So, Akiyuki Shinbo is directing a magical girl anime and Shaft is doing the animation. Having watched and loved some of their previous works (Bakemonogatari, Maria Holic, ef series), I could only get thrilled to see they were at it again this season with Puella Magi Madoka Magica. And I am not disappointed.
Beginning in a black and white patterned dreamscape, we see Madoka, alone, running toward what appears to be an exit. Beyond the door is the outside world, away from this strange and haphazard interior. But beyond the door lies an apocalyptic world. Cue the music aided by mysterious vocals. Cue the shots to detail the superb environment complete with an ominous shot of a floaty, shiny fortress set against an overcast sky of black clouds. Likely a foreshadowing of events to come, this series sets its mood right and it sets it dark.
Madoka comes to the edge of a floating platform to see a young girl on the defensive against that unexplained palace in the sky. And let’s be honest here, she’s getting her ass handed to her. Madoka can hardly watch the battle when an odd, white animal-thing begins explaining to her that this can be different. That is, only if she becomes a Puella Magi. And… well, that’s enough of sleep for one night. Don’t want to oversleep and miss school, right?
As you could guess those first few minutes were my favorite parts of the episode. Pretty much the rest of the episode is typical standard anime episode whatever. We’re introduced to Madoka’s family and a little bit of their personalities and interactions with each other. We meet Madoka’s two best friends (who when the three meet up begin running and giggling for no reason…) as they go to school. The teacher is the comedic relief with her crazy, crazy dating life. Then the mysterious, yet beautiful (and of course best at academia and athletics) student, Akemi, transfers into Madoka’s class. What’s strange about her, to Madoka, is that she looked like the girl from her dream. Things go back to normal for, like, 2 seconds, until Akemi requests Madoka to take her to the nurse’s office for her headache. Along the way, things get dark again, as Akemi warms Madoka to not change who she is as it would risk losing her friends and family. Is it just me or does she give off a very strong Senjougahara (Bakemonogatari) vibe? Maybe that’s because they seem like similar characters at first and have the same seiyuu.
The episode continues with Madoka back with her friends until she hears an unknown voice calling out to her for help. Intrigued and fearless, Madoka wonders beyond the renovation sign into a closed area of the… mall? store? I’m not sure where she is. And this is where the episode gets interesting again. Notice the black checkered floor of the room she’s alone in? Notice that when she goes through the door that she meets up with that girl and animal from her dream exactly like her dream? Who knew the foreshadowing would come to pass so quickly. But things are different this time around. Instead, it’s the poor, white animal that’s injured and the girl from before is Akemi. Madoka chooses to help the animal and with the help of her friend, Sayaka, they escape Akemi and run into… Shaft. I don’t think I can explain it any other way except by calling it Shaft. It’s that sudden change in artstyle and music that you wouldn’t find in any other series. Thankfully, Mami, a magical girl is there to save them from the incomprehensible surroundings (admit, if that happened to you in real life, you’d be scared) and ward off the suddenly evil Akemi.
The episode ends with Mami healing the injured animal, who proceeds to thank Madoka and Sayaka for saving its life. And to complete the foreshadowing from earlier, the animal, named Kyube, asks the girls to become Puella Magi.
Wow, what a first episode. As you could probably guess from all the writing, it left quite the impression on me. Setting the dark mood at the bookends of the episode really gives me the idea that this will be a dark series, despite it being a magical girl anime. Sure, there’ll be light-hearted comedy, probably some romance, and friendships developing but beneath all that, the storyline will be shadowy, as we saw in the first episode with the darkness sandwiching the carefree adolescence scenes. I’m interested to see which direction the show will take in subsequent episodes, although you can almost garuntee the next episode will be a sugary, sweet one where Madoka learns about being a magical girl and we learn more about her family, her school, her friends, and her life. I’m not going to complain about that. I know the series will return to its dark roots in later episodes. And that’s why I am really enjoying this show. Hopefully this is right up your alley and you enjoy it as much as I do.