How Colour and Contrast are Used in Madoka Magica

I’m still organising a huge (i.e. over 1000 words) post for the winter first impressions, but I can’t post it yet due to the way I’ve laid it out. Please be patient for when it’s up.

Also, it seems next week is the 10th week Weekly Wednesday has been running. I have a special post planned for then, so look forward to it.

As for today’s post, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is one of those shows that, despite its somewhat deceptive exterior, you can keep unboxing for years to come.

One of the most striking things about magical girl shows is often their use of bright colours to symbolise heroines and their transformations. However, reading into some of these colours’ symbolism reveals there is more depth to be plumbed than simply that:

  • Sayaka is blue, a colour perceived to be masculine and one of the colours superheroes often wear (think Superman). Sayaka’s hairstyle was noted by the character designer to be masculine (“Her personality is so boyish that I had to be careful not to make her look too boyish too…” Ume Aoki is quoted as saying) and of course, she holds the image of a hero up until her “death”.
  • Sayaka’s opposite Kyoko has red, matching the apples she’s sometimes shown with and the bloodthirsty, almost mad nature she has.
  • As the harbinger of eventual happenings using her time magic, Homura’s purple takes on a supernatural flair and her gradual jading while travelling through multiple timelines adds an implication of being regal.
  • Mami acts as a contrast to Homura through her initially sunny disposition, and the Chinese representation of yellow as regal suits her older sister, princess-like position to the other magical girls.
  • Madoka herself is pink, the traditional colour of a magical girl and for good reason – it’s the colour of romance and generally indicative of warmth and feeling, things Madoka is the epitome of.

Shaft sometimes uses the signature colours of the magical girls to dye climactic scenes in duotone shades. For instance, Kyoko is shown in episode 9 to be in a blue-lit city, trying to keep Sayaka’s body alive. Not only does the contrast allow for a focus on Kyoko while Sayaka fades into the scenery as a lost cause, but the blue is Sayaka’s colour so it symbolises her final “spotlight” as a “human”. Similarly, in the same episode Madoka lies in her room with the duotone being pink/black. Notably, the pink becomes almost ruddy, foreshadowing the harsh road ahead for her as she heads towards an inevitable climax with Walpugisnacht.

One interesting place that could be analysed is Homura’s room. It is devoid of most items, aside from the floating frames and pendulum that suggest time moving forward – her enemy against both Madoka’s transformation and Walpugisnacht. Notice that the frames are mostly a shade of sepia and the axe-shaped pendulum is black, not just as a matter of visibility but as a matter of foreboding…of ageing, and what Homura can do to escape such a fate. (Her arc-shaped seats are in the shape of a clock from above, which adds significance to an already symbolism-laden space. It is also noted in episode 11 by Madoka herself that the frames’ content refer to Walpurgisnacht.) It is here in particular that Kyuubey seems to appear out of nowhere, as a representative of the task Madoka set Homura in an alternate timeline.

Furthermore in various instances such as the fight at the end of episode 7, silhouettes of the girls are used with barely any visibility of their normal features. However, the iconic colouring of magical girls and distinctive silhouettes of anime characters instantly clue you into who is where. Minimal colour is used to suggest a bleak world of suffering, much like Sayaka has been exploring her world as a magical girl to be throughout the episode. The only colour aside from the edge of the girls’ silhouettes is a red flower-like object, a fake sun which represents the glimmer of hope created by witches when destroyed by magical girls.

In much the same way, the witches not only contrast the girls in the use of overall aesthetic, but in the types of coloration used. Often, the witches take on bright colours paired with black, adding an air of menace to a dark show (both visually and literally).

There is a scene in episode 11 where Madoka’s mother talks to her teacher. Death Parade notes the name of the bright blue drink the teacher is consuming is known as memento mori, or “remember that you must die”. Noticeably, through Sayaka’s signature blue, the symbol of heroism becomes the symbol of death. In conjunction with this, not only does the rain symbolise melancholy over Sayaka’s loss, but the form Sayaka became – Oktavia von Seckendorff, the mermaid witch.

Madoka Magica is rife with symbolism, shade and colour choices to analyse so this is probably only scratching the surface. Maybe this post will encourage you to rewatch the series and pay attention to what happens to the colours/shades and how they are used.


9 thoughts on “How Colour and Contrast are Used in Madoka Magica

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  1. I haven’t seen this series, but I really like the way you handled this post. It has made me very interested in giving this a go at some point.
    Also looking forward to your winter first impressions post. I’m following four shows myself, so looking forward to seeing which ones you are interested in 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you liked the post. This series is extremely popular for a reason, so I’m milking the popularity for all it’s worth!

      I’ve still got a few debuts left before the lineup has to be cut down. Whatever I’m left with will be interesting though, since the bishonen-heavy shows this season don’t fare well critically due to their mostly SoL/drama nature, yet they’ve got some of the strongest premieres.

      Liked by 1 person

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