Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Puella Magi Madoka Magica looks like a cutesy, fluffy magical girl anime, but do not be fooled by its colourful, innocent exterior – this one packs a heavy emotional punch.

The story opens in a typical manner, Madoka and Sayaka, two Japanese schoolgirls, one day meet a strange catlike creature named Kyubey. Kyubey explains he is looking for girls like themselves to become magical girls and battle witches in exchange for one wish.

Sayaka is the first to become a magical girl, and Madoka is quickly brought into a world of death, destruction and torment. Where anime like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptors tended towards sassy comebacks and routine attacks and transformation sequences, this anime presents a more realistic portrayal of what it means to battle evil forces, placing these young girls into danger, pain and suffering over and over again that is at times painful to watch. The witches that the girls battle are not humans or human-resembling, but strange abstract patterned creatures that add a surreal atmosphere to the ongoing struggle for victory. Battling an unknowable force has a strong effect on the young women and they come into conflict with themselves and each other as their moral instincts clash and they struggle to reconcile their duties with their personal desires and hopes.

The nature of the magical girl lifestyle isn’t the only area in which Puella breaks the mold. Madoka’s own family life is structured of a househusband and a working mother. Although Madoka largely conceals her knowledge of magical girls from her family, she does confide in her mother when the stress of worrying about Sayaka begins to take a visible toll on her, and the relationship she and her mother share is a mature, trusting one. Madoka and Sayaka’s friendship is also more subtly nuanced, taking a nice step away from pure hearted youthful exuberance into the confusing world of adulthood as the two maturing women try to continue to be there for one another whilst making consequence laden decisions – these consequences having world altering ramifications.

More than just a mouthful to say, if you’re looking for a more grown up magical girl anime, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a must see.

Summer Wars

Summer_wars_lets_go!!From the creators of Digimon, Summer Wars is a charming story about finding your inner strength. Our hero is a socially awkward teenage boy, Kenji, whose special talents lie in the fields of maths and technology.

His summer job is working as a tech dogsbody for society’s virtual network OZ, used by everybody for everything from shopping, socialising, news bulletins and business interactions. Only moments after he’s made it clear to his friend and co-worker that girls aren’t his strong point, Natsuki arrives asking for someone to accompany her on a trip.

This trip is a visit to her family which she has Kenji pretend he is her fiance during his stay. Kenji’s main draw as a character is his social awkwardness, drawing empathic cringing as we witness him attempt to deal with Natsuki’s formidable grandma, or her nosy uncle who asks Kenji if he’s knocked Natsuki up.

Whilst these incidents serve well to provide a bond with Kenji over the quirkiness and embarrassing nature of family, the crux of the anime comes when a malevolent force begins to wreck OZ. Kenji is initially booted out and arrested when he thinks it was his doing, after solving a thousand digit number string he thought was a puzzle but in fact was the security password for OZ, but ends up rising to the challenge to try and save OZ.

In the meantime, Wabisuke, the black sheep of Natsuki’s family, returns to the fray after a terrible tragedy, and bands with everyone to try and save OZ.

Although it contains light, cheesy moments, Summer Wars is unafraid to tug at the heart strings as it examines what family ties really mean. Natsuki’s grandma poignantly observes that the two worst things in the world are hunger and loneliness, and thanks to her family she never knew either.

If you’re looking for a fun and sentimental ride, Summer Wars is worth checking out.