Madoka Magica is an audacious show. There’s simply no way of denying that. Up until this point, the magical schoolgirl genre had long since petered out, existing in only stale shows meant to push figures and adult toys or act as a punchline to some otaku joke. It was hard to take the genre seriously, and there wasn’t much to hang your hat on, other than the nostalgia of Sailor Moon. It was not a genre to be proud of at this point in time -- it was a prime example of the “anime fans are pedophiles” complaint. And then Madoka came along and upended the genre.
Madoka presented a radically different view of the genre. It took the whole idea of magical girls and made it into a more adult concept. The show gripped viewers with its first few episodes, and dragged us all along for a wild an unbelievable ride. There’s a lot of high praise for the show, and it’s understandable.
Read on to hear just what we thought of Madoka Magica, and to see what our opinion on the dub is, along with our stance on the lightning-rod controversy over Madoka's pricing.
[Header by Sora to Umi]
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Licensed by: Aniplex
Release Date: February 14, 2012
Madoka Magica took the trapping of a magical girl genre -- the wands, the pure innocence of doing good -- and laid it over the general concept of Faust. Now the magical girls aren’t simply fighting for truth, justice and the American Way -- they have to weigh the price of the power they’ll hold against the potential good they might do. Except that there really is no good ending to making a deal with the Devil.
The only thing I can think to compare Madoka to is Neon Genesis Evangelion, and that’s because it has completely redefined the genre -- it added a level of depth and complexity to the genre that we haven’t ever seen, and I don’t think we will see again. Although, I must admit, the premise and execution of Madoka could have happened outside the framework of a magical girls theme and still been a great show. Adding on that dressing gave the show a more perverse and cruel feeling to it, making it all the more compelling to watch. And that’s something to be commended.
The show proved to be an exercise in deconstructing beliefs. Just about every time hope cropped up, it would crush that sentiment with a decisive blow. WIthout fail, you had to re-assess what you thought the show would do next. It’s not as though you were consistently surprised what would happen next -- as with Death Note or a similar thriller -- but you just hoped that maybe, this time, things would be different. That salvation would come at just the right moment.
I have to commend the voice actors in the US rendition of the show. They managed to carry the mood along of the show very well in their own way. It's very difficult to exactly replicate the tone and emotions of the original Japanese seiyuu, but I think this cast did a good job carrying it in a more "Western" sense. Madoka and Mami's relationship is different when put into an English context -- Madoka is going to be more cheerful yet timid, and Mami's maturity will be exaggerated. But it all works. The only weak part in the whole cast would be Kyubei. That was one character that I wished remained the same, because there was a certain detachment that went on in its speech in Japanese that wasn't there in the English version. Cassandra Lee connected too much with the rest of the cast as Kyubei, and that diminished the character in my opinion. The takeaway, though, is that it's great to watch in English as well. If you're watching this show for the second time around, then it's a great way to absorb more of the story and art, and enjoy things in a new light.
The packaging is one of the biggest lightning rods for this release. Priced at $94.98, the special edition of the show is prohibitively expensive for just four episodes on a disc. The regular edition isn’t too cheap, either, at $49.98 for a Blu-ray version. Aniplex is attempting to force the Japanese pricing model on the US audience, and balance it out with a lot of “exclusives” -- artbooks, postcards, and a soundtrack are the big items. Is it worth it?
Aniplex is clearly targeting the hardcore fanbase with this product; the ones who will get these discs no matter what, and are ultimately willing to spend close to $400 to watch all of these episodes. It’s more about the honor and bragging rights of owning a limited edition set of Madoka than the actual contents inside. I would put the packaging and goodies on par with NIS’s limited editions, bolstered only by the addition of a soundtrack. If I were to price these items, I would have slashed the price in half, because of the lack of content on the discs. That, and the slipcase isn’t exactly the greatest thing in the world.
All that is a damn shame. Aniplex has a fantastic show on its hands -- one that will be remembered for years to come -- but they’ve limited the possible exposure of the show by pricing the discs so high. If they want the greatest possible exposure for their titles, then they need to re-think their pricing schemes. If their goal is instead to meet certain profit targets and do what they can to satisfy the shows’ core fanbases, then they’re on the right track, although they could certainly add a bit more for the money you’re spending.
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