Continuing to look at the genres anime and manga have themselves created, this week I am covering the world of “magical girls”. This is a fantasy genre which feature young girls (and on rare occasions boys) who have magical superpowers.
Most magical girl series follow a pretty standard format. With many, one girl discovers that she has some sort of power, and often undergoes a rather lengthy transformation (called a “Henshin” in Japanese) into their superpowered form. As the series goes on they often find more magical girls and form partnerships or groups. Most of these series are rather fun and light-hearted.
However, in 2011 this was all turned on its head with one of the most critically acclaimed anime series ever made. While most magical girl series are friendly and jolly Puella Magi Madoka Magica (usually shortened to Madoka Magica) is a tragedy, supposedly telling what “really” happens to magical girls.
Set in the futuristic-looking Mitakihara City, the series focuses on 14-year-old Madoka Kaname. She and her best friend Sayaka Miki come into contact with a small alien creature called Kyubey, who says it will grant them any wish they desire. In exchange they will turn into magical girls and will have to fight and kill evil monsters called “witches” who spread sadness amongst humanity.
Madoka is tempted by the deal, but there are conflicting forces at work. There is a new transfer student at her school, the cold Homura Akemi, a time-manipulating magical girl who tries everything she can to persuade Madoka not to go ahead with the deal. Then there is gunslinger Mami Tomoe, a veteran magical girl who wants Madoka to take the deal and help her. Lastly there is the gluttonous spear-wielder Kyoto Sakura, who only uses her magical powers to help herself.
During the series Madoka keeps pondering the decision, but it gets increasingly problematic as time moves on. She learns that rather than being friendly, the magical girls are not only fighting the witches but also each other. She also learns about the danger involved in the work, and some of the horrifying truths and sacrifices that magical girls have to make to survive, which are often in vain.
There are plenty of reasons why you should watch Madoka Magica. The main one is that it is it is just so prolific. It gained huge praise from critics both inside and outside of Japan when it was shown because it was so different from all the other magical girl anime that came before it.
It also has won loads of awards. The anime magazine Newtype held an award ceremony in 2011. Out of the 21 awards given out, Madoka Magica won 12 including “Title of the Year”, “Best Direction”, “Best Scenario”, “Best Art”, “Best Soundtrack”, Homura won “Best Female Character” and Kyubey won “Best Mascot Character”.
The award winning art is certainly a draw. One of the best parts in any episode is the battles with the witches. These all take place in hidden “labyrinths” created by the witches, which are all rather disturbing to look at. Then there are the witches themselves, which are not like the witches we are used to seeing. These monsters take on any number of vile guises. Watching these scenes is a bit like watching a cartoon created by Salvador Dali, complete with surrealist images all morphing and melting into one nightmarish visage.
If it is drama, tension, and perhaps even a little cry that you are after, then this is one of the most powerful anime series that you can watch.
The entire 12-part series is on DVD and Blu-Ray.