What They Say:
There exist “Messengers of Magic” who have the power to grant one wish to a chosen girl. However, that girl must then become a magical girl and fight against witches, evil creatures born from curses that are responsible for murders and suicides. A schoolgirl named Madoka Kaname and her friend Sayaka Miki are approached by one of those Messengers of Magic named Kyubey and magical girl named Mami Tomoe with offers of becoming magical girls, while another magical girl, Homura Akemi, tries to prevent Madoka and friends from making such a deal…
The video quality of the Blu-Ray release is a notable point for this release, with everything looking very crisp and the animation looking smooth throughout. I didn’t notice any issues with the visual quality at all during the series and there were no notable playback issues. Subtitles were clear and easy to read and didn’t distract from what was going on, whilst the balance between music, effects and voices was consistent for the length of the series, both in Japanese and English dubs. The lack of a 5.1 audio setting seems a bit odd and, to some people, may be a significant issue when it comes to deciding upon whether to buy the release. I did also notice that some of the subtitles had quotation marks for seemingly no reason at all, although this error only occurs on the first disc of the release and is relatively uncommon.
The menu design is very elaborate, with a detailed and stylistic menu bar containing all the options at the bottom. Clicking on any of the items opens up a new tab containing the relevant options without opening up a new screen in similar fashion to most Blu-Ray menus. Each of the discs has a different coloured bar and features character portraits relevant to each segment of the story, a look which is very aesthetically pleasing. Surrounding each of these portraits is a series of orbs which move around the background constantly, whilst the background changes between various images from the episodes contained on the disc. These images are where the most significant issue with the menu lies. The choices made seem somewhat suspect, as many of the images aren’t even visible behind the foreground of the menu, plus I did notice a few images which could be considered spoilers for the episodes rotating on the main menu. As it is, the constant movement of obscured images in the background and the orbs make the menu look a little cluttered, as if too much is going on at once. During the menu a segment of the music track ‘Sis Puella Magica!’ plays on repeat, adding a little extra to the overall feel of the menu. As for the menu itself, all the options are functional as designed and the cursor is easily visible and responsive to commands, allowing for easy use.
Aside from a textless opening and some trailers, there’s nothing else. Not even a creditless ending or anything. They could’ve done so much here, be it commentaries, art collections, interviews or whatnot. Why is there no feature explaining how they came up with the witch worlds, for example? That’s the kind of thing I’d love to see on here, but instead we get a selection that manages to be sub-par compared to even the most basic of releases. The inclusion of certain trailers does amuse me a little though. I see what you did there, Manga.
Chances are, if you’ve been keeping up with recent anime over the last couple of years, you’ve probably heard the name Madoka thrown around a lot. When it was first announced, it just seemed like a run-of-the-mill magical girl show like any other, a team of cute girls transforming with sparkles and happiness and fighting back the evil (but probably not actually evil) forces. Part of the reason for Madoka’s success is that it takes all the ideas and preconceptions that any person with a general idea of what magical girls are all about, and subverts expectations on every level. Many people raved about this and hailed it as something truly original and a complete and utter revitalisation of the magical girl genre, often throwing around comparisons to Neon Genesis Evangelion. Whilst it isn’t actually the first magical girl anime to do such a thing (Princess Tutu comes to mind), it certainly does a good job of it. Another reason for the hype is likely due to the group of people who worked on the show. Most notable here is the writer of the project, Gen Urobuchi, known for his work on Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom, the visual novel Saya no Uta and his more recent work on Fate/Zero. Also involved is Aoki Ume, the character designer known for her work on slice of life comedy series Hidamari Sketch, Yuki Kajiura, composer for the Kara no Kyoukai series of films, and Shinbou Akiyuki, SHAFT’s general director of everything, most recently known for his work on Bakemonogatari.
Take one high school girl, with a normal life, normal parents, normal friends and conversations and you end up with the protagonist of the series, the titular Madoka Kaname. Add into the mix the happy-go-lucky childhood friend in the form of Sayaka Miki, the mysterious transfer student who keeps to herself in the form of Homura Akemi and, by the end of the first episode, a graceful, elegant tea drinking senior in the form of Mami Tomoe. It doesn’t take long to introduce the magical girl elements, with evil forces and transformations both making an appearance in the first episode. The first thing to take note of here is the aesthetic of the ‘evil forces’, known in the series as witches. Rather than using conventional animation or CGI, the sequences rely on heavy use of stop-motion and paper cut-outs amongst other techniques to create a somewhat unnerving and otherworldly setting. Within the same episode comes the introduction of the ‘cute mascot’ character often associated with magical girl anime, under the name of Kyubey. Admittedly, he is rather cute. These characters, along with latecomer Kyouko Sakura, make up almost the entire cast of the show, with the other characters appearing maybe once or twice an episode. Unfortunately one of the few weaknesses the show has is related to characters. Whilst a few of the characters get significant development and Kyubey becomes something that ends up being lovable to hate, others get left underdeveloped. Mami, for example, only really gets a single flashback for a back story which lasts less than a minute. Sayaka’s sudden character shift in episode 6 also seems a little unexpected, although the continuation of that arc is quite possibly the best part of the entire series. Madoka herself does also tend to get a little bit TOO naïve sometimes too, which can grate a bit.
The tone of the series remains quite heavily on the happy and fluffy side of the genre up until around the end of episode two, which shows the effects of witches on the human population of the city of Mitakihara. This is the first sign that things aren’t quite as cute as they seem, with themes of suicide and references to Goethe’s Faust. The use of quotes from Faust isn’t just there for no reason either, for the plot throughout the series shows many familiarities to the piece of classic literature. Even so, the tone remains generally light hearted all the way up until the conclusion of episode three, after which everything takes a far more serious tone. Characters are killed off, whilst others go into insanity spirals. More and more information regarding the mechanics of the magical girl contracts are revealed throughout the episodes at a steady pace, keeping a consistent flow of information and action to ensure the ride is as enjoyable as possible. The use of colour and symbolism is also apparent throughout the episodes, with the direction and dialogue used effectively and cleverly to foreshadow points without making them too obvious in advance. By the time the show reaches its final climax, it does seem to come across as a little disappointing. The pacing is somewhat off and some scenes last a little too long, dragging things out slightly. Even so, it does manage to craft a solid ending to the series in a way which is fitting with the themes and ideas, whilst the ending has many points during the series which foreshadow it episodes in advance, rather than just pulling a Deus Ex Madoka out of nowhere like many series seem to.
Talking of individual parts, the soundtrack for the series is very much an important part of the overall package. One of my personal complaints about a lot of media is the slapdash nature of soundtrack use, putting music over certain scenes without putting much thought into whether it’s really suitable for the scenario. This is something which Puella Magi Madoka Magica does not do. Composed entirely by, in my opinion, one of the greatest anime composers of this generation, Yuki Kajiura, a lot of effort has gone into ensuring that the correct pieces of music have been used during the right scenes. Be it the use of Kalafina’s ‘Magia’ for the fight during the show’s introductory sequence (and later the ending theme) or the melancholy tones of ‘Incertus’ after a character’s death, everything seems well thought out. The quality of the tracks alone is impressive, far beyond the quality of the majority of soundtracks used for anime series. My only real complaint is the use of ‘Ave Maria’, a piece that is used no less than twice during the series and seems to be a go-to for whenever a film or series needs a classical piece of music.
Overall, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is deserving of most of the praise which has been lavished upon it since its airing back in 2011. It isn’t entirely original and takes many cues from other works and does have a few flaws, most notably a few sudden shifts in character or the complete lack of development for one certain individual, plus some of the ideas and theories it uses are a little too far outside of the suspension of disbelief barrier, but it sure is an enjoyable ride. It’s obvious that a hell of a lot of effort has been put into the series by the team behind it and it is genuinely one of the best anime to come out in recent years. What will happen with the franchise in the future is unknown, with the first two feature-length films recently aired, compiling the events of the series and a third, completely original film on the way to follow it up, little is known about where it will go from here. Regardless of how the third film turns out, the series itself is almost entirely self-contained and leaves very little undisclosed.
Considering the amount of positive reception the series has received and the quality of the product as a whole, I would personally recommend that everyone give the series a shot. I’d especially recommend it to those who are fans of the magical girl genre and are looking for something a bit more serious, as well as recommending it to fans of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Bokurano, Princess Tutu and Steins;Gate. Also recommended to fans of Fate/Zero (same director and composer) and Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha (same director).
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is short but surprisingly complex and well constructed series with a fresh take on the magical girl genre. Combined with a refreshingly original and majestic soundtrack, adorable character designs and some clever and inventive directorial and aesthetic choices, it is very much worth spending the time to at least give it a chance regardless of genre preference. It isn’t without flaws, but the positive elements far outweigh the negatives and allow it to be one of the best anime shows to be released in the last few years.
Japanese 2.0, English 2.0, English Subtitles, Textless Opening
Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Menu Grade: A-
Extras Grade: C-
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: October 29th 2012
Running Time: 300 Minutes
23” Samsung HDTV, Creative speakers and Sub, PlayStation 3.