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Puella Magi Madoka Magica Vol. #01 Manga Review

5 min read

Take away Shinbo’s style and the experimental animation and what do you get? A good story worth continuing with but one that doesn’t capture on the first read.

Creative Staff
Story: Magica Quartet
Art: Hanokage
Translation/Adaptation: William Flanagan

What They Say
When a new girl joins her class, Madoka Kaname feels she recognizes the mysterious, dark-haired transfer student from one of her dreams…a dream where she is approached by a cat-like creature who offers Madoka an opportunity to change destiny. Madoka had always thought magic was the stuff of fantasy…until she sees the transfer student fighting with the very cat-being from her dream! And just like in Madoka’s dream, the cat gives her a choice: Will Madoka become a Puella Magi in exchange for her dearest desire? What will be the cost of having her wish come true?

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Madoka Magica is one of, if not the, most popular anime series to come out in the last couple of years. It is such for extremely good reason. At the core is the compelling and extremely off-kilter story that takes a unique and extremely dark view on the magical girl genre. Possibly the most lauded aspect of the series is the visuals provided by Shaft and director Akiyuki Shinbo’s unique directorial style. The manga series is an interesting companion to the anime that must rely on telling the story but without the aid of the visuals and directorial style.

The volume opens up with a particularly grisly scene showing an unknown magical girl bloodied and beaten amidst a sea of fire. We are then shown the typical, extremely cute magical mascot asking another young girl to “make a contract” and become a magical girl so that she can help the other girl. The scene then switches to our main character Madoka as she attends school, jokes with her friends, and a brief glimpse into her idyllic home life. Everything about the way this volume starts is completely carefree and fun. If you’ve read (or seen) one magical girl series, you’ve seen this all before.

As the book progresses, we are introduced to a new transfer student that looks just like the girl from Madoka’s dream. From this point forward we start to see some of the differences the story takes from the traditional magical girl series. This includes meeting the mascot, Kyubey, and our leads Madoka and Sayaka tagging along with a kind-hearted magical girl called Mami all the while running into the mysterious Homura who tries to kill Kyubey and prevent Madoka from making a contract. What are Homura’s intentions behind her actions? These questions and the dark tone mixed with some out-of-the-ordinary violence is what propels us to invest in the story being told and anticipate what will come next. Then we get introduced to the enemies the magical girls must fight. These villains are called Witches. However, the scenes that take place in a Witch’s labyrinth are the first scenes in the book that start to lose the audience. The drawings look very strange but set against the rest of the series are more off-putting and plain rather than menacing and engaging.

That’s really where the volume fails in addressing the story. One might be quick to blame the limitations of manga as opposed to anime as the reason for the anti-climactic artwork but I’m not so quick to do so. Whether you have seen the anime or not, this manga adaptation feels extremely rushed and every time the girls enter a labyrinth we are given to only a couple of pages to show us how strange everything is supposed to be and build up a sense of suspense. It does not succeed at all in this regard. The majority of the book is spent with the girls sitting around and talking. This provides exposition but does nothing to move a reader forward to seeing the series as anything special. Even the twist in chapter 3 loses some of its impact because of the rushed feeling the book takes.

Looking at the book overall, the core of the story still exists and the more discerning readers will notice that things are not as they appear. Overall the book is still quite excellent and delivers the story effectively while making the reader want to read the next volume. It’s the journey through the book that is less than impressive and really feels like a standard magical girl story with a slightly violent bend to it. The fault lies not in the story but in the manga artist’s inability to truly capture our imagination and instead spend more time with the slice-of-life elements that bumper the core story. Hopefully the next volume will be able to rectify these fallbacks.

In Summary
Interestingly enough, the above review looks at the book solely from the perspective of a person who hasn’t seen the anime. Which is how it should be; I am looking at the book as its own entity. However, for existing fans that have seen and love the anime, such as me, the book is still very satisfying. Why is this? Because the book does take a more traditional approach to the magical story (much more so than the anime initially did) and, with previous knowledge of the events to come, give the manga a curious turn. Kyubey is much more cutely drawn than he ever was in the anime. Also, since we are reading the book at our pace with our mind’s eyes “speaking” the dialogue, everything is much more unassuming, more innocent. This is terrific because it will make future events more unexpected and possibly more interesting. But we’ll have to wait and see on that but taken as an individual work, volume 1 falls short of the hype.

Content Grade: B-
Art Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B-
Text/Translation Grade: B+

Age Rating: 16+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: May 29th, 2012
MSRP: $11.99