Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica 1-3: SHAFT and Magical Girls. A meeting that was never supposed to happen.
TAAN: When I first heard about this back in fall, I thought it was the greatest thing ever (or at least in recent memory). And you know, after watching the first three episodes, I still have the same opinion. If you don’t know already, and for some reason couldn’t deduce from the title or this post, this is pretty much SHAFT’s take on the magical girl genre, and it’s amazing. I’d explain a bit more about that, but I’m sure wikipedia’s article on it does a much better job doing that then I could. Maybe I’ll actually blog this to completion…
Anyways, let’s start with the locations. Most of the real world is fairly average, but a few locations are just incredible. They’re not exactly beautiful, but… something like strange to the point of being thought provoking. Take for instance Madoka’s incredibly spacious bathroom. Only maybe 10% of it is used up by the sink, and the rest of it is made of windows for walls, and randomly placed rectangular mirrors. The room itself is extremely simple, and yet it’s also strangely complex, the way the mirrors overlay the more chaotic patterns of nature over itself, and break up the monotony of the room’s support structure by reflecting different parts, creating organized chaos out of order, and how they… uh… aha, sorry. Actually I’m certain some of the reflections aren’t actually right, but who cares, it’s awesome. The same could be said of the school Madoka goes to. The classrooms are more like see-through columns, far removed from any walls of the building. It creates a strange sense of openness and the impression of a cage at the same time, etc., etc… I could go on and on, but that’s not the main reason I’m talking about this. Obviously, the most interesting locations of all are the witches’ labyrinths. Shaft finally got around to using the increasingly disturbing animation style they’ve used for the Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei OPs in the actual content of an anime. That in itself should be awesome enough, but the way they create environments in that style, and the absurd creepiness of it all, it’s the kind of insanity I’ve grown to love as a Yume Nikki fan. Although it’s not quite as strange as I hoped, my expectations were incredibly high, so that’s more than good enough for me. In contrast to the almost overly-ordered places in reality, these labyrinths are the practically the epitome of chaos, with stock images of the most random things being used as landscape, and strange deformed amalgamations of other things making up the creatures that inhabit them. Everything just seems to be strewn about, jutting from nowhere, intersecting with each other in ways that defy sense, and all in absurd, random sizes. I wish I could talk about this more without being incredibly repetitive…
Along with the witches and their labyrinths, the other magical element in this, the magical girls and their powers, are similarly over-the-top nonsensical. So far we’ve only really seen Mami’s powers, but damn… random fancily embroidered guns from nowhere, ranging from pistols to flintlock rifles to hand cannons of ridiculous size. The scenes where Mami fights may not be the most action packed (though you know, they’re definitely up there) or dramatic (with the exception of I guess that last ;_; one) but they are probably the most creative ones I’ve seen in a while, and that acts as an awesomeness multiplier in my book which puts them at the top of my favorite fight scenes (at least, that I can remember).
As for the rest of the stuff, the characters are also fairly good, but their development has been kind of slow. The focus so far has been on exactly what magical girls do after all, but they’ve managed to add in a fair amount of backstory and development. Nothing too special here. Character design, everyone has rectangularish faces, which isn’t really bad, it’ll just take time to get used to. Music, it’s by Kajiura, so of course it’s good.
The most annoying thing is that almost nothing is explained, and there’s not many clues to go on to figure anything out on our own. I guess in particular I’m talking about that first scene. I mean, it’s not like I’d expect everything to be answered immediately, but there’s usually some clues or not-so-subtle foreshadowing, but so far it’s just been basically a tutorial about witch hunting as a magical girl, and a tiny bit of backstory for Madoka and Miki. Not that those aren’t interesting, but it’s also not like there’s no burning questions there, either. I guess it is kind of stupid to complain about this after all, but it actually feels like I as a viewer know less about what’s going on than the characters. Like reverse-dramatic irony, if you will.