Review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Vol. 2 (Limited Edition Boxset DVD/BD/CD Combo)

Madoka Magica DVDPuella Magi Madoka Magica, Volume 2
Limited Edition Boxset DVD/BD/CD Combo
Aniplex of America
Episodes 5-8
100 minutes
Rating: 13+

Sayaka Miki, after contracting with Kyubey to save the lives of Madoka and herself, is now learning what it means to be a magical girl.  She finds that not only must she contend with witches, but also with an enemy perhaps even more deadly – the temperamental Kyoko, another magical girl.  The greatest threat of all, though, may be the struggles within that develop after she discovers more about what a magical girl contract means.

Volume two of Aniplex’s release of Madoka Magica takes the acclaimed show further down the dark path intimated in the first four episodes.  The middle of the series gives viewers two key pieces of information, both of which are wicked additions to the plot, while slowly unraveling the mysteries of magical girls as the show marches toward its resolution.

Madoka and Homura move a bit into the background as Sayaka and Kyoko become the primary focus of these episodes.  Sakaya’s purpose in becoming a magical girl and the difficulties she endures challenge the viewer to focus closely on the plot and, as with series like Fate/zero, cause us to ask questions like “What is just?” and “Can right be wrong?”  Kyoko’s tale is also interesting and ripe for analysis through a faith framework.

These strengths of episodes five through eight may also deter some viewers.  Neither girl has a happy story – past or present – which creates a painful tone in these episodes.  I cringed more than once while watching the girls struggle.  I felt their pain.  These episodes are not for “happy fun time.”

Then again, that’s the magic of the series.

The animation continues to be a wildly entertaining aspect of the show.  The unusual, wide-faced look of the characters and the purposeful designs of their costumes continued to draw my attention.  And while the unusual, Eastern European inspired artwork  plays a much smaller role in these episodes than in the first volume, the unique images continue to enthrall when on screen.  The Blu-Ray version is considerably richer than the DVD version, with backgrounds particularly shining through in gorgeous detail.

The elephant in the room is the price of the limited edition set.  For the extra dollars you shell out, though, you get a bunch of goodies.  The 24-page booklet that comes with the beautiful casing is especially well-done, including wonderful information.  There are interviews with Kyoko’s and Sayaka’s voice actresses and more significantly, insightful commentary with the series’ director and screenplay.  I came away more appreciative of Akiyuki Shinbou, in particular, as he discusses the development of and reaction among staff to Kyubey, the difficulties of working on a single season series, and the theme of friendship among women.

Other neat additions to the booklet include what amount to episodics for each episode in the set; character designs; a gallery of Gekidan Inu Curry’s images from the show; images from the packaging art of the Japanese limited edition; and several four-panel manga.  Other extras include two cute double-sided posters (four images in all) and pretty postcards which I refuse to pull out of their packaging.  For a fan of the series, the edition is worth the price.

The other extra is the second original soundtrack in DVD-style casing.  After all these years, Yuki Kajiura’s work continues to be absorbing.  Befitting of the sense of bleakness and alarm in the series, much of the music has a primal sound to it, which Kajiura sometimes combines with strings, which are otherwise the focus of the soundtrack.  Seldom has music played such an important role in establishing mood in a series as Kakiura’s has in Madoka Magica.

As the volume ends, the viewers are left with a more substantial cliffhanger than the now classic one from volume one.  Combined with the energy and engaging storytelling of the episodes, the twist thrusts the viewers toward the final volume with gusto.

This series is unrelenting.  Take a breath and dive on in.

Rating: A

Review copy provided by Aniplex of America