What happens after an epilogue? I’ll make the very brave assumption that the majority of people reading this have also read, at some point, the Harry Potter series. Statistically, there’s a very good chance that you have, anyway. When you read/saw that surprisingly controversial epilogue, did the characters live on in your head? There are two trains of thought on this, really: the first is that the story ends where its canon does – anything that the reader is not told, didn’t necessarily happen; the second is that the story goes on, regardless of whether or not it is told to the readers. For the purpose of this post, which will serve to wrap up this series on Puella Magi Madoka Magica, we will be looking at the second version. Unlike the previous posts, this particular one will not in the play-by-play style of its predecessors, primarily because Rebellion (what you thought I was going to type the whole thing out each time?) is dense and complex. It is one of those movies in which what happens is curiously less important than how it affects the status quo, largely because of the characters’ powers to re-write what has happened.
I will admit, I found the choice of Homura as the central character for this movie to be surprising but now that I think about it, I don’t know why. Homura was a pivotal character in the series and arguably, played a more central role than Madoka herself until the very end. What this movie drove home however, was how little we have seen from Homura’s perspective. Episode 11 of the series was devoted to her, of course, but beyond that, we haven’t seen much of her. My response to the movie’s treatment of her character has gone through a shift over time – partially as I tried to explain my emotional responses and questioned what was driving them. My first impression was that this movie ended up undoing a great deal of the what the series established. I had thought that the series had ended on a perfect note – or as close to one as I could imagine – with Madoka achieving a selfless immortality that was in line with her own kind character and the promises of her power that the series built up. Homura too got the closure that the character deserved – she fulfilled her promise to her best friend (though really, friend seems woefully inadequate to describe Homura’s feelings for Madoka) and could rest easy knowing that Madoka had achieved her own goals and purpose. It wasn’t a perfectly happy ending but it was a greatly fulfilling one and I enjoyed it. Rebellion really upset the apple cart in that regard. It undoes a great deal of closure that the original ending offered and it was not clear to me what exactly the audience was being offered in return for that disturbance. I’ll leave my final impression of the movie for the end of this post, where it will hopefully make sense as a culmination of the rest of the points I’ll be discussing.
Rebellion asks us the question, ‘wouldn’t it be better if none of this ever happened?’ The movie opens and ends with alternate versions of events from the first episode of the series. In the opening scene, Rebellion doesn’t hesitate to stick the knife deep and heart into the audience’s hearts; we all know very early on that this cute and sweet set-up is neither real nor going to last for very long. Watching the characters get along and united picks at the heart-strings; it’s not unlike a similar scene in Neon Genesis Evangelion where the characters are normal well-adjusted children, just for a minute. This question of how things could have been, had things played out differently, feels like the perfect question for a character like Homura, whose powers revolve around time. As I mentioned earlier, my response to this was – why? What was so wrong about the way that things turned out the last time?
The answer lies deep in the psyche of Akemi Homura. For the first half of the movie, Homura plays the role of the protagonist and the last sane person in a world that has gone wrong but doesn’t even know it. She is the only person who’s fully woke and aware of the contradictions in the world around, especially since she is technically the only person who can remember the events of the final episode. It raises that endless fascinating question of whether something really happened if you’re the only person who can remember it – and if a supernatural divine power literally changed the flow of time and events such that your memories never happened? The events of Rebellion are a dangerous mixture of unhappy coincidences, natural consequences and malicious intents. Homura’s memories isolate her; in a world where only she can remember Madoka and her ascension to divinity, the rest of the world unsurprisingly believes her insane, to the point that Homura herself begins to question her sanity. These are the natural consequences to the solution explored at the end of the series. However, through malicious intent and unhappy coincidence, the Incubators are able to trap Homura in an isolation field when she is on the verge of giving in to the despair that would otherwise turn magical girls into Witches. Homura sort of turns, sort of doesn’t and Madoka and the rest of gang infiltrate the fields – lured in by the Incubators who used Homura as bait – to rescue Homura from her own despair.
So far so good. I think it is a refreshing change to see Homura, who’s always had all the cards in her hand, be on the other side and genuinely need help (though, yes, it did also happen in the final episode of the series) and the revelation of Homura’s descent to Witchhood (is that a word?) was well done. After that, however, I think the story starts to take a turn and it took me a while to decide if that turn was a turn for the better or worse. My decision centers on how to respond to the change in the role that Homura plays. She shifts from being a traditional protagonist to being more of a sympathetic anti-hero, or depending on how generous you want to be, a sympathetic antagonist. I don’t think the degree of sympathy really changes; most viewers would agree that Homura has suffered a great deal and whether you see her decisions at the end of the movie as misguided but well-intentioned or self-serving and indulgent really depends on your own personal philosophy when it comes to matters like personal liberty and the nature of happiness.
Personally, my first response was confusion. I thought either I had totally misunderstood Homura’s character during the series or that the movie had somehow shown a change in her character that I had somehow missed. As I reflected, I realized the truth lay elsewhere. I think the movie is showing us a new side of Homura, one that we didn’t really need to see during the series. Homura’s love for Madoka in the series was portrayed as pure and good because it was meant to save Madoka from the pains of becoming a magical girl and eventually, a Witch. However, when the series ended, Homura’s love for Madoka, it seems, did not have the same closure. The contrast between Madoka’s selfless, all encompassing love and Homura’s selfish, Madoka-specific love is an interesting one and I think, personally, it’s what turned my opinion on the movie around.
The audience’s personal response to Homura’s actions dictates so much about how they feel about the movie. Homura came out of the series effectively as much a heroine as Madoka in a way. If she came across as cold or harsh in earlier episodes, the revelation in episode 11 more than explained it and let us forgive her for it. Rebellion forces you to re-evaluate the character and not everyone is going to like that. Your opinions will likely fall into one of the three camps I highlighted earlier:
- Homura’s turn to darkness is out of character and ruins the character as established by the series. I can certainly make a case for this, even though it is not what I personally believe. Homura, in the series, fought endlessly for what was effectively years in cumulative time, to save Madoka. Her character earned a break and denying the character that in a supplementary material like a movie seems cruel and unnecessary. Furthermore, Homura seemed to have accepted the way things ended at the end of the series, why should she despair when she knows that she’s the only one who would remember Madoka and her sacrifice? Why not just let Homura end on a heroic note instead of tainting her legacy like this?
- The movie was a welcome exploration of one of the more complex and interesting character from the series. No one who goes back in time that much over a single cause can come out entirely mentally stable. Surely, putting in all that effort to save someone, only to be told that you can never ‘see’ or ‘meet’ them again and that no one else will know that they existed, is enough to push a person over the edge. This camp can be broken down further into: a.) However sympathetic the character may be, Homura’s solution at the end of the movie was abusive and evil. She is forcibly capturing (part of) this friend she claims to love, re-writing all of existence, all to suit her selfish needs. This changes from her a morally good to a morally evil character, one who is denying her friend of agency and personal liberty because she thinks she knows best and can’t come to terms with her personal loss. (b.) (This is my camp) Was Homura’s solution really that evil? Was it really so wrong for Homura to want her best friend and the object of her incessant obsession to be genuinely happy? Homura spent the whole series ensuring that Madoka would not become a magical girl – it must be hard for her to accept that Madoka not only became a magical girl but then also turned into a metaphysical deity. I don’t think Homura ever wanted Madoka to save the world; I think all her character ever wanted was to have a normal life with a girl she loved.If Madoka and her gang are all living happy, normal lives even if it’s in this false utopia, it seems like a distinct improvement from what their lives would have otherwise been; seems harsh to condemn Homura for it, even if I do have my reservations about the means she used to do so
In a nutshell then, the above captures my emotional responses to Rebellion. A few miscellaneous notes before we wrap this up. One of the things I enjoyed about this movie was how it felt like a continuation of the final episodes. Now, that might sound really obvious – why wouldn’t it be – but I mean that I got the sense that movie benefited greatly from the ability to explore the series’ universe and its themes much more openly and in greater depth than in the series itself. I expect a great deal of that is because in the series, especially the first half, the audience was kept in suspect about the true nature of the universe’s reality, but in Rebellion now that the audience knows as much as the characters, there is no need for the cloak and dagger narration of the first three quarters of the series. As such, even the intensity, pacing and narrative style of Rebellion picks up where the series left off, resulting a film that is more contemplative, reflective and thematically driven than focused on specific events and occurrences. The animation itself was obviously also a good step up from the series, I thought – the fight scene between Mami and Homura was great and in general the action was pretty well done, though the truth is, a lot of the time, I was waiting for them to get over with it so I could see what happens next. I didn’t really think that any of the major characters were ever at risk of dying to a random mook.
My final verdict on Rebellion is that it provides an alternative ending to the series for those who choose to accept it as such. I do think it is a little more complicated as an ending than the original – which shouldn’t be very surprising given that it builds on top of the original – but is equally bittersweet just at a different character’s expense. Both endings don’t leave the audience feeling like things were left hanging and while I enjoyed this ending on its own merits, I think in my head, the original ending is the one that I will be sticking with. In the future, I think a re-watch of the series – maybe via the first two movies – could be interesting, just to see all the things I missed.
Alright, as for the upcoming schedules – now that I’m done with this series, the hunt for the next series continue. Until next week, I’ll consider any series put in the comments though my next target is going to be to tackle Season 7 of Game of Thrones along with some books that I’ve been reading but haven’t gotten around to reviewing just yet.
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