Just What Happened at the End of Madoka Magica Movie 3: Rebellion (2013)?
As the credits rolled of the Australia REEL anime screening of Madoka Magica: The Rebellion a hefty cry expels from the audience “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!”. Judging by the giggles that followed this comment matched every person’s thoughts on the movie. Anime that sparks discussion and essays about symbolic indications like the works of director Kunihiko Ikuhara (Revolutionary Girl Utena), Serial Experiments Lain (1998) and the Neon Genesis Evangelion film The End of Evangelion (1997) are rare. The Rebellion may be another popular title to add to the list. Only a few anime blogs, discussion boards and reviews detail theories and explanation about the last twenty minutes of the film. The majority of discussion revolves around whether people liked the movie or not. We can agree that it is enjoyable and beautiful, except for the questionable ending and deliberately happy-go-lucky, cutesy beginning. This article aims to explore the most plausible theories as to the franchise’s ending and speculate for what to come.
This post is nothing but spoilers. If you have not seen the film, read at your own risk.
Madoka Magica: The Rebellion takes place after the events of the television series. The world now functions with Madoka, in the form of an omnipresent deity, saving Magical Girls from their fate of turning into witches. If that’s the case, why is Madoka a magical girl existing in the real world? Homura notices other continuinity problems like the Witch that ripped Mami’s head off is BFFs with Mami, Kyoko and Sakuya are living together, Sakaya has the ability to turn into her Witch form at will and control it, and her friends are missing crucial memories at to their origin story. Thanks to Homura’s impeccable problem solving and deduction skills, Homura realizes she is in the middle of a labyrinth, which again, shouldn’t be possible given the new laws that run this universe.
That’s when The Incubator abandons his typical-cute-small-animal “Kyuu…” act and blurts out a comprehensive, mind-boggling rant about his evil plot. As very heavilyi implied at the end of episode twelve of the series, Kyubey explains he is trying to revert the universe back to the state where Witches exist, to maximize the power his race can harness for themselves. Yep, he’s a bastard. Our beloved Homura turns into a witch thanks to this mischievous experiment and her inability to cope with reality. With mixed feelings the Puella Magi Holy Quintet defeat Homura. As expected Angel-like, God, Law of the Universe Madoka bursts from the sky to invite Homura to “disappear” and join her. Homura is overwhelmed with relief and joy to be face to face with her best friend once more. Homura’s knocking on Heaven’s door is where the film starts to get weirder, which doesn’t seem possible considering what has already occurred.
Writer Gen Urobuchi stated in the planning stages of Rebellion his idea was to end the film with Homura being taken away with Madoka to the Heavens. “I thought the story would end this time for real!” he laughs. However, the producer and director insisted the story should continue, leaving Urobuchi with little choice. “I really feel that Madoka doesn’t just belong to me anymore” Urobuchi says. It was the director who suggested the upcoming twist.
The big twist of Rebellion is Homura’s decision to fight against Madoka’s wishes. Homura is sick of hardship, heartbreak and wants her sacrifices for Madoka to be recognized. Grasping Madoka’s arms, Homura responds with a smile and an evil cackle. Much like the psychedelic sequence at the end of Puella Magi Madoka Magica episode twelve, Homura steals part of Madoka’s power and uses it to re-write a universe she likes better. Homura rebels against her gorgeous Madoka and create a world held up by an obsessive love with possessive intentions. She decides she’d rather live in a world where Madoka is human and shares a life with her at the risk of peace of Magical Girls, than die alone. This concept it is opposite to Madoka’s ideals. “I guess you would call me someone like that a demon” Homura grimaces.
“You’re changing the laws of the Universe!” Kyubey cries in horror “But why? Don’t you like it the way things are… the way Madoka made it?”
“Don’t worry. I haven’t changed much about the Universe. The only difference is everyone will forget the lives they lead before, even Madoka” Homura explains, deadpan. “[…] But you brought the malediction here to a boil. We still need you in existence. I’ll allow you to collaborate with me, Incubator!”
Homura says her Soul Gem was not stained with despair, but love. This is what sets her apart from being a Witch or a Magical Girl. At first glance this development makes sense. Madoka is an angel. Homura is a demon. It appears to be the duality concept. Sadly, this comparison is rendered inaccurate by Homura’s choice to erase Madoka’s memory of whom she was before. If Madoka no longer remembers who she is, she wouldn’t be able to remember the wish she granted in episode twelve of the television series:
“I wish to erase all Witches before they’re even born, from the Universe, from the past and future with my own hands”
If Madoka fails to remember this she would have no concept of the peaceful universe she created governed by the Law of Cycles. Therefore, as long as she doesn’t remember she is no different to the Madoka we know from episode one of the television series.If this new Universe is one where Madoka no longer behaves as an angel to the Magical Girls, it would be a very different Universe indeed. Homura must have pulled Kyubey’s leg when she said “I’m not changing it that much”. Yeah, right. A forum poster from Crunchyroll pointed out that Homura, intentionally or not, is repeating history. She has in some capacity recreated the world from the start of the Rebellion film, which is ironic because she hated the ‘fake world’. Perhaps Homura finally accepted that world when Kyubey mentioned the alternative?
The most unsettling aspect of the film is questioning the true intentions of Homura, given she is one of the most popular characters in the series. If Madoka is Homura’s best friend, what would motivate Homura to go so far? Is she evil? There are clues deliberately placed throughout the film. Director Akiyuki Shimbo stated in an interview that:
“What [Homura] says in the field of flowers is what she’s really feeling at the time. That scene may seem overly sentimental at first glance, but if you think of everything Homura does afterward, her feelings will come across more easily.”
…Which gives the scene added meaning beyond a bonding moment for the two girls. A writer at TV Tropes points out Madoka possibly misinterpreted Homura’s explanation of “far away” literally, in the sense of moving house. This is not incorrect. One could argue Homura forgot that Madoka told her she was omnipresent, and “always with you, whether I seem to be or not”. Homura could still feel alone despite convincing herself Madoka is there in spirit. She was in a world where no one else remembered Madoka except her, after all! In Homura’s words: “I began to doubt you existed at all, that I had imagined it.”. Doubting one’s experiences and thoughts is a recipe for isolation, confusion and everything unpleasant. Perceiving someone “who isn’t there” in this society could be the equivalent of Homura having a confronting or poorly understood mental illness like schizophrenia. Of course, as complicated human beings it could be a combination of all the above. It is often brought to Homura’s attention that she often wants to change things and cannot accept flaws.
Madoka: “That is right, Homura. […] I don’t want to part with any of you. Even if that is something I must do, I would not have the courage to go through when the time comes”
Homura: “Are these your true feelings then? Then I was a fool to have misunderstood it. I should not have approved. I should have used every possible mean to stop you back then […] I know you are kind to everyone and not afraid of making choices. When you feel that there is something that only you can do, you would not hesitate even if it means hurting yourself”
Demon Homura does not seem ill-willed or “evil”, but merely more selfish than Madoka. In the Madoka Magica PSP Game Homulily, Homura’s Witch form, is described as the witch of “shigan”, a Buddhist concept which means “mortal world”. Japan is a very spiritual country which focuses most on Shintoism and Buddism. This is a suitable and possibly very deliberate name which also links back into the Rebellion film. The writer of the Rebellion Story/Spoiler Wiki draws a comparison between Homura and the Buddhist deity Mara. Mara is a demon who represents un-enlightenment, impulsiveness and desire. He originally tried to seduce Buddha with his daughters. This is a more suitable definition for the Homura demon. She created the world almost on impulse out of a want to control Madoka’s destiny. This sense of control is what Homura has tried to own throughout the series with her wish in episode ten:
“I want to re-do my meeting with Madoka, but instead of her protecting me, I want to become strong enough to protect her”.
She may not have had as much time as Madoka to consider the wording of her wish and the possible consequences, which is why things may have turned out as they did. This is confirmed by the Clara Dolls whom yell “Gott ist tot!” in a labyrinth sequence of the film. This means “God is dead” in German . Although it shouldn’t be taken literally because Madoka’s God state is lying dormant and not necessaraily dead. The duality idea in Rebellion could be better compared to an energy imbalance in Eastern or Traditional Chinese Medicine theology: there is too much of the dark (yin), and not enough of the light (yang).
The end of the film is the most difficult to comprehend. It is challenging to decide how this new Universe functions in terms of the Magical Girls and Wraiths because it is not been explicitly stated. It has left many viewers unsure of what to think about Homura or the film in general. Was Homura’s choice for better or worse? Is the world almost the same as Madoka’s, like Homura’s claims it is, or was it a farce to save face? Since Madoka’s wish was to destroy the existence of Witches in all areas of time one could assume this still applies. Perhaps this world still runs on the Law of Cycles, Madoka may not be the one that instigates it. Witches may just disappear from the world without Madoka taking the Greif Seeds, or Homura might have taken up this role instead. If this is the way Homura’s Universe functions it may not be such a sad place to live in. The unexpected pro to this universe is Homura’s intention to keep an eye on the Incubators and make sure they never cause problems for Madoka, or anyone else, again. It is a smart move as even in Madoka’s universe the Incubator’s caused lots of problems. If the Universe ran on Madoka’s rules, with Homura keeping the Incubator’s in check and able to share a life with Madoka, the only con would be Homura and Madoka having to start their friendship all over again.
Once the intriguing, colourful re-writing sequence is over we meet Sayaka walking to school with her fellow school mates among the beautiful, fluttering cherry blossom petals. The only thing out-of-place in this harmonious picture is Homura sitting at a café table with a grim look on her face and red ribbons in her hair. Her change of heart as a demon is in full throttle here as there is no longer a sad or indifferent disposition about her. Sayaka spots Homura under the umbrella and approaches her. It is clear from her discussion with Homura that she still remembers aspects of her life before, although this does not last for long. Sayaka is angry and wants answers. She is so much like the viewer’s voice that it is sad to see her memory fade away.
Sayaka: “Do you have any idea what you’ve done? […] You took away parts of the Law of Cycle! A magical girl’s hope, the power of salvation is…”
Homura: “What I snatched away was merely a fragment. I’ve simply established that Madoka is back to the girl, the person she was before”.
This confirms some of what is discussed in previous paragraphs. Besides the obvious red ribbon signifying the devil, it is interesting to note that cherry blossoms have multiple different meanings, both cultural and symbolic. Ohnuki-Tierney writes in her book “Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms and Nationalisms” that the cherry blossom is simultaneously a symbol of the circle of life (life, death and rebirth) and power. It could be a reminder to the audience of new beginnings, or that the cycle of life, perhaps even the Law of Cycles, will continue (I certainly hope so).
Next we return to the scene Homura has experienced too many times, except the roles are reversed. Homura is introduced to a new transfer student at school: Madoka. Madoka has been living in America for the past three years due to her parents work. Almost like the complete opposite of episode one, Madoka and Homura introduce themselves and go for a walk down a corridor as Homura shows Madoka around the school. In slow motion, Homura turns around and asks “How does it feel coming back to your hometown?” Madoka is confused by this, but for a different reason than before. She vaguely remembers “Somehow this all feels really familiar. But something feels different, y’know? A little weird […] If I were to say anything has changed, I would say it’s my own memories…”. Madoka’s hair starts to blow in an imaginary wind and her eyes turn gold. Homura spins around, shocked, and hugs Madoka. Bringing the series full circle she asks “Kaname Madoka, do you think this world is precious? Even above your own desires do you feel a need to honor it?”. This is almost Homura asking if Madoka would make the wish she did before, or return to being a God if she could. Madoka responds with “…I do think it’s precious, but I think that thinking we can tear it apart is selfishly wrong”. Homura tells Madoka they will probably fight one day, and Madoka will not remember her past for very long.
After three minutes of rolling credits and many “How can they end it like that?” comments, another scene appears. It’s night. Homura sees an Incubator. Homura dances and stands over the edge of a cliff while a terrified, ruffled Kyubey is battered up on the ground. The gigantic moon overhead is only displaying one half, perhaps signifying duality. Has Madoka come to her senses? Has Kyubey managed to make Madoka remember who she is? If this is the case, how could Homura have missed it? Without any dialogue or explanation, Homura either falls or jumps off the edge of the cliff. There is speculation of whether she tried to commit suicide or her intentions are elsewhere. Maybe she intends to enter battle with someone? It is possible that she has injured or exhausted Kyubey to such an extent that she has proven herself to be more powerful than he. It is possible that Homura is simply travelling from area to area. Here she could have jumped off a cliff to travel to her next destination. Far too soon, “the end” flashes across the screen in multiple different languages as if to remind the viewers “Yep, this really is the end, folks”. There is no preview after the end credits.
Does the Madoka franchise deserve to end here? There is much demand for a sequel, if only to answer the questions this one left dangling out in the open. Are we supposed to suffer, speculate and debate for the next decade like End of Evangelion, or is Gen Urobuchi going to take the high road and give the series a ‘proper’ ending? There is a high chance the director Akiyuki Shimbo will push for another sequel, given he pushed for the films to be made after the television series was so successful. He states, “If we can continue [the Madoka franchise], we definitely want to”. It is interesting to note that Urobuchi had not planned a sequel but did so due to unwavering support from the staff. He shares the opposite viewpoint. He would rather viewers imagine their own conclusion in form of fan fiction or theorizing.
It doesn’t take much thinking to picture what would happen in a sequel. In all probability it would include Madoka rising up and confronting Homura. Even if it starts as a want to negotiate it may escalate into a fight depending on how irrationally emotional the characters become. No doubt this would be one of the most visually spectacular fights, as Homura and Madoka have never seen fighting during the television series. One can only hope if this occurs they can overcome their differences, possibly become a couple or compromise to create a Universe that acknowledges both wills: a true duality. They could create a world far more potent than one created alone. Hopefully it won’t end depressing like this one. I would like to think after all this pain and suffering the characters can get a happy ending. Only time will tell if our theories are confirmed or rejected, whether it’s in an interview or a sequel.
What did you think of the ending? Do you have a different theory? For further reading the Madoka Spoiler/Story page is a great resource which analyses further Rebellion‘s imagery and song lyrics. The full translated version of the staff interviews can be found on Feral-Pheonix’s livejournal.
What do you think? Leave a comment.