Madoka Kaname and her best friend Sayaka Miki are ordinary middle school students in the city of Mitakihara. But one day, they encounter a strange cat-like creature named Kyuubey, who claims he can grant them one wish. In exchange, they would become magical girls and fight against evil perpetrated by witches. A veteran magical girl in the area, Mami Tomoe, decides to show them how to hunt witches, while the mysterious transfer student Homura Akemi warns them to not take Kyuubey's deal, though she refuses to say why. However, after witnessing the brutal reality of fighting witches, the girls decide it may be safer to decline Kyuubey's offer. But when another magical girl arrives in the city and Sayaka decides to make a wish to help the one she loves, things quickly escalate as they are confronted with the harsh truth behind their powers and the ultimate price of their wishes. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
The Puella Magi Madoka Magica franchise is a juggernaut. When it first aired in 2011, the series quickly became popular, appealing to fans around the world with its amazing visuals and suspenseful story. Riding on the success of the original series, Shaft decides to expand on the franchise with a movie trilogy.
Yet, was it needed?
Let’s set the record straight: the first two movies cover the same story of the original series. However this is not a simple rehash of the original. It’s a bit unfair to use the term “recap” simply because most fans know the story; the movie contains the same events, but everything in the film has been revamped. Newcomers will be treated with an amazing experience, and fans will be delighted by the subtle changes. Mostly.
After the first few seconds, it becomes quite clear that Shaft had no intention on simply recycling Blu-ray footage: it’s even better. The visuals are absolutely stunning — these changes extend beyond fixing the infamous “meduka meguca” quality drops; the art is much more polished, the animation is more fluid, and backgrounds are incredibly elaborate. The use of the paper-cut-out style returns, bringing an dynamic contrast between the two worlds. Fortunately, these changes are more than simply cosmetic. I have always praised Shaft for having amazing cinematography and this movie is no exception. Familiar scenes have subtle changes: pans, close ups, dynamic angles, head-tilts. When combined with the directing of Shinbo Akiyuki, all these tweaks enhance the tension and suspense.
Shaft also spent much time reworking the sound design. Compared to the original series, audio plays a more prominent role is establishing the atmosphere. Whispers and footsteps add to the eerie nature of the witch-hunts, while the crashes and explosions add power to the action. Of course, the biggest highlight would have to be the amazing soundtrack. Kajiura Yuki created an amazing score that reflects the magical yet horrific world. And just like the visuals, the movie boasts a few new tracks to please the returning fans.
The most controversial change is the pacing. By switching from a television format (12-episodes, 25 minutes each) to a movie format (120 minutes), the story is definitely accelerated giving a great sense of development and plot progression. The movie covers the first eight episodes of the original. The faster pace works to improve the drama (especially with Sayaka’s arc later on) and help give more personality to the characters. However, this change is the Achilles’ heel of the movie.
The original series excelled in “shock and awe” tactics. Before airing, there was mysterious nature to the show. The eerie aesthetics and haunting foreshadowing toyed with the audience’s expectations in the early episodes, only to dramatically reveal its true nature in a stunning plot twist. By deconstructing the genre and using parallels to Goethe’s Faust, it was a roller coaster of madness as the world witnessed the tragedy and downfall of our protagonists. Every week, we were treated with stunning revelations and jaw-dropping cliff-hangers. The pacing was slow yet methodical, only to enhance the suspense and drama. The movie does not have this. The story continuously progresses from scene to scene, granting no time to let it all settle. The audience has no chance to reflect. This isn’t to say the movie is incompetent. The experience is all in the story and the directing, but it’s clear sacrifices were made. This ultimately boils down to one question: What is the purpose of these movies?
Essentially, these movies are a love-letter to the fans. The enhanced audio and visuals definitely deliver a new experience, though the added benefit is quite minimal. Shaft could have simply reused old footage, but it’s clear they chose to make something more. The movie is fantastic as a stand-alone product, but it’s hard to critique it without comparing it to the original. Fundamentally, the story is faithful, yet it lacks the same emotional impact of the original. I’m confident that both die-hard fans and newcomers will enjoy this movie. However, for new fans I recommend the anime original instead.