Keith’s Anime Reviews: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Make a contract with me as we take a look at a relatively new anime called “Puella Magi Madoka Magica,” and see what all the fuss is about.

Madoka Magica

“Anything is possible if you make a contract with me!”

Puella Magi Madoka Magica (or just “Madoka Magica,” for short) is a very surprisingly deep, somewhat dark, and very thought-provoking series – especially given that at first glance it looks like “just another magical girl anime.”

For those not familiar, the idea of “magical girls” is sort of a staple in anime – it’s a bit of a twist on the more traditional “superhero” story you see more often in western media. The basic idea is similar: person gains some sort of super-power and secret identity and has to fight bad guys/evil while trying to balance a normal life.

The basic premise of a magical girl story has the potential for a lot of interesting development, character growth, and so on – although it can also be used as just an excuse to have characters dress up in cute costumes.

Madoka Magica is… not like that. At all.

This is a series that is very hard to describe without spoiling things – A LOT – but I’ll do my best, because it really is worth watching without knowing the spoilers.

The basic premise here is that our main character, Madoka (and her friend, Sayaka) are suddenly asked if they want to become magical girls by the weirdly cute (but also somewhat creepy) talking cat-like creature Kyubey. In exchange, he will grant them any one wish they desire.

Getting any one wish you want granted in exchange for magic powers, a secret identity, and the duty to battle evil sounds like a not-too-bad trade, but this series really explores the depths of this seemingly inconsequential plot device.

Consider: should you be “selfish” and make the wish for yourself only, or use it to grant someone else’s desire – someone you care about? What if your wish turns out to not be what you want – or what the person you care about wanted? The price of your wish may turn out to be more than you can bear.

The characters in this series are very well developed – each one has a very interesting back story and motivation (which for the most part is filled in slowly with hints and suggestions, rather than being spoon fed to you), and they all grow and change over the course of the series.

This is an extraordinarily well put together and well thought out series, with lots of attention to detail and subtlety, which benefits from a second (or third) viewing. You will absolutely notice things the second time through that you didn’t notice before, and you’ll go “ah-ha!” or “oh, so that’s what that means!”

So if you’re a bit tired of the usual fare in this genre of anime, or if you’d just like to see something that really twists your mind (and your heart!) and explores some very deep concepts in a new and interesting way, I’d highly recommend that you give Madoka Magica a try.

Keith’s Anime Reviews: Waiting in the Summer

A bit of a surprise this time: a review of a relatively new anime. I don’t normally catch new anime, I usually only hear about it much, much later, when it’s had a chance to become well known.

Waiting in the Summer (or Ano Natsu de Matteru) is a very interesting series – it starts with a bit of a “wham” episode, throwing a lot of stuff at you all at once. In fact, some of the stuff in the first episode seems like it’s there only to catch your attention and make you stick around for the rest… but that’s not that unusual in and of itself.

What’s unusual is that it throws all this stuff at you in the very first episode, and then takes its sweet time bringing it all to fruition.

The basic plot is about some high-school kids who are making a film for fun during their summer break, and the way that their relationships grow and change during that time. (The “making a movie” part is basically the excuse for them all to hang out together so often; it plays some other roles but is largely irrelevant to the plot after the first few episodes.)

This show actually plays with some of the tropes common to anime in general; for example, after a few episodes you would be forgiven for thinking that this was beginning to look like another “harem” anime series. Likewise, after few more episodes you’d be forgiven for thinking that certain relationship-based tensions (the classic “UST“) were going to be prominent for the rest of the series, and never be resolved until the very end of the show (if that). However, each time the series looks like it’s about to go down one of these roads, it will make an abrupt left turn at the last minute and genuinely surprise you.

For example, like any typical anime, this one has the obligatory “beach” and “festival” episodes – but instead of being filler (as they so often are), both of these were actually highly relevant to the main plot of the series, and in a way that felt genuine & not contrived at all. That’s something that can be hard to pull off effectively.

Suffice to say I was surprised several times – and that’s a hard thing to do to me these days.

So the premise is interesting, and the story is refreshingly different – or at least genuinely surprisingly unpredictable. The animation, on the other hand, is nothing to write home about – it’s certainly quite good, but nothing groundbreaking.

At the moment, this is available only in subbed format – as far as I know, no English dub exists yet – and can be watched (legally!) on Hulu for free.

All in all, this is an entertaining series. It may leave you pining for your adolescence, or it may make you glad you’ve left those days behind you, but either way it will probably surprise you, and maybe even make you smile (or blush – often, as it did with me). If you enjoy anime, I definitely recommend it.

Keith’s Anime Reviews: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Keith reviews “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” – because who doesn’t love stories about time travel?

What would you do if you had the ability to go back and relive moments in time?

This is the basic premise of the anime The Girl who Leapt Through Time, a story of a girl (Makoto) who suddenly finds herself with the ability to “leap” through time.

This anime takes a slightly different approach from some other time-travel stories, in that it’s less about the actual traveling through time aspect (or how it’s done specifically), and more about the consequences of having such an ability, and how it can affect the people around you – as well as yourself.

This is an amazingly detailed and thought-provoking anime – so much so, that it could just as easily have been a live-action film (although the larger budget needed for that would probably have precluded it being made in the first place, so let’s be glad it was made as an anime).

Makoto is a pretty normal high school student – a teenager – and even when she gains the ability to “leap” through time, she still acts like one. Think about it – what would you do if you suddenly found you could jump through time as a teenager?

  • Spend all of your money? Go back in time and get it all over again.
  • Don’t like what’s for dinner? Jump back to yesterday when you had your favorite dish.
  • Do bad on a test? Jump back after getting the answers back and do it again.

This is precisely what Makoto does – at first – when she gains the titular ability. However, after a while she starts meddling in other people’s lives – trying to help them out. She’s not malicious or spiteful, she genuinely wants to help her friends and classmates, and she tries to use her power (and her Groundhog Day-like power to know how things will turn out) to make things better for them.

Unfortunately, she’s not very good at it, and she also comes to realize that there are limits on her power – making a perfect day for herself is easy, but trying to make things come out perfectly for everyone you know is much, much harder. Many times she screws things up terribly, and has to jump back in time just to un-do things.

Eventually, she thinks she’s gotten things as good as they can get (more or less), but that’s when she discovers another limit on her time-leaping powers… as well as a personal consequence of her use of those powers that is maybe a bit more than she can bear.

The animation is great – as befits an animated feature-length film – and at no time do things look stereotypically “anime” or cutesy for the sake of being cute. There are a few moments of CG animation cut in, which looks… jarring, to say the least; but these scenes are kind of supposed to be jarring, so it isn’t totally out of place.

The soundtrack to this anime is, quite simply, incredible – subtle and wistful at times, it really helps set the mood. There’s no pop or J-pop music in this soundtrack – instead, most of the music is classical or just subtle, atmospheric instrumental.

In the end, The Girl who Leapt through Time is an absolutely fantastic anime – no, scratch that… it is an absolutely fantastic movie (which just happens to be animated), and one that I think anyone would enjoy. Although it involves time travel, it is not sci-fi or anything; just a solid, timeless, classic, sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heart-wrenching story.

I highly recommend it.

Desktop Madness Vol. 93

Fantasy flying machines, ohhhh yeah!

I just love it when this picture rotates onto my desktop… I’m kind of a sucker for these fantasy/technology mixes.

Also: I want one of these flying machines SO BAD. Seriously.

 

Desktop Madness Vol. 92

It’s just “friendship chocolate,” OK?

As usual, this installment of Desktop Madness celebrates that invention of the¬†confectionery¬†industry, Valentine’s Day.

Try to have a happy Valentine’s Day everyone (even if you don’t get any chocolate)!