond between the two in a very big way.
Madoka has been the huge weak point for me in the series and this volume definitely helps to show why, but also why she has so much potential that Kyubey sees in her. The alternate timeline versions of her are who we see here, just with more confidence that comes from the power and accomplishments. While we do see that, it does make something of a disconnect to see the way this version of her goes when everything goes all epic in scale. Epic isn’t even the right word. Galactic. Things go to such a huge level and the changes are impressive, but it’s hard to make the connection from the girl we’ve seen in the first ten or eleven episodes to what we get in the finale. It works, there’s no doubt, but it takes some suspension of disbelief. But it’s similar in a way to how we see Kyubey changes based on the talk Homura gives at the end with him, talking about how the large scale changes affected so many things. The series undergoes a realignment, but it’s one that the viewer also needs to go through as well.
Going into the finale of the series, and really the series as a whole, with the whole hype wave that was behind it was definitely a challenge. I liked the series up until this point, but it wasn’t the show that blew me away like it did so many others during its broadcast. But the broadcast was its own experience and it also became a rallying point at the time because of the natural disaster events in Japan. Watching it here and now, a good year after that and disconnected from it, I appreciated the series as I saw it. The final volume here is the one that for me elevates it to more of a masterpiece. A work that needs to be re-viewed with this new context, the realignment that the viewer must go through at the end, and take it all in through this new lens. These are the powerful episodes, the ones that really define the characters, but largely because it ejected nearly everyone except for Homura and Madoka. The other characters are important, they built things towards here, but it’s with this volume that you realize what’s truly important and you come away with a new respect for all involved. Highly recommended.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: June 12th, 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.