Film Review: ‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie — Rebellion’

Madoka Magica The Movie Rebellion

This convoluted third film in a trilogy spun off from a popular Japanese TV series is alternately enchanting and exhausting.

Appearances are deceiving in “Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie — Rebellion,” an alternately enchanting and exhausting anime adventure in which cutesy characters and peppy vocal turns belie a darker, angst-ridden narrative. The third film in a cinematic trilogy spun off from a popular Japanese TV series (the first two pics simply condensed the show’s 12 episodes with a few tweaks and new material), “Rebellion” delivers a convoluted conclusion sure to prove beyond baffling to any franchise newcomers. Pic was a box office hit on home turf (where it was released Oct. 26), but its overseas appeal is strictly limited to those already under the “Magica” spell.

“Rebellion” presumes a healthy familiarity with the pre-existing “Magica” arc and its thoughtful, somewhat bleak subversion of anime’s “magic girl” genre. In one of the series’ primary twists, magic powers are obtained through Faustian bargains that ultimately cost young girls their souls. Locked in an eternal battle with villainous witches, magic girls eventually are so overtaken by despair they transform into witches themselves — becoming the very thing they’ve spent their lives fighting against. The series finale found 14-year-old pink-haired heroine Madoka (Aoi Yuki) sacrificing herself to erase the cruel fate awaiting magic girls everywhere by making a deal to eliminate the existence of witches.

Although it’s set directly after those events, “Rebellion” opens in a sort of alternate universe with Madoka blissfully unaware of what she’s done. Repeated imagery from the series premiere episode signals someone has mysteriously hit a reset button. Characters who previously perished are miraculously resurrected, and Madoka and her fellow magical classmates — including Sayaka (Eri Kitamura), Kyoko (Ai Nonaka) and Mami (Kaori Mizuhashi) — battle monstrous creatures dubbed “Nightmares” instead of witches. It’s Madoka’s devoted, raven-haired protector Homura (Chiwa Saito) who first suspects all is not right in their world and begins to investigate who, or what, is the cause.

The answer to that question gets right to the heart of the franchise’s emotional throughline: the deep, loving (and apparently platonic) friendship between Madoka and Homura. “Rebellion” essentially exists to advance their relationship in ways guaranteed to leave the target audience swooning and weeping in equal measure, even as anyone outside the fanbase struggles to make heads or tails of anything that’s happening.

An abundance of trippy imagery courtesy of stop-motion animators Gekidan Inu Curry adds to the pic’s determined inaccessibility. While all the key characters and settings are rendered in traditional anime style, Gekidan has seemingly been allowed free reign when it comes to realizing the Nightmares, and expands upon the distinctive witch attacks they created for the original series. The result is a deeply strange panoply of surreal beings resembling paper-cutout collages inspired by classical Russian and Czech animation (and reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s animated interludes for Monty Python). One minute a Nightmare appears as an army of dancing ballerinas dressed in white, the next it’s an indistinguishable blue creature that spits out bears as giant hands rise up in the background.

Such idiosyncratic technique initially makes for a dazzling juxtaposition with the film’s otherwise conventional, if entirely proficient, animation. But the quirky touch soon feels like a gimmick and wears thin from overuse throughout a nearly two-hour running time. At a certain point the hyperactive editing and hallucinogenic images cross a line into sensory overload, becoming a calculated distraction to keep viewers from thinking too hard about the paradoxes that begin to open up in the narrative.

With the primary creative team (and entire voice cast) reprising their roles from the TV series, directors Akiyuki Shinbo and Yukihiro Miyamoto manage to deliver a handful of notable setpieces — including an epic, gravity-defying gun battle between Homura and Mami that would make the Wachowskis jealous, and a playful “Round Cake Song” musical sequence that turns a Nightmare attack into a moment of schoolgirl whimsy. While “Rebellion” has been billed as the end of a trilogy its resolution is hardly decisive, leaving the door wide open for more “Magica” to come.

Film Review: 'Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie — Rebellion'

Reviewed at Egyptian Theater, Hollywood, Dec. 3, 2013. Running time: 116 MIN. Original title: "Gekijoban Maho Shojo Madoka Magica Shinpen: Hangyaku no monogatari"

Production

(Animated — Japan) An Aniplex of America and Eleven Arts (in U.S.)/Warner Bros. (in Japan) release of an Aniplex, Hakuhodo DYMP, Hobunsha, Madoka Partners, Magica Quartet, Movic, Nitroplus, Shaft presentation. Produced by Atsuhiro Iwakami.

Crew

Directed by Akiyuki Shinbo, Yukihiro Miyamoto. Screenplay, Gen Urobuchi. Camera (color, widescreen), Shinichiro Eto; editor, Rie Matsubara; music, Yuki Kajiura; production designer, Moriyoshi Ohara; art director, Ken Naito; sound director (Dolby Digital), Yota Tsuruoka; character design, Takahiro Kishida, Junichiro Taniguchi; supervising animation directors, Junichiro Taniguchi, Hiroki Yamamura; effects animation director, Norifumi Hashimoto; visual effects, Motoi Sakai.

With

Voices: Aoi Yuki, Chiwa Saito, Kaori Mizuhashi, Eri Kitamura, Ai Nonaka, Emiri Kato, Kana Asumi.

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  1. Gabby says:

    I don’t see why it’s a big deal that you have to watch the first two films (or the 12 episode anime) to follow along with this movie. It’s not like the 12 episode anime and the other two movies are innaccessable to American audiences; as you can watch the entire anime for free (and legally) on various websites, including crunchyroll and hulu. Plus, I think that if you couldn’t be bothered to watch the first two movie instalments (or the anime) before you came to the theatre, then it’s your own fault if you couldn’t follow along. It’s annoying when people jump right into the final instalment of a franchise and then whine about not being able to follow along.

    I will agree to a point that some of the more chaotic stuff is a little overdone and gets a little overwhelming at times, but it does make sense in context when you consider the setting of this film. I also agree about how epic and awesome Homura and Mami’s gunfight was. Nothing else holds a candle to that.

    As for Madoka and Homura’s relatioship, would so many people be playing the “Platonic Relationship” card if one of them was a boy? Let’s be real here. At the very least I think people would say something along the lines of “It could be interpreted as having romantic overtures”.

  2. Dante Tijerino says:

    I cannot agree with all the negative points you have made. They feel as if they had been made on personal preference. It became obvious that you hadn’t watched the series or previous two movies when you didn’t even mention the term “wraith.” No “Law of the Cycle”, no, “Soul Gem”, no nothing. It’s obvious that you didn’t understand the basic plot and creativity this movie had, and therefore lost enjoyment. Simply because something is animated and from overseas, doesn’t mean that a reviewer has to forcefully find negative points.

    The series isn’t over. The conclusion of this movie isn’t the true end. Writer Gen Urobuchi stated that even if he leaves, the series cannot end after the third movie. He plans for a two cour season two, or maybe a fourth movie. It pains me to see American critics giving bad reviews to an overseas movie they cannot comprehend.

  3. Euphoric says:

    It is really funny how people assume the reviewer didn’t watch the previous two movies just because they disagree with the review. For me, it is quite obvious the reviewer did watch the two movies, otherwise, it would be quite hard to get information in a way that is presented in the review.

  4. stealthmomo says:

    While I will give the reviewer some credit for at least trying to do a little research on the subject this is, unfortunately, pretty much what I expected from a review in a mainstream outlet. And almost without fail the negatives in the review wouldn’t be viewed as such if one had full knowledge of what came before. I didn’t intend to make this a review of the review but there is no other way to address this. Allow me to give two examples in particular…

    1.) The (sic) “trippy imagery” making it “inaccessible” and “a calculated distraction to keep viewers from thinking too hard about the paradoxes that begin to open up in the narrative”:

    In the series and the two movies based on it, the backgrounds and the world it took place in were starkly realistic, with the “trippy imagery” was confined to the occurrences of entering the Witches ‘barrier worlds’ or psychic landscapes. The entire third movie is done in this style because the ENTIRE movie takes place inside Homura;s ‘barrier world’. It wasn’t stated as such until the final third of the movie, but I for one picked up on that about 15 or 20 minutes in. [Yes. It was done on purpose.]

    And, by the way the “army of dancing ballerinas dressed in white” was Homura’s Witch form and psychic landscape. The “indistinguishable blue creature that spits out bears as giant hands rise up in the background.” Was Sayaka’s Witch form and psychic landscape [All Magical Girls/Witches have their own unique form, based on whatever psychological trauma caused them to fall into despair in the first place. None of that was random. It’s just that you need to understand or care about that.

    As for perceived paradoxes, there were none. If one truly understood the concepts and status quo of the source material, this movie tied everything together very neatly, logically and thoroughly. Detailing them would take way too much space. Suffice it to say, almost every element the reviewer had an issue with had a definite purpose when taken as a whole with the previous storyline – it was well thought out and addressed many open questions from the original material in a satisfactory way.

    2.) “…the deep, loving (and apparently platonic) friendship between Madoka and Homura.”

    There is nothing platonic about it. They are in love with each other. In dialog, actions and consequence it is not implied – it is apparent and openly expressed. The lengths Homura goes to and the actions she takes to save Madoka throughout the entire series don’t even make sense unless she was in love with her. American audiences in particular seem to have issues with this…but if you don’t see it you are simply being obtuse.

    No, they aren’t tongue kissing and overtly being physical. What they DO do is speak of “being together for eternity” and “I can’t live without you.” Oh, and of course Homura’s statement to Madoka. “I love you. I will risk everything, I will go to any lengths to save you.” [No. NOT “platonic”. Sorry if that blows your minds.]

    The reviewers confusion over the ending paradox indicates that he missed the underpinnings of the whole Magical Girl/Witch System that drives the entire franchise. The System was started by the Incubators (conspicuous by their overall absence until the finale of this movie) – an alien race that have cultivated humans from prehistoric days in order to harvest the entropy-resistant energy released by the despair, emotional angst and soul-corruption of adolescent girls.

    There is much much more that went over the reviewers head because he is obviously unfamiliar with the bulk of the back-story and only did a cursory skim of the basic concepts. As a stand-alone movie, no it doesn’t serve. But it is not MEANT to be a stand-alone movie and should not be judged as such. To do so only serves to make the review as a whole a disservice to the very talented Gen Urobuchi and the production designers of Shaft.

    The movie has much more going for it than the Reviewer would indicate, but I believe that is because – in this case – the Reviewer is out of his element. Yes, if you go into this movie cold you won’t get much out of it. But if you are familiar with the mythos it is built upon you will find it to be an outstanding, entertaining and clever piece of work.

    • Anon says:

      Section:1
      I mostly agree that the reviewer is a dumb ass for that section. The elements by inucurry being so omnipresent are a forshadowing. they sneak into the scenes and grow more and more obvious because its supposed to build that looming sense of WRONGNESS with the world

      as for the show having no paradoxes and plot holes? that’s rubbish. I wont spoil anything, but a certain person has a certain conversation that certainly should have tipped her off to any fowl play, in addition to other more informed reasons.

      As for section 2, I cant find much to argue with, but as much as I slammed the reveiwer in the above, I’d like to be absolutely congradulatory for the last line of his “review” becuase As a long time Madoka fan, even I know that this ending is not much of one. Its purpose neatly outlined by the reviewer, its left completely ambiguous to make it easy to draw up another sequel. I personally would have prefered a different ending.

      All in all mainstream review sites only review anime because they feel they must. they rarely give titles like this a good and healthy respect. Makes me wonder, if the empire strikes back came out, and this guy reviewed it like he did this movie, what would he have to say about it?

      All things considered, it should be a clear mark against this critics credability that he would rate this movie without seeing the ones before it. The ending may be terrible as an ending, but then empire’s ending was also horrible, and you only excuse that because you expect more to come.

      • 1701EarlGrey says:

        No, TV series was almost, entirely free of plot holes – that’s why it was so good. This movie on the other hand it’s – pardon my french – clusterfuck. Plot is all over the place – it looks like someone mixed “Sailor moon” with “Matrix/Inception” and added Milton’s “Paradise lost” to the mix. When TV series was mostly grounded in reality, with occasional otherworldly image here and there- it was coming of age story after all – now we have to deal with bizarre imagery all the time. “You’ve been living in a dream world, Neo”… And because we don’t see a real world at all, I almost don’t have any real emotional connection to anything that happens.

        What’s even worse, this movie is a freaking reboot! Sorry, guys but you can’t build a franchise on concept of choices and consequences, and then say that those choices and consequences don’t matter because in the end authors will hit reset button! Essentially, those 12 episodes are now completely meaningless. Frist time, I see someone destroying his own series, so effectively – not even George Lucas could do that. And we didn’t need Lucifer figure either, because we already had Mephisto=Kyubey.

  5. TYPEMOON says:

    Great someone did a little research into the 3rd film but it would have been great if the author at least watched the previous films, why he didnt i imagine he wanted somewhat of a blank impression, mirroring Academy Award judges. I felt the review was a little flat that talked about the special effects and not much about the the story structure, i admit it would be difficult to properly analyze it without the full knowledge of the series. To wrap this up, I may be spoiling it a but for those who didnt see the movie yet but, the ending reminded of the present status quo of God and Lucifer (Satan), they both exist, and they are the opposite of each other, and each have great implications if there is a shift ( i think if i said anymore it would be major spoilers).

  6. kiakosan says:

    Of course if you havent watched the series you would not understand the third movie. That would be like watching the final harry potter movie and complaining about not understanding it because you havent seen the other ones. I saw the movie myself, and I saw the series as a whole. He complained about the witches/nightmare/minions animation, but that is how they have always looked, in the TV series and other movies. I am surprised that the editor did not complain as much about the yuri fanservice though. That was quite high, and the pacing was a little bit off at times. But all in all, I thought it was an excellent sequel to the other movies.

  7. SmokeyH says:

    Thank you for the fair and informed review. Madoka is a special franchise to me, I am always glad to read other opinion pieces on it.

  8. Malcolm says:

    Solid review and fair criticism. I’m impressed. Most critics wouldn’t bother doing any research on the first two movies or the series and toss in a bunch of cliches about not understanding anime. Instead you looked at what the film it was trying to do in context and judged it based on whether it succeeds or not.

  9. Dr. Cakey says:

    > Rebellion gets submitted for a Best Animation Oscar.
    FILM CRITICS EVERYWHERE: What is this and why do I have to review it?

    • stealthmomo says:

      You don’t have to. In fact, if this isn’t your milieu, you would would be doing everyone a favor by just ignoring it. Your time would probably be better spent reviewing the latest generic holiday blockbuster by whatever Flavor-of-the-Month actor is hot this year. Nothing like some safe pre-chewed pablum to keep the mind dull.

  10. Branko Burcksen says:

    A very thorough review. I’m a fan of the series, and I think I need to see this movie more than once to understand it. It reminded me of Inception with how much information and twists it throws out. Also, I challenge anyone to find another animated film submitted for the Oscars this year that is as visually stunning and creative as this movie.

  11. Sounds about what fans are expecting from this (and reviewer clearly gets the “Madoka” backstory going in). Don’t know why it’s necessary to say the third film of a trilogy is inaccessible to viewers who haven’t seen the first two, as that should be a given — did Variety include such provisos with the third “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings” movies?

    • X says:

      It’s even more true with this, I think. I feel like someone could summarize the first two movies in the Lord of the Rings trilogy easily enough to understand and appreciate the third. There just aren’t that many minor points from the first two that remain significant in the third.

      With Madoka, this is not the case. It’s important to actually see the movie and hear the specific dialogue to understand the nuances of the animation and characters. Without understanding the animation style adopted in the witch’s labyrinths, those scenes become very confusing to a new viewer. It’s also important to understand the connection between Bebe and Charlotte, as this explains why Homura would suspect that Bebe is the witch trapping them.

      Having a familiarity with some of the more subtle character traits and relationships helps, too, since these are built on in the third movie usually without explaining how they were established early on. For example, the relationship between Sayaka and Kyouko, explicitly referred to in the third movie, may seem new/sudden to someone who just read a summary; since their connection was just implied and not a major plot point, it likely wouldn’t be referred to or clear from just a summary.

      So while the reviewer here obviously gets the basic story, it does seem like they don’t have an understanding of the quirks and subtleties of the series/first two movies that is necessary to understand and appreciate the third movie. Thus, the review is ultimately unhelpful to current fans looking for an insight on the quality of the third movie.

    • Justin Chang says:

      In the case of “Lord of the Rings,” yes: “Still, anyone who hasn’t seen the first two pics won’t have a clue what’s going on at the outset of ‘The Return of the King.’ ”

      http://variety.com/2003/more/reviews/the-lord-of-the-rings-the-return-of-the-king-2-1200537614/

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