45 CommentsFirst Impressions / By Scamp /

Madoka Magica episode 1

As the winter season approached and more promo material was being released, I had gradually resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to like Madoka Magica. Magical girl anime have left some pretty deep scars in the past (well, actually only one, but it’s a pretty deep scar). Combine that with the aura of Hidamari Sketch (review forthcoming) and there was the perfect recipe for anime everyone else loves but I despise. Yeah, I think I may have spoiled the plot for this review. What did you guys expect? That I’d like a fluffy magical girl show like Madoka Magica? Hahahaha…..yeah, I liked it….

I like Shaft’s animation style. When other animation studios use cost-cutting methods, they have endless scenes of talking heads with not much movement. When Shaft use cost-cutting methods, they leap around to present things in a different manner. Calling it cost-cutting and therefore a bad thing is totally missing the point. It’s an ingenious method of presenting a shot by flipping the apparent negative aspect of animation on it’s head to present it in an interesting manner. Problem with early Shaft was they were using this method without much attempt at making these shots be anything other than cost-cutting and artsy. If they were meant to mean anything, if was often stumbled upon by fluke rather than directorial skill. For the past two years though, Shaft finally calmed the fuck down and presented their anime in a much less frantic animation style. Very few directorial animation quirks remained and this time they actually meant something.

Madoka Magica is the next step for Shaft on their path to enlightenment and the anime I have been envisioning them making for the past few years. One where all their animation quirks come together to actually mean something and you have the perfect creation. The time when Shaft make something with animation and artwork as good as Gankutsuous was. Madoka Magica isn’t quite it, but it’s a massive step in the right direction and it’s the first time I’ve seen their animation come in sight of that promised land. It works! For once, almost every directorial quirk works. Obviously it helps to have little miss Bee Train doing the music, but for once it’s all coming together, animation-wise, for Shaft.

Not that I don’t have problems with the show. It does have rather too much of my anime kryptonite, ‘girls being insufferably nice to one another‘. The dialogue is rather stunted, as it always is in these kinds of anime. However that doesn’t matter so much here because the enjoyment nor the story is really told through the dialogue. It’s told through the animation and partly the music. Shadow here to show she’s scary. Crazy alternate world here that doesn’t mesh with the square headed character designs to show they have entered an other-worldly place. I can see this all turning to crap as the ‘girls being insufferably nice to each other’ genre wraps it’s tentacles over the show and infect it with even more mundane dialogue, but for now I’m impressed. Didn’t see that coming now, did you?

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  1. Posted January 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Also regarding Shaft’s animation, they seem to use a funny outlining method where all their dark lines seem just a shade and a half too light, making the characters seem to stand out from the background a bit too much. It’s not too distracting or bad, just a quirk I’ve noticed in their technique. As for the show, there’s a lot of potential brewing here, but the execution needs to be top notch for it to work without it being “just another” magical girl show. Especially impressive are the little details, like the LCD chalk boards and the super-fancy house. Sometimes the animation was just bad, especially when the girls were walking to school.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 8, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      I only noticed that surprisingly horrendous dip in animation quality when I went back to take screenshots steal screencaps from RandomC. I guess I stopped paying attention during that part. It was girls being insufferably nice to each other, if I had paid attention my mind would have exploded

    • Posted January 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      It looked like crap when they were talking to each other at lunch too. And then people tried to convince me it was all pretty, and I laughed.

    Posted January 7, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    How much of Princess Tutu did you watch anyways?
    I never got past the first episode.
    Magical anime has never won me over. Ever.
    Shugo Chara would have been long forgetten if it weren’t for Ikuto ((even though I dropped it half way through Doki)), and every other magical girl anime has been tossed away XD
    But I do like this and I am looking forward to the next ep.
    kthx <3

    • mcm38
      Posted January 7, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

      Did you realy like it? I never watched magical girl anime. (Except for Sailor moon when I was still a kid.)
      I tought I should widen my preferences and tried watching it, but oh god…. I just can’t like it after Oreimo. Especialy with this one. Remember the episode where Ayase asks Kyosuke a favor and they end up with Kanako dancing and imitating Meruru in front of some otaku crowd and Kirino, the dirty otaku she is, starts noseblee… *stops remembering cause it gets to terrifying*

      O.O o.o -.- Alright, I calmed down again. Like I said I tried watching it, but the only thing I tought was interesting was the cute animal thing and the school was amazing. But I don’t get what’s so good about magical girl anime for adults.

    • Posted January 8, 2011 at 3:30 am | Permalink

      Shugo Chara has too much filler to be worth it. :/ Even the manga starts off super awesome, but it turns into the anti-Janette story, which is where the girl starts lusting after the bad boy. I mean, there’s nothing that makes me rage more then a girl lusting after and wanting a boy who treats her like crap. Though admittedly, Ikuto was better then most.

      Magical Girl is a tricky genre, as there are a lot of good titles, especially back in the 80’s. However in the 90’s, and mainly 2000’s, it’s become saturated with so much crap, it’s effectively killed the genre.

      Nanoha was a freaking big deal because it didn’t suck, and it proved that magical girl could still be made into an anime that didn’t suck.

      • Scamp
        Posted January 8, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        What has it been saturated by though? Beyond Precure, Nanoha and Shugo Chara, I can’t remember that much in the way of magical girl being made in the past 5 years

      • Posted January 8, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        Well, a lot of the bad or okay ones tend to be forgotten. There was that one magical girl that kept pissing herself…I can’t remember the name of it though for some strange reason.

        A lot of the saturation occured in early 2000’s. The rise of moe essentially replaced magical girl. In late 2005-2010, the genre has become very unpopular and on the verge of dying out. Still…the shows I have on MyAnimeList in the past five years.

        And then Mai-Hime aired into 2005, and there were that sequel.

        Not really prevalent, no, but they were present. The amount before 2005 was really ridiculous though. Partially due to Harry Potter popularity in Japan.

      • OHEMGEE
        Posted January 8, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        The filler in Shugo Chara is why I dropped it.
        That and the fandom, for most fans Shugo Chara became about whether she’d choose Tadase or Ikuto. I wanted her to find her “True Self”. As that is what the whole damn thing is about. ‘Course that was never going to happen. D<

      • Scamp
        Posted January 8, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

        I feel like Magical Girl anime shouldn’t be as blatently male-oirentated as Yokuwakaru Gendou Mahou is, such as Negima or Charger Girl Jubei-chan, which is the piss one you were talking about. In my mind they then fall into the same category as those JC Staff super-power girl shows. There’s a big difference in my mind between the two.

        I wonder what you’d call the JC Staff-esque magical girl type stuff though. It’s not the inclusion of a male lead character, otherwise something like Railgun would count as magical girl.

      • Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:00 am | Permalink

        Erm, Scamp, Yokuwakary Gendou Mahou didn’t have a male character. A girl who looked an awful lot like guy, yes, but she still had boobs…although it’s a mess-up on my part about Charger Girl as I had no idea there was a guy in it.

        But I suppose it would depend on what type of person the male lead is. If the male lead is nothing more then a romantic interest, and the girl is still the superhero, then I’d still count it as magical girl. Although a genre’s definition is a bit subjective, I think the main thing needed for a magical girl (for people who actually study this) is the main female with alternative forms as well as the presence of certain themes–not that I can remember what exaclty. I use to read this sort of stuff a lot.

        I think you’re very right though, as innocence is a big part of magical girls, and men in anime as leads tend to shatter the illusion of innocence unless they’re a good hearted love interest, or evil.

        I’m not sure. Index feels like a harem mixed with a magical girl to me. As does Railgun, just with a yuri harem.

        (Utena took the concepts of the magical girl genre and pretty much pissed all over them)

  3. luffyluffy
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    This show needs to go Evangelion grimdark.


      Posted January 8, 2011 at 12:23 am | Permalink

      Oh bby ;D

  4. Posted January 7, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Nice fakeout tweet. I chuckled.

  5. Posted January 8, 2011 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    Well, I’m actually kind of surprised that you liked this show. I started reading this post expecting you to totally rage out on it, but it looks like that didn’t really happen.

    Shaft’s usage of cost cutting measures here really adds a surreal, and in a way unfitting, atmosphere to a bunch of the scenes later on in the episode. The thing is, the purpose of the odd animation was to create this jarring contrast that I personally think was genius on Shinbo and Shaft’s part.

    Oh, the mad genius of Shinbo and Shaft. Almost always ends up creating some of the most unique (sometimes not in a good way) shows out there.

  6. Posted January 8, 2011 at 2:15 am | Permalink

    Where’s the real Scamp and what have you done with him? Did chuckle when you called Kajiura Miss Bee Train though. Not true anymore, of course, but I like to reminisce on her past affiliation with that studio and how the only good thing about Bee Train shows was her music…

    Oh right, the animu. I think there’s a lot of potential here since there’s plenty of opportunities for the characters to develop and deliver some awesome action scenes, especially set to surreal, downright bizarre backgrounds. It’s almost like the characters getting transported to some Dali world or something, and I like that a lot. The character interactions do center upon the niceness bit (which I don’t mind much obviously), but I do hope things heat up once more of the world-building details get filled in.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 8, 2011 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      I just said little miss Bee Train because I was too lazy to look up her name =D

  7. Posted January 8, 2011 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    The truth is, girls being insufferable nice to each other is a fact of life, and the pressure to be so is INTENSE in Japan. Thanks to the media, in the public eye, girls are either shoeholed into being a ‘outgoing nice girl’ or a ‘cold manipulative bitch’, and only one of those leads to social success and is presented as the ideal girl. When in a private setting, when the pressure is off, girls are more likely to show their true personality.

    So…there’s a reason girls are shown that way, and in truth, it’s not only in anime. Although some people, girls included, are just naturally nice and sweet.

    • Posted January 8, 2011 at 3:26 am | Permalink

      Also, you have watched another Magical Girl. One of the older ones. Utena.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 8, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      I’d never thought of it like that. Hrrmmmm…

      Still boring to watch though

      • Posted January 8, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, it probably is. I’m just so use to it that it barely hits my radar.

  8. fathomlessblue
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    Yeah, surprisingly I really liked it too, especially the “other” world and it’s Yellow Submarine vibes.

    At least I think I liked it anyway, prior to watching it I’d just finished my self-imposed challenge of marathoning Endless 8, and compared to that I’d probably enjoy watching genocide unfold in front of me.

    At least if it’s good, I’ll have motivation for finally picking up Heartcatch Precure.

  9. Posted January 8, 2011 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    Did you hear that? Its the sound of the sun going supernova. Thanks a lot.

  10. Posted January 8, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    This was awesome.
    I told you Scamp, that Shaft gonna do something dark~

  11. Posted January 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I thought this was dull and boring, didn’t think it was pretty, thought the alternate world was too bizarre and stupid, and didn’t think SHAFT really did anything all that special. I hate the character designs, and the story was predictable.

    Didn’t plan to watch this episode at all, fell for the hype, and don’t see anything of value in continuing it.

    Didn’t expect you to like it either. =P

    • Scamp
      Posted January 8, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Haters gonna hate

      • mcm38
        Posted January 8, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        Haters gonna hate? This only works as a counter opinion not as a counter argument. Better not use it often.

      • Posted January 8, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

        Fans gonna disregard other opinions as hate.

      • Scamp
        Posted January 8, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

        ooh, good comeback. Gotta get one myself. hmmm…

        Haters gonna disregard fans opinions through their blind hatred.

        …which is basically ‘haters gonna hate’ anyway…

      • mcm38
        Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:06 am | Permalink

        That would be the case if Mefloraine was a Shaft/Magical Girl hater. I don’t know Mefloraine so can’t be sure if it’s still a ‘haters gonna hate’.
        Btw, I didn’t like much about the anime either like I mentioned before. And that’s because I can’tseem to find it interesting/entertaining enough. But the anime itself seems one of the better produced this season, still not realy good tough.

      • Posted January 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        Actually, I usually like SHAFT, so muahahaha. I prefer to think of it as my clear-headed views outshining the rest of yours! Take that, plebeians!

  12. Posted January 8, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    The thing about girls being nice to each other is that it’s all a very elaborate ruse. Imagine that scene with the girls all chatting with the new girl, but fill their hidden thoughts with b-words and c-words, and it’s remarkably like real life, no?

    • Scamp
      Posted January 8, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

      The only anime I can think of off the top of my head that did that with any sort of success is MariMite, and even that stopped after the first few episodes and turned into fluffy fluffy land again. Otherwise the girls are either straight up bitchy or too nice to even consider such thoughts

      • -rh-
        Posted January 10, 2011 at 5:33 am | Permalink

        On the topic of girls being nice in public and bitchy in their private lives, you should watch Karekano, which is awesome although a bit old and, being a Gainax show, the ending may be rage-inducing.

  13. romulus
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Thank you very much for the first ep reviews. Thanks to these i could cross out from my list a total boredom and a disgrace to all animated works EVER. I hope you are not serious about watching the latter. Fuck resolutions, that’s Fail á la Boobs not anime.

    So Madoka is bad after all but in a quality way? I mean there are truly bad animes and there are ones which are actually good (to some extent) but they are too far from the viewer. Like a person watching J.C. Staff animes wont be able to properly value a masterpiece and most guys would never watch magical girl animes. (so do I). So the question is which are the strong points beside animation? Did you find anything which may make it worthwhile to watch it for a casual anime fan? I mean no offense but i dont really care about how Shaft is marching towards ideal anime creation, if thats all then i can forget this one too.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 8, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

      The animation tells the story. To talk about Madoka without talking about the animation is missing the point of the anime

  14. Posted January 9, 2011 at 1:47 am | Permalink

    It’s difficult to talk Magical Girl with you when your only experiences are Tutu and Utena, and now Madoka Magica. To say they aren’t representative of the genre would be quite an understatement.

    Nowadays, Magical Girl has branched into two distinct camps: the colorful and innocuous Saturday morning shows written for young kids (girls generally) where the characters are written in a way so that kids can sympathize with their worries (school, friends, crushes), and the otaku-oriented action-centric camp with darker themes and edgier material. Knowing which branch a magical girl show falls into informs your expectations of it.

    Madoka Magica clearly falls into the otaku-appealing crowd (I wouldn’t expect anything less from Shinbo, really), so I want to see how it will differ from his previous magical girl effort, Nanoha. This can be a bold creative endeavor, but you always have to be wary of the loli-service. None of that so far, thankfully.

  15. Posted January 9, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Nah, it’s just you being selectively oblivious to “girls being nice” and ogling as Shaft goes all out on its visuals. That and the fact that the show strains to be so by the book in the beginning that it leaves the uneasy feeling on the viewer that it will deviate (or at least to those of us who are attuned to Magical Girl tropes). I hope I don’t eat crow for that statement though.

    Otherwise, kadian1364 outlines the current state of Magical Girl quite nicely, other than the fact that I don’t like Nanoha as the face of the darker and edgier side, as I didn’t think it was that good. And he’s right, you don’t have enough experience. Go hating on more Magical Girl.

  16. Scamp
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    Ah screw you Nihon Review team for pointing out my ignorance reguarding the magical girl genre. If we count the likes of Umi Monogatari and Yokaru washbasin falling from sky thing, then I’ve seen quite a bit more magical girl then I’m letting on. Heck, is Rental Magica magical girl? Negima? How about we push the limits further to include Natsu no Arashi, or even Canaan?

    There’s just a set image in my head of what magical girl looks like that’s largely based off images I’ve seen of a mixture of Sailor Moon and Nanoha. For youtube generation folk like myself, Nanoha is our go-to example for what Magical Girl looks like. It’s the most popular recent example.

    I guess I need to watch more older magical girl to understand the differences. But in my head, I don’t see a whole lot of difference between Princess Tutu and Madoka Magica, genre-wise. However they’re both a helll of a lot different from the likes of Yok­uwakary Gendou Mahou or Charger Girl Juden-chan. I dunno, it makes sense to me and I’m not even sure who this comment is directed at anymore so I’m going to stop now =|

    • Posted January 10, 2011 at 3:38 am | Permalink

      Take a look please: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_girl
      Note the difference between ‘magical girl’ and ‘magical girlfriend’. That’s a good starting point.

    • Posted January 11, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      It also depends on just how wide you want to make the definition. I remember someone who said Lain was a magical girl. The wiki is a good place to look though.

      Magical girl is surprisingly serious business. I remember the first time stumbling into and being surprised how complicated it was and how seriously people took it.

      • Posted January 11, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

        Also, if you decided to give some older series a try, watch Creamy Angel Mami. That way everyone thinks you’re super hardcore (and sorta a perv) and not not willingly watching Mahou Shoujo.

        Course, the title sounds worse then the actual show…

      • Scamp
        Posted January 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

        I know that one! Creamy Angel Mami, first magical girl anime, done by Studio Pierrot, back when they had a reputation for magical girl anime and not ever-lasting shounens. I’ve seen fansubs for it and nearly downloaded it at one point, but instead opted for Armoured Trooper Votoms

  17. Posted July 6, 2011 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    Does anyone want a heaping amount of crow after the show proved itself? I’ll bring rock salt.

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