Okay, this show had a lot of hype, and I can't go anywhere on the internet without seeing a reference to contracting with Kyubey, so I thought I would give this series a go. I have to say, I can definitely see what all the hype is about (which is unusual, as I usually end up hating things that are overhyped).
One thing I love about this show, is that it initially tricks you into thinking that this will be a magical girl show that's all bright and sparkly, like Tokyo Mew Mew. Then episode 3 comes along, and shit starts to get real, and from there, it escalates. One thing I loved about this series, is that for a guy who always tries to be nice to people, this show really hit home. I found myself growing attached to Sayaka and her tragic tale rather quickly, then with the revelation about Kyōko, it was then when I realised that it wasn't an isolated problem - that for every blessing, there is a curse. The whole idea that self-sacrifice is just that - rather than just doing something with no profit for yourself, it is actually a sacrifice. Although to a lesser extent, I do know that feeling.
I feel that this series went a lot deeper than the standard super hero show, where, like soldiers in most war films, they are shown simply as heroes who are willing to do anything to justice without any concern for themselves. However, in Madoka, we see how horrible it actually is to have to place your life on the line, and the ultimate fate that awaits magical girls.
I know this show aired first, but boy did Homura's constantly going through time to try and change things remind me of Okabe and Mayuri in Steins;Gate. I guess this year I'm just getting bored of time travel. I exhausted all my caring for that kind of thing in Steins;Gate, so I wasn't really affected by her story until the final episode.
Also, with the whole thing of a magical girl's body fading away, and especially in the final episode with no one being able to remember Madoka (except Homura), I couldn't help but think of the fate of torches in Shakugan no Shana - I do have to agree with Homura's statement, it's when someone sacrifices themselves or dies, and no one will even remember who they are or that they ever existed that really hits me hard; but in the end, that is a fate we will all have to face some day as well, we will die, and the people who remember us will eventually die as well.
One thing I did love about this series, is that it was impossible to predict. Whenever I watch a show, I always seem to be able to see the end; this was different. Even when a scene was happening, I couldn't predict what would happen in the next. The ultimate example of this was Madoka's wish, and in fact, her choosing to become a magical girl (despite her magical girl attire being prominant in the opening theme and promotional material I thought she wouldn't accept in the very end). Stories of self sacrifice always strike a chord with me, but Madoka choosing to essentially give up her mortal existence and all the things she enjoyed and would enjoy in the physical world to become a god-like figure overlooking everyone...wow. In no time at all, Madoka grew from a young girl who felt she was worth nothing, to be being the most worthwhile being of all.
Kyubey also strikes me as one of the most interesting characters ever. Why? Because due to him lacking emotions, I have no idea if he is actually good or evil. While we humans can view his deception and the ultimate goal of turrning magical girls into witches as evil, from his view point, it's perfectly justifiable (and the way he put it across to Madoka really made it seem that way). It actually took me as long as episode 8 to stop completely agreeing with him; the only time I did before was when Sayaka cried about how she couldn't ask Kyosuke to kiss her even if she wanted with the way her body now was. Kyubey's constantly emotionless face and pursuasive speech is definitely something I will remember for a long time. I'd go so far that in terms of villainy, Kyubey stands side by side with Othello's Iago (Although I contest with a lot of scholars that Iago had a clear motive xD).
During the final episode, I actually cried when Kyosuke played Ave Maria; because that was one of the songs heavily featured at my Nana's funeral, and last week was the second anniversary of her death, so it really hit home. For that reason, this is the first fictional thing I have seen that has made me cry as much as I did.
The only things I have against this series are, firstly, the character designs. While I fully respect and like the fact that the characters dress like typical magical girls, the faces in this series were something I could never gather. Their faces seemed way too wide, and their eyes were so blank. Secondly, it's hard to recommend this series to a friend without them thinking it is a typical magical girl show; I've tried with one person, telling them to just marathon episodes 1-3...hopefully that works; it's for that reason why I'm glad I waited until after the series finished airing to watch this, as I doubt I would have watched beyond episode 1.
I do hope that this series gets an English Blu-Ray release; I imagine the witches in particular would definitely benefit from HD treatment.