This review contains spoilers for the TV series and first two movies of Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
When heroes have played their part in saving the world, when they sacrifice everything to change what was wrong into something better, and when they perish at the end leaving their good work behind, does that mean it’s the end of the story? In most cases, yes, the status quo changes from one to another and an arc closes, so the natural conclusion is to finish the story. But that is not what Puella Magi Madoka Magica has done. The original series ended as most stories of good triumphing over evil do. Madoka Kaname sacrifices herself to change the order of the universe, to prevent Magical Girls becoming the very thing they fight against: Witches. As a result she becomes a God, a beacon of hope for all girls who fight evil, taking power away from Kyubey and stopping the infinite cycle her best friend Homura was trapped in. The series ended on an emotionally satisfying conclusion, tying up nearly all loose ends and closing the story on a hopeful note, ending the cycle of tragedy that came before.
Rebellion is the third movie of the Madoka Magica movie trilogy that tells a completely new story that takes place right after the ending. Although at first the circumstances are rather ambiguous as the opening scene has all five of the Magical Girls we’ve come to know and love, even those who have passed on, alive once more and fighting together. The opening 20 minutes or so plays out, for lack of a better description, like a stereotypical Magical Girl show. Like the reality warping that happened in the last episode of Evangelion, all the characters plus one new girl are placed in a world that LOOKS similar but plays out very differently, noticeably happier, including elaborate transformation sequences (a striking reversal of the original series ‘to the point’ pieces) and a few fanservice-y camera shots to boot. However just as the cute meter is about to explode, Homaru starts to feel that something is not right and questions the world she currently inhabits.
As Homaru uncovers the truth, we experience a revolutionary new view on the mythology of Witches, Magical Girls and the energy-gathering incubator that came before. Kyubey’s role has always been one of mystery and cunning but the lengths the character goes to within Rebellion is not only a very logical and clever step forward, but also terrifying. Although the concepts, themes and mythology it wove within the scope of the TV series were vast, the place it actually took place in was very small, just a few teenage girls and one little town in Japan. In Rebellion however the world has considerably enlarged; transcending time and space within the subconscious mind of Homura, the movie explores the concepts it first created and takes them onto a whole new level. It all leads to a fantastical final battle where the girls fight side by side, using every resource explored in the films and series, against a much greater form of despair than seen before.
And then, the last twenty minutes happen, the final twist that has divided the fan base, transforming the previous ending into something far darker that most audiences are almost too scared to comprehend; that sometimes after a hopeful ending, there is still despair left to be felt, and not everyone can accept a truly happy ending. Obviously I cannot go into detail into as to what the actual twist is, making the overall rating difficult to justify, so let’s try to evaluate it in the broadest possible way.
Does it contradict or ruin the original ending of the TV series/first two films? It depends entirely on the viewer; emotionally, the ending of the series concludes perfectly with the cycle of death and despair changed for the better and Madoka’s wish giving her friends the peace they deserve for their fights. Logically, there were a few loose ends such as Homura’s reason for wanting to become a Magical Girl in the first place and Kyubey’s original purpose for coming to Earth to harvest energy left open-ended. In this case, Rebellion will be a welcome exploration of these concepts as it pushes them as far as they can possibly go. So, emotionally it can be argued, but the basis for the story to take place are sound.
Does the twist ending work on a fundamental level? In theory, yes; it’s true that Homura was not entirely happy at the end of the series. It was left in a way that she carries the knowledge of the changed world with her and promises to uphold it for her best friend, and for the first half of the film she seems content in keeping things that way. Yet the ending left her emotional state in flux, having to settle for what was only possible despite her wanting something else. When it comes to halfway through the film, when circumstances change, when the status quo is unstable once more, her true passion starts to eclipse her logical side. It also makes some sense that what she went through in the TV series (the constant repetition of time- travelling) and the circumstances she suffers in the film would most likely create a decline in sanity.
In practice, however, it doesn’t completely hold up; there are a few quick frames and facial cues that slowly weave Homura’s character arc, the opening animation – where she’s much darker in colour and very separate from the other girls – is telling, but the handling of the final twist, considering that in the previous scene she seemed to be following the same train of thought as the others, is very sharp and sudden. If another scene was added to help add fuel to the conclusion then perhaps it wouldn’t feel like such a knee-jerk reaction or hasty re-write. It tries to have the same emotional impact that the gut-punching twists in the series had, but the twists in the series created obstacles for the girls to overcome, as a way to build the world and its characters. The one in Rebellion is an antithesis to that; it takes us back a step in what the heroes have accomplished, it changes the message of the original ending and that is what most fans seem to, understandably, dislike the most.
Outside of the controversial story however, does the movie have anything else worthwhile going for it? The animation is certainly one notable feature; unlike the previous two movies where it was mostly re-drawing and re-using animation, Rebellion has been built from the ground up with a far larger budget and it’s glorious. The battle scenes alone are worth the extra price for Blu-ray as they take full advantage of the girls’ abilities and the final Witch battle is an explosion of colour, shapes and runes. The music is all new too; Yuki Kajiura continues from where her previous score left off with more sombre and melancholy pieces to match the mood of the film. The ending theme by Kalafina ‘Kimi no Gin no Niwa’ seems odd at first with its folksy tune and oddly chipper, but the translated lyrics actually match the themes of the movie rather well; it’s a shame we have no translation subtitles to back it up.
DVD extras are similar to what was available in the other films: textless opening and ending, commercials, trailers and ‘Monogatari Manners’ are little shorts that have the characters go over the cinema conventions of switching phones off, etc, in a very fun way.
Puella Magi Madoka Madoka Movie III: Rebellion has undoubtedly divided fans, and will continue to do so in the UK with this release. It’s visually gorgeous and the music is another winner from Yuki Kajiura but the actual story is a strange creature indeed. It’s best to go in with the thought that this is an optional ending to the series, at least until more sequels surface. Your enjoyment of it will largely by affected by how you perceived the ending of the TV series. All things considered, it’s best to proceed with caution.