First produced as a 12 episode TV series, and later released as a two part theatrical movie. Puella Magi Madoka Magica (aka Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica) is a retelling of the famous Christian morality play “Faust,” using the framework of the “Magical Girl Warrior” genre (eg: Sailor Moon).
We follow the titular character, 14 year-old Madoka, and her friend Sayaka, as they discover that there are creatures called “witches” that spread despair and curses in the world. These witches are opposed by warriors called Magical Girls (aka Puella Magi). Mentored by the heroic veteran Mami Tomoe, Madoka and her friend are invited to become magical girls themselves by making a contract to devote themselves to fighting witches. As compensation they are offered one wish, for anything they desire.
Opposing them is the mysterious Magical Girl Homura Akemi, who insists that becoming a magical girl is a mistake and strives to prevent Madoka from contracting. Later they meet Kyoko Sakura, a former protege of Mami. Raised as a Christian, Kyoko has rejected her father’s teachings, and now leads a life devoted to only her own survival and pleasure. Kyoko has no patience for weaklings who prat about justice and protecting others. The only thing important to her is looking out for herself.
The five girls struggle with the selfish desires within their hearts. Slowly realizing that even the best of humans cannot truly be described as good. All the while, the ominous Walpurgisnacht approaches, threatening the utter destruction of their hometown.
This show was surprisingly moving to me. While familiar with “Sailor Moon” because of my sisters, I have never been interested in the Magical Girl genre. I was enticed into watching the first episode with the claim that there would be flintlock muskets that shoot laser beams. (There are, and they are quite awesome.) I found much more, and was hooked enough by the Faustian overtones to watch a couple more episodes before determining that this is probably the best anime of the decade.
The final climatic episodes were delayed by the tsunami that struck Japan, and ended up being aired on Good Friday, which perfectly fitted the tone of the ending. Emotionally, Madoka Magica is a story of grief and agony that is miraculously transformed into a story of joy.
Particularly fun was participating in the weekly episode discussions. They were more philosophical then any discussions around anime that I have seen since Neon Genesis Evangelion. But with Madoka the comments were much more religiously oriented. Among a group of anime fans I found myself discussing not only morality questions, but also comparing different characters to Peter or John the Beloved, as well as discussing the necessity of grace.
It was interesting that in a forum were the atheists are always so loud, I soon discovered that well over half of the forum were actually devout Christians. I had discussed many anime with these same people, yet not until we watched Madoka Magica together did we share with each other our religious beliefs. As a gospel conversation starter, Madoka Magica is one of the best secular choices out there.
Because of the dark and heavy themes, I would not recommend this show for children under age 11 without prior review. The show is available on Netflix. An English dub is available and is excellent.
The soundtrack by Yuki Kajiura is stunning in quality. The theme for Mami Tomoe, “Believe in Justice,” is particularly popular, and has generated numerous fan variations on Youtube.
The direction by Shinbo is well done as always. The artistic decisions fit the story very well, giving it an atmosphere similar to “Edward Scissorhands” or “Nightmare Before Christmas.”
The primary writer, Urobatchi, is not a Christian. Explaining why he wrote this story, he said that he had become so disillusioned with the sinfulness of humans, that he found he could no longer write happy stories. Inevitably his character’s actions would lead to their tragic end. Wanting to write a happy ending, he turned to the only religion that he felt truly confronted this flaw in human nature: Christianity. While his depiction of Christianity is an odd mix of Catholic and Protestant theology, this story is an interesting look from the viewpoint of a non-Christian who takes Christianity far more seriously than many Christian writers.