And it is one that perhaps should have ended in 2011.
Big spoilers lie ahead.
Hello everyone, it’s me: Dr. Anime. And I’m here to tell you about an anime I enjoyed in which my first opinion of was “what do you mean that this show about cutesy magic girls is rated 15?” I’m going to skip the part in which I slowly realised that Madoka Magica is more than just your typical magical girl show and go straight to the part where I tell you why it is so damn good. And since now there is news that a new movie is in the works (but for real this time maybe), I thought it was high time to re-visit the 12-episode-long TV show as well as the follow-up movie.
It's a much-made comparison – yet one I think is still valid – that Madoka Magica is the Evangelion of the magical girl genre, meaning that it uses your preconceptions of the genre to surprise attack you over the head with a bat made of sadness. If Evangelion puts up a false front that you’ll be in for some robots vs. monsters battling action, then Madoka Magica lies to your face by promising that it’s just about a group of girls having fun magical adventures. If I were to pick a point where the show fully drops this facade, it of course would be where one of the main characters gets her head bitten clean off. The sheer magical balls to go ahead and kill off a character so brutally and without warning can certainly be a shock, even if you knew beforehand of the show’s darker tendencies. Yet, the aspect of the show that will stay with you the most is its characters, and so, I wanted to take a closer look at these adorable moeblob ladies facing despair and hopelessness.
First naturally is Madoka Kaname herself, the most moeblob of them all, an earnest and kind-hearted if slightly naive and self-critical protagonist that we’ve all seen dozens of times before in other anime. But the twist is that she doesn’t actually become a Magical Girl until the very end, and yes, you will be seeing the words "Magical Girl" a lot in the coming paragraphs, and no, it doesn't get any less dumb sounding the more you hear it. For the most part, Madoka acts as emotional support, trying to comfort the others as they slowly learn the horrifying reality of what it truly means to be a Magical Girl. Yet, her efforts amount to nothing, as one by one her friends and companions follow a dark path down to Magical Girl destruction.
Throughout the show Madoka's frustrations build due to her own powerlessness, and you might start to wonder why she is taking so darn long to become a Magical Girl herself. But we also get a strange foreboding feeling from magical cat and Magical-Girl-power bestower Kyubey, who’s the type of person to sell you a car and genuinely get confused when you complain that the tires explode when you reach 50 mph. There’s a real sense of anticipation when Madoka finally becomes a Magical Girl (the most powerful one of them all in fact), and in staying true to her character, she uses her powers to help others rather than for her own gain, removing the curse that causes Magical Girls to eventually become the very things that they fight: Witches.
Second is Sayaka Miki, a lively and upbeat girl who fancies a boy named Kyosuke Kamijo, who himself is distraught at the fact that an injury has cost him the ability to play the violin. So when Sayaka learns that becoming a Magical Girl also grants a wish, she uses it to give Kyosuke the ability to play again. Expecting him to return the favour with romantic interest for all the times she visited him in the hospital, she is left heartbroken to see that he already had eyes for another person: Sayaka’s friend Hitomi Shizuki. Upon realising she was acting like the female equivalent of the "nice guy", she begins to fight Witches out of guilt instead of praise and affection. This guilt eventually begins to eat away at her, with despair eventually turning her into a Witch. Sayaka’s tale is about the dangers of doing good for the sake of being rewarded, and when she doesn’t get the love she expected, that feeling turned into self-hatred. But in her final scene, Sayaka learns to find joy in Kyosuke’s happiness at being able to play the violin again, before she passes away peacefully.
Third is Mami Tomoe, a clam, confident and powerful Magical Girl that takes the role of mentor for Magical Girls in training. She doesn’t get much screen time since she dies very early on, but the show does a great job at telling us what type of person she is. On the surface she is the envy of many due to her strength and skill, but underneath she’s a desperately lonely person. She even breaks down in tears when Madoka and Sayaka express interest in becoming Magical Girl, since she will no longer be alone in her Witch hunts. But when she finds out the truth that Magical Girls eventually become Witches, this is when that despair turns into something more violent. Crushed by this discovery, she immediately starts killing off other Magical Girls, claiming that they all need to die for the good of the world. As someone who takes pride in her work and ability, the idea of herself because the very thing she toiled so hard to destroy proved too much for Mami to handle.
Forth is Kyoko Sakura, a selfish and antagonistic person who spends about 80 percent of the show cramming her face full of food as the writer constantly taps you on the shoulder and goes “you get it, it’s to illustrate how she only thinks about herself.” Disillusioned at the world when her father’s good intentions are met with hostility from the public, causing him to take his own life, Kyoko decides that the only way to live is to live only for one’s self. Her initially hostile relationship with Sayaka starts to turn into sympathetic concern when she witnesses Sayaka’s self-destructive actions. In a last act of selflessness from Kyoko, she sacrifices her own life in order to free Sayaka from the curse of being a Witch, showing her willingness to believe in people again.
The fifth and final character I wanted to talk about is Homura Akemi, who’s relationship with Madoka is easily the focal point of the entire show. Cold, calculating and whips her hair back and forth like that one not so great song by Will Smith’s daughter, Homura is certainly lording it up on that edge. While coming across as a foe early on, the show slowly unravels who she is and what her goals are: and she is someone who loves Madoka and is trying to save her from an inevitable death. With Madoka being fated to die when she battles a powerful Witch called Walpurgis, Homura keeps resetting time in an effort to save her from that Magical Girl life.
Having failed dozens of times has obviously desensitised Homura to the horrific misfortunes that happen around her. To the other Magical Girls it’s a fight of life and death, but for Homura, it’s simply another attempt in a very long line of attempts. But eventually she tearfully confesses what she has been doing this whole time to Madoka, as the mounting failures begin to take their toll on her drive to keep going. Armed with this knowledge, Madoka wishes to become the force that will save all Magical Girls from ever becoming Witches, with the catch being that she will only exist as a benevolent god-like force, with no one having any memory of her existing – and Homura is not down for that shit.
In the emotional core of the show, Madoka tells Homura to let her go, that Homura will be ok without her. And that’s when Madoka Magica imparts its last and perhaps most important message: to accept the passing of a loved one. All jokes aside, I would 100% sincerely recommend an anime fan this show if they were grieving for a lost friend or family member. It ends with Homura learning to accept that Madoka is gone forever, and she moves on with her life as a way to honour Madoka’s last wish to not give up. It’s an excellent way to finish an excellent show…
…and then the movies came.
The first two movies are merely the TV show split into two parts, and it is the third film (named Rebellion) that carries on the story. To cut a long story short, Homura goes back to not being down with the shit that is Madoka being omnipotent god, and becomes a demon to drag her back down to Earth. I have mixed opinions on this movie but there are some good parts to it for sure. Homura twisting the world into her own personal paradise where her friends can live in peace but against their will, is a morally grey conclusion that’s at least interesting. Sayaka’s and Kyoko’s reunion is also rather touching, as they finally get the chance to confess how important they’ve become to each other. And finally, the fight between Mami and Homura is perhaps the most anime thing that I've seen, meaning it is both gleefully awesome and ridiculously dumb.
Have a look for yourself:
But I just can’t escape the feeling that Rebellion is mostly unnecessary despite my enjoyment of it, and at its worst it could be seen as a betrayal of Homura’s character arc. Now with the promise of a fourth movie ready to drop sometime in the future, I just wonder where is the series going? Is Homura going to go “sorry about the whole demon thing yeah, I'll promise I’ll let you go this time Madoka” at the very last moment? The show said what it needed to say when the curtain closed on episode 12, and I can’t help but think of the irony that a show about letting people go is itself not allowed to rest.