Madoka Magica is a 12 episode television series written by heart-warming author Gen Urobuchi. The series premiered in 2011 and quickly became regarded as the next breakthrough Anime series, bringing forth a level of insane fandom not seen since Neon Genesis Evangelion.
If you haven't experienced the series yet, you'll undoubtedly run into many fans hyping it up as some sort of holy grail of animation and storytelling. That goes for me as well, as I personally regard Madoka Magica as one of the greatest Animes I've ever watched, as well as one of the best written stories I've ever experienced in any media form.
But it really is better if you ignore all the hype and hyperbole and just check out the series for yourself. The less you know about the show, the better the experience will be. Spoilers are rampant across the internet, so avoid any curiosity you may have in a Google search.
The one comment you'll often hear from people is that Madoka is a deconstruction of the Magical Girl genre. This is an erroneous statement, as the Magical Girl part of the story is played perfectly straight. If anything, it is better to say that the series is a deconstruction of the Deus Ex Machina principal, but to go into further detail would only give away much of the story beats and themes. Suffice to say, the premise behind Madoka could work in any conceivable setting, and the story itself can be appreciated without any prior knowledge of Magical Girls or any other Anime tropes.
You might also hear different reasons for why the series resonated with so many people. The truth is that not one single element defines Madoka Magica; rather, it succeeds in almost every area flawlessly. The plot is structured without feeling exploitive, the animation is both superb and subtle when it needs to be, the major story beats are always delivered with the right sense of timing and music, and the characters are all well-written with a level of depth that truly propels them to believability.
A kind-hearted teenage girl with loving friends and family, Madoka lives an ordinary but otherwise content life. Though she believes that she lacks any particular skills or strengths, she feels drawn by the prospect of becoming a Magical Girl in order to protect people from the threat of the inhuman creatures known as "Witches".
Madoka's closest childhood friend, Sayaka makes up 1/3 of the inseparable clique of herself, Madoka, and Hitomi. Though comically easygoing and stubbornly headstrong, she possesses a strong drive forged by unbreakable ideals to protect the people who are most important to her.
A Magical Girl as well as Madoka's senior, Mami first encounters Madoka and Sayaka while performing her Witch-hunting duties. Captivated by her gentle demeanor and incredible power, Madoka and Sayaka join Mami as would-be apprentices to fight alongside her as Magical Girls.
A mysterious girl who transferred to Madoka's school, the soft-spoken Homura approaches Madoka privately to offer a cryptic series of words that serve as some sort of warning. As a Magical Girl with a mysterious power, she chooses to fight alone, which puts her at odds with the other girls.
Another mysterious Magical Girl who prefers to fight solo, but is far more outspoken and ruthless than Homura. Her endless appetite for sweets seem to symbolize her desire to monopolize on the hunts for Witches in order to scoop up the rewards for herself (the Grief Seeds, which are dropped upon a Witch's demise).
The enigmatic, otherwordly creature known as Kyubey is responsible for bestowing ordinary human girls with the ability to transform into Magical Girls. In exchange for a single wish granted, those who make a contract with Kyubey are sworn to dedicate their lives to defeating the Witches that plague humankind with their curses.
. If you also love box sets but hate money, you can dump an absurd amount of dollars in order to buy
. This is also the only method to watch the series dubbed, but it is highly recommended you stick to the original Japanese audio. As someone who generally prefers dubs, the English cast simply does not hold a candle to the original Japanese voice actors, often holding back in their delivery even during the most pivotal moments.
Another alternative are the two-part recap movies, which premiered simultaneously in both Japanese theaters and limited showings overseas (a first, I believe, for any Anime film). Though the films mostly use stock footage from the series, nearly every scene features touched-up animation as well as additional music, transformation sequences, and completely re-done dialogue. There are also a few brand new scenes sprinkled here and there that overall combine into a new experience even for those who watched the series, as well as an adequate alternative for newbies to check out the story with virtually no compromises from the original series.
Despite the heart-wrenching finale, Madoka Magica is clearly too hot a property to end on just one series. Urobuchi and studio SHAFT have made comments regarding the future of the series, including a possible second season spanning over 20 episodes as well as spin-offs that follow alternate paths and storylines (all which can be neatly categorized as "another one of Homura's failed time loops").
But the biggest thing to look forward to right now is the upcoming third film, which is actually a sequel set in the "New World" created by Madoka's wish at the end of the series.
Madoka Magica The Movie III: Rebellion
Little is known about the new film's plot beyond the short teasers released as well as a few closely-guarded comments by Urobuchi. What is known is that all five of the original characters will be making an appearance in some form, and that the movie will "not be the end of the Madoka story", though it will certainly be surprising if any of the main characters will still be alive at the end of this film (a promise of the group "reuniting" is as ominous as it is heart-warming).
The Cast (New World):
Thanks to the limitless power of her wish, Madoka was able to create a universe where Witches no longer existed. However, the price paid for such a wish meant that Madoka could no longer exist in the same corporeal space as ordinary humans, instead serving as a metaphorical and literal Goddess that appears to lead all dying Magical Girls to an afterlife of her own creation. The logistics of a "Magical Girl Valhalla" are still unknown, but one of the key elements the film promises to address is the emotional strain that such a role may have on an ordinary girl like Madoka.
Though everyone in the New World no longer remembers Madoka (save for Homura), it is presumed that the girls will regain their memory of their lost friend upon their passing. This was hinted in episode 12 during Madoka and Sayaka's reunion in Kyosuke's concert, and strengthened during the teaser trailer (where a reflection of Madoka as a Goddess can be seen reflected from Sayaka's eyes).
She is also seen walking to school alongside Sayaka and Kyouko in the newest trailer, as if she still existed among them as a normal girl. This scene also shows Homura in her original braided look and Kyouko wearing their school uniform. Could all this be a possible flashback to a previous timeline?
Though Magical Girls who exist in the New World would no longer transform into Witches, this did not guarantee a happy ending for everyone who gave up their souls to have their wishes granted. Such is the case for Sayaka, who was shown as having passed on during an unseen battle with the Wraiths. While Madoka was unable to change the tragic fate of her best friend, she was able to help guide her to rest in peace, witnessing the results of her sacrifice as Hitomi and Kyosuke would continue to live on in her stead.
It is presumed that the movie will show the events that lead to Sayaka's demise, as the trailer suggests that Hitomi will fall victim to a "Nightmare" (which may be the Wraith's equivalent to a Witch's curse), to which Sayaka will "put everything into a final attack" in order to save her friend. She also appears to support the relationship between Hitomi and Kyosuke, even criticizing the latter for not giving her his full attention. In the latest teaser, we also see her strike at Homura's shield with her sword, even damaging it. Could this be the reason that Homura no longer appears to have time-based powers?
Many questions arose from Homura's role in the New World, with the latest trailers only adding further confusion. All that we know so far is that Homura has retained her memories of Madoka, though whether this knowledge is something she has at the start of the new timeline or something that is granted to her through some event is still unknown. We also see her wearing her original braided hairstyle and glasses in some scenes, which only adds further confusion.
What we do know is that she possesses a mysterious power that seems to have replaced her original time-based abilities, including a pair of black wings that according to Urobuchi will be explained in the film. The power was theorized to have some sort of connection with the Witches due to their stylized appearance. Has she somehow absorbed the powers of the Witches, or could this be derived from Madoka's powers somehow?
Regardless, it is also clear that Homura misses Madoka dearly, to the point that she seems unable to live on without her. It is unclear if her relationship with the other girls is friendlier than it was in the past, though one scene does show her fighting against Mami. Another scene does show her transforming alongside Kyouko and Mami, which suggests that they will team up at some point in the film. It also appears that Madoka herself will appear before Homura, ready to finally take her to the afterlife where they can be "together, forever". Being an Urobuchi work, however, this could easily be a diversion that leads to a crueler twist.
Little is known about Mami's role in the New World, though it can be assumed that her parents still remain dead as the accident that claimed their lives was caused by humans, not Witches. What we have seen shows her conversing with Homura in her original look, but also clashing with Homura (in her current attire) in a rather heated exchange of gunfire. A line in the teaser about "don't follow me, or I will fight you" suggests that perhaps Mami is the one initiating the rift between them. As she is known to be easily traumatized over the loss of her friends, perhaps Sayaka's death can be attributed to Mami's hostility, or perhaps some other outside forces are pitting the two against each other.
Even less is known about Kyouko's role in the film, or whether or not her family is still alive in the new timeline. More surprisingly, however, is that Kyouko appears to now be attending the same school as the other girls, despite living in a different city than the others. She is also seen walking alongside Madoka and Sayaka, almost replacing Hitomi as the third girl in the trio of friends.
It will also be interesting to see if her relationship with Mami will be carried over from the canon backstory, as their relationship prior to the series has never been touched on in animated form.
Despite the ruthless planning and deception used to coerce Madoka into making a contract, not even the Incubator was prepared for Madoka's wish rewriting the very laws of the universe. Though Kyubey's role appears unchanged in the New World, it does seem that the relationship between Incubators and humans is less malicious than it was previously.
However, it also appears that Kyubey is not entirely satisfied with the current method for gathering energy (small cubes which are gained from Wraiths), and seems particularly interested in Homura's recollection of Witches. Many scenes in the teaser featuring the much-despised creature hint at more foreboding things to come, including a literal sky-filled shot of Incubator eyes. The original name for the film project was "Incubator's Counterattack", after all.
Recently revealed as a new character for the movie, all that is known about Momoe at this point is that she is a Magical Girl whose wish and abilities are unknown, and that she is much shorter (younger?) than the original five.
Speculations quickly arose from fans, the primary theory being that she is a human version of Kyubey (she does appear to share a similar color scheme in both her hair and outfit). Other theories include her being a different Incubator, the reincarnation of Madoka, or a Magical Girl who was originally a Witch from the previous timeline (namely fan-favorite Charlotte).
Madoka Magica the Manga:
As an adaption of the original series, the manga does not diverge much at all from the original series. The most notable changes are the more angular art-style as well as a far more expressive Kyubey, which has caused mixed reactions among fans.
Madoka Magica The Different Story:
A three-volume story, the first volume adapts the story of Mami and Kyouko's relationship prior to the series, which was originally released as an audio drama. From there, the manga makes good with its title and offers a different take on the events of the original series while continuing the focus on Mami and Kyouko. The finale manages to feature both one of the most depressing and uplifting moments in the entire franchise, respectively.
Puella Magi Oriko Magica:
One of the more unique alternate stories, Oriko features three new characters that have yet to appear anywhere else in the series (one good, two bad). Revealing any more would give away the well-done final act, but the only real complaint with this manga is it's short length and abrupt ending.
Puella Magi Kazumi Magica:
The only work to not feature any of the original cast, Kazumi feels more like a separate work that takes a different spin on the original premise rather than fit in as part of the canon (despite a few familiar faces serving as cameos). Opinions are mixed in this series, so consider it a non-essential part of the franchise.
Manga Time Kirara Magica:
An officially endorsed magazine that features fan-made stories that are either one-shots or multi-chapter storylines. Many of the stories feature lighthearted "what-if" scenarios, such as the five girls living as sisters under one roof, or as kindergartners with Mami as their teacher, or another that features Mami as a 30 year old single woman who is envious of the other four finding husbands (to the bane of many outraged yuri fans). The stories are cute and occasionally fun, though none of them hold a candle to some of the inspired doujin works featuring great artwork as well as alternate scenarios ranging from heart-warming to heart-wrenching. Here are a few notable doujins below (all safe for work, though the site may display some NSFW ads. Adblock is recommended):
Madoka Magica Portable:
The only console game released thus far for the series, Madoka Portable is one-part Visual Novel, one-part dungeon-crawler. The story portions are fully voice-acted and feature many alternate paths, including the possibility for a happier conclusion...as well as several Bad Ends
which are even worse than the original.
The gameplay is wholly uninspired, and the story takes some liberties with the characters' behaviors, often using jealousy as an excuse for making boneheaded decisions. The chances of a localization are next to none, but you can check out many translated videos here
A fan-made 2D game that feels like an homage to SNES action games, Grief Syndrome lets players pick one of the five girls, each with their own unique abilities and special moves. Two players can also co-op to defeat many familiar enemies and bosses, as well as multiple endings depending on which characters are still alive following the final boss (once a character goes down, they stay dead during the entirety of that run). Highly recommended.
A 3D third-person shoot-em-up inspired by Earth Defense Force, this game puts you squarely in control of Homura, who must destroy a certain amount of enemies in each stage utilizing her time powers and an arsenal of weapons. The game is not as polished as Grief Syndrome, but still a fun diversion with destructible environments and a rather catchy soundtrack.
Madoka Magica Online:
A browser-based game where players can create their own original Magical Girls to fight alongside the original five. Features several alternate storylines and events supervised by Urobuchi (which means, of course, that Sayaka must suffer), but is also difficult to play due to the language barrier. It also reportedly features an obnoxious amount of IAPs.
As you can guess, this is merely a novel that recounts the series through Madoka's point of view. What makes this adaptation unique is that it features a special prologue chapter that details the first time Madoka and Sayaka met as young children, which has been made canon during the recap films' new intro. Reading about Madoka's admiration and dependance on Sayaka opens up interesting new interpretations for the two's relationship in the original series, specifically Madoka's desire to change the role from protected to protector.
The novel remains untranslated, but you can read the following doujin that recreates the prologue in manga form.
Released as DVD extras in Japan, the four audio dramas feature both canon and non-canon stories that vary in tone and chronology. In order, they are as follows:
Drama CD 1 (Memories of You):
The first meeting between Madoka and Homura in the original timeline. It also reveals the story behind the cat in the original intro.
Drama CD 2 (Sunny Day Life):
A lighthearted spoof that features the five girls working together on their studies and Magical Girl duties.
Drama CD 3 (Farewell Story):
Kyouko and Mami's history as Magical Girl partners and best friends prior to the events of the series.
Drama CD 4 (Magical Girl Summer Training Camp):
(video not available on YouTube, though Google may yield a translated vid)
A one-shot special where the five girls (including original glasses Homura) go on vacation at a beach resort. Just a cute story with the five girls hanging out and having fun. No Bad Ends in this one, honest.
JesuOtaku's series review
SF Debris' series review
@"Dark Raven X" live reactions