Anime On the Big Screen: “Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion”

ImageVenue: Dendy Cinemas, Level 2, North Quarter, Canberra Centre, 148 Bunda Street, Canberra City, ACT
Date: Saturday 1 February 2014
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Format: Digital Projection, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 115 minutes
Production Date: 2013
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No

Like the first two films, “Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion” played all around the country (covering all the main capitals) in one-off screenings on a single day. Amazingly the Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne screenings were all sold out at least two days in advance. Personally I’m not a huge fan of the franchise, but as I saw the first two in the cinema I decided I might as well part with another $20 to see the concluding film. This was despite the fact the temperature was due to hit 38°C the day of the screening. I went up to the counter to exchange by printed off ticket I ordered online for the real deal, turned around and saw a table at the theatre entrance with a cosplayer dressed as Madoka hovering around. “Oh dear god…” I thought. Though I am most definitely a fan of anime, a lot of the fandom stuff I do find cringeworthy. I quickly exited Dendy to do a bit of shopping in the mall for an hour or so before the film started. Along the way I saw a guy wearing a t-shirt telling the world they partly funded “Kick-Heart” and another dude wearing a “Another” t-shirt. Then emerging from some fashion shop, a girl with coloured wig with some guy, who was wearing a samurai-like yukata type outfit with two katana strapped to his back. Amazingly no one in the mall seemed to take any notice of this spectacle.

I was aware that the bonuses Madman was giving out at cinemas (a reproduction mini autograph board and poster – see above for poster) were limited, so I went back to the cinema some 40 minutes before the screening and asked the lady at the table what the deal was. I was informed that there were only 100 mini autograph boards and posters to be given out. I knew that at least 260 tickets had been sold (more than triple the amount of the people who came to the screening of the first two films), so with around 50 people already lined up, I reluctantly got in line. Standing right next to me was a cosplayer dressed as Madoka. Yes, there were two Madokas in the cinema. As other people walked up to watch “12 Years A Slave”, “The Book Thief” or “The Wolf of Wall Street” or whatever other “normal” films were screening, most had bemused looks on their faces when confronted with the sight of a long line of weirdos. Some asked the attendant what the hell was going on.

Strangely we were let in about 30 minutes early (delays are the usual order of the day at Dendy). I got my Aniplex freebie crap and headed in. I should have realised what the deal was the with the cosplayers and the table outside. Unfortunately as with the screening of the first two films, Madman gave the job of giving out freebies and prizes to a local cosplay group who I think is associated with the ANU Anime and Gaming Society and some convention happening in May called Gammacon. Totally unannounced and a complete surprise to anyone not in their little group, they announced the winners of a scavenger hunt. Yes, because apparently the only people who wanted to go to this film were the local anime club and the jokers running the cosplay group. Why bother telling anyone else of the scavenger hunt? Yeah, “outsiders” wouldn’t want to take part, would they? It really gave me the shits. Nothing was mentioned on Madman’s Reel Anime website nor on Dendy’s. Even looking at the club’s website, their never updated twitter account or the con’s website, you’d have no warning that this stuff was happening. Of course before you’d even think of looking there you’d have to make the link that the club was giving prizes out in the first place. They did update the con’s website and Facebook page, but on the fucking morning of the screening. Yeah sorry kids, my ESP wasn’t working that day.

After that, the annoying MC decided he’d go and interview (i.e. harass) people in the audience. I think the look on my face read “fuck off or I’ll jam that microphone up your arse”, so funnily enough he didn’t bother with me. We were then subjected to 15 minutes of a cosplay competition which was just as cringe inducing as what had come before. Quite a few of the costumes were well done and a poor Mami Tomoe cosplayer fell flat on her face trying to get up on stage. Some dreadfully lame cosplay that looked liked it was thrown together in 10 minutes won. It was from some game/anime/whatever that I couldn’t identify. I really don’t get the subculture of cosplay. I really don’t. To top it all off, our clueless MC had no idea what prizes he was giving out. Is it that difficult to figure out what a movie programme is?

Finally the hired twats got off stage and the feature was about to start. However before the film there was a little pre-recorded message for overseas fans from the cast members. It was the usual stuff with the seemingly helium filled female seiyu being as saccharine and non-threatening as humanly possible.  Kaori Mizuhashi, the voice of Mami Tomoe, looked like she would literally sell her soul to be anywhere else than recording the message.

The film begins as if the events of previous two films never happened. Madoka, Homura, Sayaka, Sakura and Mami are fighting creatures called “Nightmares” which are apparently formed out of people’s negative emotions. Strangely Kyubey is mute and more animal like, but the real surprise is that Charlotte the Dessert Witch now accompanies Mami, but is referred to as Bebe by the girls. The girls have no memory of what has happened before. However Homura feels that something is amiss. During Homura’s investigations, Homura and Sayaka discover that they are unable to leave the city. Homura realises that they must be trapped in an alternate world inside a witch’s barrier. However the odd thing is that the witch obviously has no intention of harming them. Remembering details of her past, Homura concludes the suspect behind this is Bebe. However after battling Sayaka and Mami due to her rash actions, she discovers that the truth is a lot more complex and horrifying.

I can’t really write anymore about the film as I’d be spoiling the hell out of it. Right from the start, I’m going to have to say this film really has a number of problems. The first is that it’s really hard to digest it in one sitting. It’s a film that requires at least a couple of viewings. There is a lot of plot to wade through and unfortunately most of the material is conveyed to the audience in an info dump of dialogue around the 45 minute mark. The other problem I had was the fact the film doesn’t really get to the plot until the 30 minute mark. Up until that point where are treated to an amazing visual feast of the magical girls battling a “Nightmare”. There’s also what seems to be a rehash of elements of the first TV episode which shows that Madoka’s life has returned to normal. It almost looks like the same animation has been reused. I felt that a lot of this material was pretty pointless and could have been cut. All that the film need was to show that everything had mysteriously returned to “normal” to set up what was to come next. The magical girl battle against the “Nightmare” does feel rather over long and even tedious towards the end.

When the film finally gets to the actual plot, the over the top visuals and seemingly pointless symbolism do seem to drown it out. And as I said before, the explanation of what is going on is just dumped in the audience’s laps mostly via a long conversation between Kyubey and Homura. Don’t get me wrong, the story is pretty damn good. I think it is a rather excellent way to continue the story. The problem I had was the way in which it was told, and to a large degree the pacing of it. Too much time is spent producing a spectacle and the core plot comes off as a poor second, most of it being told in rushed manner in the latter half of the film. You cannot deny that visually it is a gorgeous piece of work. Shaft really got their money’s worth from Gekidan INU Curry. But the film would have been far better if some of those elements were toned down and the plot was allowed to breath a bit more. The visuals do not compensate for the confusing way the story is told. The much hyped new character, Nagisa Momoe, adds practically nothing to film, other than being yet another revenue source for the production committee in the form of overpriced character goods for otaku.

After the credits, a coda appears. The final seconds of this coda confuse things a bit further but also leave the story wide open for sequels. Will Shaft make a fourth film to fleece the fans again? If I was a betting man, I’d probably put money on it. Audience reaction was rather muted after the lights came up. A lot of people seem rather confused. Initially I was rather annoyed at the film, but after a couple of days, I realised this film does warrant more than one viewing. I will probably watch it at least one more time in an effort to follow the plot a little closer. I could be a cynic here and suggest that the confusing nature of the film was a deliberate attempt to get otaku back into the cinema to watch the film again. Aniplex have certainly milked the Madoka Magica cow almost dry. Over the course of 12 weeks, they gave out special bonuses 7 times which could only be obtained by buying another ticket to see the film. The film ran for over 19 weeks and made more than 2 billion yen in Japan alone. It’s the highest grossing film to be based on a late night anime. Madman must have thought the screenings here were successful, as they’ve announced an encore screening for Saturday 8 February right across the country.

I still don’t quite understand the popularity of this franchise. Personally I thought it was a rather clever take on the genre, but not best thing ever made. I know I am definitely out of touch with modern day fandom. However I can’t fathom how a film like this would be able to bring new fans into anime. I feel that the franchise is rather insular and not something outsiders can really get into, sort of like fandom as whole. At this stage, I still don’t quite know what to make of this film, so unlike the other theatrical anime I’ve looked at, I won’t give a score. I’m going to reserve my final judgement until I’ve seen it a couple more times.

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