In this first edition of back-to-back anime reviews for my blog, we’ll be reviewing Madoka Magica, Chihayafuru and Steins; Gate. Hope you find my thoughts unanimous with yours! [….SPOILERS AHEAD]
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Puella Magi Madoka Magica (12 episodes)
Genre: drama, magical girl, tragedy
In the city of Mitakihara, a schoolgirl named Madoka Kaname and her friend Sayaka Miki are approached by a ‘familiar’ named Kyubey, who offers to grant each of them one wish in return for making them a magical girl. Another magical girl, Homura Akemi, tries to prevent Madoka from making the deal whilst Kyubey urges Madoka to do as she will become the most powerful magical girl.
However, contrary to the glamorous notions one would expect, a magical girl finds herself dealing with death, isolation, loss of humanity and agony over the value of her wish, and existential crisis. Madoka, following her friends, soon sees the darker side of being a magical girl, and begins to question whether she should become one as well.
If you’re looking for an anime that is a combination of the old and new, Madoka Magica is the perfect choice as it is essentially Sailor Moon meets Cardcaptor Sakura, Mai-Hime and XXXHolic. It was difficult to stay put with the story at first – the anime kicks off very slowly with never-ending moments of Madoka getting in the way, and Kyubey asking Madoka to become a magical girl.
It eventually picks up its pace as we begin to see that being a magical girl is not what it seems. One by one, we learn more about each girl’s background and you can’t help but feel empathetic with them – with the exception of Madoka’s character whose personality can be slightly irritating and over-the-top at times.
In terms of the story’s plot, Madoka Magica is weak, under-developed and not entirely original. It could have fleshed out more plot details and character development, but with its pacing issues and not-so- indepth characters, it was understandable as to why there were only 12 episodes. If it weren’t for the interesting characters and twists — such as their souls being encased in their very own Soul Gems, or the fact they end up being Witches if they don’t purify their Soul Gems, or the fact that Homura has time-travelled a million times to prevent Madoka from being a magical girl — then the anime wouldn’t have been that successful to such extent.
Produced by SHAFT and Aniplex, the art and animation showcases the ‘it’ factor. Throughout the anime, you will see amazing art of contemporary architecture and interior designs. The battle scenes are also impressive. Whether the magical girls are fighting amongst themselves or fighting against the witches, Madoka Magica is the epitome of what the ‘magical girl’ genre is about.
The animation at the start might disconcert some viewers as its rather artistic art for the ‘witch’ battles might be deemed as incompatible with the anime’s moe art direction. But as the series go on, the art and animation becomes very refined and polished. It doesn’t stop there as the finale of Madoka Magica boasts animation that one does not usually see in your standard anime.
Once you have seen this anime, you can see why it ignited a lot of buzz when it first came out in 2011. The anime is probably not re-watchable as a whole, but Madoka Magica‘s art and animation (in the latter parts of the anime) were definitely some of its best highlights.
Genre: sport, romance
Chihaya Ayase is a girl who has spent most of her life simply supporting her sister in her model career. This changes when she meets a boy named Arata Wataya, a talented karuta player. After playing a game with Chihaya, Arata believes that she has the potential to become a great player.
As Chihaya takes on a new dream of becoming Japan’s best female karuta player, she is soon separated from her karuta playing friends as they grow up. Now in high school, Chihaya still continues to play karuta in the hope that she will one day meet her friends again, especially Arata.
In our current world of anime that is occupied by genres such as mecha, fantasy and school dramas, Chihayafuru is one of a kind. In essence, the anime is wonderfully simple, heart-warming, and also remarkably entertaining to watch. Don’t judge the story as one of those ‘card games’ anime just yet.
What’s unique and refreshing about this story is that it chooses not to complicate its storytelling by putting the spotlight on romance, love triangles and/or life dramas. Instead, the majority of the story focuses on karuta and what’s amusing is that you’ll find yourself heavily drawn to the sport.
Believe it or not, karuta is a very intense and competitive sport to watch, especially if you have never seen or heard of it before. The way karuta is beautifully animated and portrayed from the characters’ perspective clearly distinguishes itself from other ‘sports’. And before you know it, you’ll be wow-ing over the complexity and brilliance of the game.
One of the things that makes Chihayafuru delightful to watch is its strong emphasis on the characters and their individuality; and also their growth as human beings and as karuta players. Each character has a motive or a touching background story that brings them all together – with karuta, of course, being the common denominator. With such emphasis on bonds, we see relationships developing over the course of time and you’ll actually find yourself laughing and crying along with them.
Throughout the story, you will see breathtaking moments between Chihaya and Arata, and with Taichi as well. And even though Arata appears in the story from time to time, his presence is always there and you’re always hoping and expecting him to turn up. This downplayed romance surprisingly keeps the story simple and balanced. Such character moments will leave you wanting more whilst being mesmerised by karuta at the same time.
Chihayafuru is definitely a must-watch anime for everyone. Unfortunately, it stops at Season 1 for now so hopefully the anime will get greenlight for a second season because it really deserves to.
Steins; Gate (24 episodes)
Genre: science fiction, thriller, mystery
Steins;Gate takes place in the Akihabara district of Tokyo. On July 28, 2010, Rintarō Okabe and his friend Mayuri Shīna was heading towards the Radio Kaikan building for a conference, where Rintarō finds a girl named Kurisu Makise lying in a pool of blood.
As Okabe sends a text message about the incident to his friend, Itaru “Daru” Hashida, he experiences a strange phenomenon and the people around him disappear, with no-one else noticing anything had changed. After later running into Kurisu, who is strangely alive and well, and discovering the message he had sent to Itaru had arrived a week before he sent it, Okabe soon deduces that the ‘Mobile Microwave’ he and his friends had been developing is, in fact, a time machine capable of sending text messages to the past.
Steins; Gate is an anime that demands interest and patience as it challenges you to think and make deductions throughout the story. For an anime that was hailed as one of the top reviewed anime in 2011, the slow pacing of the beginning may disinterest viewers as minor events and twists took their time in revealing themselves. Perhaps it was for the best as during this period, we see Okabe and his group hacking into SERN, and inventing and experimenting with time-travelling concepts such as ‘time-leaping’ and ”D-mails’.
Things swiftly become interesting when Episode 9 comes along as we begin to witness some interesting character developments between Okabe and Kurisu. It soon leads us to the first of many tumultuous and thrilling twists of Steins; Gate – we see SERN finally taking action to retrieve Okabe’s time machine, unfortunately resulting in Mayuri’s shocking death. This then initiates the start of a difficult road for Okabe who has to undo the effects of the previously sent D-Mails (that has caused the shifts in the timeline) in order to return to the Beta timeline where Mayuri won’t die.
As the story cleverly goes full circle by revisiting most of the earlier events, it slowly unveils background stories and hidden identities of all characters – some of which will definitely shock you. Who could have guessed that Suzuha was from the future? And that Mr Braun the landlord was working for SERN? And of course, one of the final shocking twists of the story – in order to return to the Beta timeline, Kurisu needed to die? As each revelation continues to drop, the storytelling never fails to shock viewers as it is told in an exceptionally suspenseful and engaging manner that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
The characters in Steins; Gate are also one of the anime’s major highlights. Okabe and his friends are unique in their own ways as each character brings something forward to the table whether it is innocence, humour, geeky-pervy habits, stubbornness and tsundere qualities.
However, all eyes are on Okabe as he is very intriguing to watch. He is a self-proclaimed mad scientist who gives off the appearance of being delusional and paranoid, frequently refers to the ‘organization’ that is after him, talks to himself on his own phone, and engaging in fits of maniacal laughter every now and then. He even gets a few English scenes which is always highly entertaining to watch, making Steins; Gate very modern and groundbreaking when compared to its rivals. A big kudos to Mamoru Miyano who did a fantastic job at voicing Okabe and portraying the character so flawlessly!
In terms of the overall story, Steins; Gate‘s storytelling and time-travel concepts were well-researched and cleverly written from start to finish. However, you can’t help but yearn for the impossible as there weren’t enough interference from SERN and/or even a glimpse of the world in year 2025. Even the ending might have been disappointing for some fans as all is well in the end for everyone.
Steins; Gate is a masterpiece that only comes by once in awhile and is worthy of its critically acclaimed reviews.