In the third installation of the Madoka Magica movie project, we’re delighted to see our favourite magical girls together again, in a reality where no-one fell prey to despair. But as they go about their lives, going to school, doing homework and dispatching the wraiths who took the witches’ place, all while making time for tea and cake, something starts to feel off about their little utopia. Faceless people walk around them, the labyrinth’s children at their feet, and beyond the city bounds there’s only a void.
All of the colours and textures on display in Rebellion’s visual design can be joyful or unsettling, with the most subtle shifts between. The fact that they were created specifically for a film is visible in the girls’ transformation scenes, with the focus on the individualities of their characters, and the added textures of the sparkling strings, bells and woodwind score. Such a level of detail in their outfits and poses, in the brightness and shadow of their surroundings, gives Puella Magi the filmic edge it deserved from the start, stepping it up from the spit and polish given to the anime’s visuals for the first two films.
In amongst the feverish flickering through the labyrinth and different existences, as the girls dive between them to discover who’s at the centre of their strange reality, one thing maintains the story’s balance. The friendship between the magical girls runs steady on the surface, but permeates deep into Rebellion’s mystery, firmly grounding it. Meanwhile, the complexity and personal turmoil of Homura’s love for Madoka creeps into focus, blooming forth from so many attempts to rescue her from the Faustian pact of being a magical girl.
Rebellion holds scenery you can almost feel, bizarre sweetness and the uncanny’s cutting edge, inspiring smiles and unease at each turn. But at its centre is the bliss and agony of teenage love and friendships, so even at its strangest, we can understand the chaos.