Earlier this week for On The Box I wrote a “Beginner’s Guide” to the magical girl series Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Before this however, I had written a larger feature article about the series for the second issue of MyM, written around the time the first volume of the manga adaptation came out in mid-2012. This article covers the anime, the manga, and a game adaptation, which annoyingly I could really appreciate because I don’t speak Japanese. However, I post the article in full now for those wishing to know more about the series.
Let me ask you a question: if you were a magical girl, what would you expect your life to be like?
You most likely have some image from a series like Sailor Moon or Tokyo Mew Mew with you battling the forces of evil with your fellow feminine friends, united in love and a sense of justice. You are helping to fight the good fight. It makes you happy that you are doing something useful, to help the people of the world. You probably would jump at the chance. Well, it turns out that you could not be more wrong.
It appears that being a magical girl is anything but fun. In fact, it is a painful, horrible existence. Your magical abilities come at a cost of your humanity. Your body undergoes strange and disturbing changes. Your fellow magical girls are not friendly at all. In fact they are not just disinterested in you; they are deadly rivals, with their own private agendas. This is what Puella Magi Madoka Magica reveals.
Madoka Magica is unlike any magical girl anime that has come before it. While nearly all the others are rather happy and jolly, this series is a tragedy, revealing the “behind the scenes” truth, if you can call it that, of what magical girls go through. Once you watch this all your Sailor Moon fantasies will go out of the window.
For a series so different from the typical genre, it is not surprising that this series has been given a lot of praise. In Japan, it won award after award. At the 16th Animation Kobe Awards, it picked up the “Television Award”. It won the “Grand Prize” at the Media Arts Festival Awards, given out by Japan’s Ministry of Cultural Affairs. At the Tokyo Anime Awards it won three prizes – “Best Director”, “Best Scenario Writer” and “Best TV Series” (being a joint winner on the last one with Tiger & Bunny). Then at the first ever NewType Awards, it achieved a total landslide. Out of the 21 awards on offer it won 12, including “Title of the Year”, “Best Director”, “Best Art” and “Best Soundtrack”.
So with all these awards it is not surprising that the series is coming to Britain, with the first British release of any kind being the manga adaptation by Yen Press in mid-May. Later in the year, Manga Entertainment will be releasing the series on DVD. So, while we wait for them to release the show, let us have a look at what there is to enjoy.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is set in the futuristic city of Mitakihara. Schoolgirl Madoka Kaname has a strange dream in which a black-haired magical girl fights against a monster. The following day a new girl, Homura Akemi, turns up at her school – who is the same girl in Madoka’s dream. Stranger events occur to Madoka and her best friend Sayaka Miki. They encounter a bizarre alien creature called Kyubey who offers them the chance to become magical girls (or “Puella Magi”). In exchange they are given the chance to have a single wish granted.
They are obviously tempted, but Homura seems to be very keen to stop the two from taking the offer. Things get more complicated when another magical girl, gunslinger Mami Tomoe, encourages them to take the offer, and show them what magical girls are expected to do. Their job is to track and kill “Witches” who are responsible for spreading sadness and death among the people, and “Familiars” which can potentially transform into a Witch.
As the series progresses, Madoka is torn between wanting to become a magical girl or not. She sees what actually happens to them, and it is not pretty. They deal with death every day, their wishes do not result in the way they would want to, and in order to gain their magical abilities and strength they lose parts of their humanity in terrible ways.
This is what gives Madoka Magica its unique appeal. Never has a magical girl series been this dark in terms of content. Usually it is all lovely, sweet and harmless. That is not to say that previous magical girl series have had their more depressing moments. Anyone who has seen Sailor Moon, or read it has been reading the recent manga releases from Kodansha will know that there at various points great moments of drama and sadness. However, they are nothing compared to the sheer agony that Madoka and her friends go through.
It is not just what the characters go through in terms of their biology and psychology. There is also the backstabbing. These magical girls are not on polite terms. If you cross them, they will come after you. If one magical girl comes into their territory there will be a pitch battle between the two.
In terms of the anime, the music is highly enjoyable, especially the opening title song “Connect” by ClariS, which got to No. 5 in the charts back in Japan and later received a gold disc after selling over 100,000 copies. Then there is the actual animation, which is most certainly eye-catching. Firstly, there is the glass-filled Mitakihara city. Just about every building and skyscraper is covered in crystal glass. Even the classrooms in Madoka’s school are divided by glass walls. Seemingly beautiful, yet in a slightly disturbing way. It puts me in mind of the dystopian novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, one of the inspirations of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the concept of privacy is eliminated by having class glass walls, floors and ceilings so everyone can see what your doing. You could argue that this sort of idea is appropriate for a tragic anime.
Secondly in terms of the animation there are the battles that occur between the magical girls and the Witches. When these take place, they do so in a labyrinth controlled by the Witch themselves. These are incredibly surreal places known as “Wards”, featuring weird monstrous visions and even weirder creatures living in them. It is as if Salvador Dali has been experimenting with some particularly bad skunk and then went on a mad rampage in a factory making wax crayons. There is one Witch for example which fights off the girls using what appear to be the wheels of railway carriages. However, this is one of the least terrifying aspects of that particular Witch. I will not say more, as it is much better to see it for yourself.
If you are able to read Japanese, then you might be interested in some of the other items Madoka Magica can offer you. For example there is Puella Magi Madoka Magica Portable, an RPG on the Playstation Portable, which can be played on British PSPs and can be important into Britain from websites such as Play-Asia (but do be careful of import costs).
Annoyingly this game has only been released for the Japanese market, and as a result the game is only available in the Japanese language. As the game involves quite a lot of reading, it does make it difficult to play unless you know the language. However, as the plot more or less follows that of the anime, if you watch the series or read the manga before hand then can more or less get an idea of what is going on.
Getting a grip on the controls and instructions can be a bit of a problem as well, especially when you enter the wards and begin to battle Witches and familiars. However, once you figure them out then the game becomes much easier to understand.
For me, the most difficult bit was trying to figure out the pause menu. It took some time for me to fathom which selection was to save the game. I often found myself selecting the “Load” menu instead, and thus loading the game from the point I last saved, meaning I had wasted about half-an-hour battling familiars and skipping through long speeches I could not understand. In the end I finally figured out what was going on, but personally I would try and persuade the publisher of the game, Namco Bandai, to release it in English.
Summing up then, Puella Magi Madoka Magica has already established itself as a hit back in Japan. Judging by what I have read online there has been a buzz concerning this series online. We now have the manga. We just have to hope that Manga Entertainment will not face any delays when they release the series at the back end of the year. If they do, we can only assume they have been affected by the Witches despair. Good job we know of some girls who could possibly help to solve such a problem.
By the end of May the first volume of the manga adaptation was published in English by Yen Press. This first of three volumes adapts the opening four episodes of the anime. As a result, the dialogue remains pretty faithful to the story. However the art, by Hanokage, does make some interesting diversions from the anime.
The most notable of these differences are with the alien Kyubey. In the anime Kyubey comes across as much more otherworldly. His communication is solely telepathic for example. You do not even see him open his mouth for any reason at all. However, in the manga he does open his mouth to talk to the girls. Also, he comes across as a more comic character than he does in the anime. To me this is somewhat more sinister. Having seen the anime and knowing what Kyubey is like, this could be interpreted as being more manipulative in his seeming kindness.
There are also some changes to the art in the fight scenes too. It comes across as less violent. The art in the wards is much crisper and not as surreal as it appears in the anime. It is less Salvador Dali, more M. C. Escher. Hanokage talks about this in the manga’s afterword saying: “I’m doing my best to base my portrayal of the Witches, their familiars, and the world within the wards on the original work by Gekidan Inu Curry and draw it in a style appropriate for the manga.”
While some may object to these changes, it is totally understandable that a new up-and-coming artist wants to make their mark. The manga makes for an interesting take on the franchise. Also, it looks like the manga is where it is going to continue. Not only is there this adaptation of the manga, but there are two more spin off manga: Puella Magi Kazumi Magica: The Innocent Malice and Puella Magi Oriko Magica. Whether or not Yen Press will translate these titles into English is not known. (NOTE: These books are coming out, starting in June 2013.)
Meet the Girls
(NOTE: Characters listed left-to-right in the above image)
Kyoko Sakura – A gluttonous girl, who following the tragedy that occurred following her wish, decides that it is best to use her abilities just to help herself. She will stop anyone who gets in her way, including other magical girls.
Homura Akemi – A more experienced magical girl, she has seen it all and experienced the true pain and suffering that such girls go through. She thus wants to stop Madoka and Sayaka taking the job at all costs.
Madoka Kaname – Madoka is claimed to have the most natural talent in terms of any potential magical girl ever. She quite likes the idea of being one at first, but the more she witnesses what really goes on among them the more she wonders if being a magical girls is all it is cracked up to be.
Sayaka Miki – Madoka’s best friend. She is hesitant in becoming a magical girl but uses her wish to help a close friend. However, the more she gets into the job, the more she regrets her move.
Mami Tomoe – Mami appears to be as experienced as Homura, but unlike her she is keen to encourage Madoka and Sayaka on becoming magical girls too. She tutors the new duo on the ways of her work.