This year, everyone’s favourite tragic magical girls (tragical girls?) came back for a glorious, colourful, epic feature-length continuation of the adventure that first captured our hearts in 2012. Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Rebellion Story has been subject to a lot of scrutiny over the few months since it came out, and I know I’ve talked about this movie before and had a bit of a gripe and grumble about various aspects of it. Having watched it a few more times, I want to scoot back and have an objective look at this thing, what it means for the Madoka Magica story overall, and what it’s trying to tell me and the fanbase as a whole among all that colour, fan pandering, performance motifs and punch-in-the-nose of an ending.
First and foremost, I have to heave a little sigh at the fact that Rebellion Story even exists, which is no insult to it in and of itself but simply part of my instinctive disdain for anything created simply as a cash cow. Especially in an attempt to continue and franchise stories that were already distinctly finished. Madoka Magica is an interesting case in that it actually sets up a world that has multiple repetitions of the same plot due to Homura’s time travelling—thus, you can create an infinite number of plot and character combinations within the framework of the series and have it all be feasibly canon, since the storyline as we know it has happened so many times before that really, anything goes. It’s perfect for a visual novel medium, hence the creation of the PSP game, since Homura literally just goes back to her save point every time she gets a bad end. That is her life.
All that considered, it seemed a bit odd to me that the creators would choose to continue the story from where the series finished rather than explore an alternate timeline, but also makes sense because the audience would rather check out what those characters are up to now. Madoka Magica’s ending was in no way a shiny happy one for everyone, but its open-ended-ness still gave a sense of peaceful conclusion. Continuing the story meant shaking up or shattering the new status quo, and that meant more trauma for the characters we’d supposedly laid, in story terms, to rest. That’s what gives you a plot, after all. Though, as a fandom cash cow, Rebellion Story could have been nothing but happy frolicking and its audience would have been pleased.
That being said, that also would have been a bit insulting, and the writers knew this. The entire thing is incredibly self-aware in terms of the audience it’s being sent to—the fan service is subtly increased, side characters fans fell in love with are brought to the forefront, the main ships come true, and generally everything up to a certain point feels like a bit of an open letter to those who adore all things Madoka. It all gets very meta when you consider that most of the movie takes place inside a Witch Labyrinth Homura created—essentially, she made her own Everybody Lives AU fanfic. Could Homura be a representative of the fandom, then?
After all, she’s the hero of the movie more than she ever got to be in the series, and essentially our eyes and ears and the one we follow in figuring out the mystery of the dream world, thus we form the biggest attachment to her. The entire movie is riddled with performance motifs, from the ballerina Familiars at the beginning to the dance-tastic transformation sequences to Homura’s final pirouette after the credits. There’s even a gateway in the Labyrinth in the opening scene that says ‘Welcome to Cinema’, and the characters other than Homura appear as paper puppets when she’s in her mystery-solving phase. Homura’s constantly followed around by creepy doll-like minions that make sure everything goes just so—symbolic of the writers, maybe, leading her around her perfect hijacked world until they reveal their true intentions and merrily help with dragging her into her Witch form?
That’s simply one interpretation, but whatever way you slice it, Homura turns evil. Even after she’s rescued and redeemed from being a Witch, she ends up as the Devil of the Madoka Magica multiverse. She outright calls herself a demon. Hey, as long as she’s self-aware. But if Homura is the embodiment of the fandom, does that make the fandom the devil?
This is something I’ve thought about before (and other people have certainly written about) so I won’t peer at the concept of Homura-as-a-vehicle-for-damning-the-hungry-fanbase but instead examine the gutsiness of the decision to actually pursue her character arc through to a place where she becomes evil. Homura is, at her heart, a hypocritical hero and always has been, with a strangely selfish element to her selfless wish: she doesn’t just wish for Madoka to be saved, she wishes to be the one saving her, giving her the time loop powers and tossing her into her endless cycle of despair until she becomes a shell of her former self, and estranged from the person she’s trying to protect. So in a way, the ending makes sense as a continuation of that… Homura does say “One day you too will be my enemy, but I don’t care, because I’ll still wish for a world in which you’re happy.”
I’m still a little miffed about Homura’s descent into darkness on principle, but I do have to admire the writers a little for having the guts to actually turn a hero so blatantly into a villain. Not all character development is about becoming a better person, after all, and while the concept of characters “snapping” and “going bad” as an endgame of psychological trauma always feels a little iffy to me, I can begrudgingly admit that this is a feasible direction for Homura’s character to go in. Which, again, is probably something they would have only been game to do at this point, with an audience already established and invested. The characters are our hooks, and we want to see what’s going to happen to them, and the writers have the support to be flexible and take them in unconventional directions.
After all, now we have a whole new universe to play with, possibly with Sayaka as a crucial part of the hero-villain dynamic since she seems to remember some of the other time loops, the logic of which I’m not going to question because teenaged girls have rewritten the laws of time and space so many times by now I’m willing to accept pretty much anything. Which is probably a good mindset to ponder the possibility of another movie with, since everything is totally up in the air as to what the hell is going to happen now they’ve set this new world order up.
The concept of a perfect dreamworld that fulfils the happy magical girl format the show subverted was an excellent idea, because it simultaneously plays all that out for the audience’s delight and brings it down for appropriate drama. Would I go so far as to speculate it was also an equal parts plan to present a bunch of fan pandering and then smash it to pieces because this gooey stuff is totally not what we’re about here in gritty deconstruction land? Maybe. Which is also what bugs me about the ending, even with all its merits—it does kind of fly a little in the face of the hopeful message at the finale of the series. It’s tragic that Homura and Madoka are separated forever by the cosmos, but together they created a new world where they can protect their own kind and the ones they care about. Love, justice and selflessness triumphs over all, putting the happy magical girl mantra they’ve spent the series deconstructing back together.
As for what’s going to happen now the formula of the world has been rewritten again, anything’s possible. We’re no longer working in terms of a concise singular storyline, because as far as I’m concerned, they signed off their mission statement at the end of the series, and Rebellion and anything else is an add-on that forms somewhat of a blob on top of a finely rounded story. The characters will—and already have—shifted beyond their original forms and roles. Considering how secondary Madoka was in Rebellion, and how much her agency has been removed as of the ending, having her name in the title seems a little odd at this point.
We’ve been transported to a world of question marks. Which, hey, is good for the series because it can go on and give those invested more of the characters they love, which of course is the base of any successful story: interesting characters with an interesting problem. They’ve certainly got that covered, though what direction and for how long the problems are going to go on is up in the air. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see. How frightening.