Puella Magi Madoka Magica was an acclaimed twelve episode seinen anime that debuted in 2011 that tells the story of five very different girls and their dealings with being who in return for granting them a single wish, turns them into super-powered Magical Girls who are then required to fight and defeat Lovecraftian monsters called Witches who create lairs full of familiars to entrap and feast on normal humans. It's pretty much my favourite thing in the history of ever, a tightly plotted character drama full of twists and turns with moments of very real tragedy and packed full of dense symbolism. So how do you adapt such an anime, especially one that pushed the medium of animation to it's very limits? Well the answer is... not very well. Three volumes is far too little space to do it justice and the delicate pacing is rendered a completely rushed mess. However, the basic story is the same, your required reading is Faust and I'll be linking to clips on Youtube to help show you just how awesome the anime is and why you should watch it even if you're like me and know next to nothing about the Magical Girl genre. Four of the five girls featured are on this cover, colour coded for your convenience: Madoka Kaname (Pink), Homura Akemi (Black), Sayaka Miki (Blue) and Mami Tomoe (Yellow). A fifth girl, Kyoko Sakura (Red) appears at the very end and will feature more heavily in Book Two. So five girls, all different colours and when super danger threatens they combine and turn into one giant Magical Girl. Sorry, sorry, cheap joke I know. Anyway if you want some idea of what the show looks like, check out this award winning AMV cut to a bitchin' tune.
Anyway, the main characters are eighth/ninth graders, dividing school years like this was a bit after my time here in the UK. But I am reliably informed (well it's the wiki so you know...) that means Madoka and Sayaka are fourteen, Mami is fifteen, Kyoko is a bit older than Madoka and Sayaka and a bit younger than Mami and Homura is fourteen... technically. So any off-colour jokes I make must be taken with the full knowledge that I am a terrible human being who shouldn't be allowed near a computer. The manga is unflipped so panels read right to left and the honorifics have been left in for those who use them. Also, if you haven't seen the sequel movie Rebellion I'll be making some jokes and allusions to it in places, so minor spoilers - you have been warned. Also be aware that the events of the three volumes actually take place over roughly one month lest the messed up pacing make you think it all happens in about a week. Let's begin.
So we begin, and already I'm annoyed. The show starts with Madoka emerging from a black and white maze onto a floating platform, buildings crashing down from the sky and one teenage girl with long dark hair battling a strange giant creature floating above the devastated city as a cross between a bunny and a cat tells her only she can change what's happening. The manga starts with two pages of Madoka staring through the mists as the long haired girl battles something unseen and the bunny-cat (with apologies to SF Debris) tells her only she can change the outcome.
|Consult a lawyer before signing contracts with bunny-cats.|
She gets up and goes through her morning routine with her mum, Junko. Junko tells her to wear the pink ribbons in her hair and "your popularity will soar". After breakfast she rushes off to school and meets her best friends Sayaka Miki and Hitomi Shizuki. They note her ribbons and Sayaka jokes that she is trying to lure in the boys, "wow that sounds like a girl I'm going to marry!"
Later they are in class and their teacher has some gripes about her lovelife and how boys shouldn't grow up to be petty and girls shouldn't ever date a man who complains about how their eggs are fried. She then introduces them to a new transfer student, Homura Akemi. Madoka is very surprised to see she is the dark haired girl from her dream. Homura catches her eye and fixes her with an intense gaze.
|Homura and the legs that launched a thousand fanfics.|
Madoka says she does, she loves her family and friends very much, they are precious to her. Homura says in that case, she will offer her words of caution:
Homura: "If you truly feel that way, then follow what I am about to tell you very closely. For the forseeable future, no matter what may come to pass, you should never consider 'changing yourself' in any way. If you choose not to heed my words... those things that you hold dear... will all be lost."
And with that she walks off on her own, leaving a bewildered Madoka in her wake. Later after school in a cafe with Sayaka and Hitomi, Sayaka finds it amusing that a brand new student "master of atheletics and academics" appeared to Madoka in a dream
She goes on to say they are "two whom fate has bound together in a previous life. A mystery of the universe!" Madoka tell Sayaka not to tease her, then Hitomi has to leave, she's from a very wealthy family and has a lot of extra-curricular stuff to do. Sayaka and Madoka go to a music store so Sayaka can look for a CD. Behind them, an older girl is using a small gem like thing to search for... something.
|Madoka finds the injured bunny-cat.|
But as they run, reality suddenly changes around them. It's not illustrated very well, but weird spherical things with moustaches surround them as the place swims and distorts, but before they can hurt Madoka and Sayaka the older girl appears in a flamboyant outfit and summoning some muskets she blows away all the creatures. Reality reasserts itself as Homura appears, silently contmplates the other costumed girl, then turns away and leaves without a word.
|Mami Tomoe to the rescue.|
Kyubey: "Listen...I want you to contract with me... and become Magical Girls!"
Next morning Madoka wakes up wondering if it was all a dream, but Kyubey pops up on her bed and wishes her "good morning". She goes about her bathroom routine while Kyubey soaks in a bowl of water. Her mother can't see it and she also mildly scold Madoka for getting in so late last night.
Madoka says a "senpai" asked them so come over to her house. I'll quickly explain that senpai roughly means an older mentor to a "kouhai" or student. We then flashback to the previous night at Mami's flat, she's an orphan so lives alone as an emancipated child, not uncommon in Japan where adoption is rare.
|A Soul Gem.. seems so innocuous doesn't it?|
Kyubey: "If you think of Mami as a 'Magical Girl' who spreads hope to all... then witches are the opposite. The ones that litter the world with despair."
Mami continues that witches cause suicides and murders that happen for no reason, they wandered into a witches "wards" or labyrinth as the anime called them. If Mami hadn't appeared they would be dead.
She advises them to think hard about entering into a contract. Sayaka muses that there seems to be some nice perks, are there other Magical Girls? Homura is one, and "quite a powerful one, I venture". Sayaka wonders why she would attack Madoka and Kyubey say she was after it (Kyubey has no gender). Kyubey thinks she was trying to stop it making any more contracts.
Mami explains that every time you defeat a witch there is a certain reward and Magical Girls will clash over the "glory of defeating a witch". She thinks Homura doesn't want another rival, "probably". Mami then invites them along on some witch hunts so they can think about if they still want to contract after that.
|Kyubey comes to school with them.|
Hitomi: "You mean this is Forbidden Love!??"
Haha, as if this series has and lesbian undertones, the very idea. Ahem. In class, Sayaka asks Kyubey if he is safe here, "transfer student" is in their class too (Sayaka refuses to use Homura's name from now on). Mami is there and can hear them too. Homura comes in and frowns at seeing Kyubey on Madoka's lap.
Later on the school roof, Sayaka and Madoka wonder what to wish for. Sayaka says they are "happy fools" who can't think of a wish so important they'd stake their lives on it. Madoka wonders why pick them, there must be others with wishes so important they'd trade their lives for them.
Then Homura appears. Sayaka is rude to her, but Homura says she is not here to fight. She reminds Madoka of what they talked about the day before and "don't regret later that you ever listened to that thing's honeyed promises". She starts to leave but Madoka asks what she wished for, Homura stops and pulls a pained expression, then leaves without a word.
|Readying for a witch hunt.|
They return to where the witch was the previous day, now in the anime when a witch is introduced it's name appears in a runic code. The manga doesn't bother with that but I'm going to use their anime names for reasons which will becone apparent in the next two volumes. Mami holds up her Soul Gem to track the witch, who is called "Gertude".
As they walk, Mami says she check places where accidents are likely to occur, as well as hospitals where a witch can feed on the weakened people. Then she sees a woman about to jump off the top of an abandoned building. Henshin! A transformed Mami uses her ribbons to catch the woman as she falls. The woman has fainted and Mami show Sayaka and Madoka the "witch's kiss" on the woman's neck which controlled her into attempt suicide, Gertrude is here.
|Here's the anime version, sorry for no subs.|
Mami shows them a spherical object with a spike under it. This is a "Grief Seed. It's a witches egg" Mami tells Madoka and Sayaka. She holds her Soul Gem to it and the gem which is now muddy looking has the taint pulled off it into the seed and is shiny again, using magic is what makes a Soul Gem murky and a Grief Seed the only way to cleanse it, which is why Magical Girls will fight over them.
|A Grief Seed.|
Madoka: "...I can't help but think that even someone like me... could be a person who's able to help others. It would make me so happy!"
We then cut to Sayaka visiting a boy called Kyosuke Kamijou in hospital, He was a violin prodigy but after an accident he's lost the use of his left hand. Sayaka has known him for a long time and has a major crush on him. She's bringing him a rare classical music CD which he recieves with gratitude saying he hadn't been able to find it himself.
He asks her to listen to it with him and they put an earbud in one ear each and listen takes Sayaka back to being a young kid watching him perform on stage. Then she realises Kyosuke is crying as he listens and this puts her in a pensive mood.
|Sayaka with Kyosuke.|
Mami tell them it was a few years ago, her family was in a massive traffic accident and she was lain dying in one of the cars. Kyubey appeared and all she could think of was "save me". And that's why they should think their wishes over carefully as that was something she wasn't able to do.
Sayaka asks if the wishes have to be for themselves, could she, for example, make a wish on behalf of someone who is having a rougher time then she is? Mami says yes, she knows it's been done before, but she doesn't recommend it:
Mami: "Miki-san... do you truly want that person's dream to come true? Or is it that you want to be that person's saviour for making that dream come true? If you're going to fulfill someone else's dream, that's the time when it's most important to be sure you know your own wish, The two might seem the same but they're entirely different".
She apologises for the harsh tone, but she is sure Sayaka would end up regretting it. Sayaka apologises saying "I wasn't thinking it through". Kyubey pipes up saying the sooner they make a wish the better, but Mami says making them rush the decision might get "him" dumped.
|Myubey keeps up its nagging.|
Next day they are at the hospital. Kyosuke wasn't in the mood to see anyone so Sayaka has returned to the waiting Madoka and Kyubey. Then they spot a Grief Seed attached to the hospital wall and it's about to hatch. They quickly make a plan, Sayaka and Kyubey will stay and watch over it while Mami goes and finds Mami. If the labyrinth opens, Mami can find Kyubey and Sayaka inside via telepathy.
As Madoka leaves and the labyrinth appears, Kyubey ask Sayaka if she is scared. She says that she is, and Kyubey says she can make a wish and become a Magical Girl, but Sayaka says she doesn't want to make a hasty decision. Mami and Madoka arrive and enter the labyrinth, though the witch, Charlotte, hasn't hatched yet.
Homura follows them inside, saying she'll hunt todays prey. Mami says she doesn't trust her and won't retreat. She wraps up Homura in ribbon bondage even as Homura tries to warn them, "this witch this time... is like nothing you've ever faced!!" But Mami ignores her and she and Madoka walk further into the labyrinth.
As they walk, Madoka admits that shes always hated the fact she spends every day "without being of any use to anybody". But when she saw Mami fight and learned that she could do the same thing it has made her "happier than anything else".
Madoka: "So if I were to become a magical girl, that would be my wish come true. To think I could even help others like that... my biggest dream is to live a life that would make me proud of myself!"
But Mami stops and says quietly that she is not someone you'd want to emulate. Fighting scares her like nothing else, when she is with her and Sayaka she forces herself to be the cool senpai, "when I'm alone, I do nothing but cry".
She fights with joy and much more flamboyantly than normal, shooting Charlotte who looks like a small toy saying she'll kill it on one shot. But after wrapping Charlotte in ribbons and shooting her with a big gun, suddenly a huge clown worm with sharp teeth in its big mouth bursts out of Charlotte and the over-confident Mami freezes.
|The Charlotte battle anime style.|
|Om Nom Nom.|
Homura: "Burn this scene into your brain. If you become a Magical Girl... this is what you get!"
She picks up Charlotte's Grief Seed, Sayaka grabs her and demands she give it back, it belongs to Mami! Homura slaps her away saying it belongs to a Magical Girl and they have no right to touch it and she leaves Sayaka and Madoka kneeling on the ground weeping over the loss of their senpai and friend.
Next day over breakfast, Madoka breaks down crying that she is alive to enjoy breakfast. Later, she and Sayaka sit on the school roof and wonder if they still want to be Magical Girls. Sayaka says there's no way now. Madoka asks Kyubey who will protect the town now Mami is gone.
Kyubey says it has been Mami's territory for quite some while now. Her gap will be filled by those hunting for Grief Seeds, "like that transfer student..?" asks Sayaka. Madoka says she promised Mami she'd become a Magical Girl... But after seeing her die like that she just can't. Kyubey say's it understands, it'll be off looking for more girls to make a contract, "we haven't known each other for very long, but it's been fun. Thank you". And off it goes.
After school, Madoka goes to Mami's flat, and cries saying "I'm sorry... I'm sorry I'm so weak... I'm really sorry". Outside Homura is waiting and tells her she musn't be so hard on herself. She asks if Madoka has taken her warning to heart. Madoka says yes, but if she had done so earlier Mami wouldn't have died. Homura says it wouldn't have changed Mami's fate.
|Homura offers some consolation.|
This upsets Madoka, saying Mami fought for everyone for a long time, now no one will notice she's gone "... that's too lonely a fate". Homura says it's part of the contract that gives them their power.
Homura: "So for no one to notice... for the world to forget us... that is just something we have to accept".
Madoka says she'll never forget Mami. Homura says that would make Mami very happy, "so happy that I envy her". Madoka says she won't forget Homura either for saving her life yesterday. Homura turns away muttering "there's no way you remember..." Then she hastily takes her leave of Madoka who unknowingly struck a nerve with her comment.
We then cut to Sayaka bringing Kyosuke another CD. But he flatly asks her if she is picking on him, is she trying to make him mad? He can't play anymore and listening to the music is like torture. He smashes his injured hand on a CD smashing it and cutting up his hand but feels nothing.
|Kyosuke unleashes his bitterness.|
Madoka is doing some late night shopping and comes across Hitomi, she has a witch's kiss on her neck. She dreamily tells Madoka that she is going "to someplace far, far better than this." More people with witch's kisses appear headed in the same direction as Madoka wonders what she can do as she doesn't have Homura's cellphone number. So she just tags along.
They all converge in a small warehouse and shutter the entrance. They start to mix up chemicals to create poison gas. Madoka manages to grab the bucket and hurl it through the window and foils that plan, but then the crowd of people all turn on her, she manages to get into a small storeroom and locks the door.
Unfortunately inside is the witch Kirsten who drags Madoka into her labyrinth which in the anime was rendered in "super-flat" style. She is tormented by images of Mami's death and wonders if this is her punishment for being "such a coward... and a liar."
|Sayaka to the rescue!|
This volume comes to an end with the introduction of a new character, Kyoko Sakura watching from afar. She'd come because she heard Mami was dead and was going to take over her territory. Kyubey tells her that a new Magical Girl here to protect the area, she made a contract with Kyubey a short time ago. Kyoko says the territory is too good to give up to a rookie, so she plans to "crush that little girl".
|Enter Kyoko Sakura.|