Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Movie (2013)

Part 3: Rebellion

I want to meet her, just one more time.

Before embarking on the gorgeous, mind-bending, alternately enchanting and equally exhausting rollercoaster ride that is Rebellion, the newest — though possibly not final — installment in one of the most exceptionally dazzling animations of the magical girl genre to date, the Madoka Magica franchise, the debatable, yet pivotal, questions churning through the clogs of one’s mind should really be: ‘Wasn’t the wrap-up of the original show/films perfect?’ and, ‘Does this movie do anything to further enhance, or add to, an already excellent conclusion?’ More or less, was this follow-up really needed? Well, those familiar with the Madokaverse will no doubt agree that the finale to the television show — and prior two films — was a flawlessly crafted, pristine creation, with all loose ends firmly tied, questions fully answered and storyline wholly resolved; Puella Magi Madoka Magica was a complete and polished work of art. Alas, the powers-that-be decided that more entertainment — and possibly profit — could be sucked out of this lucrative property, and thus Rebellion was born, a film which literally blows the franchise sky high, resulting in an experience that is beautifully satisfying, though at the same time uniformly troubling; a movie that demands to be seen, although not necessarily enjoyed.

'Trademark poses & spells are the best parts of being a magical girl!'
‘Trademark poses & spells are the best parts of being a magical girl!’

With a screenplay and story by Gen Urobuchi, the man responsible for penning the much-loved series/movies, and directed by Akiyuki Shinbo, who also helmed the aforementioned, it seemed that Rebellion — the third film in the theatrical saga — was destined for greatness, hoping to earn the same acclaim, praise and fanatical admiration of its former counterparts. However, this unnecessary extension picture sits many Madoka enthusiasts on the fence, as countless individuals claim that the film is, in its very essence, uncalled for, and is overstuffed with long-drawn-out scenes and a last-minute twist which relies heavily an out-of-character transformation to re-open the story.

Appreciating Rebellion is exclusively conditional on prior knowledge, as having seen either the original television series or the first two films — which essentially have the same content, minor tweaks aside — will be advantageous to the viewing experience, and thus highly recommend checking out either one (or both) of the above-mentioned before attempting to sit through this third feature. With no recap in sight, Rebellion gets straight into the action, as it firmly assumes viewers know, value and understand Madoka Magica, care deeply for the core characters, their world, and comprehend all the finer points of ‘how things happened,’ in anticipation of ‘what might happen next.’

Behold ... the Puella Magi Holy Quintet!
Behold … the Puella Magi Holy Quintet!

Serving as a sequel to the story of both the anime series and first two ‘recap’ parts of the film trilogy, Rebellion begins right where the narrative left off. Following the events that took place at the conclusion of the prior two Madoka Magica films, Homura Akemi and the other four magical girls, with their world entirely altered, continue living their lives rediscovering purpose through the relationships they share with one another while fighting a new breed of evil, newly surfaced enemies known as ‘Nightmares’ — creatures equally as strange, but certainly less disturbing and dangerous than Witches. In spite of this, all is not as it seems in Mitakihara City, where zeppelins now rule the skies, as the film’s initial opening scenes are really quite unsettling, with the entire tone and mood being unnervingly dour and jarring.

When first introduced to our five heroines, we instantly discover that the girls are certainly not the way we remember them to be; Homura has, one way or another, reverted back to her shy ‘Moemura’ personality and has somehow regained her time stopping ability, which she apparently lost in the previous outing’s epilogue; Kyoko Sakura and Sayaka Miki are oddly ‘back in the land of the living,’ and now reside together; Mami Tomoe is alive and well, with an adorable alteration of the Mami-munching Charlotte, now named Bebe, as her mascot; And Madoka Kaname is back too, no longer just a ‘concept of the new world,’ but a regular magical girl, with a cute Kyubey sidekick, who only utters the words, ‘kyuu kyuu!’ To throw another spanner in the works, the girls have curiously transformed into a super sentai Power Rangers-esque assemblage of sorts, announcing themselves as the ‘Puella Magi Holy Quintet!’ Bizarre huh?

Don't Rain On My Parade
Don’t Rain On My Parade

Luckily for us though, it isn’t very long before Homura detects that something is terribly wrong with the world around her, noticing that almost all the citizens living in provincial city are stained with distorted faces, and quickly comes to the realization that the life she knows may not be real. Were all the magical girls truly saved from despair when Madoka Kaname, a girl who once led an ordinary life, sacrificed her very existence to set every magical girl free from their cruel destiny? A rebellion is quietly brewing, and the fate of the universe lies solely in the hands of Homura Akemi, as everything will change when she is ready to choose what she truly desires; hope or misery, the choice is hers! Through picturesque animation, an emotional soundtrack and a confusing but involving plot, we learn the ultimate fates of the magical girls in a narrative that often blurs the lines between selfless love and selfish madness.

Being the third picture in the series, Rebellion is sort of divided into ‘three’ clearly defined sections, each with its own distinctly different emotional reaction attached to it, which could easily leave so many viewers at odds with themselves when walking away from the whole movie-going experience, not knowing exactly what, or how, to feel. The preliminary chunk of the feature explores the notion of ‘what if,’ and focuses on the question, ‘what if Madoka Magica was a regular magical girl anime? Laden with fan-pandering transformation sequences and extravagant combat scenes, being the first time audiences really get to see all five girls fight together side-by-side, this introductory portion of Rebellion is a frivolous, mirthful, cutesy-poo joyride, and in my opinion, the most enjoyable slice of the film’s lengthy two-hour runtime. Lavishly animated and thoughtfully choreographed, these first forty-minutes or so are pure cheeky fun, and play out like a ‘groundwork’ episode to the latest magical girl television show.

Whirlwind Wonderland!
Whirlwind Wonderland!

Once we get past the whimsical curtain-raiser, Rebellion takes a turn into darker, more forbidding territory, which comes as no surprise from a series that is notorious for its bleakness, harshness and utter gloom, as Urobuchi understands his world and the players living within it, skilled with the ability to squeeze the maximum amount of pain and joy from audience’s hearts, knowing exactly how to exhibit these sensations on the screen. Here, Rebellion poses the terrifying question, ‘what if Kyubey — with his voracious craving for knowledge and efficiency — unhappy with the new system that Madoka’s wish created, decided to once again fix things in his favor, and revert the world back to the way it was before?’ Needless to say, this part of the flick requires a lot of wheedling and information dumping that may or may not completely make sense, as Urobuchi’s reach may well exceed his audience’s grasp.

Overflowing with frenzied visual metaphor and haunting imagery, the majority of Rebellion is deeply focused on Homura, as it essentially tells Homura’s arc, while strengthening her platonic relationship with Madoka, making the two girl’s connection even more powerful and enduring without ever taking things too far or pushing any one character out of their established framework. With Homura’s soul darkening — trapped inside a Witches’ barrier that resembles a surreal-like Hell — she chooses to take on Kyubey’s pitiless ‘experimentation’ alone, though Madoka, the all-loving deity, refuses to let her. As the girl’s fates teeter on the border between salvation and destruction, we are drawn into a grueling yet gratifying ‘final confrontation’ that ultimately comes close to making this ‘cash grab’ feel like more than just a superfluous addition to the chronicle.

Sayaka Miki ... up in arms!
Sayaka Miki … up in arms!

Finally, this brings us to the much discussed ‘problematic’ ending of Rebellion, possibly the most intriguing and complex portion of the story, though certainly the most messy and questionable, being way too malicious and nasty for the narrative and its enduring, virtuous characters. Without revealing too much, the ‘Puella Magi’ universe, through an act of selfish love rather than an act of selfless love, is essentially rewritten in the final moments of the film, and while this concept is a rich one, it transpires way too quickly, gracelessly and with no foreshadowing in sight, abruptly throwing off the entire bittersweet finale to the series and prior films — a victory for ‘true love,’ where one girl gave everything up for someone else, resulting in a universe ordered by forgiveness, acceptance, and hope. Rebellion on the other hand concludes with victory for selfish, possessive love, where love means getting everything you ever ‘wanted’ or ‘desired’ from another person, thus creating a universe ordered by narcissistic vengeance, denial, and sorrow. It’s all a little tragic and hollow if you ask me, which is precisely the tone the movie finishes on — a sour note — leaving the doors wide-open for future sequels and the franchise chugging onward for no real reason.

Looking at what’s new in Rebellion, the latest magical girl to enter the supernatural scene, the childlike Nagisa Momoe, has a similar appearance to that of Charlotte — the dessert witch with a tenacious nature — and, despite the fact that she’s shown to be more perceptive than made evident from the outset, mainly serves as the plucky and cheerful comic relief of the female troupe; though, with limited screen time, she’s hardly given much to do. Apparently Nagisa has an eerie heartbreaking past, involving cheese and a mother diagnosed with cancer, which really should have been explored as this back-story would have made for a morbidly chilling titbit. Another fresh element within Rebellion is Homura’s revealing gothy ‘Demon’ outfit, which manifests when she transforms into what fans like to call ‘Homucifer.’ Complete with dark lipstick, opulent jewellery and intimidating black Raven-like wings, this metamorphosis is a real standout; though it’s a shame we don’t get to see much of this ‘alternative’ Homura, seeing as her wickedly fabulous makeup is so exhaustive and alluring — she’s literally on screen for a mere few seconds.

The shield is mightier than the sword!
The shield is mightier than the sword!

From a conceptual standpoint, Rebellion is gorgeous psychedelic eye-candy gone berserk, and constantly amazes and overwhelms with every frame. From the fluent lively animation and vividly dynamic character designs, to the disorderly collage of twisty, brisk visuals underscoring the narrative: candy-colored phantasms, patchy fabric-textured backdrops, wondrous weaponry, demented childhood iconography and shape-shifting forms that create a highly perceptible aura of roiling emotions. Shaft Animation Studios, responsible for the astounding artwork on Rebellion, once again deliver the fantastical goods, as the film’s stunning visuals are simply out-of-this-world. On a side note, Rebellion’s English dub — just like that of the prior Madoka Magica properties — is really quite superb, being relatively consistent with previous efforts, as all voice actresses’ fair up rather well, now obviously accustomed and comfortable in their respective player roles. Adapting the ‘Cake Song’ — one of Rebellion’s finer moments — into English would have been no easy feat, and the fact that the tune not only flows nicely but also rhymes, and actually makes sense, is relatively impressive; so a big kudos to all involved.

What was supposed to be the last drop of closure for thirsty fans has now become something else; a desire to see a continuation of a story that really should have ended. I’m certainly keen to see more, even just to witness what may stem from this nonsensical conclusion, and how Urobuchi — and his creative team of technical wizards — might attempt to repair what was damaged right in front of us. As a film, Rebellion isn’t an unpleasant experience, just a skeptical one, as the flick is enthusiastic to a fault, with astonishing things to say and spectacular things to show. Despite its shortcomings, continuing a franchise that really should be ‘out of things to explore’ is still praiseworthy, even if the tricks used to drag audiences there are deceptive and cheap.

She's just a devil woman ...
She’s just a devil woman …

At its very best, Rebellion stands to be a clever ‘alternate idea,’ impossible to analyze without discussing the threads barely holding it together, as this film sadly doesn’t play out like a logical sequel to the story, making for a far less satisfying conclusion to the work that preceded it. All in all, Rebellion, for the most part, generally entertains, letting itself run rampant with extended shootouts, delightful dance sequences and blooming visual trappings, only staggering in its patchy plot revelations and mean-spirited final act twist.

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by S-Littner

Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Movie is released through Madman Entertainment Australia