Monday, 20 November 2017

Punisher MAX: Born (#1-4)

"I have to go home.  I've had my fill."  - Steve Goodwin

Time for more Garth Ennis Punisher.  Now I have already covered main sixty issue MAX volume series, but before he started that run we got Punisher: Born, a four issue miniseries with pencils by his "The Boys" collaborator Darick Robertson and inks by Tom Palmer.  This tells the story of how Frank embarked on his start of darkness and also depicts the events related in the in-universe book that has extracts published in the final Punisher MAX volume "Valley Forge, Valley Forge" which, if you've read that makes the tragedy of this volume a foregone conclusion.  This story shows us Frank in Vietnam, the war that made him realise that waging war was what he always wanted to do.  It has an interesting mystical aspect to it as Frank makes a deal to keep his war going but finds that the price is everything he has ever loved, which goes someway to explaining how utterly broken the MAX Frank is.  Although not officially part of the main Punisher MAX series this miniseries has been included in the omnibus reprints of the main series and thus has been sanctioned as the prologue to that incredible run. As befits the subject matter, it's grim, sad stuff as we peak into Frank's soul and find the abyss gazing back and offering him a deal and so the Punisher is Born in the fire forged battles of jungles of Vietnam. If you're wondering why I am reviewing this last it's because before the omnibus reprint it cost silly money on Amazon. Anyway onwards.

We begin at the military base Valley Forge  on the "First Day" as the soldiers takes bets on a US aircraft plummeting to its doom.  We are then introduced to our main narrator, a man called Stevie Goodwin out on patrol with Frank's group. He thinksto himself how he will not die in Vietnam, he's only got "thirty-nine days and a wake-up" before the magic day he steps on a plane and leaves this place.

He will not die here, "I will escape these fields of slaughter".   He will not re-up and become a combat junkie "forever jonesing for their next sweet firefight, their lethal speedball of adrenaline and tracer."  He will not fall in love with war like Frank Castle.
Frank Castle.
Frank is the finest officer the Marines of Valley Forge have ever known and the reason Stevie thinks he will survive this.

Stevie: "His dedication to his men is total.  Not from love - that word and he do not beong together - but from the same determination to do his job correctly that informs his every action."

Since Frank arrived six months ago the have suffered no K.I.A's (killed in action).  The story goes that Frank began his first tour in '68 and showed such promise that Special Forces had themselves a new recruit.

His second tour there were rumours he was involved in wetwork in Cambodia, black ops, assassination and horror stories too outlandish to be true.   Now it's late '71 and the war is winding down and no one quite knows what to do with the "predators they have bred".  He was sent to Valley Forge because he had to go somewhere,  "alas for Captain Castle, he is running out of war."

After a brief interlude where they kill some Vietcong Stevie goes on to ruminate that he will have sons.  He will watch them grow with pride and he will take them into the woods and mountains and show them "the good America.  The real America.  And not this tragic misstep into darkness."  And one day his sons will ask him what he did during the war and what he saw, "and I will never, ever tell them."
Jungle combat.
Frank reports to the man running the base, a Colonel Ottman who is fed up and boozing.  Frank reports that they killed twenty-one Vietcong with no casualties on their side and captured a lot of weaponry.  He believes the Vietcong are building supplies with North Vietnam Army (N.V.A) equipment, they are stockpiling for an offensive push.   They should be getting ready for that.

Ottman just tells him General Padden will be there in an hour for a "surprise inspection".  He's going to be "sick" so it'll be Frank's job to show him around.  Frank wants to make sure his report is passed along, Ottman says "just like all the others."  Now Frank has an hour to get the place in shape before the General arrives.
Frank makes his report to the uncaring Ottman.
The General arrives via chopper and immediately tells Frank the place is a disgrace.  There are unmanned bunkers, artillery covered in rust and filth, there is rampant abuse of marijuana as well as it being rumoured to be the "heroin capital of the corps."  Also barely one in ten know to salute a senior officer, "why is Valley Forge a complete and total fuck story?!"

Frank calmly tells him the last man who tried to restore order "woke up next to a claymore mine."  Padden says the fragging of officers is a "myth".  Now he wants to know what the hell is being done to restore order there.  "Nothing" responds Frank.   It's undermanned by fifty percent and what men they do have are "rejects and fuck-ups." They are short of equipment and resupply is a bad joke.  The men figure if the brass don't give a shit, why should they? He's managed to put together one platoon of motivated men to maintain their offensive patrols because if they can't do that, what are they here for?

Padden says that once he makes his report Valley Forge won't be there anymore.  Frank asks if he's closing the base? Padden says fuck yes.  Frank says they are the only outpost watching Cambodia, who's going to keep an eye on the enemy, his resupplying and if he comes in strength - cutting the country in half.

Padden tells him this is not a popular war and soon the conflict and their involvement will end.  Charlie will no longer be his concern, they will be shipping him out with the rest of the rabble and if Padden has a say, Frank will be leaving the Marine Corp, "and then the closest you'll get to the enemy will be watching him on the T.V. news".
Not cool Frank!
Padden is about to board his chopper when Frank asks him to come look at something which will show him "incotrovertible evidence that Firebase Valley Forge has to remain open."  Angrily Padden comes with him.  Frank leans against a sign and tells Padden to go up the steps on to the wall.  Padden does so and asks what the fuck he is supposed to be looking at.  Then a Vietnamese sniper blows his head apart and Frank moves away from the sign which warns of danger from snipers.

The other men come and collect his body and Frank sits and broods and a voice speaks to him.  I'm going to call it the "Dark Voice" as it speaks entirely in black captions.  The voice congratulates him but also tells him what the General said was true, "this wonderland of yours is coming to an end."  For all his talk of duty when did he ever feel so alive, "so full of fierce black joy?"

The Dark Voice tells him he can fix it so Frank can keep doing this forever, there will be a price to pay but he'll be able to keep on going and never stop.  If he just says the word the voice can fix it. "Who am I?  Is that what you're asking?  Well who do you think I am, Frank...?"

The Second Day comes and Stevie finds his friend, an African-American soldier cooking heroin. Stevie drags him outside saying Frank wants to take the platoon out.  A man called Coltrane appears and demands to know "who's going to pay for this jungle bunny's fix?"  Stevie said they had a deal, that he wasn't going to let Angel (the black man's name) smoke in his bunker anymore.  Coltrane orders his goon Garcia to take a razor to them, but Stevie stands his ground and Coltrane backs off calling them queers.

Frank appears and asks if Angel is clean and Stevie says he is.  Frank tells him to keep it that way.  He leaves and and a shaken Stevie notes to himself that Castle cuts them no slack and a junkie can't shoot straight, "but Angel can."  The platoon moves out, the last twenty-nine men at Firebase Valley Forge who care enough about the enemy to go and find him.   They are all there for their own reasons, his is for Angel who shot the V.C. who caught Stevie changing magazines.  Stevie could sit out the rest of his thirty-eight at the base and no one would care, but he stays with the platoon.

Stevie: "Some of us are here for our brothers, some of us for our horror stories.  Some of us even still believe in duty.  Americans through te looking glass, lost in Vietnam."

Frank believes the Vietcong are laying the groundwork for a N.V.A offensive so they whole platoon is out in the hope that there will be strength in numbers.  Suddenly one of them takes a bullet to the neck and they all scramble for cover.
Frank Castle, force of nature.
They fire into the trees, calmly Frank says "give me the sixty" and as the others lie down he stands and fires upon the snipers in the trees and doesn't stop until they are all dead.  Stevie watches him and thinks to himself that at Valley Forge they have a saying, "if you think payback's bad... you haven't met Frank Castle."

Six of them are dead, Frank sustained a wound to an arm.  They search the area and find a Vietcong woman about to kill herself.  One of them boots the gun away from her head calling her a "cunt!!!" as he does so.  His name is MacDonald and he starts to pull his trousers down and lays on top of her about to rape her.  The others watch paralysed until Frank appears and shoots the woman in the head telling MacDonald they are here to kill the enemy not rape them.

MacDonald goes to a nearby river and starts washing her blood off his face.  Stevie, horrifed at what nearly just happened and composing himself then observes Frank walk up to MacDonald and place his boot on his head, forcing MacDonald's head under until he drowns.  The Hueys come to take them home, MacDonald is searched for but not found.  Stevie doesn't breathe a word of what he saw Frank do. Angel tells him not to let the "shit wit' the gook... fuck you up.  You think to much, man. Always have.  This place got zero slack to give."

Later that night Frank approaches Stevie and asks him what made him keep quiet?  Stevie says he was scared.  Then he asks what made Frank do it?  Frank says "I wanted to punish him".  Stevie asks about killing the Vietnamese girl. Frank says if he has her flown out of there his men would never trust him again.  She would never hand over intel and she'd just end up getting shot in the head further down the line.   He then tells Stevie he doesn't have to be scared of him and walks away.
Indeed.
Stevie thinks that he is though.  Because they need a man like that to lead them through, "and what that says about us is unthinkable."  He scared because of the look in his eyes and that worst of all Frank thinks what he did to the girl today is his idea of helping out.

The Third Day begins. Stevie thinks that they cannot lose in Vietnam, although the Generals are stupid, their tactics poor, their morals trampled into a ditch and shot through with heroin and bitter failure and although they face the bravest, toughest fighters in the world, "strange little men with hearts like those of tigers" and although they have made the world depise them and done things that will stain their souls forever while America eats its own intestines over this... "we cannot lose."

When they finally leave Vietnam after the brave little fighters kick them out and they finally lose their stomach for it, no one on South-East Asia or anywhere on Earth will look at what's left of Vietnam "and think it's smart to fuck with the United States."

Stevie then speaks aloud to Angel, wondering why America can't stay out of the rest of the world.  They have everything they could ever want so why can't they leave the world alone.  But Angel ignores him, watching the planes flying over and wishing he could get "that fuckin' high."

Elsewhere Frank and Colonel Ottman are walking and talking together.  Frank also notes the planes are staying low and that means a storm is on its way.  Once it hits they'll have no air support, Ottman says they'll have artillery support but Frank notes "There's our own. We're out of range of everyone else's".  The crews are too stoned to operate them and the ammo looks like it'll cook off.  They haven't had a resupply... Ottman interupts saying he hasn't requested any resupplys.

Ottman: "Look you're the only one that hasn't noticed.  So I'll spell it out for you:  no one cares about this place.  The enemy least of all.  Everyone knows the war is almost over."

He opens his hip flask and says that they'll get to go home soon, so long as they don't do anything stupid or raise eyebrows in Da Nang.  All they have to do is "shut the fuck up" and they can climb onto a plane and get out of this shithole.
Frank ponders another executive assassination.
He takes a swig as Frank says this could be a bad time not to rock the boat. The weather is perfect for the enemy and the activity he's been observing has him thinking they are up to something.  Ottman just tells him to go away and leave him alone.  Frank asks him about his responsibility to his men.  Ottman just says he's going for a shit.  As Frank stands outside the toilet block, he takes out a grenade and goes to pull the pin, but then stops, puts it back and walks away.

The Dark Voice asks him what stopped him blowing up Ottman. No one would have known or cared and it would have made him acting commander of the base right when the men need him most.   Because it is just the men he cares about and not maybe... wanting to "frag that bastard?" The Voice asks if he is worried that he kills at the drop of a hat, "that urge you have, to give every motherfucker in the world exactly what they deserve?"  The Voice tells him if he just says the world "you can kill every single one of them."

Frank approaches Stevie who is cleaning his rifle.  Frank praises him for that, saying not many grunts do that.  Stevie says many of them don't care about getting home.  Frank says it must be soon for him.  Stevie says he's got thirty-seven days and a wake-up left.  Frank tells Stevie he has a family, a daughter and his wife is pregnant with what he hopes is a son.  Stevie says that's great, it gives him something to stay alive for.  Frank says "I sometimes think they might be my last chance."

Frank then tells him his friend Angel is down in Coltrane's bunker again. Does he want a hand?  But Stevie says he'll deal with it himself.  As Stevie leaves, the Voice asks Frank what he was thinking "talking happy-ever-after with the softest heart in the platoon."  And his family isn't his last chance, the Voice is his last chance "to be what you want to be."

Stevie goes and drags the stoned Angel out of Coltrane's bunker.  They sit and talk.  Stevie says he thought Angel was going to stay off the stuff.  But Angel tells him "fuck you."  Stevie says Angel is getting close to being able to go, he doesn't want to take a smack habit home with him, "you've got far, far too much to live for."

Angel asks how the fuck he knows that.  Stevie has everything to live for, "all I got waitin' for me's a ghetto fulla death."  Stevie says they shouldn't be here and Angel agrees.  Stevie says they are making a mess of the place and screwing up America, this has nothing to do with the real America.

Angel: "Stevie, you are so fulla shit.  I keep hearin' you talk 'bout this idea you got... this real America?  It's a fuckin' dream man.  It belongs in the thirties.  The twenties, fuck, the Wild muthafuckin' West.  That's the real America right there: back when you was shootin' each other, rapin' red Indians an' callin' me nigga..."

Stevie says that's not true, but Angel tells him to "grow the fuck up".   Relentlessly Angel goes on to tell him not to give him shit about there is good with the bad and if people work hard they'll make it.   There's good for Stevie and bad for Angel, "ain't no more to it than that."
Stevie and Angel argue.
Before they can carry the argument on, someone yells "Sappers in the wire!"  The Vietnamese are hitting the base in force.  Behind the bunkers the men are firing on them, but Frank says they are blowing their attack lines on the wire, after that they don't matter and he orders illumination and the flares go up. This reveals a huge number of Vietnamese soldiers rushing to attack.  Once again Frank asks someone to "give me the sixty."

The Final Day begins in battle. It's all chaos and blood as Stevie thinks that there is "Great Beast loose in the world of men".  It awoke in dark times, stormed across Europe, moved to the Pacificand crushed the evil it found underfoot.  But after it was victorious the Great Beast's keepers found it would not go back to sleep.   The Beast has many heads upon which are written names: Lockheed, Bell, Monsanto, Dow, Gruman, Colt and many more, "and they are very hungry".

Stevie: "So the Great Beast must be fed: and every generation, our country goes to war.  A war for war's sake, usually.  And one that could have been avoided.  But there must be blood in extraordinary quantities, and whether it is foreign of American is of no consequence at all.  And so today, at Firebase Valley Forge, our turn has finally arrived."

As Frank keeps firing a soldier tells him the can't raise the Da Nang base, but they got a response from an armoured unit.  They lost them though but hope they can get them back a relay a message.   Frank says to tell them they are about to be overrun they need air and artillery immediately.  Ottman however says they can't use the radio, "he keeps saying don't rock the boat over and over."  Frank says to shoot him.
Frank always at the sharp end.
Their left flank folds and the Vietnamese are in.   Frank, Stevie and Angel run to a new position but Angel tangles with a Vietnamese soldier screaming "get some!  Get some!!"  Stevie say for God's sake, but Angel turns and yells "there ain't no God, fool!  There ain't no muthafuckin' God!!"  And Angel goes down.

Stevie takes cover as Frank directs the cannon fire.  Then Coltrane grabs Stevie from behind with a raor saying "where's your nigger, boy?"  But Frank appears and smashes Coltrane over the head with a shovel.   With the command post overrun the gunners bayonetted it looks like Frank and Stevie are the last.  We see Ottman sitting dead from a self inflicted gunshot wound and the radio calling them back before a Vietnamese soldier shoots it.

Steve sticks with Frank thinking how he was so sure he'd make it.  Above them the planes are dropping bombs.  Frank yells at Stevie to "pop smoke!  They'll it us too! Pop smoke!!"  Stevie fumbles with a smoke grenade when an enemy soldier runs through the fire, bayonet aimed at Stevies stomach.  Suddenly the scene changes.  The sky is clear and blue.  He is yanked inside a civilian aircraft, he is surrounded by beautiful women all calling his name.  He weeps as one says "you made it, you silly son of a bitch."  The plane flies on.
Stevie gets his plane home.
With Stevie dead, only Frank is left alive.  As he shoots until he runs out of ammo then begins beating the enemy to death with his shovel, the Dark Voice speaks to him. It tells him it's time to make a decision.  he's been hit four times now, the Voice can help him but he has to say the word.  Three tours here, what was it that kept him coming back, "what else would you be looking for but this?"

The Voice can give it all to Frank, there will be a price "but nothing's free." If he says no he will be one more K.I.A. on a hill no one cared about to start with. But if he says yes the Voice will give him "what you've wanted all these years".  A war that lasts forever, a war that never ends.  And Frank, almost more animal than man now, says "YES".
And The Punisher is born.
The next morning American soldiers arrive at the base to find everyone dead.  Everyone except Frank.  Who is just standing there, bleeding from several bullet wounds, holding a broken rifle and surrounded by dead Vietnamese soldiers.  He says nothing as the soldier in charge tells the others to get Frank on the chopper so he's not their problem anymore and they can finish up here.  And we say goodbye to Firebase Valley Forge with a shot of Stevie's body.

But it's not quite the end of the story.  We cut to Frank, smart in his dress uniform, his arm in a sling and using a crutch to walk as he arrives home to his family.  His wife, daughter and baby son.  She asks him if he's going to go back?  He says no.

Frank: "I went as far as I ever want to go, this time.  I still don't really remember... but I'm never going away again.  I'd be stuid to, so long as I've got you guys.  It took me far too long to realise that."

Then the Dark Voice speaks to him.  Tells him how he got an early discharge and medal or two for shutting the fuck up about Valley Forge.  But down to business.  He agreed to the Voice's offer and it delivered. Not everyday you beat two dozen men to death and soak up seven bullets.

And how can it put this?  There is a price to be paid.  And we see Frank's family looking up at him, smiling.  The Voice says it's too late, "things have already been set in motion".  But he'll have forgotten about this little conversation soon.  He should just enjoy what short time he has with them.  But who is the Voice?  It says it's in the same business as him and been at it a lot longer.  They'll be good friends in the years to come and although they'll never speak again, he'll keep the Voice busy, "and let's just leave it at that."  Frank's wife then asks if he is OK, Frank seemed to space out for a moment.  Frank holds her in a long embrace saying it's nothing, "hold on tight."
Oh Frank, what did you do?
And that brings the origin of The Punisher as envisoned by Garth Ennis to a close.  It's fascinating stuff and has made me appreciate the final wrapping up of the sixty issue series in "Valley Forge, Valley Forge" even more. This does seem to help explain why the Ennis Punisher was so wounded as it were, he may just be carrying around subconcious guilt about engineering the death of his family so he could have war without end.  Yet the irony is that his experience at Valley Forge seemed to cure him of that addiction. And was it Death itself really speaking to him? Or him suffering some kind of psychotic break that gave his darkest desires a voice of their own.  Seeing Frank the soldier is also interesting, for all his war addiction, he did care for the safety of the base and the grunts manning it.  Frustration that his reports were going ignored because the man in charge just wanted a quiet life and to sit out the war in peace.  The murder of the General is a little harder to forgive. He might have been an asshole and uneccesarily hostile towards Frank who was the only one trying to improve things there, but he was also correct. Valley Forge was a mess and he possibly became the first real sacrifice of Frank's future role as The Punisher.  When he drowned the man who tried to rape the Vietnamese girl, he simply declared he wanted to "punish" him, showing the same uncompromising views he again would carry with him after the death of his family caught in the crossfire of a Mafia war instigated his long futile crusade against all criminals.  It's heady stuff and the art properly conveys they panicked chaotic horror of battle and giving us an everyman viewpoint character like Stevie through whose eyes we see most of it makes it all the sadder when he dies as well. So unless Marvel release the rest of his post-"Welcome Back Frank" series, this is the last of the Garth Ennis Punisher material I have.  A stunning piece of work all-in-all and the best the character has ever been written.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie - Rebellion- Book 3

"You are without doubt, exactly who you should be!" - Homura

Time to wrap up the manga adaptation of the sequel film to acclaimed 2011 seinen Magical Girl series Puella Magi Madoka Magica.  The film concentrates on Homura, the time looping zen warrior who made a wish to protect Madoka but wasn't able to stop her making a wish to erase all Witches (the monsters Magical Girls transform into when they despair) before they were born which rewrote reality and caused Madoka to ascend to a higher plane of existence as The Law Of Cycles.  The previous book showed us that Homura was being subjected to an experiment by Kyubey and the rest of his Hive Mind known as the Incubators.  They wanted to catch Madoka in action and had placed a field round Homura's Soul Gem, so she became a sort of half-Witch, creating a labyrinth that pulled various people in that she knew in reality as well as the likes of Bebe/Charlotte, Sayaka and Madoka who don't exist in the real world anymore.  However when she realised what had happened to her and that the Incubators wanted to control Madoka and bring back the Witch system she forced herself to fully transform into a Witch and Homulily was born, which was her Witch form in the Madoka Magica PSP videogame.  Read on to find out if she can still be saved from this dire fate by her four Magical Girl compadres.  Oh and the cover to this volume is one of the most lying ones I have ever seen for reasons you'll see as we go on!

The manga is unflipped and so reads from right to left, honourifics are in use and Kyubey despite having no gender is referred to as "he".

In the distance the four girls watch Homura's Witch.  Sayaka tells them that although she looks frightening, "the one suffering the most is the Witch herself."  They are all in the Magical Girl attire ready to fight when Kyubey comes up and says "she's one of you.  You intend to fight her?"  The others are surprised he can talk, while Bebe hisses angrily at him.
Kyubey tells Madoka she can save Homura if she realises her true power.  Sayaka says not to pay attention to him, if she does exactly what Sayaka told her a few minutes ago things will be all right.  Bebe changes back into her human form of Nagisa Momoe and starts summoning familiars.  Sayka stabs herself through the chest gushing blood and summoning her own Witch form Oktavia from the blood pool.
Sayaka summons Oktavia.
Tonnes of familiars from various other Witches we saw in the seroes start doing battle against Homulily's army of them.  Oktavia who is wielding the giant version of Kyoko's spear that killed her in the series, starts to fight her way over to Homulily although she doesn't attack her she reaches out to comfort her. Kyubey demands to know who Nagisa and Sayaka are.  Sayaka says they are girls who fell into despair and became part of the Law of Cycles.  Kyubey was so focused on Madoka he fell right in their trap.

Madoka was drawn into Homura's labyrinth to save her so she and Nagisa gathered up the "memories and power she left behind".  Then if anything was to go down they'd return those memories to Madoka, it took the three of them to come for just one girl.

Nagisa: "Homura really made us work for it.  But still... it was for her, so what else could we do?  Homura's worked so hard all this time.  In the end she deserves some kind of reward for it."

As Sayaka and Nagisa fight, Mami and Madoka join in too.  The chaotic battle continues while Homulily thinks to herself that they must stop, "I have to die here!"  But Sayaka shouts that she doesn't have to deal with this all alone.  Kyoko joins the fray as well.
Sayaka and Kyoko share a moment.
Kyoko and Sayaka stand back to back and a sad Kyoko says that she had an awful dream that "took a real sick turn".  She dreamed Sayaka died.  But now she's telling her that her dream was real and them fighting together is the dream.  Sayaka says that she had thought she left the world with no regrets, but actually she did regret dying and leaving Kyoko behind (in the film they clasp hands as Sayaka admits this) which is one reason why she came back.

Nagisa bounces past saying she just wanted to eat cheese one last time.  Sayaka yells at her for spoiling the moment between her and Kyoko who grins to hide the fact she shed a tear and they go back into battle.  Sayaka and Nagisa summon more familiars against Homulily's seemingly unending amount.  Mami creates a huge teapot/cake cannon and wipes out masses of familiars with a "Tiro Finale".  And finally there a crack appears in the sky showing the Incubator's eye-bots peering down, the seal they made is now vulnerable.

We then cut to Homura trapped in her despair, weeping bloody tears, but suddenly Madoka appears to her and tells her she shouldn't go off on her own.

Madoka: "Homura-chan... you will always be Homura-chan.  And I would never abandon you!"

Homura begs forgiveness, for giving up and being a coward, she wanted so desperately to see Madoka one more time, "no matter what kind of monster I became... I knew I could take it! As long as you were by my side!"
Madoka and Homura together again.
Homura and Madoka stand together side-by-side, both holding their bows.  They fire upwards at the same time, there is a huge explosion that bursts out of the Incubator's seal and destroys all the watching eye-bots and Incubators.  Kyubey who is protected inside the barrier just comments "... you humans make no sense".

All the people Homura trapped in her labyrinth are returned sleeping to the desert round where Homura lies on a dias. Mami picks up Homura's blackened Soul Gem and places it in her hands.  Sadly Kyoko notes that Madoka, Sayaka and Bebe are gone, but Mami looks up and says "no".  Then the clouds part and light streams down onto Homura's prone form and Madoka appears in her beautiful divine form and slowly flies down to take Homura away with her.
Goddess Mandoka comes for Homura.
Sayaka and Nagisa are watching from above as she reaches Homura. Madoka says she forgot she had come to take Homura away.  Sayaka says they took the "long way around" but everything is OK now.

Madoka: "I'm sorry I kept you waiting so long.  You've worked so hard to reach this day.  Now let's go.  We'll always be together from now on".

Homura opens her eyes, lets go of her Soul Gem and as Madoka reaches for it, she suddenly grabs Madoka's wrists and with a sinister look in her eye says "finally.  I have you."

As she grips Madoka tightly her Soul Gem starts emitting a colour which is, according to Nagisa, "more terrible than any curse I've ever seen!"  Sayaka cries "what is this?  Desire? Obssession?"  Homura thinks they could never understand, "this emotion is unique to me and it is felt solely for Madoka!"  Madoka screams that Homura is going to tear her apart.
Madoka seperated from her divinity.
Suddenly normal Madoka is wrenched out of Goddess Madoka and dragged into Homura's arms, Homura then uses a barrier to keep the two Madokas seperate.

Homura: "I told you before... Madoka.  I will never let you go again!"

And the barrier expands outwards until it consumes all of time and space. Kyubey observes that "the universe is being re-written.  Does that mean a new universal principle has been born?"

Homura says he has no memory of the last time this happened.  Kyubey says that her soul should have just disappeared. Homura explains that everything she want through was done with Madoka in mind, what clouded her Soul Gem were no longer curses.  So what was it then he asks?

Homura: "This is the ultimate state of human evolution. More passionate than hope.  Far deeper than despair.  It is love"

Kyubey says she is no longer a Magical Girl, nor is she a Witch, what manner of being is she trying to become?  Laughing Homura says she fooled Madoka, completely undermined her "any being who is able to do such a thing... can only be called a devil, I suppose".  And she unfurls black wings and rather skimpy attire.
Demon Homura is born.
Kyubey says that settles it, it's far too dangerous to use human emotions, "an outcome as absurd as this is most definitely a thing beyond our control".  Homura picks him up between finger and thumb and says actually she's going to need the Incubators as long as curses still manifest themselves in the world, "I'm sure I can count on your assistance... Incubator".

We finish up with the various characters on their way to Mitakihara Junior High. Mami passes by Homura and looks a little unnerved,  Homura's familiars are lurking about though no one can see them.   Kyoko is in uniform sharing an apple with some birds and lies back with a look of contentment on her face.

Sayaka confronts Homura demanding to know if she has any idea what she has done?  Homura says she must have some idea of what happened.  Sayaka says that she "wrenched off part of the Law of Cycles".  Homura says she only stole a fraction, "nothing more than a few pages of records that describe Madoka before she stopped being Madoka". 
Sayaka challenges Homura.
It seems Sayaka and Nagisa got caught up in it too and can't return.  Sayaka asks her what gives her the right to do this.

Homura: "I have become the personification of evil.  I disrupt divine providence... and am guilty of outrages against the world".

Sayaka asks if she intends to destroy the universe?  Homura says it's a thought, that after all the magical beasts/wraiths are destroyed she'll play the role of enemy. 

But will Sayaka be able to stand against her?  Already her memories are slipping away and Sayaka says "I... used to be part of something bigger... I think... I used to be connected to a power outside this world..."

Homura says she should accept it "and perhaps even be happy about it.  After all, you've managed to get your life as a human back".  She'll eventually forget what happened, even the unease will vanish. Sayaka defiantly says that there is something she will never forget, "that you... are the devil!"  Homura laughs saying they should at least pretend to be friends, "if we fight among ourselves... she'll start to dislike you." And with that thinly veiled threat made she walks off, still laughing.
Still it's nice to be alive again.
Then Hitomi and Kyosuke appear and wish Sayaka a good morning.  She looks and smiles sadly at them.  Kyosuke asks her if she is all right, and Sayaka somewhat tearfully says how happy she is to be able to say good morning to them again.  Hitomi and Kyosuke look at each other baffled.  Then Hitomi laughs saying she says the strangests things.  Sayaka laughs too saying "I'm just a weirdo! That's me!"

A short while later Homura is in class with Sayaka and Kyoko when the teacher introduces a new transfer student - Madoka Kaname.  She introduces herself and says she's been living in the US this past three years but they moved back last week.  She hopes they can all be friends.

At breaktime she is surrounded by students asking her questions.  Homura then shoos them away, introduces herself and takes her on a tour of the school.   She asks Madoka how it feels to be back home and Madoka says "kind of nostalgic, you know?"  But she also feels like something's changed.  Not the place but her role in it.

Madoka: "I used to be... something very different... I had a different role... but I don't know why..."

The lights of the cosmos start to swirl around her as she says this until Homura grabs her in an embrace and the lights fade. 
Madoka starts to remember...
Homura asks her if she thinks of the world as something precious and does she put the good of the world above personal desires?  Madoka says she does think of the world as precious and that it's bad to break the rules for selfish reasons.  Homura tells her that one day they may become enemies and takes the ribbons Madoka gave to her out of her hair and starts tying up Madoka's hair with them.

Homura: "I don't mind. Even if that happens... all I wish for is a world where you can be happy".

She stands back, tears in her eyes and tells Madoka the ribbons look so much better on her.  Later we see Homura dancing round in a field with a traumatised Kyubey looking like he lost a fight with a road sweeper.  We see a spread that shows us Mami and Nagisa together, Kyoko and Sayaka together and Madoka at home unpacking boxes with her family. And we end with Homura looking out over Mitakihara City with the words that began this story, "no, not yet!"
Not yet indeed.
So I think you can see why this movie split fandom right down the middle now.  Personally I think the film is a work of art and Homura's behaviour fitted in very well with what has previously been established about the character.  If you remember back to Sayaka and Homura's discussion about the Mitakihara Labyrinth, Sayaka says to her that the labyrinth is all about control and keeping the status quo.  And that's Homura in a nutshell, she's a control freak who was compelled to repeat the same six weeks for over a decade until she got things exactly right.  And she still failed in the end, Madoka made her wish, saved Homura rather than Homura saving her and was then removed from Homura's life.  I don't think Homura could trust Madoka a second time, especially as she still sees herself as her protector and that Madoka will always be at risk as long as the Incubators know about her. This wasn't helped by Madoka telling her she would never leave everybody even though that was Homura's memory rewritten Madoka speaking not the real divine Madoka.  So she took action, we already know she was a hugely powerful Magical Girl and a combination of that and the mad science Kyubey subjected her to gave her the ability to split Madoka in two and carve off much of her divinity into herself.  As for why she now thinks of herself as evil, well she was pretty emotionally broken by everything that happened to her both during the series and the film. There are various theories mostly related to the fact she is perhaps still part-Witch and the whole universe is now encased in her barrier, which has merit as she is still being tormented by familiars even in her new world. Personally I think it all got too much for her and she just finally snapped.  She knows she did a bad thing, so her self loathing has compelled her to take on the identity of Evil, manifesting familiars to keep punishing herself.  And yet she accomplished something no one else ever managed.  She beat the Incubators, with the very strong implication that'll she'll keep them around as her slave race to keep the Magical Girl system going while there are still Wraiths/Magical Beasts to be fought.  And again, she has brought Sayaka and Nagisa back to life, so Kyoko and Mami get to keep the people who make them happy in the real world now. And Madoka is part of her family again.  In a way the only person it isn't a happy ending for is Homura really.  She has control of the situation to be sure, but she's maybe irrevocably alienated herself from those who were once her friends and the girl she loved enough to become the bad guy to protect her.  I hope there will be more Puella Magi Madoka Magica in the future, I'm curious about Homura's new world order and if the girls will end up in conflict with her.  But as it is, the film is a rich, stunningly animated character study of one very messed up person and I love it.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie - Rebellion - Book 2

"As I thought. You were behind all of this weren't you..?" - Homura

We return to our look at the three volume manga adaptation of the 2013 sequel film to the acclaimed 2011 seinen Magical Girl series Puella Magi Madoka Magica.  In the first book we were presented with a situation that we knew to be impossible. Madoka was back and a normal Magical Girl not the Goddess she had become.  Sayaka was back from the dead and living with Kyoko who was a happier and more sociable individual with Mami the strong leader of the five.  Even Homura was different, back in the glasses and braids she had before she lost her innocence to her constant time looping, she even had those time powers back when at the end of the series she wielded a bow of light instead.  And they were fighting cutesy "Nightmares" using the power of kawaii and not the creepy wraiths seen at the end of the series. Even the Machievellian bunny-cat Kyubey was different, only saying "Kyu Kyu" like a Pokemon and hanging out like an innocent team mascot. Seemed like everything was going right. And for Homura that meant things were so wrong.  Unable to accept this happy life she began picking away at it and soon discovered that the world outside Mitakihara City did not exist and this could only point to one thing in her mind... a Witch's labyrinth and they are all trapped inside. The previous volume ended with this revelation, and with her shedding the glasses and braids to fit how she feels now, read on to discover just who is responsible for this labyrinth as she continues her investigation.

This manga is unflipped so reads from right to left.  Honorifics have been included and I gave up as regards to Kyubey's gender, it's a he and that's that.

Next day Mami accosts Homura on their way to school surprised her hair isn't in braids, although she says Homura looks amazing.  She invites Homura to come over to her place after school.  Later we join Mami, Bebe, Homura and Madoka having tea at Mami's place.  Kyubey is curled up close by, watching always watching Madoka.
Homura quizes Mami.
Homura asks Mami how long she has been with Bebe, who to Homura is the Witch Charlotte who killed Mami in the series.  Mami says they have been together for a very long time. She knew her before any of the others:

Mami:  "I was the only Magical Girl in Mitakihara... back then my only support, the only one who could encourage me was Bebe here... if this little one hadn't been here... I don't think I'd have been able to go on".

Homura tells her she is stronger than she thinks, she thanks Homura saying she likes being sensei to the younger girls, now she is surrounded by friends she can count on and doesn't have to push herself to breaking point like before.

Mami and Madoka discuss fighting the Nightmare while Homura sits in silence.  Then she asks Mami for another cup of tea and Mami goes into the kitchen.  Homura then transforms into her Magical Girl form and freezes time.  She grabs Bebe saying it's time to "end this farce". Homura believes Bebe is the Witch causing all this:

Homura: "What are you trying to do? Why are you toying with us? What is so fun about this to you?"

She chokes Bebe then goes leaping out of Mami's flat with her.  She think about how she was never able to get along with Mami, it was always the hardest to tell her the truth about Magical Girls.  She tells Bebe she would have rather remained ignorant of "how many times I've had to stomp on the hearts of others".
Steady on Homura.
She smacks Bebe round some more, but Bebe only babbles about cheese. Then Homura is tugged away from her by a ribbon Mami quickly attached to her ankle before time froze.   She has been following them and wanted to hear Homura's motive but "I can't allow you to hurt Bebe any more than you already have".

Bebe starts to make a getaway, and Homura starts to follow but Mami stands in her way.   Homura asks if she is prepared to protect "that thing" no matter what. Mami says yes and "if you don't stop it now then you and I are ready for a fight".

So with neither side backing down an incredible battle kicks off. Watch it here, it's amazing like something out of a John Woo fever dream.  For every bullet Homura fires from her collection of auto and semi-auto pistols and rifles, Mami summons a single shot musket and aims at each bullet.  The bullets freeze in time as Mami and Homura keep laying into each other until they both stop to catch their breath. Homura restarts time and all the bullets grind against each other and riddle the old part of town.  Realising the stalemate, Homura takes a pistol and fires upwards at a window hanging above where she is standing.  The shattered glass falls on her and as it cuts the ribbon holding Mami to her, Homura freezes time again.
Gun-fu!
[This use of the window is in fact a bowdlerisation of what happens in the film although the result is the same.  In the film Homura puts a pistol to her temple and pulls the trigger and we get a lovely gory shot of the bullet passing through her head and out the other side.  Panicked, Mami materialises the ribbon to try an unbalance Homura and to stop the bullet going through her head. As the bullet starts to slow, Homura kicks her leg up and uses the bloody bullet to slice through the ribbon cutting Mami off from her and freezing her in time.]
Homura contemplates murder.
Anyway, Mami is frozen now,  Homura approaches her, gun raised and aimed at Mami's soul gem, before lowering her weapon to shoot her in the leg.  But as she restarts time the bullet hits and Mami bursts into ribbons.  Real Mami made a ribbon duplicate, she was never in any danger herself.  She wraps Homura up in ribbon bondage, which is the third time she's done that to Homura.

Mami: "I'll admit it.  Your magic is very impressive.  But to always assume that you are in a better tactical position than your opponent will lead to disaster".

Homura shouts at her that Witches are their enemies, try to remember she pleads.  Mami she does't know anything about Witches their enemies are "magical beasts"  She pauses then slowly wonders if they fought magical beasts, "what are the Nightmares?"
Bebe/Charlotte - Nagisa Momoe.
Suddenly a fire extingusher is tossed down with a sword through it making it blast out a cloud of vapour.  In the confusion Sayaka cuts Homura free of her restraints and escapes with her.  Another figue appears to Mami, a young girl who says she will explain everything.  Sayaka takes Homura to an empty street and finishes cutting her free of the ribbons.

Sayaka: "Mami-san is at the top of her game... and you decide to pick a fight with her head on?  You're either way over-confident... or a complete idiot".

Homura says she hadn't meant to provoke a fight but it was unavoidable.  "Bebe right?" says Sayaka to Homura's surprise. Sayaka says she must have though she was behind all this because she used to be a witch, "there should be a limit to how many conclusions a girl can jump to".

She asks Homura what kind of Witch would create the labyrinth the size of a city and not kill or attack a single human being.   Bebe wouldn't do anything like that.   If Homura gives it some thought, it will come to her. This labyrinth is all about control, so who benefits from it?
Sayaka and Homura talk.
Homura starts to turn her shield to stop time and leave but quick as a flash Sayaka jams the tip of her sword in the shield's gears and keeps Homura there.  "That's a bad habit. You depend too much on that magic" says Sayaka.  Homura says that Sayaka is saying the labyrinth is being created by one of them. "The idea really shouldn't surprise you" notes Sayaka. She then asks what she intends to do when she finds who trapped them in this labyrinth.

Sayaka: "Is it such an awful crime... for the person to wish for this world?  Does she deserve to die? Is this place really so terrible?"

Homura is horrified that she would take the side of a Witch, but Sayaka says it's natural she'd have a little sympathy for it.  Mulling this over, Homura realises neither Mami nor Kyoko could detect the Witches barrier so it can't be them.

But thanks to Madoka's sacrifice, Witches shouldn't exist now.  Before they transform they are taken away by Madoka - The Law Of Cycles.  Homura says that there are three people whose presence should be impossible.  First the Witch who made this labyrinth.  Second Bebe here in her Witch form.  And finally Sayaka who knows all about Witches.  Is she the real Sayaka Miki?  Sayaka says she's the same person she's always known.  Then she releases her blade from Homura's shield and whirls her cloak round, disappearing and leaving the image of her Witch form Oktavia Von Seckendorff in the puddle of water.
Reflection of Oktavia.
Homura says Sayaka never used to be that accomplished as a Magical Girl.  Then she hears her in her head asking what she would do when she found who was causing all this, would she be indifferent to the destruction of this Mitakihara?  "You don't want to wind up with any regrets" she tells Homura.

But as Homura walks through the streets she thinks about what she has learned.  She believes someone has run away from the world and dragged them all with her.  Turning her back on a destiny fighting magical beasts.

Homura: "How can I be expected to permit such weakness? A Magical Girl must continue to fight.  That is the price of the miracle she wished for."

She believes this is making a mockery and a farce out of Madoka's sacrifice and she will not permit it to go on any longer.  She is interrupted from her reverie by Madoka who jumps down to join her.

Madoka tells her Mami-san is worried about her and she can sense Homura is keeping things bottled up. They sit together in a field of flowers and talk.  Madoka says seeing Homura in pain is rough on her as well and so finally, Homura lets it all out.

Homura: "I had a very frightening dream. in my dream you went to a far-off place... a place where we'd probably never meet again... and everyone in the world had forgotten about it... The only one who remembered that you had even existed Madoka... and as time passed I started to feel my memories of you were just something I had imagined... I started to doubt them myself".

As she tells Madoka this, tears fall from her eyes and Madoka starts to hug her.  She begins braiding Homura's hair again and says that it sounds like it was a scary dream, but "you know me. Would I go off alone to some place where I could never see you or anybody ever again?  You know I could never do that".  Uh oh, not what Homura needs to hear Madoka!
Madoka tells Homura what she wants to here.
Madoka says she wouldn't want to say good-bye to anybody.  And with that Homura realises that when Madoka made her wish to destroy all Witches before they were born and wrote herself out of existence as a by-product she should have done "everything in my power to stop you from going through with it...!"  She turns to Madoka and tells her she does have the courage to make that decision.

She lets her hair flow out of the braid and holds Madoka's hands saying it should be impossible for her to be here together like this "but I know... that you are the real Madoka". She gets up and says she has to go, there are still things she needs to do.  She tells Madoka that just the fact they were able to sit and talk made her very happy.  And she runs off down the field leaving a confused Madoka in her wake.

Alone now, Homura calls Kyoko, who I am pleased to see is back in her shorts and hoodie combo.  Homura asks if she remembers Witches, but Kyoko doesn't. Homura says that is how it should be. She then asks if Kyoko remembers Madoka, Kyoko says of course she does, but Homura says those memories are false. 

Homura: "It's so simple... if only I had put a little bit of thought into it, I would have known sooner.  The only person who could fabricate a world with Madoka in it... is someone with the knowledge of Madoka herself".

And that's how she now knows who rewrote everyones memories and created the false Mitakihara. Kyoko starts running, concerned about what Homura is saying, demanding to know where Homura is now.

Homura just says sadly that she has one last thing to confirm and then she can bring this all to an end, and hangs up apologising as Kyoko stands in the road facing a zeppelin falling from the sky on fire. Homura then leaves her Soul Gem behind and gets on the bus.  Magical Girls can't be seperated more that one hundred metres from their gem without the life leaving their bodies. As she does so, Kyubey watches with interest.
The fake city starts to fall apart.
The bus travels much further away and nothing happens to Homura.  The false Mitakihara starts to crumble and burst into flames.  She returns to the gem, tosses it high in the air and shoots it, shattering the supposed vessel of her soul.  And she is fine, except she isn't:

Homura: "So why?  Tell me... Why.. did I.. become so... and when did it happen?  When... did I... turn... into... a... Witch!?"

Could things get any worse for Homura? Yes they can because Kyubey slinks up to her and tells her that the "the truth should no longer be of any interest to you."  But he's going to tell her anyway because bunny-cat's a dick and this is all his doing of course.

Kyubey tells her that human curiosity is "simply illogical", he shows her that her body is lying on a dias in a desert being observed by floating eye-ball cameras which takes Homura aback somewhat.  Her soul has been placed in an isolation field and her Soul Gem is now saturated with impurities.  But it cannot be affected by anything from the outside world.
All bunny-cat's fault.
The Incubators have done this to try and discover the power that purifies Soul Gems and what happens to the Soul Gem if it is cut off from The Law Of Cycles, "researching you has yielded some quite fascinating results".   The formation of the labyrinth for one and its subsequent capture of several victims.  It's similar to the Witch phenomenon Homura rather foolishly told him about at the end of the series.

As long as her gem remains within the isolation field and does not break she will not transform fully into a Witch form.   She's like a chick that can't break the egg so continues growing inside it, "right now, we are in a world within your Soul Gem".  Homura says if she is isolated from the outside world how are others getting inside?  Kyubey says they made some adjustments so she could "guide and induce your victims to enter".

They are waiting to be able to isolate and observe the reason why Magical Girls disappear and understand the rules that govern it.  They've already noticed that there are individuals in there who who don't exist in the real world and of them there is one who "does not exist in the past. Nor is her existence possible in the future". 

There is one problem though, Madoka Kaname "hasn't demonstrated a shred of unexpected power".  She seems to have forgotten she was in there to save Homura and has lost her Goddess identity.

Kyubey: " And we find that we have reached a stalemate. It is as if Madoka Kaname has forgotten she is a God... and that Homura Akemi has forgotten she is a Witch".

Kyubey says that now Homura has realised the truth it is time for her to look towards Madoka to save her.  That way Madoka will remember why she came there in the first place.
Homura realises the truth.
Homura wants to know what they are after.  The eye-bots say they want to observe the Law Of Cycles.  Homura responds that they just said curiosity is illogical!  She realises they don't just want to observe, "you want to control Madoka?"  Kyubey says he cannot deny that is their ultimate goal.

Kyubey: "If we can observe it, we can intervene.  If we can intervene, we can exert control. And if we can control it, then Magical Girls can become Witches... and we can expect to collect much more energy than ever before".

The transitional state between hope and despair produces a quantity of energy far greater than they predicted.  There are unlimited possibilities hidden within Magical Girls and so they have to ensure their transformations from Magical Girl to Witch.

He tells her "the existence that was Homura Akemi is finished... your fate has reached its conclusion.  All that remains is to reunite with the one you've been waiting for.  Does that not make you happy?"  And we see braids-and-glasses Homura holding Madoka's hand.  She is happy and at peace ready to move on to the afterlife with the girl she loves. But then Homura says "no."  And coldly shoots her innocent self right in the face.

Homura: "That 'happiness' is something I have never sought".

Kyubey tells her the curses inside her are growing, she'll miss her chance of purification at this rate. But Homura says that Kyubey in this universe does not know she made her wish to protect Madoka. And instead of risking Madoka she'd rather become a Witch instead.

Kyubey asks if she is willing to spend all eternity living with her curses?   But Homura says she trusts Mami and Kyoko to kill her.  Kyubey says if she dies in the isolation field "no one will ever be able to rescue your soul from despair".  Homura just roars "SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH."

Kyubey looks on bewildered as Homura thinks to herself that all she can feel are her darkest regrets.  She is deep in true despair.   She thinks about how she was not able to say goodbye to Madoka and how sorry she is.  And thus is born "Homulily" the Nutcracker Witch.  End of Book 2.
Homulily.
You have to credit Kyubey, him and the rest of the Incubators have surpassed themselves in epic bastardry.  Essentially torturing a teenage girl and in doing so actually blocking the divinity of Madoka.  His relentless mind raping of Homura is a sight to behold and yet he still didn't count on the depth of love Homura has for Madoka that she would rather become a Witch than let the Incubators get their paws on her.  And we get to see just how tough the ending of the series was for Homura with her tearful confession to Madoka in the field of flowers about how lonely and sad Madoka being written out of her life left her.  There's also some cool moments to, I never liked Mami that much in the series but her gun battle with Homura shows that the veteran fighter can hold her own and out think Homura in a one-on-one battle.  Sayaka too takes a level in badass, and despite their antagonistic relationship in the series, here she tells Homura in a roundabout way not to be such a self hating individual.  We'll find out why she and the young girl who is also Bebe/Charlotte came to enter Homura's labyrinth in volume three. And let's for a moment consider what Homura's labyrinth says about her.  For all her aloof laser-beam like focus on Madoka, the two others left standing at the end of the series - Kyoko and Mami - she put together with people she knew would make them happy and deep down she wanted nothing more than to be part of a tight knit group of friends fighting together and hanging out. Madoka's words of comfort though will also come back to bite everyone in a big way, so join me for the final volume in a few days time.  Will it all end happily?  Hahahahaha. No.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie - Rebellion - Book 1

"We dream of a familiar smiling face... that we hope someday to meet again" - Homura

Puella Magi Madoka Magica is the critically acclaimed 2011 seinen anime series about five teenage girls and their dealings with a bunny-cat called Kyubey who offers to grant one single wish, in return he creates a soul gem which becomes the source of the newly created Magical Girl's powers and they have to commit to a lifetime of fighting monstrous beings called Witches who hide in labyrinths and feed off humans.  Unfortunately there are several things Kyubey isn't telling them, first that he creates the soul gem by literally ripping out the girls soul leaving the body an empty shell that can take huge amounts of physical injury in battle. Secondly that the Witches are actually magical girls who gave into despair and transformed, and finally that he is part of an alien hive mind called the Incubators who use the energy created from girls transforming into witches to battle entropy.  The girls are Mami Tomoe, the senior girl who gets her head bitten off by the witch Charlotte, Sayaka Miki the newbie who falls to despair and transforms into the witch Oktavia, Koyoko Sakura the cynical lone wolf who falls for Sayaka and dies in a suicide bomb attack against Oktavia and finally Madoka and Homura. Homura is a time traveller who has been repeating the same six week loop for over a subjective decade in an effort to stop Madoka, the girl she loves, becoming a Magical Girl.  Madoka however does make a wish in the end, the wish to erase all witches before they are born, past, present and future and all the karmic destiny Homura's time resetting built up around her gave her the power to do this.  This rewrote the laws of the universe, and resulted in Kyoko and Mami coming back to life as there were no Witches to die to now (they battle things called Wraiths instead), Sayaka still dying but being taken away after death to Magical Girl valhalla and finally Madoka ascending to Magical Girl Godhood as "The Law of Cycles" but the trade-off was being forgotten by everyone in the whole world but Homura, the girl who did everything out of love for her and who had lost her time manipulation powers too so no more do-overs.  It was obvious to anyone watching the closing moments of the series that Homura was not doing at all well mentally and so in 2013 a sequel movie focusing on her was released.  And like the original series, it has a three volume manga adaptation.  I'll say right now, the film basically split the fandom down the middle but I shall keep my opinions on it under my hat until I wrap up volume three.
Magical Girls.
This manga is unflipped so the pages read from right to left and as regards Kyubey's gender... I give up.  I'm calling it a "he".  90% of the proof reading corrections I made to the three posts I did on the series adaptation was erasing references to him as male.  Strange that a genderless being who is voiced by women should be gendered male by pretty much every viewer (including myself obviously), probably a gender studies essay to be written there.  But anyway, it's a he, and that's that. Oh and just a reminder, I'm a fanatical Kyoko/Sayaka 'shipper so if you want an idea on which side of the fence I'm on regarding this film, there's your clue.
Sayaka and Kyoko fight together not each other.
After a short intro vaguely summing up what it was like to be a Magical Girl, the story begins proper.  A stuffed cat wearing a teddy bear head goes flying through the streets causing cutesy havoc as it goes.  Then Madoka appears (huh?) and fires her bow at it.  It bounces through the streets and suddenly Sayaka (wha?) and Kyoko appear and work together to divert the teddy-cat into a house where a picnic is taking place.

 A song strikes up with the lyrics "no not yet", while Mami appears.  The four of them feed what is revealed to be a "Nightmare" with various foods as the song continues.  Then Mami unleashes Bebe on it, which is her best friend.  And also the witch form Charlotte who bit her head off in the series.  So that's dark.  With the Nightmare out cutesied it fades away, "your bad dream ends now".  And the four plus Bebe stand triumphant.
Kyoko, Mami, Sayaka, Madoka and Bebe up top.
Next day Madoka is woken my Kyubey.  But something is wrong with him, he only speaks the word "Kyu" like a Pokemon. Madoka gets dressed, wakes her hungover mother up and in the bathroom they chat, Madoka says that Hitomi is having a hard time dating Kamijou due to his constant violin practicing.  Madoka also metions her teacher Kazuko keeps going off about the end of the world.  And finally a new transfer student is arriving today.

Madoka finishes breakfast and catches up with her two friends.  But this time Kyoko has taken to place of Hitomi, she's a student now with a uniform to match!  Not much has changed though as Kyoko says she totally blew off the homework and can she copy Madoka's? She and Sayaka then argue about how irresponsible Kyoko is and how when they went home together to do it, she just watched TV instead.

Kyoko: "Geez! I knew it would be impossible to do both school and Magical Girl stuff!  We don't get any time to relax!"

And Madoka rolls her eyes as Sayaka chases Kyoko round and round her, scolding her all the while.  Later in class, Miss Kazuko starts speculating that the world will end in many different ways and she would welcome it because she getting close to age forty and not married.
Homura joins the team.
She snaps out of her reverie and introduces the new transfer student.  It is one Homura Akemi, seen here in her bespectacled incarnation before the time reset angst turned her into the hardened warrior of most of the original series.  As Miss Kazuko introduces her, Homura lifts her hand and shows she has the ring of a Magical Girl much to the surprise of Sayaka, Madoka and Kyoko who are all in this class.

Later on top of the school roof, Mami says she should have introduced Homura sooner.  She had her on standby the previous night.  Mami says they'll be astounded by her magic, Homura shyly says she can only really operate in a support role. Sayaka says the Nightmares they have been having to take on recently have been a lot of trouble so her prescence is very welcome.  Kyoko agrees too.  Madoka runs up to Homura, grabs her hands and says "let's give this town our best.  Homura-chan".

We then jump forward a month.  Homura and Madoka are sitting in a park with Kyubey curled up next to them.  Homura is pondering something:

Homura: "It seems like we've always been together.  But it also seem like yesterday that we met".

Madoka just wishes people could have good nights sleep and no nightmares.  Then she says she has hoped for a long time that she and Homura might get a chance to talk. But she does't have anything special to say.  Homura say spending time with Madoka "is something I've been waiting for a long, long time, Madoka".
Homura and Madoka together again.
We then cut to Hitomi, she was the friend of Sayaka and Madoka who declared her love for Sayaka's crush Kyosuke and sent Sayaka spiralling into the depression and self-hate that saw her turn into a witch.  She ring Kyosuke and asks him out on a date, but as usual he is practicing his violin. She hang up and thinks that he is "so gallant... and wonderful... I do love him, but... why can't he work a little harder for my affections for a change!?"

She slumps down on the bed  saying she's "had it". She nods off to sleep thinking dark thoughts and a Nightmare forms around her.  Mami is getting ready for bed when Bebe flaps about speaking gibberish that tells Mami there is a Nightmare that need dealing with.

Outside watching the Nightmare are Kyoko and Sayaka.  Kyoko asks Sayaka if it's Hitomi's nightmare and Sayaka grins saying:

Sayaka: "Hitomi's sure got it rough... but it's her own fault for dating a guy who has the consideration of a brick".

Kyoko notes that it means a lot coming from her and Sayaka replies that she has some experience with these things.  The Nightmare is rampaging around turning the sky into patterned cloth.

Kyoko and Sayaka jump down to meet up with Mami and Bebe.  Then Homura and Madoka appear and the team is set to go.  We then get a few pages showcasing them transforming into their Magical Girl selves, which manages to be less ridiculous than the same transformation sequence in the film.  At the end they all stand in a line and declare themselves "Puella Magi Holy Quintet!"

The Nightmare has trashed a building, so Mami and Madoka attached themselves via ribbons to Homura who freezes time, they can still move and using Mami's ribbons attched to Madoka's arrows they wrap round the building and pull it tight, bringing it back to normal.
The Cake Song begins.
Kyoko and Sayaka are up next.  Sayaka hurls five swords at her and Kyoko creates a lattice barrier.  The swirds fly through attaching to the barrier and tie the Nightmare up.  They all land on a table and Bebe shrinks the Nightmare so it sits under a clear dome on the table.  Then we get the infamous cake song.  Rendered here in "chibi" style they chant a song about what kind of cake it is until it suddenly grows huge and Bebe turn into her clown worm self and eats it.

Back to normal, Bebe burps up Hitomi's floating head.  Sayaka grabs it and send it towards a sillouette of Kyosuke.  They hold hands and disappear and Hitomi gets a nice dream for the rest of the night.  Madoka says triumphantly, "we did it!"  Sayaka agrees it was easy with all of them there.  Mami cautions not to get over-confident, but Kyoko says she'll only listen to a lecture if they come "with a side of tea and cake".

Mami invites them all over, but while the four of them discuss what they want, Homura hangs back frowning.  Madoka turns and asks if she is alright, Homura says she is but is thinking:

Homura: "Is this... what our battles... were supposed to be about?"

Next day in school Homura notices that everyone bar her fellow Magical Girls, Hitomi and Kyosuke have blank faces and are speaking but with no words.  Only she seems to see this though, as far as the others are concerned everything is normal.  On the roof while the others eat she looks down and sees the rest of the city is like this.
Sinister world for Homura.
Madoka asks her if she wants to come shopping, but Homura says she has something she needs to do today.  Kyoko says she won't come either so Sayaka agrees to bring some food back for her.  And the gang split up.   Sitting under a tree a short time later, Kyoko ask Homura what she wants to talk about.

Homura: "...have you felt like something seems off lately?"

She has asked Kyoko first because to her, Kyoko is the one acting most strange. She says Kyoko is "different from the impression I have in my mind."  Reality is way off from how she pictures it and she has a feeling she wasn't always like this.

Kyoko is somewhat taken aback by this and asks if Homura is trying to pick a fight with her.  Homura asks where Kyoko is living right now and Kyoko says she is staying at Sayaka's place.  Homura then asks how long she's been going to Mitakihara Junior High.  Kyoko says she transferred in, but when pressed by Homura, can't recall exactly when.

Homura then asks where she lived before and Kyoko says it was the next town over, Kazamino.  But she cleaned the place out and Mami asked for help so she came over to Mitakihara.  Homura asks if she has been back to Kazamino recently and Kyoko says there was no need.  Homura asks Kyoko to come with her now to Kazamino and "if it is the town you knew from before you moved here, then I'll apologise".
Kyoko agrees to Homura's plan.
Kyoko realises she is serious about this so agrees saying there is a really great ramen place and she can treat her to dinner there.  So they board the bus headed for Downtown Kazamino.  Kyoko rings the bell as they approach, only to find they are back at Mitakihara District 3.  Kyoko freaks out saying it's supposed to have turned left.  They disembark wondering if they got on the wrong bus.

They get on the next bus and ring to get off at Kazamino North Entrance, but it just takes them to Mitakihara District 2.  Angrily Kyoko starts to yell at the faceless driver but Homura stops her and they get off.   They decide to try walking this time, but the road twists and turns before bringing them back to Mitakihara.  Kyoko starts to power up saying someone is trying to stop them leaving Mitakihara.  Homura stops her with a scary thought:

Homura: "It may not be as simple as that.  It may even be... that there is no world outside of Mitakihara".

She then asks Kyoko if she could keep this quiet for now, she has some other things she wants to investigate.  Kyoko starts to protest but Homura point out the shadowy blank-faced people who are watching them now.

Homura says the trap is set up so they'll attack them if they show they know what is going on.  So for now it would be better for her to work alone, "as long as we keep going along with it... there should be no danger".  Kyoko agrees but says she also feels something weird is going on with her memories. She should be surprised seeing Homura show backbone, but she isn't surprised, "it's just the opposite.  It seems like that attitude fits you best".
Creepier and creepier.
And she leaves.  Homura now alone begins to reflect on what she knows.  She recognises the isolated illusory space, trapping and confusing prey in a maze with no exit, she has no doubt that this is a Witch's labyrinth.  As she undoes her braids and removes her glasses she thinks about how Witches were the final form of a Magical Girl who had fallen into despair and how she travelled through time to "thwart a fate that was too heinous to imagine."  And how Madoka sacrificed herself to break the cycle and lead a new world order.

Homura: "That's what should have happened.  And yet we have forgotten.  Someone is altering our memories as a part of this trap... No. We have been made to forget. Within this fictious...version of Mitakihara!"
The glasses come off, the hair comes down and it's go time.
End of Book 1. First thing you might have noticed is this is a much shorter post than the ones on the series.  This is because this three volume series is based on a two hour movie, not a twelve episode series and there is much more action as well. Anyway this Witch's labyrinth has all the aspects of your typical Lotus Eater Machine.  Sayaka has made her peace over losing Kyosuke and has no overwhelming angst about being a Magical Girl.  Kyoko has Sayaka back and is close enough to her that they live together and this seems to have encouraged her to deal with her dark and troubled past and rejoin society.  Mami is not the fragile individual she was in the series, the support of Bebe has lead her to become a respected leader of the team and has helped her with her issues around being lonely.  Madoka is back and is no longer worried about being The Load, she's a capable Magical Girl and also has her family again.  And Homura has Madoka, which has seen her returned to her more "innocent" self rather than the battled hardened veteran of many timeline resets.  Battles are fun not frightening and the reward encourages fighting as a team.  So what kind of Witch would create a Labyrinth that brings happiness and contentment not despair and death?  Well Homura has finally seen through the sham, a gut feeling that things are not quite right and if there is anyone equipped to sort this out it's her.  Even if it means losing that which she cares about most dearly. And there is always Kyubey, just why is the evil bunny-cat acting like the cuddly Team Mascot not the complete bastard we all know he is? We shall see what he's up to never fear.  What's also noticable about this first part is the extreme pandering to the fanbase going, things like adding Charlotte as a character, putting Kyoko and Sayaka together, having all five fight together and call themselves "Puella Magi". It's like they were reading the fanfics.  But, like the series it's based on, the cutesy exterior is already falling away as Homura sets herself the task of figuring out just what sort of witch would create a labyrinth like this.  Find out yourselves in a few days time.