Inside my heart, I desperately try to recall Mami’s smile
The kind smile which has always given me courage and comfort
But what comes to mind
Is only the cruel image of a yellow dress torn into shreds…
Mami’s body with nothing above her neck…
Character relationships and scenes that benefit from insight into characters’ emotions are the novel’s strong points. But what the novelization cannot escape are the comparisons to the anime scenes made memorable by Shinbou and Inu Curry. The battle against the TV witch which takes advantage of Madoka’s guilt over Mami’s death is no less engaging in the novels thanks to the psychological aspect. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for other scenes involving battles and magic. Descriptions in those scenes tend to be underwhelming, too short and simple to paint a vivid image. Mami’s “Gate of Babylon” barrage from episode one, for example, is described as follows:
“Suddenly, she released a great number of rifles into the air and fired them all at once. The projectiles rained mercilessly outside the ring of light enveloping us, blowing away all of the eerie things surrounding us.”
While there is nothing wrong with the description, it probably doesn’t measure up to the image conjured in the anime.
The battle against the garden witch, seemingly a golden opportunity to play around with the concept of a magic battle without the time restrictions of an anime episode, feels more like a laconic summary of the moves exchanged in the anime and does not attempt to create a true feeling of tension. Charlotte’s transformation scene also doesn’t live up to its full potential.
It could be argued that the simplicity and brevity of those scenes are a conscious decision on the author’s part, necessary to stay true to Madoka’s voice as the narrator. But it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the author takes magic, something incredible and unfathomable, too much for granted.
Other scenes where the anime remains ahead of the book are those where Shinbou shows us the power of detailed visuals. The restaurant scene where Homura recreates Mami’s final moments by twisting off the cover of her coffee, the incredible clash of the mundane with something cruel and macabre, is missing from the novel. Similar details in other scenes are also lost in the transition. Of course, those scenes are more proof of the anime’s quality than any particular fault of the writer.
Yet another similar issue arises with the lack of voice acting. While it is the advantage of a novelization that it allows the reader to find a new voice for the characters, this doesn’t work as well for characters we aren’t supposed to understand in the first place. It is a shame there is no way to transplant Katou Emiri’s stellar performance as Kyuubey into written form.
As the novelization is made up of two volumes, I’d like to applaud the way the material is divided. The first volume covers events up to episode six of the anime While this may appear as an obvious solution, splitting the story cleanly in half, the trick here is that the events of the last minute of the episode are left out along with everything Madoka doesn’t see for herself. Separated from her soul gem, Miki Sayaka collapses lifelessly to the ground. Akemi Homura disappears without a word. And finally, Kyuubey opens the jar of truth, his words slipping out like maggots starved for food, corroding hope with despair. The book closes with Kyuubey’s exasperated question “I don’t get you. Why do people care so much about the whereabouts of the soul?” This is the moment which transforms a world filled with danger and adversity into a cruel farce where despair was the only choice to begin with. A great way to end the volume.
On a technical note, this volume contains 291 numbered pages, including ten pages of full-color illustrations. There are also some extra pages with advertisements for Madoka goods and some other books. While text density per page is the same as in an average pocket-size light novel, the format is bigger and allows for a bigger font (making it easy to read, but difficult to carry around.)
The story uses little flowery language (due to Madoka’s narration), making the reading difficulty level quite low. On the other hand, it uses very little furigana, requiring a very solid grasp of kanji to be enjoyed.
The removable cover is beautiful but dark, showing the main characters on a black background with looks of worry, anger and yearning on their faces. This is a more honest approach to what’s actually inside than with the anime… but the contents page is as pink and kawaii as it gets. The inside cover is dark purple with a subtle pattern of Kyuubeys, soul gems and other symbols, and it displays the title proudly with large letters. Again, not something easy to walk around with and read on the train, but it looks great on the shelf.
Bottom line: The strengths and weaknesses of the novel are different enough from the original to keep things fresh and interesting throughout. While the novel can’t replace the wholesome experience the anime offers, it is not a bad read in itself.