Puella Magi Madoka Magica I: Beginnings
Gen Urobuchi is a Depraved Motherfucker
I started watching anime religiously three years ago. Upon entering the world of anime, I was introduced to Puella Magi Madoka Magica, an unassuming magical girl anime that gradually loses all the fun and cuddliness of typical shows of the genre, opting instead for vast quantities of depression, sadness, and depravity. At the time, I thought it was the best fucking thing I’d ever seen. It combined cute girls with a horribly dark story and setting thaI rated as damn near perfect.
As the years have gone by, I’ve tried desperately to repress my love for the series as I see more and more wrong with it and try to avoid it if only because I hate being sad. Other reasons may include the fact the series doesn’t have the same impact the second time around, the characters being kind of lame compared to what they are in Different Story, and other assorted bullshit.
Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a Madoka fanboy. I own figures. I own the series on DVD. I fucking love Madoka Magica.
Why did I avoid the movies then?
It’s partly because I heard the name “Homucifer”, laughed my ass off, and brushed the third film aside. It’s partly because I didn’t want to get caught up in the depressing story again. And it’s partly because I don’t understand my feelings for this series.
I love it.
No I think it’s good but I don’t want to fanboy.
Fanboying is the worst thing you can do. Don’t do it.
My biggest problem with the series is the fact that Different Story came out and…it was sort of better than the series. It developed characters better, it explained character motivations much better. It was an all-around excellent addition that surpasses the original.
Which, consequently, scared me for the movies, especially the third one. The series has a lot to live up to in my mind and I felt that the original was perfect as it was. It wasn’t a perfect anime by any stretch, but it did its job of being the Evangelion of magical girl anime.
Three years later I’m a better critic, I’m a lot older, a lot more cynical, and I think that this first movie will allow me to get some more critical thoughts about the series out there then what I’ve previously released.
This is Madoka Magica I: Beginnings.
This first film covers the first eight episodes of the series. It moves at a pretty good clip, though I didn’t feel like the emotional impact of the series was there (and once again, I’ve seen the series so that could well be the reason why).
Madoka Kaname is a regular fourteen year old girl. She has a family, goes to school, eats toast as she runs to school, and is as boring as they come. The mysterious transfer student, Homura Akemi, swoops into the story and before we know it, Madoka is being spoken to by a strange creature that Homura has a grudge with. Turns out the creature, Kyubey, grants wishes in exchange for girls becoming “magical girls”. Homura is a magical girl and so is Mami Tomoe, who takes Madoka and her best friend Sayaka under her wing, guiding them to join her crusade against the evil, malicious witches.
The series has a decent enough story that combines all the elements of a magical girl anime with all the elements of a depression inducing psychological drama. It works well in the beginning as a typical magical girl anime and, as the film continues, it goes down a hill, focusing on mature themes and characters rather than action and cutesy antics.
The biggest problem that the film version of the series faces is what to cut and what to keep. And that’s where the film fucks up. Where was Mami’s background? As a character, she isn’t around enough to really care about. She’s more the catalyst for what’s to come rather than a person. What made her more of a person in the series than in the film is the fact we learn her parents died in a car accident, which she was part of, and she selfishly wished for herself to live. The regret she feels for doing that and the loneliness that is filled by Sayaka and Madoka isn’t felt at all in the film. She’s very cardboard because of that. The question then becomes, why keep Kyoko’s background in then? If we don’t care about Mami’s, why worry about Kyoko’s?
Madoka is boring. Very boring. But I believe that’s what the character is meant to be. Everything is going on around her. Rather than have a main character in the thick of things, we follow a character who’s watching her world fall apart at the seams. Many people complain about her being dull and uninteresting, but I like that we’re forced to follow a third-party who doesn’t involve herself too much. She’s watching everyone else do the work.
Sayaka is, and always will be, my most hated character in the series. Despite the fact she is developed a lot more than most of the characters, she’s still annoying, her intentions and motivations make no sense, and the way her character slowly degrades into a raving madwoman makes no sense to me. So because of the fact your soul is in a gem…you can’t be happy because you can’t kiss a boy…with the body you inhabit…and can’t feel the kiss when you can feel pain…
I don’t get it. Really, I don’t. Didn’t get it three years ago. Don’t get it today.
Kyoko is one of my favorite characters. She’s cute and she’s badass. She’s a great counter to Sayaka’s character.
And Homura. I’ll talk about her in my review for the second movie. In this film she’s badass and definitely provides great comedy when she pops up unannounced during major events.
A Flawed but Fun Film
The film doesn’t open with the Walpurgisnacht fight of the television series. It doesn’t give us Mami’s past. It misses some facets of the series that should not have been cast aside, but at the same time, it’s a really good run through the first eight episodes. Those new to the series will have fun catching up and getting caught up in the characters, and those who’ve seen the series will enjoy the upgraded animation and the familiar, beautiful scores. That being said, the focus is on Sayaka for much of the film (just like the series) and I think that takes some points from it. But, as a recap film, it’s damn good, lots of fun, and enjoyable.
Beginnings is just the condensed, movie version, of the first eight episodes of the Madoka Magica TV series. Because I have already reviewed the series here, I will only be addressing the differences in this review. Also, there are a couple of spoilers, but I have warnings for all and put them all at the end of the paragraph, so if you want to avoid them, just go to the next paragraph as soon as you see the warning.
It has been said many times that you can either watch the series, or the two recap movies, and you will pretty much get the same experience, with a similar overall running time. I must disagree, for the following reasons:
Animation: 9.5 OMG this is beautiful. The level of detail is so much higher than even the Blu-ray release of the series that it’s definitely worth a watch just for the upgraded visuals. Not so much the characters, but the environment has been made so much richer. There are some scenes that are just incredible, such as when Homura and Madoka are walking together in the “I won’t forget you” scene, where the background is so incredible that it almost steals the scene.
The down side to all of this is that in a couple of scenes, from a distance, the characters almost get lost in the clutter of all the new details. Really this is a small complaint since I absolutely loved the look of this upgraded version. If I was to have one real complaint it would be Kyosuke Kamijo’s hospital room. It was so luxuriously furnished with high backed chairs, intricately decorated rugs and drapes, etc. that I started to wonder if he was supposed to be in bed at home in a mansion rather than in a hospital. It took me a minute or two to get used to it and realize that he was in fact in a hospital room. I doubt even Bill Gates gets a room like this when he goes to the doctor!
Also, skipping ahead so that I can generalize about both Beginnings and Eternal, they have made a solid effort to de-sexualize the girls, removing all nudity, even in scenes such as the final meeting between Homura and Madoka after the latter makes her wish. Where it couldn’t be helped (they had to keep the scene because it was essential to the story), the characters have been clothed. Where the transformation sequences either featured brief nudity, or had the camera focused in on chest/butt/etc., that has been changed too. The new transformation sequences are more tasteful and feature some pretty cool effects which are a definite improvement.
Sound: 10 I gave the original series a ten, because Yuki Kajiura is incredible, and the Madoka Magica soundtrack is probably her masterpiece. Maybe I should have left a little room for improvement because the sound in the movie is slightly better. The music is obviously the same, as are the voices, but there is a slight improvement in the sound effects. An example would be (SPOILER) the scene where Mami is killed by Charlotte.(end SPOLIER)
In the series, the above mentioned scene is basically silent, with only the reactions of the characters, obviously done for effect, but in the movie you can hear the crunch of bones. I couldn’t figure it out at first, but I knew the scene had some element making it seem a bit darker, or just a bit harder hitting, and when I watched the original I figured it out. It was the sound.
Story: 7.0 This is the part which I really have a complaint. Many scenes were cut, probably due to running time limitations. For instance, Madoka’s mom no longer stumbles home drunk. For the most part, these omissions don’t really detract from the movie, but there is one glaring exception. The scene where Kyubey explains grief seeds to Sayaka has been cut. (SPOILER for the series) This is also the scene where Kyubey consumes the used up grief seed. This isn’t simple exposition. This scene establishes Kyubey as a monster. He creates magical girls, who eventually devolve into grief seeds, which he then consumes. He is a true predator.(end SPOILER)
Without the deleted Kyubey scene, the movie is nowhere near as dark as the series. This explains why some people argue that Kyubey isn’t actually evil, just incapable of comprehending the misery he is causing. It is easy to come to that conclusion if you have only seen the movie version.
Characters: 7.0 I’m rating this a bit lower than the series because we don’t get as much of Mami, or of Madoka’s family as we do in the series. Also, for the reasons about Kyubey, which I have stated above. Other than that, it’s the same as the series.
Overall: 8.5 I wouldn’t give this a two way recommendation. If you have seen the series, you should definitely watch the movie, if for no other reason than it is spectacularly gorgeous, has subtle differences which are fun to catch, and presents the story in a slightly different arrangement. Visually, this is a feast for the eyes. However, if you haven’t seen the series, start there. If you are new to Madoka Magica, don't let the flashy visuals of the movies lure you into starting with them. Story wise, the series is superior.
This Review Covers both the First and Second Movies...
Alright so here's the deal, the story of the movie is basically a retelling of the first half of the show, but with added scenes, and a somewhat faster pace. To those of you who are haters and/or talking shit about the idea, here's a word of warning: Prepare to be Disappointed because THEY DO make this work!!! While it was recap, it felt like a completely new experience. The atmosphere was way darker and eerier than the show, and the scenes transitioned very smoothly. The anime-ish feel of the show was replaced with a genuine cinematic experience.
Easily the highpoint of the movie was the animation. They improved it so much from the TV show it was unbelievable. Well.. considering how big of a money whore the show was, I guess it isn't that unbelievable... Anyways back to the point: The characters look great, the movements were fluid, and the portrayal of all the little details around them were great as well.
Another step-up from the show would be the sound. Obviously the movie had the same voice actors as the show so it sounded good. The soundtrack was also great and it fit in perfectly with the atmosphere of the movie. All in all, pretty solid sound rating, nothing ground-breaking though.
Same characters as the show, you all know how they are so I'm not gonna go over them in detail. I will say this though, the way they are portrayed in the movie feels noticeably different and gives them an increased amount of depth.
They really did do a great job with this movie. And to all of you Madoka Magica haters out there, let me say one thing, if you didn't like the show then that's your deal, but don't judge the movie without seeing it first, because trust me, it is different.
Note: I was lucky enough to see this in theaters. To all of you who haven't, but want to see it, you have my condolences. The earliest you'll be able to watch it will be in a couple months. But at least you have the hype built up from this review to keep you going right? Right?!
You know, it really is hard to judge a recap on its own merit. Especially when it is a recap of one of the most innovative shows of the past decade. A lot of fat is trimmed, and what we have is a tight package that is more uptempo than the series. Of course, the worst part is that Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 1: Hajimari no Monogatari takes everything that is the setup for the dramatic climax of the series, with only the mild payoff.
The lack of the climactic ending ultimately means that the story doesn't achieve the heights the original series does, and the characters gain less development. But that is missing the point. Judging Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 1: Hajimari no Monogatari as its own film is easy. That is due to a very careful bit of editing.
The deconstruction of the magical girl takes a less patient and far more brutal approach in the film. Each battle is followed by the increasingly horrible revelations, and a far more accute sense of just how damaging the price paid is. The first battle somehow fits with the standard magical girl shows, and it is followed up much more realistically, but starting the second battle we go into an escallation of understanding what happens behind the scenes.
Still, the film is only two hours, and as such does not have the time to develop the rich psychological and philosophical implications that the series had. Nevertheless, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 1: Hajimari no Monogatari is not only enjoyable, but fantastic. As its own film, it is a powerful offering, and will leave you waiting for the next installations.
Writing (Story and Characters):
Allow me the leisure of not elaborating too much on specifics. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 1: Hajimari no Monogatari does something incredibly brave by ending with an ominous note and a promise of what is to come... we feel that the story awaits completion, and that it does. But whereas most films that do that are the second of a trilogy, this one is just the first. As such, the ending is particularly jarring.
A familiar plot to those who have seen the series; an edited exposition of the original series. That is the simplest way to explain it. There are tradeoffs, where the character driven element is more subdued and the action gains a greater focus. In the end, the story of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 1: Hajimari no Monogatari is more balanced than that of the original series. Still, there is a loss of depth, and some explanations are skimmed or skipped.
Where Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 1: Hajimari no Monogatari suffers most compared to the source is the characters. The loss of over a quarter of the running time removes a lot of backstory and depth from the characters. Still, the narrower focus on certain characters removes the arcs each focused on a different character and give the cast a more cohesive feel which makes up for some of the ground lost. Just like the story, the characters remain well above average despite the loss in patient delivery.
To say that the movie does as well as the series is too much. The writing suffers from the time constraints of the movie. Yet it gives a far harsher edge to the deconstruction of the magical girl in return for it. Where the series is patient, the movie cuts to the chase. From a strict script perspective, it is a very well executed movie script, written very well from a technical perspective. Just don't expect it to live up to the glory that was the series, after all, not only is it shorter, but lacking the final dramatic arc.
Art (Animation and Sound):
From an aesthetic standpoint, the artwork enjoys the tighter packaging and sharpening up. The battle scenes remain gloriously metaphorical and potent works of art, and we get to revel in them. The narrower focus helps the outcome's psychological effects to take the center of the stage, and as such the voice acting becomes a better fit. The patented Shaft camera angles work so well when they are used, and the artwork has been touched up in the right places for a true cinematic experience.
Starting to talk about the animation specifically, we must talk about the battles. The use of many forms of media, from a mashup of photos, CG, and hand drawn parts (both crude and detailed in parts), these are some of the greatest artistic triumphs anime ever had. The backgrounds remain detailed and clever. The character designs are distinct, though they (and the transformation sequences) are not groundbreaking in any way. Still, this is well into the top tier of animation because Shaft's penchant for artistic risk taking which is proudly cinematic to begin with just revels in the cinematic medium.
Where the animation enjoys the tighter story, the sound does as well. A lot of the faults due to pacing (especially with the voice acting) end up amelliorated or completely removed from the film. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 1: Hajimari no Monogatari still has some flaws, but overall, it is professional and a great fit for the series. There are some minor quibbles about details here and there that don't allow me to say that the sound is truly exceptional, but it is great.
As a whole, the artwork of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 1: Hajimari no Monogatari is doubtlessly in the upper echelon of anime. There are the occasional cuts which are a tad gimmicky, and the sound could be a bit more intense if there had been more use of ambient noise, but these are minor details. There is a huge amount of life the art breathes into the story, and some of it is downright jaw-dropping.
On its own merits, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 1: Hajimari no Monogatari is a great movie. It is obviously waiting for a sequel, and yet, it successfully recreates and even reimagines the first eight episodes of the series through use of sharp editing. Just don't expect viewing the movie to be a happy experience.
Yes, this movie is completely recap from the anime. No, I did not find anything truly new about the movie. However, the movie seemed fresh and overall more enjoyable than the anime. Now, this could partially be due to the fact that I was able to piece the story together better since it was a retelling. I for one loved the anime and enjoyed seeing the story yet again.
The story flowed better in this movie format. As another user mentioned in their blog, the story is fit more for a dramatic movie than clipped episodes. The overall feels was more eerie than the anime, which I also credit the movie format for. Each episode of the show had to reset the stage and mood, whereas the movie never needed to do this.
The previous mentioned is mostly compared to the show, but the following is more focused on Madoka as a whole.
It took me a while to fully appreciate the ending to the anime. I personally enjoyed having this movie cut off in the middle so that I could fully appreciate the overall story minus the ending. The story unravels piece by piece leaving you hooked. The setting is so unlike other magical girl stories that it both excites you and puts you on edge.
I love the animation. It is very modern and aesthetically pleasing. The art for labyrinths and witches are so creative. They give off a creepy and unique vibe.
It was thanks to Madoka that I discovered the band Kalafina. Their song "Magia" highlights the story beautifully. It has a bit of eeriness to it but also a sense of desperation. The other music, though less magnificent (in my opinion), work perfectly within the scenes.
The characters all have a unique drive and a past that defines them. They all are ultimately struggling through the same war, but each experience it so differently. The girls display varying degrees of the human heart.
Overall, not having to worry about opinions of the story's end, I think this movie was a pure masterpiece. The story works very well in a cinematic format without interruptions.