Puella Magi Madoka Magica Original Soundtrack I – Review

Album Title: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Original Soundtrack I
Anime Title: Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Artist: Yuki Kajiura
Catalog Number: ANZB-9124/ANZX-9124 (Bundled with DVDs)
Release Type: Soundtrack
Release Date: May 25, 2011
Purchase at: CDJapan, Play-Asia

Tracklist:

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Track Title Artist Time
01. Sis puella magica! Yuki Kajiura 2:48
02. Salve, terrae magicae Yuki Kajiura 1:29
03. Gradus prohibitus Yuki Kajiura 3:36
04. Credens justitiam Yuki Kajiura 1:56
05. Clementia Yuki Kajiura 1:58
06. Desiderium Yuki Kajiura 1:42
07. Conturbatio Yuki Kajiura 1:28
08. Postmeridie Yuki Kajiura 1:39
09. Puella in somnio Yuki Kajiura 1:57
10. Umbra nigra Yuki Kajiura 1:43
11. Terror adhaerens Yuki Kajiura 3:49
12. Scaena felix Yuki Kajiura 1:50
13. Pugna cum maga Yuki Kajiura 2:15

Review: At first glance, Madoka Magica seemed like an odd anime for Kajiura to be scoring. Her past works are marked by music that invoke the arcane and foreboding, making Madoka, with its typical magical girl premise involving the usual teenagers, magical powers, cute costumes, saving the world, and happily-ever-afters, a total mismatch. In hindsight, the choice of Kajiura as composer was, in all likelihood, a pronounced hint of the dark events that would unfold during the next few months. The hint proves to be true; Kajiura reaches into her magic hat with a flourish, pulling out another of her trademark soundtracks with aplomb. The trick remains immersive and enjoyable, but some of the novelty is lost in the repetition nonetheless.

The plot commences in a fairly orthodox manner. Madoka and Sayaka become entrapped in the demented twists of a witch’s alternate dimension and are overcome with horror as the once-familiar surroundings mutate into a terrifying amalgamation of bizarre images. Fleeing the inexorable clutches of appallingly macabre mustached cotton-balls, their salvation comes in a form they least anticipated. Mami, a veteran magic wielder, descends upon the scene to annihilate the hate-filled witch. Her unexpected but graceful entry fills them with wonder, and her noble bearing presents her as a miraculous agent of light and accomplished antithesis of evil. This imagery is captured perfectly in the joyous chorus heard in “Credens Justitiam”, or in English, “Trusting Justice”. The voices are exultant, as if the gods of victory are proclaiming triumph for the virtuous, reveling in the banishment of the foul demons endangering the innocent. It’s a rather standard Kajiura vocal work that wouldn’t be out of place alongside previous pieces like “Elenore” and “Mezame”, but its uplifting verses and animated tempo allow the similarities of tone and melody to be forgotten, forming the perfect representation of the awe induced by the seemingly pure and incorruptible power that mamifests in Mami.

Credens Justitiam

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Through this, the protagonists begin to realize the myriad possibilities that magic offers them. The choice isn’t an easy one; “Desiderium” presents an apt portrait of the girls’ contemplative states as they inwardly reflect over whether the benefits of becoming a magical girl are worth the duty of battling evil for eternity. The delicate notes borne by the piano flit around, meandering like the deliberations of an introspective mind. Quickening in pace and fading in unconfident conclusions, they swell again in intensity as new paths are pursued. To the listener, it feels as if the smallest disturbance would shatter the fragile phrases, scattering ephemeral notions in all directions. Unusual in its restrained delivery, “Desiderium” loses nothing in its subtle performance, proving itself to be one of the more unique tracks in the album.

Desiderium

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It isn’t long before Madoka and Company are drawn into the conflict between magical girls and witches as they are forced to confront more of the multi-themed malevolent beings. “Pugna cum Maga”, appropriately meaning “Fight with a Witch”, is one of several combat themes present. The violins play heavily into their strings, eliciting wails that border upon shrillness, akin to the unearthly wails the witches shriek in their merciless and mindless rampages. Meanwhile, the chant that’s nearly omnipresent throughout the album takes on a more sinister quality, recalling the unearthly realms in which the witches are deeply ensconced. While the track is prone to being a bit static, it adeptly captures the thick despair that permeates the atmosphere surrounding the insidious witches.

Pugna cum Maga

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It’s soon apparent that taking on the mantle of a destroyer of evil is more than it is at first glance. The shroud of mystery that obscures the mechanisms behind puellae drives most of the sentiments behind the soundtrack. This aura materializes in “Sis Puella Magica!,” the album’s mascot track – a song that expresses the unanswered questions the girls have about their existence while simultaneously lamenting the burden they bear. The ethnic influences that can be heard also lend the music a feeling of age, as if the protagonists are only the latest to encounter these cloaked secrets. The various nuances of the occult and the unknown that this piece exhibits make it a lovely listen, recalling all of the key aspects of the anime in its melody.

Sis Puella Magica!

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The whole anime might have revolved around how being Meguca is suffering, but it did have the decency to give the characters a bittersweet ending. “Clementia” captures the sentiments felt after all has been said and done. Neither euphoric nor despondent, the piece is characterized by a peace and reserved affection that echoes with hints of heartache. The sweet notes of the oboe as it sings in a duet with a harp are a poignant musical manifestation of the acts of compassion that end the harrowing struggles the protagonists endured.

Clementia

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While the Madoka OST is a decent soundtrack that meshes nigh perfectly with the animation, it is weighted with the flaws that most Kajiura soundtracks suffer from when subject to a stand-alone listen. Foremost amongst those flaws is – well – that it’s yet another Kajiura soundtrack. If the Madoka BGM were swapped with the music from some other anime scored by her, things would fit together just as well. Other issues present in the soundtrack include that directionless ambience, one of my biggest pet peeves. Selections like “Umbra Nigra” and “Puella in Somnio” have either generous helpings of echoes applied to ominous noises or repetitive patterns that remain tediously unchanging. These problems don’t present themselves nearly as obviously as in some of Kajiura’s other work, but it’s noticeable enough to knock the rating down a few notches.

As a whole, the Madoka OST isn’t Kajiura’s best or worst, but it is certainly an enjoyable album that’s enhanced by the experience of watching the fantastic anime (which practically everyone has at this point).

Rating: Very Good

Yu

A musician with a fondness for anime, I love listening and talking about the music accompanying the shows I watch. I'm fond of classical styled music, but any piece regardless of genre can tickle my fancy. On the other hand, I'm awful at discussing anime because I'm so terribly easy to please.

23 thoughts on “Puella Magi Madoka Magica Original Soundtrack I – Review

  • June 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm
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    Yeah, I knew after posting about Madoka BGM fan arrangements twice that there was no way that you wouldn’t review the soundtrack.

    Pugna cum Maga is my favorite track, followed by Conturbatio and Terror adhaerens.

    About half of the tracks on the OST were transitional or simply atmosphere-building pieces. It was mellower than I expected. I think the best tracks will actually be on the second OST, which would probably include a faster version of Conturbatio, Oktavia von Seckendorff’s theme, vs. Walpurgisnacht, and episode 12’s song of salvation. I really can’t wait until it comes out, which is sadly not going to be until after the next Madoka DVD.

    Reply
  • June 3, 2011 at 10:45 pm
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    yep, It’s another Kajiura OST…not quite as awesome as expected, but still really good. Agree with above poster who is waiting for OST 2.

    random off-topic request (I don’t know where else to put this): Could you review the Hell Girl (Jigoku shoujo) OSTs for me? I wasn’t able to slog though even the first season of the anime, but the soundtrack, OP, and ED were fantastic imho. I apologize if you already have a review, but I’ve checked, and found none.

    Reply
  • June 4, 2011 at 7:03 am
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    “At first glance, Madoka Magica seemed like an odd anime for Kajiura to be scoring. ”

    Not so odd. What about her Mai Hime and Mai Otome scores? (Both mahou shoujo anime)

    Reply
  • June 4, 2011 at 9:07 am
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    @Suzushina Yuriko
    You’ve got a point that most of this soundtrack was transitional. There were practically no tracks that had appreciable adrenaline in them, and those are the compositions that I like Kajiura best for. After picking up this OST I realized that many of the more impressive themes were missing and was a little disappointed. I guess I’ll be waiting for that second OST along with you!

    @Heisenburg
    I’ve listened to Yasuharu Takanashi’s work with Jigoku Shoujo before and I’m definitely a fan. Your request has been noted. 😛

    @sheratan
    But Mai-Hime turned quite dark and twisted towards the end, if my sources are correct. In any case, I was a surprised to hear about Kajiura’s role in scoring Madoka since the anime hadn’t yet given me reason to suspect that it would be a deconstruction of the genre.

    Reply
    • June 4, 2011 at 10:48 am
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      I think this soundtrack can be a bit of a trap, especially if you get carried away by the huge level of enjoyment the anime brings. So it’s good to see a level-headed perspective.

      During the course of watching the anime, the music did carry a strong level of impact in the way it meshes with the scenes (an aspect that Kajiura has consistently delivered upon time after time), especially with tracks like “Sis Puella” and “Credens justitiam” leading the way. But when taking a look at this album track by track, some of the ambience can be a bit much from a standalone perspective, which does take away from the enjoyment somewhat. So holistically, a very solid work. Maybe my fourth favorite Kajiura work after My-HiME, Tsubasa, and Kara no Kyoukai. Maybe even fifth depending on my mood with Petite Cossette.

      Reply
  • June 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm
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    I need to go give this entire soundtrack a listen. But based on this, I don’t think I’ll enjoy it as much as I’ve been enjoying the Pandora Hearts OSTs the last few days.

    Reply
  • June 6, 2011 at 7:40 pm
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    though i kinda prefer the fan arrangements, listening to this was absolutely marvelous. FOr me my preference would be Puella in somnio, yet dark and depressing, it kinda suits me. lol

    Reply
  • June 7, 2011 at 10:56 am
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    @zzeroparticle
    At fourth or fifth place, would you still call it a “favorite”?

    @Arianna Sterling
    If you’re enjoying the Pandora Hearts soundtrack, which I thought was not quite as good as the Madoka soundtrack, then there’s still a good chance that you’ll enjoy both equally. I’m not a huge fan of Kajiura so I’m a little more critical of her than most are.

    @some loser
    So you like dark, atmospheric music better? You’ll have to explain to me sometime why you think atmosphere sounds better than a piece of music that gives the listener something more to latch onto. I’d be interested in hearing someone’s point of view on that. 😛

    Reply
  • June 7, 2011 at 2:22 pm
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    cant say exactly, for me atmospheric music is the thing that makes me remember. On one hand, you could say that it can represents the series as a whole, on the other end it, it also defines the entire moment. a fantasy like feeling, yet a pretense that something is very very wrong. Thruthfully, in my opinion it’s easier to latch onto atmospheric music, only thing is that you often dont realize it. yet the moment you hear it again, you will remember it all.

    well idk, what exactly do you mean by “a piece of music that gives the listener something more to latch onto” a piece that stands out greatly and is used only on a occasion? op? ed?

    Reply
  • June 7, 2011 at 3:32 pm
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    @some loser
    Er, sorry for being confusing. I was thinking of a piece of music with a more defined/non-repetitive melody. I get what you mean by atmospheric tracks capturing the entire moment because it’s true, atmospheric tracks are used to establish the mood of a scene in an anime. However, if you had never watched Madoka before, would you enjoy the track just as much without any context?

    Reply
  • June 8, 2011 at 8:09 pm
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    If i had never watched madoka before, then i would probably not enjoy the track just as much, however, i would still enjoy it a great deal. I guess the story behind it does indeed make up a huge part of the overall feeling. However, the dark somber feeling is still my preference i guess. Though repetitive, you can still somewhat pull out a story, one of fantasy and tragedy, starting out trivial and then evolving into a serious matter, yet following a materialistic theme. In my experiences, iv heard too many “heartwarming” themes and “action” themes, so for me it’s kinda rare to find such a tragic tone that stands out so much. lol

    Reply
  • June 19, 2011 at 7:03 pm
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    I wish I could see any of the flaws that you saw here, but when I listen I walk away with what I consider to be an astonishingly good soundtrack. I simply do not see the repetition you see in some of the tracks to be a negative. I think they are there purposefully and effectively and do exactly what they were intended to do for the soundtrack.

    Reply
  • June 21, 2011 at 6:25 pm
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    @someloser
    I guess it comes down to personal preference, which is entirely reasonable with music.

    @Karisu
    I agree that this OST is very good at doing exactly what it should do. However, I think there’s a difference between a piece that can capture an atmosphere very well and a piece that’s more engaging to listen to. So yes, the repetitiveness is there purposefully and it does a fine job of creating the mood that Kajiura’s aiming for, but those are also the tracks that I wouldn’t want to listen on repeat. There are other soundtracks that Kajiura’s written (see Mai-Hime and KnK) which I think are better then Madoka’s soundtrack in that respect. In any case, disregard my negative take on ambience and repetition if you don’t feel the same way. I could just be picky 😛

    Reply
  • March 19, 2012 at 4:44 am
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    Just finished the anime and gee whiz, has the girl done it. This is classic Kajiura stuff – the same chants, the same ethnic beats, the same rock guitar solos in the midst of an orchestral bomb. And I love every minute of it. It’s brilliant for the show, with Desiderium and Sis Puella Magica! being the favs. It’s really not unlike the sublime Mai-Hime, well almost exactly the same feel, and that my friends, is A-Okay with me. 4/5.

    Reply
    • March 19, 2012 at 4:45 am
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      Sorry, brilliant write up as well Yu!!

      Reply
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