Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Movie (2012)
Part 1: Beginnings + Part 2: Eternal
Discover what it really means to be a magical girl.
Based on the exceedingly popular twelve-episode anime, Puella Magi Madoka Magica — known as Gekijōban Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magika in Japan — the first two films in Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Movie, Beginnings and Eternal, serve as a slight recap on the 2011 television show, re-packaged and re-edited into shorter accounts, with some newly animated footage and re-recorded voice-work. While attempting to acquaint wider audiences with the gripping yet haunting, hugely praised tale — making it more user-friendly to those unfamiliar with Japanese style animation, or hesitant to give the format a try — both films simultaneously pave way for a third feature, an all-original work titled Rebellion — set to be released in 2013 — making up a three-part theatrical saga. The pair of animated flicks, produced by Aniplex and Shaft, surprisingly succeed in bringing Madoka’s bleak, foreboding story to the big screen and are just as riveting, powerfully innate and tragically mournful as their television equivalent, which has soared well beyond its original target audience.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is certainly not a typical cutesy magical girl yarn, and one should know exactly what to expect before embarking on such a highly emotional journey; while somewhat desolate and often grim, these films are incredibly intelligent and steadily satisfying, constantly redefining limits within the magical girl genre. With writer, Gen Urobuchi, Psycho-Pass (2012), and directors Akiyuki Shinbo, Bakemonogatari (2009), and Yukihiro Miyamoto, Maria Holic (2009), essentially reprising their roles for the cinematic trilogy, the first picture, Beginnings — running at 130 minutes — covers the initial eight episodes of the anime, whereas the second installment, Eternal — 110 minutes long — deals with the concluding four.
Much like their small screen ancestor, Beginnings and Eternal are set in the city of Mitakihara, and follow eighth-grader Madoka Kaname, a sweetheart who leads a carefree, fun-filled life as a student, surrounded by her beloved family and cheery best friends. Though, Madoka’s harmonious existence is about to be shattered as the sudden arrival of transfer student Homura Akemi — a black-haired beauty with a somewhat mysterious disposition — who unexpectedly turns up in Madoka’s class, shakes her once peaceful world forever. After meeting Madoka for the first time, Homura goes on to issue the pink-haired schoolgirl with an unusual warning. All the while, Madoka, and her blue-haired companion, Sayaka Miki, are approached by a white, curious looking, cat-like creature, a messenger of magic named Kyubey, who offers the girls a rare opportunity, a contractual arrangement where a young lady is granted any wish of her choosing, in exchange, pledging to become a magical girl; a supernatural being who defends the world from veiled, evil entities — catalysts of anguish and misery — known as witches. However, Madoka is totally oblivious to the weight this miracle will have on her life and those surrounding her, and what its cost may ultimately prove to be. As an impending loss triggers a drastic change in her destiny, Madoka eventually discovers that the life of a magical girl is not the dreamlike fantasy she had once imagined, but instead is filled with an abundance of tragedy and deep despair.
The initial premise of these films, and several plot points that ensue, aren’t too distant from a handful of already existing anime clichés, but what distinguishes Puella Magi Madoka Magica from the vast array of similarly themed stories is the perpetually rigorous construction of its core characters — Madoka Kaname, Homura Akemi, Sayaka Miki, Mami Tomoe and Kyoko Sakura — the metamorphosis within the story structure — deviating in drastic ways both tonally and narratively — and the attention to detail, placing the two chapters on a clear pedestal. They’re more accessible to a broader audience than a handful of other contemporary animated works, and pieced together with a enormous sense of care — and attention to detail — making these features a powerful statement on the medium and its possibility to become more mainstream in this post-Ghibli era. Credit must be given to the filmmakers and creative staff, who have brilliantly, and seamlessly, trimmed the series down — fitting it into a leaner run-time — coherently adapting the material into a feature-length format.
The first film, Beginnings, is a mash-up of cuteness and darkness, a central theme to the Madoka franchise; it is visually stunning and promptly establishes the wonderfully involved magical girl universe, introducing its colorful protagonists — physically and psychologically — and ingeniously sets up what’s to come. In coupling Beginnings with Eternal, the series is given a far greater chance to shine, displaying a more nuanced and accurate portrayal of the vastly intricate world, throwing off the innocent and naive, overtly optimistic first film. Eternal presents much of its content as a metaphor for coming of age, deepening and sharpening its own presence within the anime genre, offering up a sorrowfully sophisticated narrative and character arc. Admittedly, the two films are best viewed side-by-side — or at least in close proximity — if one wishes to fully immerse oneself in Madoka’s dynamic, often disturbing, story, and while the series is significantly more involved — the flicks do skim over, or leave out, quite a bit of material — Beginnings and Eternal sum up the overall concepts and ideas rather comprehensively.
Showcasing the artistic flair the studio have become well renowned for, Shaft — being no stranger to the magical girl — are an invaluable asset to Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Movie, as these two films are a genuine aesthetic treat; an exhaustive artistry with design elements effortlessly shuffling between stylishly modernistic, archaic and abstract — in the form of collages and paintings — to sugary and playful, meshing traditional hand-drawn with computer animation, integrating arcane old-school techniques into the mix. When it comes to the music, echoes of ‘Sis Puella Magica’ — composed by Yuki Kajiura — ring through the drearisome, often mournful score — an orchestral lullaby of sorts, made up of keys and strings — while Beginnings is wrapped up with a second iteration of the series ending theme, ‘Magia’ — now titled ‘Magia (quattro)’ — performed by Kalafina, adding a sense urgency and peril to the pictures’ often symphonic sound. To top it all off, the catchy opening, ‘Luminous’ by ClariS, supplies some much needed lightheartedness to proceedings.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Movie is an intensely turbulent romp through a mystical world — where the final outcome will always be one that encompasses loss — buried in layer upon layer of profoundly deep offshoots, a first-rate byproduct of the current animation world’s finest imaginations. Whilst certainly recommending the series over the films — particularly if wanting to gain the full brunt of the story’s impact — Beginnings and Eternal do make for a solid starting point, especially for anyone unwilling to invest such a large amount of time into the lengthy series. To some extent de-constructing the magical girl genre, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is without a doubt one of the more superior animes to emerge over the past decade — a highly compelling, symbolically rich tour de force — it’s no wonder both films played to sold-out theaters across America, Australia and Japan. Bring on Rebellion, is all I can say!
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by S-Littner
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Movie is released through Madman Entertainment Australia