Anime review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion

Fair warning: while this review will not reveal major spoilers about the film itself, it will contain spoilers regarding the Madoka anime series.

A twelve-episode series and two recap films later, the story of Puella Magi Madoka Magica tells its final chapter in a third film, titled Rebellion. After Madoka transcended to the level of a god and rewrote the laws of the universe, Homura was left in a new timeline where the curse of magical girls becoming witches did not apply. Instead, the energy of negative emotions and thoughts manifested in the form of beings known as wraiths, and hunting these became the new role of magical girls. While Madoka’s memory was wiped from existence, Homura still remembered her best friend and everything the two had sacrificed for each other’s sake. In the final moments of the anime, Homura displayed dark wings, implying her own powers had grown beyond what was typical of a magical girl.

It may come as something of a surprise, then, that Rebellion begins with all five of the magical girls from the series watching over the city and quelling nightmares before they grow out of control. There is a certain similarity between the presentation of these nightmares and the witches of the original anime, in that they are both presented in a very distinct style not exhibited by many other works in said medium. Backgrounds transition from a grayscale cityscape to colorful quilt-like patterns, while the physical forms of these nightmares are filmed as live-action 3D models than are layered into this 2D animated realm. While only a few instances of this are exhibited throughout the film, it works well as an evolution of the way the anime presented the witch’s labyrinths.

Within a half-hour of the film getting underway, both Homura and the audience are strikingly aware of the fact that something is off with the world as it being perceived. Some of the magical girls remember key events from the anime, others do not. The world appears more exaggerated and stylized, with gothic architecture and a greater contrast in colors prevalent as the world gradually shifts away from a familiar realm of modern technology witnessed throughout the majority of the series. Thus, Homura’s goal becomes that of uncovering the truth – why things appear out of order, what happened to the witches, and most importantly, what the full ramifications of Madoka’s ultimate sacrifice were.

One of Rebellion’s big selling points prior to its release was that it would introduce a new magical girl. However, the fact that she receives very little screen time and is allotted practically nothing in the way of time to develop into anything more than a mildly interesting plot device makes her inclusion more or less a joke. The animation and artistic style of the film, while still very good, do not display any significant increase in production value over the original series. The soundtrack is similarly a bit underwhelming – it certainly perpetuates an atmosphere similar to the series, but does not contain many complex or interesting tunes by comparison.

The brilliance of Puella Magi Madoka Magica was in its delivery and pacing – each of the twelve episodes layered the necessary information while similarly taking the time to focus on each character and weave a complex story, the full extent of which was not realized until the final few episodes. However, by the time Rebellion rolls around, viewers are intimately familiar with the personalities and behaviors of each magical girl, and while the first twenty minutes or so are a fun trip down memory lane, this portion of the film serves largely as a highlight reel for their individual powers and techniques. Once Homura picks up on the world being an imperfect vision of what she once knew, the story becomes incredibly predictable and reveals itself as unfortunately simplistic.

When Hideaki Anno set out to create End of Evangelion as a follow-up to the original Neon Genesis Evangelion, he did so with a few factors in mind – viewers being disappointed over the original series’ conclusion, the budget restraints the original series faced, the grander vision he had for the story, and the increase in popularity Evangelion saw a couple of years after its initial release. With Rebellion effectively taking on the same role of a follow-up film to an otherwise already-concluded series, it feels like a cheap cash-in for the sake of Madoka being so popular upon its initial release. The new endgame is a pointless retread of familiar territory, and attempts to explain itself as an end-all be-all solution for one final happy(-ish) ending, but there is little thought or care put into it. While the magical girls all display watered-down versions of their personalities from the series due to Rebellion’s less-than-two-hour runtime, Homura’s is the most insulting, as she is reduced to a selfish, almost sinister caricature of the complicated, hardened, and loving individual revealed by the conclusion of the original series.

My rating: 5 (out of 10)

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