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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.