Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Sep 10th 2012
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Madoka's friend Sayaka has made a contract with Kyubey and is now a magical girl. Her price tag was that her childhood friend's hands needed to be healed so that he could play his violin again, but was Sayaka's wish as selfless as she thinks it was? As if that's not enough to worry about, magical girl Kyouko is not pleased with having intruders in her territory and decides to teach Sayaka a thing or two...while Kyubey waits in the wings.
What is the actual definition of “magical girl?” Series like Sailor Moon and Wedding Peach have given us a very specific idea of what it means to be one – maybe you're a lost princess, or the reincarnation of a past heroine, or maybe you simply are the only one with the specialized power to save the world. Whatever the case, we have been taught that to become a magical girl is a wonderful and honorable thing. So what happens when you've accepted your powers and find that not only is it not what you were expecting, but that there is a more sinister, deadly side to it that no one bothered to tell you about?
Picking up where volume two left off, Puella Magi Madoka Magica finds Sayaka battling witches as a brand-new magical girl. She made her deal with Kyubey so that her crush and childhood friend would regain the use of his injured hand and she's feeling very kindly towards herself for having made her wish for someone else. Madoka, concerned that her friend has made the wrong decision, tries to get Homura to watch out for Sayaka. Homura, however, tells Madoka that Sayaka has made the worst of all possible decisions and put herself in mortal danger. Alarmed, Madoka decides to follow Sayaka on her rounds, making her an easier target for the highly suspect machinations of deceptively cute mascot character Kyubey.
It is the deception that makes this series consistently interesting, regardless of whether or not you are familiar with the original anime. By the end of this volume, Kyubey ceases to look as cute as he did the in the beginning, mostly due to small touches, like what he eats or the shading on his eyes, that Hanokage adds in. Likewise the very definition of “magical girl” as presented on the book's last page is one that makes us reconsider even the most seemingly harmless stories in the genre. What if, the series asks, we're only seeing one side of the story? This is also borne out in the weapons the girls use – guns, swords, and lances are clearly intended only for violence, while most other magical girls have such devices as flowers, wands, or, in one case, lipstick. While other magical girl tales have certainly tread some dark and dangerous territory before, and Sailor Moon does in fact have a sword, Puella Magi Madoka Magica makes us tilt our heads to look at the genre from a different angle.
This volume centers on Sayaka, almost to the point where the title of the series is starting to feel a bit misleading. Through her trials, we learn what precisely Kyubey does and its effects on the girls under contract to him. We also get a fair amount of backstory on Kyouko, the seemingly vicious magical girl who doesn't want to share her territory. While her story might have fit better in 1692 Massachusetts, it helps to explain her attitude. She and Sayaka serve as mirror characters to each other – both used their wishes similarly with comparable results, although arguably Sayaka brings her own problems down on her head with her attitude. What eventually happens to her is something that the reader can see coming from a few chapters off, which makes it all the more disturbing for its apparent inevitability. Being able to see where things are headed is a nice change from the previous volume's tactic of simply slamming you with awful surprises and keeps the story interesting without feeling excessive.
Hanokage's art mostly works for the story, with the girls all having deceptively round and cute designs, but facial expressions often fall short of the mark, not relaying as much emotion as they need to in order to fully appreciate the story's actions. Witch fights are too dark to really see what's going on, a carryover problem from the previous volume. Unfortunately both of these issues rob the story of some of its impact.
While still not the best version of the story, Puella Magi Madoka Magica still has plenty to offer in terms of entertainment, horror, and grim implications for the entire magical girl genre. The tragedy of Sayaka and Madoka's increasing fear give this volume a dark edge that continues to build from the first installment. Reader beware: from here on out, transformations may be ominous and a furry mascot may never be cute again.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B-
+ Increasingly scary and encourages the reader to really think about the magical girl genre. More answers given.
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