(Note: I plan to come out with a spotlight once a month, though I make no promises. I have a backlog of anime that I want to talk about, so hopefully it will work out. I will also try to keep all spotlights spoiler-free.)
Name: Puella Magi Madoka Magica (Magical Girl Madoka)
Studio: Shaft (Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari, Negima?!)
Writer: Gen Urobochi (Fate/Zero, Psycho-Pass)
The first anime I ever watched was Sailor Moon. It was beyond cheesy and I cringe and laugh whenever I watched the old VHS tapes with my sisters, but it is undeniably iconic (who doesn’t know the Sailor Moon theme song?) and set the standard for the magical girl genre. Cute catchphrases, ridiculously long transformation sequences, and pure-hearted, yet klutzy heroines became staples of the magical girl genre. And then Puella Magi Madoka Magica came along. Well-paced, smart, and even horrifying, PMMM is, in one word, brilliant.
Tragedy and angst are no strangers to the magical girl genre (one only needs to look at the first arc of Sailor Moon as an example), but there is always the overarching idea that truth and justice will prevail. PMMM stands out because it lacks that small thread of hope. PMMM doesn’t throw out all the clichés such as friendship, love, and morality, but it portrays them in a way that isn’t completely saccharine. However, that doesn’t make the show a total weepfest or any less compelling. Every shocking twist and turn will leave you emotionally scarred, yet wishing for more. It’s not angst just for the sake of angst; everything works to drive the narrative forward, but not in a way that feels contrived.
Connect by ClariS
Just watching the opening (posted above) alone, you could dismiss this as an average, or even mediocre, magical girl anime. The protagonist, Kaname Madoka, is the typical junior high student who is approached by the mystical being Kyubey to become a magical girl. Magical girls use their powers to fight witches, who prey on the darkness in people’s hearts to force them to commit heinous acts. Of course, there is a price; in exchange for becoming a magical girl, Kyubey will grant Madoka any wish she desires. Whatever you want, Kyubey will give it to you. Sure, you’re risking your life, but it’s all for a good cause, and you get anything you wish for, so why not take Kyubey’s offer?
Because Mami’s a badass. And how insane looking are the witches?
Of course, the show wouldn’t be complete if Madoka didn’t have her own
Sailor Senshi magical girl quartet. There’s the cool veteran Tomoe Mami, hot-headed Miki Sayaka, fierce Sakura Kyoko, and the cold, mysterious transfer student Akemi Homura. Despite the fact that the show only spans twelve episodes, each character gets enough time to get thoroughly fleshed out and it doesn’t feel like she’s there just to fulfill the five-girl quota. I do have a teeny, tiny gripe with the fact that Madoka, despite being the main character, gets overshadowed by the other girls and their stories, and while I can see why in the grand scheme of things, she still makes less of an impact than the other girls.
The show utilizes several endings throughout the show, which seems excessive for such a short anime, but it works really well in this case and shows how much thought went into crafting the show. For the most part, none of the songs really stand out except for the second ending, Magia by Kalafina (posted above), which is also used as an insert song. It’s creepy, dark, and just suits the tone of the show so well.
I am a little worried that the immense success of the show and the demand for more will take away what made it so great in the first place (the show has been condensed into two movies and a third with a new story is on the way), but PMMM is still admirable because it took a dying genre and managed to breathe life into it in the most unconventional way.