Back in our Winter Preview, I declared my unyielding love for this show:
KYAAAAAAA SHINBOU MAGICAL GIRL ANIME. I don’t care that it’s kind of like a learning opportunity for up and coming SHAFT director Yukihiro Miyamoto. Character designs by Ume Aoki (Hidamari Sketch writer) = win. Script by the guy who did Phantom? Oh God I’m so ready to get on the awesome train. Shinbou, TAKE ME AWAYYYYY~~~
Well the awesome train has begun to leave the station, and if you’re not on board, get on now.
What is Madoka Magica? Well you could see it as another generic Mahou Shoujo show, and if you only watched the OP, you’d definitely get that feel. Unfortunately you’re only half right. The plot in Madoka is your typical average generic Mahou Shoujo plot. In fact, as far as I can tell, there’s really nothing special about the plot at all. The characters are what you would expect from your typical Mahou Shoujo series, the plot is what you would expect as well… But what sets this one anime apart from every other Mahou Shoujo series out there: Shinbo.
I really don’t think it’s a far stretch to attribute Madoka’s absolute awesomeness to Shinbo alone. I mean if there’s one thing that everyone can agree on that separates SHAFT from other animation studios, it’s the animation style. And that’s why I love SHAFT when they get it right. The mark of a great SHAFT anime is ultimately the utilization of some element that just can’t be captured in any other medium. You really can’t read the Bakemonogatari novels, then watch the Bakemonogatari anime and think that it’s the same experience. The unique animation style in the anime twists your perceptions around.
And it’s no different in Madoka, except Shinbo takes a different approach to the animation in Madoka than in any other of his works (and there’s no Madoka novel/manga/VN, but there will be a manga soon). In other words, Shinbo’s animation style is a perfect match for the Mahou Shoujo genre.
The reason why Madoka is so wonderful to watch is because of the complete demarcation between the real and magical world that Shinbo’s animation provides. For example, watch this progression of screencaps:
Madoka moe~ This music store too pretty~
Madoka shadow~ This place too creepy~
O_O Scary place >.<
In pretty much every other Mahou Shoujo anime, the world stays relatively consistent throughout the normal and magical world. Ok, yes, they change costumes, maybe the world gets a little darker, time freezes, etc, but it’s still recognizable. Shinbo’s magical world is like a nightmare. We’re talking about stepping into a world where white cotton balls with moustaches grow out of butterflies and where scissors grow on thorny vines.
And this is where Shinbo’s Mahou Shoujo anime completely diverges from others. All other Mahou Shoujo series paint the magical world as something that isn’t necessarily scary, and even one that people might want to live in. In some cases like Nanoha, the protagonist ends up living in the magical world.
But Shinbo’s magical world is nothing like any other. It’s dark, scary, terrifying, deadly. Why? Hell if I know. It’s only episode 1. But it’s something that I’ll be taking note of.
But what this dark and scary world emphasizes is, at the very least, this fundamental disconnect between the real and magical world. They’re two completely different universes. One occupies the world of some of the prettiest modern architecture to date, with a full blown mall and other great things. The other one occupies… Something completely different.
Depending on how deep you want to take the analysis, something that I’ve considered is that Shinbo might be parodying the sheer absurdity of the Mahou Shoujo genre. I mean come on guys, everything in Mahou Shoujo anime just seems to be TOO idealistic you know? Hey look Nanoha found an awesome friend from the magical world! The girls in Heartcatch Precure use FLOWERS to attack things. Aren’t we getting just a bit too absurd here?
And the way Shinbo attempts to show this absurdity is through contrasts and divisions. Elements in Madoka Magica kind of don’t make sense when you put them together. Starting with the OP and ED. ClariS and Kalafina. The first group premiered with OreImo’s OP. The latter premiered with Kara no Kyoukai. How about the BGM? Well that’s harder to actually express, but I think it’s rather rare in Mahou Shoujo series to hear such ominous music. I mean dramatic music is often heard, but rarely do you hear a track that sends shivers down your spine like some in Madoka Magica.
I already explained how the contrasts work visually, and tons of people picked up on this too, but the visual divisions are clear as well. Shinbo also uses negative space really well, though considering his previous works, that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. A couple of shots:
And so on and so forth. Madoka is… well beautiful to say the least. Really what else can you say? The music and visuals work together in such a great way. The characters are… Well they’re appealing to me at least.
Thus far I’ve been mostly obsessed with the visual aesthetics of Madoka Magica, but I honestly have little to say about the plot. It’s actually very much in line with something that I would expect from a Mahou Shoujo series. I get the feeling that the opening pulls together a lot of elements from different Mahou Shoujo series, but I haven’t watched enough to tell. The one I did notice was the “ferret” calling out to Madoka, which was a clear nod to Nanoha.
On the other hand, there are plenty of mysteries floating around the beginning of the show. First and foremost: Why does Madoka’s family have the mom working? Come on guys. We need traditional gender roles here. But more seriously, why does Houmura have some beef with her name? It might just be coincidence, but every single time she grimaced was right after Madoka made some reference to her name, particularly her last name. Ok that one was rather esoteric, but the psychedelic magical world has a lot of mysteries too, including everything. Strange letters, strange creatures, strange visuals, why the hell is the Eiffel Tower there, etc.
But I get the feeling that the mysteries aren’t going to be the reason why I’ll love this show. It’s the experience. The series is something to be watched and enjoyed. Will it beat out the Noitamina shows starting out next week? I don’t know, but it has proven that it’s a clear contender. In fact, I might even episodically blog this, though that will largely depend on episode 2. But for now, it’s time to sit back, relax…
and enjoy the film. (This is actually a shot from the opening of Madoka, which I found strange, but I have no explanation for it so I’m just putting it here for people to think about it).