Since its already fast approaching midnight and I don't have the energy or temporal leeway to write another long article, I shall post an anime review I have just finished writing thus revealing to the world that I am in fact a geek (by the world, I mean my extremely small impermanent readership but hey, they mean the world to me).
Puella Magi Madoka Magica Review
Studio Shaft can probably be classed as one of the great trolls of the current anime industry (though in my opinion the glorious spot of number one anime troll must be given to Gintama for all its fake film trailers, deceptive series finales and general attitude) and one of its crowning achievements, the ever gleaming polished trophy taking the pride of place within their large cabinet of trolling accomplishments, has to be Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
The story that the original trailer would have you believe goes a little something like this: One day, a young innocent inexplicably pink haired high school student called Kaname Madoka saves an adorable fantastical animal called Kyubei who offers her the chance to become a magical girl and fight the evil witches who terrorize the human realm. Joined by loving trusting friends, Madoka ventures on a journey of personal growth and discovery to fight unhappiness in the world.
The studio originally publicized the anime as a heart warming cute affair, the sort of series with an ever-present gentle fluffy pink atmosphere, that would provoke tears and smiles. In this respect they did half deliver, except the tears were that of sadness and the smiles upside down. The entire series is a brilliantly orchestrated crescendo of misery, starting off on a more or less positive mood it quickly begins its light jog down the steep hill of dark tragedy and by the latter parts of the show the jog is a blurring sprint that would blow Usain Bolt out of the metaphorical water.
By the second half of the series I no longer had any faith in my increasingly unstable emotional relativism because every time I thought I was the most depressed I could ever be, the next episode would come along and prove me totally utterly wrong. This is definitely a show to watch with a phone that has the Samaritans on speed dial in one hand and a box of tissues (To be used for wiping away tears, just to point out in case of any misunderstanding. Yes, there are a lot of supposedly teenage girls who like they’ve only just been weaned off breast milk, running around in cute little frilly dresses and yes the opening does involve the naked title character going through some strange process of reverse cytokinesis. Nonetheless the tissues are for crying into and nothing else) in the other.
To accurately gauge the levels of sheer animated depression induced by the series, imagine the latter episodes of “Steins; gate” thrown in a blender with the final few episodes of “Mirai Nikki” and Mufasa’s death scene from Lion King. Leave mixture to settle for three minutes then add four table spoons of “Welcome to the NHK” episode twenty-three. Stir thoroughly then pass through a filter to remove any remaining rogue fragments of happiness and the result will be something approaching the levels of bleak sadness in “Madoka Magica” in the same way that beer has alcohol content approaching that of vodka (which, incidentally, you will need to consume a lot of to get over the heart wrenching emotionally scarring scenes within the series).
The animation is, as expected of Studio Shaft, so high above the top notch that there’s no more ruler to measure by. The art style is that of the standard cute type anime, with physics defying big bouncy beautiful attractive sensual… hair and biologically impossibly large shiny eyes. The true artistic power of the studio manifests its self when the characters enter the magical realm of the witches that is often composed entirely of Shaft’s trademark combination of colouring pencil and animated collage (as seen frequently in “Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei”). This chaotically artistic scenery combined with the cute style characters creates a strange interesting effect that is probably enjoyable even for those who find highly physically disproportionate character designs irritating. There are other demonstrations of Shaft’s cheeky nonchalant surrealism (as seen often in “Bakemonogatari” and “Nisemonogatari” the sort of scenes which seem to say, “yes, this bedroom has no walls, what of it?”) that also help to make the series visually stunning. This combined with a beautiful, addictive and suitably mystical sound track, mostly classical though some not, makes the show worth watching just from a sensory perspective.
The plot is also far more complicated, both narratively and thematically, than it first appears (Though really viewers should have braced themselves for heavy philosophical content when they first saw Latin in the title). It is often observed that while at first glance they may seem like polar opposites, the genres of science fiction and fantasy are in fact neighbouring countries on the large map of fiction who share a very loosely controlled boarder (no passport checks or anything, let alone barbed wire or armed security measures). Madoka Magica hops easily across this line as the series matures, with rather surprisingly enjoyable twists here and there, the story works as an intelligent deconstruction of magical girls although the ending (of the television anime series, there is a film finale on the way) is a little lackluster. The story and atmosphere is, in short, what you might get if you combined a less pretentious “Evangelion” with a less battle-centered “Mirai Nikki”, that is to say, excellent.
Taking all this into account, a more accurate summary would go a little something like this: Kaname Madoka, troubled by a nightmare of an approaching apocalypse, one day encounters a strange fantastical creature with blood red eyes and bone white fur. The being offers to grant one wish in return for a life of servitude to several millennia old war between magical girls and witches. Stepping into the dark shadows hidden behind the ordinary life she took for granted, will Madoka be able to resist temptation and see friend from foe? Can she unravel the truth of the centuries old conspiracy and protect those she cares for before the monster of her premonition arrives?
Sounds good doesn’t it? It is.