Madoka Magica is one of the most popular anime of all time, and, when taking reprints into account, the 6th best selling. Selling an average of 84,257 copies per BD. More than other best selling classics like Monogatari Series Second Season, Fullmetal Alchemist, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Fate Zero. It spawned 3 films, 3 video games and 10 million manga spin-offs. Why do I bring this up? Well, because I’m very conflicted on this one. Major spoilers from here on out. If you’re the one person who hasn’t heard anything about Madoka: Watch it right now, without talking to ANYONE, and then come back here. Without further ado, here we go…
Madoka is directed by Shinbo Akiyuki. As such, the directing is stylish and unique. The witch realms are psychedelic and wild, often using fabric cut outs and 3-D animation to produce an unnerving vibe. Seeing as the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas, whether they be visual or thematic, is a favorite aspect of mine, it is no surprise that I am a fan of the character designs.
The fights in Madoka, usually taking place in the aforementioned witch realms, are always a treat for the eyes. They rely heavily on the very stylish and flashy effects and lots of spinning and flying around. Throughout the show, the lighting changes to fit the tone, but very drastically, to the point that it can just look silly.
The music in Madoka is composed by the legend herself, Yuki Kajiura. Sure, she’s made the same OST 4 times. Madoka is not only the first time she used it, but the best. Boasting calming choirs and a wide variety of instruments. The opening song, Connect, is a pop song, but the lyrics are quite somber, and it’s been stuck in my head for the past 3 years. It’s no secret that Madoka’s presentation is a rarity, and it delivers splendidly.
I warn you right now, if you’re a big fan of Madoka, and don’t want to see anyone be negative about it, then close this page. I can tell you right now that while I don’t give it a negative score, I don’t give it an easy time either. The last thing I want to do is upset someone, and while I try my best to keep my language tame, I understand that some people have different tolerances for what is considered offensive. Obviously, I hold no grudge towards anyone who adores this show. In fact, if you are one of those people, please talk to me about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m a relativist of sorts. Of course, if you like the show, but don’t care what other people think then go ahead and read this. Alright, plot and characters time!
Our protagonist, Madoka, is a giant Mary Sue. Everyone loves her unconditionally, because she’s just the nicest. She makes “the ultimate sacrifice” and saves everyone. She’s extremely ignorant and naive, but no one in-universe addresses it. She can’t make a decision to save her life, until one specific situation, which I’ll get to later. The excuse of Madoka’s age is null, as I am younger than Madoka myself, and wouldn’t as hell act like she does at some points. Madoka clearly doesn’t understand that 14 isn’t young enough to be unable to wrap your head around very simple moral concepts. If Madoka was 6, then maybe I’d accept her behavior, but 14, and no one pointing it out? Not okay. The most heinous and frustrating example of Madoka’s naiveté is her dialogue with Kyubei on the subject of his plan. It boils down to this (not mine):
Kyubei: We must sacrifice magical girls to fight off entropy and protect the universe.
Madoka: But that’s wrong! That’s UNFAIR!
Kyubei: How is this different from the way humans systemically slaughter cows in order to eat?
Madoka: B-buh..HUH? But this is WRONG!
Mami was blatantly uninteresting, having an edgy backstory and dying solely as shock factor. Her death doesn’t really act as motivation for any of the characters. All it does is serve to make the theme very clear: Humanity is useless. I’ll address that theme later, but for now, let’s move on.
The side characters are horrendous. I don’t remember a single one of them after watching the show 3 times. The only one that even is slightly memorable is Madoka’s mom, as she’s the best damn character in the show for some reason. Because of that, I don’t even count her as a side character. Rock on, whatever her name is.
Sayaka is an odd case. Her arc is interesting on paper, but executed poorly. We have no reason for why she is so obsessed with Kyousuke, as such, her descent feels unwarranted. Her friendship with Madoka is also rather flat. What chemistry do they have? None. I don’t think a single line between them felt like real friends talking at all. However, her relationship with Kyoko is much better. They bounce of each other well, because of their similar pasts, and Kyoko is a very fun character to watch.
Speaking of Kyoko… yeah, she is fun. Using a spear as a weapon is a rare thing in anime, and it can pull off some unique tricks. I like her seiyuu, and her dialogue is by far the most natural, in a show with such stagnant and unrealistic dialogue.
On the topic of fun: Madoka is a damn fun show to watch. The aesthetics help with that a lot, but the easy-to-follow narrative and twists really push it into super-fun territory. It’s certainly worth mentioning. Also, all 3 times I watched this show, I watched it in one sitting. So yeah, fun times.
Along with those two positives, I also really legitimately like episodes 1-3, 10 and 11. The first 3 because it had fantastic aesthetic design, a narrative that could easily go somewhere interesting and a cool twist that I totally saw coming at the end of episode 3. I thought “Wow, this could really end up something great.” Episode 10 is just extremely well executed, not much to say there. And episode 11 felt like continuing what episode 10 just did. Madoka had a strong start, fell back in the middle, and was finally going to finish strong. Everything was in place. The planets had aligned. Aaaaaannnnnndddddddd, it fucked up.
Throughout episodes 3-11, the idea of the fragile weakness of the human soul is made very clear. As I mentioned, Mami dies with no fanfare. The soul gems, the physical manifestation of the girls’ souls, are weak and easily breakable. The atmosphere is dark and grim. It’s gonna break all rules, and give a true, respectable, downer ending! No. It pulls, in the last second, the ultimate twist: It was a reconstruction all along.
Spoilers for Fate Zero and Steins Gate. Why is this a problem? Fate Zero pulled the same thing, and that’s an all time favorite of mine. Hell, it’s even the same writer. So what did Madoka do wrong? Foreshadowing. This sudden happy ending has no buildup whatsoever. In Zero, the “one last hurrah” ending was clearly foreshadowed, through Waver’s development and, of course, the existence and events of Fate Stay Night. Madoka doesn’t have that. It pulls a bullshit thematic 180 in the final 10 minutes that feel like Urobuchi changed his mind just to troll the whole damn world. Not only that, but it’s a reset button ending. The kind that makes the whole show seem pointless. The kind that ruins could-be great shows like Steins;Gate. End spoilers for SG and FZ
Even worse than all that, it ruined Madoka’s already poor character. She’s established as indecisive, yet, with no fanfare whatsoever, she makes a huge decision on a dime. Homura becomes essentially Madoka’s accessory, and now all the development throughout the show is pointless. Grreeaaaaaaatttttt
There are two other major problems with Madoka that I’d like to get into. First: Everything revolves around Madoka. Everyone loves her just because. She never does anything, but for some reason, everything focuses on her. If she was an interesting character, with reasons for everyone to love her and for everything to fall into her hands, then fine. It’s what happened with Tomoya in Clannad and, because Tomoya was interesting, it didn’t bother me.
The other, bigger problem is that it doesn’t have nearly as much time as it needs to develop its world and characters. We’ll start with the world. So many questions are left unanswered. Can the magical girls tell their parents or friends? If they go their entire teenage life without becoming a witch, what happens? How come Madoka turned into a witch after defeating Walpurgis Night? Why doesn’t Kyubei wish away the entropy problem if he can grant wishes?
As for the characters, it just feels rushed. For example, Homura will kill anyone and anything to protect Madoka, and they never bring up the moral implications of this. There is no reason why anyone cares about anyone in this show. Characters just care about one another because plot.
All of these problems cycle back to the one, overlying problem with Madoka: It wasn’t thought through enough. The random plot twists, the lacking episode count, the theme shifts and the unfulfilled character arcs. It all leads back to a lack of planning.
I could go over every petty problem I have with the show in minute detail. The poor dialogue, the occasional edgy plot event, the melodrama, etc. I won’t. It’s pointless. If I did, I’d have to do the same thing for positives. Instead, I’ll leave it at this:
Madoka is a powerful show. Both in its striking visuals and music, along with its groundbreaking impact on the industry as a whole. Despite that, it’s flawed. Deeply flawed. If you like Madoka, my highest recommendation goes to Fate Zero. It does everything Madoka does 50 times better, and it’s a Nasuverse work. The only thing it doesn’t do as well is the visuals and music, which Madoka wrecks it in, but Zero’s visuals are impressive nonetheless. I twisted and turned for 3 years about this score. Watched all the movies and re-watched the show multiple times. I’ve come to this. Madoka gets a flat 5/10. Hey, I’d prefer a show that takes risks, but trips a few times along the way and ends up a 5, rather than one that took no risks, and out of the sheer fact that it doesn’t have any technical flaws, gets a 5. Did you like Madoka? Tell me in the comments your thoughts on the review and the show itself. That’s all for today. See ya next time.