Screenshot of Puella Magi Madoka Magica

‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica’ Subverts Anime’s Magical Girl Trope

The 2011 anime reinvents saving the world and explores the line between vice and virtue. What better time to revisit it than on its 10 year anniversary?
February 10, 2021
8 mins read

Warning: Some spoilers for “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” ahead.

Every magical girl’s objective is to save the world from impending doom. Whether that means purifying the land from its malevolent inhabitants or trying to stop a criminal mastermind from carrying out their plans, it is a magical girl’s duty to defeat evil. However, in the anime “Puella Magi Madoka Magica,” the line between vice and virtue is more blurred than one may expect. However, this may be one of the most inspiring magical girl shows you will ever watch — that is if you can handle a bit of a thriller.

What is “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”?

Do not be fooled by the seemingly immaculate title and cover art; “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” is labeled as a dark fantasy and psychological thriller anime show for a reason — and it definitely lives up to the classification. Although its initial release dates back to January 2011, it is up to par with more recent anime shows. The storyline is a force to be reckoned with.

The anime starts by introducing Kaname Madoka, a meek, middle school girl with idiosyncratic pink hair, waking up from a vivid dream. In the dream, she watches as an unfamiliar girl fights a large mysterious creature floating in the clouds, yelling something inaudible to both the audience and Madoka herself while falling from the sky. At first, she disregards the dream’s importance, but she eventually realizes that the girl she saw in her dream is the new transfer student at her school.

As cliché as this beginning sounds, it makes sense after considering the secrets that are revealed in future episodes. The sudden appearance of the transfer student elicits a sense of déjà vu in Madoka, and she questions whether or not they have met somewhere before, outside of the dream. The transfer student introduces herself to the class as Akemi Homura, and as expected, the relationship between her and Madoka is nothing short of complicated. Though, the reason is not yet clear.

Right off the bat in the first episode, Homura speaks to Madoka in a blunt yet mysterious fashion — asking her if she values her own life and the lives of those closest to her. Anyone who is faced with this question from a person they barely know would probably take this as a reason to stay away; however, despite Homura’s deadpan expression, urgency can be felt in the weight of her words. Of course, Madoka responds confidently, stating that her friends and family mean the most to her. But instead of being rewarded for her answer, she is met with an ominous message, warning her that if she were to change the way she is now, she would lose everything and everyone precious to her.

This warning sets off a chain of events that changes Madoka’s life. She meets Kyubey, a fox-like creature that introduces her to the world of magical girls and claims that she has the potential to become one of the most powerful ones. But, of course, becoming a magical girl comes with a “fair” exchange. Any one wish can be granted, as long as the wisher dedicates themselves to defeating the world’s evils. However, each time Kyubey tries to convince Madoka and her friends to become magical girls, Homura, later revealed to be a magical girl herself, stops it each time.

The irony catches the attention of Madoka and her friends — since according to Kyubey, magical girls save the world from evil entities known as witches. Witches plague the world with despair and spread curses that affect regular people. If there were more magical girls, wouldn’t it be easier to stop witches? This is the question that Madoka ponders for a while, especially when Homura appears to be largely against her becoming magical for seemingly no reason at all.

Later, it is revealed that becoming a magical girl comes with a price. After the contract to become a magical girl is completed, the girl’s soul will be extracted from their body and be solidified into what is called a “soul gem.” Their physical body becomes nothing more than an empty vessel and they will never be able to revert back to their normal life. They will spend the rest of their days, months and years fighting until they die.

There are many more mysteries to be revealed — some of which cannot be explained in words and can only be understood through watching the show itself. So if you’re in need of a little dark magic or a new show to binge, “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” serves both needs.


“Puella Magi Madoka Magica” and the Concept of the Dark Magical Girl 

For a long time, the concept of the magical girl has been used in a lot of easy-to-watch fantasy shows, such as “Sailor Moon,” “Cardcaptor Sakura” and “Shugo Chara.” Although these shows have many lessons of their own about friendship, teamwork and love, “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” takes the viewer on a “magical” journey and subverts the magical girl trope.

While “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” does share the “save the world from evil” component, it dives deep into what that really entails. Yes, witches are evil, and yes, they do need to be stopped; however, where do these witches come from in the first place? The line between good and evil is blurred in this anime and there are no easy decisions when it comes to protecting the ones you love.

Along with the disturbing yet intriguing visuals and harrowing implications of what it means to be a magical girl, “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” remains a favorite among thriller and magical girl fans.

This year marks the 10th anniversary since its release, so why not celebrate with some binge-watching?

Sammi Looi, Baruch College

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Sammi Looi

Baruch College

Sammi is a SEEK student at Baruch College, majoring in psychology and minoring in English. Currently, she serves as a copy editor for her college newspaper, The Ticker.

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