"If you feel like dying for this universe, just call us. We'll be waiting!"
I don't think it's any exaggeration to say that this series has not only become my favourite anime series for this season, it will probably go on my top twenty list of anime series of all time. It's just that good, and that much of a head trip.
The overall premise is shockingly misleading, for one thing, and the happy magical girls OP is a total lie. But the premise is this: a cute magical cat-like creature contracts with young girls, granting them one wish in exchange for recruiting them to become magical girls, who will spend the rest of their life battling witches in their free time. You know, as one does.
I'm loving this because the animation is utterly gorgeous, the story is shocking and amazing, and the music (by Yuki Kajiura) is top notch. Just listen to the haunting ending song: Magia. Easily as good if not better than any of her previous work, including that for my precious .hack//SIGN.
Animation is by SHAFT, who also did Bakemonogatari, another recent favorite series of mine. What's great about it that the characters are shaded so simply, and are cute but normal seeming for anime, but their motions are so fluid, and the background locations and battles in the witch worlds go into amazingly innovative territory. See Sayaka's witch battle:
It's like something out of a fairy tale! I think of this show as the spiritual successor to Revolutionary Girl Utena, in a way that the (relatively lighthearted and straightforward) Star Driver isn't: it's about girls making hard choices, and paying a terrible price. This is not a show about how good triumphs over evil, or how beautiful it is to see one's wishes come true, but rather about entrophy in the universe, and how all good things are balanced with bad, and how hope can still survive in the face of suffering.
I always pay attention to how color and composition are used in anime:
And the colors in Madoka Magica are especially vivid and fresh.
Everything I'm showing you are actual frames from the show, not concept art for the series.
But of course, no matter how beautiful something is, if it can't capture your heart it might as well be worthless. Madoka, the protagonist, is a little bit bland as a protagonist, but her sheer normalness serves well in this kind of story, since I feel that there are two major ways to tell a great story: follow extraordinary, vivid characters through ordinary events (see: Oofuri, Genshiken), OR you can have ordinary (but interesting) people undergo extraordinary events (see: Mushishi, Spirited Away). Occasionally someone truly brilliant can pull off a series where you've got extraordinary people doing extraordinary things (eg, Princess Tutu, Baccano), but successful stories of that sort are rarer than one might think. And sometimes a slice-of-life series of ordinary people doing ordinary things can succeed, but more often than not such stories end up as tedious and boring.
Madoka's journey through this show is interesting; from the first episode, she is offered the chance to become a madical girl, but so far in this 12-episode series, she has yet to succumb to temptation. And in the last few episodes we've really seen what a devil's bargain this is, as the true nature of the magical girl contract becomes clear: magical girls INEVITABLY become the witches that new magical girls fight, and spend their last days alone and in torment until they are mercifully destroyed by someone who will eventually end up just like them. It's a cycle of misery, and the purpose behind it turns out to be to serve the dispassionate goals of an alien species who wish to preserve the energy of the universe at the expense of human souls.
The major point of this show seems to be one that cannot be heard enough: sure, there's value in living a life of adventure and danger, but a peaceful life under the sun, spending time with your friends and family?
That's good too.
I love this series. I am fascinated by it. You all should give it a try.