Here's a little fact about me that you probably didn't need or want to know; I like to think I'm normally a pretty decisive and definite person. Whenever I watch a movie or series, I can usually tell by the end whether I liked it or not based on the feeling it gives me. And it's also no big surprise to anyone that knows me that I was a big fan of the 2012 anime, Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Hence, when this movie was released, naturally I'd want to see it. And after seeing it, I can safely say that no film or series, anime or otherwise, has left me so confused as to what to feel. I have... absolutely no idea how to feel about this. I don't know if I love it, hate it or even if I think it's good or bad. I just have no idea. I'll try my best to convey why I feel this way and hopefully by the end, you can see whether you think this is something you would enjoy or not if you're a fan of the show.
Our films starts off with a Higurashi-esque scenario in which everyone in the original series is now alive and are happily fighting the new foes that have replaced witches. Everything seems perfect, our characters are having fun being magical girls and that little hell-spawn Kyubey doesn't seem to be ruining anything. That is until Homura begins to realize something isn't right with this seemingly perfect world and... to say any more would be venturing into spoiler territory. Unlike the original series in which our main focus was Madoka herself, this film most definitely revolves around Homura and the aftermath of the conclusion to the series.
Oh Shaft, your love for trippy imagery with this show never ceases. Despite being a continuation to the original series, the movie actually has some distinct visual differences from the series. While the original show featured a very solid and bold colour palette, the palette of the movie is slightly more polished and the character designs, particularly in the design of the hair, have a much shinier texture to them. The animation itself is different as well. Because of the sheer speed of some scenes, as this movie features much more action and fighting than the original show, the characters have a lot more opportunity to go off-model and actual designs themselves can be inconsistent and strangely proportioned at brief moments, particularly during the transformation scene near the beginning of the film.
With that being said, however, this is still a Shaft animated movie. And the crazy imagery from the original series has been more than upped, making some of the later scenes in the movie look unbelievably stunning. The deranged, surreal atmosphere of the labyrinths and the visual representation of Homura’s emotions throughout is truly a sight to see. Some may see it as overkill but it does fit the tone of the movie. Another thing to comment on is the use of lighting. The methods used to achieve this via just the backgrounds and the animating of light makes for some truly stunning visual scenes. One particularly beautiful scene features Homura and Madoka in a field of daisies, with a beautiful night effect used. Another highlight is the fight between Homura and Mami roughly a third into the film, with the sheer speed and detail of the action being nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Overall, despite some moments of choppy animation and characters going off-model, the style and actual visuals themselves are absolutely excellent and are a step up from the original series in some ways, despite having more hiccups.
Sometimes I think Yuki Kajiura can’t get any better. Then I watch the next series she’s worked on and find myself proven wrong time and time again and this movie is no different. The melodies are sweeping, beautifully orchestral and are a great example of her just being the genius she is. The soundtrack to the original series was already stunning and this is just more of that same brilliance.
As a mentioned earlier, this movie is much more focused on Homura’s character rather than Madoka’s. And, as expected, Chiwa Saito pretty much steals the show. All the actors do wonderful work but she, in particular, genuinely feels like she’s losing control as the movie goes on. Even her normal speaking voice becomes unsettling near the end of the movie if you were to compare it with her tone of voice at the beginning of the movie. She does a great job.
Anyone who has seen this movie knows that the big talking point here is the last half hour of the film, which is the point where opinion of this movie splits right down the middle. As such, I shall first cover my thoughts of the rest of the movie first and then discuss my feelings in regards to the ending in a whole different section.
This is, through and through, a character-driven movie. Specifically, by one character, Homura Akemi. The story itself is actually rather hard to follow if you were to take it and examine it. While it will eventually make some form of sense following several re-watches and hard thinking, the majority of the film left me wondering what was going on upon my first watch. In many ways, it reminded me of End of Evangelion, in which it will only become clear to you what the intention behind it was if you watch it a good few times and try to completely disconnect yourself from logic and instead to these characters emotions. The majority of imagery and even plot in this movie is made to reflect the emotions of Homura as a character, rather than tell a coherent story.
The first forty minutes of the film is simply watching our five girls having fun being friends and fighting evil nightmares as magical girls. Well, anyone familiar with the original series will be able to see many things wrong with this. Madoka and Sayaka are both alive, Sayaka and Kyoko are now living together, Mami has a cartoon-ish mascot named ‘Bebe’ (who is actually the witch responsible for her death in the original series) and Homura has reverted back to her state present in episode ten, complete with the pigtails and glasses. We get no explanation for this until roughly fifty minutes into the film and it’s this first fifty minutes that I actually have a few nitpicks with. As nice as it is to see the characters we’d previously seen suffering now happy, some particular scenes feel a little too long or a little too out of place, almost as if it’s trying to convince us that it’s attached to a completely different franchise. Examples include the infamous ‘cake song’ scene (of which I've still to find any point to) and the use of a transformation scene that takes up roughly three solid minutes, compared the series in which they only lasted around twenty seconds at most. Even the inclusion of Mami's mascot Bebe feels a little too gimmicky (especially when you find out who it really is) and distracts sometimes from what the movie is actually trying to do with these characters and, at points, it almost feels like the movie is trying a little too hard to fool us.
But once Homura realizes that something is wrong in this perfect and cutesy world, things start to get interesting. Once we find out the reason of why everything is so different in this new parallel universe, we see the slow degradation of Homura's mindset and how Kyubey plays a large part in it. It presents to us a character that has simply broken, and has given up trying to fit the pieces back together. At this point, the visuals of the film become more hellish and they show this character as a true tragedy, one that is simply loosing the will to live more with every passing minute. And the only reason that will hasn't shattered completely is because of a person that's no longer with her. I mentioned before a particularly beautiful scene involving both Homura and Madoka in a field of daisies and it really is a wonderfully crafted scene, beautifully showing that Homura's existence is one that is purely built on loving only one person, to the point where the rest of her has completely gone, and how she mourns for it. And yet, she still only desires that persons love, not knowing that she already has it or, if she does, it's not the kind of love she wants. It's a gorgeous scene and the rest of the second half of the movie, save for the last half hour, really shows us a tortured soul that can't go back to who she was and it's beautifully written and executed.
And, seeing as how I've danced around it long enough, let's talk about that last half hour and how it will indefinitely provoke a different reaction from everyone who sees it.
Up until this point, the movie is largely what every fan of the show has wanted to see. We see our characters we got to know in the show finally happy, we see that they've all banded together to try and help Homura and we see that Homura might just get her happy ending.
Then... something happens. And that something flips the entire movie on its head. I'll try to refrain from spoiling the essentials of what happens but the last few minutes of the conclusion will leave you stunned and fairly horrified at the direction Homura's character was suddenly taken. And this ending is what makes this film so hard to talk about because I've never seen a conclusion that's left me so utterly confused about what to feel. It's definitely not a happy ending but to call it a sad one would not be entirely accurate either and bitter-sweet doesn't quite cut it either. It's... something else entirely. It's left many fans angry and disappointed and left others feeling that it was inevitable.
The reason it confuses me so is because, in many ways, this is probably the most perfect ending that could've been given. I'm not even joking. While it's baffling and seems to come out of nowhere, it actually makes complete sense if you examine the rest of the movie, both from a story and character standpoint. Not only that, it's an allegorical work of art. The parallels and subtext between both Madoka and Homura, particularly regarding the book of Genesis and different kinds of love, are absolutely genius and the implications of good and evil and how each of them manifest themselves into different kinds of love (a love for all humanity and a love only for one other) is no less than perfection. It's so out of character and yet so in-character.
So, naturally I should love this ending, right? Well... no, I don't. Because, for as much as I say it's a genius way of continuing the series and it actually fits the characters and story the more you think about it, it's also surprisingly bitter and cold. For as much as everybody likes to go on about how dark Madoka Magica could be at times, many forget that the original series actually had a good amount of hopeful and inspiring moments in order to balance it out and that the ending to the original series, while fairly bitter-sweet, still gave a feeling of satisfaction near the end because you see that there was hope near the end. In this movie, however, it's much more hollow and depressing, almost verging on mean-spirited. All the sense of hope that the original series had has been sucked right out of it, to the point where it almost feels passion-less compared to the series previous ending. But, then again, some could argue that's more fitting for this story. While a lot of us didn't see Homura's sudden change coming, it has to be acknowledged that it was probably inevitable when you consider her character.
So, in the end, I'm thoroughly split regarding the conclusion. In many ways, it's incredibly fitting and even perfect. And yet, it's also surprisingly bitter. And for those thinking this is just Urobuchi being Urobuchi, think again. Believe it or not, Gen Urobuchi fully intended to give this movie his very first happy ending and it was Akiyuki Shinbo who persuaded him to change the ending in order to open the possibility of a second season. So, surprisingly, we can't blame Urobuchi for this one.
For as much as I talk about Homura in this review, the other characters do deserve some mention as well. Mami is more or less exactly as she was in the show, except this time she's accompanied by her cute mascot, Bebe. In regards to Bebe herself, she feels woefully unnecessary. The only thing I can contemplate with why her character exists is that her design was so popular among fans, that the creators decided to just find a way to put her in. She contributes little to nothing to the overall plot and mainly exists to be a companion for Mami.
Sayaka, however, is fairly different to how she was in the show. Her and Kyoko, for example, have a much more mutual and friendly relationship (almost to the point of shoujo-ai in some scenes) and she actually appears much wiser and more confident in herself compared to the series (which makes a lot of sense, considering the series conclusion). Kyoko is not as biting or snarky as she was as well, and is more playful and teasing, which I can only assume is Sayaka's influence. Despite not being in the movie that often, they were fun to watch.
Kyubey is still the little twerp we all love to hate (another point in the ending's favour is that he got his comeuppance far more than in the original series) and Madoka herself manages to become a cross between a symbol and a character by the end of the film but her scenes with Homura, both in this strange world near the start and other later scenes, are lovely, with some great character dialogue and a genuine feeling of love emitting from her (what kind of love, though, is entirely up to the viewer's interpretation). And, in terms of Homura, I think I've talked about her long enough but let's just say that by the end, you will be thoroughly split on whether to love, hate or just feel sorry for her.
In many ways, this is a great movie. The visuals are exquisite, the music and voice-acting brilliant and the ending could be considered perfect for this story, with the almost certainty of a later sequel. But, on the other hand, that ending could also be considered hollow and gives no feeling of satisfaction and honestly, maybe it wasn't meant to. And the conclusion to Homura's character and the implications of her relationship with Madoka will split many into a love-hate camp.
I definitely think every Madoka fan should see this movie. However, I don't think every Madoka fan, or even the grand majority, will like this film. I've already made this comparison, but it does feel like the 'End of Evangelion' of the Madoka franchise. As for me, I still haven't quite figured out how I feel about it. And, in a way, that's probably one of the biggest compliments you can give a film. It completely dumbfounds you to the point that you can't form a way to describe it. Take my words for what they're worth, and definitely give it a watch. But heed this warning; I can't guarantee you'll like it.