Anime Review - Puella Magi Madoka Magica Vol 1
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a series that has taken the world by storm. This is the kind of series that was known by western audiences before they even saw it. Without a doubt the most successful anime series of 2011 in Japan has just been released in Australia and judging by the buzz around these parts, I wouldn't be surprised if it breaks some records at Madman as well.
"Madoka Kaname is an average 14-year-old girl who loves her family and friends. One fateful day, this all changes when she has a very magical encounter with a strange creature called a Kyubey. Kyubey have the power to grant one wish to chosen girls. However, in exchange, those chosen must become magical girls and use their powers to fight against witches, evil creatures born from darkness and catalysts of despair. Was this encounter by chance or fate? No matter the circumstance, this will surely change her destiny. This is the beginning of a new magical girl story…"
When you hear that a series has broken sales records, won an Animation Kobe award, 12 Newtype awards and the grand prize for animation at the Japan Media Arts festival you can't help but expect something special. Thankfully, Puella Magi Madoka Magica delivers and then some.
The series starts off sweet and innocent, seemingly taking full advantage of the bankability of moe just like K-On did oh so well. By the end of the first episode, however, we get a taste of what's to come. A much darker story which isn't at all as sweet, innocent or kid-friendly as it first appeared. I would have been happy if it had stuck with the cutesy school girl vibe, as long-time readers would know, K-On was a personal favourite of mine. That being said, PMMM quickly shifts gears embracing darkness to counterbalance its sickly sweet exterior. What we also get is an insight into a cast of characters who are much deeper and damaged than expected. This is a magical girl story for the next generation.
Series director Akiyuki Shinbo is no stranger to the magical girl genre, with Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha under his belt. He seems to draw on this experience and his more recent supernatural work on the Mongatari series in combining the two into something that has the ability to draw in the cutesy highschool moe girl crowd while still delivering a dark, and sometimes disturbing, story for everyone else. Just as much respect should also be given to writer Gen Urobuchi (Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom, Fate/Zero) who is predominantly known for light novels of a psychological thriller/horror nature. This marriage of writing and direction comes together to create something which is so much greater than the sum of its parts.
Being produced by animation studio Shaft (This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, Negima!?) is all but a guarantee that the quality will be top notch. Add to this a stunning blu ray transfer and you've go yourself an absolute visual treat. Just as the story switches from light to dark, so to do the visuals. Although it may not be instantly apparent, this visual switch gives so much additional impact to the storyline which is already so vivid in itself. Shaft is well known for their use of differing visual styles, a change between how an episode or series starts and how it finishes. This is the perfect match for PMMM, a series that in itself all but demands and visual shift, a demand which is realised when our main characters visit a witches den. It is at this turn in particular when you realise that this isn't just a remake of Sailor Moon, this is something altogether different and far more menacing than the saturday morning cartoon of yore. Although this collection takes us a third of the way through the series, I can't help but feel that there is much more to come and I for one am excited.
So far PMMM has given us a great story, beautiful visuals and just to complete the trifecta we get wonderful musical composition from the incredibly prolific Yuki Kajiura of Elemental Gelade, Tsubasa Chronicles and My Z Hime: Otome fame (among many others). Kajiura follows the common thematic sway from light to dark and ensures that this fact is reflected in the score. PMMM's real strength is the synergy that it creates through the unity of story, art and music. All work together to create a series which is worthy of the praise, worthy of the awards and worthy of all future success which will undoubtedly follow.