Never surpassing, but just as entertaining, as the Madoka TV series, these movies provide a shorter version that introduces the third Rebellion movie.
What They Say:
Part 1: Beginnings
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 drastic change in her destiny…
Part 2: Eternal
The young girls have discovered the truth…The cruel fate of a magical girl. Madoka’s best friend, Sayaka Miki’s Soul Gem turns pitch-black as its owner falls into despair and it is transformed into a Grief Seed. Upon seeing this fate, Kyoko tries to save Sayaka, and ends up sacrificing her own life. One magical girl after another is destroyed. Throughout it all, there is one magical girl who continues to fight alone—Homura Akemi. All this time, she has been acting with one goal in mind. “I promise…I’m going to save you, no matter what it takes.” Homura renews her vow. And then it happens—a miracle powerful enough to sway the fortunes of the universe…
I don’t have a 5.1 system and the build-in TV speakers are actually kind of awful. They’re often lacking in volume, so I have to really jack up the volume. Not only does the Madoka movies shine, it excels. The dialogue is sometimes harder to understand at the same volume as the action scenes, but the action and music sounds wonderful. It lives up to the video even without a setup and helps immerse you completely into the Madoka experience.
I love this theatrical quality animation. I can’t remember specifically what the anime blu-rays looked like—not that it would help much, I’m watching them on a different setup. But these are gorgeous. One of the first shots we get is Madoka’s dad cutting some tomatoes in the garden and it’s beautifully detailed. The line work looks messy, but it’s stylistic of the show, not a flaw in the video. I can’t say I’ve looked at any things nicer, but my eyes aren’t that discerning above a certain level of quality.
When we get into Akiyuki Shinbo world—I mean the witch’s world, the visuals truly stand out. What was once disturbing becomes almost a cerebral experience where you are literally inside of the witch’s world, surrounded by the creepy imagery that populates it.
Aniplex does not skimp on these packages. The MSRP on this thing is 100 bucks, but it’s nice. The blu-ray and DVD have different artwork on it, each indicative of the Madoka style. The disc covers are the ones that have another locking mechanism on it to keep your discs extra secure and has that nice I’m-closing-two-things-at-once feel when you’re done. The box is minimalistic and Aniplex standard. If you have another premium set, it’s gonna look the same, just with Madoka on it instead of [insert anime here]. Only downside is that it isn’t that sturdy. It’ll bend and likely break (or tear) easily so be careful if you leave it out around kids or pets. On a shelf, it’ll be perfect though.
The menu is super nice. Both feature the girls on the cover with some nice promo art and the orchestral Madoka music playing over it all. It’s calming to just watch the menu.
The main extra here is the illustration booklet, as the on-disc extras are merely some trailers and TV CM collections. I like those well enough, but the illustration book is what I’m really interested in. It’s short, but it’s gorgeous. The first half features some places throughout the world of Madoka, showcasing Akiyuki Shinbo’s signature ridiculous detail where it’s not necessarily needed. The rest is some artwork of the girls, the best being the spread of them all in the magical girl garb. It’s short and sweet.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Madoka Magica the series is one of my favorite of all time. Through 12 episodes, it weaves a story of tragedy, hope, and the cyclical nature of the world. Its emotional beats are among the best I’ve seen ever, particularly concerning Sayaka and Kyoko’s arc. When these movies came out, I was a little disappointed because I knew they’d just be recap ones. When they announced Rebellion, I got excited, but tentatively. Continuing a series as perfect as Madoka isn’t going to be easy, if can even be done at all. Good buddy Thomas Zoth has the low down on the third movie here, so check that out.
The first 20 minutes of the movies plays out exactly as the series does, basically replaying the first episode. That’s the biggest flaw of these movies. They’re 241 minutes long instead of the full 300 minute running time of the series. We’re losing 19 precious minutes of content! Though I suppose if you’re on a budget, the first two movies only cost 100 bucks; I spent 80 each for three sets on the series.
This isn’t about money though. This is about the series. And these movies does justice to the series. Because they’re compilation films in a series that’s as tightly plotted as Madoka, it works almost perfectly. The biggest problem I have with the movies is Homura’s flashback. I absolutely hate saying that there is a RIGHT way to make movies or make TV shows. If Boyhood didn’t prove that, then I don’t know what will. Homura’s flashback works so well in the series because it has an entire episode dedicated to it. We take a break after both Sayaka and Kyoko die (a much needed one, if I may say) to focus directly on Homura. It works because it lies solely outside the narrative despite interrupting it. In the movies, it instead feels shoehorned in. It’s a moment that works as an episode, but not as part of a film narrative.
Everything else remains intact though. Mami’s death still hits hard and the visuals are even more encompassing than the series somehow—perhaps because it’s an ongoing narrative rather than being interrupted by openings and endings. This is when the film version can shine. While those episode have a narrative structure of their own, it works flawlessly as a continuing narrative. It’s like it was built for it. We see Madoka’s trepidation, Sayaka’s eagerness, and Mami’s motherly-ness all at the same time.
Sayaka and Kyoko’s arc is a little damaged by the fact that they’re spread over the first and second movies. The first movie ends with Sayaka turning into a witch and we cut to credits.
I still love their arc though. Kyoko starts off as antagonistic to everyone, and for good reason. She’s been hurt by the very wish she made; it broke apart her family. The fact that she still fights against witches means she still has some hope inside of her, but it’s little. Familiars aren’t even on her radar because it takes magic and doesn’t spit out a Grief Seed in the end. But she turns around. Kyoko sees a bit of herself in Sayaka and it reminds her of the magical girl with a gleam in her eyes she once was.
Sayaka even made the same “mistake.” She made a wish for someone else. Kyubey really is the worst monkey’s paw. Kyoko’s wish resulted in her entire family dying. Sayaka’s wish resulted in one of her best friends going out with her love interest. They’re not comparable by any means, but it’s basically the worst thing that could happen as a result of their respective wishes.
They’re both tragedies. Not only is Sayaka’s love taken from her, but she sees herself as less than human because her soul is detached from her body. Even if Kyosuke loved Sayaka, could she accept herself? She’s less than human. She’s a magical girl.
Kyoko is the most interesting character in the show though, and her arc proves it. She’s been to hell and back and then she returns to hell again. Her family’s gone and she has no one else to rely on. She’s broken. Yet she still fights. What else can she do? It’s like its automatic for her now—something to fill the time with. Sayaka and Madoka instill the hope that not all is lost. Sayaka destroys that hope completely. There is no future for the magical girls. Yet Kyoko sacrifices herself for Sayaka’s sake. He completely turns around her personality and ideology in the span of the series. It’s wonderful to watch play out.
The dub is just as fantastic as the series. Christina Vee’s usual flat voice works really well as the relatively flat Homura. And when Homura does has to emote (during her flashback), Vee truly shines. It’s in the subtler moments that it works though. She has slight changes in her intonation that designates her change in demeanor. It’s brilliant.
Christine Marie Cabanos leads the dub though as the titular Madoka. Her voice struggled at the beginning of the series dub; it sounded a little too much like an adult playing a junior high school student. But she settles by the end of the series and definitely by the time these movies came out. Cabanos’ higher emotional moments don’t quite hit the levels that Aoi Yuki, but it works well enough with the cast around her.
The series’ most important duo, Sayaka Miki and Kyoko Sakura, are voiced by the tandem of Sarah Williams and Lauren Landa. Despite being relative newcomers, they’re fantastic. Williams’ Sayaka has a cute innocence before the Soul Gem reveal and a conviction when she’s corrupted by it. It’s painful to even hear her speak in those moments because the emotions come through so clearly. They shoot straight through the heart. Landa’s Kyoko, on the other hand, lends itself to the spunky attitude of the character. She rarely (if ever) swears, but you can hear the same kind of edge in her voice when she talks. It’s a good balancing act between genki and yanki.
My favorite two performances are Carrie Keranen’s Mami and Cassandra Lee’s Kyubey. Keranen provides a voice that sounds at once young-ish and motherly. It’s comforting just to listen to her speak because of the parental demeanor in it. Lee, however, far surpasses her Japanese counterpart, Emiri Kato. I’ve felt this with literally every performance I’ve heard Lee in. She shines brighter than any other voice actress I’ve heard, save maybe for Luci Christian. Lee’s Kyubey is never wavering and gives the character the same creepy kindness that the Japanese did.
I was honestly shocked when I first heard this dub on the series discs. I didn’t think it’d be this good! Alex Von David and his crew really put together a quality product and the extras from the series blu-rays reveals they spent a lot of time putting out this quality product. I’m glad they did. It’s one of the best English dubs in the past five years.
In all, these movies don’t work as well as the TV series for me. They were made for TV and that’s where they should stay. I’d have a hard time recommending this over the series, unless you’re under a budget. If you’re really under crunch, check out the TV series on Crunchyroll.
However! These movies are by no means bad. They’re a great way of reliving the TV series and saving yourself 19 minutes (likely all time spent with OP/EDs).
Japanese and English audio in surround sound, English and Spanish subtitles, Movie trailers and TV CM collections, Textless opening and ending, Illustration booklet, Exclusive box illustrated by Junichiro Taniguchi (character design)
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Aniplex of America
Release Date: July 15, 2014
Running Time: 131 minutes + 110 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
PS3, LG 47LB5800 47” 1080p LED TV