In our last AniMay review, we focused on Naoki Urasawa‘s Monster (you can read the article here) and anime’s potential to step outside of itself and tell a straightforward horror/thriller story. This week, we’re stepping back into anime’s wheelhouse with a story about one of the most persistent tropes in all of anime: The Magical Girl.
For those not in the know (which was me, like, a week ago), The Magical Girl is basically every character in Sailor Moon. They’re young, innocent girls who gain magical powers to fight evil. Most of the time, despite their age and their naivete, Magical Girls become sexualized by their fanbase, and the twee, euphorically innocent tone is often at odds with the violence of the show. This week’s series tackles those tropes and presents a darker, emotionally devastating portrait of life as one of these Magical Girls. So let’s talk about Puella Magi Madoka Magica or just Madoka Magica.
WHAT IS IT?
Madoka Magica is the story of a young girl named Madoka who has a nightmare about the end of the world. In that nightmare, the world is destroyed by giant monsters called Witches. The only thing standing between them and the world’s end is a band of Magical Girls employing various weapons and magic to battle the Witch. Unfortunately, it’s to no avail. As Madoka mourns what she sees, a small white cat named Kyube offers her the chance to stop it all by becoming a Magical Girl herself.
When she awakes from this dream, she discovers a hidden world of Witches, Magical Girls, and the mysterious Homura, a Magical Girl who will stop Madoka from becoming one at any cost.
WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE?
Madoka Magica works on multiple levels. On its face, it’s a heartbreaking story about a young girl coming to grips with an impossible choice, confronted with unimaginable horrors. The show uses stark changes in the animation to depict the nightmare worlds of the Witches, switching to awkwardly jerky, barely rendered sketches of environment that put viewers immediately out of their depth. The emotional journey of life as a Magical Girl also carries with it a horror that this reviewer won’t spoil. But, when I tell you it’s the best and worst that terror can do, know I mean it.
For current fans of anime, this show is a smart, cutting look at the Magical Girl subgenre, confronting the viewer with all the questions about Sailor Moon and Little Witch Academia that they never thought they’d have to ask.
HOW “ANIME” IS IT?
This one is honestly the epitome of anime. Having set itself the task of exploring the Magical Girl trope, it matches the tone of every aspect of that subgenre. That means a lot of crying, a lot of frenetic pacing, and a lot of very breathy dialogue. This can be off-putting to a lot of new anime fans, but there’s a gripping emotional story about the price of doing good in a bad world that I don’t think anyone should ignore.
That cat from earlier, Kyube, is also a pure, straight nightmare, and this show belongs on a horror list if only for that.
Read Week 1 here
Read Week 2 here
Read Week 4 here