Friday, June 27, 2014


Today's selection has a similar pedigree to last week's selection, Gankutsuou.  It's the manga adaptation of a well-written and visually distinct series.  Is this manga as magical as the series as spawned it, or does it flop like the rest of those manga:

PUELLA MAGI MADOKA MAGICA (Magical Girl Madoka Magica), adapted from the series written by Magica Quartet & drawn by Hanokage.  First published in 2011, and first published in North America in 2012.

Madoka Kaname leads an ordinary life.  She has a loving family with a huge house, she has a couple of great friends.  Really, aside from a few odd dreams, things couldn't be better.  Then a new girl, Homura, shows up at school and speaks to Madoka as if they already knew one another.  A simple visit to the mall leaves Madoka and her friend Sayaka trapped in a savage dreamscape, only to be saved by the radiant Mami and her strange companion Kyubey.  They explain that both Mami and Homura are magical girls, where select girls are granted special powers to fight against the witches of the world, who bring despair and evil into the world.  Madoka and Sayaka are intrigued by what they see, and Kyubey says that it's easy to join them in their fight.  All the girls have to make a wish, then enter into a contract with Kyubey.  What could possibly go wrong?

I don't think I'm going to stir up any controversy when I say that Puella Magi Madoka Magica is easily one of the best anime series in years.  It's simply a masterpiece, one that ties Studio SHAFT's signature style to some of the best and most tightly written 13 episodes I've seen.  It's touching, it's achingly tragic, and it's visually innovative.  Thus, it's so very strange that for all the effort the manga puts into sticking to the story of the series, it just feels so heartless and uninvolving.

I'm not joking when I say the manga is almost a literal translation of the series.  What you see here is essentially all the relevant parts of the first four to five episodes.  The biggest change they made was that Kyubey's mouth actually opens when he talks.  The weird thing is that this doesn't make any cuter, only creepier (which is saying something).  Still, the whole thing seems to lack verve.  It feels like a summary of the events of Madoka Magica,  and as such you lose something of the connection one made with the characters.  Events come and go, but there isn't any real sense of dread or wonder or fear.  I can't imagine how you could make something as wondrous as magical girls fighting witches dull, but they managed it nonetheless.  But then, this is and was always just another way to cash in on Madoka Magica's insane popularity.  Why put effort into something that's little more than just another cash grab?

I suspect that the biggest reason that the Madoka Magica manga fails to connect with the reader is that the show's signature style simply cannot be fully captured on a static page.  The eclectic visual style of Akiyuki Shinbo and company has been in place for sometime, and while stranger and more talkative shows like Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei and all the Monogataris may have used that style to great acclaim, that style always seem more like a trick to liven what are otherwise a lot of talking heads.  Here the style was grafted to a story about weird magical events, and that visual style perfectly capture the otherworldliness of the world of Madoka. 

Hanokage does try to capture something of the style of the show, but so often he obscures the witches' dens with dark screentones to the point where you barely make out anything.  He also manages to moe-fy the characters even more than they already were, and the result is pure blandness.  Here the girls have been moeblobbed to the point where they feel like plain cardboard cut-outs of the cast, flattened out so hard that they all but blend into the background.  Even on the candy-colored cover, their pleasantly vague expressions and dead eyes make them seem more like mannequins than actual characters.  It's just so disappointing to see such a vivid series boiled down into something so bland.

Hanokage has something so wonderful to work from, and yet he manages to make it all seem so distant, so cold, and so dull that much of the magic of the series is lost in translation.

This series is published by Yen Press.  The series is complete in 3 volumes, and all are currently in print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

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