Tuesday, December 11, 2012

MADOKA MAGICA: THE MOVIE, pt. 1 & 2 (2012)

"If you ever feel like dying to help the universe, just let me know. I'll be waiting."

When I accepted my friends' offer to go see Madoka Magica at the theater with them this past weekend, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that it was really popular, and that it was supposed to be pretty dark. What I wasn't prepared for was exactly how dark it would become. Don't let any of the cutesy imagery fool you for a second, as this is one of the cruelest, most brutal works of art I've ever had the pleasure to take in.

The story starts out innocently enough, showcasing the start of a typical day at school for our main character, middle schooler Madoka Kaname, and her best friend, Sayaka Miki. After their homeroom teacher finishes projecting her relationship troubles on her students, she introduces the class to a new transfer student, named Homura. It seems like Homura wants nothing to do with anybody else, until she leads Madoka away from the classroom, and suddenly warns her against giving up the life that she has. Madoka and Sayaka spend some time after school pondering what her warning could mean, until Madoka suddenly hears a voice in her head, begging her for help.

The two of them follow it until they come across a very strange-looking cat with serious wounds, being gunned down by Homura. She tells them to get out of her away, until an unnamed blonde girl shows up and tells Homura to leave. After Homura agrees, the three girls are then transported into a strange world that looks like it was animated entirely by Terry Gilliam, and come face-to-face with a giant monster, called a Witch. The blonde girl is able to save Madoka and Sayaka by magically summoning a wall of flintlock rifles and blowing the monster into dust. When they are all in the clear, the cat starts talking to them telepathically. He says that his name is Kyubey, and that he will grant the two of them any wish they desire, as long as they agree to become Magical Girls, and hunt down the Witches that have been wreaking havoc on society. From this point, our heroines delve deeper into this mysterious world of magic and monsters, discovering the grave consequences of those who choose to become Magical Girls, and what Kyubey's real intentions are.

Even after the scene where it appears as though Kyubey is about to meet his maker, Madoka Magica really didn't seem as dark as it had been made out to be by my friends, and every single review of it I had read. It wasn't until a little later when it happened. A moment so shocking and out of left field, that I had to cover my mouth to keep from screaming, "HOLY SHIT!" right in the middle of the theater. It was at that moment that I realized that I actually cared about these characters, and the thought of what cruel fate may await them had me in complete suspense. I knew that the emotional pull was only going to get more intense as the saga continued, and I was completely right. What's especially amazing was how the movie was able to pull this off without feeling gratuitous or exploitative in any way.

A lot of this movie's success owes itself to its very moody, emotional atmosphere. When it needs to be, the animation can either be deceptively bright and cheerful, or just downright frightening. The scenes that take place in the Labyrinths, the Witches' dimensions, especially, look like the kind of imagery you would see in an actual nightmare. The music really helps set the mood, as well. Except for a couple strangely out-of-place pop songs, the score consists mostly of haunting classical fare, frequently accompanied by chanting.

What really makes Madoka Magica work for me, though, is that it had characters who I had learned to sympathize with as the story progressed, it had a great ending that surprisingly managed to answer every question I had, and that despite the fact that it presents the audience with an enemy that really feels dangerous on a cosmic scale, it never forgets where its true focus lies. It's a story about people learning to live with the decisions they've made, and how to overcome them in the face of a great tragedy, and it does a fantastic job of it.

It's not enough for me to recommend this to just anime or sci-fi fans. I strongly believe that if you're a fan of FICTION, you owe it to yourself to check out Madoka Magica. I'm not one to just toss around the word, "masterpiece", but I feel like this movie really earns that distinction. Just some fair warning: it is absolutely not for the faint of heart.

Madoka Magica: The Movie, pt. 1 & 2 was made using compiled footage from the award-winning 2011 TV series, Puella Magi Madoka Magica. A sequel is due out sometime next year.


  1. Yep.

    Uhh...I don't really have much more to comment on than that. Yep. As I mentioned in the theatre, I thought as you did that the show couldn't possibly quite what everyone else was saying it was, and I almost gave up at the first episode. Boy am I glad I didn't. I'm glad you enjoyed it as well.

    Just a note, the footage itself isn't recycled from the series. They actually did reanimate everything. It's the same storyboards and editing cues for the most part though.

    You mention the soundtrack. I think it's a brilliant score, and that Yuki Kajiura is an equally brilliant composer, but I actually thought the film did slightly less good of a job at using the music than the series did. One somewhat puzzling choice was the use of this piece during a somewhat insignificant, incidental conversation between Madoka and Sayaka. Not only is it kinda unfitting, but if you've seen the series, you will immediately remember two certain other scenes involving Sayaka that this plays during. If it's fanservice, it's really, really bizarre fanservice.

  2. After seeing the first two Salior Moon-esque pictures I was surprised to read how dark this was. The animation sounds interesting, I'm not a big anime fan but will have to check this out sometime.

  3. Yeah...I've heard similar things. I've never watched it, but I heard that it starts off real light-hearted and then shit gets real serious about halfway through.