ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:00 - 22nd November 2015, by David West

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

After the first two Puella Magi Madoka Magica movies re-told the story of the TV series with a few tweaks here and there, along comes part three – Rebellion – to provide the first proper sequel to the show.

Given the power of the conclusion to the original, there is a huge risk in returning to that world and those characters. Too often when a series has wrapped up in such a satisfying manner, attempts at extending the onscreen life of the adventure feels like adding water to wine, just diluting the potency of the whole experience. But while Rebellion plays merry hell with the Puella Magi world, it does it with such glorious style that it becomes irresistible.

At the beginning it all looks very familiar. There’s Madoka getting ready for school, where she meets the new transfer student Homura Akemi, who, it turns out, is a magical girl just like Madoka and her friends Sakaya, Mami and Kyoko. But they’re not hunting witches; they hunt Nightmares and they do it in the most delightful way imaginable, chasing them through colourful backdrops and dispelling them with a song. Life is wonderful, but Akemi slowly starts to suspect that the world is not as it should be and someone is playing with their perceptions of reality.

Yukihiro Miyamoto stays in the director’s chair for this third movie which features the most spectacular, eye-popping design work. Backgrounds are incredibly detailed and a sequence in which the heroines transform into their magical girl costumes is gorgeous. The Nightmares are rendered in the style of cut-out paper characters, a little like Terry Gilliam or classic Eastern European animation, and look amazing.

Likewise, a battle between two of the girls is dazzling and leaves most action shows in the dust. Miyamoto worked on the Monogatari series and throws in the signature pose from that franchise, with shots of the girls looking back at the camera over their shoulder. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The design of the Monogatari series is all about precisely drawn geometric shapes, where Rebellion is an explosion of patchwork backgrounds and loose, fluid lines.

Yuki Kajiura’s evocative score matches the strength of the visuals, by turns playful and light in the early going, then adding gravitas as the film descends into the darkness of the second half.

While Akemi is the centre of the narrative, at the heart of the tale is the bond between Madoka and Akemi. Gen Urobuchi’s screenplay takes their friendship and flips it inside-out. Far more complicated than merely turning friends into enemies, Rebellion takes their relationship and stands it in front of a funhouse mirror. You can see it’s the same thing, but it’s all distorted and twisted. Fans who think the ending of the series is sacrosanct may be horrified by this turn of events, but the animation is so inventive and the design so rapturously intoxicating that Rebellion will blow your mind even as it remorselessly goes straight for the emotional jugular.

The original Puella Magi Madoka Magica was the magical girl show to end all magical girl shows, brilliantly subverting a familiar genre. Now Rebellion continues that process, deconstructing the series itself. It’s undeniably a gamble to mess with such beloved characters, but where most anime movie spin-offs tend to play it safe, Rebellion is bold, daring, and wildly original.
SCORE: 5/5
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