Reviewby David Cabrera, Oct 24th 2012
Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part 1: Beginnings
Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part 2: Eternal
Film adaptation of SHAFT's TV series about group of ordinary middle-school girls who find themselves embroiled in the vicious cosmic destiny of the “magical girls”, who wield great powers at terrible cost.
Whether in the name of artistic perfectionism or increased home video sales, popular anime series often get the chance to revise themselves. The new Evangelion films come immediately to mind for their absurd, almost self-parodic number of slightly altered new cuts. The Madoka Magica TV series had already undergone quite a bit of revision between its original televised broadcast and its video release, but these two films aim to supercede that as well. The final cut of Madoka Magica is in.
That's the first thing we need to get out of the way about these movies: they do not tell a new story. If we had the luxury of counting up all the new scenes-- so many are quick cuts-- we would probably only find a precious few minutes of completely new footage, certainly under ten, in the combined four-hour running time of these films.
The service material is most apparent: there's a stunning new opening sequence featuring the most detailed nuzzling in anime history, new magical girl transformation sequences in the ritualistic, classical manner, and new battle scenes lavished upon the after-the-point fan favorite Mami Tomoe. The newly inserted footage mostly connects smoothly with the show, but other scenes do indeed clash: as many beautiful images as the TV series has, it can't hope to offer the sheer spectacle as some of the cuts added to the film.
Though they don't match up completely (the first film covers the first eight episodes and the second film the last four), watching these films is about equivalent to having a marathon viewing of the TV series.
These are not some of those high-speed, low-substance “clip show” movies with some added fanservice, like the ones Gurren Lagann got. They will not skip past the parts they presume the audience knows already, and they are perfectly comprehensible start-to-finish by someone who knows nothing about the series... because they are the series. At the same time, however, they hardly feel like movies, rather the entire bulk of a TV show cut and pasted into into four hours with a break in the middle.
They're clearly intended to be taken as a pair-- the first film ends unresolved at a critical moment, and the second film would be incomprehensible if watched by itself. Though there are scenes in the TV series that are left behind in this version, one can't call this an “abridged” version either. The first film in particular, because of the greater need for exposition and long chats, mostly presents the TV series verbatim. Even the remains of a TV series-- when the TV series used the opening sequence inside the show, the movie does as well-- hang around vestigially.
Again, if we had the luxury of placing the films and the TV series side-by-side, there would probably be hundreds of tiny differences that the staff at SHAFT made for the sake of making them. The fact that Kyouko eats strawberry Rokcy (not a typo) instead of chocolate neither adds nor detracts anything, for example... unless, of course you like that flavor better.
And whether the changes matter or not, this film version is obsessively concentrated on the details: continuity fixes and the stuffing up of plot holes. Previous viewers of the TV series will notice little hints, clues and explanations that make the story very slightly more complete. There are real improvements: Kyouko Sakura is given the screen time and sympathy she deserved from the outset, and Homura's origin story-- one of the highlight episodes of the TV series-- has been expanded upon. Very little of import has actually been left out from the series, though the decision to leave out Mami's backstory was puzzling.
For fans of the Japanese voice cast, the actresses from the TV series have completely re-recorded their roles. Their performances, particularly Chiwa Saito as Homura, are frequently heart-wrenching.
If this weren't one of the best anime stories of the last few years, it would be easier to be hard on this presentation... but it undeniably works. Madoka Magica takes the viewer in all over again. The mounting suspicion and dread of the first half, the surreal, apocalyptic action scenes, the emotional catharsis of the finale: it's just as effective in the theater, if not more so for the big screen and Yuki Kajiura's powerful score booming from theater speakers.
Viewers of the TV series will recall that the series ends and then teases a sequel for five minutes, and then the credits roll and it feels self-indulgent again, and so it teases a sequel one more. This part has been expanded both in the film itself and in an after-credits trailer for 2013's all-new and final Madoka film. Without spoiling the major developments-- both clearly stated and implied-- in the trailer, it is best described as “worrying”. Here's an 80s anime analogy: less Gundam III, more Fist of the North Star 2.
Ultimately, what we have here is clearly intended to be the new definitive version of Madoka Magica (however, there will certainly be bitter fights over this on both sides of the issue). These aren't essential viewing for the existing Madoka fan, but once they're more widely available, the films will will definitely be the version for the new viewer to watch. Unless, of course, SHAFT goes back to do some more revision. Don't put it past them.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A
+ One of the best anime TV series of recent years presented in marathon format; edited with minute attention to detail
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