While I was intent on writing a scathing review that detailed everything wrong with the third movie installment of the Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica franchise, The Rebellion Story, I found that it was hard to find all the problems without a fresh reference from the main series. Seeing as I intend to do an entire video on the subject of what in particular makes the movie terrible, it’d more than likely help my case if I were to find what makes it’s predecessor series so damn good in comparison. It’s also been a while since I rewatched the series anyways, and I’ve never done so with my own really critical or analytical lens on. That in mind, I figure it’d be a good idea to watch the episodes piece by piece and take notes on what makes each one work on it’s own, and then, after finishing the series, do a break down and analysis of the whole thing. That way, I’ll have a comprehensive guide to what I found the series and individual episodes to be doing right that the movie did so incredibly wrong.
As a note, this is definitely going to be a raw and biased opinion from a die-hard fan of this series, and I will more than likely reference the tie-in material to both further my points and opinions on the series.
That in mind, my thoughts on Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica: Episode One. (As if I met her in a Dream).
Episode one begins with a very surreal, foreboding dream sequence that not-so subtly hints at the eventual dark and tragic nature of the story it’s telling, and I believe the first scene with Homura vs. Walpurgisnatch creates the most prominent duality within the episode, that being one of danger and trustworthiness.
Our first introduction to Homura is within the dream sequence, where we are very much posed to root for her as she’s presented as the underdog in a battle against a large monster which we eventually learn is the witch Walpurgisnatch. However, despite our inclination to root for her at the beginning of the episode, from there on out, we are constantly given an ominous, threatening perception of Homura- She’s constantly shown as intimidating by being shot from low angles, and has a presence that obviously threatens Madoka, who we’re obviously meant to initially side with as our heroine. Meanwhile, Kyubey first shows up as a somewhat ominous figure; Despite it’s cute appearance, Kyubey is shown first goading Madoka into becoming a magical girl- Which, despite the audience presumably not knowing the end result at the time- and has a somewhat enigmatic and dangerous presence due to it’s seemingly unending stare and rather monotone voice. The second time we see Kyubey, it’s framed in the shadows, which while not exactly uncommon for the mascot characters like it pre-introduction, further serves to enforce the eventual revelation of Kyubey as a threatening presence that introduces and lures girls into danger. This is in opposition to Homura’s role, since she, despite her appearance is legitimately trying to keep at least one person safe, and keep her from danger. Mami also plays a similar role to Kyubey in this episode; Being painted as a reliable, caring mentor figure who protects Sayaka and Madoka from the volatile Witch and the imposing transfer student, while ultimately being the one who drags them the most into the dangerous lifestyle the magical girls face.
The second thing I noticed was the emphasis on Madoka’s family life, and showing how – relatively speaking – it’s framed as being something of a perfect family. She has loving and supportive parents- A strong willed but compassionate Mother, a soft-spoken Father and a cute younger brother. This was obviously a part of Urobutchi’s intention, as stated in an interview that he wanted Madoka to have a strong family that gave her a powerful moral center. Most obviously, the biggest part we’re meant to take away from this is Madoka’s relationship to her mother, Junko. Something that struck me that I’d never noticed before was Junko’s hairpin, in the shape of a bow much like Madoka’s own ribbons. It gives a clue into how close the pair really are, and mirrors how later on, Junko mentions admiring Madoka’s ribbons as being incredibly cute. I’m also lead to believe it represents a form of youth and innocence when I think about it further, but more on that later.
On Madoka’s everyday home life, I was able to notice how the anime goes to great lengths to give a sense of the world being more advanced than our own but not far into the future. The details were subtle enough I completely missed it on my first viewing, and the obvious point of doing this is to show the ways that the magical girl system Kyubey moderates has really progressed humanity for the better. This is given some more weight in the scene wherein Madoka goes to wake up Junko, and their room is filled with empty chairs of lots of different designs. Chairs show up frequently in Madoka, and I believe the intent here was two things. Primarily, it serves as a symbol for the idyllic life which Madoka lives as a result of the sacrifice of others- Specifically, other magical’s girls lives contributing to the kind of easy going and blissfully ignorant life she’s meant to live. Secondarily, it’s also likely a reference to the time loops Homura makes, being a visual stand in for the many past Madokas who have already done the exact same task as the Madoka we see now. It builds upon the fact that everything about Madoka’s current life is a chain of causality and build up from the actions of others- Something she comes to embrace at the end of the series.
Third, while we’re given only the basics of Sayaka’s character, I found some interesting parallels to her character in the topics the girls discuss at the early points in the episode; Junko provides some love related advice to Madoka, mentioning how any boy not willing to confess directly isn’t worth Madoka’s time, and that writing love letters is a sign of cowardice. Similarly, this could be seen as a parallel to Hitomi and Sayaka’s relationship with Kyousuke. While Hitomi – who is said to recieve plenty of love letters from their classmates- is able to be honest with herself, and openly admit she’s in love with Kyousuke, and ultimately is able to be with him because of it, Sayaka is never explicit towards Kyousuke in her feelings, and ends up heartbroken and in despair due to her indirect way of confession through her wish – Much as the boys in love with Hitomi end up heartbroken due to their indirect and non-courageous way of communicating with her.
Similarly, Junko’s thoughts on Saotome-sensei’s relationship might be some kind of mirror into Sayaka’s own relationship with Kyousuke- With them being ‘at that stage’ where things are either going to end with them working through the issues, or breaking things off when it gets rough. That’s more of stretch and speculation in the later than I think is worth putting a lot of stock into, but it’s certainly a possibility it was intentional foreshadowing, so I don’t want to ignore it.
Regardless of that, I don’t think there’s anything more that I can say on the subject. While certainly chock full of foreshadowing and metaphors, I think it’s safe to state that Episode one was primarily meant for set up as opposed to an episode meant to be read deeply into, as most first episodes are. The only other thing of note is the ending theme for this and the next episode, ‘Mata Ashita’. It’s a saccharine pop-song as sung by Aoi Yuki, Madoka’s voice actress. Translated as ‘See You Tomorrow’, it’s purpose was meant to trick the viewers into believing that Madoka Magica really was a cute and happy as it built itself up to be, despite being a somewhat sad song when the lyrics are analyzed. That said, there’s very little of actual substance within the song itself, beyond highlighting Madoka’s more timid and reserved side.
So, that’s all for now. I’ll start work on part two once I rewatch that episode, and hopefully I’ll have more to come soon.