So, I just watched Madoka.
Part of last year's Winter line-up, Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica is an original magical girl show from SHAFT. Or rather, it's a show about magical girls. That is to say, the focus isn't on young girls defeating the monster of the week with their powers, but on the characters themselves.
That isn't to say Madoka doesn't carry many of the trademarks expected of the genre. There's still supernatural foes to take down, a pet-like companion, and fanciful transformation sequences. Though while it has the ingredients of a magical girl show, Madoka doesn't follow the recipe laid down by its predecessors. It takes aspects characteristic of the genre and distorts them, perverts them even. What results is a show that toys with your expectations in a refreshing and brilliantly executed manner.
The premise of the show is simple: Madoka, a young and cheerful girl without a single worry, gets introduced into the world of magical girls. On her journey, Madoka is accompanied by a strong cast of likable characters: the charismatic and confident Mami, cheerful best friend Sayaka, headstrong Kyoko, and the strong and mysterious Homura. Like other aspects of the show, the characters embody archetypes we've seen elsewhere, but as with the rest of Madoka, the magic is in the execution. A character like Mami can drop rifles from her skirt in the most unreal of fashions, but the emotions she conveys come across as genuinely authentic. This is thanks in part to the show's great writing and tight pacing. Not a moment is wasted in Madoka, with each scene carrying a deeper meaning relevant to either the characters or the overarching plot. The show is commendable for doing an excellent job of intertwining character development with action that always keeps the story moving forward. And where the story goes is a spiral of twists and turns that, if you're like me, will have you starting the next episode just as the previous finishes. Though the show isn't dependent on these plot twists, I'll say no more as I think spoiling it will hamper the experience for those yet to watch.
Aside from the story, Madoka also excels in the audiovisual department - this is SHAFT at their best. You'll get your usual head tilts and unusual perspectives, but also wonderfully choreographed battles occurring against surreal backdrops. The stages set for these fights are unique to say the least, and suitably unnerving in their presentation. On the opposite end, the character designs are simple and cute. Yet, I don't feel they clash with the rest of the show's art direction - on the contrary, I find them oddly complimentary. The animation, even outside of the action, is handled well. The way shots are framed, and the usual SHAFT method of directing, make even talking heads interesting to watch. All of this is accompanied by a soundtrack that can shift from energetically dramatic to foreboding to poignant whenever necessary. I also liked the ED theme by Kalafina, and thought it worked well as an insert song.
Needless to say, I really enjoyed Madoka. If you're into anime, give it a shot. Or hell, even if you're not.