It certainly took me awhile to finally sit down and do the Madoka movies considering they’ve been out for quite awhile. I tend to wait until good versions of the video are out for movies and specials before grabbing ahold of them. Evangelion Rebuild so far has been the only thing I’ve bought on physical BD, but this movie trilogy would make a good addition to my physical batch as well.
As for the movies? Frankly, they were just as anyone would expect from abstract-visual SHAFT, but just as well. I certainly enjoyed running a little mini-tweet-riff as I was watching them. But you’re here for some words. I shall provide.
It’s important to frame a few things first before I delve into the details of the movies. First, some words from my original review of Madoka in 2011:
But in the end, she decides that she will take it upon herself to pull a move worthy of only one other anime character recently, Lelouch from Code Geass, and that is to absorb everything unto themselves, shoulder the burden, and sacrifice themselves for the sake of everyone else. Oh it worked, Madoka becoming some kinda God and eliminating witches worked, but really, it didn’t eliminate magical girls, maybe changed the scope of their mission, maybe altered the laws (which Kyubey mentions) but you don’t see Homu-Homu running out of her house with toast in her mouth.
Two things soiled Madoka for me in 2011. One was the Japan Earthquake. Because of that event, it delayed the airing of the final two episodes for weeks. Now, don’t rush to your keyboard to tell me what an insensitive asshole I am, I understood then why and still understand now. But for any show, when you have a gap of time like that, it just kills the momentum a show like Madoka delivers. The other thing was the American anime pleb putting their usual derpy damper on a pretty good show. Unlike Shingeki, which plebs love for being shitty, Madoka is a pretty great franchise dragged into despair (see what I did there, fuckers?) by a bunch of kids who were so desperate for a flowery-feel-good magical girl show that half of them bugged out when the show went south, and the other half thought they were DEEP EDGY and bragged about the fact they were watching a FUCKING MASTERPIECE.
On the off-chance you’re being serious, ten years? Since 2004? Is your memory this terrible? My personal preference, maybe, or are we just awarding Madoka this honor because everyone else likes it? Because I don’t know if you’ve forgotten, but I’ll lampoon what I goddamn please, especially if you like it. I’m a classy troll like that. Just like I know you’re trolling me here. Well played.
Let’s be real here. There are many things I can point wrong about Madoka as an overall concept. Time travel is great, but it also can make writers lazy, because much like Homura, when shit hits the fan, you hit the reset button. For her, the justification is real, but if The Butterfly Effect has anything to say about it, it’s that in the end, you have to hurt the ones you love if you’re ever going to protect them. Fortunately for us, the third and final movie Rebellion does this. More on that later. Then there is character death. Character death is a powerful thing in visual media, because when it is used properly, it enhances affected characters and incites emotion on the viewer. But when a show just kills off a character you’ve barely met, or a character that had a minor role in the first place, and pretends it means something to everyone, it promotes nothing to anyone. Mami’s early death in the show, while somewhat shocking, did nothing for me but made me realize the show wasn’t going to be kind to magical girls. Sayaka’s fall from grace into becoming a witch, and Kyouko’s sacrifice, these incited more emotion and feeling for me than anything Mami was or could become. Compounded with the fact that Homura was hopping timelines and we see these characters reappear and disappear, well why bother mourning them in the first place? Even Madoka becoming a god at the end of the series is a fairly predictable occurrence. Evangelion has already tried to convey to us several times how does babby form, but because Anno is pretty fucking stupid about things, it’s taken him countless remakes and about twenty years to eventually tell us that no matter what, a universe is bound by opposing forces, and Ayanami Rei’s underwear. Madoka on the other hand, took considerably less time to beat Eva to the punch with way better characters to boot. Thanks, SHAFT. We knew you’d pull through for us.
So how can something so average turn out to be so good? The proof is in Rebellion’s treatment of Akemi Homura. At the end of the show, we assumed that she would just continue along in a world without Madoka, after her ascension to becoming a god, and that was that. For any additional story to take place, we’d have to assume that either A: Madoka’s wish/power didn’t quite work, or B: The Incubators found a loophole somewhere and are attempting to exploit it for gain. The premise of Rebellion turned out to be the latter. They forced Homura’s soul inside an isolated space which in turn caused her to create her own labyrinth inside her mind, complete with a city and all of the girls in it, fighting “Nightmares”. It’s pretty clever, actually, and the end result of this turns into probably the most satisfying ending to a show of this caliber.
For Homura to essentially take the lead on this iteration of the story was not only what everyone in the fucking world wanted, but to take it forty-steps further and become a witch, and in turn, a demon, simply to promote the fact that her love for Madoka transcends space and time, and offers a counter-balance to the world, adds the complexity to this franchise that was missing from the original TV run. It actually explains the time-travel, explains her despair, and explains her emotion in a way no character death could. Unlike The Butterfly Effect, instead of going back and just cutting off ties with her completely in order to save her, she became evil itself in order to exist with her on the same level. That’s cerebral quality bullshit there, kids. The kind of shit you’re used to seeing on episodes of House. She manipulates everyone and everything to her whim, a power that rivals that of Time Lords, really, of which she’d make a fascinating one in the Who universe. Because that is the higher form of time travel. It’s not enough to just travel through time, if you are able to manipulate it, manipulate the events, and manipulate the outcomes, you can essentially achieve any result you want. It took her many attempts, and many failures, but that is what she implied at the end. It just makes her Space Red, really.
Taken as a three-movie whole, it was actually much more pleasant to watch this time around versus three years ago. Unlike Eva, which continues to meddle with itself to achieve some perfect result, Madoka arranges itself into a perfect beginning, middle, and ending. I would be satisfied if no more material is made in the future, because there really doesn’t need to be. It’s very rare for me to say that, because most anime ends on the notion that there needs to be more. Madoka ended tying up every loose end I had in the original run and then some. Now, should we be giving this a perfect ten out of ten? No. The reason for that is because while it is visually astounding, musically incredible, and otherwise artistically mesmerizing, it’s only a means to finish what it started, and what it started was simply a tale of some girls understanding human emotion. Much in the way that the Monogatari series is all of these things, but is still just the same abstract feelings episode-to-episode, most of you don’t even realize that you don’t like the show for being itself, you like it because it’s SHAFT. SHAFT visuals, SHAFT cues, SHAFT-isms. Mekaku City Actors is doing the same goddamn thing. Should it be the best show ever? Because frankly, if you think any of their current fare is the best ever, you clearly forgot they were responsible for Pani Poni Dash. Where the fuck is my second season of MAHO~? Or Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru? Did y’all forget they made other anime before their visual style made them popular?
The short of all of this is the Madoka movies were fucking fantastic, and I intend to buy them on BD and retain for future showings to my wife or other interested folks. It is most certainly worthy of being one of the best television-to-movie adaptations on-par with the Nanoha franchise, and the story for Rebellion was top-notch all-around. SHAFT does not disappoint when it comes to core proficiency, and at a time when we’re constantly facing bad KyoAni LN adaptations, JC STAFF’s attempts at being relevant, GAINAX’s indifference, and an overall dull spot on anime these days, it’s good to know some things do not change.