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Review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica (Vol. 01)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica (Vol.01)

Author: Magica Quartet
Manga-ka: Hanokage
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: May 2012

Synopsis: “When a new girl joins her class, Madoka Kaname thinks she recognizes the mysterious, dark-haired transfer student from one of her dreams…a dream where she is approached by a catlike creature who offers Madoka an opportunity to change destiny. Madoka had always thought magic was the stuff of fantasy…until she sees the transfer student fighting with the very cat being from her dream! And just like in Madoka’s dream, the cat gives her a choice. Will Madoka become a magical girl in exchange for her dearest desire? What will be the cost of having her wish come true?”

The words ‘refreshing’ and ‘different’ have been thrown around quite a bit to describe this magical girl series, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Cute girls in cute outfits battling evil things remains the base but there’s more going on than your usual fight ‘em in frills adventure here in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Does it live up to its anime? I can’t say for sure, as someone who hasn’t seen it, but I have an inkling this barely scratches the surface.

The character’s titular character, Madoka Kaname, is sweet, shy and lacks confidence in herself. After a strange dream, she finds herself meeting two individuals who appeared in her subconscious – one a transfer student named Homura and the other a strange quasi-rabbit-like cat named, Kyubey. Homura comes with a warning, while Kyubey comes with an offer. “… make a contract with me and become a magical girl!,” says Kyubey, but Homura gives grim tidings that it’s an agreement that should never be made, even with the promise of granting any wish. With the type of personality that gives the sense she’s got the world on her shoulders (and is breaking beneath it), Homura’s words definitely carry some weight.

The theme ‘careful what you wish for’ is ever-present, and one scene in particular in the book really stuck out to me. Madoka’s best friend, Sayaka, is also given the same offer as Madoka. However, unlike her friend, Sayaka immediately has a wish come to mind. She wants to help a friend of hers but another contractee asks her to give it special thought to ensure she wishes well – does she want her friend to be saved or does she want to be their savior? Though the friend-save outcome is the same, the catalyst and results could be wildly different which is some introspection into ‘selfless’ acts that is rarely touched upon in stories like these. It was probably my favourite scene in the book.

Unfortunately even those who go into this not knowing it’s an adaptation will likely get that inkling from the flaws that mar it. The pacing is what really got to me. It hops and skips through time and location in a way that rarely offers time to become emotionally invested in what’s happening. The book moves through events and exposition like a checklist and some characters feel woefully undeveloped in terms of gaining empathy. I found what was happening interesting but I still didn’t really care. It was like watching a series of episode summaries – ‘last time on Madoka Magica!’ – instead of actually experiencing the story unfold.

Nowhere did this feel more apparent than during the book’s most surprising moment – a sudden and unexpected twist of events that sets what is likely to be the tone for the rest of the story. It’s dark, it’s violent and it’s over in a flash. The occasional fight scene and explanations don’t prepare you for it. This abruptness really worked in its favour but the climax’s effect falters far too fast when we see so little and switch attentions elsewhere so quickly.

Madoka Magica - Enthusiasm

For a book where it’s darkest moment is it’s key moment, humour played a pretty big role and easily helped make the book more memorable than it would’ve been without. I like how characters played on tropes you might expect in this kind of ‘moe’ magical girl story (which seems very intentional) and there was a fun, practical feel to the way in which the girls went along with certain things. Their immediate acceptance of magical everything required as much suspended belief as you’d expect, but bringing a baseball bat along for their first excursion earned a thumbs up from me.

Having been entranced by the adorable and colourful cover, I was disappointed to find the artwork inside pretty average. The characters are cute but didn’t look unique, blending together in an art style that relies most heavily on clothing to tell people apart. The backgrounds were also very plain. It played a big role in this tiring drag I felt as I read the story, being pulled listlessly to one location after another that had as little effect on me visually as they did emotionally.

Rave reviews of the anime inspired me to pick this up, but Madoka Magica’s manga adaptation regrettably failed to live up to the hype. The one aforementioned shock scene, however, did at least give me a strong idea of why the series was touted as something different. This book’s role as a cash grab over independent work shone through too brightly for me but I’m curious enough to give volume two a try, especially when the title character still remains on the magical sidelines come the end. The biggest upside to this purchase is probably that I won’t be seeing the anime blind (as I plan to watch it someday), though it’s too bad that’s the only real purpose this first volume seems to serve past being simply another addition to an existing fan’s collection.

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Book bought from Strange Adventures

About the Author:

Lissa Pattillo is the owner and editor of Residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia she takes great joy in collecting all manners of manga genres, regretting that there's never enough time in the day to review or share them all. Along with reviews, Lissa is responsible for all the news postings to the website and works full time as a web and graphic designer.

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4 Responses

  1. Laur says:

    I almost always find it a case where if a work shines strongly in one medium, the follow-up is never going to live up to that. Eyeshield 21 for example is a fantastic manga and so are nearly all of the CLAMP books but their respective shows are terrible! It seems that Madoka being such a strong anime means the manga is not quite going to live up to that experience.

    I hope my library picks this up at least as I’m still so curious how they treat the characters.

    • Lissa says:

      It\’s true that it seems the majority of adaptations rarely live up to their source material, either because fans are already so attached to the details of the original or because an adaptation isn\’t given as much care because it delivers on the assumption readers already know the story (which is what I felt was the case with Madoka).

      At the very least, this Madoka manga will hopefully be good advertising for the anime which still sounds very much worth watching someday!

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