Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Witchcraft That’s Not for the Kiddies
By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor
Post conventions I tend to go on anime binges. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a series I saw for the first time a couple of months ago and I’m already on my second viewing. Now I know from the art style you’re thinking, okay this has got to be a kid’s show. Spoiler, it’s not. In fact my brother, who is now watching it, had to turn it off after episode three because he needed time to recover emotionally, his words not mine. This show took the cute magical girl genre and brilliantly flipped it on its head.
The show follows the lives Madoka Kaname, Sayaka Miki, Mami Tomoe, Homura Akemi and Kyoko Sakura; all of whom have either made contracts or been approached to make a contract with a mysterious cat-like creature, Kyubey. In exchange for a single wish, they are granted the power to transform into magical girls. The girls fight against witches in a trippy (almost acid-induced) alternate reality.
Magical girl anime has been around for a while, long before Sailor Moon (which was possibly the first one to make it big in the West.) There are typical tropes that come with the genre: typically a disorganized clumsy protagonist, a male love interest with an air of mystery, a flashy transformation sequence where time is apparently suspended long enough for them to do gymnastics in a choreographed nature all while emphasizing themes of growth, finding inner strength, and the importance of female friendship.
This is where Madoka stands out because Madoka herself pretty much has it together. If anything her biggest character flaw is that she is ordinary. Yes she is naive, but that’s just because she’s young, though she’s far superior in terms of maturity compared to past magical girl protagonists. There is no male love interest for her, although fans speculate that her relationship with fellow magical girl, Homura, could be more than just friendship. The transformation sequence is there but it’s relatively short and usually done before the actual fighting so there’s less of a need for that suspension of disbelief.
While most magical girls find inner strength after receiving powers, the realization of power actually breaks the girls psychologically. The realization that no one wish is worth the heavy burden that comes with being a magical girl is one of the main driving forces of the show. There are certain rewards given when a witch is defeated which leads to the girls fighting each other rather than working together against a common foe. While the theme of female friendship is present, Madoka shows the ugly side a lot more than its predecessors.
THIS SECTION MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Unfortunately to really get down to the brilliance of Madoka involves an in-depth discussion that will basically spoil the major twist it puts on the genre. Now those familiar with magical girl will notice I left out the presence of a cute animal when listing the tropes. Technically we get a familiar animal with Kyubey, but he is anything but cute. The manga starts him out adorable, making him progressively creepier as the story progresses; the anime has him creepy right from the get-go. Something about red eyes and not having a mouth is very unnerving. The big twist is that Kyubey is part of an alien race that feeds off of human souls, which is basically what the girls exchange in their contract. They lose not only their physical body but also their chance at ever having a happy, normal life.
Additionally, a soul gem is created whenever one of these contracts is made, so it’s literally all that is left of the girls. The reward given for defeating a witch is a grief seed which can purify the soul gem but gets cloudy not only when they use their magic but also when their emotions run the gambit. So what happens when the soul becomes corrupted? The show demonstrates this in a rather horrifying way. In fact the line Kyubey says about halfway through the series is “if a young female human is called a girl, then wouldn’t it make sense that when a magical girl becomes a woman that she turn into a witch?” I don’t know any magical girl anime that has gone into that dark territory before or since. While Sailor Moon has a dark premise of a war on the moon kingdom and a princess overcome by grief when her love is killed, commits suicide, she and her friends are reincarnated so that they can meet again and live a more peaceful life.
When a character dies in Madoka it’s pretty much for keeps, not to mention their soul is actually destroyed, leaving no room for reincarnation. In fact there is a scene where the girls realize they are going to become witches, so one of the girls turns her weapons on her friends and then herself. The suicide scene in Sailor Moon doesn’t actually happen on camera.
Madoka deals with some heavy themes making it more suited for adults. If you grew up watching magical girl, then you’ll want to see this one. Also don’t underestimate the opening sequence which looks and sounds cute but listen carefully to the lyrics because they perfectly encompass the overall arching theme of the show; they’ll make a lot more sense once you find out what the deal with Homura is. It’s a beautiful show and it’s only 12 episodes long so why not give it a whirl.