Title: Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Encompasses: Volume One: Episodes 1-4
Published by: Madman Entertainment (Australia/New Zealand), Aniplex of America (North America)
Based on: An anime-exclusive series which has since spawned a line of manga and game titles.
Genre: Drama, Magical Girl, Tragedy
Audio: English and Japanese Dubs
Aspect Ratio: 1080p High Definition (16:9)
Runtime: 100 Minutes
Classification: M for Mature Themes and Supernatural Violence
Cost: Depending on DVD/Blu-ray and “Limited Collectors Box”, between $29.95 – $39.95
Special Thanks: Madman Entertainment for kindly providing me with a copy of this title for review
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…
I would like to state that I have not watched or read ahead past Episode 4 at any point prior to this review.
It is not very often nowadays that you see a small number of episodes in a single volume, with most companies having chosen to do half-season sets, full-season sets or a derivative of them which allows for sales over a short period of time and meeting the demand of the consumer. Last year saw the release of Bandai Entertainment’s K-ON! which was spread over four volumes with each containing three to four episodes in each. Aniplex of America’s recent English dubbed release of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a very popular and successful anime series in Japan also breaks away from the normal trend with three volumes of four episodes each spread out over several months.
This release schedule, as you can tell from the titles above is usually adopted to really big series, meaning that this is indeed a big title for all companies involved. When I was at the Gold Coast Supanova Expo last weekend, Madoka Magica was most realistically the best selling title at the Madman booth and going from trends, should be having sufficent sales based on popularity alone. But for those who are undecided on whether or not to pick up this title please read on to find out just what makes this series so interesting… in my review of Puella Magi Madoka Magica Volume 1.
For many decades now in anime we have had the magical girl drama… how many series have actually used this genre would be well into the hundreds and it has been used in many different ways – some good and some rather bland and heck, my first ever anime/cartoon was Sailor Moon, one of the more well known Magical Girl shows. The problem with working with this genre now is that it is much harder to come up with some unique idea that hasn’t been thought of before or implemented in a certain way and still managing to wow the audience.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica to the outsider might seem rather bland – it has a normal heroine whose life is one day turned upside-down, an adorable mascot character and some cutesy magical girl inspired outfits. Now to be a popular series you might have to think this is a parody or something right? The message they have attached to the series is “What does it Really Mean to be A Magical Girl?“. Where other series might feature young girls fighting supernatural evils while somehow manage to get across the magic of “love and courage” or “friendship”…. Madoka Magica uses all these cliched ideas to present an interesting and engaging story where there is no such thing as magical miracles and the world of the magical girls might result in saving people… but in turn has a dark side to it where it is very possible one may die and may be left missing forever…. at the hand of Magical Girl or Witch.
Welcome to the world of Puella Magi Madoka Magica…. and no, this might not be the best series to purchase your kids.
Unfortunately the limitation of only having four episodes per volume really do detract from the experience of this series, as after finishing off the fourth episode I felt myself wanting to watch the rest of the series immediately instead of waiting until June 2012 for the second release. They leave no time wasted in introducing us to the main plot, starting off with main character Madoka having a dream of being in a Labyrinth watching a fight between other main character Homura and an unknown entity – with cute series mascot Kyubey standing on the sidelines encouraging her to make a contract with him. From this point they deliver a consistent stream of storyline with nothing much in terms of filler thankfully – you have the mysterious transfer student warning Madoka to hold on to her life, she after going music shopping with her friend Sayaka hearing voices inside her head pleading for help…. and the two of them getting dragged into a witches labyrinth and saved by another blonde haired girl named Mami.
With beings known as “Witches” able to drive random people to suicides or other tragedies, it is the job of the Magical Girls to abolish them in return for a single wish to be granted by series mascot and perma-smiling being Kyubey. While you get the feeling there is much more behind this than just that, you are not spoon fed information but provided small bits of information as you progress on and mixes that desire of wanting to know more about how the storyline progresses and that rather dark feeling that helps set it apart from other series and dragging it away from the cutesy premise it might have otherwise been (as seen in the first episode at least).
I can easily say it has left me wanting more, and curious about what direction they could take this storyline, as it is obvious from the first few episodes that it will not be an easy “Good End” to reach, if they can each reach it. Sure they might have left the element of indecision between Madoka and Sayaka get to the point where it slightly annoyed me when watching – but otherwise it was a storyline I can hardly fault and provided you have not purchased think thinking it will be a family-friendly series… you should enjoy it as well.
To the same degree, the visual quality of this show is aesthetically appealing. Moving away from the supernatural designs for a moment I would like to discuss the “normal” realm designs. Most noticeably is that this series takes place in a world that could be considered slightly more advanced than our own, and given how they have used this to incorporate a more opulent and detailed feel to the backdrops and overall building, I think they incorporated it quite well. Another noticeable feature is that apparently walls are not a mainstream feature in the world they have developed – instead opting for the use of almost solely windows in a number of buildings which is a unique choice but I felt it also helped contribute to the overall feel of the world. The normal character designs themselves are nicely detailed and go along with both the characters individual personalities and the overall “Magical Girl” theme of the show.
But this is only the icing on the cake – with the labyrinths the characters are plunged into each episode being a highlight of the series design. They have not chosen to take a simple approach to these areas… that is not the style of Studio SHAFT. Instead, they have opted for more…. bizarre and unique environments filled with many oddities including hand-drawn paper-cut out butterflies to many other things which make the environments seem more animated than the characters themselves. I would have loved to have been on the design team when determining what sort of “experimentally” designed labyrinth they would throw Madoka in. While we have only seen three of the magical girl designs in-series (Not including Madoka’s which is on the cover), they don’t stick with one style but instead as each Magical Girl gets to choose their outfit design – suits the individual character personalities. The witches designs themselves….. well they are just as unique as the environments are.
While another strong element of the first four episodes, music and voice acting does not reach that high peak storyline and design did. The soundtrack, especially in the more action-oriented sequences was of a really high standard and suited to my preferences, however outside of here they did set the mood – but needed more to stand out from the usual set of music in comparable anime series. The opening sequence Connect by ClariS had a solid musical backing, with equally strong vocals and animation which really made it suitable for what they tried to deliver to the audience. On the other hand, the two ending sequences See You Tomorrow by Aoi Yuuki and Magia by Kalafina were alright, however didn’t offer much in terms of animation to stop me from skipping over it after the first listen.
Voice acting on the other hands was better than I was first expecting when I saw the initial English dub trailer. Comparable to their English dub of DuRaRaRa!!, Aniplex of America have presented a solid performing dub with voice cast that I feel suited their roles. Cassandra Lee as Kyubey was a highlight for me, she managed to get that cutesy mascot tone but at the same time gave an unchanging “happy” tone comparable to his never changing facial expression. Cristina Vee and Carrie Keranen as Homura and Mami were also immediate hits with me, but it took a while to warm up to Christine Marie Cabanos and Sarah Williams as main characters Madoka and Sayaka. Cristina and Christine discussed this in their panel at Supanova (Gold Coast – Sunday at least), but it was their intention to remain faithful to the original Japanese dub in both tone and content – making both experiences comparable when it came to delivery irrelevant of your preference.
Unfortunately Madman Entertainment have been unable to release a Limited Edition set of the anime yet (However Madman has hinted that if this release sells well, they may look into a special edition release next year), therefore we are only left with basic on-disc extras for volume 1. These on-disc extras are limited to a Clean Opening Sequence and trailers of Madman Entertainment anime titles including K-ON! and Summer Wars. Provided you spend a little bit extra per media type – they have also been selling artbox editions. I was personally hoping for other goodies such as commentary or other special goodies (I mean come on…. one of the biggest anime releases of 2011 MUST have some good material for extras), but we have what we have.
Overall, I think the review and the following score speaks for this series well. Unfortunately with only 100 minutes of content in this volume and most of it involving setting up the storyline, it is hard to gauge how this series will turn out in the end… but of course fan reception dictates it will be pretty damn good. With such a commonly used genre as “Magical Girls”, it is not every day you get to watch a series which is both very enjoyable and displays something very unique… both of which Puella Magi Madoka Magica have provided. Just like I did with K-ON!. I will be reviewing the other individual volumes as they are released – the second volume to be released in June 2012 (Out now in America) and volume three I believe in August (June in North America).
Storyline / Character Development: A
Music/Voice Acting: A-
Personal Preference: A
Extra Content: C
Overall Score: S