Matt Kamen on the “Evangelion of magical girl shows”
Magical Girls can be traced as far back as the 1960s, with the likes of Fujio Akatsuka’s Secret Akko-chan or Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s Sally the Witch – the first manga and anime, respectively, to dabble in the genre of girls gaining powers from a piece of jewellery or trinket of some kind. Hundreds more would join their ranks over the years, some merely using their powers for twee but ultimately everyday adventures, others transforming into battle-ready warrior women fighting for the safety of the entire planet. Ever since Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon exploded in popularity in 1992, the more superheroic approach has dominated the field.
The Seiun-award winning Puella Magi Madoka Magica is definitely not part of that field. Directed by Akiyuki Shinbo, a man whose directorial career is based around colourful, powerful women, and written by Gen Urobuchi, author of fate/Zero and Black Lagoon, Madoka Magica is a subversion of the themes, expectations and even visuals of its predecessors.
The series starts predictably enough – Madoka Kaname is a quiet, polite, thoroughly nice young girl who gets swept up into far from ordinary circumstances. Homura, a new girl in school, seems to know Madoka and delivers a cryptic warning to “stay the way she is”. Later, a strange cat-like animal beckons to Madoka, introducing itself as Kyubey and offering to grant her any wish. The catch? She must agree to become a ‘Puella Magi’ and fight Witches. Homura appears as a Magical Girl and attacks; Homura’s friend Sayaka helps her escape; the pair becomes trapped in an abstract dimension and attacked by monsters; another Magical Girl, Mami, appears to rescue them – and then things get really weird.
Unlike so many of her peers across anime and manga, Madoka doesn’t immediately jump at the offer of unspecified mystic might. Her slow consideration of the proposition is just the first of many ways that Madoka Magica injects some originality into the premise. Instead, it descends into much darker territory, and Kyubey’s persistence leads to the slow disintegration of the heroine’s life. Attacks from the monstrous Witches grow in frequency and intensity, and as Madoka’s friends find themselves seduced by the allure of power, they find tragedy is not far behind.
Make no mistake – irrespective of its sugary appearance, Madoka Magica is not for kids. It replaces the typical ‘monster of the week’ that the likes of Tokyo Mew Mew would be fighting with chilling creatures rendered in a deliberately abstract manner; about as far from the comforting anime melange as possible. Kyubey, a being that would normally fill the role of a cute mascot is similarly perverted, being an emotionless and almost sociopathic creature. Even the powers it offers out have a tragic, soul-destroying caveat to them – a far cry from just about any Magical Girl series that came before.
The series was an almost unprecedented success when it aired in Japan last year, and its popularity has already seen an entire movie trilogy enter development – the first two films retelling the series, the third with new events – along with a plethora of spinoff goods. Find out just why Japanese audiences can’t get enough of Puella Magi Madoka Magica in the darkly spellbinding first volume.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is available in the UK from Manga Entertainment.