Puella Magi Madoka Magica - Episode 4

Exploring bold new frontier in making magical girl shows uncomfortable to watch

Posted by: Shere @ 2011-02-10 17:24:09

By now we're all familiar with SHAFT and the things they do. They're not renowned for stellar production values. Nor are they known for the faithfulness of their adaptations. Indeed, even their original stories leave much to be desired. What SHAFT does, ladies and gentlemen, is simple: They relish in making anime a spectacle. It's a thing worthy of respect, and certainly ambitious in a have-your-cake-and-eat-it way. They set out from the word "go" to do one thing and that is succinctly "Whatever the fuck they want".

Now, see, I can namedrop SHAFT and what comes to mind first? Pani Poni Dash? Hidamari Sketch? Bakemonogatari? Ef -a tale of memories? Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei? Hopefully not their dreadful Negima adaptation, but that's beside the point. They do it all - drama, comedy, slice of life - while still staying true to their typical horseshit. They cut corners like no other, employing pattern fills and recycling animation, using abstract still backgrounds, extreme close-ups, you name it! Hell, sometimes they just throw a card up on the screen with text on it. They're about as 'alternative' as animation style gets, and the sooner that you understand it's to save money, the better.

So what are they doing now? A magical girl show. But wait, please don't close the tab. It's written by Gen Urobuchi. You don't know who that is? This motherfucker wrote Saya no Uta. Click that and read it. I'll wait.


Got it? This is going to be a train wreck. It might not be a good train wreck like Code Geass. In fact, I can guarantee it won't be, but listen to me when I say that this shit is going to be a Faustian, disturbing, uncomfortably dark, trope-subverting train. wreck.

We're already four episodes into it (or I am, no one else cares) so I'm not going to do a play-by-play of the plot or anything, it's unnecessary. I'll just give you the gist of it.

Madoka is a fairly average high school girl. Like all fairly average and relate-able high schoolers in anime, she is at a bit of a loss for what she's going to do with herself in the future and she's troubled deeply by this. She has no talents and no wants or desires. One day while out and about after school she stumbles upon this cat-like creature named Kyubee, and he has a proposition for her: Become a magical girl in order to do life-or-death battle with beings comprised of pure nightmare fuel known as witches, and any single wish you desire will be granted.

"Witches" as it were are represented as basically a really bad acid trip. They're animated almost entirely using the methods employed in SHAFT's Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei OVA Openings. It's jarring and disturbing, they're both crudely animated and wholly disconcerting at the same time. It's a huge cost-cutting measure, but it works and you will hate them for it.

Anyway, going into further detail. Basically the Magical Girls all compete for kills. You see, to replenish their magical energy they need to take the 'heart seed' of a dead witch. As such, not only do these young girls do battle with beings of pure terror, they also fight amongst themselves, and to what end? For a wish? What could someone that age possibly want bad enough to basically give up their lives for it? The fact that this shit poses such interesting questions amazes me to no end, I love the concept. The show is a different story entirely.

The pacing is horrid. They rush through the first 3 episodes in order to get a BIG PLOT CHANGING ELEMENT into the story and cause even more despair, and then episodes 4 and 5 manage to linger around doing jack shit all. The entire show is only 12 or 13 episodes long to begin with, so they oscillate between rushing it and taking too much time on things. Not to mention, the animation quality takes HUGE nose-dives constantly because SHAFT. They reuse shameful amounts of animation, half of which wasn't stellar to begin with. The shining point of the production quality is the sound track, done by Kalafina (see also: Kara no Kyoukai). The sound track is nothing short of stellar, the song used in the ED is particularly powerful.

On the whole, anime is a cesspit anyway, you could do a whole lot worse than this show this season. That's your bottom line, book it.