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article imageReview: 'Rebellion' a fan affair — Not a huge departure from the series Special

By Sylvannia Soulet     Dec 15, 2013 in Entertainment
Toronto - "Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion" is a dark, atmospheric look into the lives of five Magical Girls fighting for survival.
Growing up, one of the first anime I recall watching was Sailor Moon. At the time, there was no other show quite like it on television – five teenage girls with magical powers and the help of a talking cat band together to fight the forces of evil. By the end of the show’s catchy theme song, I was hooked. Thus began my gradual descent into the world of Japanese animation (which coincided wonderfully with my adolescent years of puberty and social awkwardness).
Fast forward to today. I am no longer the pimply teenager that used to collect Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards, teach myself Japanese and hungrily absorb every anime in my vicinity. My voracious zeal for the medium has tapered off into a subdued, subtle appreciation of anime as an art form. That said, I am still a loyal fan of nostalgia, and of Sailor Moon, which is probably why I became such a huge fan to the series Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Madoka Magica is lauded by many as the anti-Sailor Moon – it takes the tried-and-true construct of a team a females relying on love, magic and friendship (all while sporting sparkly, revealing costumes) and totally flips it on its head, effectively subverting the magical girl genre as a whole. To borrow from another animated series entirely – friendship is NOT magic in this universe.
For example: Suppose one of Sailor Moon’s teammates were to meet an untimely demise at the hands of an enemy, only to not be resurrected by the end of the episode? Suppose the girls’ magical powers actually came at a horrible price, where one had to sacrifice her sense of being, nay, her very soul, in order to fight? Suppose there was no happy ending guaranteed for these girls, no sense of redemption, only misery and suffering with no worthwhile return of investment? Take all that into consideration, and there you have Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
I say this because Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion is not a film for newcomers to the series, or for the faint of heart. In fact, during the initial television run, series creator Gen Urobuchi intentionally marketed the anime as just another run-of-the-mill magical girl series, not unlike Cardcaptor Sakura or WINX Club. Viewers were in for a rude awakening when, only three episodes into the series, one of the main characters was unceremoniously decapitated, her body ripped to shreds by a deceptively cartoony monster.
So make no mistake, this is a movie strictly for the fans. Sure, you could have gotten away with not watching the first two Madoka Magica movies released earlier this year (which were, essentially, retreads of the events of the television series adapted for the big screen), but those who had not seen Puella Magi Madoka Magica would most certainly be lost, as this is a film that assumes you already know the story and its characters, and wastes no time explaining such concepts as soul gems, incubators, wraiths, or labyrinths.
The premise of Rebellion centres around a group of Technicolor-haired preteen girls, each with their own unique brand of magical powers. They do battle against Nightmares, sentient beings which terrorize the inhabitants of their hometown of Mitakihara. All is well for the girls, save for the one raven-haired member of the team, Homura Akemi, who can’t shake the feeling that something is not quite right within their world.
This is a brand new, original story for the series, which initially came out in the spring of 2011. There is a much ballyhooed addition to the team that makes her initial appearance in the film, Nagisa Momoe (but for some fans, this character’s secret identity is not only predictable, but also a tad underwhelming).
And there is plenty fan service to go around in Rebellion. Each of the girls get their own elaborate transformation sequence, and fan speculation of yuri (lesbian love) elements between teammates is finally laid to rest and made canonical. The fight sequences are beautifully animated, and the art direction is to be lauded, especially in scenes where the girls go up against a particular Nightmare which possesses a lovelorn friend.
But the movie unfortunately suffers from the same pacing problems that were evident in the original series. After the bombshell revelations of its earlier episodes, Madoka Magica admittedly never captured the same sense of shock and dread as it reached in episode 3. Likewise, Rebellion seems to be building up to some monumental revelation, but when it finally gets there, it’s suddenly bogged down by long stretches of dialogue provided by one of the supporting characters, a white creature named Kyuubey, whose sole purpose in the film is to act as a plot device that churns out exposition. Even as a fan of the series, I had a difficult time following what was transpiring onscreen; I can only imagine the uninitiated newbie was downright flummoxed as to what was happening by the third act.
I suppose many people came into Rebellion expecting more backstory to be revealed for some of the main characters (Nagisa Momoe especially), or to have loose ends tidied that were left after the final episode of the series. While Rebellion offers up glimpses of a continuation to a familiar story, it still leaves many a fan unsatiated by the time the credits roll, and with more questions than answers. I heard several stunned groans of disappointment from the audience when the movie had ended, which leaves me to believe the story is far from over in the mind of the typical fan.
Rebellion is one of nineteen animated feature films being considered for an Academy Award in 2014, though I have serious doubts it will make it to the nominee shortlist. This film works poorly as a standalone piece – confusing at best, downright mind-boggling in its plot twists and turns at its worst – and fans will only be marginally satisfied with such an open-ended conclusion. Rebellion is a hard movie to recommend, but I will say for those that grew up with Sailor Moon and are used to its candy-coated tone and storyline: you should probably give this film a look, if only to broaden your horizons.
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