“Your world as you knew it is gone. How far would you go to bring it back? Kyubey created despair… but only we knew the truth.” —Madoka Warfare 3: Rebellion
The third movie in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica film series, Rebellion, is the final installment. A hundred and eighteen minutes after I started watching, I initially felt that I had been left with a film that raised more questions than answers. The ending itself leaves the possibility of a sequel completely open. Of course, this is part of of the entertainment factor: the Madoka Magica series has in the past, excelled at presenting a brutal re-imagination to the magical girl genre, stripping away the idealistic approaches previous anime have taken and placing human emotions at the forefront of the story. The third film doesn’t deviate from this approach: through the Incubator’s intervention, Homura’s consciousness was confined within her soul gem when despair placed her on the edge of becoming a witch, with the aim of ensnaring Madoka to understand and control her powers. As such, much of the film is set within a surreal Mitakihara and the barrier projected by the partial form of Homura’s witch. This is somewhat inconsistent with the parameters outlined at the end of the second film and TV series (where the Law of Cycles helps despairing magical girls fade into oblivion instead of becoming witches), although I will simply pretend that there may be an exception somewhere to have allowed things to reach where they are at Rebellion‘s exposition. Things are initially slow to start, easing the viewers into the ever-so-familiar sights of Mitakihara and the lives the magical girls lead: in this universe, it was quite comforting to see all of the girls fight as a team for the first time. Whereas the previous films and TV series had most of them fight alone, here, the girls come together to take on nightmares, but soon, Homura realises something is amiss and in one of the more exhilarating battles, fights Mami Tomoe to a standstill. As the film wears on, all of the pieces fall into place, with the Incubators having turned out to somehow maniplate the turn of events for their own ends, answering some of the abnormalities initially seen. By the film’s climax, a combination of a spectacular battle to save Homura and the exchange of dialogue reminds viewers of the true nature in Madoka Magica: that the ideal, happy ending people are wont to expect in a story is simply not going to be the case in this series. Instead, there are no free lunches. Homura is able to save Madoka from her fate at the end of the second film (and TV series), but has become a being that will likely clash with Madoka in the future.
Rebellion excels where its predecessors excelled, although as per usual, underneath all the plot twists and unexpected events, the central core of the movie is rather simple. Homura’s determination to protect Madoka transcends love and friendship, becoming an obsession to prevent Madoka from succumbing to an unpleasant fate. She acts out of a combination of wishing to help Madoka as a friend, as well as to stave off her own loneliness. This type of behaviour is innate in any social animal, whose evolutionary wiring encourages social behaviours over being solitary. In part, this forms the bulk of Homura’s motivations: the sacrifices she makes for Madoka are done primarily to fight off loneliness, suggesting at just how far individuals will go to avoid being left alone in the world. This is my take on Homura’s actions: despite coming across as being aloof and arrogant, having seen the story, I realise that Chiwa Saitō does a phenomenal job playing Homura’s part. On one hand, Homura is a shy and timid girl who desires companionship above all else, but on the other hand, she has no qualms about doing all that is necessary to ensure Madoka’s happiness and is even willing to exchange her life for it, regardless of whether or not the others understand her intentions. In fact, after the movie ended, I held mixed feelings about Homura’s decisions throughout the movie, but the reality is that extreme circumstances force individuals to extreme actions. In Madoka Magica, the fact that there are magical girls and witches acts as this catalyst, so under such conditions, it is plausible that, when human nature is put to such a test, that these consequences may arise. These are merely my thoughts, though: my approaches to all anime in general is that of Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is the most effective one until further evidence necessitates greater complexity, and for me, the movie merely illustrates the destructiveness of Homura’s single-minded goal of making the world a better place for Madoka.
Screenshots and Commentary
- I imagine a large number of individuals will initially be looking for screenshots of the movie. Unfortunately, the complexity of this beast means that 1) this post will by definition be filled with spoilers and 2) contain screenshots taken in a stochastic manner, so not all moments in the movie will be equally represented. As is typical of my movie discussions, I have thirty, and although I probably won’t have the most screenshots or philosophical discussions, this is probably one of the first set of screenshots to arise.
- As is typical of Madoka Magica, the movie starts out with a dream, followed by Madoka heading off to school. The environments are one of the strongest elements in Madoka Magica, as they convey a sense of distance and detachment. Of all the places in Mitakihara, Madoka’s house is the most warming and welcome.
- Initally, it would appear that nothing is out of the ordinary: the full cast is present, and curiously enough, Kyouko is a student, as well. There’s a substantial amount of fan-art depicting Sayaka and Kyouko as friends: the latter admits that had they met under different circumstances, they might’ve been friends in the TV series (or the first two movies). The third movie finally gets to showcase how that works.
- The amount of visual elements in Madoka Magica pertaining to the witches’ labyrinths and designs, as well as the composition of some scenes, have led to numerous projects to interpret, analyse and catalog every theory conceivable to the fans. I personally find that Madoka Magica isn’t inherently complicated, although some fans do derive fun from coming up with analysis of the different elements seen in Madoka Magica to produce some interesting interpretations.
- I personally don’t have an inclination to analyse anything from Madoka Magica in great detail as a hobby because I already spend enough of my time working on things that demand a great deal of mental power (iOS software development, visualising fluid flow in the nephron, and trying to learn simulation paradigms, to name a few). I prefer to be doing things that don’t require much brain power in my downtime, such as playing Battlefield 3 or reading Tom Clancy novels.
- The magical girl quintet deploy for the first time in the movie proper after Hitomi’s discontent about being unable to spend time with Kyousuke produces a physical nightmare, Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, Kyouko and Homura set out to set things right. The love triangle between Sayaka, Hitomi and Kyousuke had dramatic consequences in the TV series, leading Sayaka to succumb to despair and take on a witch form. Kyouko’s final decision to keep Sayaka (in her witch form) company was perhaps one of the most poignant moments in the entire franchise.
- Rebellion takes some liberties to reintroduce elements common to the magical girl genre, through excessively long but entertaining transform sequences, announcing attacks and so forth. For me, it was most welcoming to see everyone operate as a group for the first time in this franchise’s history: to the best of my recollection, everyone has more or less been operating independently for the TV series and first two movies.
- People have waited a very, very long time to see and hear the cake song again. Set in a “Sprechgesang” style (lit. “spoken song”), the lyrics are nonsensical and have a very light-hearted feel to them that stands in stark contrast to the remainder of the movie. While amusing, the girls probably would not have beaten Bane’s skill at freestyle. I imagine the cake song is supposed to give the impression that being a magical girl is fun and games, even though viewers would doubtlessly be aware that this is clearly not the case in this franchise.
- After the magical quintet defeat the nightmare, Hitomi is released from her nightmare. The movie incarnation of Sayaka seems to be at ease with Hitomi dating Kyousuke and comforts her, reassuring Hitomi that things will be alright.
- While the series might be called Madoka Magica, it might be more appropriate to characterise Homura as the main protagonist of the series, as her actions catalyse everything that had transpired. I feel that Homura, whatever her intentions might be, was a remarkably difficult character to sympathise with until her story was told, and even then, her means to an end are oftentimes questionable.
- Surrealism dominates the movie, whether it be the unusual bus routes or appearance of other-worldly entities. This is the earliest hint that something is off, although Homura is the only individual that notices. I draw a comparison to the mega city in The Matrix, where the immediate world is built to mimic reality but is limited in scope. This pseudo-Mitakihara cannot be departed from, and in The Matrix, the mega city is a massive metropolis that forms the setting for everything: it is left ambiguous as to whether or not the rest of the world exists.
- After Homura begins challenging her environment, Rebellion begins to take on a Matrix-esque feeling as what is and isn’t reality is thrown into question. Emmanuel Kant’s Theory of Perception is involved to an extent in both: Kant stated that one’s understanding of the external world has foundations in both experience and a priori knowledge. In other words, both the Zion rebels and Homura are able to reject their respective realities because they understand there is much more to their worlds than what is immediately apparent. Because I am ill-equipped to discuss perception and knowledge, I won’t pursue this any further.
- I made a parody of this scene and uploaded it to this site’s Facebook page purely for amusement a while back, depicting Homura interrogating Bebe to figure out where the other drugs were going. One thing is for certain: they definitely weren’t going to the Narrows.
- Homura’s old tendencies draw Mami’s attention after the former holds Bebe hostage and demands answers about their world, under the impression that Bebe was responsible for creating this illusionary world. Besides Kyouko and Sayaka’s friendship, Mami is exceptionally close to Bebe, a nod to some of the interactions fans have long been wishing to see in Madoka Magica.
- Homura is seen wielding a Škorpion vz. 61 submachine gun in her duel with Mami. Despite being said to be inferior to Mami in terms of raw power, Homura has experience on her side and is able to fight Mami to a standstill. Homura also has an LMG of some sort, although I can’t readily identify it.
- Anyone who has seen the fight scenes from The Matrix will probably find some familiarity in what is the movie’s first serious one-on-one duel. It is thrilling to watch Homura and Mami counter each other using their respective weapons, leading to the same kind of destruction seen in the lobby scene from The Matrix.
- Being masterful at deception, Homura tricks Mami into thinking she is rage-quitting, and manages to escape. However, it turns out Mami was using a duplicate of herself during the engagement, hinting at the extent of her skills, which Homura must overcome with resourcefulness.
- Before she became the witch Charlotte, Nagisa Momoe was also a magical girl. Her wish and origins aren’t explored in the movie, but she is shown as being quite perceptive and remained as Bebe until this point. She has a particular fondness for cheese.
- An unusual boat glides the canals in Mitakihara: Homura encounters Madoka here outlines her beliefs that the individual who created the barrier had abandoned the responsibility of fighting wraiths, giving up and escaping into a Utopian prison. There is a bit of foreshadowing here as to who the culprit is.
- The flower fields scene reveals that Homura’s feelings for Madoka have never wavered; despite everything that has happened, and wonders why Madoka would have made the sacrifice knowing she would lose everything.
- This scene reminds me of the lyrics from DragonForce’s “Soldiers of the Wasteland”: Riding through the starlight and smashing the boundaries as hellfire falls from the sky/A shadow of pain will arise from the ashes of those fallen ones who have died. Homura eventually comes to understand that the barrier she’s encountering, as well as all the abnormalities, stem from the fact that she herself is the witch.
- It turns out that the Incubators have somehow managed to break even Madoka’s Law of Cycles, isolating Homura’s soul gem as it undergoes corruption: Kyubey realises that the old system, prior to Madoka’s wish, was more efficient and set about figuring out how to introduce this system into Madoka’s current universe.
- There is a limit to what images are capable of conveying, so I have reduced the number of images in the actual combat between Madoka, Sayaka, Mami and Kyouko against Homura’s witch form. The combat is beyond words, and must be seen to be believed.
- This moment sent chills down my spine when it occurred: Homura’s desire to create a universe where Madoka can exist happily undoes reality itself, illustrating how strong these feelings are. It is precisely this that makes Homura so difficult to sympathise with, and indeed, one might consider Homura to be an antihero, lacking the same moral character and integrity as Madoka. Instead, her actions are selfish, motivated by her desires to be with Madoka regardless of the cost. This stubbornness lends the movie its title, as Homura is rebelling against the system Madoka created for her own ends.
- By now, this moment has been duplicated, and duplicates of the duplicates have been made as fans began uploading fan-arts of this moment to all image boards. Through her actions, Homura has surpassed Madoka in existence, driven entirely by the single-minded desire of making Madoka happy regardless of the cost to herself. This behaviour has transcended what one might normally consider to be admirable and borders on insanity.
- A new equilibrium is reached, and as such, the world returns to a cleaner, more realistic design. The skyscrapers of Mitakihara can be seen in the background, and the environments feel far warmer than they did for most of the movie.
- The newly created reality bears much resemblance to the previous ones, although given how the entire Madoka Magica franchise is constructed, the new equilibrium may be disrupted yet again in the future. If memory serves, this will entail a third rebirth, and I imagine that the creators will have become exceedingly efficient and writing out such a path.
- Madoka is re-introduced as a transfer student in a familiar setting. The locations depicted over all three movies are rather more impressive than those of the TV series, and for individuals who have seen the TV series but not the movies, I recommend that they give the movies a shot. Despite having near-identical stories, differences in the details make the movies worthwhile.
- Homura finds Madoka and, in conversation, finds out that this Madoka retains her powers and continues to believe that the greater good surpasses personal desire in terms of importance. Homura is unable to accept this and warns Madoka that their paths may cross again in the future, with the two on opposite sides. This aspect may potentially lead to future works, and if this is the case, I will rather look forward to seeing how that is handled.
- This ends my reflection, a monstrosity that weighs in at nearly three thousand words (including the figure captions) and took some three hours to finish. Before I depart, I will note that this reflection was primarily designed to express my thoughts on Rebellion‘s execution as a movie and its contribution to the Madoka Magica franchise.
At the end of the day, Rebellion represents a somewhat surprising conclusion to the Puella Magi Madoka Magica film series. I’ve come to expect nothing less than a thrilling film, and Rebellion delivered as expected. While the story is a little difficult to follow at times, the build-up of tensions and conflict kept me engaged for the entire film’s duration. In particular, the fight between Mami and Homura, the girls’ final push to try and save Homura and the exchange Madoka has with Homura illustrate the movie at its very best, showcasing the tensions the characters experience throughout the film and kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire running duration. This is saying something: the last two films to have done that for me were The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall. Now, those are particularly good movies, which should bear testament to the quality seen in Rebellion. The film is a must-watch for all fans of the series, although it is not a film that is accessible to first-time viewers in that there is far too much background. Individuals considering watching Rebellion should at the minimum, watch Beginning and Eternal in the Madoka Magica film series, or the TV series, or both. With stunning visuals and sound, the film has been nominated as one of the Best Animated Features for the 86th Academy awards, testifying to its impact. The ending of Rebellion is open to interpretation, and as it stands now, I wouldn’t rule out or mind seeing a future iteration of this series.