Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part 1: Beginnings – Review
Uhm, why…? I mean, I get the sentiment, she wants to bond with her mother but still… What a weird thing to wish for. It just sounds so naive and ignorant that it’s hard to see even a girl at Madoka’s age saying that.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part 1: The Only Way To Be A Good Mahou-Shoujo Is To Not Be One – Review
I’ve seen the last episode of the first season of Selector Infected WIXOSS which was… Well, for being a 2-cour-series things certainly felt strangely rushed. But the point is that one of the main-criticisms was how it’s just a Madoka-clone. Sure, I can see it. WIXOSS has some very similar story-moves but I say, give it a break! WIXOSS does plenty that differentiates it from Madoka Magica! Instead of just copying Madoka, WIXOSS knows how to find some individuality. It takes stuff that is sort-of like stuff Madoka does – and does a worse job of turning it into a story. It’s not copying when you’re doing a way worse job than the original, right? There are thousands of art-teachers out there that praise grade-schoolers for good drawings but you don’t see any professional artist suing them for copyright infringement, do you? And look, Madoka Magica wants to make you believe that teenage-girls actually would use weapons to battle evil witches? How is that realistic? Everybody knows that teenage-girls are totally into Collectible Card Games and that’s exactly why WIXOSS makes their card-battles as vague as possible. WIXOSS knows its audience, they know what makes girls tick. And that’s flashy, non-descriptive battles. Well, anyway here’s the first review of the Madoka-movie-trilogy
Running Time: 130 minutes
In the city of Mitakihara, a girl named Madoka Kaname, along with her friend, Sayaka Miki, encounter a creature named Kyubey and are saved from witches by a magical girl named Mami Tomoe. Kyubey offers Madoka and Sayaka the chance to have any one wish granted in exchange for becoming a magical girl and fighting witches, whilst Homura Akemi, another magical girl who recently transferred into Madoka’s class, is strongly against Madoka becoming one.
That coloured background they chose for this shot definitely reminded me of Colour Out Of Space by H.P. Lovecraft. Especially since Kyubey is such a great evil character and he’s one of those VERY rare evil characters that isn’t an outright antagonist.
A Brief Cynical Summary of Madoka Magica’s History…
Or Why Gore And Violence Is A Good Deconstruction Of The Mahou Shoujo Genre
There was a plan and there was an idea. But the two guys had a bit more than that, Iwakami was a producer at SHAFT studios and Shinbo was a prolific anime director. Iwakami and Shinbo wanted to create an original anime-series that appealed to the “general anime viewer” (read: otakus). Iwakami even had the great idea to put the show’s title in romaji-font! Nothing makes it clearer that you mean business than giving your anime a title with non-Japanese letters… even if I can’t imagine anyone giving a shit about that in the 21st century.
But that was the plan and Shinbo had an idea: ‘Hey, how about we kill off the girls in the series? Nothing makes a series about girls trying to do good more special than killing off a bunch of them in the process, right?’ It was a good idea, history will surely say. The best way to deconstruct the mahou-shoujo-genre is to turn it into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre after all! That’s when he brought Gen Urobuchi into the team, a great writer who’s VERY concerned with his privacy. You’d never know why, except when people interview him and he reveals himself to be a real “charmer” (sure, Gen, 9/11 was definitely a very grim interpretation of mahou-shoujo-tropes).
Shinbo had another idea as well and that was to have disingenuous marketing. All the previews of Madoka Magica tried to market it as your typical fluffy mahou-shoujo-series. The original pull for this series was mainly the people behind it and not the story or its characters. And until the third episode nobody had really realized what the series was actually going for. It all went SO well – that people complained to the BPO about it (BPO is Japan’s watchdog for TV-content). The complaints were basically about how a little girl died in such a horrible fashion and how the creators of the show are intending to profit from such a scene (I don’t know who writes those complaints to the BPO but they’re always very hyperbolic-minded people, it seems). Since Madoka already aired very late, nothing really came out of it, of course. The words “story-contextualization” got thrown around a lot, though, by the people working on the series as a reaction to the complaints. Although, there is a little story that Shinbo later tried to talk with Gen Urobuchi about Sayaka’s arc and that he felt her fate was a bit unfair. The official story is that Shinbo apparently liked the character so much that he wanted her to stay around in some fashion but one could suspect him responding to the criticisms about Mami’s death there, I would say. Not that it really matters since he was overruled by the rest of the team in that matter.
Anyway, once everybody realized what the deal with this series was, its popularity simply exploded. And it never stopped rising. It is THE most talked about anime on 2chan at this point. Everything was well except a tragedy happened. The 2011 Touhoku earthquake interrupted the regular broadcast of the series and the airing of the final two episodes was postponed. But you can always count on Gen ‘Prince Charming’ Urobuchi to find the good side of a catastrophe. His response to the postponing of the episodes was being thankful. Apparently the team behind Madoka Magica was on a VERY tight schedule and the earthquake had sort-of delivered them a much needed break from the weekly schedule. Shinbo immediately ordered the team to redo or improve the animations for the final two episodes. Unsurprisingly the earthquake wasn’t as much a break as it was implied by Urobuchi. It was clear that more than in need of a break the team of the series was WAY behind schedule. The final two episodes aired a dozen weeks after their originally intended airing-date.
The release of the blu-rays and DVDs was also delayed and a month after it the movie-trilogy got announced. The movie had redone voices, polished animations, new scenes etc. – it’s the usual spiel for these movie-adaptations of anime-TV-series. Except that third movie, that one was special. But that’s a completely different story…
Haha, that’s funny because… *sigh* Every time someone makes that stupid joke in an anime, I feel like the series is just self-aware enough to jizz on the fourth wall. It’s not breaking it, no, it’s simply satisfied with congratulating its own existence via masturbation. Seriously, I, as the audience, KNOW it’s an anime, there’s NOTHING funny about an anime knowing ONLY that it’s an anime.
The thing with movie-adaptations of TV-series is that it’s hard to see the benefits of it. Madoka Magica has the luck, though, to alleviate one of the problems by adapting its 1-cour-series into two 2-hour-movies. But since the plot remains mostly unchanged it’s clear when watching the first movie, you’re watching one half of a series. And by remaining truthful to the structure of a 1-cour-series the movie doesn’t end with any serious pay-off. While you may look at each of the Lord Of The Rings movies and at least find some resemblance of a self-contained dramatic structure, the first Madoka-movie moves and stops in spurts following two arcs instead of one cohesive one. And then it just ends. The movie tries to frame that ending like a cliffhanger but it’s still the cliffhanger of a TV-episode. It is the cliffhanger that tries to keep the audience’s attention and motivate them to watch the next episode. But with a movie where the audience has to wait a few months or (most of the time) even longer for the sequel to happen, a cliffhanger also needs to be a setup. There must be some sort of glimpse of what is to come and not just the simple suspense of a problem without a solution. Granted Madoka Magica is a great series but I can imagine a ton of people leaving the movie-theater when the movie was released and rushing out to watch the DVD/Blu-ray-version of the TV-series instead of waiting for the movie-series to continue.
Splitting the TV-series into two 2-hour-movies may have been a better idea than turning it into one movie or doing something even more stupid but it showed that Madoka Magica was meant to be a TV-series. Madoka Magica is known for deconstructing the mahou-shoujo-genre, killing off characters in a brutal fashion, having the most insidious moe-blob imaginable and having a bit of a mindfuck-ending. It all makes the series sound like a very flashy affair but overall, Madoka Magica is very low-key actually. The series may be known for its darkness but it starts out as a fairly typical Mahou Shoujo series (as Shinbo intended). And even after it becomes apparent how far this series is willing to go with its brutal message, the series still only moves very gradually towards revealing the whole horror of the series’ universe.
The most important element to the story in that regard is Homura as she’s basically a Cassandra-figure in this story. She’s the one who almost futilely tries to keep the characters away from the whole mahou-shoujo-business. And supported by later revelations about her character, it’s a great choice to give her this weary, matter-of-fact tone (Chiwa Saitou does a great job there). Instead of just making her stoic or entirely emotionless as many other animes like to do, the series makes clear that Homura is a character fueled by despair. But the series also shows her stubbornness in the way she never stops offering warnings to the characters. And the series clearly plays with appearances here since Homura is portrayed like this brooding, cold person. On the other hand, Kyubey is this bright, red-eyed, always-smiling little animal-thingy that also always has a chipper tone.
And the obvious dichotomy between them is shown in two very different scenes where Madoka and Sayaka confront Homura and Kyubey about why they didn’t reveal the horrible truth earlier. And Homura tells Madoka she didn’t say anything because nobody would believe her. The story later shows why she can be sure of that but the point is that she’s untrustworthy until her ominous warnings turn out to be. Meanwhile, when later Sayaka confronts Kyubey about another horrid detail his explanation is that she never asked about it. That’s where then the deconstruction happens. All the little plot-holes in the typical mahou-shoujo-story that everyone just takes for granted (both the audience and the characters) turn out to hide horrible solutions to make it all work. And Kyubey’s attitude while portrayed as somewhat alien is portrayed as very logical in that regard. But that’s something that will be more relevant in the second movie.
It’s great to see in how many ways this series finds ways to express the loneliness it sees at the heart of its idea of mahou-shoujo. Just in this shot, you have the physical isolation of them being in a place with no people and the isolation of them both staring at the sky instead of at each other as you would normally do in a conversation.
But the interesting thing is that in the end neither of them are a really big influence on Sakuya and Madoka. In many ways Madoka Magica is a very plot-driven series. With Homura’s warnings going unheeded and Kyubey being unable to force anyone to become a mahou-shoujo, the decisions ultimately lie with the other characters. What ultimately puts Sayaka and Madoka in positions where they listen to one side or the other are sudden events. And while Homura tries to keep them from getting involved in those events whose only solution is to become mahou-shoujo, Kyubey always urges the girls to get into the action while showing them that they need to become mahou-shoujo. But it’s interesting how neither Homura nor Kyubey are actually able to take control of the situation. As sudden as those events are, they’re also always an escalation beyond the control of the main-cast in the series. And that powerlessness that the characters have to face again and again is what leads then to them always being pushed back into this dark world that Homura and Kyubey inhabit. Therefore it’s appropriate that Madoka and Sayaka’s first foray into this world happens by going into a dark area under construction past a shield saying they shouldn’t enter (not very subtle as far as metaphors go, but whatever…).
But the character who really pushes Madoka and Sayaka into the world of the mahou-shoujo is Mami. And she’s a really interesting character actually. I feel like the series does her a bit of a disservice by how early on she’s killed for shock-value. In many ways Mami is the ideal, she’s the closest thing to a typical mahou-shoujo Madoka Magica has. She’s elegant, stylish, beautiful and is powerful enough to battle the evil witches. When Madoka and Sayaka look at her, they see the potential for heroism in becoming a mahou-shoujo. It’s still all very low-key, though, with the battles being more weird than actually flashy. The spectacle in Mami’s battles feels more like a choice than a necessity. It makes her charismatic. But the writing is at its strongest at this stage because the horrible price that mahou-shoujo have to pay for getting their miracle and battling evil is implied instead of stated. Later it’s even mentioned that Mami didn’t know any of the horrible truths about the mahou-shoujo. When Mami talks about the duties of mahou-shoujo she talks a lot about how witches are corrupting people to do bad things and that they live in an unseen world only accessible to mahou-shoujo (and those who can become such, I guess). But even in those explanations a very deep sense of loneliness is shining through. And more than hinting at the isolation mahou-shoujo have to endure there’s also this sense of darkness. There’s this moment where Mami explains how she patrols the city each night in search of witches and because witches mostly latch onto people that are already somewhat evil, she patrols red light districts, hospitals and other bad parts of the city. Mami has spent countless nights patrolling those parts of the city that bring her face to face with human suffering again and again. And there’s this scene between her and Homura that sees her acting different from when she’s around Madoka and Sayaka. It feels like all the spectacle, charisma and heroism of her is just a mask while in truth she’s a very lonely person. And the subtlety with which her depth is presented in those scenes makes her a way more interesting character than the story and plot give her credit for, it feels like.
But she dies. And it’s a brutal death, mostly because the death feels undeserved. And the whole moment of her death happens TOO fast. The first time around when I saw it when it originally aired there was a lot of shock attached to that moment. But already knowing what would happen, I have to say that it seems a little absurd just how easy and fast Mami dies in this movie. Looking how much her death influences the plot after that and the rest of the characters, it’s clear that in that moment the plot was prioritized over the characters. It also reeks a bit of stupidity that Mami would rather chain up Homura than accept her offer of help and ignore her warnings. I mean, why did she do this? It’s the sort of logic that motivates characters in a horror-movie to split up or seek out evil, dangerous stuff for shits and giggles.
The second arc of the movie concerns Sayaka and her arc is basically jumpstarted by a sudden event. Her pseudo-boyfriend suddenly turns into an asshole which forces her to use up her wish as a mahou shoujo. And then Kyouko turns up for a few plot-driven action-scenes that ultimately lead to her revealing herself as a cautionary tale about wishes. Naturally it’s one that Sayaka ignores since people never listen to warnings on this show. And while Mami’s fate ultimately underlined the emotional price of isolation, Sayaka’s arc is all about realizing the physical price of being a mahou shoujo. There are a lot of shots of Sayaka looking at her pseudo-boyfriend from a distance or standing in front of a gate that is way bigger than Sayaka and very physically shows the distance between her and him. The point that has been from the very start is how all the witches-stuff happens in an unseen realm and all the battles happen in some parallel dimension. The mahou shoujo are also part of this unseen world as well, though, and even the miracle seems like something that happens in the same unseen way. So, while Sayaka helped the guy she loved, ultimately she did that by leaving the normal world behind. And as she’s starting to realize this, her emotional pain starts to pile up and overwhelms her.
- Favourite characters: First place definitely goes to Junko Kaname, Madoka’s mother. She really is the sort of character where ‘cool’ is an appropriate description. In second place there’s Homura because her tragic story is really great and effective. Even in this first movie, despite being kind-of in the background in the dialogues, she has this tragic, compelling feel to her character.
- I don’t know how anyone else feels about this, but the Shaft-y weirdness of how the witches and that special dimension are animated… it mostly left me cold. Sure, it’s weird but it’s just… stuff. There’s no real deep purpose to it that adds something to the story. That’s how I think of most Shaft-series’ typical weirdness: Just breaking out of the series’ usual animation-style and maybe also storytelling-style isn’t enough. There needs to be a purpose to it that extends to the rest of the series. Just doing something weird that makes somewhat sense just isn’t good enough. It needs to enhance the experience of the complete series to be meaningful. Otherwise, it’s just a stupid gimmick.
- In regards to differences between the TV-series and this movie… Was the TV-series also that blatant with its foreshadowing regarding Madoka? Also, the truth about Homura’s ‘past’… as far as I remember that was only made clear during the last four episodes or so. Before that it really wasn’t clear what the deal was with Homura and why she acted that way.
- Next time, I will talk about the 2nd movie that covers the last four episodes of the TV-series and about the fandom surrounding the Madoka Magica franchise.
Posted on June 20, 2014, in Anime, Madoka Magica Movie Series, Reviews and tagged Anime, Gekijō-ban Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magica Zenpen: Hajimari no Monogatari, Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part 1: Beginnings, reviews, 劇場版 魔法少女まどか☆マギカ 前編: 始まりの物語. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.