More than many series, Puella Magi Madoka Magica thrives on its world-shattering reveals, twists, and surprises, all of which come heavy and often. If you haven’t watched, but you’re thinking about it and somehow have avoided spoilers of its numerous plot doozies, here’s what you need to know: Madoka is an attempt to capture the darker realities of what being a magical girl entails—the risks, pressures, and responsibilities of having that power at such an inexperienced, impressionable age. That, and it is a show with so many helpings of moé—that amorphous Japanese ideal of cute—that anyone without at least a marginal taste for it will likely choke to death.
Though it’s not a journey without faults, among them a terribly slow start and some thin characterization here and there, Madoka succeeds where it counts, providing a deeply touching, often grim story many have wanted from the genre for a long time. And even if its deconstruction of magical girl tropes doesn’t tug at your heart strings as much as it did mine, the ethereal visuals backed by Yuki Kajiura’s extraordinary, choral-infused soundtrack are worth experiencing by themselves.
While I am loath to do any major spoiling in my overview here, I think it is a testament to the show that for all its turnarounds and revelations, it holds up to repeat viewings and—dare I say—is possibly better for it. Motivations that seemed arcane before are clear, and countless details unnoticeable the first time around are scattered throughout the narrative. And for all its slow pacing for the early part of the show, Madoka sets up what will be its biggest strength: The show really isn’t about Madoka at all. When you discover the heart of the matter, every frame becomes a cherished part of the whole.
Put short, watch it. Even if its themes don’t resonate with you, I would be hard-pressed to believe that something, somewhere doesn’t grab you and refuse to let go.
Madoka Magica and OVA
To discuss representing the concepts of Madoka Magica in OVA without giving much of its plot away is impossible, so read onward at your own risk. Here there be spoiling dragons.
Making the Contract
To become a magical girl, a young girl must make a contract with Kyubey. In exchange for committing their lives in the service of fighting witches, they are granted a single wish. The nature of this wish has a direct effect on the powers of a magical girl. As we see in the show, wishing for the healing of her friend grants Sayaka the power of quick-healing. Homura wanting to go back in time has given her mastery over time itself, and so on. You should consider the wish and its potential carefully when making your character.
Besides the powers that are a consequence of the wish, magical girls tend to all have a basic set of Abilities, though at differing degrees depending on their potential:
- Attack (Weapon of Choice)
- Dimensional Pocket
- Magic, Arcane
Magical Girls also possess telepathy, allowing them to communicate freely with each other, Kyubey, and even normal humans without actually speaking. This is not the same as Psychic, since they cannot actually read thoughts that aren’t deliberated exchanged, nor is there any possibility to influence the thoughts of others.
The Soul Gem
After becoming a magical girl, a character’s soul is removed from her body and encapsulated in a glowing egg called the soul gem. This is to protect the soul against the rigors of battle and to divide the character’s consciousness from the body in order to withstand the great pain fighting witches and their ilk can bring—something a conventionally mortal soul could not endure. Because of its small size and magical properties, the soul gem is relatively safe from harm, and while it remains intact, the magical girl cannot die.
However, Soul Gems can be broken. Should a character receive an attack of Damage equal to their maximum Health total, the gem is shattered and the character dies. It is also possible to target a magical girl’s soul gem directly, but few are aware of its secret (including witches) to take advantage of this.
Because a magical girl’s soul lies within her gem, and the human body has become merely a shell for action, should the distance between the body and the gem grow too far, the ability to control the body is lost and it becomes effectively dead. As long as they are reunited, the magical girl can continue on as before, but if they are not…
In addition to Health and Endurance, every Magical Girl has a special third total called Despair. However, instead of starting at a number and being reduced, Despair begins at zero and counts up. As the title suggests, Despair represents a magical girl’s inevitable decline to becoming a witch, but it is also the source of one of a magical girl’s greatest strengths: the ability to go beyond the limitations of Health and Endurance. At any time, characters may choose to add to Despair instead of reducing Health or Endurance. This effectively makes it possible to avoid the penalty from zeroing out one total or the other, and it also allows a magical girl to keep on fighting well beyond what would be possible otherwise. It is even possible for a magical girl to persevere without remaining Health and Endurance at all, as long as they are willing to increase their Despair. If both Health and Endurance are reduced to zero, apply a –2 penalty to all actions.
As Despair increases, the taint of a magical girl’s soul gem becomes more pronounced until it becomes entirely black, at which point it shatters and becomes a grief seed—the core of any witch. Once Despair has reached 40, magical girls must make a roll against succumbing to the overwhelming grief every time they choose to add to the Despair total. The difficulty number is equal to the tens digit of Despair. So a magical girl who has reached a Despair of 65 would roll against a difficulty of 6. 120 would be a DN of 12. And so on. Players may add Iron-Willed and other appropriate Abilities when making this roll. Likewise, Weak-Willed will prove a detriment. Once this roll is failed, the magical girl is doomed to become a witch. While exchanging dialog with other player characters or performing a few more minor actions is possible, when the plot permits, the character is lost to the world and turns to darkness.
Despair and Grief In addition to willingly increasing it, a character’s Despair may increase due to circumstances.
- 5 Distressing (A close battle, a heated argument.)
- 10 Depressing (Breaking up with a friend, realizing a core truth of being a magical girl.)
- 20 Devastating (The death of a friend or loved one.)
Despair and Time Even if a character should avoid making use of despair, the simple state of being a magical girl will taint the soul gem with time. At the beginning of every adventure after the first (presumably the one where the character made their contract) add 5 to the Despair total.
Reducing Despair There is only one way to shed Despair and return light to one’s soul gem, and that is by defeating witches and making use of their Grief Seed. The efficacy of this seed depends on the strength of the Witch—which in turn depends on the amount of Despair that the Witch had before it was transformed from magical girl. Using a grief seed removes an amount of Despair equal to half the total of the fallen magical girl it derives from.
Of course, these rules derive from the world as presented in the majority of the TV series. If you wish to set a game in the aftermath of the final episode, or even during the movie Rebellion, you will need to make some adjustments.