Madoka Magica #12: Not Today, Satan

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In a world that wants nothing more than for you to fall into despair, the greatest act of rebellion is to hope.

Madoka thanks Homura for all her hard work, and stands before Kyuubey to make her wish: to erase all Witches, past, present, and future. Since becoming a magical girl inevitably means becoming a Witch, wishing that Witches don’t exist is a paradox… but as we discussed last week, Madoka has such immeasurable cosmic power attached to her that she can pull it off. Kyuubey’s face, as always, does not change, but there’s an air of shock and horror about them as Madoka transforms.

Madoka vanishes into pink light, and reappears having tea and cake with Mami and Kyoko. Whether this is a literal conversation with the dead (she is transcending her mortal self and rewriting the laws of the universe at the moment; it’s probably possible) or just a mental one, both fallen friends are supportive. Mami warns her in her typically mentorly and nurturing way that such a wish would lock Madoka into an endless cycle of fighting—she’s signing up to personally destroy each Witch before it’s born, a job that will remove her from the usual confines of time and space, losing all connection to her original life and even her sense of self. Madoka would not just become a person who grants hope to magical girls falling into despair, but would become the concept of hope itself.

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She has the power of God AND ANIME on her side!

Madoka accepts this destiny quite serenely. Mami seems proud of her, if a little worried, and Kyoko is glad that Madoka’s found a true and heartfelt reason to fight rather than just becoming a magical girl out of obligation (Kyoko’s feelings toward using magic to help other people have notably changed since we first met her). And so our hero returns to the real world, glowing and clad in quintessential frills and fluffy pink, ready to destroy and rewrite the universe itself in the name of protecting her fellow magical girls.

And here’s where Madoka’s dark and grim edges become an effective throughline of the story—not as a “deconstruction” of the magical girl genre that shreds the dreams of young girls for some grown-up genre play, but simply as a different version of said genre. It applies the traditional mahou shoujo codes to a more “realistic” world where everything is less child-friendly, where cruelty is embedded in power structures and where death and despair cannot be fended off with the simple Power of Love. Where being good and selfless does not guarantee you a happy ending, where kindness and innocence are exploited… where everything is just kind of crappy, where every factor of the system that runs the world are stacked against you just because you are who you are. It presents this world, in all its darkness and awfulness, and says that we should still not lose hope. In fact, it presents hope as a weapon—the last thing the ruling powers expected or wanted anyone to do, and the thing that tears them down.

“If someone said it was wrong to hope, I’d tell them that they were wrong, every single time”—these are the immortal words of Madoka as she throws up two dainty middle fingers to Kyuubey and their system. Magical girls must compete, and leave each other to ruin in order to save their own skin? Screw that, she’s going to travel throughout time and space to save each and every one of them. Magical girls are doomed to have their wishes backfire and to turn into the monsters they despise? Screw that, she’s going to make sure that every single magical girl gets a peaceful ending. Despair and doom is the only logical outcome? Screw that. She’s going to reshape “logic” itself. The only way to depose a cruel system is so shatter it entirely and start anew.

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This costume is my favourite. Bring me more shieldmaiden magical girls

And so Madoka goes around, taking on the despair of a whole world history’s worth of magical girls (featuring some very cute designs, and some more flashes of the Ancient Aliens theory of magical girls that brings even more legends and historical figures into the fold), freeing them from the fate of becoming Witches and allowing them a peaceful end, assuring each and every one of them that she wants them to keep smiling, wants their wishes to not have been in vain. Madoka becomes a sort of benevolent goddess of death, a Valkyrie in frilly pink.

Of course, becoming the world’s most powerful magical girl means becoming the world’s most powerful Witch. Homura is horrified at this realisation, but Madoka herself appears to put the brakes on this negative plot twist. After all, she wished for Witches not to exist, and this includes her own. She destroys her own despair before it can get to her, and the force of the blast of positivity sends Homura flying into some sort of glittering no-place, where she’s forced to contemplate the tragedy of Madoka’s new godlike existence. And then it’s time for Naked Space Hugs.

I wrote a post about this scene (or at least, using this scene as a jumping off point for discussion of queer rep) years ago, and honestly, since then I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Because yes, there is room to interpret this as one of those genre-defining Power of Friendship stories, and I still firmly believe that friendship is powerful enough to motivate characters to this extent, and we should have stories that demonstrate that rather than prioritising romance all the time. But there’s also something a little ridiculous—to the point where it feels forced—about Madoka declaring “you were my very best friend!” in the middle of such a sapphic scene. Like, they’re embracing while nude, having just rewritten the universe with the power granted by how much they care about each other, but they’re just friends, guys. For realsies.

Subtitle: To think that I had such a precious friend wit me all this time..!

Just gals being pals, you know?

Of course, if we take the ending of the Rebellion movie as canon, this is 100% a love story, at least on Homura’s side. But the ending of the Rebellion movie also turns Homura into something akin to The Literal Devil, so we’re caught between the rock that is demonised homosexuality and the hard place that is “they’re just good friends!” ambiguity. It’s a mess, honestly. But it’s also a genuinely heartbreaking scene, whether we’re looking at universe-altering romantic love or universe-altering platonic love. Madoka, now able to see through all of space and time, knows what Homura did for her, and appreciates it with all her heart. It’s her turn, now, to fight to keep Homura safe.

Presumably they’re nude because there’s no place for clothing in a place between universes… but then why do they still have their hair ties? Because they need them for this dramatic moment, I can only assume. Madoka gives Homura her pink ribbons before she floats away, promising to see her again one day, suggesting that maybe since she found her here, Homura will still be able to remember Madoka when she returns home. Miracles do happen, after all. Madoka happily declares that anything’s possible because magical girls make hopes and dreams come true, then disappears into the fabric of the cosmos itself, leaving Homura behind.

This ending is hopeful—quite literally, filled with Hope—but it’s also bittersweet as hell (and incomplete in some ways, which ultimately led to the addition of Rebellion). It’s fitting to the series’ grounded, gritty method that even with Madoka rewriting the universe, the universe is still crappy, and being a magical girl is still not a safe and rewarding endeavour. The most she was able to do is stop them from turning into Witches; which, admittedly, is a massive improvement, but all magical girls still seem doomed to tragic fates. The only change is that they’re guaranteed peaceful passage in the arms of The Frilly Valkyrie rather than transforming into a monster. This new universe still loses Sayaka, for example, since Madoka knew that she wouldn’t be happy with a world where she hadn’t wished to heal Violin Boy. But instead of turning into a Witch she gets to sit with Madoka and watch him perform, tearing up happily before vanishing, ghostlike.

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Miki [claps] Sayaka [claps] did [claps] nothing [claps] WRONG

As of this rewatch, I’m definitely not content with this as Sayaka’s resolution. It’s probably all the extra analysis I was able to do about the nature of her arc’s tragedy. I acknowledge that there’s really not much space to send her journey in a completely different direction at this late stage, but the irritating point remains that she still ended up dying because of her one-sided, emotional labour-intensive, duty-bound love for Violin Boy as part of the “good” ending. Kyoko takes the words right out of my mouth by tearfully complaining that “she didn’t have to let herself vanish just for some boy she liked!”

Sayaka gets a line where she mutters, sarcastically, that Hitomi is way too good for Violin Boy. Which on hand, I love, because it means there’s no animosity between the friends. On the other I kind of hate it, since it means Sayaka has realised that Violin Boy isn’t even that crash hot, and she’s still died for his sake. As she seems doomed to, if the number of timelines in which we’ve seen it happen is anything to go by. The biggest aspect of this scene that is “resolution” is Madoka assuring her that her wish was precious, that what she did was meaningful, and that Sayaka really did change the world for the better. It steers her away from the feelings of uselessness and contempt that drove her to despair initially, but it seems like too little too late, and too easily shrugging off all the social commentary in her arc to say instead that self-sacrifice of this nature is fine, actually.

There’s also the after-the-fact question of whether this is truly a moment of reconciliation between the two friends, or if Sayaka, more likely, has no idea who Madoka is. Homura’s the only one who remembers her, after all. It’s like that when you transcend and become the concept of hope itself.

Kyoko, Mami, and heartbreakingly, even Madoka’s parents, have no memory or concept of Madoka. Interestingly, Madoka’s little brother seems to have her around as an imaginary friend, which implies some intriguing stuff about parallel universe crossover and junk, and adds another little layer of magic. But the show doesn’t dwell on it for long, though it does imply that this gives Homura a little bit of inner peace. Since she and Mama Kaname get along so well in their brief conversation, I harbour hope that she becomes a family friend.

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Pink-haired girl breaks the system and thus can no longer exist in it, but purple-haired girl remembers her… wow, this writing team really wants you to know that they watched Utena

The saga ends with Homura, now equipped with a bow like Madoka’s (I suppose in this new ‘verse she can’t possibly have her time magic, since she can’t possibly have made the same wish), resolving to fight on as long as it takes. In lieu of Witches, the “curses of humanity” now manifest as funky pixelated creatures called Wraiths, and these are now the targets of magical girls fighting for good. The world is still a crapsack, but it’s a world that Madoka wanted to protect… and with that in mind, Homura promises to protect it as well. The final moments of the episode flash the phrase “Don’t forget, always somewhere, someone is fighting for you. As long as you remember her, you are not alone.” We see this in motion as Homura hears Madoka’s voice, smiles, and surges ahead into battle, but it’s also a broader message that sticks with me even to this day.

What a note to end a dark and gritty series on, huh? What a profoundly un-gritty, inspiring, uplifting note of hope and support in a dark and dangerous world. And that is Madoka’s staying power, for me—not its unflinching depiction of negativity, but its unflinching dedication to positivity in spite of that harsh reality. This redemptive return to the roots of the magical girl genre in its final, most powerful moments is what makes the whole series worth it, makes it a compelling story rather than just a freight train of suffering to prove that kids are dumb. That’s why it’s good. That’s why it holds such a place in my heart. It’s also why I’m not doing another writeup of Rebellion, because this is just too good a note to end on.

It’s been a ride, rewatching this series as someone Older and Wiser, but it’s gratifying to know that it holds up, and it has in some ways an even more heartfelt and resonant message for me now than it did when I first encountered it. I think Madoka‘s staying power is that it means something different to everyone who engages with it, for better or worse, and will probably mean something different to each viewer in each new stage of life. I have to say, with the current state of the world and my new awareness of it, there’s something downright inspirational about Madoka’s serene stubbornness to hope. Whether or not that’s what the creators intended, that is what this series means to me.

Thank you so much for reading along, for commenting and sharing and liking and all that jazz, and for coming on this journey with me. It means a lot! So take care out there, keep your chins up, and be the Madoka you want to see in the world.

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5 Comments

Filed under Alex Watches

5 responses to “Madoka Magica #12: Not Today, Satan

  1. “Madoka & Homura: Do you know what happiness is?
    Madoka: It’s bright May sunshine.
    Homura: It’s the warmth of family.
    Madoka: It’s fried eggs for breakfast.
    Madoka & Homura: But there’s nothing like that in Heaven.

    Madoka & Homura: Do you know what happiness is?
    Homura : It’s having your name called by someone.
    Madoka: It’s calling someone’s name.
    Homura: It’s when someone is thinking of you.
    Madoka & Homura: But God alone cannot have any of this.”
    -The Madoka Magica Concept Movie

    So, while I can appreciate your interpretation of the ending, and view it as a valid way of interpreting Madoka, ultimately I don’t agree here.

    The big problem here is what Magical Girls are, versus what they are perceived to be by Madoka. In every instance, being a Magical Girl entails personal destruction. Entering a contract means you will be dead in a few years at best, and a few weeks at worst. In other words, you have tens of thousands of young women destroying themselves in droves. Madoka does not change this, at all. If you notice with all the girls she’s “saving”, they’re already in despair. They’ve entered a contract and their lives have been ruined. Whether they become a Witch or not at that point is immaterial, they’re dead either way, which, as stated, is a bunch of young women killing themselves. In Sayaka’s case this is especially egregious, since Sayaka destroyed herself, killed herself, so Kyousuke could play the violin again. That’s it. That’s all she accomplished with that action.

    Given this, I have a question: Why is this acceptable? Why do we glorify Madoka for her actions, even though she exalts the existence of Magical Girls and the consequences of being such?

    This is why Rebellion is so important, because it rejects and condemns this. It recognizes that the system of Magical Girls is horrible and unfixable, and the ultimate solution to it is to reject and destroy it. And I think there’s a fundamental disconnect here with how Madoka is interpreted.

    Another question: Why, exactly, do Magical Girls need to exist?

    It feels like, in a meta-contextual sense, that Magical Girls must exist because they are inherently good. Why are they inherently good? Because other majou shoujo anime portrays them that way. Therefore, Madoka’s ending is “good” because it recognizes this fact. Any ending of Madoka must have Magical Girls being “good” and anything else is just dark and depressing.

    But this does a disservice to Madoka as a work. It, effectively, cannot create its own setting and system without it being burdened by other works which are ultimately unrelated to it. If we do away with the idea of Magical Girls being inherently “good”, then what is Madoka actually doing? It has created a system which works for a narrative purpose which exists outside of the standard mahou shoujo, in theory.

    In Madoka, Magical Girls are a horrible system. It was created by the Incubators, solely to create farms of energy, and nothing else. It relies on the exploitation of young women and their destruction, old world or new. It exists as a system of instant gratification, rather than actively working to improve yourself. Magical Girls as a system is a trap, formed out of manipulated information and misguided idealism. And critically, Madoka does not address this at all, and actively encourages it. Again, why do we glorify Madoka for this?

    But more to the point here, we have a horrible system. It exists as an antagonist force within the narrative. Given this, the answer to it is not to indulge in it like Madoka has, but to reject like Homura will. This is what Madoka is as a work, and the ending of Madoka completely works against this. It throws out everything that came before it to have a “happy ending” which fixes nothing in terms of Magical Girls. If anything, Madoka’s ending is far more cynical than Rebellion’s is, since it wallows without remorse or second thought in an awful system. That everything that happened before, all the suffering, destruction, and death were acceptable. That what occurred in Madoka was ultimately fine. To actively encourage that kind of horror – To be honest, I can’t think of a worse “bad end”.

    Thus I don’t see Rebellion as somehow undoing a “happy ending”. It is destroying a “bad end”. It erases the victory of personal destruction and replaces it with a path of self-actualization through life, rather than death. To, as the opening quote puts it so elegantly, find happiness on earth while alive and experiencing life without endless battle, destruction, and death. “There’s nothing like that in Heaven” indeed.

    As an unrelated point, I take a lot of issue with the idea of Rebellion “demonizing homosexuality”. Homura and Madoka’s relationship is horrible, as neither of them understand each other, and keep hurting each other through their actions. This has nothing to do with them being women. It is how their relationship is.

    And I feel this creates a problem, since if we’re defining Madoka and Homura’s relationship as demonizing homosexuality (despite the relationship’s problems having to nothing to do with their gender or sex), then does that mean every negative depiction of homosexual relationships is demonizing them? Why, exactly, can a work not depict a negative homosexual relationship, assuming it isn’t an obvious homophobic screed? Finally, can it really be justified here, via Madoka’s narrative, that Rebellion is homophobic?

    I feel the crucial error is assuming that Homura is a Demon solely to make it such that her love is awful, and being homosexual in nature, then by extension, homoseuxality is also awful. But this completely ignores everything that created Demon Homura, and the genesis of her creation and the nature of her incarnation are far, far, far more complex than this. I’m not going to get into it, since to cover Demon Homura would take a master’s thesis, but I really don’t agree that Demon Homura exists because the creators think homosexuality is somehow inherently wrong.

  2. A quick addendum on the nature of “hope” in Madoka:

    When the series ends, “hope” is created for Magical Girls when they die. It is a nebulous, future thing, something which comes at the end of a horrible life and personal destruction. It is a passive concept which just exists at some point in the future.

    To this, however, Rebellion, well… Rebels. It does away with this passive, future, maybe concept. It instead, says this:

    “I WILL not fall into despair
    I WILL not destroy myself
    I WILL not choose death for life
    I WILL reject heaven for earth
    I WILL overcome
    In response to “thou shalt”: I WILL”

    Instead of waiting for salvation, Homura instead rejects this for the mortal world and what it represents: “…If it be a living and not a dying organization… it will endeavour to grow, to gain ground, attract to itself and acquire ascendancy—not owing to any morality or immorality, but because it LIVES, and because life IS precisely Will to Power (I WILL).”
    Friedrich Nietzsche -”Beyond Good and Evil”

    The ending of Rebellion is the beginning of a journey which leads to Homura seizing back the life that was taken from her, to live for herself, and for herself alone. To show that no, Homura does not need Madoka, or the Law of Cycles, or “hope”. Instead, she actively affirms her own life on the earth.

    • INCREDIBLE commentary and interpretation! I’ve never seen such positive outlook on Rebellion before. To answer your question on why Madoka is glorified for upholding an evil system…Because Madoka cared about her fellow Magical Girls’ desires. She thought that Magical Girls have a right to make wishes, and that wishes themselves aren’t something negative. That’s why she allowed for Sayaka to still have her original wish in her new world, even if it meant allowing Sayaka to vanish. She thought only of the ways of the system as wrong- the girls suffering, dying, or their souls deforming into monsters whose only purpose is to inflict suffering onto people. In comparison to this, Madoka brought a LOT of improvent. The system is implied to not be self-induced anymore- Wraiths seem to be separate force from MGs. Magical Girls no longer need to fight for loot, because enemies now drop multiple cubes instead of one seed- there’s encouragement for team work. MGs no longer turn into witches and instead are granted peace and rest for their hard work. Because of all this, Kyubey doesn’t feel the need to deceive the girls and pit them against each other, and he wouldn’t have a reason to anyway, since as he states that collecting energy here is much slower compared to the world of Witches. (Though he didn’t become a docile little lamb as seen from his elabore plans in Rebellion…) Madoka’s wish was not meaningless, she thought that ultimately Magical Girls are needed…because they make hopes and dreams come true. Even if they still die for the sake of the universe.

  3. Pingback: The Sleepy Structuralist: February ’18 Roundup | The Afictionado

  4. kirbita22

    Personally I have conflicting feelings on rebellion. Because on one hand, I love it and all the pieces of it stick with me, and because ultimately I believe it rings true to the characters: of course Homura is not happy with letting Madoka unexist herself for the sake of everyone else, and of course the Incubators, upon learning their system is not as efficient as it can be, would decide to try and undo Madoka’s wish.

    Bur you can like something, and believe it to be true, while still recognizing it has many, MANY issues. Homura rebelling against a god does symbolically make her a devil, but that cannot exist in an apolytical context in which homophobia doesn’t exist. And the mere existance of this film and whether it was needed or if it’s just a shameless cash grab is debatable, putting the whole thing in a weird “should this be canon or not, since the writer didn’t seem to have intended it to exist in the first place?” space.

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