[EPISODE RECAP] Puella Magi Madoka Magica Episode 1 & 2

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I really haven’t been this excited over an anime for a while. Okay, that’s actually a lie, I was absolutely crazy about Shiki…Oh, fine. If we discount Shiki, it really has been years since I’ve been so impressed by an anime series. I normally don’t watch more than a few series for each new season, and I’m glad I managed to pick a good one from the get-go.

…I’ll admit, the only reasons I picked Madoka in the first place were because Kajiura Yuki was composing its soundtrack and Kalafina was providing the ED. The title of the series alone didn’t sound too exciting. And the CMs…Seriously, go watch them, and you’ll understand. I’m not really a fan of moe or magical girls, and they seemed eager to emphasize the fact that there was little more to Madoka than both of those things.

As it turns out, there was a very good reason those CMs were gave that impression. And no, not because Madoka was what it was made out to be.

A lot of people called it. They said, with Shinbo, and Urobochi, there was no way this would be any ordinary mahou shoujo anime. I didn’t know Urobochi, but I had some familiarity with Shinbo’s work. And he certainly didn’t seem like the type to be working on something with such a fluffy premise. I wanted to believe it, I really did.

The first two episodes were a visual feast — that creepy, surrealistic world within the witches’ barriers was gorgeously rendered, and Mami’s Unlimited Musket Works mode of attack was delightful in its badassery. If you were searching, you could find what might be construed as hints that Madoka would take a darker tone. But the expected tropes of a magical anime still seemed to be firmly in place. I found myself thinking, “Maybe it really will be just another magical girl anime.”

It took just 3 episodes to disabuse me of that notion.

Ohboyohboyohboy.

Hit the jump for more.

Episodes 1 & 2
The opening dream sequence of episode 1 was wonderfully dark — creepy hallways, scenes of post-apocalyptic carnage, Kalafina’s Magia in the background, and an introduction to a lone, doomed fighter…

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Homura

And then there was your cute talking animal, Kyube.

Kyube’s offer to Madoka sounded fairly typical — world in trouble, need help from you, random adolescent, please take some of the awesome magical powers available in our stock. But the rather violent backdrop, and the way use of the word ‘contract’ kept bringing Enma Ai from Jigoku Shoujo to my mind, and Kyube’s unmoving mouth, smiling perpetually through all that carnage…

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…how can that not be even just a little creepy?

Suddenly Madoka wakes up slowly, opens her eyes to the sunlight…and then the OP begins.

Talk about mood whiplash.

I didn’t pay too much attention to it, it sounded pretty generic. But I couldn’t help taking note of this:

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Madoka cries.

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Cries a lot, actually. It’s probably pretty innocuous, but I can’t help thinking that that’s the face of someone who just made it through a lot of shit.

But I could just have been reading too much into it.

Well, at least it was a buffer between that dream sequence and the beginning of The Ordinary Life of Kaname Madoka.

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But the house, and that bathroom, is extraodinary.

The fact that her mother was a career woman while her dad apparently didn’t work was refreshing. And Madoka’s Ordinary Friends (TM), Hitomi (popular girl) and Sayaka (possibly lesbian).

Then at school, a new kid has transferred into their class, and oh look! Lone doomed fighter! Surprise surprise. Homura seemed benign, if kind of weird (do you normally cryptically tell people you’ve just met their fine the way they are?) but later, when it turned out that she was hunting down Kyube, it cast doubts about what her motives exactly were, which I appreciated — something else to speculate about.

Hey, wait, wasn’t Kyube asking Madoka to help Homura in that opening?

Anyway, so, Madoka tries to rescue Kyubey after it (he? I don’t know), finds Homura in pursuit, and then, to my surprise, Sayaka show up to help.

But then they get pulled into some strange world. Away from Homura…but into something worse…

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Pornstaches! The horror.

Oh, but look! A mahou shoujo to the rescue!

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A transformation sequence? No way is this a deconstruction. Or maybe that’s what they want us to think…

Mami…she creeped me out a little, actually. Her appearance seemed a bit too convenient, and she looked, to me, more like a Stepford Smiler than being genuinely cheerful, especially after her confrontation with Homura.

But she was, undeniably, totally badass.

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I don’t even like Fate/Stay, and I can’t stop thinking of it as “Unlimited Musket Works”
And I said it already right? But wow. That witch’s creepy alternate dimension, the fight scenes…gorgeous.

I also liked how Sayaka was caught up in the witch battle, along with Madoka. Usually the best friend gets left in the dark when it comes these things. With Kyube offering the mahou shoujo contract to her, it seems like whatever happens to Madoka, Sayaka is going to be part of it as well.

Episode 2 still plot-wise, still had that fairly predictable sense to it. Mostly exposition, but not boring. They all have tea, talk a lot Mami offers to show the girls what being a mahou shoujo is like, and takes them out to see her fight witches. So we get quite a number of looks at witch barriers — they’re all as beautifully creepy as the first one.

Mami seemed like a really sweet at this point, but I still had a feeling there was something sinister beneath her surface.

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Perpetually smiling mahou shoujo + perpetually smiling familiar = SINISTER ALARM

Madoka and Sayaka have their own talk about Kyube’s contract. Become a mahou shoujo, and you get one free wish! Sounds pretty sweet, right? But the two girls, in a nice twist, come to the conclusion that they both have pretty decent lives and don’t really need that wish. That’s surprisingly down-to-earth. We do get a glimpse of Sayaka thinking of someone who could use that wish (and a hint that she may not actually be lesbian).

Mami does demonstrate that being a mahou shoujo and defeating witches will bring about good, because creatures that induce random people to commit suicide really should be kept in check. And also a bit about how they need to kill witches to replenish their power, by retrieving the Grief Seed witches leave behind. That had some potentially interesting implications…

Homura also makes more cryptic remarks to Madoka to warn against being a mahou shoujo. That’s probably not the best way to go about it. I mean, to Madoka, a nice, kindly girl like Mami is going to seem a lot more like a credible source compared to someone who was caught trying to off the cute talking animal and is still giving it dark looks. But Madoka, apparently, still doesn’t want to be too suspicious of Homura.

But Homura, for all her cryptic-ness, really seems persistent about dissuading Madoka from this mahou shoujo deal. And Mami’s reasoning (that she doesn’t want any more competition)just doesn’t seem to cover it.

Mami is also still really badass.

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Because the first thing you do after wrapping up a dangerous battle with a humongous gun is have a cup of tea. Now I can’t help liking her.

The show ended, still without its ED animation, which surprised me. But when it played at the end of episode 3, I think we all understood why.

Whew. I went on for longer than I thought. But there’s still two great episodes to talk about…