Rebellion, the third movie in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica series, made its U.S. debut in Los Angeles on Tuesday night.
Even with tickets priced at a steep $40, the event at the Egyptian Theatre sold out in advance of the screening. Although the scheduled time of the screening was 7 p.m., there was already a large crowd in the Egyptian’s courtyard when I arrived just before 4 p.m.
For those who are unfamiliar with this anime franchise, let’s backtrack a little. Puella Magi Madoka Magica began its rise to cult popularity as a television series. The focus is on a young teen named Madoka and her small group of friends as they enter the realm of the magical girl. The show plays on the tropes of magical girl stories, but not for comedic effect. Instead, Madoka Magica is a tense ride through a maelstrom of emotions that come with learning that having special powers isn’t all that great. Madoka Magica might make you cry. It might also make you wring your hands with anticipation as you wait to see what’s next. It’s that kind of poignant anime and people love it.
Following the conclusion of the series, several movies hit theaters. The first two, Beginnings and Eternal, made their way to the U.S. last fall. Those were essentially feature-length retellings of the television show. Rebellion is different in that it is a completely new story. Before the screening, I had the chance to speak with Mitsutoshi Kubota, president of the animation studio SHAFT, and Atsuhiro Iwakami, a producer at Aniplex, about the development of the film. Through an interpreter, they explained the development of Rebellion.
The film itself is interesting in that it is a sequel to a story that appeared to have a definitive end. Iwakami noted that what sold Aniplex on the sequel was the story that writer Gen Urobuchi presented. Kubota noted the emphasis on animation in this project. It took two-and-a-half years to produce Rebellion. The actual animation took a year to complete. The primary creative staff totaled about 20-30 people, mostly those who worked on the TV show and previous films. Altogether, though, there were “several hundred” people involved in animating Rebellion.
The animation in Rebellion is gorgeous, 21st century psychedelic eye candy. The opening scene alone is worth the trip to a movie theater, just so you can see shadow dancers pirouetting against a patchwork background on a very big screen. The transformation sequences are also stunning, quite different from what you might expect from a magical girl story. Kyoko’s transformation, in particular, is reminiscent of the classic James Bond opening sequences, which is unusual for the genre and pretty darn cool. Throughout the series and the first two films, Madoka Magica‘s animation always stood out as well above average, but the SHAFT team outdid themselves with Rebellion.
The fans, though, were here for more than a movie. Kubota and Iwakami were on hand for a talk after the film, where they spoke more about the film and the franchise. Iwakami said through an interpreter that there aren’t plans for more Madoka Magica at present time. The two special guests were also available to meet fans following their discussion. Also present were members of the English language cast for Madoka Magica. (The film was actually screened in Japanese with English subtitles.)
Attendees received gift bags filled with a few cool items. They received a program guide and a “mini autograph board,” which is a small portrait of Madoka Magica characters that were distributed blind box style. They also got a cell phone holder shaped like Kyubey, the mysterious creature who essentially launches the magical girl adventure. Additionally, fans had the chance to purchase merchandise, some of which was only available at the Los Angeles screenings.
After the movie, I met Colton Geneva, a 23-year-old fan who drove up from San Diego for the event. Geneva picked up a plush Kyoko keychain and a blind box keychain that turned out to be Mami. Those were $10 a piece. He mentioned that a wall scroll priced at $60 had sold out right before he got to the front of the line. “It’s nice to see that they’re supporting the fans who came out for the premiere,” he said.
I thought a lot about that statement while writing this story. Forty dollars is steep for a ticket to a movie screening. Even a live concert at a venue comparable in size to the Egyptian will (most likely) cost less than that. But, this event was more than a movie. It was akin to a mini convention, complete with swag, limited edition merch, and a chance to actually meet the people who made something you enjoyed. Maybe it’s not the sort of event model that would work for every anime, but, in the case of Rebellion, it worked quite well.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion will be screening at theaters across the U.S. and Canada over the next few weeks. Check out Aniplex’s Madoka site for information on locations and show times.
Images: Liz Ohanesian, ©Magica Quartet/Aniplex, Madoka Movie Project Rebellion