Home > Episode Reviews, Puella Magi Madoka Magica > Puella Magi Madoka Magica Episode 7 – Dead Girl Blues

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Episode 7 – Dead Girl Blues

Interesting, well-written characters are rare in any medium, but they’re even more so in anime. Here, a host of identical archetypes act out stock plots like so many puppets, all in service of the noble goal of merchandising.

Anime producers stick to what sells, and what sells seems to be familiarity. Popular entertainment often has a sad habit of taking the most recent thing to hit it big and copy it until what made the original special has been lost entirely. Japanese entertainment companies are particularly good at churning out carbon copies of hits, but lousy at capturing the spirit that made something successful.

If you don’t believe me, just look at their video game industry. Once the world leader, they’ve descended into relentless iterations of their most popular franchises (which, increasingly, are being farmed out to Western developers). High profile Japanese game designers frequently bemoan the poor state of the industry, turning to Western methods in an attempt to try something new.

Sayaka has the ability to keep her body from feeling pain, which Kyubey is more than willing to demonstrate via the magical equivalent of a spear to the chest

That’s why the best anime are often riffs on already-established genres, but executed very well or offering a different take on old standards. Madoka Magica is, of course, very firmly entrenched in the magical girl and urban fantasy genres of anime: a subversion of the simplistic morality and cheerful happiness of the typical magical girl show, itself a subgenre of the urban fantasies that typically offer a murkier and more mysterious take on the standard premise of adolescents fighting arcane evil.

So the show succeeds not because of its novelty (even subversions of magical girl shows have been done before), but because of the quality and creativity poured into every aspect of the show. As much as I hate to draw comparisons between it and the Oreimo, the two share at least one thing in common: both are big budget productions designed to appeal to as wide an audience as late night anime is likely to draw.

Kyouko takes wasting food very seriously

But where Oreimo went for broke on the animation and obsessive attention for detail, Madoka Magica’s focus is on melding a compelling story with Akiyuki Shinbo’s signature visual style. This focus on story is what makes this by far the superior anime.

That’s the show’s draw: a fascinating story with interesting, well-written characters. The necessities of fantasy and high tragedy don’t typically allow for nuanced, realistic characters, but that doesn’t mean they have to be bland stereotypes.

Hitomi, Sayaka’s friend, is also interested in Kyousuke.

The basic personalities of each character will be familiar to any jaded anime watcher, but the motivations behind each character’s actions and how naturally they create dramatic conflict are what make this show what it is.

Take, for example, the conflict between newly-minted magi Sayaka and Kyouko, the veteran, amoral magi introduced last episode. Sayaka’s wish was to heal her crippled friend Kyousuke, a seemingly foolish reason to give away your life.

It just wouldn’t be a good anime without middle school girls crying

To compensate, Sayaka has convinced herself that the wish was just as much about fighting the malicious witches that prey on unsuspecting humans. She’s turned into a zealot, unable to accept any magi whose motivations she deems impure.

She also has begun to have second thoughts about her wish, especially when her best friend announces her intention to confess her love to Kyousuke. Sayaka can’t bring herself to make her own confession to Kyousuke, knowing the burden she has to bear as a magi.

Without Kyousuke, the reason she made her wish in the first place, she realizes that she’s nothing, just a spirit dangling from the neck of a lifeless shell whose only purpose is to kill witches.

Kyouko’s story is told with the usual combination of popsicle stick puppets and woodcut backgrounds

Kyouko, it’s revealed, had a similar origin. The daughter of an impoverished and unpopular heretical preacher, she wished for people to listen to what her father had to say. He became popular overnight, but when he realized that his newfound fame was the result of magic, rather than his own work, he went insane, killing his whole family save Kyouko.

The scars from that experience convinced Kyouko not to live her life or use her power for anyone but herself. It’s what made her the apathetic, selfish person she is today.

She tries to warn Sayaka that the same fate awaits her, but her plea falls on deaf ears. Sayaka is too concerned with justice and the right thing to hear anything from someone as amoral as Kyouko, and the extreme sacrifice her wish required won’t allow her to admit that it was misguided.

The battles are beautiful as usual

Sayaka and Kyouko are polar opposites, but Sayaka sees enough of herself in Kyouko’s past that she develops a begrudging respect for her in future episodes. She’s convinced that she’s a good enough person to not become as cynical and selfish as Kyouko, but her doubts about the wisdom of her wish and her guilt over that say otherwise.

That overconfidence in one’s own abilities is a common human flaw, something most of us have in common. Hopefully, unlike Sayaka, it won’t be our downfall.

You can watch this episode here.

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