Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie Part 3: Rebellion – Review
Fan-pandering and retconning united in one picture.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie Part 3: Homura Gives Love A Bad Name – Review
This third movie is a weird one. I still enjoyed it, after all I enjoyed the original series. But I can’t help but feel somewhat cheated by this movie. Like the original series had promised more than what this movie had delivered. Then again, Madoka may have been a dark, grim and sometimes rather brutal series but overall it was a series about hope that doing the right thing would be enough – no matter the cost. Where would you go after such a conclusion? The fact that it wasn’t a neatly tied together happy end or bad end was the whole point of it. It was still a very hopeful story, though. With this sequel added to the story, though… It isn’t really a bad addition to the main-story but… BUT it makes things even more complicated than they already are. Anything new in this univers would need one hell of an infodump to help the audience catch up on all the twisted story-developments up to this point. Maybe it’s for the better. This movie alone was already a story that didn’t need to be told.
Running Time: 116 minutes
Madoka Kaname used to be a normal girl living happy days of her life. This all ended when she sacrificed herself in order to save other magical girls from the utterly cruel fate that awaited them. Unable to let her memories of Madoka die, Homura Akemi continues to fight alone in the world that Madoka left behind for humanity in order to see her smile once more.
Considering how important these dialogues between Homura and Madoka should’ve been, it’s weird to see how banal they ultimately are. In the end they are only indirectly involved in Homura reaching a decision she subconsciously already had made a long time ago.
After a 1-cour-TV-series, countless drama-CDs, spin-off-mangas and two movies with refined animation, art, voice-acting and so on, the successful Madoka Magica franchise finally had gotten a sequel. The first question should be: Did it actually need one? Financially, yes, of course. Madoka Magica was practically a smash hit, not only in Japan but also among Anime-fans around the globe. But story-wise…? I’ve already had talked about how Madoka Magica had already changed slightly with its second half as its mythology was far too cumbersome to still be a witty critique or deconstruction of the mahou-shoujo-genre. But the ending still supported the tone and themes that had been set up by the series’ first half. So despite its open-endedness it wasn’t really necessary to create a sequel in my opinion. The point the series was trying to make was made.
Yet here I am talking about such a sequel, of course. And the best way to describe the third movie called Rebellion is to think Madoka Magica meets Alice in Wonderland meets Paradise Lost. It’s weird, it’s ambitious and it’s self-indulgent as well as self-referential. Actually the closest thing for a comparison would be the third season of BBC’s Sherlock. There, the third series seemed to weirdly become VERY meta and respond to its commercial and critical success within the story. Sherlock was a bit worse than this movie because it actually sort-of looked down on its most fanatic fans with its meta-commentary but what this movie instead does isn’t that much better in my opinion. This movie is clearly trying to pander to its fans by making, for example, the covert romance between Madoka and Homura official and the romance between Kyouko and Sayaka got basically retconned by this movie.
The first thing you will notice about this movie is its familiar setting with its familiar characters. But there are no new characters or places leading to a feeling of isolation and claustrophobia. While the story makes a point of using this claustrophobia in its story and giving it some relevance, there’s really nothing new or interesting besides the already-known to sell these sequences. The movie clearly expects the audience to be already invested in the whole franchise. Nothing else would explain why this movie once again goes with a ‘Groundhog Day’-esque setting-decision of once again resetting the setting. The familiar opening-formula got basically recycled for this movie except that a few suspicious hints towards the setting’s true nature were added. But overall, this opening-setup had become a gimmick that was more tiresome than useful allegory-wise.
It also becomes obvious that when Homura starts to get suspicious of the world around her and tries to find out what’s going on, this story just isn’t interested in expanding its universe. While it was clear that there was something slightly off about the depiction of this typical opening-setup, the movie offered only a character-driven motivation for the plot. More than just Homura being imprisoned, it feels like the whole franchise is imprisoned by the cumbersome mythology that had been set up by the original series. Therefore it’s a story that is fundamentally reliant on the idea that the audience already cares about the characters in it.
All the more important non-mahou-shoujo-characters drawn into this ever-repeating cycle of the Madoka-universe really should all end up as batshit insane as this teacher. Also… this ominous and creepy The-Exorcist-impression-thingy really didn’t lead to anything story-wise.
A sequel needs to be an improvement. That’s the simplest rule of making sequels, I would say. But you have this far-too-common problem with sequels where in the first movie the world was saved somehow but the second movie still feels the need to top that somehow. That usually amounts to a lot of nonsense for the sake of flashy action and cheesy drama but Rebellion is actually somewhat muted in that regard. This is a story that’s really about showing Homura’s descent into evil. And it makes sense to actually put her into the centre of the story. Not only because of what happened to Madoka at the end of the original series but also because she has far more dramatic baggage than Madoka does. Madoka, overall, was still the pure-hearted, kind main-chara you could imagine being the main-character in any standard-mahou-shoujo-series and the deconstruction in the original series happened more in the setting. The characterizations for Madoka, Sayaka, Kyouka and Mami were kept fairly standard. Homura, meanwhile, was as dark as the setting turned out to be. The tragic nature of the innocent girls’ false assumptions about what being a mahou-shoujo is actually like fueled most of the deconstruction going on in the original series. And Homura was the poster-child of that disillusionment with a very tragic past to show off that very point. More than that, the ending of the original series was so great because of how individual concerns were sacrificed for the greater good. And Homura’s interests were one of those that got ignored by that ending.
From a characterization-perspective it’s a sign of good writing how natural Homura’s development feels in this movie. It certainly helped that they kept Gen Urobuchi around for writing the script for this movie. I wasn’t really prepared for how much of a continuation this movie would turn out to be. There’s a ton of stuff in this movie that not just hopes that the audience knows what’s going on but it really COUNTS on that knowledge being there.
It’s a weird approach for a movie to take. I mean, it’s the third movie in a series with two movies preceding it, so the movie should expect some sort of knowledge about the series from the audience. But more than just knowing the facts this movie presumes that you really understand Homura’s character. That isn’t a bad thing, it just means that this movie doesn’t work on its own. It already does a lot of pandering for fans of the franchise in various scenes but the basic structure of the story presumes that you know what the fucking deal is. Otherwise I can hardly imagine anyone being able to follow the silent subtext-exposition of this movie that expects you to already know what the implication of each plottwist is the minute it’s happening.
But it’s obvious that the same writer who wrote the original series also wrote this movie because there’s an attention to detail that you see rarely in these kinds of movies. The first thing is how the Kyubey-race has been elevated as a villain despite this being the 2nd universe (after Madoka’s wish). On one hand I just loved the fact how Homura feeling melancholic tells Kyubey nonchalantly about the 1st universe’s law of cycles (in the epilogue of the original series) which backfires on her in a REALLY big way in this movie. That’s a really good dramatic twist! On the other hand, though… This movie never acknowledges that obvious connection. Considering how far down the rabbithole this movie already went with its story it’s strange to see it hesitate to reference an offhand-sequence at the end of the original series. In the end, it doesn’t really matter because this movie ends up undermining the role of Kyubey and with that destroys one of the few non-mahou-shoujo-powers within the story.
Before I talk about where Homura’s character-driven journey takes her, I want to talk about fighting. They really invested a LOT in those battle-sequences in this movie. And I don’t mean just the animation-side of things. That battle between Mami and Homura went on FOR AGES! It looked great, don’t get me wrong but it was VERY long. It was long enough for me to go “Okay, I get it. Can we move on, please?”. Since action is such a straightforward and immediate story-device it’s a VERY frail storytelling-device. I always feel people are too easily satisfied by mediocre or even bad action if the story can somehow hide its flaws with cheesy circumstances or one-liner-ready male hero-figures. Action can be artful, too, but because so few movies trying to do action are actually trying to do ARTFUL action, nobody even EXPECTS to see artful action. So, the action-sequences end up being something like a mixture between Matrix and mahou-shoujo-fantasy-crap. It looks impressive but the fighting sequences never have the tension of a real fight. Things are just happening too fast and seem too random because the audience doesn’t know what aces the mahou-shoujo-characters have up their sleeves. The stakes are simply too vague in these scenes and the tools available to the fighters are too fantastic for the audience to really care about the fight. And the way the fight between Homura and Mami ends just underlines this flaw. What should be a badass move by Homura ends up being a banality because of some fantastic bullshit the audience wasn’t even aware of.
I don’t think that’s really a compliment…
Then, Homura finds out what’s going on. And Kyubey kindly explains the rest of the situation she finds herself in. At that point it becomes abundantly clear that this movie doesn’t want to tread new ground or expand the universe. The story just takes stuff that’s already there and brings it to its logical conclusion. Again, I would just repeat what I said at the beginning and say that one doesn’t need to see this conclusion as it’s pretty much just a continuation of the stuff in the original story. It just feels self-indulgent to continue with a story on such a logical but self-referential course. Gen Urobuchi does a VERY good job of writing this sequel but overall it’s more of the same. This movie really just isn’t interested in covering new ground.
And so the movie crawls up its own ass instead.
There were already VERY self-indulgent sequences in the first half with the transformation-sequences and the witch-rhyming-session but after the point where Homura accepts her dark fate in order to protect Madoka things get a tad TOO self-indulgent for my tastes. First of all, it’s basically made clear that in one way or another nobody REALLY died in the original series. If the second half of the original series already felt claustrophobic to you in terms of what characters appeared on screen as relevant figures, imagine that same thing with the same characters apparently being the only relevant people on a universal scale. Madoka apparently hired the dead Mami and Sayaka to become her agents who kill Witches for her while retaining their personality… for some reason. But they still exist in the universe somehow… Look, it’s basically fanservice for fans of the franchise. And remember when I talked about the complaints Madoka Magica got for allegedly “profiting off the death of its dead teenage-girls”? Well, I guess, the original story is a lot less problematic after what happened in this movie.
More than that, Homura finally ends her journey by becoming the new devil of the universe. Basically she created a 3rd universe where Madoka’s law is still around but Homura’s new law keeps Madoka from fulfilling her role within the universe (I think…). The point is, by becoming an uber-witch Homura basically can reset the universe and force Madoka to be a normal girl once again. And she does all that just so that she can once more live a happy, normal life with Madoka because she loves her. It’s the sort of epic drama that is far too cheesy to matter to anyone but real fans of the franchise. Rather than continuing the story of the original series, this movie ends up being a bittersweet (and kinda cheesy) plottwist.
- That rhyming-session was really weird, wasn’t it? And that scene went on for quite a while, as well…
- There are TWO male characters in this movie. One is Madoka’s dad who takes care of the kid while her mother is at work, I guess. And the other one is the asshole Sayaka healed in the original series… except he turns out to be a real idiot when it comes to relationships. There’s a dialogue between Kyouko and Sayka at one point that basically amounts to “Seems like our friend Hitomis is having Nightmare-problems.” – “Naturally, she’s dating Kyousuke after all.”. And then they deal with Hitomi’s nightmare reminding her what beautiful music Kyousuke is trying to make… as if she was the source of the problem. It’s kinda weird how the characters talk negatively about Kyousuke but the one with the supernatural problem because of that is Hitomi. That whole thing feels like a episodic story condensed into some throwaway-lines and supernatural action.
- Another great element of the Madoka-franchise is of course its soundtrack composed Yuki Kajiura (here’s a good review of the series’ first soundtrack). Especially during the first half of the original series that soundtrack is very effective in selling the different moods as the characters are still unsure of what to think about the whole mahou-shoujo-thingy.
Posted on June 28, 2014, in Anime, Madoka Magica Movie Series, Reviews and tagged Anime, Gekijō-ban Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magica Shinpen: Hangyaku no Monogatari, Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie Part 3: Rebellion, reviews, 劇場版 魔法少女まどか☆マギカ［新編］叛逆の物語. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.