We’ve talked a lot about contracts with Kyuubey, but we’ve never seen what they actually entail. Watching Sayaka’s in motion we’re forced to realise/remember how otherworldly Kyuubey is—there’s not anything necessarily sinister going on on surface level, but there’s a deeply unsettling atmosphere surrounding the whole ceremony that’s only heightened by its juxtaposition to the peppy and colourful opening theme that comes on right after it. Not enough to cause real trouble, but just enough to raise the question “oh, my sweet girl, what are you getting yourself into?”
Back in the safety and supposed normalcy of daylight, Hitomi is at school and is fine, her brush with magical death having been passed off as a collective hallucination. Given that the gang has faced at least one Witch an episode thus far, I have to wonder what the police and hospital records for this city look like—presumably riddled with mysterious deaths, out-of-nowhere suicides, and spontaneous group sleepwalking sessions. Not to mention all the strange disappearances of the girls who become the Witches themselves, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. All I’m saying is this must be an exhausting and frightening place to work in emergency services.
Sayaka jokes her way through the conversation with Hitomi, but Madoka can only look downcast (and Homura, from across the classroom, can only look peeved). The two friends take some time to chill on a riverbank after school and talk about Sayaka’s newly-acquired status as magical vigilante, and Sayaka is so naturally upbeat it’s kind of painful. She feels fantastic, she feels confident in herself. If only she could find that confidence in ways other than signing her life away to magical servitude for the sake of another person… but as we established pretty cleanly last episode, Sayaka is too tightly wound up in a system where her worth is determined by her ability to help others. Which I can completely understand, personally, which is perhaps why I can feel cracks forming in my heart as I watch this.
Madoka is, also understandably, worried. Sayaka manages to assure her that she’ll be fine without dismissing her concerns, which is nice. They share a moment of reflection for poor Mami when Sayaka declares her only regret is not making the contract sooner, but with all that in mind she takes special care to tell Madoka that she shouldn’t feel pressured into joining her. Which is very nice, since Kyuubey will spend the rest of this episode trying to apply that exact pressure.
Unfortunately for Sayaka, no amount of bravado can shake off Madoka’s fears, and so she goes and consults with Homura over afternoon tea. Homura is drinking black coffee, which is presumably the only substance that can keep her awake and motivated in the absolute nightmare carousel that is her life. The drink sets a suitably dark and bitter tone for her attitude throughout the whole conversation, where she blankly shoots down Madoka’s request that she try and help Sayaka on her Witch hunts. She dismisses Sayaka’s bravery, kindness, and selflessness as “fatal flaws in a magical girl” (how’s that for a kick in the teeth to the expected conventions of the genre?) and says Madoka should accept her friend’s fate as she would accept that the dead cannot be brought back to life (how’s that for personal irony, Ms Fate-Changing Time Traveller?).
Meanwhile, Sayaka is embracing every single one of her “fatal flaws” by visiting Violin Boy and making his dreams come true. He hasn’t been released from hospital yet since the doctors are still running tests on why the hell his hand healed itself overnight (I told you working in medicine in this town would be nuts), but he can still travel up to the rooftop garden where Sayaka reunites him with his beloved violin. It’s the same rooftop garden where we saw Sayaka sell her soul at the beginning of the episode, but let’s not dwell on that uncomfortable correlation. She says it’s the happiest she’s ever been, and I don’t have the heart to spoil it for her even if I’m screaming internally. Anyway, Kyoko will do that for me by the time the episode is out.
Panning away from the garden, we find our new red-haired cast member surveying the scene and talking to Kyuubey about her plans to shove Sayaka into a locker. Kyuubey takes the time to warn her that it might not be as easy as she thinks, partially because of Sayaka’s own strength, and partially because of Homura. And here we get the first solid hints that there’s something off about the girl in purple—Kyuubey admits that they didn’t make a contract with her, and Kyoko quite rightly asks where the hell she came from, then? Kyuubey has thus far been established as the gateway to magical girl power in this universe, and for Homura to confuse them marks her as something new and strange that exists outside the system. And as we get deeper into the terrible intricacies of said system, the idea that a girl can exist outside it becomes a more welcoming idea. For now, though, it serves to add another layer to Homura’s delightfully ominous presence.
Said ominous presence has not managed to deter Madoka, so she heads to Sayaka’s house to support her on her first Witch hunt. Sayaka practically melts with relief, glad to have Madoka along for the ride in spite of all her bravado. Even with Sayaka’s self-deprecating jokes about how much of a useless coward she is, it’s a touching moment between the friends… spoiled a little by Kyuubey staring soullessly into Madoka’s eyes admiring her courage and asking, in that peppy and matter-of-fact way of theirs, that should anything go wrong Madoka will of course do the right thing and become a magical girl to aid her friend, right?
Nothing about the way Kyuubey conducts themself has really changed since their introduction, but the camera and lighting seem to be swinging around them at different and increasingly unnerving angles these days. This exchange is all the creepier with the opening scene in our minds, and the shot of Madoka framed inside their glowing red eye is by far the eeriest part of the episode.
Sayaka and Madoka find a Witch—or at least a Witch’s familiar—and are preparing to chase it down, magical girl transformation and all, when the red-haired and red-tempered Kyoko appears. She inquires why Sayaka’s bothering to chase a Witch that isn’t fully grown and thus won’t drop a Grief Seed, clearly not possessing the sense of “doing it for the sake of other people” that governs Sayaka’s philosophy and life. Naturally, this gets Sayaka’s hackles up, and a good ol’ altruism vs self-preservation debate begins (though a lot more streamlined than others Urobochi has contributed to, namely Fate/Zero and Psycho Pass).
It’s a tricky thing, this clash of two schools of thought, and goes a little deeper than just the “selfless heroism is stupid” argument. On one hand we have Sayaka, who’s twisted up in the aforementioned system where her value is determined by her ability to help and provide hope for others, combined with the self-esteem issue that she feels horrible for being okay when other people are suffering. These can both be read as natural personality traits, sure, but it would be a waste to dismiss them as just personality traits and not products of the society in which she’s been raised.
As we saw from the nurses’ conversation where they placed hope in her ability to heal, or at least emotionally support, a gravely injured person, she’s been caught in the bind that is the image of Woman as nurturing and selfless, defined outwardly by those characteristics rather than anything unique to her personally. If she’s defined by her ability to help other people with their problems, it’s no wonder she’s developed such a knack for covering up her own problems, as we’ve seen with her jokey persona in the wake of tragedy. She must be a positive force at all times; nothing else is permissible (with this in mind, the moments where she does legitimately show fear and sadness with Madoka are all the more significant and moving).
On the other hand we have Kyoko. We don’t know much about her except for absolute basics, but from what we can infer from her establishing dialogue with Kyuubey and Sayaka, she seems far more in favour of the Power of the Individual (we will eventually learn how and why, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). Especially interesting is that we can infer Kyoko exists outside of “society” as we know it—she doesn’t wear a school uniform despite being student-age; she has a very callous and devil-may-care way of speaking that’s very uncensored compared to Sayaka, Madoka, and Hitomi’s way of conducting themselves; and her casual posture, constant talking with her mouth full, and habit of hanging around atop tall buildings makes her seem wild, in a way.
So, Kyoko seems to exist outside society, which means she hasn’t adopted—or has outright rejected—the cultural norms that have led to Sayaka’s current headspace. Why should she waste energy, emotional or physical, on things that will not benefit her in some way? Why should she look out for other people, when they wouldn’t necessarily do the same for her? It’s a help-nobody-and-rely-on-nobody worldview that seems to stem from the idea that other people are more likely than not to be either mean to her or useless to her, so she focusses all attention to her needs—as opposed to Sayaka, who focusses all her attention on the needs of others.
They’re two poles that each have their deep flaws and are each no way to live, and this quarrel between them is a neat way (if a teensy bit ham-fisted at times) to introduce their clashing philosophies. Which is always fun when you’re playing around with the theme of heroism—Sayaka is very much in the “with great power comes great responsibility” camp, which Kyoko shrugs off as naïveté. It’s your classic idealism vs pragmatism showdown. And caught in the middle of it all is poor Madoka, who just wishes they would stop fighting.
Before Kyuubey can lure her into making a contract, something odd happens… and out of apparently nowhere appears Homura. It’s this image that we end on, something that makes you sit back and blink, and a nice payoff to the advanced air of mystery she’s gained this week between Kyuubey’s declaration that she’s “an irregularity” and her wise conversation with Madoka. It’s not the first time we’ve seen (what we will come to learn is) her time magic at play, since she used it in her fight with the Dessert Witch, but it is the most obvious and surprising. And so the world of magical girls gets ever more complicated…