Shinbo + Yuki Kajiura music + magical girls = win?
It’s all about the atmosphere. There’s a certain image of what a mahou shoujo show is supposed to feel and look like: fluffy, cute, pastel colors, and frills. An animal sidekick, easily adaptable to become a plushie, is practically mandatory, too. Those are all here in Madoka, of course—there are genre conventions to be honored!—but since this is Akiyuki Shinbo at the helm, he can’t just leave well enough alone. He has to add his surrealism, backed by the usual haunting Yuki Kajiura choir and Kalafina, and more than a little darkness onto it.
Kajiura’s score is essential in building the ominous sense of foreboding, something not typically associated with this genre. Unlike in the earlier, also Kajiura scored Mai Hime, the abstracted apocalyptic imagery and music begins immediately. The “alternate world” is contrasted with the much more typically anime “normal world” (though why are almost all the ways transparent glass in the school? It’s like a world imagined by way of Philip Johnson’s Glass House), where cuteness and quotidian concerns rule the day. It’s really in the former where the genuinely bizarre vision of Shinbo shines, lending weight to an otherwise ho-hum beginning. There is more than a hint of terror and fright contained in the collage-like jumble—as well as something joyous and epic during the transformation sequence. That Kajiura choir really helps…
With Shinbo/SHAFT being as prolific as they are, it’s usually hard to tell whether one of their productions will be a hit or a miss. This one shows a lot of early promise, the kind of promise that was evident from the first episode of Bakemonogatari and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Neither, alas, ended up living up to their potential, which is the thing I fear the most when it comes to a Shinbo work. We’ll see.