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.
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.