Anime On the Big Screen: “Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part I: Beginnings/Part II: Eternal”

madokamagicaVenue: Dendy Cinemas, Level 2, North Quarter, Canberra Centre, 148 Bunda Street, Canberra City, ACT
Date: Sunday 9 December 2012
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Format: Digital Projection, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 130 minutes, 109 minutes
Production Date: 2012
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No

I really, really had a lot of misgivings about going to this screening. A couple years back at Reel Anime 2010, I saw “Redline” was utterly pissed off with the audience who would not shut up and laughed at anything and everything, even if it wasn’t remotely funny. It was if the audience had never seen one of these newfangled motion picture thingies. It was seriously one of the worst movie going experiences I’d had in a long time. It really put me off the film, however I did change my opinion of it once I bought the UK BD/DVD pack of it. I suppose the second reason not wanting to go was, well I was never impressed all that much with “Madoka Magica” in the first place. For about a decade now, I’ve felt I’ve become rather out of sync with anime fandom. I don’t play video games, I don’t dig modern conventions and most importantly I don’t like whatever new overhyped “hot” otaku show is being pimped this week (with the exception of “K-On!” perhaps). I really don’t get “them” at all. So why am I here at this screening? Well, I do like to see anime on the big screen… Um, that’s about it. I have forked out $30 to see condensed versions of a show I already bought on DVD/BD (the expensive Aniplex USA sets). Am I going to drink the “Madoka Magica” Kool Aid like everyone else? Maybe I already have.

After attempting to finish off my Christmas shopping (and doing very well at winning that war, thank you very much), it was time to head up to the cinema. As Dendy now has individual seat booking, I find it pointless to come more than five or so minutes before screening time. And most of the time there’s a delay anyway due to cleaning or whatever. It’s a little annoying as I’ve never encountered such delays at the larger cinema chains (the biggies like Hoyts and Greater Union). It was a little hard to separate the otaku from the non-otaku waiting at theatre entrance in the cinema to be honest. That surprised me. After five or so minutes, the young ticket collector from Dendy announced that the screening for “Marr-doh-car” was ready (was he too embarrassed to say “Magica”?). I’d be informed when I picked up ticket that the free poster that came with the screening would be with the ticket collector. I picked up the first one in the box, but it had a small rip, so I quickly exchanged it for a less beat up copy. I must say it was kind of thoughtful of Madman to do this for fans. Though I bet it cost them practically nothing really as they have their own printing press. The poster (see above left) is pretty much a promotional one for the Australian screenings and varies little from the Japanese one.

Inside you could tell there were otaku here, mostly by the way people talked, the age range etc. Most were in their 20’s, but I was surprised to see some in their 40’s and an older lady in the same row as me. Most were slavishly hammering away at their smart phones or similar devices. Some were engrossed in talking to each other about what degree they were doing next or about other anime like “Bleach”. I once read that a number of anime fans are on the autistic spectrum, and gee, you could really tell by the tone of the conversations. I shouldn’t talk, a few years ago I too was clinically diagnosed on the spectrum after a long bout with depression. There were quite a few cloth shoulder bags with anime characters on them, and even a young woman with a Kyubey t-shirt. All in all something of a real mix in the crowd. Over 80 people showed up for the screening. That’s quite an amazing turnout for a city this size, for nearly four and a half hours (including adverts and intermission) worth of compilation anime films with very little new material, and with practically no promotion from Dendy. Like, not a bloody thing. Nothing. Not even an advert in the paper.

Pretty much everyone and their dog has reviewed or seen these films or the TV series so I’m going to be very brief on the synopsis of the films. The first film, “Beginnings”, covers the first eight episodes; we meet the very ordinary young high schooler Madoka Kaname. A new transfer student comes to class, Homura Akemi, who seems to know Madoka and oddly asks her to stay the way she is and not change. Latter, while shopping with her friend, Sayaka Miki, Madoka ends up venturing into a closed off area of the mall after hearing a voice. There she discovers a cat like creature called Kyubey who is being shot at by Homura. Madoka saves Kyubey however Homura demands she hand it over. Sayaka intervenes and a runs off with Madoka. However the two of them discover that they seem to have ventured into an alternate dimension with strange monsters lurking within it. Luckily the pair is rescued by another girl named Mami Tomoe, who seems to be using magic to repel the monsters. Kyubey explains that Mami and Homura are magical girls who fight witches who kill humans, and that the both of them should make a contract with him to help. For their efforts, Kyubey will grant them any wish they like. However all is not as it seems. Homura is hell bent on making sure Madoka never makes a contract with Kyubey, and Sayaka and Madoka soon discover that becoming a magical girl means certain death.

There’s a lot more to the story of course, but that will do for now. When I first saw the TV series, I was initially a little underwhelmed. I think due to the extraordinary hype surrounding the show, it meant that it really had a lot to live up to. But once the mid-way point had been reached, the payoff was just brilliant. The big problem I had with the show is that it is utterly depressing, and not even the ending made me feel less depressed. Overall I thought the whole thing was a bit “meh” and didn’t drink the Kool Aid and join the Madoka cult. I also have quite an aversion to compilation films, so my expectations for these two films were pretty bloody low. Much to my surprise I really enjoyed them. Sure the re-done and extra animation was hard to spot (outside of a new opening animation and brand new scene in the second film) and the films are kind of long, but the action flows seamlessly and besides the cliff-hanger at the first film, it really doesn’t feel like a bunch of episodes strung together.

There was an intermission between the first film and the second. To my surprise someone had switched on the cinema PA and it turned out to be a local cosplay club whom Madman had contracted out to give away a bunch of prizes. These turned out to be the local releases of “Madoka Magica” TV series Blu-rays, which sort of made little sense to me as most people had probably at least seen the series and most likely had it on BD on DVD. Confusingly they seemed to be asking for cosplayers only (I don’t think that was their intention) in their BD giveaway competition, in which people were asked what their favourite anime was then had to do a line from that show. I find this stuff rather cringe worthy, so I made a dash to the loo. At any rate my bladder certainly couldn’t stand a whole four and a half hours not being attended to. Besides the half dozen from the cosplay club, the fandom was certainly on show in the audience that day. For example I heard one girl get upset at one point during the film and her friend seemingly reassure her that it was only a film. I had this other bloke next to me comment to his friend that the appetite suppressants weren’t working as he chowed down on two buckets of popcorn and a couple of beers. Another bloke in my row talked loudly on his phone during the credits of the first film and kept doing so as the music stopped. Laughter ensued from the audience. Oh fandom. The other thing which really struck me as I watched the opening animation to the first film, was I really realised how strange “we” must look to others. Sitting here for four and a half hours watching a compilation of a TV series we’d all already seen, which features young girls in frilly outfits being manipulated by a cold, uncaring “cute” alien and generally the girls are having a shit of a time. It was a kind of “what the fuck am I doing?” moment.

The second film, “Eternal”, covers the final four episodes. The most significant thing about this film is the addition of a new scene. Though it was interesting, I felt it didn’t add a whole lot to the film. Mid-way through the film a clean opening of TV series was suddenly played, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I’m really not sure what the point of that was. More than anything it broke the flow of the film and served no purpose at all. Aside from small changes to some scenes that only the most hardcore “Madoka Magica” fan would notice, the film isn’t that much different from the series itself. Having said that, I enjoyed these two films a lot more than the TV series. A lot more in fact. There a lot of very clever concepts in this series and most of them really work well. But for me there a lot of unanswered questions that the series and films raise. Such as the nature of the “magic” itself. I suppose with Kyubey being an alien entity, Arthur C. Clarke’s third law, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, can definitely be applied to this show, literally. I thought the witches world sequences early on in the TV series didn’t work too well. The animation styles just clashed too much. In latter episodes it looked a lot better though and in these two movies the animation styles looked seamless. The process in which the magical girl’s wishes were grated had me puzzled. I’m assuming that Kyubey’s people were granting them, but why would they grant Madoka’s? Wouldn’t that wish throw out their plans completely (even though in the end it was to their benefit)? I also liked the idea of Cleopatra and Joan of Arc being magical girls. That was utterly hilarious.

I knew that the preview for an upcoming third film played at the end of the second film in US and Japanese screenings. However it didn’t at the Australian screenings. I read somewhere that this was because an American patron had recorded the audio for the preview and posted it on the internet. Supposedly Aniplex had decided to pull the trailer in Australia to stop any more leaks. If that’s true the logic truly baffles me. As I understand it the US screenings are still showing the preview, plus they also get the bonus video of messages from the main cast during the intermission. I read that both the Sydney and Melbourne screenings where disasters with Blu-ray players conking out, and screenings having to be cancelled. Luckily nothing went a miss in Canberra. The audience were well behaved (only laughing uncontrollably whenever Madoka’s homeroom teacher, Kazuko Saotome, graced the screen), and the films where really well edited and kept the audiences interest (despite the long run times and odd inclusion of the TV opening in the second film). At over four and a half hours, this is easily the longest time I have spent in a cinema and I was surprised that I enjoyed my time there. I’m not quite converted on compilation films yet (nor drinking the Kool Aid), but these two films collectively get a 7.5 out of 10 from me.

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