The power of a magical girl comes from a dark place.
What They Say:
Madoka Kaname is an eighth-grader who leads a peaceful, fun-filled life as a student, surrounded by her beloved family and her best friends. One day, a transfer student named Homura Akemi arrives in Madoka’s class. She is a dark-haired beauty with a somewhat mysterious disposition. Soon after meeting Madoka for the first time, Homura goes on to issue Madoka a strange warning.
Madoka also meets Kyubey, a mysterious looking white creature. He says, “Make a contract with me and become a magical girl!” To make any wish come true – Madoka didn’t know the meaning of this miracle nor what its cost may prove to be. An impending loss triggers a drastic change in her destiny…
The audio presentation for this release is strong across the board as we get the original Japanese and the new English language dub in 5.1 using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec as well as a stereo mix for the Japanese. The films use the surround stage quite well during a lot of the bigger moments, but part of it still feels like it hews more towards the TV side for a lot of it with its focus primarily on the forward soundstage. There doesn’t feel like a lot of missed opportunities to be had here, but it could have had a bit more punch throughout. What we do get is a strong mix that brings the films to life with a lot of forward soundstage directionality, some great bass in key action sequences and some strong placement for dialogue in many scenes that helps to bring it alive even more in both languages. It’s a solid film mix that captures the material well and the encoding brings it to life in the right way with clean presentations that are free of dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in 2012, the transfer for the two films are presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.85: 1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The two movies are given their own Blu-ray discs (and their own DVD discs as well) so there’s plenty of room for the two hour presentations that are here, beautifully animated by Shaft. The features are encoded in the way we’ve come to expect from Aniplex in that the bit rate sits in the high thirties throughout, which is quite useful for these movies even with the diminishing returns once you get that high. With so much color, so many details, such an attention to the visual design of it all that it’s simply striking and jaw dropping when you look at it and take it in, the transfer brings it all to life in a beautifully clean way that makes it come alive. The visual presentation is simply top-notch across both films and while I’m sure someone can find fault with a frame or two here and there, the vast majority of fans will be extremely pleased with the visual presentation that we get here. It’s beautiful.
The packaging for this release is done with a standard slim box to hold the two clear Blu-ray cases inside. The front cover artwork for the box has a great soft image of Madoka with the world literally in her hands with a white background and lots of green and pink and purple circles to fit with her nicely. The back of the box keeps things simple with just a nice English language phrase about the film and more of the circles. All the technical information is kept to the wraparound along the bottom which with its small black text on a brown background is a bit hard to read at times, but is clean and clear when you have enough light on it. The box also has a great booklet inside that has a look at the full color backgrounds, the key visuals that were released for the film and other promotional pieces that look great.
The Blu-ray cases are pretty strong pieces as well with their artwork designs that are used with the menus as well. The first one is a lighter piece that has all the magical girls together with Kyubey while the second goes darker with just Madoka and Homura together. Each is beautifully detailed and rich with what it does in color and design. The back covers wraparound with the overall design so they’re black and white as well and are laid out similarly. We get a nice tagline along the top while the center is made up of lots of images from the features. The premise is covered well in the summary and there’s a small but clean look at what extras are included in each volume as well as the basic language options. Each cover has material on the reverse side, but they’re not really reversible covers as it’s more just focused on little show related widgets.
The menu design for these releases are quite nice and play well for setting the mood and giving the fans what they want. They play to the static side of things with some beautiful character artwork/poster material used for each film in a good way while the main side has the overall logo design with the large font Japanese text and a much smaller English language presentation of it. The navigation strip is kept along the bottom with the standard basic selections that are quick to access and load cleanly and without problem both from the main menu and as a pop-up menu.
The extras for this release are fairly minimal but welcome as we get an extensive series of TV spots, trailers and promotional videos for both films as well as the clean ending sequences for each. There’s a LOT of TV spots to be had here.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When the Madoka Magica series aired during the winter 2011 anime season, it had a whole lot of fans to it as it progressed, providing a darker look at magical girls through some pretty interesting creators. The series was not part of the simulcast season at the time so I had missed out on it completely, but the show took on a whole new level when as it neared its conclusion, we had the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor issues in Japan. The series become something of a cultural phenomenon in a lot of ways at the time as fans rallied behind it with the obvious delays and the shows focus on hope amid adversity helped to raise its stature even more. It was like lightning in a bottle that turned a very engaging fan show into something far larger. Enough so that the property ended up being green lit to have three feature films made. The first two would present the majority of the original series in a cleaner form while the third film, not in this set, would provide a new continuing story to take it in new directions.
Prior to these films, I had watched the series with its Blu-ray releases so I’m certainly familiar with the property, though I’ll admit that I was outside the cultural phenomenon side of it so I wasn’t as tightly wedded to it and its meanings as others. I found it to be a strong and engaging series, beautifully animated, and full of the kinds of things that I like from TV shows that we don’t get. Real changes, sacrifice, a look at the larger good and the deeds that must be done to achieve them. With the feature films, we largely follow the main track of the story but with a different kind of breathing room about them compared to the series that had to deal with the weekly structure. We get the introduction of the world where Madoka, a third year middle school student, discovers that there are magical girls in the world that hunt witches in order to stop them from becoming worse with the curses that they contain. Destroying them causes Grief Seeds to be produced and from that the magical girls can power themselves.
The girls gain one wish from an alien creature known as Kyubey when they sign the contract. His race is interesting in that they’re ancient and see themselves as protectors of the universe as they need emotion in order to help balance out the entropy of it all. But their race has no individual emotion and they’re unable to do it themselves. While Madoka doesn’t learn of it herself for a while – she doesn’t even become a magical girl until the second half of the second film – humanity would still be living in caves and fearing the night sky if not for what Kyubey’s race did in essentially uplifting them with gifts and power in order to tease out the emotions needed to push back against this dark negative energy out there. It’s fleshed out well in the second film and it makes for a compelling kind of galactic level story that’s mired in the hands of thirteen year old girls. Normally, this kind of material is corny and awful. But the team here, working from what they did in the TV series and lightly refining it, makes it a fascinating concept to work with and mostly manages to massage away the issues that one might think of.
What makes the films here complex is that while Madoka is interested in all of this and we see her friend Miki become a magical girl in order to help a boy she likes, is that a lot of the time is spent in a circular way in dealing with Homura Akemi. She’s a loner wolf type magical girl, but she harbors the biggest secret of all when it comes to what’s going on here. While Madoka and Miki befriend Mami, the magical girl who saves them early on and opens their eyes to this world along with Kyubey, it’s Homura that has the most to gain and the most to lose when it comes to whether Madoka becomes a magical girl. Her reasons are her own until the second film, but there’s such an intensity about her, an anger and sadness, that even if we didn’t know what it was, you’d feel as though it was justified by what was put down to screen for her. She gives the film its real emotional weight. Miki has her moments, but as we see with her wish, it’s mired in adolescent fantasies. Mami and another magical girl named Kyoko have their own things, but aren’t fully realized in the same way.
This is a tale of Homura and Madoka. And it is truly magical as their paths weave back and forth until the full truths are revealed.
It’s been awhile since I had seen the TV series so coming back into the property through the movies doesn’t feel like I’m seeing it again too soon. What we get here is a solid re-presentation of what the TV series did with some smoothed out structural issues going from weekly to two hour films, a beautiful looking presentation and a larger scale made all the clearer by having it together as tightly as this. The films do present what, to me, feels like a very complete and final story. The Rebellion film will added to it and that’s a complete unknown to me, but what we get here is fantastic, thoughtful and amazingly animated work that represents some of the best of what anime can do, especially when plumbing the depths of a familiar genre and showing that it can still be given real weight and meaning. It’s an inspiring work and one that I wish had caused more productions to up their game in what they do because it should have been a game changer in that every season should have more shows of this nature. But until it does, Madoka Magica stands out as a fantastic work that falls easily in the must see and must-share category. Very recommended.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, Japanese PCM Language, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Textless Opening and Ending, Theatrical Trailers, TV Commercial Collections
Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: July 15th, 2014
Running Time: 241 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.