So I just got home from seeing the first two Madoka Magica movies tonight. I know I’m about a year late to this party but the theater near me had a reshowing in preparation for the third movie coming out so I decided why not go for the refresher course.
This is now my third time through the series and my reaction was more or less the same as the previous two. Madoka starts out very strong – it sinks its hooks in early on and, for about half its length, maintains a delightfully sinister and mysterious aura about it held up by impressive direction of its aesthetic elements (which really shone in the theatrical setting) and careful, deliberate handling of its plot threads. I’ve fallen in love with this series again each time I’ve started it anew. At about the halfway mark, though, the magic slowly begins to fade, until Sayaka becomes a witch, from which point I end up watching the rest through a detached state that fails to leave any sort of impression on me. This turning point was further reinforced here in that this was the point at which the first movie ended.
The first movie compressed eight episodes of the series into five and a half episodes’ worth of runtime, where as the second was essentially the last four episodes in their entirety along with even some additional footage. This, combined with the fact that those four episodes are to some extent a story of repetition with their focus on Homura’s time traveling, and the overlong God Madoka sequence, makes the second movie seem to drag on much more than the first did, despite being a shorter film. It feels odd that I praise the deliberation of the first half and its willingness to take time from the plot to build the atmosphere, but complain that it’s the faster-paced second half that feels slow. I’m still not sure where this disparity lies exactly, but for now I’m going to chalk it up to the series starting to go through the motions once it’s gotten over its initial hump. The time for fascination is past, and in its place is more stripped-down, efficient storytelling that gets the point across but doesn’t necessarily engage. It could also be the shift towards a more character-driven narrative in a story whose strong suit was never its characters. Maybe the whole show actually was too slow all along and the compression at the beginning just managed to trim it down to a more ideal length.
Whatever the case, I’ve always been more impressed by Madoka’s beginning than its end, and the films have only followed in kind. I’d also like to add that while I could’ve done without hearing the girls’ high-pitched wails through the theatrical sound system, I otherwise enjoyed seeing Madoka in a movie theater environment. It’s not too often that anime is shown on the big screen like this, and something like Madoka, while it has some inconsistency with the character art at times, also has a lot of little details – especially in the witches’ labyrinths – that are appreciably improved by the big screen experience.
As for the third movie, I’m going in equal parts curious and cautious. I’m interested to see where they take things from here, with the series having reached its existing conclusion. I’m not sure how much more story there really is to tell without feeling like a forced continuation. At the same time, if they do have something more, I’d like to see what it is, and having had a break between working on the original series and this new material may have allowed the creators to step back and return to the high level the series started at. So I’ll be looking forward to seeing the third movie in a couple weeks, whether it’s for better or for worse.