Madoka Kaname used to be a normal girl living happy days of her life. This all ended when she sacrificed herself in order to save other magical girls from the utterly cruel fate that awaited them. Unable to let her memories of Madoka die, Homura Akemi continues to fight alone in the world that Madoka left behind for humanity in order to see her smile once more.
Warning: Spoilers for the end of the Madoka Magica TV anime series, along with some other minor spoilers from the movie. For what appears to be the final installment of the Madoka Magica series, The Rebellion Story shows just how cruel the world of witches can be in a staggering and glamorous way. The Rebellion Story continues where the original 2011 anime left off; Madoka has become God, and is no longer existant in the world. However, to much confusion, Madoka appears in this movie as a regular magical girl, as if none of the events that happened at the end of the series occured. The Rebellion Story mostly revolves around Homura, whom, at the end of the original series, was lost without Madoka by her side. Because of all the sudden events and complication, it may seem very confusing at first. This was why I decided to watch this beautiful movie a second time-so I could grasp an understanding for The Rebellion Story. After watching it for the second time, I realized the inner beauty of The Rebellion Story. The music composed by the most wonderful Kajiura Yuki (Sword Art Online, .hack) brings out the light of this piece of art. Each piece fits well and gives the watcher an even larger interest in the movie. Speaking of art, I am in love with this movie's visuals. The differing art styles make ones' eyes pop out of their head. Not to mention the varying animation styles for the different events of the movie; swift action scenes and stunning witches have never seemed so glorious. You can tell that Shaft has gone a long way if you look at the original series and then at this movie. The introduction of a new, adorable character shocked most people, though I wish she had a bigger role in the movie (in other words, more screentime). Even so, she makes a nice addition to the Madoka series with her cuteness and child-like phisique. The Rebellion Story lives up to its name, for the saddened Homura does something that no one would have ever thought of. The movie may not seem like a continuation at first, as many might say, "How can this be? She's gone right?" . Well, not exactly. The Rebellion Story is a movie full of beauty and sadness packed all into one. It displays the sorrows of Homura Akemi after the original series. If there was one word to describe this movie, it would no doubt be "despair". With all of its stunning visuals and epic music, The Rebellion Story is truly worth watching after finishing the Madoka Magica TV series.
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 3: Hangyaku no Monogatari finally pushes the trilogy out of the confines of the series. From the start, you can't help but think that the first two films and series have been ignored completely. Of course this isn't true, but it will creep you out until you eventually just roll with it. The artwork is bolder and absolutely spectacular. It goes over the top so extremely at times that you cannot help but be wowed by the solid steel balls the director had. If the first two movies and series were a deconstruction of the magical girl, then here we get a deconstruction of the villain. The levels of abstraction in both the art and writing are kicked up a notch. The ending is even more metaphorical than that of the second film. Still, unlike the first two films, the story is not quite as solid. It tries too hard to focus on the philosophy while ignoring the viewer. The balance struck by the careful recutting of the series into the first two films is lost here. The character development remains interesting, and gets an added philosophical twist that I could talk about a whole lot. Perhaps that makes Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 3: Hangyaku no Monogatari the most pretentious of the series. Don't get me wrong, while gorgeous and possibly the most aesthetically rich, the overly long transformation sequence is great art but flawed direction. The lack of expansion on the last fifteen minutes is just wrong, because it is a philosophically poignant culmination to Homura's story that makes sense only if you think about it (too much explained in far too few sentences). There are mistakes in the movie. Still, it is overall a good end to the series, borrowing heavily from various religions and philosophies to make the Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica series about the creation of a world rather than the characters in it. Writing (Story and Characters): Oh, how I hate to review philosophical things without detailing what actually happened. If the first movie talks about the mechanics of the world, the second about the creation of god, then Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 3: Hangyaku no Monogatari is about the end of the road built of good intentions. The horror of it is that everything is driven by love. The writing is deep, yet excluding the last ten minutes or so sharply coherent. Those last ten minutes have a great point, but don't manage to convey it with clarity. Storywise, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 3: Hangyaku no Monogatari is strong if you have a grasp at the mechanics of the world. The first two films build up to this, but if you haven't watched and understood them, then you will eventually be lost come the last ten minutes even if you kept focus all the way through the film. That is perhaps the glaring weakness of the writing. Yet the fact remains that there is a lot of depth hidden behind a lot of the seemingly simple scenes. Homura was the actual protagonist of the series, and that of the second film. Every other character eventually breaks (excluding Madoka, of course), but she doesn't. She has a mission. And she will never stop as long as she sees a path to it. And a few words slipped at the end of the second film cause everything that happens here. This is perhaps the single cleverest way a character has acted in anime. What I thought was a plot hole at the end of the series is actually her continuing her mission because of her understanding of both human and inhuman nature. The other characters act as you'd expect, one with a surprisingly interesting twist. Overall, the characters are great, as par for the course in the Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica world. All this being said, the writing still has its flaws. Those who say the ending doesn't fit, think of the ending and only then think back to everything since the last scenes of the second movie in light of that. And yet it requires a sharp focus and a lot of thinking for it to fit (as well as it being helpful if you know external literature about the story of Lucifer which is heavily referenced), something which is more intellectually stimulating than outright enjoyable. The writing pushes the envelope a bit too far into metaphorical realms, a common fault when trying to end on a grand note. Artwork (Animation and Sound): Rarely, so very rarely, does artwork manage to innovate while being technically sharp, and without becoming grating. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 3: Hangyaku no Monogatari is one of the blessed few that manages to do so. The sheer balls it takes to do this kind of art on something so anticipated is astounding, and boy does it pay off. This isn't just some product, this is art, plain and simple. And not only is it good art, creative and impactful, aesthetic and sharp, it is most definitely art with a saying. In a movie about magical girls. The balls. Arguably the best animation in anime history. Yeah, I said it. It is artistically innovative, beyond expressive, cleverly uses mixed mediums of animation, has a distinct style, and is absolutely fearless. Not only is the animation so heavily stylized, the style manages to turn all the flaws into strengths. By turning the metaphors in the writing into visual representations, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Movie 3: Hangyaku no Monogatari manages to avoid every single one of the technical pitfalls that detract from the classic anime style. Bravo. While the voice acting is on par with the second movie, the effect use is improved, and the soundtrack is plain better. This is one of the strongest showings from the sound point. Clever use of filtering, effects, sound positioning (hooray for someone using surround right), and all manner of small details is not only impressive but a feat of surgical accuracy. The little I can fault is that without the context of the animation, the soundtrack is not quite as good from a stand-alone perspective. Otherwise? Nailed it. Artwork is supposed to give the writing life, create a world, and make the characters more real than reality could offer in their role. Check, check, and bloody check. This is a tour-de-force of technical excellence backing up creative vision of the highest order. I cannot praise this enough. I really can't. Overall: You have no idea how hard this was to write without any real spoilers. The philosophical implications of the ending are a fascinating thing that would take thousands of words to explain (references from Dante to Machiavelli, themes from Christianity and Nietzsche, etc). Overall, highly recommended, especially if you've seen the series, watched the first two movies, and feel you have gained an understanding of the world behind the stories. And dear god, is the animation something else. Worth a view only for that. Over seventy years since Disney's Fantasia, and finally, something that has the balls to go that metaphorical and artistic, and the technique to not come up short while maintaining modern standards. Spectacular.
Madoka Magica Trilogy Review Please note: The following is the second review I’ve written for Madoka Magica; the original review was over twenty thousand characters too long for this website and, as such, had to be rewritten from scratch. (Hey at least I learned that there’s a character limit on this site. You learn something new every day…) Least to say- I’m very passionate about my experience with Madoka. However, three big points to keep in mind about this review. First, is that it's a review of the entire trilogy. Second, is that this review contains spoilers. Finally, that this review focuses on the movie trilogy over the original TV Series. I’m not sure if I’m painting myself into a good corner here- but rather than focus on the content itself I’ll also mostly be focusing of my own experience with it. So if you are looking for a Kotaku-style general review or a deep analysis; this writing will unfortunately be both and neither; there are much better and more articulate analysis/explanations online, and more entertaining pieces that get their general points across without the spoiler tag. The big goal writing of this piece is mostly to come to terms internally with my own experience with it in my own way. I need to do this so I can finally expunge myself of my PADS (Post Anime Depression Syndrome) and focus on finals. I simply cannot satisfy that urge with superficial or general overview. With those points out of the way, let’s begin. I know pretty much everything there is to say about this series has already be said, but I’ll start by laying out how I genuinely feel: this trilogy is one of the most unique and fulfilling experiences you’ll ever get within this medium. (Super cliché thing to say, I know.) So if there’s any doubts as to whether you should see it: I’ll say that the bottom line here is that you should at least try it. And try be enthusiastic about the venture, too, because if you go in with a negative attitude and are looking for faults with this series/trilogy you’ll certainly be able to find them. Plenty of them. While you’re focusing on what’s wrong with this series, though, you’ll be missing out on the magic of it. One statement I think isn’t made enough about this franchise is that it’s nowhere near as perfect as most fans make it out to be. While certainly one of the most unique stories you can ever experience, I wouldn’t go as far as to claim that Madoka Magica is the “best of all time” or any nonsense like that. In fact: in terms of quality and lasting emotional impact; it’s quite similar to something like Stien;Gate. Both of these series, while very innovative and unique and emotional and indispensable- aren’t inherently better than each other, and neither are perfect either. That’s the point I’m trying to get across. Anybody who makes such a claim is lying. That sort of chatter and exaggerated gossip serves no one, and will only blow up expectations for fans looking to sink their teeth into this series for the first time. Particularly those fans that have been left disappointed again and again by overblown expectations for “great” top-tier shows that do not deliver. Case in point is myself: I know I’m going a bit off topic here in in what certainly can be construed as a tangent—but it’s a very true experience I think more readers than not can resonate with. For example, I have no great love for the original Neon Genesis Evangelion and End of Evangelion. I think the writing is clunky for how complex it is. I feel the characters are dry, and while I respect and acknowledge Neon Genesis Evangelion’s contribution to the anime industry and place in anime history: I have no love for it. In my eyes, the fact that to this day we have people defending a TV series that contains a completely contrived ending is beyond me. (They ran out of budget guys. No one disputes this.) Frankly, it is of my opinion that the Rebuilds or any number of Evangelion’s spiritual successors are a much better substitute experience—and are probably much more in line with what director Hideki Anno had in mind for the series in the first place. It’s one of those rare examples where what comes after it is better than what comes before. Anyways- you never can really know what kind of viewer/reader you’re talking to when you recommend or criticize a title. To this day I face pre-conceived judgment from any otaku I admit the above feelings to, as if I’ve disappointed them. Admittedly, I’m stuck in something of a liminal space. I don’t typically stick my nose up at “mainstream” titles like Sword Art Online, (though I was very critical the recent show Re:Zero and wrote a lengthy review on this site detailing my issues with it.) but find I’m constantly drawn to them over titles that are held up as intellectual. As if trying to elevate my perceptive horizons and try new kinds of experiences within anime has led me on an opposite discourse. To that end- I was lead to and disappointed by a number of “critical” hit titles over the last few years. Only some of which I really felt were great. (Chief among them is Stiens;Gate, by the way. That is one of the few series I'd say lives up to its hype.) Is it any small wonder, then, that I would be lead to Madoka Magica? Three years ago I watched the original TV series in preparation for the upcoming film and had left only moderately impressed. (And extremely disappointed.) While the first four episodes flowed nicely and were indeed gripping, I would hardly have called what followed it as such. Following the fast pace of the first four episodes the series slows down dramatically—the focus of the plot muddled as the story refocuses on the side characters Sayaka and Kyuko. It picks up again towards its final few episodes with the POV shift to Homura, but that doesn’t last long as the series ends on what can best be described as a mind-screw ending. (Which I loathed.) Fast forward three years; I watched the series Re:Zero and specifically criticized it for telling an incomplete story…as well as made the following statement: “I thought using the concept of time jumping as a magical power in a fantasy story could be worth demonstrating [exploring]. However, this does not prove to be so for Re:Zero. The reason is because, without the internal logic of Stiens Gate’s science backing up the limitations of Sabaru’s power- there’s no real reason anything can stop him… ” It was at that moment that I had an epiphany. There was another high-end fantasy anime that utilized time travel in a believable way: Madoka Magica! It was also in that moment that I realized that I may have been a bit unfair to Madoka having walked away from it without ever seeing the whole story. After all, there yet remained the film Rebellion, which from what I read online was something of a full-blown sequel to the original series in the same vein as Stiens;Gate’s film The Burden of Déjà vu was a sequel to that series…but better. Released not too long after I had finished the Madoka Magica TV series; I had never gone about watching it as a result of my disgust at the original series’ ending. Following my distasteful experience with Re:Zero and determined to see an old regret put to rest; I decided to return to Madoka Magica and—one way or another—lay my thoughts “in stone” by writing a review for my entire experience. To be more objective and to fill in the three years’ worth of gaps as to the finer details of Madoka Magica’s story, I made the decision to rewatch the TV series before realizing that, lo and behold, there were two films that were made specifically for that purpose. I went into those films expecting the same disappointing experience, as well as a massively disappointing and overhyped sequel... I left with an experience that rivaled Stiens;Gate itself, and one that completely changed my opinion of Madoka Magica forever. It was as if I had had the ear of Gen Urabachi, directors Akiyuki Shinbo and Yukihiro Miyamoto, and studio Shaft themselves when they went about creating the films Beginning, Eternal, and Rebellion. Now, keep in mind that this is my second time writing this review. It’s been a number of weeks now since the original end of my experience with these films, and—I do not exaggerate—my feelings regarding my experience remain just as vindictive as the night I finished watching it: most, if not all, my major gripes about the original series were addressed. The inconsistent pacing of the TV series was what was principally fixed, with about thirty minutes’ worth of the series’ superfluous material cut for the first two films. The animation and direction? Both of these were touched and to a significant degree to make the presentation of Madoka Magica much more in line with other contemporary tense/mature action series out there. And, most damning of all, the original series’ ending? There were a number of logical questions that I had major gripes coming to terms with (namely, that despite the message of love and hope and all that other “Godoka” nonsense, the bottom line was that Madoka was still sacrificing herself, wasn’t she? Didn’t that defeat the entire purpose of Homura time looping over and over again to save her?) became the entire premise/setup of the third film Rebellion, which the first two films—to a much better degree than the TV series—felt like a natural extension of. Now, there were still some issues to contend with. You can imagine my incredible frustration, having believed that Gen Urabuchi and company had finally learned from their mistake the first time around from the end of the TV series and second film Eternal, that they would provide the exact same faux-ex ending a second time in the film Rebellion, and I’m exaggerating only slightly. The execution was much better this time around- but on the whole it still seemed like a faux-ex plot decision that creates more questions than answers, and specifically sets up for another sequel. That defeats the whole purpose of what an ending is supposed to be. Even so… I’m not quite sure what it is, but the closest idea I can get to it is that I don’t like portraying myself in absolutes. For one, I’ll be completely honest and say that I didn’t fully understand everything I saw plot-wise in Madoka Magica. Because there were a lot of little visual cues I probably missed while reading subtitles. (In my original review- I said half-jokingly that there was a lot more going on in Madoka that I didn’t understand than I did.) More important than that, though, throughout those sections of the story I least liked, I still felt a very strong empathetic connection to what was happening to the main characters. Especially Madoka and Homura, and particularly in the story’s two endings provided in Eternal and Rebellion, respectively. That is the primary reason why I had such major gripes with those endings: because I had such a great attachment to the series’ two main protagonists Homura and Madoka. Go ahead, roll your eyes at how ridiculous it is that this online stranger felt such a strong connection to two fictional characters that he can accuse the storywriters of unfair treatment as to make some kind of creative statement, but that’s precisely how this reviewer felt. To this reviewer, the original series and first two films specifically set themselves for an ending where Homura/Madoka either accomplish the impossible or simply accept that they’ll die in the process of trying. What the series and Eternal ultimately goes with, however, is loophole surrounding the revelation that Kyubei, the series’ adorable cat, is the true antagonist of the entire story. Turns out- he tricks little girls into becoming magical girls knowing that the universe will turn against them to compensate for the miracles and power he grants, and then harnesses their energy once they inevitably despair. The series resolves this external conflict with Kyubei (now called an “Incubator”) by using Madoka’s wish (all magical girls are granted a wish, and Madoka’s is foreshadowed to be abnormally powerful) to “rewrite” the laws of the universe that witches can even exist, and the series accomplishes this by turning Madoka into an omnipotent “Godoka” capable of taking any and all despair from witches throughout time. Madoka ceases to exist as a person for everyone except Homura, who courtesy of her time travel capabilities will always have to just take comfort in the fact that Madoka will “always be with her” in a spiritual sense. Everyone else simply forgets she existed altogether. That’s the gist of how the original series and second movie ended. Even given the choice to change this explanation, I will make note of two things. First and foremost, that the storywriters end up making excellent use of logical issues with the original ending for Rebellion. As it would turn out, Homura really does fall to despair (which was a very big internal conflict for Homura that was conveniently “resolved” by the end of the movie Eternal and TV series) over having been unable to stop Madoka from becoming a magical girl and, in addition, being unable to provide for Madoka a normal life. She becomes a witch in all but her mind, and the incubators are able to stop Godoka’s interference by using some sort of one-way dimensional barrier. The spirits of Madoka and company enter the barrier to save Homura, but all become trapped there and forget their goal as they all enjoy the happy ending that never was as a group of middle school girls who happen to also fight evil in their free time. Knowing the practical implications of the Incubators finding a way to manipulate Godoka and re-introducing witches into the universe, Homura makes the fateful decision to complete her transformation into a witch, which shatters her soul gem before she can be saved by Madoka, in a desperate attempt to erase her own existence from the universe. This time there’s a positive plot twist: the souls of Sayaka and Charlette, two souls that Madoka saves from despair, had entered into the barrier along with Madoka with the explicit purpose of shattering it at the appropriate time so that Homura could be rescued by Godoka. They succeed in breaking the barrier, but rather than embrace Godoka’s offer to live out the rest of space time together in her omnipresent company, the show makes the bold decision to introduce yet another mind-screw: Homura—who we aren’t quite sure has become evil or not— tears Madoka’s soul out of Godoka and steals her power, becomes what I like to refer as “Dehomura”, [Demon] and a fellow omnipotent entity. And to what end? Dehomura’s big purpose is to stop anything that would interfere with Madoka having a normal life, and uses her newfound power to create a universe-encompassing labyrinth to do just that. In the final scenes of the series, the ravaged body of Kyubei is depicted and Homura is shown wiping Sayaka’s memories when she tries to confront Homura over the terrible implications of ripping the soul of Godoka apart. In the series’ final scene containing dialogue between Homura and Madoka, Madoka starts to remember her true purpose as Godoka…to which Homura laments that they’ll inevitably have to fight before she embraces her. Such a plot twist is an obvious bid for our continued attention; one that shamelessly plays off our empathy knowing how attached audiences are to Homura and Madoka. While it works to a certain extent in engrossing and shocking the audience, once they really start putting the twist under scrutiny they start to realize that twist provided an ending that simply doesn’t make logical sense given the context of the series and events of the movie up until that point. At best, you can see Homura’s decision to become Dehomura one necessary to prevent the Incubators from being able to “trap” or endanger Madoka ever again, and her evil characteristics could be interpreted as Homura having a psychological breakdown at being forced to betray her best friend. However, at worst—Homura becomes a yandere. Even the above explanation doesn’t really account for certain actions that were depicted: Homura’s sly evil smile before the act of it…The transformation into a self-proclaimed demon…The logical question here is at what point in the movie or series has Homura ever acted like a Yandere? For a story that seemed to highlight a systemic and expert use of literary devices: (including Time travel) abiding by its own rules and following a strict formula that granted magical girls incredible power as well as limited their capacity to effectively use them…I found both endings to be unsatisfactory. It literally blew my mind when the series/Eternal went with the original ending that it did, and one can imagine my immense satisfaction—a miracle, creatively—that the writers and directors of the series were able to “pull through” that ending and create a logical sequel from the smoldering ashes of it…only to turn around and make the exact same ending for the film Rebellion. But backwards…or something. I think the creators realized this too, and head writer Gen Urobuchi has gone on record saying he was against Rebellion’s ending—but was pressured into it by head producer and original director Akiyuki Shinbo as to set up for a sequel. The monetization incentive is certainly there, but I highly doubt we’ll see any sort of sequel by the original staff anytime soon—at least, not one that lives up to the quality of its preceding material and/or is one where the original story/script writers are at the helm. And the longer a sequel isn’t made the higher expectations become. I’m fairly certain that they’ve written themselves into a corner with the ending of Rebellion, and won’t go near it until a logical continuation can be figured out. The liability is simply too great to go down as part of the staff that “ruined” Madoka Magica. The truth, however, is that there is very little that could extend the story in an organic way after the ending of Rebellion. I’d recommend that the storywriters refer to other Science Fantasy fiction for inspiration…Maybe a Jack Vance Dying Earth route is in order. However, I think the basic assumption here is that Homura and Madoka would never fight to the death; such an assumption defies Madoka Magica’s very own logic. They could go with that course regardless, but by doing so they’d have to irrevocably turn Homura into a villan—and keep her as one. If not that, they’d have to explore alternative means of continuing the story. From my experience reading fantasy—that could constitute anything from refocusing on another character’s perspective…Kyouko or Mami, maybe…to starting from a “clean slate” by introducing a new main character, or introducing a new external conflict or plot device that believably fits into the context of the story, (perhaps some kind of secondary effect? Refer to the Stiens Gate film for a case-in-point example) or just rebooting it. Such heavy-handed plot twists usually have to be designed from the story’s beginning lest consequences like this happen. But frankly, making great sequels is an extremely hard thing to do in general. The fact Rebellion is this great is something of a miracle. In some respects, making a quality sequel is even harder than just going ahead and making something new. James Cameron did it in the live action world with Terminator and Aliens, and J.R.R. Tolkien did it in the literary world with The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings—but very seldom do accomplishments like that happen more than twice. Let’s also not forget that it took Tolkien and Cameron seventeen and seven years to come up with the sequels that they did, respectively. Least to say- it’s an emotional affair. With the rest of the series’ issues fixed for the films- the endings are perhaps the last major issues with the series. Sometimes ending a series on a profound question can be a good thing. Case in point is Cowboy Bebop. Is Spike dead? Is he not dead? Does he reunite with his crew? Will there ever be a sequel? Don’t misread me here; ambiguous endings can work if they’re properly foreshadowed. In Bebop’s case, Spike’s reliability as a charismatic character that has pulled through some fairly horrific ordeals is juxtaposed with the foreshadowed and defining past he has always been running away from. But while it’s an important ideological question to ponder—whether Spike is dead or not doesn’t have any bearing on whether the series’ main conflicts are resolved. Because they are. Spike is finally able put an end to Vicious’ rampage. The worst crime any story can ever make is introducing a conflict/question but not answering it. That’s the crime of Madoka Magica. First when it abandons the internal conflict of the co-protagonist Homura with the ending of Eternal, and then again when it introduces a new conflict just as it resolves the old one with the ending of Rebellion. It’s not really fair that I spent some twenty thousand characters focusing on one issue, because I’d love to use the same amount of space praising Madoka Magica’s incredible accomplishments. In particular, the writing behind the characters Madoka and Homura, as well as Madoka Magica’s use of time travel as a plot device to tie together the events of the entire series…Combined with the spectacular production values. Frankly, it’s bloody brilliant, and is one of the very few cases of time travel being employed to create an endearing and believable tale. I also would have loved to delve into how Madoka Magica makes great use of literary inspirations like Alice in Wonderland to create a modern “nonsense” adventure story with dark twists that can truly horrify an unexpecting viewer. Alas, I’ve run out of my twenty-thousand character space. Take my word for it though- Madoka Magica is among the best, and will hit home for any fan of modern action anime. It will subvert your expectations of what an action hero can be in the most wonderful of ways, and depict the nature of friendship and chivalry in the most endearing possible fashion. Toss the TV series and watch the trilogy and enjoy one of the most unique experiences out there. - Blitzburns4
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