Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Genre: Magical girl, Horror
Rating: 15 for violence and mature themes
Score: Excellent

Madoka and Sayaka are out shopping when they are unlucky enough to stumble into the domain of a witch. They’re rescued by Mami, a beautiful and impressive magical girl. Mami’s small animal friend Kyubey explains the danger witches pose to our world, and the need for magical girls to fight them – and offers to turn Madoka and Sayaka into magical girls too.

Combining “magical girl” with “horror” might sound unlikely, since magical girl shows are supposed to be about friendship and magic and merchandise and frilly costumes and naked transformation sequences, but this series turns all the conventions of magical girl shows on their head and shows how nasty each of those elements can be. Fighting magical battles is dangerous, competition for limited resources means magical girls don’t often get along, and the price of becoming a magical girl is much higher than it seemed. The whole situation the girls are in is being manipulated by a being of inhuman evil.

Offsetting this is a strange mix of art styles. The real world is crisp and detailed, and nicely futuristic; the characters themselves are simpler, reminiscent of charcoal sketches. The witches hide in pocket dimensions filled with utter nonsense (of the Shaft variety), remnants of the real world and dreams mixed up, a chance for the art department to go wild.

This series won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you enjoy a good harrowing it’s worth sticking with it. At 12 episodes doesn’t get a chance to get old: just when you think you have a grasp on the plot it changes suddenly, what was confusing becomes clear, and what you thought was clear becomes mind-blowing.