To reiterate: Massive spoilers. Heck, this post will actually contain spoilers for that, if you know what I mean. Read on at your own peril!
So once again I return to Kajiura Yuki and her typically unique soundtrack for Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica. Since there’s no real point in me repeating what I had to say in my last post, I’ll instead suggest that if you haven’t already read it, you go back and do so. That way I can skip straight over introductions (and recommendations at the end) and focus entirely on the meat of the soundtrack – the music itself.
Last time I spoke quite a bit about how the goal of the first Madoka Magica soundtrack was partially to deceive. While this remains true of the second OST to an extent, I find it to be far more transparent in nature than the first. Though there is still noticeable deception in certain tracks (Anima mala springs to mind), the focus this time around is far more on foreshadowing and influencing the direction of our feelings in each scene. It’s definitely not an upbeat soundtrack either – of the twelve tracks, the majority are dark and discordant or melancholic and bittersweet. Bittersweet on so many levels (I’m sure you can guess why I picked this particular image for the banner, and why this is the cover).
We start this time with a very melancholic solo piano piece titled Inevitabilis, or ‘Inevitable’ to use the English translation. It’s a very effective track – the rubato playing and the heavy use of the sustain pedal result in a slightly dragging and reluctant feeling. In most cases we never actually want to face the inevitable; we drag our feet, we rail against fate, and we struggle futilely until we finally realise there can be no other outcome. In this case, the inevitable event is likely Madoka’s predestined meeting with Kyuubei (since this is the scene in which we first hear it) – in each timeline she has always made a contract and perished, leaving Homura behind. No matter how many times Homura has tried, she has yet to stop their fateful meeting. And yet, the track is not entirely sad – with it’s slightly more hopeful B section, it hints at the more bittersweet outcomes. Had their meeting never occurred, Madoka would never have evolved into her final form as a saviour.
Second to appear is Venari strigas, forming a backing for Mami’s one-sided battle with Charlotte’s first form. Like ceratin other track I spoke about recently, it seems to make use of the Spanish Gypsy scale, resulting in a rather exotic flavour, especially when combined with the middle-eastern vocals. In a sense, this suggests that something is out of place (as it very obviously is given the proceeding events). This is actually a very conflicting track for me – we have the constant repetitive beat which gives of an air of dependability but at the same time the merging of the multiple layers of musical elements creates a slightly disturbing and dissonant effect. I guess if I had to put my finger on it, I’d say it’s a track that reeks of overconfidence. The dark touch to the Cello line at the very end of the track is especially effective in context.
Agmen clientum, played first during Homura’s battle with Charlotte, is a rather chaotic and tense track perfectly suited for the typically unsettling scenery presented by SHAFTs artwork within the domains of the witches. The constant percussion hits and frequent atonal screeches combined with the chaotic rhythms, repeatedly rising harmony line and heavy use of harmonics later in the track all contribute to putting us ill at ease. It works especially well in context of what we just witnessed – trying to add to the confusion of exactly what just happened. The translation of the track title also bears a hidden meaning – ‘Army of Minions’ would obviously refer to the vast hordes of creatures the witches summon, but at the same time it could refer to the Puella Magi themselves. For this scene, the track fits Homura almost as well as it does Charlotte.
What could be more appropriate to show us the darker side of being a Puella Magi than a hollow, slightly discordant and melancholic arrangement of Sis puella magica!, the track which essentially serves as a theme to glorify them? And that’s exactly what Signum malum is. Using evolving soundscapes and sound design elements in conjunction with the slightly cold tones of the bell-like lead instrument we get a track which shows us the harsh reality of what it means to be a magical girl. As the sparsity suggests, it’s a lonely and thankless job – at least for most – and regardless of their power, death always lurks just around the corner. The emptiness also calls into question the reasons behind Mami’s death – did she even really accomplish anything? Knowing of the continuous cycle, that all Puella Magi either die or become a witch, it really emphasises just how empty their sacrifices are.
One of my two favourite tracks on this OST, Incertus, is a rather minimal thought-inspiring track. The soft bells repeat a continuous cyclical pattern, mirroring the thought process of someone in Madoka’s position – constantly replaying events, moving in circles, searching for meaning. Everything is uncertain at this point; Puella Magi aren’t the all-powerful beings we thought they were – they’re just as mortal as anyone else. There’s also a sad air projected from the harmonies and soft piano melody – at this point it’s the death of a friend and mentor we’re reflecting on. The heavy reverb also contributes to the murkiness of the track and the wandering electronic percussion feels uncertain and hesitant, reflecting the slightly muddled nature of Madoka’s thoughts.
I’m going to immediately follow up with my other favourite from the soundtrack: Decretum. This is the type of music I love most from Kajiura and has always formed the highlights of her soundtracks for me, most notably in .hack//SIGN and her contributions to the Xenosaga series. With its Celtic feel originating from the instrumentation and 6/8 time signature we once again get that association with the world of magic. On top of that we also have Kajiura’s frequently used technique of strummed guitar panned hard right and arpeggi panned hard left alongside frequent use of counterpoint. The track has both a noble and slightly sad air to it – the steady rhythms and constant motion reflecting the noble side of Sayaka’s sacrifice to heal Kyousuke and take on the role Mami left behind, while the melody itself has a more melancholic turn to it. While this is a decision which works towards good on the surface, in reality it’s no decision at all – there was never really any other option for Kyouske’s recovery and we all know how things will turn out.
My penultimate focus for this review will be Anima mala. Homura aside, Kyouko is easily my favourite of the Puella Magi we’re introduced to over the course of the series, and I always feel as though Anima mala does both justice and great injustice to her character’s introduction. It’s one of those few tracks on this OST I consider to follow the theme of ‘deception’ outlined in my previous post. To start with the ways in which it does justice to her character, we have the slow, wandering cello lead – it goes where it wills, does as it wants – just as Kyouko does, and it does it alone. There’s also an odd sense of calm and steadfastness to it despite the slightly more chaotic nature of some of the sound design and percussion in the background. Where it does injustice to her is in its parallels to the darker witch themes, trying to get us to see her as no better than them. Though she may consider making a wish for justice or to protect humans foolish, she’s not entirely wrong – in the end these very wishes lead to causing others more pain and suffering.
This OST also contains arrangements of two pieces of classical music, namely Ave Maria (Charles Gounod) and Vocalise Op.34 no.14 (Rachmaninoff). Both are excellent pieces which perfectly complement the mood of the rest of the soundtrack with their bittersweet (and slightly romantic) nature. For fun, you can find scores of various arrangements (including the originals) here and here (respectively).
So there we have it. Since I’ll be skipping the recommendations this time around (they’d be pretty much identical to last time) there’s not really much else to say. In some ways, I enjoy the first OST more, but at the end of the day, this is still an outstanding soundtrack which everyone should take the time to listen to every once in a while!