Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Part 1 Beginnings / Part 2 Eternal
Licensed by: Aniplex USA
Release date: October 19, 2012 (Theatrical, US)
It's hard to talk about the two films without getting into spoiler territory. Actually, if this is your first entry into Madoka, the TV series review from Brad is a great gateway. The (first) two movies are essentially a giant recap, featuring mostly the same animation as the TV series. To that end, here are my two cents, plus what happened in the NYC screening. Feel free to jump to the next set of bold text after the image if you want to skip the spoilers and get into some technical differences between the TV series and the movies.
If the primary emotional complex within Madoka is the Faustian relationship between Kyubey and its charges, what (screenwriter) Urobuchi's and (director) Shinbo's Madoka excels at is framing the deal not so much on the fact that QB is a deceptive bastard, but what people thought of as Magical Girls may vary from what they are in reality. The thing is, magical girls don't exist in reality, they are some kind of anime or manga "thing." Can we make the parallel between that and, in a nutshell, Madoka's mother?
The more I think about it, the more I realize Madoka and her mother makes the key relationship here. In a way Mom is the tenuous link between your generic magical family for your generic magical girl and some notion that Madoka has a message for viewers like us. Does Madoka want to grow up into a woman like her mother? I think so. There's admiration going on for sure, and it's partly what makes that relationship charming. As repeatedly mentioned by Urobuchi, Madoka Magica has a positive message. I think this message ultimately is that as long as you live like Madoka, it'll all work out. Even if you might not end up being a career woman or the person who wears the pants in the relationship. As long as you're like Madoka, a good girl through and through, a relatively happy end awaits.
Homura's initial warning to Madoka in the first episode--the opening minutes of the first movie--rings much louder when you watch both films back-to-back. Who is the most precious? How do you protect them? As ideals go, it works fine (as it did in innumerable anime and manga with the same exact theme). But rather than as a warning that Homura intended, when empowered by the uncanny ability to make rational decisions, Madoka breaks the devil's game by, well, breaking the game. Throughout the story, we see how Madoka consistently make good decisions, despite that she might come off as a child, or hesitates a lot, or changes her mind, or is a clutz, or stays out late at night, chasing witches with her magical girlfriends.
But isn't that the message? Even if you signed on a dotted line to life's unavoidably crappy contracts, you can still be okay if you do it "the right way." That's what makes Madoka a good girl. In addition, Madoka also models those desirable character traits like valiance, honesty and wisdom. That has always been the primary message of magical girls anime since times of old. It adds meaning when Kyubey's true name was realized in light of the role models we see in magical girls shows.
In a deeper, darker part of my mind, I'm thinking "Madoka is a story written for the Lost Generation of Japan, for those are irritated about the promises of life's securities by living according to the rules of society, but subtly betrayed by the same." That's how I arrived at Madoka's mother's angle. It's like how we idolize (especially otaku) the notion of magical girls, which turns out to be a lie. Well, is it a lie? Or do we just want to fool ourselves? Is society's worship of success the same thing? Maybe Urobuchi could've gone further to break Madoka down. Maybe we can see how much worse than death Madoka's fate was, rather than just people saying how it was, or having a tearful performance from Yuko Goto (voice actress for Madoka's mother), trying to play on your heartstrings just that much more so. Maybe in Urobuchi's world, ideals are the worst things. That's why Madoka became an ideal.
At the first NYC showing of the Madoka movies on Oct. 20, 2012, the Autumn skies were kind for locals and visitors alike. Fair weather and no rain made the life of some tourists easier, and the drive for me up to where a bunch of us carpooled in was almost scenic. At the theater, I spotted an Aniplex guy there (in an Aniplex t-shirt) and who I found out later on asked people for interviews, with posters in exchange. The theater was basically full, a handful of cosplayers adorned the theater as fans filed in probably an hour before screen time. I got there about 40 minutes before and most of the seats were filled already.
It was a late showing, starting at 9:30PM and ran to close to 2AM. There was no intermission in between part 1 and part 2, and to be honest I'm glad that we got the subtitled movies back-to-back, as it was getting late. The screening was clearly a digital projection, and it looked great despite a couple technical snafu from the (presumably) projectionist. Hearing Magia and the two new Kalafina-backed insert songs on super-loud speakers was a treat. The movies featured also a new OP sequence, most famously for the snuggling scene between Homura and Madoka, along with the new ClariS single. Mami's first Tiro Finale sequence is now twice as awesome, thanks to the new Kalafina backing track.
If I had to describe the two movies with just one word, "solid" would be it. It featured some of the best from the TV series and polished what wasn't already redone in the home video release. There's very little room to nitpick unless you are the most ardent fan. I talked to two viewers who were seeing the Madoka story for the first time at the show, and they were pretty happy with what they saw after the film. The 4-hour presentation was full of plot details, transformation scenes, battle sequences and cute girls doing cute things. There was a lot to take in, even if we had four hours to do so. What's more, the movies embellished on certain details and visuals, such as adding full transformation sequences for all five girls.
Some might have said that Homura gets the big break in the movie. While true to some extent compared to the TV series, Madoka is still the main character. Homura's outstanding backstory episode became an exclamation mark in the second movie; brief but poignant. It ended just like the TV series--with the revised version of the original opening sequence. And in the movie format it is especially unusual, perhaps all the more fitting for an unusual protagonist.
The final, after-credit sequence and teaser for the third Madoka movie was probably more hyped up than it really is, especially since it didn't reveal anything shocking. It's definitely something for die-hard fans to look forward to, but it isn't anything special.
Perhaps the most important thing to note, though, is that the screening was preceded by a short clip from the six Japanese voice actresses for the show, introducing the movie version of Madoka Magica to us. It's quite interesting and makes this screen all the more special. I don't think having special merchandise would help much more, but yeah, only those in LA get lucky with the ability to score some limited edition goods (like that really nice Aoki Ume shikishi or the region-specific movie posters).
The NYC showing was a little bit special because it sold out within a day, prompting the addition of screenings for Sunday night and Monday night. It's also the home of the Statue of Liberty, featured on the Madoka movie poster for the USA. I didn't keep tabs on the other US screenings, but I imagined the turnout to be solid. It's definitely worth it if you are a fan, or you just enjoy solid theatrical animation.
9.0 – Exceptional. One of the best things its genre has ever produced.
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