“We’ll sell you the whole seat, but you’ll only use the edge.”
Note: There will be spoilers for the original series/first two movies, but none for Rebellion itself.
In a world where witches no longer exist, Homura transfers into a familiar classroom with unfamiliar circumstances – Sayaka, Kyoko, and Madoka are all students, and Mami is accompanied by a creature reminiscent of the witch Charlotte, who had formerly brought about her untimely demise. Realizing that something is wrong, Homura begins to search for answers – answers that paint a picture far worse than she could have imagined.
Story and Characters
Whereas the original series centers on Madoka and her point of view, the main character of Rebellion is Homura, following her story in the world recreated by Madoka.
What the film does best is to follow Homura’s perspective throughout the story, effectively conveying her mindset to the viewers. Rather than simply following her as she moves through the motions, the story is presented in such a way that her thoughts are reflected in the world around her. This allows the viewers to understand not only what is happening in the plot, but how the general tone may contradict Homura’s own thoughts – this is clearest in the introductory portion.
The ending is the most controversial aspect of the film, and understandably so. Despite the symbolism and underlying themes, the story of Madoka Magica was always simple to understand. Even Rebellion, up until the the final fifteen minutes or so, is easy to follow once the pieces fall into place. However, the how and the why of Rebellion’s ending are not so simple to explain, and this is where the viewer may take fault with the film, as the seemingly abrupt plot twist may appear both unprecedented and inexplicable.
Having said that, the why makes sense and was heavily foreshadowed, the how makes sense depending on how you look at the situation, and the ending works perfectly as a conclusion to the franchise.
While many considered Madoka to be the weak link of the original series, her role in Rebellion is much different. Rather than her subdued personality and observational perspective, she retains her original cheerfulness and outgoing attitude from the timeline before Homura made her wish. Because her personality and role are similar to what drove Homura to make her initial contract with Kyuubey, Rebellion’s Madoka has a greater influence and more important role throughout the story than the reserved and delicate Madoka from the series.
The rest of the characters are consistent with their roles in the series, with Sayaka being the only outlier. Her personality at the beginning of the film exists post-witch transformation, with the entirety of the series acting as her character development. This works in her favor, as she understands her past mistakes and has learned to accept the results. Rather than suffering alone to uphold her overly virtuous sense of justice, she works together with the others to keep the city safe.
Among a well-stacked deck, the story is the strongest part of the film. It is well-paced, with the scenes always serving some greater purpose, and time is never wasted on menial details nor rushed to move things along. While the beginning portion does seem a bit slow at first, its contribution to the greater narrative makes every second valuable, as it sets up the characters’ roles and Homura’s understanding of the world around her.
Art and Animation
Visually, this movie is outstanding. The general style is mostly the same as the original series, but the animation and detail in background art are much improved. And instead of overloading the movie with head-tilts – which are certainly still present – this is less of a typical Shaft-style anime and more of a well-constructed film.
The animation for the film is consistently superb, providing both smooth and well-executed movement that overwhelmingly exceeds Studio Shaft’s general standards. The background art in the movie provides what could best be referred to as architectural pornography. Even besides the high level of detail in buildings and other structures, the more abstract visuals add plenty, eschewing normality for the sake of the overall atmosphere.
Stylistically, the film tends to blend the two sides of the original series’ visuals, the real world and the dreamlike elements of the witch labyrinths. The contribution from Gekidan Inu Curry, the duo responsible for the stop-motion animation used for the series’ witch labyrinths, extends throughout the entirety of the film, providing doses of their dark and whimsical visuals from beginning to end.
Along with this, there is a greater visual focus on lighting and perspective, allowing the director to focus attention with unusual angles, atypical color palettes, and emphasis on highlights and shadows. This, combined with the unique visual style, provides some of the best-looking anime visuals to exist.
Similar to the original series, there is plenty of visual symbolism within the film. However, while this can certainly add to a viewer’s understanding of the underlying themes, it is not integral to the enjoyment of the movie. Rather than relying on the multifaceted symbolism to explain things that are happening, it simply reinforces the story, while also providing subtle foreshadowing or referencing other works.
The fluid animation and highly detailed backgrounds work together through the general visual style to create an impeccable atmosphere that supports the story at all times. Every visual detail contributes to the film’s successes, and nothing is included as a vague placeholder – everything serves a specific purpose.
Sound-wise, the quality of Rebellion is even greater than the already excellent TV series. The soundtrack, which doesn’t merely recycle past tracks, always adds to the scene at hand, whether an intense fight or two characters casually talking together. Even when referencing past compositions from the soundtrack for the series, it is done in a manner specifically intended to carry the scene. The music is so integral to the film that merely listening to it alone can bring one’s mind through the entirety of the story once again.
The opening theme, while fairly typical ClariS fare, is also accompanied by a video that sets up the tone of the movie well – in particular, the juxtaposition of the initially lighthearted atmosphere and Homura’s venture into darkness. The insert song and ending theme, Kalafina’s Misterioso and Kimi no Gin no Niwa (Your Silver Garden) respectively, both work excellently within the movie. Misterioso is utilized at the climax of the final fight and works to boost the situation to an emotional high, while Kimi no Gin no Niwa unwinds all of the tension from the film, bringing everything to an emotional close.
The voice-acting is great all around, but Homura’s voice actress, Saito Chiwa, is the clear standout. Throughout the movie, she excels at showing a wide range of emotion perfect for each situation at hand. The other characters don’t have the same kind of remarkable moments, but still deliver consistently and effectively.
This film is one of the most enjoyable things I have ever seen, anime or otherwise. However, it is very clear that the viewer’s enjoyment will hinge on how much they’re invested in the story. Someone who comes into this without caring much about what happens to the characters will likely not be as attentive to everything that happens, or as affected by the results.
While the film is full of memorable scenes, the Homura vs. Mami fight is not only the greatest fight scene I have ever seen in an anime, but one of the most gripping things I have ever watched in any medium. There are several scenes like this, where everything comes together for the perfect experience – an excellent soundtrack, superb visuals, and well-choreographed character movement all contribute to unforgettable edge-of-your-seat situations.
Everything in this film serves a deliberate purpose. Every visual detail, every aural detail, every scene is specifically constructed to strengthen the story, and they succeed phenomenally. To put it simply, Rebellion executes the end of this series in the absolute best way possible – what could have been an easy way to cash in on the show’s success instead eclipses the show itself.
+ A story that properly concludes the original series
+ Perfect pacing for a two-hour movie that still accomplishes everything effectively
+ Focus on Homura and her efforts
+ Beautiful and well-directed animation and art
+ Excellent music and voice-acting
+ Minor details all add to the story
± Takes a while for the story to get rolling
± Love or hate ending
Overall – 10/10
Recommendation – If you enjoyed the TV series/first two movies, watch this – it is the conclusion that the series deserves. If you didn’t enjoy the series, you probably won’t enjoy this either. If you fall somewhere in-between, watch it anyways. Most importantly, do not spoil yourself to the story before watching this.
This was a long time coming, so I at least wanted to finish it in time for the film’s one year anniversary.