Spoiler Warning: This feature will contain major spoilers for the 2011 series Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
“I want you to make a contract with me and become magical girls!” – Kyubey
Puella Magi Madoka Magica (referred to as simply Madoka Magica from here on out) is a series where even if you haven’t seen it yourself, you likely know about it through reputation alone. A tour de force in every way imaginable, this series took the anime world by storm upon its premiere in January 2011 thanks to a memorable third episode that caught everyone off guard and had the entire community buzzing. Now, ten years later, Madoka Magica is celebrating a decade of existence and I’m here to tell you why Madoka Magica is not only one of the best magical girl series but also one of the best series of all time.
In the Beginning, Madoka Said Let There be Anime…
Madoka Magica was first announced to exist in October 2010, just a few weeks before it premiered on Japanese airwaves. At first, we simply knew the series as Magical Girl Madoka Magica, and initial details were scarce besides the names of the primary crew members including Akiyuki Simbo, Gen Urobuchi, Yuki Kajiura, and the animation studio SHAFT. A few weeks later, in December 2010, audiences were treated to the first commercial to feature samples of the animation, which continued to tease the audience into a false sense of security that would be ruthlessly shattered a short time later.
“If you ever feel like dying to help the universe, just let me know. I’ll be waiting.” – Kyubey
In this magical girl series, the title character is a fourteen-year-old junior high student named Madoka Kaname. The series opens with a dream sequence where Madoka sees a black-haired girl that seems to be around her age fighting a massive evil entity. Right away, she also meets a strange creature who tells her that Madoka has the power to change the fate of the girl she sees desperately fighting alone.
Fast forward to the next morning when Madoka is at school and who should walk in but a new transfer student named Homura Akemi who looks exactly like the girl she saw in her dream the night before. Right away, Homura warns Madoka that if she values her family, friends, and life, she should be wary. While Madoka doesn’t know what Homura is referring to, she finds out soon enough when she and her friend Sayaka Miki also meet the strange creature from her dream again and another girl, a ninth-grader at her school, Mami Tomoe.
This is the point where Madoka learns the truth about magical girls from Kyubey in exchange for one miraculous wish which will turn them into magical girls with the responsibility of fighting witches and protecting humanity from their evil influence. As you’ve probably imagined by now though, every wish is a curse in disguise. It only takes three episodes for this world to be turned upside down as both Sayaka and Madoka watch as Mami is killed in the line of duty in a way that happens so quickly and suddenly that you can hardly believe it happened. Despite this, Sayaka sees Mami as a martyr and accepts Kyubey’s offer.
“Death is part of that deal.” – Mami Tomoe
Sayaka wishes for her childhood friend, Kyousuke, to heal from an injury that is keeping him from becoming a professional violinist. At first, things are fine. Homura is still creepily warning Madoka that bad things are going to happen and a rival magical girl named Kyoko appears to challenge Sayaka, but other than that, Sayaka is enjoying her time as a heroine. Madoka, however, is not convinced that Sayaka has made the right choice, and fearing for her friend’s life, she throws away her soul gem (the source of her magical power) at which point Kyubey slowly reveals the truth about what these girls have been turned into and why… and all this is only in the first half of the twelve episodes!
Madoka Magica is a dark series, to be certain. There is absolutely no questioning that fact. It’s also one of the most well put together series ever created, with every staff member providing something unique to the overall production; director Akiyuki Simbo’s visual style wowed audiences and made it impossible to look away every single time the girls entered a witch’s labyrinth, the background music provided by Yuki Kajiura went above and beyond her previous soundtracks and arguably rivaled her top work on the series Noir, and the golden writing provided by Gen Urobuchi made him a household name within the anime community for many years afterward.
This is a series that grips the audience by the throat and chokes the very life out of them all the way until the end when it makes the pain go away by giving us one of the finest endings ever for a television anime. Yes, it is that good.
“Just because you keep trying to do the right thing, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a happy ending.” – Junko Kaname
Immediately after it aired, Madoka Magica fever gripped the anime community around the world. It appeared everyone had their own thoughts and opinions which led to numerous discussions in every corner of the Internet and the characters from this series became mega stars almost instantly. Mami Tomoe even won the formerly annual Saimoe tournament in 2011 despite only being a supporting character.
“Even if you can’t see me, even if you can’t hear me, I’ll be by your side.” – Madoka Kaname
Even I found myself engaging in countless discussions with friends regarding the series. With one person, the constant question that was debated was if Kyubey’s actions were evil or just indifferent. With another person, the argument was that Mami did not deserve her popularity, and all the love that was going towards her should have been going to Homura.
Naturally, Madoka Magica isn’t the first “dark magical girl” series to be created and anyone who says otherwise has obviously never watched the 2004 series Utakata, but it broke the mold of what should be expected from magical girl series and from single cour anime series in general.
Living in a Post-Madoka World
For the next few years, magical girl series faced an uphill battle, as every single time a new addition to the genre finished airing, it was instantly compared to Madoka Magica. Was it dark like this series? If yes, was it dark in its own unique way or was it just trying to cash in on Madoka Magica’s success? Did it have strong writing? Was the ending as satisfying as Madoka Magica’s? This is a habit of fans that has continued on to the present day.
“If someone ever tells me it’s a mistake to have hope, well then, I’ll just tell them they’re wrong. And I’ll keep telling them ’til they believe! No matter how many times it takes…” – Madoka Kaname
Madoka Magica’s influence can be felt to this day with multiple series attempting to be the next, big “dark magical girl” series (I’m looking directly at you Magical Girl Raising Project and Magical Girl Site) and with multiple manga spinoff series and a mobile game (which got its own anime series) set within the Madoka Magica universe the influence will continue for many more years to come.
If you’ve never gone out of your way to watch Madoka Magica before, I urge you to change that right away, even if you’re not normally a fan of magical girl series. It might not change your life, but it will at least grant your wish of having a new addition among your favorite series.