The Rising Tide: Madoka Rebellion and Communal Culture

“And I / I disowned my / own family
All for love / All for love.”
The Lake – Typhoon

Madoka Rebellion

I’ve been planning on writing about Madoka Rebellion for a long time now, but Rebellion really hasn’t made it easy for me. It’s a strange beast – both reflective of Madoka Magica and totally apart from it, a continuation in some ways, a betrayal in others. Though you can certainly critique it as a film in its own right, it only really unfolds when you put it in context – and when a film’s context is “an emerging sea change in the process of media engagement,” it can be kinda hard to sum up the film as Good or Bad! If you’re looking for a simple takeaway, I believe Rebellion is a beautiful film and a terrible sequel – but why that is, and what its existence actually reflects, will take a little unpacking to explain. To understand Rebellion, you really have to understand Madoka Magica – so let’s begin there, with the series that started it all.

An Ever-Present Hope

“Me and the director, we’re always thinking ‘what should we do next with this?’ If you guys have any ideas, let us know.”
Gen Urobuchi

Madoka Magica is a beautiful show. Not just in an aesthetic sense, although it does have gorgeous aesthetic sensibilities. From its crayon-eye characters to its witch-world mixed-media nightmares to its dramatic flourishes, it is certainly a visually impressive thing. But to me, Madoka’s beauty is most strongly expressed in its holism – its absolute structural integrity as a story and message. I’ve expressed how it articulates many of Gen Urobuchi’s common points before, but the story those points are framed in is itself a bulletproof narrative construction, finely paced and rife with self-reflections.

Madoka Rebellion

The story of Madoka Magica is a continuous cycle, which reflects on both the twists of the narrative (such as the fact that the current plot is secretly just one more articulation of Homura’s story), as well as its thematic resolution (where the suffering of humankind and our attempts to rise above it chase each others’ tails in a tragic, beautiful arc for all eternity). The characters seem “doomed” in a way more fundamental than “bad things will happen” – the cycles of our nature and our fate are imbued in both the narrative and their individual arcs. Kyouko initially hates and then comes to sympathize with Sayaka because Sayaka is her – because Kyouko sees in her a reflection of her old self, a version of her at an earlier point in that tragic cycle. And Kyouko attempts to break that cycle, to save her, and she fails, but her failure is still a beautiful, heartrending thing.

In the show’s second half, we learn that Kyouko and Sayaka are actually themselves another reflection, a mirror of the relationship Homura and Madoka share. The initial Homura is the Madoka we know – timid, self-effacing, desperate to please. Like Kyouko, our current Homura has been beaten down by the nature of the world, and she wishes to save Madoka from that fate. She can’t, ultimately – Madoka cannot be saved, because none of us can be rescued from the world itself. Kyuubey is an antagonistic force, but not a “villain” to be defeated – he represents the universe itself, and you can’t cheat death, can’t make the universe kind.

Madoka Rebellion

But in the end, Madoka makes of herself an undying representation of what all the series’ brightest moments point to – the fact that, in spite of our world being a cruel, inescapable one, a world constructed of cycles we cannot escape, we will always try. We will always struggle, for others if not for ourselves. We give of ourselves, lend our empathy to the world. Kyouko thinks she is happy to exist in the system, but Sayaka gives her something to save. Homura is tormented by the trials of a thousand past selves, but Madoka is her reason to hope. The world beats us down, but we raise each other up. If anyone says there’s no reason to hope, we’ll tell them they’re wrong every single time.

An Ill-Remembered Dream

“Puella Magi Madoka Magica leaves a lot of room for fanfiction and fan interpretations, and we want all of those to be made. We don’t think there’s any need to close off the gaps fans have to create those kinds of works. Actually, we decided to continue the story specifically to make this world bigger and more fun to play with.”
Akiyuki Shinbou

Madoka Rebellion is a beautiful film – and this time, I do mean it aesthetically. Whatever else you say of it, that fact cannot be denied. It features stunning, otherworldly cityscapes, tremendous feats of animation, lights and colors to dazzle the senses, mixed media battles and sequences designed purely to instill a sense of aesthetic awe. Rebellion is a gorgeous thing.

Madoka Rebellion

It’s also a broken thing. A messy, disjointed thing. A combination of many things assembled, some of them perfectly designed, others simply conjured from nothing. It is not a perfect cycle, not a clean articulation of the human spirit. Its narrative wanders, it contains many loose ends. It is as imperfect as we ourselves are, and through that it reflects us in more ways than you might have guessed. On some levels, it works magnificently. On others, it’s a total failure. But it’s certainly interesting, and it’s certainly beautiful. And as its own story, it very nearly works.

Rebellion is a very different kind of story from Madoka Magica. It’s not tightly paced, it’s not full of reflections on humanity versus the universe. It’s a mood piece, largely, and it is very good at being that. Its languid first act builds a strange, indulgent world, Madoka Magica re-envisioned as a traditional, almost unnervingly upbeat magical girl narrative. Instead of efficiently landing plot beats and emphasizing Madoka’s feelings of worthlessness, the narrative is filled with smiling faces, and the camera pans slowly and lovingly over its world, its theatrics, its characters. Instead of fights being briefly beautiful and horrifically sudden affairs, they’re drawn out, featuring extended dance sequences and ending in cake-song non sequiturs. The film goes a full half hour before anything really happens, building a hazy, dreamlike mood and reveling in all the indulgences the original series was too focused to allow.

Madoka Rebellion

When the shift comes, it comes like everything else in the film – slowly, beautifully, and strangely out of step with the original. Homura begins to realize something is not right – she feels what we feel, what our conditioning of the original has taught us to feel, what the camera laughingly portrays through its brilliant framing and constant visual flourishes. She interrogates Kyouko, who now exists in a form completely unrecognizable from the original (as do all the characters, to greater and lesser extents). They discover things are not right. They realize their world is a lie.

As a mood piece and puzzle box, Rebellion is more or less a success, as rewarding as it is indulgent (I keep coming back to that word, but it’s inescapable – there is no economy of storytelling either visually or narratively in Rebellion. Everything is huge, extended, taken to its furthest limit and held there for as long as the producers presumably tolerated. The film is in love with itself). It abuses both Homura’s time travel powers and Madoka Magica’s universe-altering finale to set up a world where characters are not what they seem, all versions of themselves scattered across multiple timelines, and it’s up to Homura to gather the clues and break the veil. On an aesthetic level, it creates a powerful sense of atmosphere, and rewards the viewer with constant visual delights. On a narrative level, it generally entertains, letting itself go with extended shootouts and dances and visual flourishes, but only really sagging in its twist-for-its-own-sake final act.

Madoka Rebellion

That twist – Homura’s betrayal – is foreshadowed by the narrative, but that foreshadowing is contained to one isolated scene and various visual hints. Unlike Madoka Magica, it does not come as a summation of all that has passed – the movie builds to a finale, and then something else happens. It’s a failure of the film, almost certainly – it involves rewriting characters, displays none of the narrative grace of the original series, and outright betrays the message of the original. But in a way, I’m actually thankful for Homura’s betrayal – because otherwise, my review would probably end here. Hopefully you’ve noticed that I’ve actually reviewed this film, as in “outlined its component parts,” which is something I pride myself on very rarely doing. Standard, evaluative reviews imply a film is a simple, surface-level narrative, not to be engaged with – and if Rebellion didn’t betray its maker, it would be that. A superfluous but visually engaging adventure that makes use of the tools of the original without adding anything truly poignant of its own. That’s what Rebellion is, by and large – it’s not a great film, but it’s beautiful and entertaining enough to certainly be worth a watch. But in its betrayals of the original series, Rebellion manages to reveal itself as both less and more than a simple sequel.

A Beautiful City of Ash and Bone

Question: What was your impression when you saw the approved screenplay for Rebellion?

“I thought it was really great as a work of fiction. But I didn’t know if it would be a good way to end the movies.”
Miyamoto Yukihiro

So far, I haven’t really dug into the characters and themes of Rebellion, which is mainly because Rebellion destroys Madoka’s characters and desecrates its themes. Madoka Magica was a story about struggle, hope, and consequences. It was a story about the distance our individual empathy can go in a pitiless larger world. Rebellion abandons that larger, implacable context and thematic frame, that overarching message of optimistic realism, and replaces it with a narrative that’s… well, pretty much purely a narrative. A narrative that makes use of the overt trappings of the original – its characters and worldbuilding mechanics – but applies them to something that’s more or less just a shocking sequence of events. A beautiful spectacle.

Madoka Rebellion

When the story begins, you barely recognize these characters. They are significantly altered versions of themselves, with different personalities, different priorities. Eventually, you learn this is allegedly because the world of the film is Homura’s dream reality – a fantasy she conjured, an idealized life. Kyouko is no longer a resolute survivor – she’s just a snarky girl, one who seems to be already in some kind of relationship with Sayaka, who actually returns her affection. Madoka has none of the personal strength she gained in the previous series. Mami is her falsely confident self. In spite of this, the plot assumes you’re actually still identifying with these characters, these facsimiles of the people you knew. They are never fully articulated within this film, so engagement requires believing in these characters as you once believed in them, even though they are no longer the people they once were. Their altered selves generally make narrative sense (well, some do), if you follow the logic knots of which reality each of these various characters come from, but is that supposed to result in empathizing with them in a human sense? Are you supposed to identify with these altered characters even through the esoteric excuses for their behavior offered by the narrative? Are you supposed to say, “ah, I see, this is the Kyouko I’ve learned to respect if she’d never undergone any of the experiences that defined her as a human being”?

Not really, no – that seems impossible to me. The film’s restructuring of its characters damages it irreparably on an emotional level, with the twists of the narrative itself ultimately taking precedence over emotional engagement or thematic power. The story explains that these characters have “had their memories altered and personalities changed” – but that choice being “forgiven” by the narrative does not make the film a success as a sequel. It makes Rebellion a new story acted out with Madoka-character action figures. Homura requires a reason to believe Madoka regrets her actions from the series, and so Madoka is rewritten to regret those actions. Sayaka is needed to provide cryptic clues and make Homura question her own actions, and so the story decides she is no longer blunt, headstrong, or overly concerned with “what is right.” The story’s blatant revisions makes identifying with these characters impossible, because they are not the characters we knew.

And yet, in spite of all this, the audience does identify with them. How is that even possible?

Madoka Rebellion

Because once the initial dream fades away, and the narrative begins to investigate what it’s really about, it becomes clear this isn’t really Homura’s dream. Homura never dreamt of herself and Mami having an indulgent, ten-minute magical girl battle. Homura never wished Sayaka, who never really understood Kyouko in the initial story, would come back in order to give her a love confession. Homura demonstrated no interest in having her friends play out a textbook magical girl fantasy, complete with tag-team attacks for all the favorite pairings. Homura didn’t – but someone else certainly did.

This is the dream of the fandom.

A Mirror Dimly Lit

“Sayaka is yet another character who’s been rounded out by the fans after the TV show ended. I think that we all created her character together.”
Akiyuki Shinbou

Rebellion is very clearly an act of “communal creation” – most of the things it does, most of the turns it indulges in, are reflective of what the audience wanted it to be. It was actually a brilliant stroke of Rebellion’s creators to frame the story as an actual dream world, because little else could have justified the indulgences Rebellion wallows in. The entire first act is a kind of fanservice, offering the audience the happy dream of these characters it feels they’ve “earned.” The relationship between Sayaka and Kyouko was never truly pushed into the romantic in the original series – it could have gone there, certainly, but their original link was that Sayaka reminded Kyouko of herself. Here, what subtext the audience made real is now assumed by the narrative itself – Sayaka and Kyouko are the Sayaka and Kyouko the audience wanted them to be, destined lovers parted by fate. Madoka betraying her original sacrifice may directly contradict the character and message of the original, sure, but it lets us justify a Devil Homura, something the fans were surely thrilled to see. Rebellion isn’t about the irrepressible nature of the human spirit – Rebellion is about making the audience happy.

Madoka Rebellion

This may seem like a harsh condemnation of Rebellion. That’s partially true – I do think Rebellion is less of a work because it fails to make true use of the tools of the original to make a unified thematic statement, and I do think its betrayal of the original characters robs it of emotional impact. Fanservice isn’t bad because it’s fanservice – it’s bad because it is not the best tool for the story being told. It’s bad because it’s not meaningful (in fact, it often robs a story of meaning), it’s just fan-pleasing. Works that are simply reflective of their audience’s desires tend to contain little inner spark – you can end up with works like Chuunibyou Ren, which are no longer reflective of any central insight or true life experience, and are now simply about themselves, and what audiences want them to be.

Art is generally the act of an artist taking something that is true for them, something they find meaningful or poignant or important or even just entertaining, and attempting to convey it in a universal way. Attempting to make it true to human experience. And when artists do strike at things that come across as “true,” they provide stories from which people can take back their own interpretations – if the fundamental core of what is being expressed parses as true, the audience will be able to relate it to their own experiences and desires, personalize it, make it true for them. But when these personal interpretations are plugged back in to the original work, the universality is often lost – what was originally something everyone could relate to is now only true in the way some particular audience desired it to be, robbing it of the ambiguity that fostered that original, broader engagement.

Madoka Rebellion

And beyond that, directly indulging fans often just leads to, unsurprisingly, indulgent works. Works that make the audience happy, but do not challenge them. Imagine if End of Evangelion had been two hours of Shinji kissing girls, beating up angels, and telling his dad to go screw. Yes, that would certainly have made some fans happy – but the ambiguity of the original ending, the harshness of it, is what gave it its power. It’s what makes a work stay with you, change you, invite you to engage with it and possibly extend the narrative in your own way. I’ve written before about how what a character wants is generally not what a character needs – well, that’s true of fans as well as characters. And letting your work be dictated by fan desires generally ends up running into the issue of fans not being particularly great writers. Artists willing to challenge audiences, to make people unhappy with their work, will always, always, always be necessary.

A Rising Tide

“A cynic might argue that the Vocaloid phenomenon of Hatsune Miku in the twenty-first century, along with the continuing subgenre of how-to manuals, software, and education, is yet another level of attrition, with some anime viewers now being asked to provide their own content. But this is not necessarily a bad thing.”
– Jonathan Clements, Anime: A History

But as I said initially, defining Rebellion as a reflective work is only partially a condemnation. Because Rebellion isn’t just some isolated case. Rebellion is reflective of what all art is becoming, of shifts in media and communication that are changing the fundamental relationship between creator and consumer. Twenty years ago, creators created things and audiences consumed them. There were critics and public backlash and fandoms, but there was still a distance between creator and consumer. Today, fans talk to their favorite creators on twitter. Creators share things they’re working on as they’re working on them. Fans directly decide what they want to support, through vocal campaigns or fandom organizations or crowdsourcing. Ten years ago, you could just get away with being a creator of specific works. Today, creators are themselves brands, and their own platforms are critical. Creators are a component of their own fandom communities.

Madoka Rebellion

And this doesn’t only go one way – this doesn’t just mean creators are moving closer to fans. It also means fans are becoming creators. It’s a trend reflective of web culture at large – people want to be validated, want to feel like they are contributing to something larger than themselves. As our relationship with media changes, the ways we reflect that relationship change as well – culture democratizes itself, and fandom shifts from a passive group of appreciators to a group of active creators, who recontextualize the things they love through community and the self-expression of fan art, fan fiction, fan theorizing. In the age of internet communities, media engagement is becoming a fundamentally performative experience.

It should be obvious, but this is far from an anime-specific thing – it’s a media culture thing, reflected in everything from Sherlock fandoms to RWBY. As media appreciation becomes an active component of identity and social engagement, we consume each other’s media, and a common mythology builds on itself, leading to “conventional wisdom” and accepted elements of artistic objects that weren’t even necessarily present in the original. Sayaka and Kyouko’s relationship may be an interpretation of the text, but it is given life through that constant reinterpretation – meaning is now a communal creation. When this reflects back in the source works themselves, it may lead to indulgent work, yes – but at this point, there is no alternative. For better or for worse, the new media paradigm is both empowering and irreversible.

Madoka Rebellion

Granted, anime has essentially always been reflective of its audience, as much of media is. Part of the power of media is that it can capture the sentiments of a historic moment or cultural movement, and as a commercial medium, anime is largely designed to please. Anime’s “media mix” of various commercial objects that all add up to a larger “truth” of what a given property entails has existed for a long, long time. Anime might be somewhat ahead of the curve in directly processing shows as reframings of communal fan touchstones, but that’s both not a recent phenomenon and doesn’t make it unique. If the process of communal creation signified by works like Rebellion simply implies the removal of a middleman, a committee convened to figure out what fans want and give it to them, then nothing is truly lost here. And if this has always been the case, then another truth of anime’s history is equally relevant – fan desires and commercial needs aside, art always finds a way. Great creators will make great works. Rebellion is more reflective than meaningful, but that does not mean all such works must be. The new normal has perhaps not yet yielded masterpieces of communal creation, but the future is wide open.

A Reason to Hope

“It’s impossible to stop change; there will always be new experiences going on in the world. I don’t think it’s possible to say change is bad or can be avoided. Trying to not change, to stay stagnant, is not good.”
– Hiroshi Nagahama

When I saw Dai Sato earlier this year, he spoke at length on this topic – on the new world of community-defined properties, and the new creator-consumer paradigm. But he didn’t express fear at this change, and didn’t seem concerned that this would result in a world of indulgent, meaningless retreads. He was excited – excited at the possibilities it offered, excited at the thought of fans pushing artists forward and challenging them to find new answers. He wasn’t worried fans would be content with empty fanservice – he assumed they would demand more than that.

Madoka Rebellion

Perhaps that can even be considered the final message of Rebellion. Even if creators give us exactly what they think we want, we are smarter than that – we’ll demand the harshness of reality, the bracing wind of truth. Ultimately, art will win through – not just because artists are passionate individuals who will never give up its pursuit, but also because something inside us demands art, demands scathing reflection, and can see when the happiness we are offered is a lie. Just like Homura in Rebellion, who is given everything she thinks she wants, and yet tears it all down anyways. Just like Sayaka and Madoka at its end, who struggle against the pacifying influence of Homura’s selfish personal world. We rally against simplistic happiness. We cannot be contained.

Do I think this message was intended by the text? Maybe, I guess? The film certainly does play in some interesting space with Homura’s desires, and her ultimate choices could easily be framed as the selfish, nearsighted desires of a jealous fandom. But in the context of everything I’ve just discussed, does that really matter? What we take from the text is our own – if a work is rich and strange and full of personality, we can construct our own meaning.

Madoka Rebellion

In the end, the fact of this somewhat counters my own initial complaint. Yes, Rebellion doesn’t feel like a coherent sequel to me – and that saddens me, and I wish it were greater than it is. But as a child of the internet age, I can still find something worth taking in it, and share that meaning with others. We need passionate artists, desperately – they provide an immeasurable service to the world. And we need works like Eva Rebuild, angry at complacency, demanding better of us. But we also should be open to exploring the gifts of this new communal world of creation, and seeing what new meanings this strange evolution in media can provide. Creators should never stop bleeding themselves in the pursuit of truth and beauty, but consumers should also never stop constructing their own beautiful truths.

“Personally, I feel like I wrote all there is to Madoka in the TV series, and now I’ve written all there is to Homura in this movie. I feel like I’ve had both of them graduate. Anyway, I think that a school where a god and a devil are in the same class is pretty funny. If people use that to make new stories, I’ll be happy. I want this to be the kind of story where everyone will want to imagine their own sequel.”
Gen Urobuchi

50 thoughts on “The Rising Tide: Madoka Rebellion and Communal Culture

  1. I really have only minor quibbles. You rather brush over the fact that a large portion of the fandom is very much not happy with “Devil Homura” and for some thats rather understating the point.

    The movie heavily indulged in what I wanted to see, so I was quite happy with it.

    • Yeah, this review touches on some interesting themes but oversimplifies the relationship between viewer and work tremendously. It’s also frustrating that nobody is allowed to admit to enjoying the film without a “but don’t worry I know it’s just indulgent fanservice” qualifier.

      I have never encountered a fan whose ideal ending involves Homura dismantling Madoka’s sacrifice, ripping away her memories to imprison her in a false dream, and becoming sin incarnate. Whenever I’ve encountered anything like that in fan works, it’s always posited, and viewed by readers, as a very dark development, a bitter pill to swallow, a BAD END.

      This is Homura’s ideal fantasy – and a version of it perverted by lust and insanity at that – not the audience’s. If it’s the audience’s wish, it’s a mutilated one, one run through a blender – recognizable, perhaps, but irreversibly changed. It’s a number of elements (some) fans wanted to see, brought crashing down in a more depressing twist than anything the original series delivered.

      Works like Madoka are so intensely popular that fans will, over the years separating installments, have inevitably explored just about any premise the creators could dream up. Creators and fans are working from the same base product, after all! But this doesn’t make the creators’ work a hollow regurgitation of some fandom wishlist. Quite the opposite of bobduh’s interpretation, I see it as Urobuchi still staking claim over a story so many of us desire to take as our own. He may want fans to build upon the work, but he’s still leaving an indelible mark on the template they’ll be using. It’s obvious if you look at post-Rebellion fan works.

      Rebellion still managed to shock most of its viewers, me most certainly included. It was a huge challenge for me to process. I loved it, I adored it, it’s one of my top 3 films ever, but it affected me in very complex ways. As in, “took off work the following Monday because I could not stop thinking about it or concentrate on anything else” ways. For me, this was by no means but a feel-good popcorn flick that ticked off my fetish checkboxes. Obsessing over its “indulgent” nature, where indulgent is posited as the antonym of “artistic intent”, is something I’ll never understand.

      • Oversimplification

        All arguments about art are that. There’s too many angles you could take, I chose the one I found most compelling.

        Nobody is allowed to enjoy the film as anything but indulgent

        I’m definitely not saying that! This is my article – I could append an “in my opinion” to every single sentence, but I figure that goes without saying. I’ve gotten a variety of comments framing the film as you more or less do – as an intentional exploration of personal perfect worlds. Personally, the film did not convince me that that was what it was – and aside from that, I found the choices made to make it unsatisfying as a sequel, because it divorced itself from the characters and ideas of the original. But that’s still a perfectly valid read of the film, not something I’m trying to “deny” anyone.

    • I actually didn’t know Devil Homura was so unpopular! I would have adjusted some of the final paragraphs if I had – if Urobuchi knew that would be an unpopular choice, than the idea of Homura representing fan selfishness itself actually becomes much stronger.

      • More controversial than unpopular. There is an absolute explosion of fanart of her, and the character is incredibly /pervasive/ in fan work now, and the movie did of course bring in a historic amount of money at the box office for a late night anime adaptation (as in, the most ever) and exceptionally large DVD/BD sales as well.

        She /became/ very popular, I’d say, but only after challenging the hell out of the fanbase, some of whom decided they simply couldn’t accept what happened. She wasn’t what fans “wanted” going into the theater, for sure! I’m pretty confident that most fans wanted the ending we thought we were getting when Madoka descended on Homura at the end – right before Homura opened her eyes, and proceeded to turn absolutely everything upside down.

      • Basically yeah. Homura’s actions do make sense given the (arguably somewhat insufficient) buildup, especially the scene in the flower field. However thats not the ending the fans wanted. The fans wanted Homura to go with Madoka, to “live” eternally with her etc etc. Instead we get what Homura has wanted. What she wanted from the very beginning. She…gets Madoka. On her terms. She gets to be with and “protect” Madoka, which is what she always wanted.

        Now I don’t think the current situation is sustainable, and the final scenes pretty obviously set up the potential for a new story.

        And yes lots and lots of fans LOATHE Devil Homura and what she did to Madoka.

      • @fencedude
        Indeed, not sustainable at all. And Homura knows it! She knows she can’t contain Madokami forever, the penultimate scene in the school hallway drives that home pretty hard. She knows she’ll end up fighting Sayaka, and the others along with her. She knows this is all only temporary.

        Which is incredible setup for another movie! A movie that would contain many things I want to see, because the creators have set the stage, not because we fans have dictated it to them. Really no different from how I feel about the TV series.

      • Oh, Urobutchi knew that it would tear up the fan base, between people like rabble and individuals like Froborr (http://mlpomo.blogspot.com/2014/06/against-homura-rebellion.html) and peons and people like you.

        And no, while there ware fan works aplenty about Goddess Madoka and Prophet Homura living cute, yuri slices of life, I doubt most people wanted, let alone conceived of the possibility, that Homura would become the antagonistic equivalent of a devil. Any conception of it would be as the poster before you stated: an undesirable BAD END. And for many people, myself included, Homura’s transformation is undesirable. But unlike you, I don’t think Homura’s transformation was a revision of her character, or even necessarily something unforeseeable.

      • The fans wanted Homura to go with Madoka, to “live” eternally with her etc etc. Instead we get what Homura has wanted.

        Urobuchi gave fans what they wanted, premise-wise. He also showed them where it’d end up.

        Fans were the ones who wanted their premise, and then also toy with the characters’ personalities and motives, twisting it all the way. He gave them the twisted premise, but showed them where the characters would take it.

        Fan-fiction can only exist as it does because it knows it’s fan-fiction, because it knows the original work is still there, safe from it. Well, what if it weren’t?

      • I actually didn’t know Devil Homura was so unpopular! I would have adjusted some of the final paragraphs if I had.

        Ehhhhh.

        Even if it’s true, I wouldn’t. Isn’t that the whole point, of giving people what they ask for, which is not what they want?

      • I would argue that Rebellion as a whole is very much a condemnation of the fanbase.

        The world at the beginning of Rebellion is Homura’s ideal world. It’s also what many people thought the series when it was first announced, and what the viewers ended up wishing would happen once the darkness of Madoka Magica revealed itself. Thus, in some ways, Homura’s world is the fan’s ideal world. Which suggests that either the viewers have been trapped by Homuras barrier (there are signs clearly directed to the audience), or that Homura represents the fanbase.

        In either case, Homura’s world is not real – much like the fanfiction people write for Madoka Magica. No matter how many times people write a happy ending, it doesn’t change the “reality” of the series. The fact that Homura’s world is also portrayed as silly and ridiculous suggests that the viewer’s desires are ultimately a childish fantasy, and an escape from crushing reality.

        The ending shows exactly how subversive Rebellion is trying to be. It is the happy ending many viewers wanted to see – not the ending where Homura goes to heaven, but the ending where Sayaka and Madoka are impossibly revived and finally get to live out a happy life with Homura, Kyoko, and Mami. (I have seen enough fancomics to know that there are many people who wanted this ending – I know I certainly wanted this ending.)

        And Rebellion gives us that ending, but like everything in Madoka, it comes with one hell of a price tag. And if Homura represents the fanbase, then her transformation into a devil suggests the whole thing is our fault, isn’t it?

        (I would also argue that the movie is about Homura as a character, exploring her motivations and her relationships to the others. It also seems to attack some of the misconceptions people have had about her character – which is again another way the movie attacks the fanbase.)

  2. An excellent essay, lots of really great stuff to chew on. I’m personally incredibly interested in this evolving form of communal creation; what began as a “remix generation” has evolved into something a lot more fluid and difficult to define. I especially enjoyed your consideration on the implications on the artistic validity of a work that is so entrenched pleasing its fanbase. It reminds me of your dissection on Eva 3.33 (which actually gave me course to reconsider my, lets say less than glowing reception to that particular movie :P); does a work inspired by or continuing another story stand on its own if its most interesting ideas, its most challenging play, rely heavily on the emotional impact generated by the original work?

    Food for thought, indeed!

  3. Surprised to see no mention of Bebe, a character that is pretty much a microcosm of the stuff you’re talking about here: a character created solely to incorporate and reflect the fandom’s thoughts and desires, and sell those back to them in figma form. A character with little to no practical narrative purpose, and is yet inseparable from Rebellion’s actual goals.

    • There’s so much stuff to choose from on that front, and I figured it’d be most efficient to illustrate the “problem” of this situation by talking about how it affects the character writing. I could also probably have done a paragraph about how the Homura-Mami fight is an absurd digression storytelling-wise, but was actually one of the most inevitable beats fandom-wise.

  4. Thoughtful and articulate as usual. I really commiserate with somekindofthing above. I couldn’t stop thinking about Rebellion Story for weeks after watching it, and continued searching out related articles and such for months. I actually was not terribly optimistic going into the film, exactly because of the exceptional “holism” the show had, as you pointed out. At most, it would be a beautiful fluff piece: Homura going through her Great Tribulation before Madoka’s Second Coming and Rapture, all as foretold by the Scriptures of the show’s canon. Enjoyable, but essentially an afterthought. Instead, it dared to turn the tables and forge a new, unexpected and thought-provoking path. Sure, it had to pry open the tightly-sealed original in several spots to achieve that, but I am so glad it did. In the end, I guess I’m not as concerned as you are with Rebellion’s inconsistencies and performance as a “sequel”. As Shinbou remarked:
    “I think of the TV series as complete in and of itself, and that it doesn’t need a continuation. Beginnings and Eternal were necessary to Rebellion, and my personal interpretation is that Rebellion continues from these two movies rather than the TV series.” I wouldn’t mind thinking of Rebellion Story as something like a fanfiction from the original authors (being a fan of your own work isn’t unreasonable, is it?), in fact, I’m rather enthused by the concept. Not surprising, considering I engage in one of the most fan-driven fandoms of all, Touhou Project.

    At the heart of it all is indeed Homura and her “twist ending”. In the controversy over her “Rebellion” lies the film’s greatest success, what gives it its own mouthpiece instead of simply echoing the show. The things you mentioned that made the original ending powerful–harshness, ambiguity, challenging the audience–Rebellion’s ending had those in spades, and not merely in a derivative way but one that fostered new engagement and interpretation. There’s plenty of evidence for that in all the responses I’ve read in the past few months, including this very post of course. That’s something I think most fans (creators included!) can consider a success.

    • It’s certainly sparked some conversations, and yeah, the Rebellion is clearly what shifted it from “enjoyable but superfluous” to whatever interesting thing you actually want to make of it. It’s a signpost in a continuing conversation now, which is probably more than anyone expected of it.

  5. In a similar way to fencedude I have greatly differing opinions on what the Devil Homura transformation means in terms of fanservice, while it is certainly true that some fans liked this, many were greatly upset. While arguably this was exactly what fans wanted, canonizing Homura’s feelings for Madoka it was also horrific. While the yuri fandom particularly in Japan has an obsession with purity, Homura’s feelings are anything but pure. In much the same way as the original we were told to be careful what we wished for. While Kyubey was tortured, to fans delight, the continued existence of the universe was thrown to the wayside. What fans wanted and what the world needed were in contrast. And we were told to feel guilty.

    With regards to the characters in the film, since it’s a character study is really only about a character singular. Granted, I agree it’s a shame that Homura was really the only character to get much development, especially given the richness of the originals cast. Regardless, I don’t feel that the characters were betrayed, Madoka acted as she would have without the trauma of the original series that led to her wish. While its odd to see the regression (as opposed to development) of characters it was vital to distinguish one of the key flaws of Homura’s reasoning, even if Madoka would be happier after her intervention, she would not be as fulfilled. As much as Sayaka reciprocating Kyouko’s feelings (whether romantic or platonic) is something that wasn’t the case in the original, the scene with Kyousuke at the end cements that Sayaka still has feelings for him. If anything the fandom is once again attacked for our desires to have a world in which none of the characters had suffered, because Homura’s manipulation of their memories is prayed as a great evil.

    Furthermore I find your review discounts the merits of Rebellions themes. The whole point is that the work contrasts its predecessor, while selflessness is praised in the original, it is critiqued in the later, while the original preaches to accept the imperfect, Rebellion is insatiable. Rebellion spits in the face of the original series, but at the same time much of its criticism is deserved. Can someone seriously expect someone who spent a decade (44 days maximum per cycle, around 100 cycles) as a child soldier to just accept that there reason d’être is unattainable?

    I agree, Rebellion had many blatant flaws, where as the original Puella Magi Madoka Magica is notable for its overall near perfection, but I do think Rebellion is a work worthy of praise for more than just it’s production values.

    • I like the idea of the film punishing the instinct to wipe out the hardships of the original series – it’s true that a lot of the ways this film fails, or even apparently fails to make fans happy, are based in the consequences of denying the critical character growth the original prompted in virtually everyone.

  6. Excellent article! I’m not fond of a drastic re-telling of a story just because (and I like the original too much), but your interpretation represents an important evolution of the relationship between artist and fanatic that needs to be acknowledged. Fan pandering; giving the audience what they want has shown to be very toxic (see: Sword Art Online), but not /all/ fanatics are a sentient blob of bad ideas and it is always good to take criticism and ideas from all angles. I haven’t thought about it until this essay, but I would love to see a piece of work that lovingly combines an artist’s expression and his/her admirers dreams.

    If such a thing already exists, then I’d love to know.

    • It is hard to wrap my head around how such a production would look, but I’m also very interested in seeing such things realized. It’s inevitable, at this point – we’re in the infancy of this media relationship, but things will be moving rapidly from here, I’m sure.

  7. I think I agree with pretty much everything you said here. Rebellion definitely had some artistic merit, but it still felt like it was mostly fanservice. Shaft provided fans with all the things that they wanted, but that’s almost never what’s best for the story as a work of art. Part of the impact of a dark and tragic work is that fans “want” the characters to be happy, but if you made them so, the work wouldn’t provide those emotions. The experience of such a work goes directly against what the fans wish for. Your audience cares about the characters, but you make the characters suffer and it hurts the fans, but that pain is what’s providing the experience. The wish-fulfillment aspect negates that altogether.
    For most of the the movie, it seemed like Rebellion would remain largely inconsequential to the original work, and only existed in the first place because Shaft wanted to make more Madoka (money). That wouldn’t have been a bad thing if it didn’t invalidate so many of the established characters in doing so, but it did.
    All that said, I still enjoyed the movie because Madoka is one of the only things I’d truly describe myself as a fan of, and it was virtually impossible for me not to be at least somewhat happy at said fanservice. The movie still felt like it played it too safe up until the end though. Devil Homura was actually the part of the movie that felt like a real continuation of the story and not merely an epilogue, yet it did feel completely disjointed from the rest of the narrative, probably because Urobuchi was persuaded to change the ending by the producers so that the series could continue. As such, it was an unexpected plot twist without nearly enough foreshadowing to back it up, unlike all of the original twists in the series, but it also felt to me like a natural evolution of Homura’s character. I actually think it might have been the best part of the film. I find Homura much more interesting as the demonic antagonist that she became than I ever have before. Yet it’s such a double-edged sword. I’m simultaneously excited and concerned for the future of the series. I resent the fact that the ending was changed at all, but I can’t help but want more Madoka, and want to see where the story goes now. At this point, I just hope it doesn’t get worse from here, and I really hope that whatever the final conclusion is mirrors that original ending, because it was perfect and didn’t need any changing to begin with.
    Also, fantastic essay. You nailed it.

    • Glad you enjoyed the piece! Like you, I’m not really “mad” at anything Rebellion did – Madoka Magica was basically flawless and complete, and a continuation doesn’t actually take away from that. I’m also very interested in seeing where Madoka goes from here.

  8. Uhhhh, this comment got really long. My apologies!

    As someone who consumes more fanworks than original material, it always strikes me how little those who don’t partake in fanworks that much, from creators to other fans, seem to miss the mark in their perceptions of what we, who revel in fanworks, really want.

    It is true that fanworks reflect things we desire that the source material does not give us. But part of the reason why things like Rule 34 and Rule 63 exist is that we recognize that fanworks are a declared fantasy space, meant to exist as an independent offshoot of the source material. The more a fanwork-maker or consumer appears to prefer more questionable fandom aspects, (especially unhealthy/taboo pairings) the more you can bet that they are very aware of how their fanwork preferences diverge from source material themes, and that the overlap in the venn diagram of “things I like in fanworks” vs. “things I want in source material” is tiny. (Just like the overlap in “things I like in characters/pairings” vs. “things I want in real-life friends/relationships”) I ship a lot of pairs that I know could not ever occur without some serious characterization changes, but I ship them anyways because that’s the freedom afforded to me by not having the responsibility of building canon.
    People can make some of the most amusing running gags in recaps or episode-by-episode reviews because they’re operating from a perspective that the recaps/reviews are for to be read by consumers only, not the creators. (Especially if they have those semi-sarcastic little “Author, if you’re reading this,” messages in their rants.)

    Most creators haven’t learned to parse out what we want in our source material from our fanworks. As more creators come from fannish roots, that gap is decreasing, but until then, we’re currently at this awkward junction where creators are massacring source material in order to give us what they think we want. As most of us are still used to the fan-creator divide paradigm, we’re used to not getting what we want, so we’ll take fanservice and enjoy it as empty carbs, but really, we just want the source material to be as good as it can be. (A note on who “we” are: the people making public reactions in the form of posts and fanworks, which then point to more specific desires than simply looking at who is buying what DVDs and merchandise. That’s why I can say with confidence that “we” aren’t the ones supporting the rise of pander-only fare.)

    A recent fandom where this happened was Lost Girl. It was slightly cheesy genre fare, so fans tended to single out and meme-ify the ridiculous bits, commonly termed in fanfiction as “crack.” Lost Girl’s 4th season seemed to be written completely according to crack, and many fans lost interest in the show because it was no longer good , even if it was wildly entertaining as a train wreck each week. Because fan interaction online is itself a performance, fanworks and recaps and general fannish interaction seemed focussed on the crack, as that was fun to talk about. Appreciation for the good writing is more of a personal thing, so we kept it to longer fanfictions (eternally unfinished) or just in private, taken for granted. I got the impression that Lost Girl’s creators did not have backgrounds as fans, so this was their first time coming in contact with fandom tendencies, and they took all of the wrong things away from it.

    In contrast, the creators of an excellent show, Orphan Black, have the fandom language down. They continue to acknowledge fandom in-jokes, fanworks, and memes in their promotional and social media efforts, but the important thing is that they recognize that the light-hearted wishes said by fans aren’t serious, and their acknowledgement of fandom only occurs in non-canon material. The source material canon is strictly committed to its themes and characterizations. This is because the creators recognize that no matter how we react to the show, and make our fanworks in reaction to it, our enjoyment actually comes from trusting the creators to deliver their vision, which we are privileged to consume. We don’t want canon and fandom to become an ever-reductive circle-jerk. Fanworks depend on source material to continue to provide strong original material, or at least strong potential, to work with.
    See also Orlando Jones’s tumblr, as the ultimate example of an actor speaking the fandom language and luxuriating in its silly indulgences, but not letting it affect the source material. He jokes constantly about shipping his own character with everyone in the Sleepy Hollow cast, but you’ll never see that reflected in his actual acting in the show.

    PMMM fans produced happy fanworks not because they truly wanted happy source material, but because they assumed that the creators would stick to their guns, and so fanworks could “reward” the girls, a reward fans assumed would not be given them in canon for good thematic reasons. Some of the humor in the badass-Homura-in-sunglasses memes came from the contrast to actual canon Homura, a contrast that goes away if canon starts taking its cues from fandom. It’s not funny anymore if canon, of all things, is explaining the joke! And nearly all of the the makers of those badass-Homura fanworks did a “not like this D:” reaction when Rebellion came out. (Same for HomuMado shippers in general)

    That’s why few are taking Anno’s angry messages in Rebuild seriously. (It also serves as how creators fail to interpret fan reactions and fanworks correctly.) Most of us get it. We know what messages Eva was articulating. Most of us even agree with it. That does not mean that we can’t also be entertained by deliberately consuming the same material again with different priorities. Lots of humorous media on Youtube intentionally misses the point in semiotically denser works, doing literal interpretations of the surface only, and is only funny if viewers already know the levels below that they’re ignoring. In reaction to going through a meat-grinder of a narrative, sometimes we have to produce fanworks of an opposite tone to show how much we care, but that is not mutually exclusive from still accepting the original messages and themes. Because the messages of Eva were so deeply personal, a true reaction to them is also deeply personal, and not so easy to be shared. So what’s left in public for the industry to analyze? Our shallower reactions, meant more to engender better social interactions with our fellow fans, than to truly showcase what we wanted from further source material.
    However, the creators then assume that those public reactions are the only ones we feel, reducing us to database animals whether we are or not, and either produce or criticize according to those assumptions. But since those conceptions weren’t accurate to begin with, we get works that either pander to things we don’t want in excess, (“Not like this. Not in the source material.”) or indict us for missing a point we didn’t miss in the first place, and so become a message that we feel do not apply.

    You also get cases where the source material is bad and the better fanworks show what could have been. See Glee and SAO. Would it have been better if the creator had listened to the crowd then? I think incompetent creators would still bungle better suggestions. So in the end, the burden is still mostly on the creator. A good one will know how to navigate fan reactions, listening to them or not, and a bad one won’t.

    In the end, I always feel the instinct to bristle at all of these Rebellion articles pointing out its fanservice nature, because those fans that first half is supposedly pandering to and the ending is criticizing? We didn’t need it. We didn’t need any of it. It wasn’t canon’s to take, so stop blaming us just because the industry doesn’t know how to read us right.

    • Thanks for the response! I wasn’t aware of the specific examples you raised regarding how some western shows interact with their fandom, and that’s an interesting thought – that the separation is required, and that the truly best choice is to simply nurture this relationship through non-canon material. I think you’ve got a somewhat rose-colored view of fandom in general (I’ve run into plenty of people who are utterly defensive of “their” text, and Anno isn’t reacting to a few scattered fanfics, he’s reacting to the life circumstances of the social group he considers himself a part of), but it’s interesting to hear that there’s a general acknowledgment of the distance between a work and its reinterpretations. Fanwork as a secondary expression of love, not as the reason a work is loved in the first place. I certainly sympathize with the creators who you describe as not understanding what this expression means, though – when your initial appreciation of the source material on its own merits is just implied, and all of your expressions of that appreciation are through reinterpretations of it, it seems natural to assume that those reinterpretations are why you love it.

      • Welp, look at me spewing word vomit and fucking up my very first sentence, after after several proofreads.
        it always strikes me:
        how little those who don’t partake in fanworks that much seem to know of of what we really want

        OR
        how much those who don’t partake in fanworks that much seem to miss the mark in their perceptions of what we really want.
        Damn double negatives.

        Also, Guy and anon pretty concisely sum up what I was trying to get at in much fewer words:
        Fan-fiction can only exist as it does because it knows it’s fan-fiction, because it knows the original work is still there, safe from it. –Guy
        The fact that Homura’s world is also portrayed as silly and ridiculous suggests that the viewer’s desires are ultimately a childish fantasy, and an escape from crushing reality. […] And if Homura represents the fanbase, then her transformation into a devil suggests the whole thing is our fault, isn’t it? –anon

        As Guy also notes, Rebellion is Urobuchi going “Well, what if canon wasn’t safe from fanworks?” which is a valid question for things like Vocaloid and Love Live and Strawberry Panic, but fans are more sensitive than creators think about which works are meant to be about auteur vision and which works allow communal participation in canon-building.
        As Anon points out, Urobuchi’s opinion is that we’re all willfully dismissing the depth for the fluff as a means of escapism, and that’s childish. My argument is that such a belief is shallow. The same people squeeing the hardest over the Mami-Homura fight, Bebe, and the cake song also include some of those who understand and agree with the original show’s themes the most, so Rebellion’s indictment seems petty and inaccurate.

        Anno’s and Urobuchi’s cynicism are not entirely wrong. Rei and Asuka have been coopted into becoming the champions of the things they were supposed to dismantle. However, I would argue that 1) those producing fanworks are not truly those who are propagating those tropes for the reasons that they are problematic, and that 2) there’s a chicken-egg cycle of marketting and fandom willfully missing the thematic points in favor of databasing that makes one party think it’s what the other party wants, and enough people going with the flow that it becomes the norm for surface fandom to be about the tropes, no matter what the source material is trying to do with them. This also includes a subsection of fanwork-fandom cycle, like someone making a sexy fanart of Asuka because they find her a compelling character, and another consuming the fanart as simply fap fodder, and sharing the fanart with friends as such.

        However, the specific targets Rebellion takes aim at is not that crowd. Rebellion targets those who loved the characters enough to want better for them, (rather than possess them) and those people aren’t going to be the ones ruining the industry or whatever, so I don’t see why the folks behind Rebellion decided that they should be punished for their love. It certainly isn’t the crowd Rebuild is raging at, but we all get lumped together as “fandom,” all to be condemned, and that’s annoying!

        In some ways, the decreasing gap between fan and creator is going to help these misunderstandings, as more creators come from fan roots, or creators delve more deeply into fandom and find the places where people are sharing less implied receptions, such as more analytical communities. The lack of “true” reactions publicly posted is also due to what Film Critic Hulk has said of people attributing their reactions to the wrong things due to lack of inflection and media education. Even fanworks producers who want to capture the original flavor of the source material may not be able to, from a limit of their ability/ambition/time/effort, and it might just be easier to throw out another Happy Fun Times AU and enjoy the clicks rolling in.

        (I also can’t shake some of the shades of hypocrisy on the part of the creators that this interpretation of Rebellion brings up. There’s an undertone of auteurs looking down upon those who prioritise fanworks with that old belief that we’re inferior for not producing original works. “If you really wanted a simple happy Magical Girl show, why don’t you go watch Precure or something? Don’t decimate the tone of PMMM!” The whole reason why people wanted to grant the PMMM girls a Precure world, and I have read PMMM Precure-AU fic, is that they have an emotional investment in PMMM, that PMMM’s tone and themes impacted them enough that they wanted to comfort/reward the cast. Rebellion tearing this world apart is essentially punishing them for the original show being so good. Senseless.)

  9. The notion to take Homura’s actions at the ending as a representation of fan selfishness is fascinating to me. The film does open with a sign saying “Welcome to cinema” on it, which I at first thought was just there to signify that the world it was taking place in was fabricated since it was Homura’s dream, but now I think maybe it meant something more than that.

    But argh, this movie is so frustrating for me, even with that interpretation. With or without it it shows me such a large ratio of stuff I’m not interested in seeing to stuff I am interested in seeing. It was worse without being able to think of it that way, since the fanservice elements seemed totally unnecessary to me without that context. But I don’t really participate in fandoms, so even with that context the whole thing feels distant to me, and it’s still all stuff I never understood the appeal of in the first place.

    • Yeah, there is suuuch a tremendous emotional distance in this film. On my second watch, I appreciated it more on a straight plot-and-aesthetics level, but it still felt like an extremely impersonal experience.

  10. Hmm.,, i find some problems with this review.
    in the start, some of your arguments started with a paragraph long affirmations about what you though of the movie, that is ok, this is part of your subjective view and aesthetic, but in the end they’re all just affirmations, so i can’t argue anything in that because of the lack of the construction to what lead in the conclusion x.

    But then, the text became a critic about fanservice itself, using the movie as an example of damage that fanservice, or influence from consumers can cause in a piece of work,
    , and i find very reductionist, well, i’ll argue about those two points then.

    Urobuchi don’t like sequels, this statement is what i conclude from his Fate/Zero volume 4 postface (http://www.baka-tsuki.org/project/index.php?title=Fate/Zero:Volume_4_Postface), Madoka is the first sequel of his original work that he worked since he joined Nitroplus, he decided to work on Madoka Magica Movie because the feedback from fans was giant, and as creator, he wanted to bring one more story about it because of this (Carefully to not fall in a tendencious interpretation).
    In VN medium, there are a lot of fanservice in the works, because you have to compete with nukiges and just a solid story won’t be enough, works like Phantom of Inferno sold bad and was saved by internet (According to Urobuchi), but that didn’t stop him and the most great writers in the medium (which had bad luck in anime medium, but some are luck enough to have a bit of fame, like Romeo Tanaka and Jinrui wa suitai shimashita), it’s very good example of how do you do fanservice, and at the same time write very good storyline, and then this became a differential between nukiges, who just sell because of its fanservice, and now, some of then don’t even need put h-scenes anymore.

    “Urobuchi: Well, since it is late-night animation, we never thought of the target audience. If it was more about selling toys and stuffs, we already had the final meeting on weapon which will be first to be worked on. In case of props design, it was being planned right until the deadline, which is simply not acceptable if it was project that focuses on merchandise.
    Aoki: Indeed. Rather than targeting something, I was more aware of not changing it a lot from the start. If I try to make design fit with Urobuchi’s script, the key point of this entire project might have been ruined. What we first asked was that it will be much enjoyable to work individually with individuality, so I worked thinking ‘let’s do it Aoki-like.’
    Urobuchi: Shinbo also said that we shouldn’t think a lot of target, but just make something fun. How unrestricted it is!…(laugh)
    Aoki: Rather than having fans who loves the completed work as a target, it was held off.
    Urobuchi: We can say that when ‘Madoka Magica’ sells. (laugh)”

    I’m very open with art, i think authors should do what they want, and not be repressed by its fanbase, hierarchical relation in the company, or society and political reasons (even minorities’s requests), people waste too much time in doing that, for example, when people tried to say that games are violent and whould turn the player in a violent person (The ‘monkey see, monkey do’ logic). or how something ‘ofensive’ should be removed from the market and culture should change (according to their own aesthetics), but in the end, their claim is countered by scientists, or other scholars (but this is a matter for another time), art is something so great that even something that is entirely fanservice has a place, and i don’t think that every piece of work should be expressed as a deep and insightful work, art is not about how deep and serious your idea is, its about expressing something, even if that is to make customers, or fans be happy.
    Said that, i don’t think that Madoka Rebellion is prejudiced by its fanservice, or its popularity, Gen said before it airs on the movies that would diverge opinions and cause repercussion, and he was right.
    Now my 2 cents about the movie, i think the key to understand the transition plot from the TV Series and the Movie is the burden that Madoka is helding since she became a law/god, She is not an superwoman, or a superhero, she is a ordinary high school girl who was very determined in the decision, and that decision was the only way to bring hope to the tragedy, Homura did not accepted it completely (and she couldn’t do nothing about it), in the end, Madoka tried to confort her saying that she will be watching her afterwards, and she tried to live with it (and she was already obssessive with Madoka, since she reset the timeline almost 100 times, to always get frustrated)
    Tragedy, the Mahou Shoujos fighting against the fate, a greater force threatening the destiny of Mahou Shoujos, all those themes was still preserved on the movie, the Kyuubei experiment is an example of that, in the worst case scenario, Homura would be trapped in her own despair forever, and the incubators would control Madoka, making her efforts worthless.
    As the story started with Homura already in the witch’s world, it was skipped a lot of details about Homura’s life or thoughts, but the end hinted that she was anticipating Madoka’s arrival even before Kyuubei experiment, which makes sense to why she ‘betrayed’ Madoka, unlike in the end of TV series, she couldn’t do anything about Madoka becoming a god/law, she couldn’t do anything to save her, but when Madoka was about to save Homura of becoming a witch, would be the only opportunity to Homura do anything about Madoka’s fate, and her obsession become love, which is only natural to happen, as she did more for Madoka than anyone else.
    So I don’t find that the characters (which most of then was just supporting), or the plot continuation was sacrificed to the fanservice in this movie, rather, public expectations or interpretations of the series was ‘betrayed’, which is normal to happen in sequels.

    Sorry if my post is too long, and sorry if i made some english mistakes.

    • While the ending doesn’t, I think, necessarily have to be seen as fanservice, or even betraying the themes of the original, the first half still goes on reeeaaally long with stuff that was fairly irrelevant to the themes expressed at the end, like the cake song, protracted magical girl transformation sequences, and pretty much any time spent on Bebe. I really saw her as a non-character who didn’t amount to much more than a set of traits falling into some moe archetype, at most someone for the fans who like shipping to pair off with Mami. This is why I like the interpretation that it was specifically crirtcal of fandom tendencies of altering characters or creating idealized situations.

      • It’s obvious that world is set up idealized by Homura, no one who see the TV-series or the first 2 movies would believe that is actually true world, so the irony in the happiness there can grow a doubt in the public, leaving a mistery of what is actually happening there (The sudden moment when Homura became her old self confirm that).

      • It is an idealized world, but I don’t see what makes it Homura’s idealized world specifically other than that it’s not really dangerous and depressing. I agree that that’s what they may have been going for, but I still don’t think that is the best reason for it to conform so strictly to established anime tropes.

      • @Popka: I would argue you’re looking at it backwards. The idealized world is meant to reveal more of Homura’s character. For example, it’s telling that Homura has placed herself in a support role, and it further implies that Homura really wants to be that girl in glasses.

      • That’s a very good point. Looking back on the series it probably is true that Homura wanted to be that girl in glasses. I won’t argue that it doesn’t reveal anything about Homura, but I’d still question the presence of lengthy transformation sequences and a new mascot (unless Homura watches a lot of magical girl anime). Although I don’t think the two interpretations have to be completely divorced from one another.

      • @popka:
        Honestly, when I saw the first Rebellion trailers I was like “Ah, Evangelion”. I don’t know how familiar you are with Eva, but in the anime’s last episode there’s a sequence where everyone is suddenly dropped into a school commentary – something Eva definitely isn’t. I get the same impression from Rebellion’s opening sequence as I do from that part of Evangelion – it’s a joke, played on us and played on the characters.

        As for the transformation sequences – I know that this is a Watsonian interpretation, but I recall an interview where the creators say Mami was responsible for it. And Mami really likes her magical girl trappings. So it’s not just Homura’s fantasy, but also Homura granting the collective fantasy of the other four magical girls.

  11. I’ll give you in regards to the ending that Rebellion, I’ll give you that the could have done better to better foreshadow Homura’s ultimate transformation for the worse (I felt it was too caught up in its self-conscious fan service that way), but I disagree that required a drastic revision of her character. Call me a cynic, but even by the Episode 12 of the TV series, Homura only reluctantly accepted Madoka’s final wish. It was a sacrifice Madoka took independent of Homura, and independent of her ability to stop, but, as she herself professes herself before jumping into battle that she didn’t actually accept Madoka’s ideals. She accepted it because of Madoka, and because of that, she’ll fight for her wish. Again, not for the wish itself, but for Madoka.

    So its complete anguish to her when she mistakenly believes that Madoka might not have been fully on board with her wish, and so, she returns back to her original endeavors. So yeah, I don’t think Homura really changed from her earlier destructive mindset. Which I don’t mind of her character at all. It’s something I find that I find really endearing about her, actually.

  12. After reading your article…I’m actually speechless.

    At first, I didn’t really agree with you basically saying that this movie is ONLY for the fans. That is MERELY one interpretation of it. The entire POINT of all the symbolism and motifs and metaphors here is to appeal to an audience who while watching this show, wants to be reminded of classical literature, anime and pop culture tropes they are either very familiar and comfortable with or have yet to experience at the time but would be willing to check out. They pack so much stuff into it because they ENCOURAGE alternate interpretations. Technically, anything good or bad we say about this film or the relationships of the girls is canon. And I think we ALL know what that means…

    Shinbo and Urobuchi have said countless times that while they may be fans of anime like Eva, Utena, Lain, Tutu, Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura and literature like Faust and Paradise Lost or even what Nietzsche has to say about the world…those aren’t the FIRST things on their mind when making this show. Shinbo does not direct like Anno and Ikuhara because he ‘wants to’ or the ‘fans want him’ to. It’s nothing like that. It’s mere coincidence that they later realize after they’ve made the finished product…”Oh, I was inspired by that. Gonna factor that in next time or make sure Inu Curry has some kind of obscure reference.”

    I do agree that PMMM as of this movie has become a fandom that is an example of communal culture, however, whenever somebody calls this film fanservice…I have to wonder which ‘fans’ they’re talking about. Is it the brilliant minds behind this franchise who have so many inspirations and worldly knowledge about the messages they want to deliver to their viewers no matter who they are or is it the fans who simply were in the minority in ‘not wanting another controversial ending where something bad happened to one of the characters but it fixed things for the time being’?

    They wanted closure, but I think that is impossible. With a storyline, characters, narrative thematics and complexities so rich, diverse and non-fluid…there is no way you can wrap a story like this up in 12 episodes or 3 films. There’s just no chance. And I wouldn’t want them to try either.

    If they enjoy making PMMM and still have more to contribute, and fans are still willing to watch no matter how much they complain (they’re still buying the tickets, buying the Blurays, talking about the film as if it matters regardless of their opinions on it and there’s a helluva a lot more merchandise that they’re buying so the films must be doing SOMETHING right)…I see ABSOLUTELY no issue with what Magica Quartet is doing. We certainly need more franchises like this in America. Let that be a lesson to you, Michael Bay.

    I welcome it. I think more people will watch this series or want to see what its about if it is more accessible…that means longevity and outreach. Make it go as long as a show like Tutu or Death Note, or even Utena, Higurashi When they Cry or Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. As long as the audiovisual experience and the story we all know and love is kept intact and even capitalized upon…the world’s shell is broken and infamous possibilities become reality…I have no problem with it.

    After all, it may be a ‘happy ending’…but is the story over? “Not yet.”

    As I read further, this something from that article which really kinda bugs me:

    “When the story begins, you barely recognize these characters. They are significantly altered versions of themselves, with different personalities, different priorities. Eventually, you learn this is allegedly because the world of the film is Homura’s dream reality – a fantasy she conjured, an idealized life. Kyouko is no longer a resolute survivor – she’s just a snarky girl, one who seems to be already in some kind of relationship with Sayaka, who actually returns her affection. Madoka has none of the personal strength she gained in the previous series. Mami is her falsely confident self. In spite of this, the plot assumes you’re actually still identifying with these characters, these facsimiles of the people you knew. They are never fully articulated within this film, so engagement requires believing in these characters as you once believed in them, even though they are no longer the people they once were. Their altered selves generally make narrative sense (well, some do), if you follow the logic knots of which reality each of these various characters come from, but is that supposed to result in empathizing with them in a human sense? Are you supposed to identify with these altered characters even through the esoteric excuses for their behavior offered by the narrative? Are you supposed to say, “ah, I see, this is the Kyouko I’ve learned to respect if she’d never undergone any of the experiences that defined her as a human being”?

    Not really, no – that seems impossible to me. The film’s restructuring of its characters damages it irreparably on an emotional level, with the twists of the narrative itself ultimately taking precedence over emotional engagement or thematic power. The story explains that these characters have “had their memories altered and personalities changed” – but that choice being “forgiven” by the narrative does not make the film a success as a sequel. It makes Rebellion a new story acted out with Madoka-character action figures. Homura requires a reason to believe Madoka regrets her actions from the series, and so Madoka is rewritten to regret those actions. Sayaka is needed to provide cryptic clues and make Homura question her own actions, and so the story decides she is no longer blunt, headstrong, or overly concerned with “what is right.” The story’s blatant revisions makes identifying with these characters impossible, because they are not the characters we knew.”

    …But that’s the ENTIRE POINT of a SEQUEL!!!! :O

    First of all, I think people (not singling you out btw) looking at the movie like this are really oversimplifying these characters (ESPECIALLY when they act like Sayaka and Kyouko got NO development compared to Homura or just don’t bother to write about it). I’ve said time and time again how much I love this film and how I still feel for the characters…but here’s the best example I can think of in justifying why and HOW this film is so good at what it set out to do.

    I turn your attention to the scene where Kyubey confronted Homura in her witch labyrinth and told her everything she knew and loved was a farce…a betrayal of the people and things she loves as well as a betrayal of herself. This is what I wrote about that scene:

    “One of the reasons that I genuinely love this scene in particular is that it gives me, the viewer/audience, the same feelings and thoughts that Homura must be having during this sequence. You feel nothing but pity and sympathy for her as she is experiencing grief, sorrow, confusion and anger all at once. And the audio, visuals, tension between her and Kyubey as well as everything that’s at stake here complements and juxtaposes with all of these feelings and thoughts you are and are not supposed to have while watching a scene like this.

    If the whole purpose of a scene like this as well as the entire film itself was to naturally provide themes and circumstances for these characters in which they would react in such a way that the audience can comprehend and relate to, then the film did its job and I applaud all of the people who took part in creating it. Additionally, if it was to give that sheer sense of empathy so that WE knew and cared about the character’s plight, and unlike in works such as Clannad or Angel Beats (no hate please, I just don’t like those shows very much myself) or any Hollywood melodrama chick flick, we weren’t being FORCED to cry or feel for certain characters in these circumstances because NOTHING about the characters in this film and what they go through is FORCED.

    That is a really hard feat to pull off in any form of media no matter how you slice it, and its a testament to the brilliance of the members of Magica Quartet and Shaft who were all responsible for making this masterpiece. With Akiyuki Shinbo’s innovative and enthralling direction and style, Urobuchi’s brilliant and sensitive yet brutally honest writing, Junichiro Taniguchi and Ume Aoki’s pretty and non-exaggerated youthful designs of the characters, Atsuhiro Iwakami’s masterful and intuitive production guidance and Shaft/Inu Curry’s gorgeous and extravagant color palettes featuring highly symbolic and detailed, experimental and thematically coherent/relevant animation and art direction, this scene as well as the rest of the film can do no wrong in my eyes. Sure it may have its flaws but they all contribute to its pluses one way or another.

    Anyway, long story short this scene was gorgeous and exciting to watch, and if they wanted to make me feel like Homura here while watching it, then they succeeded.”

    However, then you write this:

    “But as I said initially, defining Rebellion as a reflective work is only partially a condemnation. Because Rebellion isn’t just some isolated case. Rebellion is reflective of what all art is becoming, of shifts in media and communication that are changing the fundamental relationship between creator and consumer. Twenty years ago, creators created things and audiences consumed them. There were critics and public backlash and fandoms, but there was still a distance between creator and consumer. Today, fans talk to their favorite creators on twitter. Creators share things they’re working on as they’re working on them. Fans directly decide what they want to support, through vocal campaigns or fandom organizations or crowdsourcing. Ten years ago, you could just get away with being a creator of specific works. Today, creators are themselves brands, and their own platforms are critical. Creators are a component of their own fandom communities.

    And this doesn’t only go one way – this doesn’t just mean creators are moving closer to fans. It also means fans are becoming creators. It’s a trend reflective of web culture at large – people want to be validated, want to feel like they are contributing to something larger than themselves. As our relationship with media changes, the ways we reflect that relationship change as well – culture democratizes itself, and fandom shifts from a passive group of appreciators to a group of active creators, who recontextualize the things they love through community and the self-expression of fan art, fan fiction, fan theorizing. In the age of internet communities, media engagement is becoming a fundamentally performative experience.

    It should be obvious, but this is far from an anime-specific thing – it’s a media culture thing, reflected in everything from Sherlock fandoms to RWBY. As media appreciation becomes an active component of identity and social engagement, we consume each other’s media, and a common mythology builds on itself, leading to “conventional wisdom” and accepted elements of artistic objects that weren’t even necessarily present in the original. Sayaka and Kyouko’s relationship may be an interpretation of the text, but it is given life through that constant reinterpretation – meaning is now a communal creation. When this reflects back in the source works themselves, it may lead to indulgent work, yes – but at this point, there is no alternative. For better or for worse, the new media paradigm is both empowering and irreversible.

    Granted, anime has essentially always been reflective of its audience, as much of media is. Part of the power of media is that it can capture the sentiments of a historic moment or cultural movement, and as a commercial medium, anime is largely designed to please. Anime’s “media mix” of various commercial objects that all add up to a larger “truth” of what a given property entails has existed for a long, long time. Anime might be somewhat ahead of the curve in directly processing shows as reframings of communal fan touchstones, but that’s both not a recent phenomenon and doesn’t make it unique. If the process of communal creation signified by works like Rebellion simply implies the removal of a middleman, a committee convened to figure out what fans want and give it to them, then nothing is truly lost here. And if this has always been the case, then another truth of anime’s history is equally relevant – fan desires and commercial needs aside, art always finds a way. Great creators will make great works. Rebellion is more reflective than meaningful, but that does not mean all such works must be. The new normal has perhaps not yet yielded masterpieces of communal creation, but the future is wide open.

    A Reason to Hope

    “It’s impossible to stop change; there will always be new experiences going on in the world. I don’t think it’s possible to say change is bad or can be avoided. Trying to not change, to stay stagnant, is not good.”
    – Hiroshi Nagahama

    When I saw Dai Sato earlier this year, he spoke at length on this topic – on the new world of community-defined properties, and the new creator-consumer paradigm. But he didn’t express fear at this change, and didn’t seem concerned that this would result in a world of indulgent, meaningless retreads. He was excited – excited at the possibilities it offered, excited at the thought of fans pushing artists forward and challenging them to find new answers. He wasn’t worried fans would be content with empty fanservice – he assumed they would demand more than that.

    Perhaps that can even be considered the final message of Rebellion. Even if creators give us exactly what they think we want, we are smarter than that – we’ll demand the harshness of reality, the bracing wind of truth. Ultimately, art will win through – not just because artists are passionate individuals who will never give up its pursuit, but also because something inside us demands art, demands scathing reflection, and can see when the happiness we are offered is a lie. Just like Homura in Rebellion, who is given everything she thinks she wants, and yet tears it all down anyways. Just like Sayaka and Madoka at its end, who struggle against the pacifying influence of Homura’s selfish personal world. We rally against simplistic happiness. We cannot be contained.

    Do I think this message was intended by the text? Maybe, I guess? The film certainly does play in some interesting space with Homura’s desires, and her ultimate choices could easily be framed as the selfish, nearsighted desires of a jealous fandom. But in the context of everything I’ve just discussed, does that really matter? What we take from the text is our own – if a work is rich and strange and full of personality, we can construct our own meaning.

    In the end, the fact of this somewhat counters my own initial complaint. Yes, Rebellion doesn’t feel like a coherent sequel to me – and that saddens me, and I wish it were greater than it is. But as a child of the internet age, I can still find something worth taking in it, and share that meaning with others. We need passionate artists, desperately – they provide an immeasurable service to the world. And we need works like Eva Rebuild, angry at complacency, demanding better of us. But we also should be open to exploring the gifts of this new communal world of creation, and seeing what new meanings this strange evolution in media can provide. Creators should never stop bleeding themselves in the pursuit of truth and beauty, but consumers should also never stop constructing their own beautiful truths.

    “Personally, I feel like I wrote all there is to Madoka in the TV series, and now I’ve written all there is to Homura in this movie. I feel like I’ve had both of them graduate. Anyway, I think that a school where a god and a devil are in the same class is pretty funny. If people use that to make new stories, I’ll be happy. I want this to be the kind of story where everyone will want to imagine their own sequel.”
    – Gen Urobuchi

    …Okay Bobduh, that was brilliant. I’m legitimately taking a class on this concept of digital identity and creating and contributing to pre-existing media when I start college next month and I’m trying to study and grasp concepts and ideas like that for the sole purpose of making a work of my own someday which does exactly that: Embodies a cathartic reflection of my own life filled with struggles and experiences and inspirations exemplified through non-human characters acting human in a fantastical scenario that is birthed through the laws of brutal realism. Exactly the same sentiments I have about a work such as Madoka Magica in all its incarnations…and why it is not only my favorite anime of all time, but also my favorite work of fiction and media franchise.

    …I…am speechless. You fucking nailed it.

  13. After reading a lot of discussion threads I’ve noticed that a lot of people seemed completely caught off guard by Devil Homura. Personally, it wasn’t that big a twist that Homura became a witch although I will admit that I was also surprised by her becoming essentially the Devil. However, looking back at the series what transpired in Rebellion seemed to fit within the logic of the Madoka Universe. Here’s my interpretation:

    It has already been mentioned that Homura has an obsession with Madoka and that it led to her, arguably, misunderstanding Madoka’s wishes. By taking Madoka’s consciousness(?) out of the cycle, she ‘spares’ her the fate of living as nothing more than a concept and allows her to live the fantasy that Homura believes she wanted. However, there is another layer behind this.

    Throughout the original series a theme I noticed was this idea of equilibrium between hope and despair. For everything that gives hope, an equal amount of despair is created and vice verse – that’s how Madoka became so powerful in the first place. The thing is, Madoka creating the Cycle and becoming Godoka must have created a surplus hope for the magical girls and if we follow the logic an equal amount of despair should be created. In this case, Homura despairs at not being able to save Madoka.

    The original series seemed stated Homura’s wish was to gain the power to save and protect Madoka; to redo everything she did wrong. But what exactly does this entail? Sure, she stopped Madoka from becoming a witch or dying but her new fate, to exist as a concept and have everyone forget her, is just as bad with the perks of saving other magical girls from their fate. In the end, Madoka was tied to another destiny – not the one she may have necessarily chosen because she wanted to but because she felt she had a duty to go through with this. Thus, Homura’s wish remained unfulfilled as she couldn’t protect Madoka from fate and this becomes the source of her ongoing frustration and despair.

    Going back to her wish, what Homura asked for is the ‘power’ to redo the past to protect her precious Madoka. All wishes made by magical girls are granted and there is precedent for their wishes being corrupted or not being fulfilled as intended. By this stage Homura likely has deep mental scars from seeing her friends die over and over again, sometimes by her hand, and the despair has been building up inside of her. In the original series timeline, she succeeds in preventing Madoka’s fate in the other timelines but in the end she fails to protect her yet again despite everything going well and this is likely what broke her mentality and gave way to absolute despair.

    Just as the built up despair gave Madoka the power to become God, the opposite is also true. Homura gains power that rivals Madoka’s and is able to keep her isolated and all to her self. Her twisted logic argues that this is what Madoka wanted and by keeping her in her world Homura is able to protect Madoka forever. Thus the balance of hope and despair is restored and Homura’s wish is, in her eyes, granted.

    Well at least that’s what I got from the film. What do you guys think of this interpretation? The best thing about films like Rebellion is that there’s so many different interpretations which makes for great discussions.

  14. First off I want to congratulate you for writing a thought provoking article. I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and this one really got me thinking about the relationship between fandom and the creators like never before. Others have talked about the connection between fanworks and Rebellion, but you brought the discussion to a new level (http://wiki.puella-magi.net/The_Rebellion_Story/Spoiler#Attack_on_Fandom_.28Or_Fanwork_Creators_are_Evil.29).

    I did have a few disagreements with your review. This is more of a minor writing detail than anything, but you mention, “Madoka has none of the personal strength she gained in the previous series.” This phrasing would lead you to believe that the Madoka in Rebellion is like Madoka in episode 1, a timid girl who lacks any self-confidence. In fact she’s more akin to episode 10 Madoka, the one from the first timeline. She’s still kind and caring but has found confidence from her role as a magical girl. I think there’s significance to the fact that in Homura’s dream world, this is the type of Madoka that appears, the one she originally fell for.

    As for your comments about the characters, I never found I was unable to identify with them. They were certainly different but not so radically that I couldn’t see the characters I know and love in them. Mami admits to having the same fear of loneliness and weak mental fortitude that she had in the TV show, not knowing what would’ve happened to her had she not met Bebe. Kyoko is more in line with the person she became near the end of the TV show, someone who isn’t so cynical and is able to communicate with others. She still reacts in ways I’d expect Kyoko to, like how she gets angry when Homura says on the phone “It’s correct that you shouldn’t remember her [Madoka]”.

    Sayaka is the exception to this rule because she’s revealed to be vastly more confident and at peace than her TV counterpart. Why? Because she had her despair taken away by the Law of Cycles and was able to come to terms with her wish as we saw in episode 12. As a part of the timeless Law of Cycles, she was able to see what Kyoko did for her in previous timelines and how sad she was when Sayaka used up her magic. All that plus her knowledge of the truth about the dream world explains why she’s so different when she’s talking with Homura. This is the first time that Sayaka has known something Homura doesn’t rather than vice versa. And I loved it. It was great to see a new side of Sayaka’s character and show that she was capable of growing as a person.

    As for Madoka, to quote Shinbo “The Madoka in this story is the real Madoka, who has lost her memories of becoming a god. She’s not a fake or Homura’s creation. What she says in the field of flowers is what she’s really feeling at the time.” (http://feral-phoenix.livejournal.com/685568.html#%7C) Depending on how canon you view character songs, there’s actually a big hint to Madoka’s true feelings in the first ED, “See You Tomorrow” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__q9fsZa5vk). I don’t think it’s rewriting her character at all. It’s demeaning to Madoka’s kind nature to suggest that giving up her humanity wasn’t a sacrifice for her. But she would never regret her wish because she’s so selfless and no doubt got great joy out of being the savior for magical girls. But to Homura, any amount of unhappiness for Madoka is unacceptable. She gives Madoka the life Madoka herself would never ask for due to her selflessness.

    Lastly, I would disagree that Devil Homura was part of the fanservice of this film. Her betrayal has divided the fandom and left many (myself included) shocked when leaving the theaters. They give us our seemingly perfect happy ending that you’d see in fix-fics (everyone’s alive, all the girls have a friend/lover to keep them company, Witches don’t exist) but the only way Urobuchi could write such an ending is to twist it by making it Homura’s selfish world. It’s almost like he’s saying, “This is what you fans wanted, right?” Playing with our expectations, despair equal to hope.

    Through the twist ending, Rebellion becomes much more than a beautiful fanservice film. It becomes art that challenges its viewers with a betrayal from a beloved character, taking her obsessive love for Madoka from the TV show to its logical extreme. After all, “Ending the story with Homura and Madoka being reunited wasn’t really the best outcome. After all, the instant Homura encounters her, she’ll be guided by the Law of Cycles, and disappear. Would that make her happy? It was also the director, Mr. Shinbo’s opinion that the outcome of the TV series, “a human becoming a god” might be too heavy a fate for a girl in middle school to bear. Since that was the case, I decided to try to come up with a way to create a story in which Madoka could escape that outcome.” (http://wiki.puella-magi.net/Rebellion_Material_Book#Message_from_Gen_Urobuchi_.28Screenplay.29)

    At the end of the day I love Rebellion because it made my mind spin in a way no piece of fiction has ever done before. There are so many different interpretations on this film and it’s so fun to debate with people about its many themes. It doesn’t leave you with easy answers, but lays plenty of hints along the way and rewards multiple viewings. There are tons of great Rebellion articles online, but I highly recommend this series of blogs detailing who is rebelling against whom in the film: http://mlpomo.blogspot.com/search/label/rebellion

  15. This reminds of what George R.R Martin said in an interview, that “Art is not a democracy”. I gathered that you said that there are positives of both auteur and communal creation but it worries me the effect it could have. You mentioned Chuunibyou but I also think the new Ghost in the Shell (Arise) falls into the same pitfall. Ghost in the Shell really wasn’t ever about the combat and action. It was more the exploration of concepts and the world it created that made it interesting. However in Arise so much time is devoted to (albeit cool) action scenes and less focus is put on the philosophical aspects the original had.

    However on the other foot I think the fan community in other forms of entertainment is much more important and positive. Take gaming as the prime example. Mods for games is one of the most loving forms of fan content (in terms of just how much effort it takes to do) and it gave games like the Total War series and SC2 much more life. I can’t really think of a game that was really ruined by the fans in the same way a series could (Chuuni 2nd season never forget).

    In short I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say. I guess the question is why one medium is better with the communal culture and one may not be. The key difference is mostly the changes in the characters that could happen in novels,anime,films,etc could make or break the work while games not so much. I watched Rebellion right after Madoka (the series not films) and it felt like they did away with everything Madoka sacrificed for and represented. Oh silly Madoka! You didn’t have to sacrificed yourself! Just make Kyubey contain all the curses! In a lot of games changing the characters may not matter because it IS supposed to be all about the game play but in stories don’t have that dynamic.

    Anyways great piece you wrote as always.

  16. Pingback: The Wonderful and Disastrous Art of Fan Pandering | The Afictionado

  17. Normally I adore your essays, but I couldn’t get through this one without a sigh. You have actively faulty information in some instances (your assertion that characters come from multiple timelines when they do not; that the endgame involves Homura’s time travel powers when it does not), have failed to read into the piece as far as you should (for example, dismissing the cake song as a “non-sequitur”; it is anything but, although I submit that it’s really just an excuse for some cute-and-weird dream symbolism – but that’s not the same as a non-sequitur), and dismissed the finale as a “twist for its own sake”, when it is in fact Homura’s driving force – her determination – dragging her down to her metaphorical grave, in much the same way that the other magical girls were across Madoka-the-series; Mami by her longing for friends; Sayaka by her heroism; Kyouko by her lust. You’ve also made some generalizations about the fandom’s feelings that are anything but widespread. For example in my own wide experience dealing with the fandom, I’ve only met two or three other people who liked the Akuma Homura angle – the other few hundred people I’ve seen and interacted with have hated it, yet in your essay you suggest that it’s “something the fans were surely thrilled to see”. While a few hundred people is hardly a statistically-relevant portion of the fanbase, they’re without doubt the more vocal side of the argument, which makes it hard to understand where you’re coming from.

    I notice that throughout the essay you use terms such as “desecrate”, “destroy”, and “betray” to discuss Madoka Rebellion in the context of what it does with Madoka-the-series. These are particularly strong-handed, emotional words, and they give me the sense that you are angry at Rebellion for, shall we say, “defiling” a series you loved. For example, you assert that Homura’s titular rebellion (which is, contrary to your statements, massively foreshadowed throughout the entire film, almost from start to finish) “outright betrays the message of the original”, yet precisely the same thing we saw repeated throughout the series happens: in a moment of possible redemption, the character falls.
    In the series, Mami is killed at her moment of redemption (that is, an opportunity to escape her friendless life) due to her distraction at having it; Sayaka turns down not one but two offers of redemption (one from Madoka and one from Kyouko), and Witches Out in the middle of the latter; Kyouko, in a foolish-yet-redeeming moment pushed on her by Kyubey manipulating her lust (her want – for friends, for family, for her sins to be excised), sacrifices herself; Madoka’s drive to be useful causes her to be semi-excised from reality; and Nagisa’s childish thinking and want for cheese costs her everything – literally – in a moment when she could have saved everything important to her. Homura, by turn, suffers the same thing: in a moment of redemption, of final release, of getting what she wants, the driving force that pushes her onwards and upwards – the determination to struggle through the same month over and over, and to pursue the truth despite how good things are – gets the better of her and pushes her over the edge, causing her fall.

    As I’ve mentioned, her fall is constantly foreshadowed – starting with the allegedly non-sequitur cake song, in fact, although you have to put three-and-three together, since it falls along with Urobutcher’s love of Christian leitmotifs; Kyouko is the apple, a symbol of temptation, of original sin, and indeed of the devil (as the devil is often said to be the snake who tempted Eve with the apple of knowledge), and it’s Kyouko, the apple, who aids Homura in her first search for the truth. Skimming ahead to the next major event, the falling, burning zeppelins during Homura’s rage against the dream (her rebellion) closely resemble falling stars – Lucifer being, of course, the Day Star, who famously rebelled against god and was cast down. Homura doesn’t rebel once, but three times – once against herself, her actions carrying out the phrase “better a prince in hell than a slave in heaven”; once against the Incubators, solely because they try to lay a hand on Madoka; and finally against Madoka, as her determination (and, in fairness, likely her recent experience as a Witch) get the better of her. The movie is a constant Rebellion, even against the fandom (for dreaming up the first thirty minutes), and each rebellion draws the next one closer, until we reach the pinnacle of “rebellion” – true and unerring “revolution”, were the status quo is thrown out and a new one is installed.

    In all, while you do make some good points, I feel that you were perhaps too emotional, which may have clouded your reading of the piece, as well as caused your research to be significantly less-thorough than usual, as some of your assertions are not merely wrong, but actually run contrary to the facts; at times I wished to ask if you’d even watched the movie.

    Having said that, I look forward to further essays, and I particularly look forward to seeing another essay on the subject of Rebellion when you are free to write with clarity.

  18. Pingback: Alright, Let’s Talk About Rebellion Story | The Afictionado

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  20. In my personal opinion, not only Homura is the avatar for audience, but also Madoka is the avatar for the authors.

    The ending of Rebellion didn’t come across me as abrupt or poorly foreshadowed, although Homucifer certainly could be slightly less sleazy about it. Throughout the entire series, we can see that her entire goal wasn’t Madoka per se; it was giving the finger to fate-as-narrative-element. She wasn’t content without rewriting the story on her own terms and challenging the dubious necessity of overused tropes (such as Madoka’s sacrifice) to make a compelling plot.

    As it goes with most fanfic writers, her first attempt was pure wish fulfillment which didn’t stand up to scrutiny so she ends up tearing it apart and loathing herself for “desecrating” the author’s work. And yet, the movie couldn’t end up with Madoka taking Homura with her, granting her forgiveness. The message that would portray would be in tune with the original movie – but why iterate on what has been said before? It would only show that authors are doggedly sure of their superiority and that fans should “grow up”, seek forgiveness and take the authors’ wisdom for granted. No, this isn’t what they wanted. Authors may be gods of their respective works, but they gave us free will to interpret their work precisely because they want to be disputed and challenged, not worshipped as is.

    Thus, Homura’s “betrayal” actually comes as a breath of fresh air. The event at the end of the movie is an implicit agreement between authors and fanfiction writers: Madoka would never surrender her powers if she didn’t believe that Homura would put them to good use. Likewise, Madoka and Sayaka would never remember their original lives if Homura didn’t allow for it. Through this feedback, Homura’s new universe ends up being validated: it’s no longer a dream if it encompasses the entire universe. However, it still would be as hollow as Homura’s “Holy Quntet” world; fortunately, she did learn from experience, and realized that her world, in its rejection of Madoka’s sacrifice, needs another source of conflict to hold it together, and so Homura performs a sacrifice of her own good name, taking upon herself the mantle of a villain.

    But if the relationship between hero and villain, author and fan, is what has the power to create worlds and fulfill dreams, then, in truth, it’s not conflict. It can’t be said to be anything else but love.

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