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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Puella Magi Madoka Magica
The Complete Series


Starring: Aoi Yūki, Chiwa Saito and Emiri Katō
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £39.99
Certificate: 12
Available 29 October 2012

Madoka Kaname is a young woman, who lives in the city of Mitakihara, where she and her best friend, Sayaka Miki are approached by a magical familiar, Kyubey, who offers the two girls what appears to be a dream gift. They will be given a single wish, with no restrictions in return for becoming magical girls. The magic girls fight the inhuman witches, who are responsible for the emotional negativity which leads to ennui, violence and suicide. Contemplating the arrangement Madoka finds that the life of magic girls is often difficult and as she learns of the connection between the magic girls and the witches, Madoka finally decides what her wish will be...

Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011) is a twelve episode anime. The show was written by Gen Urobuchi, a novelist who also wrote both seasons of Black Lagoon, amongst other projects and directed by Akiyuki Shinbo, who has directed more than thirty shows. The show also benefits from the beautiful music created by Yuki Kajiura.

The episodes are presented across three Blu-ray discs, four on each one, with a pin sharp picture, proving that Blu-ray is the natural home of modern anime. Sadly, the extras, such as they are, are restricted to textless openings and trailers.

From the start the decision was made not to follow the manga written by Masaki Hiramatsu, except for the characters and the basic premise - not that there was anything wrong with the manga, which was a success. The makers felt that by doing the story in a parallel universe it would allow for greater artistic freedom, increasing the overall project, by expanding the possibilities of what could happen.

If you don’t know the show the opening of the story is unnerving as you're thrown into a Modoka dream sequence, although we don’t know this at the time. Here Modoka sees Homura Akemi, among the rubble of an apocalyptic vision; her surprise could not be greater when she discovers that the same girl has enrolled in her school. When Madoka and her best friend rescue a small animal named Kyubey, he reveals himself as a magical familiar and Madoka’s life path towards becoming a magic girl begins.

This attempt to unsettle the audience isn’t restricted to the narrative alone, visually the show distorts the tropes of the magic girl genre, portraying a world which is visually arresting, but removed from a literal portrayal. Some of the elements, such as the background settings are rendered in loving detail, often in a single colour palette to a cinematic level of quality. The mazes constructed by the witches are conversely psychedelic paper cut constructions, dark and disturbing.

Although the character designs make the individual girls recognisable, as characters, their actual level of animated detail can drop off dramatically, leaving their height and hair colour as their most defining feature. Closer in, all the characters have the large eyes expected of an anime, but their construction is anything like normal. It gives the girls a cute, if disconcerting, look. The juxtaposition of detailed environment and simplified character design creates a visual field which draws the audience into the world.

The story, likewise, does not follow the normal magic girl formula. Rather than setting up the transformation from human to magic girl in the first or second episode, the story has much more to do with Madoka’s decision to accept the wish in return for magical power, something she does not do till nearly the end of the story.

Thematically the show explores the boundaries between self-interest and a sacrificial empathy. Why are the majority of the players interested in whether Madoka chooses to accept a wish, she certainly doesn’t immediately jump at the chance, perhaps seeing the flaw in the offer. If Kyubey has the power to grant any wish, no matter how impossible, then why does he/it not have the power to stop the witches being born from curses or to protect the magic girls when they attempt to engage with them?

More importantly, why is Homura Akemi so determined to stop Madoka taking the wish and becoming a magic girl? After all, that is what she is. They would be on the same side against fear and death. The answer to this is revealed in the show's strongest episode, episode ten and I won’t spoil the reveal, but it changes everything. Many of the young girls chose personal wishes; it may only take one to make a wish for the greater good to stop the cycle of destruction.

If you have seen a magic girl anime before, then be prepared to have your expectations challenged. The cover and initial look of the show give the impression that the show is aimed at young women, however, the complexity of the show and the striking visuals mean that this is a show which all anime fans should check out.


Charles Packer

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