By Magica Quartet and Hanokage. Released in Japan by Houbunsha, serialized in the magazine Manga Time Kirara Forward. Released in North America by Yen Press.
This is another in a series of media tie-in manga where I have not actually seen the original medium. With Haruhi Suzumiya’s manga I can at least tell you how the manga falls down when compared to the anime and light novels. And Higurashi is the interesting case where most fans agree the manga *is* better than the anime. Madoka Magica, though, is a big phenomenon, one I know through cultural osmosis more than anything else. And while this manga adaptation was perfectly pleasant and didn’t have anything hideously wrong with it (except maybe the usual art style problems), I came away from it with the desire to see the anime and see how it improved on the story. Which, admittedly, may be the reason for many media tie-in adaptations – to get you to seek out the anime/game/novel/toy.
The manga adaptation of this series ran in a seinen magazine for young men, Manga Time Kirara Forward (one of Houbunsha’s many ‘Manga Time’ variations, though unlike most other series that run there Madoka Magica is not a 4-koma). And indeed, despite the cute magical girl plot, young men seems to very much be its target audience. Not that there’s a huge amount of fanservice or adult situations – there isn’t, really. But a lot of this reads like how a male anime fan would want magical girl shows to work. Darker, more weaponized, with a lot less shining optimism. As for me, a person who loves his shining optimism, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Forming a contract to become a magical girl is presented as something you can’t turn back from, and the cliffhanger for this volume fills you with dread rather than inspiring you.
And then there’s Kyubey. As I said, cultural osmosis has led me to know several things about this work without actually seeing it, and Number One With A Bullet was that everyone hates Kyubey. Kyubey looks cute and adorable, like many mascots in similar shows, but his lack of real expression and determination to make magical girls give the whole thing an ominous undertone. Even if I didn’t know about him, I suspect I’d find him creepy.
Our heroine is a bright and shiny optimist in the Usagi mode, and she’s contrasted here with Homura, who is cynical, grumpy, and clearly has a horrific past we don’t know about yet. There’s a yuri fandom associated with this series, and it’s no surprise that these two are a big part of it. Homura is a girl with a mission, and that mission seems to be to stop Madoka becoming a magical girl. Well, so far so good… but with her best friend giving in, I’m not sure how long that’s going to hold up. As for Mami, well, she fills her function. And she does have one of the better lines in the book when she notes that “magical girls don’t always have to be allies”. That line more than anything else shows this is not a shoujo magical girl manga.
As I said at the start, this is pretty solid for the most part. The art is a bit generic (I really couldn’t tell they were designed by Ume Aoki of Sunshine Sketch fame, which I could when I saw the odd anime screencap), but the beats all seem to be there. If you are like me, and can deal with emotional wreckage better on the printed page than on the screen, then this may be the Madoka Magica for you. Anime fans, though, I suspect won’t find much here that’s new.