Copying a comment I wrote over at Shameful Otaku Secret here, just because I don’t want to lose it.
An interesting question – who is the audience for Madoka? I’d be tempted to say it’s me: I know I’m not a target demographic for anything in the anime industry now (38, female, been watching anime on-off since I was 16, grew up with Sailor Moon– what could possibly cater to me in a market full of boob fantasies, lolicon meido-chans and shows where every character is under 24 years old unless they’re evil or plot-insignificant?) But here’s the thing – even as an adult, there will always be a part of me that responds to magical girls. I can’t help it, it’s in my blood, somewhere back there with Sailor Moon and Rainbow Brite and Utena. I’m now too cynical to believe in all that ‘in the name of love and sailor suited justice!’ color-coded horseshit – but I might sometimes wish that I still could.
“Those who can’t become princesses must become witches.”
Madoka is a “witch’s” series: an adult take on exactly how that color-coded horseshit would play out in the world we actually live in- i.e., little girls who are forced to make adult choices are probably gonna make them wrong 98% of the time, and for the cynical adult there might be a kind of bitter, savage schaudenfraude glee in watching them fuck up.
Adults know that power comes with sacrifice; that nothing is simple, that fighting a war hurts, that sometimes your friends lie to you, that sometimes you lie to yourself. In short, as an adult ‘survivor’ of mahou shoujo anime, I want to see a series that reflects the experience and tensions that I now have as an adult. I want to see a magical girl, but I want to see them play out with truth, not candy-colored optimism. The deepest appeal, the underlying thread that runs through all the good shows, is in lessons of how to keep your hope alive even when the world utterly shits on you. Adults need that lesson as much or more than children do.
The magical girl genre has been in general decline since the 90′s. But anybody surprised by Madoka’s darkness and violent undertone just needs to go back to one of the roots of the genre and consider Cutey Honey. Which was a direct influence on Sailor Moon. Which was a direct influence on damn near everything else.
Madoka’s more of a return to form than a subversion, in my opinion; it’s the Brothers Grimm uncensored again. Fairy tales are best expressed in shades of black.