The second episode of SHAFT’s modern take on the Mahou Shoujo genre is full of exposition, with 9th grade magical girl sempai Mami acting as a tour guide for both noobs Madoka and Sayaka and the audience. Turns out mahou shoujo are all about fighting witches – nasty entities that hang around society and cause accidents, suicides and unexplained deaths at hospitals. And first episode gloombot Homura wasn’t a witch, but rather an emo mahou shoujo who was trying to prevent Madoka from becoming additional competition. Supposedly…
I’m very much of two minds about this series. On the one hand, I think there’s a refreshingly dark and unsettling character to the story that’s much more “Alice in Wonderland” than “Nanoha”. It does have the feel of something quite different from any Mahou Shoujo series that’s preceded it – we don’t even have fancy transformation sequences. I also enjoy the Ume Aoki “pancake face” character designs which have set some fans off, and I like what Shinbo is doing with the surrealist stop-motion animation used for the strange other dimensions the witches create, where the combat scenes take place. Shinbo can be many things, and disturbing is definitely one of them – and those scenes are quietly disturbing.
But for all that, this still feels very antiseptic to me. I’m not buying into any of the characters yet – their interactions feel stilted and mechanical. I appreciate what Shinbo is doing on an intellectual level, but not yet on an emotional one. Until Madoka and the other stop being story elements and start being real people that emotional connection isn’t going to be there. If it is for you, great – because there’s a lot to like here. I enjoy the obscure nature of good and evil – who to trust and who not to. I can’t speak for anyone else but I find both Kyube and Mami to be extremely creepy. Maybe they really are the good guys, but I think there’s something sinister there. I don’t know that the phrase “witch hunt” came out of Mami’s mouth by accident or not, but it’s a loaded phrase if ever there was one.
While I’m certainly going to continue watching this one for now, I’m still on the fence about blogging it. We’ll see of the human side of the story catches up the rest of it over the next few eps.