Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movies 1 & 2 – Beginnings/Eternal (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 121 minutes/111 minutes approx.
One of the more popular anime titles of the past decade was Puella Magi Madoka Magica a fantastically dark and surreal distortion of the magical girl genre that eschewed all of the usual tropes to deliver a visually stunning and intelligent series to much critical acclaim.
It soon became an expansive franchise taking in the usual spin offs to explore the endless possibilities, leading to fears it might suffer from the usual effects such dilution has on a once successful and fresh idea. However the Madoka Magica universe has been kept in check and the three feature length movie retelling of the story is thankfully not the shameless cash-in it could have been.
The first two of these films recap the events of the TV series in truncated form but nothing is lost in the translation to the big screen. Studio Shaft and writer Gen Urobuchi have once again joined forces, this time with a larger budget, to ensure complete visual and scripting continuity with the TV series. Already noted for its superb and creative aesthetic the film takes the visual spectacle to another level, with fresh animation, new dialogue and a new musical score.
Beginnings covers the first eight episodes of the TV series, which may seem a lot of material for one film, omitting largely inconsequential scenes or abridging others. The most notable cut would be the titular Madoka Kaname’s dream of Homura Akemi which opened the TV series; this may seem an egregious excising but in fact it works well in starting the story off cold and plays into the mystery of Akemi’s behaviour when she finally arrives as a transfer student at Madoka’s school.
Eternal concludes the adaptation with a deeply visceral and intensely psychedelic replay of the final four episodes, a veritable mind trip of epic proportions, suffused with poignancy and heartbreak. This features the revelations behind Akemi’s actions, further explores the truth behind Kyubey, the catalyst of the whole adventure, and explains the tragic futility of being a magical girl.
There is no evidence even with the shortcuts that the story is being rushed, the story unfolding at a brisk but measured pace as to not bombard the audience with too much action or development in one sitting. Changes made range from the imperceptible to the noticeable but without any damage to the story or the integrity of the product as a whole. No doubt someone on the Internet has painstakingly compiled a comprehensive list of the differences between the two versions and more power to them for such dedication and stamina in such an endeavour.
As explained before the leap to the big screen meant an increase in budget and it shows almost from the first frame, which viewer watching on Blu-ray will also appreciate. This also called for a few new scenes to be included but the general aesthetic from the TV series remains. A lot of the artwork in terms of backgrounds, locations and buildings has been redone, now rendered in bold colours with greater detail in the minutiae; the girls look the same with only the slightest amendments to their magical girl costumes and weapons.
Where the true artistry is revealed is in the inter-dimensional worlds where the battles take place. If you though they looked like acid trips before, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Shaft have let their imaginations go wild here, taking us and the girls into nightmarish settings of unbridled visual anarchy, underpinned by a rampant determination to subvert the most innocuous of items into a devilish tool of mental disturbance.
The Witches, the nominal physical antagonists for our high school heroines, take on equally surreal and often formless appearances, not always apparent as the predatory villain due to occasionally resembling an esoteric piece of background art before stepping forward to make its presence known. Rendered as macabre cut-out animations the Witches certainly buck the trend in terms of anime monster designs.
At this point the burning question must be for fans of the TV series “Is this worth getting for what is a re-hash?” to which the answer is quite simply “Yes!”. These two films are more than a re-hash they successfully condense the main story into two easily digestible portions with some fresh seasoning to create something which feels fresh and unique.
It isn’t obvious where corners have been cut, nor does it show any signs of contrivance or laziness in trying to make an extra few quid out of a successful franchise. This is the real deal which will win over old fans as well as new fans, and in all honesty feels more like a labour of love than Hideaki Anno’s latest (and troubled) movie retelling/revamp of his classic Neon Genesis Evangelion saga does.
That might seem overly cynical of me but the earnestness of this project seeps through in every frame, every line of dialogue and every note of the music. And this series recap is necessary in order to facilitate the addition of the third film Rebellion, a brand new story written by Urobuchi set after the events of the series, designed to bring us a definitive conclusion to the entire saga.
Due to unforeseen circumstances Manga was forced to delay this release from its original date of September 7th, quite understandably to come before the release of Rebellion. For reasons unknown only to themselves, Manga decided to stick to the September 28th release date for Rebellion, meaning the third film in this trilogy was released two weeks before the first two instalments! No, me neither!
Regardless Beginnings and Eternal are very much worth the wait and the upside is that you have Rebellion ready to watch straight after viewing these two films without delay. Don’t be put off by the repeated content aspect of these films, they reaffirm exactly why Puella Magi Madoka Magica is one of the most inventive and important anime titles of the past decade.
English 5.1 with Signs
Japanese 5.1 with English Subtitles
TV CM Collections
Original Trailer 1
Original Trailer 2
TV CM Collection
Rebellion- Teaser Trailer
Rating – **** ½
Man In Black