I have seen ‘Madoka Magica: Rebellion’, and it is GREAT!
This movie was unexpected in two ways. First, I did not think I would get to see it. I had heard news of a limited U.S. release, but I was and am in Japan, and thought that with a U.S. release upcoming, then surely the film had already departed Japanese theaters. As it happened, the film was and still is in theaters over here, and were it not for the fact that the nearest cinema is far across the Pacific in Kagoshima City, where I happened to be for a business trip, I would definitely see it again, for the second way in which it was unexpected was how unexpectedly good it was. One of the things I praised about the original Madoka Magica series was how neatly and efficiently the plot was written, with no loose ends left by the denouement. How then, could a sequel movie be anything more than a clunky, unnecessary addition to a fine story at worst, or a fun but tangential romp through an alternate timeline at best? I suspected the film would fall into the latter case, and knew that, if nothing else, the the scoring and animation would be top notch, so I figured, why not take this rare chance to go to the movies in Japan? Also, I figured I would have a better chance of understanding Madoka Magica without subtitles than The Wind Rises. I was wonderfully, awesomely surprised then when Madoka Magica: Rebellion turned out to be just the Madoka Magica movie the story needed.
Madoka Magica: Rebellion is a direct sequel to Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and fits perfectly within the narrative of the original series. Yes, the one I praised for being tight and complete. It is a tribute to Gen Urobuchi’s genius that he accomplishes this feat in a manner that both shocks and surprises you mid-film as you make the connection, but makes perfect sense in hindsight. It resolves in an epic plot twist that warps even the theme of the film, so that by the time the credits roll, Rebellion stands thematically opposed to the original series. I dare not venture into spoiler country, but if Puella Magi Madoka Magica was ultimately about the triumph of selflessness, Rebellion ends with selfishness on the victor’s throne. For this reason, my otherwise wholehearted approval of this film is caveated on the existence of a future sequel that fully resolves the events of the story and returns virtue to her throne. If this movie is meant to mark the ending of Madoka Magica, it is a terrible ending. On the other hand, it works remarkably well as a middle installment, which is how I am treating it until further notice.
One problem that a future film might face though, is that of scope and scale. Rebellion has set the bar high for both, with whole universes hanging in the balance, and some of the most epic set pieces committed to film since The Avengers. Tonal differences aside, The Avengers is, I think, an apt comparison in terms of epic-ness. Just as that film took everything good about the Marvel superhero movies and ramped it up to eleven, so to does Rebellion take everything awesome about Madoka Magica and crank it up to eleven, including things hinted at in the original series but never shown. A no holds barred magical throwdown between Mami and Homura? Check. Kyoko and Sayaka as bash brothers? Check. Wouldn’t it be funny if Mami adopted Charlotte as her pet in some AU? It’s adorable here. You say want to see Homura beat up Kyubey some more? We got that too. Ever wonder what Madoka Magica would be like as a normal magical girls show? You get to see it, and it’s still awesome. Examples could be multiplied further, but that would veer into more spoiler territory than I’ve already trod.
And, of course, the scoring and animation is beautiful, breathtakingly so. The day after I saw Rebellion I found as much of the music as had been released so far (3 songs by Kalafina, plus the instrumental version of the opening theme) and plunked down my ¥1500 (~$15) for the CD. My only disappointment was that I didn’t get to hear Credens Justitiam blasted through the surround sound during Mami’s transformation sequence. I’d advise you to find the trailer for a taste of the animation, except the trailer spoils a ton of stuff, so I’ll simply say, imagine the animation from the original series. Now imagine what it would look like with an even bigger budget behind it. The aforementioned Mami vs. Homura fight in particular showcases the strength of the animation, as the two fall through space rapidly filling with time-frozen bullets from the twos’ firearms, Homura blasting away with an SMG and Mami pulling a continuous stream of one shot rifles out of hammerspace. It’s quite a sight to see. The witches, familiars, minions, nightmares (a new monster) and their territories also receive the same wonderful art shifting as they did in the original series, including a nice sight gag with the first nightmare, whose labyrinth is based off a movie theater; and an awesome reappearance by Oktavia von Seckendorff.
In closing, I must also give major props to the studio for their visual storytelling. My Japanese is quite limited, and while I understood a few casual exchanges between characters, and caught the gist of a few more important dialogues, most of the Japanese went over my head. Despite this, I still understood most of the plot, though I had to Wikipedia the finer details of how certain things worked afterwards, and had a blast watching the film. I would have cheered at certain moments, except that everyone around me was sitting quite quietly, and I didn’t want to make a cultural faux pas. Actually, the respectful silence was quite refreshing, and something I wouldn’t mind in American theaters, though an exception ought to be made for cheering at really good moments, and Rebellion is full of them. Rebellion premiered stateside last weekend; if you have the chance at all, go see it! It will not disappoint!
Update: Region 1 DVD/BR now available Stateside.