There are two purposes for an anime review: to assess whether or not you should watch an anime or to prompt a discussion by seeing other people's opinions. If you're already planning on watching this movie in the near future as a Madoka fan then the bottom line with this review is go watch the movie regardless of what I say. If you don't fall into this category, then read on.
I shall try to keep this review spoiler free. It will use pictures from the trailers, which I don't consider spoilers.
Figure 1: I really wish I got this poster
Puella Magi Madoka Magica Movie 3: Rebellion (hereafter referred to as Madoka 3) is the third movie in the series and the first entirely new animated content for the franchise since the TV series ended in 2011. It is a true sequel in that you do need to watch the TV series and/or the previous movies to understand what's going on. “Rebellion” is a very good secondary title for this movie, but I'll divide this review into sections based upon alternative titles I came up with for the film while watching it.
Madoka 3: The Plot Twists
Akiyuki Shinbo's vision for this movie is very apparent; he wanted to make it different from any other anime movie. This is supported by its strong focus on the modern aspects of its animation, the avant garde style showcased in the witch's labyrinths in the previous movies. There were segments that were so obviously trying to be “artsy” that I thought I was watching a preview of Shaft's version of Disney's Fantasia. This worked to the movie's advantage at times by supporting the mood that it was trying to set and the emotions expressed by the characters, but other times it just seemed like it was trying to be “high art” and “edgy” for its own sake (and as much as I think the word is overused, this is the definition of “pretentious”).
Another aspect of the movie that separates it from the standard anime is its numerous use of plot twists. Considering that this is a Madoka movie, I wasn't surprised to see plot twists; however, I was surprised to see how frequently they were used and how shocking they would be. You know the first plot twist is coming; there's no way that the plot established at the beginning of the movie would continue without some sort of catch. Even after the facade is broken and things “get real” (think episode 3 of the TV series), there are several plot twists after that, so many in fact that I think the movie gets confused and ends up strangling itself on its own plot line. The movie features another freaking AMAZING Kyubey explanation that manages to be even more convoluted than the one from the TV series (although perhaps not quite as scientifically incorrect). Finally, the last plot twist really brought the whole movie down for me. Despite it being one of the most shocking plot twists I've ever experienced (think Bioshock Infinite ending shocking), I really don't think it worked with the characters that had been established. It stretches certain aspects of the characters way too far, to the point where it seems like their actions later in the movie are in direct contradiction with their actions just 15 minutes earlier in the film. I'll talk more about these plot twists in my blog post, but the bottom line is while the last twist made for an exciting finish, I don't think it improved the movie as a whole.
Madoka 3: The Struggle is Real
The movie's strong points are in its execution of its vision, even though I don't necessarily agree with the direction at times. They spared absolutely no expense in animation, and the battle sequences in the movie were absolutely stunning. They rival the Nanoha movies for some of my favorite battle sequences I've seen in anime. As I mentioned earlier, the surreal art does achieve its purpose at times, and there are moments in the movie where the combination of pristine animation, masterful voice acting, and sweeping melodies of the Yuki Kajiura score (in my opinion, one of her best yet), combine to create what can be described as no less than a masterpiece.
The emotion that is portrayed by the veterans on the voice acting team, particularly Chiwa Saito (Homura), Aoi Yuuki (Madoka), and Eri Kitamura (Sayaka), reinforces the overall mood of a conflict that is as much a sentimental one as well as physical. Watching these characters wallowing in misery would usually result in a dismissive labeling of “wangst,” but these actresses manage to remain convincing throughout the film.
Figure 2: An 100% legit picture of Aoi Yuuki in studio
Madoka 3: You can (not) hate this movie
Besides the major points of the last plot twist and the animation pretentiousness mentioned above, the movie has other relatively minor problems. First is a big lipped alligator moment that occurs about 15 minutes into the film. It's based upon a lot of Japanese language puns and essentially has the magical girl quintet rapping an incantation (a sentence I never thought I'd have to write). Not only is this very confusing for foreign audiences, it serves virtually no purpose whatsoever in the film and is never explained or mentioned again. Second, the new character that is introduced doesn't really get a lot of screen time and is essentially useless. As timeroverx will so diligently point out, she wasn't pointless since she serves a couple purposes in the movie (I won't say what because of spoilers), but she didn't have a huge impact on the group dynamics at all.
That all said, I can't hate this movie. In the end, it was just too good. It was the Madoka franchise being the Madoka franchise. It was Akiyuki Shinbo trying to push the boundaries of what is possible to do in animation, and while some of his decisions will keep this off my list of all time favorite anime, it was still a very good movie overall and highly recommended for any Madoka fan.