In anticipation of going to a theatre to see the third "Madoka" movie, I thought that it would be a good reason for me to finally watch the first two. These films are a recap of the original TV series. I should mention that these movies were made for people who have already seen the TV series, as there are spoilers in the first movie's opening theme animation.
The first film covers episodes one thru eight. Here we meet the main character Madoka, so lives a care-free life until a mysterious creature named Kyubey appears and says that she and her best friend Sayaka have the chance to become magical girls. They will be granted any single wish they want via a contract that will create a Soul Gem (which allows them to transform), but in exchange they must fight witches, where losing your life is highly probability. The blonde-haired and lonely Mami takes them under her wing to teach them before they make their choice, but another magical girl named Homura is hell-bent on stopping Madoka from making a contract. One more girl joins the ranks later on, the fiery bottomless pit Kyouko.
"Madoka" is known for it's super cute designs, which were done on purpose to be a drastic contrast to the dark story. One thing that does bother me is the super wide faces, to the point that my husband hates this series because of that. It doesn't really bother me so much unless the characters are facing the camera straight on and then they kind of look like frogs.
There's also a lot of this kind of posing of the head. Yes, it is as disturbing as it looks.
Besides the wide faces, I don't mind the rest of the designs. The magical costumes are unique and fit each character perfectly. Mami's western influenced outfit is my personal favorite (that corset!) though Kyouko's is a close second.
The architecture is also interesting and suggests a slightly future time period. However, if you have ever seen the 1997 anime series "Revolutionary Girl Utena" then the architecture may not be as shocking to you. As it is, there is a LOT of "Utena"-like elements in this show, though I will say now that I think "Utena" did everything better. I did a little digging and it appears the director for "Madoka" is Shinbo Akiyuki, who did animation check for "Utena." I can't seem to find any other people online who have taken note of more than a single instance of comparison between the two series (this small animation scene that was cut out for the second movie). While it's not as in-your-face, I truly believe that the staff took more than one cue from another pink heroine.
The animation was produced by SHAFT, who I have a love-but-mostly-hate relationship with. When they actually animate it looks amazing but too often they use shortcuts that, to an huge animation fan like myself, sticks out like a sore thumb. Too many times we are trying to keep track of multiple quick cuts that are clearly a money saving tactic. Thankfully, the movies cut out a LOT of that, so it's not nearly as bad as it was in the original TV run. SHAFT also added more detail to backgrounds and reanimated/cleaned up some scenes. Lots of the dialogue was re-recorded for added emotion. There are new opening and ending animations, as well as new transformation scenes for each characters, all of which are perfect.
I love the texture overlays they use, it gives the witches' world a inhumane feel to them.
The music is composed by Kajiura Yuki, who does a magnificent job making a soundtrack that is both upbeat, creepy, and downright sinister at times.
I'd say the movie does an excellent job of condensing over 190 minutes into 130. The only part that I felt was hurt by being cut out was Mami; she didn't get as much screentime as she originally did and thus her character seems a bit more flat.
Due to the nature of these movies, I must discuss spoilers beyond this point.
The biggest issue missing from Mami's development is the reveal of what her wish was. It explains why she's all alone and adds an extra depth to her that is sorely missing in the movies. Kyouko's wish is fully explained, which adds such a large element to the story, I'm not quite sure why they cut out the few minutes for Mami. That missing segment, plus her general lack of screentime, makes Mami's death scene via the witch Charlotte have much less of an impact that it did in the TV series.
The two biggest reveals of the show are presented in the first movie. One is that the Soul Gem created when a contract is formed is the actual person's soul, making the magical girls something like living zombies. Sayaka, unable to cope with the idea that she is technically no longer human spins into a downward depression that leads to the second reveal: that the witches they fight were originally magical girls. The movie ends immediately after dropping that bomb; very appropriate timing, I think.
MY FACE WHEN.
If you pay attention you'll also notice that they editing the Soul Gems to make the tainting a bit more obvious as more magic gets used. It's a small detail but one I appreciate them taking time to make better.
The second film covers the TV episodes nine thru twelve. It starts off with a very brief recap about Sakaya's transformation (which I still think looks freaking awesome). When we fully see Sayaka's witch form, named Oktavia von Seckendorff, we see various things that reference back to Sayaka's life and wish. This makes the viewer want to go back and try to figure out the lives of all the previous witches. However, most of that was not explained in the anime, but in other media. Thankfully though, the Puella Magi Wiki has gathered all the available information.
This is where the series gets really heavy. No one is safe and a happy ending is not guaranteed. While I enjoy my non-serious series, I do like ones that take risks, which "Madoka" does quite a lot (killing off characters, very odd character designs, etc).
There will be blood. Oh yes.
We also get an explanation from Kyuubey as to why for just about everything. It makes sense on a scientific level, but it shows how different his species, the Incubators, are from mankind, just due to their completely lack of emotions and how to understand them (in a slightly later scene he explains the history between the two species in more depth). For most people it's completely irrational to even consider some of the points that Kyuubey makes about the sacrifices the magical girls make. That makes Kyuubey appear to be a complete monster, but he's more of an anti-villain. Does Kyuubey lie to get girls to make a contract with him? Yes and no. He doesn't seem why he should explain anything specific if he is not asked, yet he will move the girls like game pieces if it will get him closer to his ultimate goal of saving the universe via careful use of words.
This is clearly proven in the next sequence, where he gets Kyouko and Madoka to try and and "save" Sakaya, while knowing it's impossible. This leads to Kyouko's death via suicide to defeat Oktavia, which was seen as necessary by Kyuubey in order to force Madoka to make a contract. THAT is very devious, yet he cannot really be seen as pure evil. A brand new scene was made to fully explain this, making it quite a bit more creepy.
After that we get Homura's backstory. Long story short, her wish was to re-do her meeting with Madoka, after being saved by her and watching her die. This gives her time-travel magic and we see her re-live the past month several times, slowly learning the real truth about magical girls and witches. Her entire character is transformed from a sickly, shy girl to a headstrong and very determined young woman.
Watching your best friend die over and over again; yeah, that's a trip or two to a therapist.
Yet no matter how hard she tries the end result is always the same. Her steadfast belief of hope is rocked when Kyuubey figures out why Madoka has such potential (due to Homura time traveling to save her). This comes to a head when Homura goes to fight the extremely powerful witch Walpurgis Night (the eventually downfall of her attempt in each timeline) and starts to give up hope as her Soul Gems becomes more and more tainted.
But then Madoka appears and makes her wish: "I wish to erase all witches from existence before they're even born. Every witch in the universe, from the past and the future, with my own hands." This leads to very trippy sequence while we see how her wish is executed and it's impact on the universe. Her wish leads to her becoming a god, but at the sacrifice of giving her her humanity and all memories of herself in the world.
I'm not what I'd be seeing here if I had a couple of drinks in me.
The goodbye scene between her and Homura is very touching, yet I could not get as into as many other fans of the series do, as those two characters are the ones I like the least. I wanted more Kyouko and Mami!!
Kyouko had the coolest moments out of all the characters, hands down.
To finish, we learn witches are no more but other monsters created by grief still appear. A magical girl disappears before they become completely grief-ridden (Sayaka does not survive in this new universe), though by what force no one is certain of (except for Homura, the only person who remembers). The movie ends with Homura heading toward a group of monsters to fight, while sprouting some demonic-looking wings. Madoka's voice encouraging her along the way. A teaser trailer for the third movie is attached at the end.
Halfway through the movie, the original TV series opening is shown. I'm not really sure why, as it seems extremely out of place and disrupts the flow.
So what do I really think of these movies overall? I would say that I enjoyed them and except for the Mami scenes being cut out, I would suggest the movies over the TV series to new viewers. I think it's worth at least one watch, though I'm not a big enough fan to pay the high price that Aniplex USA is asking for the movies (if they do a cheaper, non-import version, then sure). While the series is interesting, I believe that other series are better and the two main characters are so bland to me personally that I'd rather spent my money and re-watch time on other things. So please, do give the series a chance, but don't think it's the best thing since sliced bread. That being said, I am interested in seeing how the third movie turns out.
I'd like to end with something that made me laugh but only because it's so true. My husband would yell out "Crying the Anime!" everytime he heard someone cry. And it happens a lot. And I mean A LOT. I seriously think they kept in every single crying scene from the TV series; I thought it was annoying then, so to have it all condensed into two movies was a bit much. I understand it's a sad story, but holycrap.
Mami's boobs.... I'd make a contract to get a feel on those babies.