Madoka Magica: What Happened to the Happy World of Magical Girls?
From Sailor Moon to Cardcaptor Sakura, many young adults have been raised on cutesy magical girl anime. With strong female leads that are attractive and girly, it’s no wonder young girls like it. These shows communicate power, ability, and often times a tiny bit of romance. That’s not all, though. Magical girl shows often have characters that reflect the many types of girls in society, from the girl that likes pink hearts to the girl who likes books to the girl that likes sports. There’s a definite difference between the ‘good’ characters and the ‘bad’ characters, and the main character always wins (even though it might take a lot of time and effort).
More recently, though, the genre of magical girls has begun to change. There are still the cutesy magical girl shows aimed towards a younger audience, but there is a new spin to this genre. One of the best examples of this is Puella Magi Madoka Magica, or for the purpose of this article simply Madoka Magica. The cover art looks just like any other magical girl genre show and it even begins that way. The main characters meet up as they walk to school, joke and play fondly, and everything looks just perfect. Then the first witch shows up and the audience is sent for a loop. The magical girl anime they were expecting just became horror.
The Change to Horror
As strange as that sounds, it works surprisingly well. The magical girls stay in the normal anime style while everything around them changes. It is no longer clear-lined and bright colored anime. It is jumpy, dark, jagged, and a bit creepy. The witches the girls fight and the labyrinths they fight the witches in are all in this second animation style. The contrast in the labyrinths between the magical girls and basically everything else is stunning and rather artfully done.
The labyrinths themselves seem alive, always moving. In a way, the labyrinths feel real. Everything inside is a creation of the witch and under the witch’s complete control. The girls at times become entangled in vines or chains, odd creatures dance just out of reach, and laughter echoes in the background. The labyrinths are fully immersive and each has its own theme. This theme is derived from the witch’s power and obsession. These aspects gives each episode a unique atmosphere and really progresses the story. It might take an episode or two for the viewer to get used to the contrast, but the story line is worth it.
But enough about how it works. What about why it works?
The Power of Perspective
Let’s back track for a moment. As a child, a young girl may look at the magical girls and aspire to be like them. Traditional magical girls are forces of good fighting for justice in a world that is usually fantastically portrayed. This can be paired with a child’s view on life, or what the child would like to believe about life, assuming they have grown up in a first world country. Life is good, friends are loyal, the bad guys are defeated, and there’s always a happy ending. These shows also recognize that a character will go through struggles, friends will misunderstand, and things don’t always work out as planned. It’s a rosy-colored version of life.
This new addition of horror to the magical girl genre is nearly the opposite. Instead of being compared to the rosy perspective of a child, it compares with the overwhelmed perspective of a young adult. In Madoka Magica, the very innocent-looking anime girls with fun and cool powers fight evils of the world that appear daunting, creepy, and all around horrible. The story line, too, deals with harsh and utter betrayal, an evil that looks innocent, and the depths of feeling incapable of protecting what’s important. Here’s the kicker: that’s just one scene.
From Fantasy to Real Life
Just like the transition from childhood into adulthood, Madoka is forced to step out of her perfect world and into a very harsh and merciless world that would destroy her if given the chance. All the while she struggles against the temptation to let it change her. Most college students or young adults recently out of the house would sympathize with this this point of view as paying bills, working, and being responsible for, well, everything is a whole new level in life and it is so easy to be consumed. It’s not necessarily worse than something a young adult has experienced before, but it is new and different and hard.
There are so many things in life that can cause this weight and feeling of being overwhelmed. Losing a job, starting a job, getting a divorce, miscarrying, watching a loved one die, the list goes on. Worst of all, the longer a person carries something, the worse it gets. This concept is actually amplified in Madoka Magica, though how won’t be mentioned to preserve an amazing plot twist.
One of the best parts about Madoka Magica is that it is not without hope. Many times when life is overwhelming it’s so easy to lose sight of the original goal or get caught up just surviving that fun and family are left in the dust. Friends, too, often get left behind. Madoka Magica, overall, is about friendship. It isn’t about saving the day, it isn’t about winning, it is about five people desperately trying to protect each other in a dark and hard world. Life is the same way. Life isn’t about that next promotion or the good grade. It’s about love and laughter and the joy of a family. Madoka Magica shows that truth.
Now, not all magical girl horror animes are like Madoka Magica. This particular one gives a rather refreshing perspective on how hard life can be. Others will choose to focus on other things. Being a rather new genre, there is currently only one other popular magical girl horror anime, Magical Girl Apocalypse. The animation in Magical Girl Apocalypse is very different from Madoka Magica so don’t watch expecting the same thing. In turn, each anime that focuses on magical girl horror will have it’s own way of expressing itself. It’s important to look at each on it’s own without comparing the style and story to others. Overall, it is an amazing genre and there are sure to be many more magical girl horror animes in the near future.
What do you think? Leave a comment.