Anime Reviews: Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part 3: Rebellion
Wondrous to behold, difficult to digest, Rebellion is an unpredictable and divisive film that requires as much effort to watch and enjoy as it took to make.
Title: Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part 3: Rebellion a.k.a. Gekijouban Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Shinpen: Hangyaku no Monogatari
Film Length: 117 minutes
Air Dates: 10/26/2013
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: After Madoka made her wish, which prevents witches from ever materializing, the clock seems to have been turned back to the beginning--Homura enters Mitakihara High School as a transfer student, quickly becoming acquainted to and befriending Madoka and the others. The girls still make a contract with Kyubey to have a wish granted in exchange for the powers of a Puella Magi, but their enemies this time are Nightmares, a faceless malevolent force that assaults the minds of people. The Holy Quintet, as they call themselves, spend their days fighting off the Nightmares and celebrating each victory together--that is, until Homura begins to regain her memories. Suddenly, she realizes that everything is wrong: When did Kyoko attend their school? Why is Mami keeping the witch who killed her as a pet? Why doesn't Kyubey speak? And most importantly, how does Madoka even exist as a human? Her quest for answers will lead her down the road to rebellion...
The Good: Tremendous visuals; interesting story, concepts, and twist
The Bad: Disjointed and uneven; takes multiple viewings to fully understand; extremely divisive
The Ugly: Trying to decide which insufferable mascot animal is more annoying
Boy, I really had a hard time making heads or tails of this movie. To put it as briefly as possible, this is Shaft's End of Evangelion. It's artsy, it's convoluted, it's shocking (if not in content, then certainly in narrative), it's hard to delve into, and it's split the Madoka fanbase in half. On one hand, you've got fans who have completely bought into this film and praise its daring and its ideas, and on the other hand, you've got fans who felt completely betrayed by the twist and the changes made to the story. Everything about Rebellion, from the simple act of watching it to the much trickier act of reviewing it, is difficult as hell. So let's just dive right in!
First and foremost, holy balls is this movie beautiful. The animation is lively and fluid, particularly during the many action sequences, with characters darting around and the series' signature shifting art styles weaving in and out of each scene. And with such flowing animation, it's amazing that so much detail could still be put into the artwork and designs, but Shaft are a very detail-oriented studio and having a film budget at their disposal certainly works in their favor. I almost take back what I said about the previous films recycling their animation from the TV series, because missing out on the visual marvels presented in Rebellion would truly be tragic. Beautiful, beautiful film.
On the subject of aesthetics, the voice acting is just as solid as it's always been in the Japanese cast, but only time will tell if the sadly mediocre English cast will step up their game when the time comes for this film to be localized. But, since the film is still only in theaters, that won't be for quite a while yet. All in all, I was expecting a great performance and I got one, so that's hardly a shock.
As far as the soundtrack goes, I really enjoyed the new opener "Colorful" by ClariS, with its melancholy yet hopeful atmosphere. Quite a fitting tune, if you ask me. The ending theme, "Your Silver Garden," is a bit of a disappointment for me, as this film's ending does beg for a truly grand finisher, but I'd be lying if I said it was a bad song. With its use of music box melodies and a 6/4 time signature resembling a waltz, it's most certainly an interesting and mysterious song, but as I said, I was expecting something a bit different.
Concerning the regular background music, it is sadly an unspectacular effort from Yuki Kajiura. While this still means it would be a lesser composer's magnum opus, I expected her to pull out all the stops to create something truly special, but it feels like she's on auto-pilot. Sadly, due to the fact that the film is still brand-spanking-new, I can't provide any videos to demonstrate all of this to you, so you'll either have to wait or go see the movie.
Now, with that said, Rebellion is a very packed movie, filled to the brim with both riveting action and even more riveting drama, oftentimes at the same time! The time for spoilers will come later, so I can't divulge too much right now, but this is a very inspired and different film from what Madoka fans will be used to. To put it as vaguely as possible, the film falls into three distinct sections of roughly equal length: the New Status Quo, the Breakdown, and the Rebellion are what I'll call them. Each brings all kinds of new concepts to the series, and for the most part, this is where I'd say the film's greatest strengths lie.
On my first viewing, the New Status Quo segment really annoyed me at times, with its upbeat and cutesy Holy Quintet transformations and dancing and cake-eating, but that was largely because I had no idea where the film was going with it. When it became clear to me in the Breakdown segment what was going on in the story, I had to sit back and recognize the genius of it all (though BB and the Round Cake scene will never sit well with me). After the first third, when the Breakdown and Rebellion sequences take full swing, that's when the narrative kicks into overdrive and my already-blown mind was blown even more.
But of course, as great as the story is, the climax of the Rebellion is what will truly stay with you long after the film ends. Not only because it takes an extremely unexpected and dark route, but also because you'll be kicking yourself for not seeing it coming sooner. Here's a hint: It involves Homura. Too often, a story will have an unjustifiable out-of-nowhere game-changing twist for no reason other than to have one (I'm looking at you, Persona 3), and at first glance it seems that's what happened in Rebellion, but when you think back on Homura's character and the veritable hell she's been through, you'll be--as I said--kicking yourself for missing the clues.
And now, it does sadden me to say that Rebellion has some pretty significant flaws--not enough to say it's anything less than great, but still too much to ignore. The biggest problem present here is that the film as a whole just feels janky and all over the place. Where the TV series was smooth and seamless in its flow, Rebellion will shift gears from one major event to another with a line or two of dialogue branching them, and on a larger scale, the same is true for the transition between the three major sections. As the New Status Quo comes to an end, it's almost like Gen Urobuchi was looking at his screenplay and just said, "Screw it, time for something different," before hastily moving on to the Breakdown. There is a phrase JesuOtaku uses in her review of the film to describe the ending, "executed quickly and gracelessly," and while I disagree with her assessment of the climax's content, that phrase certainly does ring true--and not just there, either, but all throughout the film. This is not a smooth viewing experience, and that certainly doesn't help the fact that Rebellion is already a difficult film to watch on its own.
Much like FLCL, this is an anime that demands to be seen multiple times to pick up on all of its themes. This isn't really a huge issue, but do be prepared to be bombarded with details that you'll inevitably miss, both in the artwork and the dialogue. But to fans of the Madoka story, this is far from the #1 issue they have with the film.
Just as a warning, from here on out. I will be delving into heinous spoilers, so if you don't want to be spoiled, skip to the end of this review and then go watch the movie.
Now then, I mentioned at the start of this review that this film is Shaft's answer to End of Evangelion, and considering the events of the Rebellion, it's perfectly easy to see the resemblance. The final 40 minutes are a never-ending barrage of metaphysical art and Homura's plight, as she must choose between two horrible fates: letting the real Madoka cleanse her soul and finally bring her the happiness she's longed for at the expense of allowing Kyubey to capture and control Madoka, or allowing her soul to corrupt entirely, foiling Kyubey's attempts to use Madoka as a test subject but also preventing her from ever achieving that ever-elusive peace she wished for in the wake of Walpurgisnacht. This is essentially the crux of the climax, and it is a familiar one.
Now for the Evangelion connection: Savvy viewers will recognize the parallel between Homura's conundrum with that of Shinji's, who had to make the choice between allowing the human race to exist in its current state as separate beings that bring each other both pain and joy, or to commence Instrumentality and combine all life into a single entity of eternal unity and eternal solitude. Both Homura and Shinji must make a decision that will bring them sorrow regardless of the outcome, but the key difference is this: End of Evangelion took the more hopeful route, with Shinji opting to preserve individuality and hope for a better future.
Homura, on the other hand, chooses Option C: Force Madoka to become one with her, imprison Kyubey, and reform the world in her image for her desires. Where Shinji acted as a benevolent God figure, Homura openly and unashamedly becomes the Devil. And here's where the fanbase went into a veritable blood frenzy.
On one side, folks like me say that this was a totally legitimate twist. After having been hardened by the innumerable rewrites of her fate, Homura's love (which was entirely platonic, dammit) for a fallen friend became an intense passion became a desperate need became a dark and unhealthy obsession. What was once a selfless act of sacrifice and heroism has long since blackened into a selfish and possessive ambition. This was all present in the TV series, and there were no bones made about it. So, when the time came that Homura could finally reach out and claim Madoka for herself, the outcome present in Rebellion is the only logical one. Sorry folks, but those who claim Homura acted out-of-character when she made Madoka her cherished prisoner are sadly mistaken.
And now, this is where the spoilers have officially ended. You can safely read beyond this line now.
While the ending is certainly the biggest reason for the split in the fanbase, it's followed closely behind by the fact that the film even exists at all. To be fair, Gen Urobuchi himself said that trying to write a continuation of the story was tremendously difficult as he felt the original ending was fine as-is, so it's natural that many would make the same claim. However, the film now exists and it does make sense in the context of the franchise, so it's earned the right to be deemed an essential viewing for Madoka fans. And that's really the important thing, isn't it?
Well, that went on a lot longer than I anticipated. Long story short, Rebellion may not be of the same polished quality as the TV series, but it still is not even close to being a bad film. You just need to know a few things ahead of time: The story is segmented, the ending will broadside you if you're not paying attention, and it's essential that you keep a very close eye on Homura, her observations, and the world around her. As long as you know going in that this isn't a simple sit-back-and-turn-your-brain-off kind of film, you'll be golden.
Final Score: 7 out of 10. Though one of the most difficult and divisive films around, and uneven to boot, Rebellion is simply too ambitious, too artistically impressive, and too important to the franchise to ever be considered a disappointment.