Look, I had to name at least one of these after the most iconic anime meme of my generation.
We pick up right where we left off last time, with Homura having materialised out of thin air to put an end to Sayaka and Kyoko’s not-so-friendly idealistic debate. Kyoko draws our attention to the fact that yes, what’s happening is weird, even by magical standards: she demands to know what type of funky magic this new interloper is using, jabbing aggressively with her nunchuck-spear-thing while Homura calmly clips through space and evades her. What rattles Kyoko even more is that Homura knows her full name… but when asked if they’ve met before, simply says “Maybe. Who’s to say?” Even Kyuubey seems confused (as much as Kyuubey displays any emotion). This episode cements Homura as “an irregularity”, suggesting that magical girls can exist outside of Kyuubey’s system… and though we’re not yet sure how, this becomes a fairly comforting idea by the time the credits roll.
Sayaka returns home to clean her Soul Gem with a Grief Seed, the same way she saw Mami do it (wait… where did she get that from? The next scene with her in it describes the fight with Kyoko as “yesterday”, and there she only chased after a familiar that she didn’t catch. Did she go out overnight and take on a fully-fledged Witch all on her own? That seems like the kind of thing that wouldn’t happen offscreen. This is a weird little blip in conservation of detail in an otherwise intricately-plotted show).
Kyuubey confirms that the more magic you use, the muddier your Soul Gem becomes, which explains the ruthless efficiency of “regular” magical girls like Kyoko. Kyuubey also adds a neat but utterly bizarre little bit of worldbuilding by opening up a hatch in their back and absorbing the Grief Seed. Did you need reminding that Kyuubey’s creepy and otherworldly?? Because there it is. Jesus.
Kyuubey also fills Sayaka in on the information he gave Madoka a few episodes ago: that she has the greatest magical potential of any girl they’ve ever met. Why does Sayaka need to know this? So she has it up her sleeve if she ever feels like emotionally blackmailing her best friend into helping her, of course! Emotional manipulation is Kyuubey’s currency, they’re just sharing it around. It doesn’t seem like something Sayaka would do, but she’s already acting differently with Madoka this episode than she has in the past, so maybe the little space critter has picked up on this and is taking the chance to slide in with the power of suggestion.
Madoka is, as the only non-magical girl in our current main cast, even more out of her depth than usual. She hovers uselessly on the edge of Sayaka and Kyuubey’s conversation about hunting down the familiar and the possibility of running into Kyoko again, and she shyly suggests that maybe Sayaka should seek her out first and try to have a chat. Sayaka, uncharacteristically strung-out, snaps back that a friendly chat with Kyoko is out of the question—they were both trying to kill each other last time they met, after all. This is news to Madoka, and news that plainly horrifies her—after all, Sayaka’s not just defining Kyoko as a serious threat but admitting her own murderous intent. I don’t know about you, but I’d be taken aback on a deep and fundamental level if my best friend suddenly started speaking openly about their own bloodlust.
But Sayaka’s a girl on a mission, that much is clear: her ideological clash with Kyoko has bubbled over into a fervour where she declares herself and Mami to be “the only good magical girls”, deriding the rest of their kind as selfish, ruthless, nasty pieces of work like Homura and Kyoko who commit the unthinkable by putting themselves first. A touch uncharacteristically, she also throws a verbal knife right at her dear Madoka by asking how she’d feel if a Witch or its familiar killed someone from her family? The “selfish people are bad” rhetoric isn’t new at all for Sayaka, but throwing it at Madoka to, I don’t know, highlight her newfound responsibility and maturity? is unfamiliar.
If a magical girl lets a Witch run wild for her own benefit, that’s just as bad as committing murder in Sayaka’s book. With righteous anger in her eyes, she declares her intent to fight all Witches and any magical girl she deems as bad as a Witch. She’s so fixed on this Sayaka vs The Universe mindset that she accuses Homura of sitting by doing nothing while Mami died, either ignoring or wilfully forgetting that it was Mami who chained Homura up and stopped her from helping. She talks over Madoka when she tries to correct her. Frankly, this slip into full-blown vigilantism and the way it’s coming out as her anger at her friend is a little frightening, and I can see why Madoka’s upset.
Being the sweet thing she is, though, her greatest worries are still for Sayaka herself. Late that night, the sleepless Madoka hears her mother come home from work and tiptoes down to meet her, setting up alongside her with a glass of orange juice and ice to match her mama’s whiskey on the rocks. She’s in no position to tell her mother the details (whether out of loyalty, not wanting to talk about Sayaka behind her back so directly, or out of a fear of getting her mum embroiled in the world of magic) but she does feel safe enough to reach out and ask, if abstractly, for advice.
Remember how I said there would be time in the series to talk about how much I like Mama Kaname? Now is that time. She’s not your usual vision of the wise and maternal, but that works for her: she’s clearly defined as her own flawed and quirky character who exists in a role apart from Main Character’s Mother, but this doesn’t mean she can’t be a good mother in her own way. She’s quippy but she’s also genuinely sweet, and clearly loves her daughter a lot (neatly debunking the concept that a woman can’t be career-focussed and a caring parent) and wants to help her out. It’s in-character that her advice to Madoka is slightly unconventional but ultimately smart: she advises her to do something stupid.
If Madoka’s hypothetical friend is wearing blinders and heading into danger (people do it all the time, she says) then perhaps it’s up to Madoka to make a little mistake or do something a little crazy to draw her attention out of her tunnel-vision and to her own faults. Mama Kaname also advises that Madoka shouldn’t be so afraid of doing the wrong thing—in fact, she should get some practice in while she’s young and can bounce back, so she’ll be more prepared for when things go wrong as an adult. It’s advice that could be considered reckless parenting by some, I’m sure, but it’s also so sensible that I found myself actually kind of amazed.
Because yes, you should learn how to do the wrong thing—and come back from it—while you’re young, lest you enter the adult world with no concept of how to repair mistakes and relationships. The irony of course is, as we’ll know even better by the end of this episode, that Madoka and her friends are already embroiled in a very grown-up and scary business where one mistake can cost them a lot more than it should at that age. This conversation with Mama Kaname helps put things in perspective: to reel back and remember that our heroes are kids, forced to make gigantic decisions before they’re ready to, preyed on by Kyuubey precisely because they’re in such a weird liminal stage where they’re simultaneously more vulnerable and more resilient than ever. Supportive, adult logic is surprisingly rare in shows with teen protagonists, and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking to get some here.
I’d forgotten about Mama Kaname’s “adults are always in pain, and that’s why they’re allowed to drink alcohol” line. Boy has that only gotten funnier (in a bitter existential Millennial Humour sort of way) now that I’m older.
Meanwhile, with Madoka and Sayaka’s friendship fraying at the hems, a weird new team-up is taking place between the mutually-annoyed Homura and Kyoko. Still freaked out by Homura’s “irregularity” but apparently refusing to show it, Kyoko has a very casual conversation with her fellow magical girl while she’s going wild on a DDR machine. It’s here that we hear a brand new phrase: Walpurgisnacht. What does it mean? We’re not sure yet, though Kyoko seems to have at least a vague idea when Homura brings it up. Whatever it is, it’s coming in two weeks. Kyoko asks how Homura knows (still dancing aggressively) and Homura tosses her hair with an appropriate air of elegance and mystery and says it’s a secret.
In any case, whatever Walpurgisnacht is, they both agree it will take more than one magical girl to get rid of. Homura uses this to try and get Kyoko to leave Sayaka alone, but it evidently doesn’t work, since she tails her to Violin Boy’s house for the climax of the episode. Sayaka went to visit him in his hospital room, you see, but since, you know, his injuries were miraculously healed, he’d been sent home. Sayaka looks… much more unhappy with this news than she probably should. Awkwardly, she goes to his house instead, but finds she can’t quite gather the strength to knock on the door. Enter Kyoko, with her trademark lack of tact, to stomp all over her emotionally conflicted moment.
She starts up their ideological discourse again, but this time on a personal level: doesn’t Sayaka know that magic is only supposed to be used for personal gain? “If you use it for other people it only causes trouble” are her words, which will, needless to say, make a hell of a lot more sense when we learn her backstory and gain context. For now though, Kyoko is in all-out bully mode, teasing Sayaka and quite brutally suggesting that she go in there and break Violin Boy’s legs so he’ll be dependent on her again… because that’s what Sayaka really wanted, wasn’t it? To have him all to herself, to make him grateful for her?
It would probably have stung even if it wasn’t an echo of something Mami said, but there’s no doubt it hits a nerve. It’s when Kyoko offers to do the leg-breaking herself “as a favour to her fellow magical girl” (a double punch to Sayaka’s personal feelings and her resolve from earlier that she’s Not Like Other Magical Girls) that flips the switch, though. The two effectively challenge each other to a duel, and move to a bridge above a highway to battle it out. Their fiery pre-fight powering up is interrupted by both Madoka and Homura, the former who runs onto the bridge with Kyuubey, the latter who appears out of nowhere once again. They both try to wave the battling magical girls down, in their own ways. Homura coldly points out that Kyoko’s being reckless, thus making her Homura’s enemy; and Madoka takes her mother’s advice to heart and does something that turns out to be really stupid—she grabs Sayaka’s Soul Gem and flings it off the bridge.
This is met with mild shock from everyone except Homura, who immediately looks horrified and vanishes into thin air. Halfway through protesting, Sayaka faints. Well… faint is possibly the wrong word. She just stops, eyes going glassy, limbs going limp, voice going silent. She falls to the ground like a ragdoll, leaving both Madoka and Kyoko to stare down at her in horror. Amidst their demands to know what the hell just happened, Kyuubey’s matter-of-fact response is that Madoka just threw her friend’s soul away.
See, when you make a contract with Kyuubey, they remove your soul and place it in a (appropriately named) Soul Gem. That is where your personhood lies—your body is just a shell that you pilot around, meaning that your body can sustain endless damage (Kyuubey describes some fairly bloody and brutal injuries here, all in that squeaky lil voice) and it won’t matter since your soul remains intact and detached from it. You can just heal yourself with magic and get back up! Don’t you see it’s more convenient this way? Kyuubey’s all logic, seeming a little miffed that the humans are so distraught when their system makes perfect sense.
If you thought Kyuubey eating a Grief Seed was proof that the little thing is inhuman and otherworldly, this enhances that by about a hundredfold. I remembered this plot twist, of course, but had forgotten enough about the reveal scene itself to be unnerved all over again. It’s the first major step in the direction of the Faust allegory and a massive, massive blow to the last remaining traditional conventions of the magical girl genre within the show. Fittingly, this is the halfway point in the series, and this is a fair indication that everything can only go downhill from here—if “Kyuubey removes people’s literal souls” is only the mid-point twist, what else can the series possibly have up its sleeve for later climactic moments?
It’s nicely paced-out, too, if you consider the climax of episode three our first Big Twist and tonal descent. It gave Mami’s death just enough time to sink in before smacking the audience over the head with something new and shocking. The status quo is changing quickly enough so that we’re never bored, but not too quickly to drag us off our seats. There’s plenty of time in between action scenes and big plot moments like this to let us get to know the characters and care enough about them to want to know how this change in the status quo will affect them. Whatever issues I may have with this series, I maintain that it’s fantastically and methodically put together (which makes that weird inconsistency with Sayaka’s Greif Seed stand out all the more, but hey, nobody’s perfect I guess?).
This wallop of a climactic scene comes to a close with Homura returning with the Soul Gem—which, luckily, landed on the back of a passing truck instead of just shattering on the tarmac. Sayaka wakes up, apparently unaware of the massive and horrifying shift in the rules of the universe as we know them, confused to see Madoka so upset.
God. Where’s Madoka’s mum when you need her?