Let me make this stupidly clear:
Yes, there are major spoilers inside.
As much as I hate having to include spoilers in a review, I don’t think it’s possible to do a true review of the third (and currently) final movie in the Madoka Magica series, Madoka Magica: Rebellion, without revealing some. So, before I explain why, the bottom line with Rebellion is that if you enjoyed the rest of the series, you should go see it (do not see it before seeing the rest of the series; you will be completely lost). You may or may not like the endings though. And yes, there are plural.
Before the spoilers, here’s an image gallery of the loot from the premier and the lines from Saturday and Sunday (1 and 2 Feb).
Major spoilers below this line!
Rebellion starts out like the beginning of the TV series (and I assume the first movie, but I haven’t seen the first two movies yet) as a seemingly happy story. Well, that is if you ignore the opening narration, which isn’t very happy. It starts with a monologue and very nice visuals, which turn into an opening battle… with all of the characters present? Wait, back up, aren’t some of these characters supposed to be dead? I thought only Homura survived. And yet, she’s not in this opening battle. Everyone else is battling a Nightmare. Wait, Nightmare? There’s another new “evil” to fight now? What the hell happened to the ending of the series? I mean, yeah, it’s great to see them all fighting together in a very impressive fight scene, but did someone throw out the plot so far? And why are they now all presenting food to the thing they were just fighting? What the hell is going on here!?
Oh. It was Madoka sleeping in bed. Wait, that doesn’t make sense either. Oh, I get it, we’re at the beginning of the series again. That explains it (the next couple of minutes are literally recycled footage, including the waking up mom scene). Kyubey’s living with Madoka again by the way. Fast forwarding through the rest of the stuff we’ve already seen, including Madoka running out the house with toast still in mouth, and we’re at the school, where we meet up with Kyoko and Sayaka. Yep, the three go to school together now. And that opening scene was actually everyone fighting together because now we’re talking about being unable to do homework because of being busy all night. Whatever. At least everyone looks happy. Oh look, we’re at the opening credits now. More of everyone… oh, there’s Homura. She’s really, really depressed looking.
Plain and simple, the opening credits are actually a bit painful to watch. They’re beautifully illustrated and the new OP from Claris is fantastic, but seeing Homura looking so damn depressed she couple probably kill herself if pushed too far while everyone else dances around her… damn. That hurts Shaft. At least we’re back at the school in Madoka, Sayaka, and Kyoko’s classroom before long.
As usual, the teacher is making absolutely no logical sense at all, talking about how the world is still going to end soon even though we lived through the apocalypse (this scene is much more funny than my sarcasm, but you do have to watch it yourself). Oh, right, the transfer student (yep, that joke returns). And as what should come as no surprise now, it’s Homura, who by flashing her ring to the other girls makes it known she’s one of them.
Apparently, Mami already knew that as she reveals to the other girls while they’re all chatting happily on the school roof. By the way, holy hell is the roof and school really detailed now. And I mean beautiful. For fun, look at a shot of the roof from the broadcast version of the series (not the DVD/Blu-ray, the TV). Now go to the Blu-ray/DVD. Now look at the movie. Yep. Just a little more detail.
Let’s skip to the next major fight, which has all of the girls fighting the same Nightmare from the beginning thanks to Captain Oblivious (Kyosuke). For the record, Rebellion does have a lot of great jokes in it, even if some are returning. After all the girls are together, the fight begins, but not before a transformation sequence that I swear is in there just to show off. And I do mean that. As impressive as the visuals in Rebellion are, there is a point where impressive turns to just plain showing off. And the phrase they all say (which I forget the exact wording of) at the end of the waste of three minutes really doesn’t make things better. This is Rebellion, not Power Rangers. Thankfully, the actual fight sequence itself is great. It’s beautiful, but at just the right amount. The music and sounds that accompany it are as well (yay short bit of Mami’s Theme!) The ending of the fight however… I guess Bebe, the new character, did need some screen time. The fight ends with the girls sitting around a spinning table where in the center is the trapped Nightmare. Seems like a great place to sing a song, right? WRONG. The ending of the fight kills the entire scene, at least, until it redeems itself at the end when everything begins changing back to normal. That part does tug on the heartstrings a bit.
So, Nightmare defeated, everything’s all fine and dandy, right? Not quite. By now we should all know that Madoka Magica is not even remotely a happy series. It’s very hard saying specifically what to look and listen for, but there are several clues in the first part of the movie that things are not right. The major one should be that we’ve thrown out the entire series thus far. Slowly, Homura begins to notice this as she chats in a field with Madoka, where both say how it feels like they’ve wanted to have a casual chat for a long time.
Homura’s concerns are confirmed when she chats with Kyoko, asking her about her background. Where did she come from? When did she move to Mitakihara? That’s a good question. When was it? At this point, Homura’s willing to bet on it that something is wrong. So, the two get on a bus to go to Kyoko’s hometown in a beautiful sequence of CG imagery. Except they never make it. They go past it. Twice. Now Kyoko’s pissed off and realizes too that something is wrong here. But, Homura says to keep it a secret from the others. She’s seen this thing before. They seem to be in a witch’s labyrinth. Homura, now in full badass mode, heads over to Mami’s.
There, she chats with Mami, Bebe, and Madoka over tea. She begins asking a number of questions about Bebe (Mami is taking care of Bebe by the way), which makes the others suspicious. Eventually, she asks Mami for more tea, who steps out to boil more water. If you look very carefully as she leaves, you’ll notice something important. Personally, I didn’t notice until I watched Rebellion a second time. After Mami takes her leave, Homura takes action, freezing time and grabbing Bebe, who she has suddenly remembered is a witch. Bebe, on the other hand, has no clue. After a couple minutes of Homura interrogating – aggressively – Bebe, Mami reappears, having followed Homura all along. As Mami cares for Bebe, she’s not too happy, and an epic gun fight breaks out. The fight comes to an end when Homura points a gun to her head and pulls the trigger. But of course, the shot doesn’t kill her. You don’t even see where the shot ends up going, but Homura does, in fact, shoot herself in order to escape Mami’s hold on her.
Once she does, the gun point turns to Mami instead. But, even in full badass mode, Homura can’t shoot to kill, and so she shoots Mami’s leg instead. Well, she would have, if Mami wasn’t expecting that and hadn’t created an illusion instead. Homura now becomes trapped by Mami. Mami’s pissed Homura attacked Bebe as she liked it when everyone was getting along happily. As the two fight (verbally this time), Mami suddenly realizes something isn’t right either. They should be fighting Wraiths, not Nightmares. As Mami comes to the realization, Homura is rescued by Sayaka, who reveals to Homura she knows everything (pretty much).
Homura now begins to realize that they are not stuck in a labyrinth constructed by Bebe. As she calls Kyoko one last time, she confirms that only she should remember what happened to Madoka. Kyoko shouldn’t remember Madoka at all. Someone not only trapped all of them in a labyrinth, but changed their memories too. Someone… named Homura Akemi.
Yep. Homura’s a witch. As she realizes it, Kyubey, being the evil bastard he is, reveals that it was the plan all along. Homura’s Soul Gem became captured before Goddess Madoka could save it as part of “The Law of the Cycle.” Why? Well, Kyubey’s an evil little shit of course. He wanted proof of the Cycle and of Madoka. He wanted Homura to call out to Madoka so that he could interfere and gain control of Madoka. At this point, Homura has changed into her new appearance (clothes) and she’s quite pissed. Her witch begins to emerge and she begins to curse herself and attack Kyubey. As she does, the others, now aware of what is going on apparently thanks to an explanation by Bebe, come to rescue her. At this point, things are back to where they should be in the plot. Sayaka uses her witch form to attack Homura’s witch form. Bebe, now having revealed her real name of Nagisa, also contributes to the attack as Charlotte with Mami at her side. Kyoko’s there as well. Finally, the barrier around Homura’s Soul Gem is destroyed and it’s time for Goddess Madoka to come and purify it.
All according to plan. Homura’s plan. Homura grabs Madoka, revealing that we now have a bigger “bad guy” than Kuybey. We now have Homura’s darker-than-Witch-form, her pure-evil Demon form. At this point, Kyubey finally comes to the realization that he doesn’t understand humans at all. No one has any idea why Homura’s Soul Gem has progressed beyond the black of a witch’s color. Homura reveals that it is love, namely, her own selfish love for Madoka. She strips Madoka of her goddess power, unable to go on living without Madoka. Her actions cause the world to be rewritten a second time, undoing the previous rewriting by Madoka. Her rewrite resets the story back to the beginning of the series. Again.
But, this time, Sayaka knows what’s going on, which Homura proceeds to “fix” by erasing Sayaka’s memories. Homura is pure evil now, toying with Mami and Kyoko as well. But, those two apparently never see Homura, nor does Bebe/Nagisa as she runs past Sayaka confronting Homura. One other key thing has now changed, which is revealed after we return to the classroom for one more round of the teacher talking about guys and eggs and forgetting the transfer student: Madoka. This time, Madoka is returning to Japan after three years abroad in the US. Homura decides to chat with Madoka, essentially forcing Madoka to follow her as they walk through the school. They come to a walkway that should be familiar now: it’s the same one where Homura originally confronted Madoka, asking her if she valued this world. This time, the confrontation comes when Madoka begins remembering that she should be a goddess, causing Homura to clearly become distressed. She successfully stops it. And that’s the end.
OK, no, it’s not quite, but, it is the ending credits. The first time I saw Rebellion (the official Melbourne premiere) someone in the theater even shouted out “What!?” I think he spoke for all of us, or at least anyone who hadn’t seen the film before. One of the reps that was there from Madman (AU/NZ distributor for the film and series), attempted to announce to everyone that there was more after the credits. Roughly a quarter of the theater missed that. I was going to stick around anyway; I like to watch the full credits of my anime to see if I recognize any names (minus the ones in Kanji. Still can’t read those.) I would’ve liked to have heard the new ED for the film, but the theater was too busy loudly trying to figure out what had just happened. My first thought was “Fuck. Madoka is the new Evangelion original end.”
That thought was amplified when the true end scene came on at the conclusion of the credits. We see Homura, alone in a field on a chair, where half of the world is apparently missing. Two shots of Kyubey are shown, one with him intact, another of him beat to shit as Homura dances around his body with her Demon Soul Gem (or whatever the heck it’s called. No official name was given to it in the movie). Then, apparently satisfied, she gracefully and intentionally falls off a cliff as Kyubey looks on, showing for perhaps the first time, pure terror.
In conclusion, both of Rebellion’s endings leave you going “What!?” Personally, I believe they are both open to interpretation. And, as previously mentioned, you’ll either like them or you won’t. The reactions of the theater both times I went were equal mixes of tears, confusion, and pure “What the fuck did I just watch?” And trust me, even if you cried the first time while utterly confused, the second time will still get to you. My interpretation of the true end is that Homura is finally happy. She got what she wanted: Madoka. The real Madoka. Contempt, she decided she could finally die. We have no idea if she does so after releasing Madoka from her greed. That said, both of Rebellion’s endings do actually leave room for the series to expand. While I am happy with the endings, I wouldn’t mind another movie or season to fill in the gaps between the endings. But that decision is up to Shaft (PS: I still think you are bastards for those endings).
Given the complexity of Rebellion’s plot, which is at times a mess, it’s hard to say if Rebellion should be bought to complete your Madoka collection. If you liked the original ending and hated these ones, I think you should pass. If you’re undecided, rent Rebellion, watch it a couple more times, then decide. If you’re contempt with being able to say Rebellion is a lot like the third Evangelion movie (reboot movies/3.33), buy it. There is little doubt that much of Rebellion is largely impressive visuals-wise (I would love to get my hands on an art book or Animation Note). However, it does become showy in parts and there are plenty of WTF moments. Some scenes could’ve – and sometimes should have – been either cut or re-written. Bottom line: Rebellion is either a “hate it”, “love it”, or “eh” movie. I’d say I’m leaning towards “eh” but I’ll likely buy it when it comes out on disk. It isn’t quite a must-watch, but you should see it if you’ve seen the rest of the series already.