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Film Reviews: The Madoka Movies
Caution: Spoilers ahead! If you haven't seen the entirety of the Puella Magi Madoka Magica show, don't read this. (Or if you don't care about spoilers, I guess?)
While there are three movies based on the series Puella Magi Madoka Magica, I can only recommend the third one, Rebellion, to people who have seen the series. Why? Because the first two are simply re-showing the main events of the episodes of the show itself, with no new story added. Rebellion is a true sequel to the first two movies/show, creating an alternative ending. Now, not to say that the first movies are bad, they're wonderfully animated and have great music, but don't expect any real new content that differs greatly from the series.
First Movie: Beginnings
This movie follows the events of the Puella Magi Madoka Magica story up until Sayaka reaches her breaking point of despair. Basically, it's a retelling of the anime exactly, except some scenes have been cut for time, there was a new opening sequence (with more yuri hints, as in the picture on the right), and I suppose the animation is better or different, but I didn't notice anything too different.
Second Movie: Eternal
This is a recap of everything from the moment when Sayaka becomes a witch up until the part where Madoka makes her wish, changes the universe, and becomes a God-like being, the living embodiment of hope. Like Beginnings, this movie is just a retelling, although it includes a hook for the next movie at the end. Overall though, I think Beginnings and Eternal are good movies, and they make a good addition to your collection if you want to rewatch the important events of the Puella Magi Madoka Magica story without having to watch the full episodes. These movies seem to heighten the intensity and darkness of the show, focusing sharply on the most tragic moments. They might be a better way to introduce the show to newcomers than the actual show, but they're a waste of time and money if you've seen the show and want to get to the part where they start telling new story.
Third Movie: Rebellion
"Rebellion" is an impressive feat of animation, and a gripping story, making it one of my favorite anime movies of all time. Basically, the main characters of the series, including Madoka, are magical girls living in a new reality without witches, where they fight "Nightmares". Homura soon realizes that not all is what it seems and investigates the truth of this world she's in. She wonders why she knows things the others don't. When she discovers the truth, she becomes the enemy once more of the incubators and has to stop them from laying a trap to ensnare God-like Madoka in. This movie is beautifully animated, emotionally gripping, and should be in any anime fan's top ten.
Discussion and Themes
Themes explored in the Madoka-verse include:
- Growing up, especially as a girl on the cusp of womanhood.
- Femininity, yonic symbolism, and dealing with misogyny.
- Conflict. In this world, it's not like in a lot of anime where trust and friendship come easily except for a few obvious villains. The girls meet and distrust or are hostile to one another, except for Mami, who tries to welcome everyone because of her inner loneliness and pain of losing her family, and Madoka, who simply doesn't know who to trust, so she kind of tries to hear out everyone. In "Madoka", it's not so easy to patch up friendships when a boy comes between two female friends either, which is a conflict that is often resolved too easily and painlessly to be realistic in many shoujo (girls') animes.
- Morality that is not so much good vs. evil, but a conflict of two incompatible worldviews (human vs. incubator).
- The "deal with the devil" and being careful what you wish for.
- Buddhist concepts, such as all desires being the cause of suffering, as well as Homura's story being like the Buddhist concept of enlightenment, seeking to end her torturous cycle of reincarnation.
- Christian concepts, such as Madoka becoming an omnipresent God-like figure using self-sacrifice, and the belief that hope will ultimately triumph over despair and good will conquer evil. Also, the end of the second movie/series is very much like the Christian apocalypse, in that a battle between good and evil destroys the world, but a new paradise-like world is born from the struggle.
- Nature, Darwinism, and the struggle of life itself. Kyubey mentions that Incubators helped humans advance and be protected, much like humans protect livestock, which have a much better survival chance than they would in the wild.
- The physics of entropy and time travel. (A friend of mine who cosplays as Homura did a panel on this, but I'm crappy at explaining it.)
- Morality: are magical girls the Ubermensch, in that they are above humans and not subject to their morals or laws? Kyoko steals food and Homura steals guns, but in both cases, these are necessary for them to survive. Is it justified? Do magical girls, secretly fighting humanity's biggest battles, require to be unshackled from normal human morality? What moral rules should apply to magical girls? Who would enforce such a thing?
- Disclosure and consent: does Kyubey "trick" the girls he makes contracts with? He claims he gets "consent", but this consent is fishy, because information that could make them not choose to become magical girls is deliberately withheld. "You didn't ask" doesn't seem like much of an excuse if they would not know what to ask or that they needed to ask. What disclosure should be needed for consent to become a magical girl to be valid?
While Beginnings and Eternal are mere recaps that can be skipped if you have already seen the anime of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Rebellion is a movie that can't be missed, and truly has to be seen to be believed. While all three movies are good, Rebellion is the definite gem.