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.