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Puella Magi Madoka Magica #3 PDF Print E-mail
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Blu-ray Reviews
Thursday, 26 July 2012 00:00
Madoka and friends are back for their final volume, and as the truth behind Kyubey's ongoing manipulation of the girls and Homura's true origins is revealed, Madoka's faced with the most important decision of her young life. No pressure, Madoka...

Kyouko has a plan for trying to get Sayaka back - a long shot, to be sure, but with Madoka's help something she hopes she can pull off. Her plan soon turns to disaster, though, and in the aftermath, Homura and then Kyubey reveal the truth about magical girls, and what Kyubey and his race are using them for. Meanwhile, Walpurgisnacht is coming, the night when the most powerful with the girls have yet encountered will reach their city, bringing death and devastation in her wake. Homura knows she's unlikely to be able to defeat this witch on her own, but she's still determined to keep Madoka from making any sort of deal with Kyubey. When Madoka learns just why Homura's so interested in her welfare, though, she finds that a deal with Kyubey may be the only way to save the best friend she ever had from herself...

I wouldn't normally flag the presence of spoilers in a review - I figure most people will expect some - but for this series, if you haven't seen the ending yet you really do want to see it cold. Just skip to the final paragraph and rating and stay unspoilt. For those who have seen these episodes, or that fear no spoilers, feel free to read on.

If there's one thing that this volume makes abundantly clear, it's that ultimately, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a slightly misleading title for the series. In a lot of ways, it's really about Homura, and for evidence of that I submit episode 10. Perhaps the most powerful single episode of anime I've seen in years, even on repeat viewing, it reveals Homura's past, the reasons why she's so obsessed with Madoka - and that that obsession is directly responsible for Madoka being, as Kyubey has so often described her, potentially the most powerful magical girl ever. Potentially the most powerful witch ever, too, as Homura is only too painfully aware. The series has been all about Homura, trying to protect the best friend she ever had, trying to prevent her from making a decision that could only ever lead to pain and suffering - trying, repeatedly failing, repeatedly trying again in a timeloop that so far she hasn't been able to break. Madoka, though, holds the key to breaking the cycle - but at an almost unimaginable price.

And by using a plot technique that I've always held in scorn, particularly in magical girl shows: the reset button. One of my earliest encounters with the reset button, as a newly-minted anime fan, was in the first season of Sailor Moon - Serena and the girls were fighting thier way through the Negaverse to Queen Beryl (yes, I was watching the dub. Sue me.), and one by one Serena's allies were killed along the way, until only she remained. Except after the final battle, they were all miraculously revived. It's a cheap trick, done that way - when characters that you've emotionally invested in are killed, they should really stay that way, and the reset genuinely angered me.

Madoka Magica, though, has made a bit of a stock-in-trade with playing with familiar magical girl themes, but putting its own twist on them. I does the reset-button thing, but it does it in a way that actually feels right. Let me explain (and this is where we really get into the spoilers):

While I still contend that the series is really about Homura, its conclusion relies on the power of one character - Madoka herself - to rewrite the history of the world (and the portrayal of what she does makes it clear that the effects of her decision reach right back to the dawn of humanity) to get the outcome that she wants and that she knows will break the cycle that Homura has trapped herself in (although there are other reasons for doing it, as well): the destruction of witches. All witches. Everywhere. Everywhen. She takes one thread of humanity's history (as presented in the context of the series), and hits the reset button, rewinding history to remove that thread before allowing history to re-run and reform itself to fill in the gaps left by the thread's removal. It's a reset-button ending, but done on such a scale that it distinguishes itself from any other reset endings that I've seen to stand alone, as an example of how it really should be done.

As well as showing you the event, the series goes on to use the second half of the final episode to show the effects of that reset, showing that in this case it hasn't fixed all problems (Kyubey is still recruiting magical girls, still making them fight against the threat that has filled the gap left by the witches, still seeing them die doing so). Madoka had a very specific aim in mind when she made her wish, and while she achieved that, pain and suffering still survive and have to be dealt with by the friends she leaves behind. Godlike power, yes; complete omnipotence, no - and that leaves the ending rather bittersweet, despite the level of Epic Win that she manages to pull over Kyubey and his entropy-defeating plans.

The result is worthy of applause. There are some issues with the ending - the way that the 'postscript' and its focus on Homura takes away some of the focus around Madoka's actions and pushes her out of the picture seems a bit harsh, but that's in keeping with the decision & wish that Madoka made (and hey, another piece of evidence that it's Homura's show). But in terms of taking a common, widely loathed way of avoiding having to deal with difficult matters, and making it work? Nailed it, in very impressive style.

All told, then, a very satisfying conclusion to a show that seems to have taken almost everyone by surprise. The magical girl game has been raised, and it's going to be interesting to see if anyone can rise to the challenge of trying to outdo Madoka. I think we might be waiting a while for that.

Rating - *****