Madoka: The Movie Experience

Having watched Madoka the movie after watching the TV series in 2011, can I just say that it’s basically the resonance of the faustian deal as depicted by an ideal, that makes Madoka Magica’s mark in the modern psyche? [Spoilers for the TV series and the first two movies, however light, may be present. Feel free to skip to the next set of bold words if you want to avoid it]

In other words, if the primary emotional complex within Madoka is the Faustian relationship between QB and his charges, what Madoka excels at is framing the deal not so much on the fact that QB is a deceptive bastard, but what people thought of as Magical Girls may vary from what they are in reality. The thing is, magical girls don’t exist in reality, they are some kind of anime or manga … thing. Can we make the parallel between that and, in a nutshell, Madoka’s mother?

The more I think about it, the more I realize Madoka and her mother is the key relationship here. In a way Mom is the tenuous link between your generic magical family for your generic magical girl and some notion that Madoka has a message for Viewers Like Us. Does Madoka want to grow up into a woman like her mother? I think so. There’s admiration going on for sure, and it’s partly what makes that relationship charming. As repeatedly mentioned by Urobuchi, Madoka Magica has a positive message. I think this message ultimately is that as long as you live like Madoka, it’ll all work out. Even if you might not end up being a career woman or the person who wears the pants in the relationship. As long as you’re like Madoka, a good girl through and through.

Homura’s initial warning to Madoka in the first episode–the opening minutes of the first movie–rings much louder when you watch both films back-to-back. Who is the most precious? How do you protect them? As ideals go, it works fine (as it did in innumerable anime and manga with the same exact theme). But rather than as a warning that Homura intended, when empowered by the Ability To Make Rational Decisions, Madoka breaks the game by, well, breaking the game. This is why that entropy lecture is lame, and time travel, again, earns its reputation as a hack-y plot device. Throughout the story, we see how Madoka makes good decisions, despite that she might come off as a child, or hesitates a lot, or changes her mind, or is a clutz, or can stay out late chasing witches late with her magical girlfriends.

But isn’t that the message? Even if you signed on a dotted line to a crappy contract, you can still be okay if you do it “the right way.” That’s what makes her a Good Girl, in addition to that Madoka also models those desirable character traits like valiance, honesty and wisdom. That has always been the primary message of magical girls anime. In that sense, “Incubator” is double talk in the meta for the genre!

In my mind, I’m thinking “lost generation are irritated about the promises of job (lol) security and their trust in the system is all but present” (ie., what Madoka’s mom represents) in which maps well to how we idolize (especially otaku) the notion of magical girls, which turns out to be a lie. Well, is it? Do we idolize the senior VP at work? The director with a smart portfolio? The dude with a 2000sqft loft in Manhattan (Madoka’s house only rivals the Ararargi House)? Do people want to become killing machines for Uncle Sam? Some probably do, and there are pretty solid career paths for those folks. I guess that isn’t so bad–more like the post-Godoka Madoka Magica world. More like if every dead US Marine became the undead, and your mission is to kill every one of them, again. And if you die you become one of your enemies? I don’t know, that sounds like the plot of a bunch of video games. Maybe it is all a lie. Maybe Urobuchi could’ve gone further to break Madoka down. Maybe we can see how much worse than death Madoka’s fate was, rather than just people saying how it was, or a tearful performance from Yuko Goto trying to play on your heartstrings just that much more so.

Maybe in Urobuchi’s world, ideals are the worst things. That’s why Madoka became it.

At the first NYC showing of the Madoka movies on Oct. 20, 2012, the Autumn skies were kind for locals and visitors alike. Fair weather and no rain made the life of some tourists easier, and the drive for me up to where a bunch of us carpooled in was almost scenic. At the theater, I spotted an Aniplex guy there (in an Aniplex t-shirt) and who I found out later on asked people for interviews, with posters in exchange. The theater was basically full, a handful of cosplayers adorned the theater as fans filed in probably an hour before screen time. I got there about 40 minutes before and most of the seats were filled already.

It was a late showing, starting at 9:30PM and ran to close to 2AM. There was no intermission in between, and to be honest I’m glad that we got the movies back-to-back. I carpooled with some friends because I wasn’t sure if the train going home would still be running by the time we were let out, and I think it still was! The screening was clearly a digital projection, and it looked great despite a couple technical snafu from the (presumably) projectionist. Hearing Magia and the two new Kalafina-backed insert songs on super-loud speakers (really, they were rock concert-level loud) was a treat but not for others who haven’t had their hearing wore out yet. The movies featured also a new OP sequence, most famously for the snuggling scenes between Homura and Madoka.

For anecdote, two of my companions haven’t watched Madoka Magica beyond episode 3. Both of them were pretty happy with the end results, although I don’t think either of them are now fans. Maybe it piqued their curiosity, maybe not–both of them had their reasons why they did not watch the original TV series, as they did so not out of ignorance. I don’t know, but if I had to describe the two movies with just one word, “solid” would be it. It featured some of the best from the TV series and polished what wasn’t already redone in the home video release. There’s very little room to nitpick unless you are the most ardent fan.

Perhaps the most important thing to note, though, is that the screening was preceded by a short clip from the six voice actresses for the show, introducing the movie version of Madoka Magica to us. It’s quite interesting and makes this screen all the more special. I don’t think having special merchandise would help much more, but yeah, only those in LA get lucky with the ability to score some limited edition goods (like that really nice Ume Aoki shikishi or the region-specific movie posters).

The NYC showing (and maybe some others, I don’t know) was a little bit special because it sold out within a day, prompting the addition of screenings for Sunday night and Monday night. I didn’t keep tabs on the other US screenings, but I imagined the turn out to be solid. It’s definitely worth it if you are a fan, or you just enjoy solid theatrical animation.

[I’ve written a slightly different version of this post here.]

7 Responses to “Madoka: The Movie Experience”

  • yuyukos

    I’m really glad I was able to acquire a ticket for Saturday night as well, it was definitely worth the effort of finding someone for whom Monday tickets were more convenient. The movies were very enjoyable, particularly the improved visuals and music score. Knowing what would happen did not dampen the experience.

    Guess I must have missed you in the crowd.

    • omo

      I guess! But yeah, it was enjoyable even if you already know what was going to happen. It’s hard to imagine how someone who is seeing it the first time would feel. It’s a lot to take in to be sure.

  • uckema

    ? Do people want to become killing machines for Uncle Sam? Some probably do, and there are pretty solid career paths for those folks. I guess that isn’t so bad–more like the post-Godoka Madoka Magica world. More like if every dead US Marine became the undead, and your mission is to kill every one of them, again.

    I’m sorry here, but when I read this, I found this a really confusing and problematic statement at best. Can you explain why you chose to write this, add more context behind it?

    • omo

      It is kind of confusing. I think what I was trying to go at is that some people want to be soldiers and kill enemies (or as idealized by movies & video games, for example), but what Madoka is driving at is that by living the dream you become the thing you hate most. Ironically it is also, in some cases, the point of certain works of media in an non-ironic way.

  • anon

    I live in NYC, but didn’t even know about it!

  • M. LaMoe

    We just saw Madoka films last week in downtown Los Angeles, and it was great! Weekend tickets were all sold out, but they had weekday tickets, so we went there on Wed night. It started from 6pm and went until 11pm. There was a 15 min intermission between two films.

    Yes, I think Madoka’s mom was really cool, yes, not necessary career woman but just being herself is good to go, but I was also impressed by her house dad taking care of a baby brother, which many men of the younger Japanese generation want as an option when they get married.

    For me, TV series wasn’t that clear, it was really sophisticated and deep and very metaphysical, so initially I wasn’t into Madoka that much. But watching the films again as a digest and discussing with friends, I now understand more about it, and have come to love it. So, I guess I can say because of otaku friends, I’ve become a Madoka fan.

    • omo

      Thanks for the story. Yeah, I understand what you mean. I wonder if that’s how my friends felt, the ones I brought to the theater and haven’t seen Madoka before.

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