Anime Reviews: Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part 1: Beginnings
While it contains absolutely nothing new, Beginnings delivers its familiar narrative in a manner comparable to--or even surpassing--its original TV counterpart.
Title: Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part 1: Beginnings a.k.a. Gekijouban Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Zenpen: Hajimari no Monogatari
Film Length: 131 minutes
Air Dates: 10/6/2012
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Madoka Kaname leads a normal and uneventful life. However, everything she's ever known is thrown into question when a mysterious transfer student named Homura Akemi confronts Madoka, warning her that, if she values her life and finds her friends and family precious, then she would not try to do anything to change herself. Not long after, Madoka comes across a wounded creature named Kyubey and a young woman with magical powers named Mami Tomoe. Mami is a Puella Magi, a magical girl who has made a contract with Kyubey, granting her a single wish in exchange for the duty of battling witches, which are the entities responsible for sowing spontaneous sorrow and hatred throughout the world. Kyubey wants Madoka to also make a contract with him, but what kind of wish would be worth risking one's life for?
The Good: Well-paced and well-directed; great for both fans and newcomers alike; new theme songs
The Bad: Very little new animation
The Ugly: The inability to reach through your screen and punch Kyubey in his stupid face
Truth be told, I was a little hesitant to check out the Madoka films, particularly the first two, largely because I was afraid that they would be rushed and incoherent and lacking in the humanity that made the original TV series great. To be fair, a precedent had been set for movies like this to bastardize the original, and so my hesitation was perfectly rational. However, the third Madoka film is on its way, so I figured a refresher was needed. And that's when I learned that these movies are nowhere even close to the rushed, incoherent mess I was expecting.
Of course, Beginnings has the advantage of being just over two hours long, meaning that covering the first 8 episodes of the TV series is pretty easy. Sure, there's about 40 minutes of footage that's been cut, but while you're watching the movie, you'll never notice that anything truly is missing. This is because the pace and flow of the film is superb, never slowing to a crawl or racing at blinding speeds, but rather finding that happy medium where the action is quick without being alienating or overwhelming. As silly as it sounds, that's an incredibly important trait for any movie to have, and one I was afraid Beginnings would lack. Smart edits and competent directing save the day again!
Speaking of which, director Akuyuki Shinbo is the one who really brought it all together. Knowing which scenes to keep and which to ditch are always big issues when making such compilation films, and Beginnings is an example of a director making all the right choices--every scene is important in some way, whether it's furthering the story, building character, or building the setting, and the fact that not a single frame was wasted is a testament not only to the love behind the project, but also the love for the fanbase.
I mean, this is just one of two recap movies to pump us up for the shiny new story, and there was no reason whatsoever for Shaft to care about the structure of these films, but they gave it their all to make the films gripping and suspenseful, anyway. In fact, I'd even be as bold to say that I was even more enraptured by the films than I was the TV series; there were no commercial breaks, no theme song interruptions (well, aside from the film's own), and the story was allowed to flow at its own pace without worrying about time constraints. And that's not even the best part about these films, either.
That would be its broad accessibility. Having seen the TV series twice before (and loving it both times), I can vouch for the fact that Beginnings was just as satisfying, and then some. This time, I gave myself a chance to see the story unfold from Homura's viewpoint, and my perspective was dramatically changed for the better. What was once good writing propelled rapidly to legendary status, and the entire story was flipped on its head. And I loved it. Of course, this is my opinion as a fan of the series, so how easy is it for newbies to get into it? Spoiler Alert: Very.
One of the biggest benefits of compilation films like this is that a longer series is presented in a relatively bite-sized portion, so newcomers don't have to invest a lot of time to get enjoyment out of it, and that's what these films do. It also helps that, as mentioned earlier, the events are presented quickly, but not beyond anyone's ability to keep up. Everything that a new viewer would need to know is carefully explained--just as in the TV show--and so when it gets real, anyone can clearly see what happened and why it happened. So yeah, if you're interested in the Madoka Magica series, you really can't go wrong here. It really is one of those rare instances where the movies can adequately replace the TV show.
But there is an obvious flaw to the Madoka films, and that's the animation. Or rather, the complete lack of new animation. Yes, I know that these movies are ultimately a well put-together refresher for the new film, Rebellion, but some new animation would've been appreciated, y'know? Because aside from new transformation sequences, there's literally nothing new put into the visuals. As mentioned in my review of the TV series, it's not bad animation by any means, but I would hesitate to call it movie-quality. The artwork is pretty and all, and the animation is still inventive and varied, but I would've liked to see some more touching up done on the in-betweens or, hell, even fixing many of the off-model shots. But alas, I can't have everything.
But at least we did get some new music to enjoy. Mami got a pretty freaking spectacular new theme, "Mirai" by Kalafina, and ClariS gives us an emotional opening theme with "Luminous" (seen here via Osu!, because it's strangely hard to find). It's not much, but I'll take two great songs over a bunch of mediocre ones, and in the case of Yuki Kajiura's original soundtrack, I did not once mind hearing it again. And that's how it should be.
And that's the first Madoka film in a nutshell. I'm a bit hesitant to review the next one, as it's every bit as good as this one (maybe even more so) and I'll be repeating myself a lot, but we'll get there when we get there. The main point here is that I wasn't expecting much out of Beginnings, but my expectations were crushed into dust. It takes some doing to take a story you've already seen and retell it so that it's just as engrossing as it was the first time around. And for those looking to get into the franchise, there's no better place to start.
Final Score: 9 out of 10. I would've liked to see more new animation, but the fact remains that Beginnings manages to compress most of the original series into a two-hour movie without being rushed or incoherent in the slightest, making it a great refresher for fans and a rewarding experience for newcomers.