Friday, 14 January 2011

Puella Magi Madoka Magica - Episode 2

After introducing us to its major players, themes and a dash of the surreal, Puella Magi Madoka Magica did everything required of itself to set the scene so that we can get down to business in this second episode.  Or can we?

After rescuing Kyubey and meeting magical girl (and senior in their school) Mami Tomoe, Madoka and Sayaka are given something of an initiation into what it is to be a magical girl in this second instalment.  For starters, this means explaining the contract that they will need to undertake with Kyubey if they wish to take on a magical girl role - put short, they have to be willing to risk their lives to track down and destroy so-called witches, but in return they can have any wish of their choice granted by Kyubey and his magic.

Obviously this isn't all that easy a decision to make given the risks involved, and this decision-making process also ties in to what I imagine may be one of the key points of the series - both Madoka and Sayaka are fortunate girls who don't really seem to want to anything, having normal and relatively well-off families with decent homes and backgrounds.  So, what would convince them to risk their lives?  Besides which, why does "rival" magical girl Homura want to stop them?  Simply to remove the competition as Mami suggests, or for more benevolent reasons?

Regardless, Mami does her bit to show her two juniors what the life of a magical girl is all about by inviting them along as she tracks down and takes care of a nearby witch - cue more surreal imagery as our trio enters the witches labyrinthine domain to track down and dispense with their target with an aplomb from Mami that clearly leaves an impression on the two wannabe magical girls.  Is it enough to convince them to join Mami's ranks though?  I think it's safe to say "yes", unless this is going to turn out to be a decidedly short series.

Although the fact that we know Madoka is going to become a magical girl eventually, this second episode thankfully doesn't feel irrelevant as it takes its time introducing us to everything that we need to know, but without ever allowing its pace to get too glacial by breaking it up with some important thoughts about Madoka and Sayaka's status, questions about Homuras intentions, or just some good old-fashioned slice of life school shenanigans.  This leaves the overall balance of the episode feeling just about right as we enter "the crazy bit" of the episode, which is pretty compelling but still leaves me with concerns that SHAFT just aren't that great at doing action sequences - in short, I wasn't as blown away by Mami's fight with the witch as I felt I perhaps should have been, and even those surreal visuals don't entirely convince me, unique though they are.

Still, overall Puella Magi Madoka Magica has kept up its solid start - it feels confident in its delivery and sure-footed in its pacing and story, and I hope that confidence it would be justified.  It would be terrible is this show turned into some kind of magical girl equivalent of Star Driver, with repetitive episode layouts building up to ultimately disappointing battles each week, but with so much still left unsaid and plenty seemingly bubbling under the surface, I'm very much hopeful that what we're looking at here is something far grander and more interesting.

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