Spoiler-Free Review: Madoka Magica 3: Rebellion

So that happened.

I think the best review of Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie 3: Rebellion is the reaction of the theater audience when I saw it: As the credits rolled, they erupted in an outburst of confusion, denial, and outrage. Slowly this died away to silence, and then, after a few minutes, slow clapping started, which accelerated into uproarious applause.

It’s that kind of movie.

Visually, it was of course stunning, combining all the elements that made the TV series so striking and then transcending them. Yuki Kajiura’s music was likewise outstanding, as it was in the series. And it managed both shocking moments on par with the ending of episode 8 of the TV series, battle sequences that easily topped the spectacle of episode 11, and punch-the-air moments on par with episode 12.

I will say that, like the series, it was heavily cryptic. Not ambiguous or confusing (this is Madoka, not Evangelion), but encoded to mean something very different to people who recognize its allusions as opposed to those who do not. However, the allusions are not actually that hard–having read Paradise Lost, and being rather shallowly familiar with Buddhist and Gnostic mythology was enough for me to not share in the rest of the audience’s outburst–instead, I found this a satisfying, appropriate, more-or-less happy conclusion to the series, and am perfectly content for it to end here. On the other hand, if they’re going to continue producing something this good, I have no objection to there being another movie or TV season.

Note: As this is the spoiler-free review, any comments which contain spoilers will be deleted as a courtesy to readers who did not get to see the movie (the availability of which is still quite limited in the English-speaking world) and wish to. If you want to make spoiler-y comments, wait until Wednesday, when my spoilery review and initial analysis will go up.

I haven’t let my inner science nerd out to play in a while…

Rewatched several of the Marvel movies yesterday (Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers, and as of writing I’m considering whether to watch an Iron Man, though that will be difficult seeing as Netflix doesn’t have them), because it’ll be a little while before I can go see Thor 2. I have to say, at first I thought the Tesseract was just a bit of technobabble, throwing out a science-y sounding word, but the more I think about it, the more it works for me.

The key is, there are a couple of mentions of “dark energy” in The Avengers in relation to the Tesseract. Like a tesseract, dark energy is a real scientific term; it refers to a hypothetical form of energy that is causing the observed expansion of the universe (hence “dark”–we can deduce its existence from observing its effects, but have yet to detect it or confirm its source). Dark energy appears to permeate all of space and act on space itself, causing it to expand. It is very weak, which is why it hasn’t completely shredded the universe; even as space expands, gravity is strong enough to hold structures like galaxies, stars, and planets together, let alone the much stronger electromagnetic and nuclear forces holding together smaller structures such as atomic nuclei, molecules, and people. Despite this weakness, because there is just so much space, dark energy ends up being the majority of all energy in the universe.

Which brings us to the Tesseract, which appears to draw on dark energy to generate power. Of course, the amount of dark energy in a region of space as small as that cube wouldn’t be enough to run an EZ Bake Oven, let alone power a Nazi super-science army, but the name gives a clue to how it could work.

In real life, a tesseract is a four-dimensional cubic prism; that is, it has the same relationship to a cube as a cube has to a square. If you do the math, you’ll find that it has a total “surface volume” eight times that of a single cubical “face,” but still, eight times that tiny cube is only slightly less tiny. However, thanks to Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time, in science fiction “tesseract” has a second meaning: a four-dimensional fold in space that connects two points that are very distant three-dimensionally. Given what the tesseract does when Red Skull activates it at the end of Captain America, and that it enables the opening of a gate for the Chitauri to invade Earth in The Avengers, it seems pretty likely that this is the definition meant.

At which point it makes total sense that it is able to tap vast amounts of dark energy. We have no idea how much space it’s capable of folding up, but given that the Chitauri expect to conquer the universe, we can assume it’s a lot. Now it can access the dark energy of vast swaths of interstellar space, folding them up so that they can all be accessed through that one little cube.

Which leads to another fun thought: what if someone mass-produced them? As it stands, there is enough dark energy in the universe to keep it expanding forever. If the “quintessence” theory of dark energy is correct, then the amount of dark energy in the universe is actually increasing over time; eventually there will be nothing else, and space will shred itself completely. Using up the dark energy of interstellar space seems like a good idea, to keep the universe from flying apart. On the other hand, use up too much, and you eventually hit a point where there’s more gravity than dark energy, and the universe starts to collapse in on itself. You could set a pretty interesting story in a universe where that’s starting to happen, and people are faced with choosing between giving up their main energy source or dooming the universe–but obvious as the answer is, it isn’t easy, because it’s a very slow doom that none living will see.

Too on the nose, perhaps?