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MADOKA MAGICA: THE MOVIE, PART I and PART II - Behind Anime Lines

Nick Robinson recounts his surprising experience at the sold-out US premiere of the Madoka movies - - and it's not necessarily surprising in a good way.

Just to get this out of the way: this isn't a review. It'll make sense why in a second. If you're looking for a review of the actual content of MADOKA MAGICA, you can peep my thoughts on the original series here. Got it? Good. Read on!

Last weekend, I attended the US premiere(s?) of PUELLA MAGI MADOKA MAGICA: THE MOVIE, PART I and PART II. Screened in only five theaters across the country, the four-hour-plus double feature quickly sold out here in San Francisco. I bought tickets the nanosecond they were available because, dude - - watching two brand-new, hitherto-unreleased MADOKA MAGICA films in a theater here in the city? Are you joking? I was pumped!

MADOKA MAGICA: THE MOVIE sets out to retell the story of the show, but in, you know, a movie format. The first one - - PART I: BEGINNINGS - - covers the first half of the series and the second one - PART II: ETERNAL - covers the last half. MADOKA MAGICA's premise, for those unfamiliar, revolves around Madoka Kaname, a middle-school girl who uncovers a world of evil-fighting magical girls in her city, and subsequently gets the opportunity to become one. An adorable magical being called Kyubey offers to hook her up with the powers at a price - - once you're in, you're in for life.

Real quick disclaimer: y’all know I love some MADOKA MAGICA, right? Like, the show was the first anime series I’ve been surprised by (or even loved) in a pretty long time. It’s one of my favorite discoveries of 2012 - - and that’s across every medium, not just anime. I’ve recommended it to friends who couldn’t care less about Japanese cartoons, and those who’ve given a shot have all fallen to its charms. MADOKA MAGICA is a great show.

So here’s the part where I tell you about how I didn’t really like the movie. How I was bored by it. How I felt like it was kind of a waste of five hours, 20 bucks and a Saturday night. Weird, right? How could I not like a retelling of one of my favorite stories?

Well, that right there is the first misconception: MADOKA MAGICA: THE MOVIE not a retelling.

‘Retelling’ implies it’s the same events, told differently. MADOKA MAGICA: THE MOVIE is the same events, told the same way, slightly prettier. No exaggeration, it's every episode of the show strung end-to-end-to-end, with only the most minute tweaks throughout. It’s not a retelling; it’s a telling. specifically, it’s the telling that MADOKA MAGICA fans were already told roughly a year ago. It’s really, really weird, and I’m frankly kind of baffled by its existence.

I mean, I want to be clear: they did change things. Plenty of things. They cleaned up some of the show’s sloppier moments of animation. They added a stunning amount of detail to some of the backgrounds. They even rerecorded all the voice acting - - which, to a shameful gaijin like me, made next to no difference at all, sadly. The number of things they changed is not the problem, here; it’s the value of the things they changed. This is, for the most part, the same exact show released twice before (the Blu-ray release had its own set of changes from the original broadcast versions).

The thing is, MADOKA was a good-looking-enough show. Yeah, it had occasional visual stumbles, but they were mostly relegated to background and wide shots and were completely undistracting. In general, it was an attractive and slick production. And at a combined 240 minutes long, the movies work neither as a Cliff’s Notes nor as an extended cut of the roughly 270-minute series.

So why does this exist, again?

To me, someone who watched MADOKA MAGICA all the way through just a few short months ago, most of the movie's changes were totally invisible, and many of the ones that weren’t (different music during climactic scenes, etc.) felt changed for change’s sake. Actually, so few things were significantly altered that some of us at the theater started imagining differences.

At first, I thought an early flashback to Sayaka’s youth was a brand new scene, but during the intermission, another MADOKA fan let me know that it wasn’t. Likewise, the same fan told me how much he loved the addition of little holograms to the DDR pad during the Drug Dog Reinforcements scene, which I know for a fact weren’t actually new at all. When hundreds of a show’s most hardcore fans cram into a theater and can’t totally distinguish the difference between a movie and the TV show it’s “retelling,” what does that say?

That's not to say everyone - - or anyone - - at the showing felt the same way I did. The sold-out theater was packed full of hardcore MADOKA MAGICA fans, bringing with them every otaku stereotype you're probably guessing. And they were psyched. Yelling commentary at the screen, loudly laughing when it was totally inappropriate, and having an audibly erotic reaction to a totally innocuous nudge shared by two 14-year-olds. The whole thing felt like one big excuse for them all to congratulate each other for what big fans of the show they all were.

Crammed between one odd-smelling Madoka cosplayer and a particularly loud group of weebs I shushed half a dozen times before giving up and finding a seat somewhere else, maybe I just had particularly bad luck. But man! Not my favorite movie crowd ever. And being forcibly embedded in that group for five hours probably took a lot of the enthusiasm out of me.

But yeah, about the movies - -

I’ve encountered a lot of talk (both online and at the screening) about how there were significant changes to the dialogue that clarified or better-justified certain aspects of the plot. Unfortunately, I think this is based largely on fansub-caused confusion. Many of MADOKA’s most hardcore fans watched the original show well before the official English localization on CrunchyRoll, meaning they had no choice but to watch fan translations.

As someone who watched MADOKA with the official subs (and pretty recently, too), I can say with certainty that the subtitles in these movies were virtually identical to the official translations used in the series itself. That makes sense, of course, because while most of the major dialogue was rerecorded, the exact same lines were being read, so only the delivery changed. It’s yet another way that these movies are nothing more than a glossy repackaging of the show.

Which is fine! This story fits the movie format well enough, I guess. I still think I prefer the slow burn of having MADOKA’s true nature revealed to you one episode at a time, but as a movie, it’s totally functional. Akiyuki’s phenomenally bold direction absolutely shines on the big screen, and since the films do look and sound better than ever, it’s a great experience. It’s just not a new one.

Which begs the question: why does this exist? The REBUILD OF EVANGELION project made a ton of sense. It’s a from-scratch recreation of the original show that changes and mixes up plenty of things, and given the notorious budgetary issues of the original series, EVANGELION was in dire need of a refresh. Even PERSONA 4: THE ANIMATION had the justification of incorporating the “True Ending” from the game. But with MADOKA: THE MOVIE, I’m just not seeing the necessity.

Look, it’s a great show. And if you’re brand-new to the world of MADOKA, it might be the perfect entry point. Personally, I'm not much of a marathon-watching guy; I tend to watch things one episode per day, at the most, so sitting there and literally watching all 12 episodes of the show in row with a couple negligible differences while being surrounded by occasionally loud and occasionally smelly anime fans was an exhausting and kind of boring experience. Outside of that context, though, maybe it’s more pleasant.

MADOKA MAGICA: THE MOVIE is not MADOKA MAGICA, retold. It’s MADOKA MAGICA, remastered. Whether that’s worth your time and money is totally your judgment call.

Nick Robinson is an occasional freelance journalist and a fairweather anime fan. Twitter is his favorite website lately - if you're into that sort of thing, follow him at @Babylonian !

sickVisionz moderator on Nov. 4, 2012 at 10:21 a.m.

I've heard that the main reason they do them though is because the producers feel like they have a hit that could cross over into the mainstream so they create these movie version to introduce the series to a wider audience. Additionally, there's a bonus that the hardcore fans alone will generate enough money to cover whatever expenses the minor changes and alterations cost. For Madoka's sake though, I don't know how much casual interest a four hour double feature will generate. That's a pretty serious time commitment.

Personally though, I've never been into retellings, especially a show like Madoka that's only 12 or 13 episodes. Two 2-hour movies is close to the exact running time of the series. Additionally, it's extremely rare for me to want to re-experience linear media like this. Discovering how the story plays out is a major part of my enjoyment and it's impossible to have that effect the second time around. There's literally hundreds of shows I haven't seen and every season like 30 brand new ones are coming out. It feels like I could rewatch something where all the excitement of seeing the twists and turns is gone, or I could try one of the few hundred series I haven't seen before and see how they are.

I've heard that they're making a third movie and that the events will be significantly different than the TV series. If I watch any Madoka film, it will be that one.

Well, that right there is the first misconception: MADOKA MAGICA: THE MOVIE not a retelling.

Probably my only point of contention; this is very much a retelling, at least in the literal sense. They told a story once and now they are very literally re telling it.

Daniel_Newton moderator on Nov. 4, 2012 at 11:16 a.m.

As someone who hasn't watched Madoka Magica yet (and became interested in it mostly from your previous article, as it happens) this "retelling" is definitely appealing to me. As an added bonus, I'm very much a marathon-man when it comes to watching TV shows or anime, so I would happily watch the entire series in one or two sittings. Judging by your experience it sounds like that's what this is ideal for, either a super-hardcore fan or someone who's interested but hasn't got around to checking Madoka out yet.

...and having an audibly erotic reaction to a totally innocuous nudge shared by two 14-year-olds...

I'm going to assume (and hope) their reaction was more along the lines of "aww, that's so adorable!" but I guess it depends just how "hardcore" some of those fans actually were. I'll to put my money on most of it being a reaction to cuteness, anyway.

Great article, especially considering how generally bummed out you are about the movie, it would have been very easy for you to just take a dump on the whole thing, but instead you've given it a fair shake and said that maybe it just wasn't for you. Kudos, sir.

zaldaron Nov. 4, 2012 at 12:52 p.m.

Yeah the difference between a retelling and a remake is that the retelling is the same story exactly. The better sound, picture, and the experience of watching it with other people who know the story and love it (the crowd experience you didn't like) is the reason to go to these at least for me. Though not sure what a weeb is so it may have been to much for me. (If they smelled than it would have been)

Daniel_Newton moderator on Nov. 4, 2012 at 1:17 p.m.

@zaldar said:

Yeah the difference between a retelling and a remake is that the retelling is the same story exactly.

Actually, in my experience a "retelling" generally tells the same story in a different way or from a different perspective. A "remake" on the other hand often refers to something that's been updated in more of an aesthetic sense (visuals, sound, etc.)

For example, I would consider the Dragon Ball movie The Path to Power a retelling because it tells part of the Dragon Ball story in a different way, condensing it down into a movie format and changing some elements. I think that's the kind of "retelling" Nick was expecting.

Dragon Ball Z Kai on the other hand is more of a remake than a retelling because it's the same version of the story, just with filler cut out, remastered in HD and new voice recordings. That's much closer to how Nick describes the Madoka Magica movie, though in this case it sounds like there wasn't much (if anything) cut out from the original.

Again, the terms are interchangeable in a lot of cases, but that's basically how I differentiate them.

zaldaron Nov. 4, 2012 at 1:51 p.m.

Weird...that is exactly the opposite of how I do it. Now I am coming off the Hollywood definition of the terms which may not apply really but when a movie is remade it is often with different actors and a more modern story telling technique. The DiCaprio version of Romeo and Juleit for example (which I hate with an abiding passion). What would be interesting would be a retelling/remake of the story from kubu's perspective...

Daniel_Newton moderator on Nov. 4, 2012 at 1:59 p.m.

@zaldar said:

Now I am coming off the Hollywood definition of the terms which may not apply really but when a movie is remade it is often with different actors and a more modern story telling technique.

That's a good point. Now I'm confused.

I actually looked up the definition of retelling and got this:

re·tell·ing
A new account or an adaptation of a story: a retelling of a Roman myth.

That's basically how I'd describe a hollywood remake, a lot of them anyway. I guess the terms really are interchangeable, go figure.

Still, I think what I said about the Dragon Ball movie and Dragon Ball Z Kai still makes sense so I mostly had the right idea, I guess.

Lurkeroon Nov. 4, 2012 at 3:06 p.m.

I always assumed the Madoka Magica movies exist because of money. Some fans will spend money again and some newcomers will add to it.

AURON570on Nov. 4, 2012 at 3:46 p.m.

Yeah once you mentioned it was 4 hours, i was thinking... "isn't that just the same amount of time to watch the series?"

Someday I might watch Madoka again with official subs, but not any time soon. It's good.. but not as good as some fans seem to make it out to be. Haha your description of Madoka fans in the theater was priceless.

Babylonian staff on Nov. 4, 2012 at 4:23 p.m.

@sickVisionz said:

I've heard that the main reason they do them though is because the producers feel like they have a hit that could cross over into the mainstream so they create these movie version to introduce the series to a wider audience. Additionally, there's a bonus that the hardcore fans alone will generate enough money to cover whatever expenses the minor changes and alterations cost.

This totally occurred to me, too! At best, it's expanding the audience by any means necessary, and at worst, it's a cynical way of grabbing more fans' money. Either way, as a Madoka fan, there's a part of me that was thrilled to support the show in any capacity here in the US. If this movie does well and it helps Shaft finance more interesting stuff down the line, I'm not gonna be upset about it!

@sickVisionz said:

Personally though, I've never been into retellings, especially a show like Madoka that's only 12 or 13 episodes. Two 2-hour movies is close to the exact running time of the series. Additionally, it's extremely rare for me to want to re-experience linear media like this. Discovering how the story plays out is a major part of my enjoyment and it's impossible to have that effect the second time around. There's literally hundreds of shows I haven't seen and every season like 30 brand new ones are coming out. It feels like I could rewatch something where all the excitement of seeing the twists and turns is gone, or I could try one of the few hundred series I haven't seen before and see how they are.

I've heard that they're making a third movie and that the events will be significantly different than the TV series. If I watch any Madoka film, it will be that one.

Same same same same same. At the risk of belaboring the point: I loved Madoka, but I've seen Madoka already! They actually showed a short teaser for that third movie at the end of the premiere, but I found it hard to be excited about it - all I could think was "This is what these two movies should've been instead!"

Petiewon Nov. 4, 2012 at 4:40 p.m.
Well the 3rd movie is supposed to be a sequel to the series, I believe? So the first two movies serve the purpose of getting new fans into the series so they can enjoy the new one when its released and also for the purpose of getting people hyped up for it. Also money, since every company is out to make money and this is an easy way.
 
The crowd you mentioned is exactly the reason I wouldn't want to go to a showing like this. I'm sure at some point everyone's been to the movies with their friends when they were younger, there's barely anyone else there and your friends are constantly trying to loudly one up each other's "funny" jokes and observations. You'll also know how annoying this is when you're with your family, partner, etc and just want to enjoy the movie. I imagine the Madoka screenings were this but on a hugely exaggerated level. I'm guessing someone shouted "She dies!" as soon as
was introduced?
ArtsyGalon Nov. 4, 2012 at 6:27 p.m.

This came out?! I need to watch this immediately!

Also, was the movie in subtitles when it was released in the US?

ComicMan24on Nov. 5, 2012 at 12:18 a.m.

Really liked the anime and was thinking of watching them but now I am not sure about. Might just watch the third one which is an original story.

metalsnakezeroon Nov. 5, 2012 at 10:39 a.m.

I haven't seen the movie version of my favorite show but hearing from other fans it was a positive. It possible that seeing the show right after finishing up the TV run would make it feel odd but that fact that you're watching it from a theater perspective instead of a couch or monitor makes it interesting. The next movie, #3, will be after the end and that will be the one to really checkout.

takashichea moderator is online on Nov. 6, 2012 at 10:14 p.m.

Speaking of face snuggling, anyone up for Sayaka and Kyoko?

Man, I wish I knew that the movie near home. I thought it was in Japan. I'm fine with watching the individual episodes on Crunchyroll. Like everyone else, I'm waiting for the 3rd movie.

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