Anime is home to certain tropes that can be recognized from a mile away. If you are even a little bit familiar with them, you can easily tell what established tropes a series would fall into, usually from the first episode of the anime. When Naruto first aired on television sets everywhere, people knew it was going to be a shōnen anime with tons of action and exciting moments. The same goes for Boku no Hero Academia. However, its always nice when an anime subverts expectations by placing elements that would not normally be in such a show, and its hard to go past Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica (also called Madoka Magica) for an example on how it can be skillfully done and still be entertaining.
Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica, popularly known as Madoka Magica, is a 2011 anime that takes place in a world where young girls all over the world are endowed with other worldly powers that they use to combat witches. These girls are called ‘magical girls’, and when two middle school students Madoka Kaname and Sayaka Miki discover a magical creature named Kyubey that offers them such a choice, they are suddenly thrust into a world of magic, souls and the classic battle between good and evil.
With such a premise, it may be premature to write off the show as being an anime a la Sailor Moon, with the girls working together to combat witches while learning lessons about companionship and the importance of friendship and other common themes. The marketing for the show led many to believe this was the case, as the trailer was very lighthearted and warm. However, fans of the series will simply smirk and just tell you to keep watching it if you complain to them about this seemingly obvious mundane plot.
They are right, of course, because the show soon takes a very dark turn that lets both the characters and the audience know that unlike other magical girl anime, choices have dangerous consequences and their job as magical girls is not all glamour and sparkles. I won’t spoil too much here, but couple a genuinely interesting plot with several twists and turns with stellar animation, courtesy of Shaft Studios and some haunting melodies, particularly the ending of the show (Magia by Kalafina), and what you get is a interesting anime that is not afraid to push boundaries.
The remarkable thing about Madoka Magica is how well the show progresses to this change. I will be focusing on this in particular in this article, so the following part will contain spoilers, so to keep it brief for those who haven’t seen the show and are wondering if its worth a watch, the answer is a resounding yes. Its easily one of the best anime I’ve seen in recent times and its well worth a watch. You have been warned.
Madoka Magica make the shift from cutesy to dark fairly quickly as the mentor for both Madoka and Sayaka, Mami, gets her head ripped off by a witch as the two look on in horror. From then on, the series becomes very ominous very quickly. The revelation that magical girls are doomed to remain empty shells due to selling their souls causes an identity crisis for everyone on the show, and the bombshell that magical girls transform into witches eventually only adds to the helplessness that the characters feel about what they do and the choice that they made to become magical girls.
The plot seamlessly transitions from one tragedy to the other in such a way that you may not understand it all the first time you watch it, but when you go back and think about it in retrospect the sorrow and pain that these middle school girls go through hits you like a ton of bricks. The shift in tone is surprising enough, but what is more surprising is how well the story accepts it and moves along with it.
The climax and the ending of the show, while being very different from the way the show started, is believable because of how well the show handles its characters and their arcs. You feel for Homura as she has to say goodbye to the one person that she fought so hard to protect, only to now live in a world where she doesn’t even exist, but is instead a deity that watches over everyone. While its true that the girls brought such a fate on themselves, its hard not to feel bad for them as they watch their world burn as a result of their actions.
Overall, Madoka Magica is a fantastic show that might not be for everyone. It has its downsides and does not give many moments of levity or joy, but if that’s your cup of tea, then you should definitely give it a whirl. Its one of the very best anime that redefines its genre and hooks you in from the start, and it is quite frankly, something that you really have to see to believe.