The tagline written on the box set of the two Puella Magi Madoka Magica movies (a beautifully packaged set), “discover what it means to become a magical girl,” initially puts a lot of adult viewers in a hesitant position when approaching the animation. There’s a perpetual conversation about the place for anime – particularly broad audience shows epitomised in Puella Magi Madoka Magica – in the cinematic sphere, and there isn’t a shortage of anime detractors. That said, Madoka has developed a remarkably strong fan base that has soared beyond its original target audience. After going through the Madman boxset, it isn’t difficult figuring out why. Both films – Puella Magi Madoka Magica Part 1: Beginnings and Part 2: Eternal – are consistently satisfying, incredibly smart, and constantly redefining the limits of appeal, offering something for an impossibly broad audience.
Madoka as a project has a particularly notable genesis – it is a film series in three parts, adapted from the 2011 hit anime television series, and the first two films offered here (Beginnings and Eternal) are essentially the series repackaged and re-edited into shorter films, with some added scenes, voice-work and animation, and were released essentially simultaneously in 2012 (a week apart in Japan, showcased together in their limited North American theatrical releases). The third film, an all-original work called Rebellion, was released in 2013 and it would seem intuitive to anticipate a home video release from Madman in the future. In the two films here, the narrative revolves around the titular character Madoka Kaname, her close friends and a cat. The plot stems from Madoka receiving magical powers in exchange for pledging to fight against an array of witches and antagonists that serve as the key plot points throughout the two films.
The premise of the films, the stories and the plot lines aren’t too distant from many cliche anime plot lines – what distinguishes Madoka from a vast array of its contemporaries is the perpetually careful construction of its characters, the vicissitudes within the plot lines and the attention to detail that places the films on a pedestal; more visible to a broader audience then other contemporary works, and thrown together with a sense of care that makes the two films a powerful statement on the possibility for anime to become less stigmatised in a post-Ghibli era. The films aren’t perfect and their coherency does occasionally find itself faltering – perhaps an inescapable casualty when adapting a series and trimming it down to the smaller runtimes that films allow. The little issues throughout the films are often easier to notice due to the care that goes into so many intricate parts of the film with the inverse holding a similar truth as the weaknesses enforce the strengths, far greater in abundance.
Madman’s box set collects two separate films in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica series; Beginnings and Eternal, the first two of three overall. Beginnings is a more introductory film in the series. It presents the audience with the core characters – Madoka Kaname, Homura Akema, Sayaka Miki, and Mami Tomoe. It follows their introduction to the world of magical girls and each other and presents their growing involvement with the creature Kyubey, prompting much of the interest and development throughout. The first film on its own looks beautiful and works with a brilliant plot delivery, however, in the coupling with Eternal, the series is given a greater chance to show a more nuanced and holistic portrayal of the Madoka universe.
The second film starts in division and absence with Mami no longer having departed; issues of maturity and decision making are present with Sayaka already deciding to become a magical girl and Madoka remaining in a place of indecision, and new character are introduced which throw off the innocent, naive, yet overtly optimistic first film. Eternal presents a lot of its content as a metaphor for coming of age and deepens and sharpens its own presence in the anime genre – presenting a more complex and darker story and character arc. In releasing the two films in one box set, Madman has been able to present an anime that operates within many pre-established tenets of the genre, but aggressively breaks and challenges them in other areas. The two films operate at their best together and Madman has clearly realized this. In doing this, the box set presents the two films in their ideal setting – to be viewed together, as a long journey that both embraces and challenges the culture and presentation of anime.
The Shaft Studio provides invaluable support with their artistic design. Shaft Studio are no strangers to the ‘magical girl’ genre, with their output practically defining the field. The Limited Edition Madoka Blu-ray set looks beautiful, it is thrown together as an intricately modern and intelligent series with an overall precision in animation that frames the anime as one of Shaft’s most memorable ventures, and the Blu-rays provide an impressive picture quality which appears as a faithful representation of the best the films could look. Both an aesthetic treat and playfully disconnected from any sense of defined or serious plot, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an absurd romp through a mystical world buried in layer after layer of deep byproducts of the animation world’s best imaginations. More than this, however, Madman’s boxset provides a perfect introduction and adaptation of a winding and lengthy manga and anime series and the delivery of the boxset containing both films is a pleasure to watch – looking incredible on and off screen. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is one of the must-see animes emerging within the last few years. We eagerly await the home video debut of the third film in the series – hopefully in the near future!
We looked at the Limited Edition Blu-ray edition of both films, available from Madman here. The films are also both available in standalone DVD editions.