Madoka: of temporal recursions and noble hearts

It would probably take me a dozen posts and perhaps some tens of thousands of words were I to try and dissect the entire Madoka series. It is a series rife not only with symbolism, but also with meaning that to try and encompass it to a single post would be a sacrilege and a disrespect to its greatness. Other pundits of anime have also spoken volubly on it that I have no desire to reiterate what a lot of them have already said.

I have been almost three years removed from any meaningful study of philosophy or literature that I cannot write intelligently about literary theories any longer. I have also never properly tackled the concept of deconstruction so I cannot give any rational comment on Derrida and Foucault. As much as I would like to analyze the series in those lenses, I have been inundated with only medicine these past few years. Instead, I would like to merely recall and expound on certain points that have resonated within me as I was watching the series.

From a helpless girl who was always saved ...

Despite being contrary to the series that I usually watch, Madoka wasn’t the first ‘magical girl’ series I have seen. Although I cannot speak of deconstruction intelligently, I think I’m versed enough to be able to speak of the series as a sort of subversion to what is commonly seen in such series. Little is common with Madoka and a series like Akazukin Chacha; even the hue of Pretear was incomparably lighter than Madoka’s. As far as the samples of ‘magical girl’ series go, Madoka is by far the darkest I have seen, in that it doesn’t really designate good from evil. A scene between Madoka and her mother, Junko, would probably accurately illustrate my point: her mother actually persuades her to do the wrong thing if it gives her a chance to fix what was broken than to stand by and watch. Whereas other ‘magical girl’ series were content to speaking of hope and love as no more than mere words or ideals, Madoka as a series attempted to contain what hope really represented and its ramifications, as well as what love really represented and its repercussions. There’s also another statement that’s repeated throughout the series to drive in the grayness of reality in contrast to other ‘magical girl’ series: excessive kindness can lead to pain and sadness.

I have no qualms with that: I think Madoka is the best series ever produced by SHAFT, and I’m not even exaggerating. I truly love series that contain thematic sacrifice for the sake of love, whether that love is filial or romantic. With that said, I think that the tenth episode was one of the best episodes of anime I have ever seen.

Upon realizing that she wanted to protect the person who took care of her all along ...

Prior to the tenth episode, the audience is left to question whether Homura’s existence was good or bad. She did admittedly questionable things, but there was nothing that was truly evil in her. When it was revealed that she became a magical girl for the sake of having a chance to protect the only person who became her friend, I couldn’t help tears coming into my eyes; when I realized that despite her efforts, Madoka (the girl) ended up saving her again and again and dying in the process, they simply fell down.

I have always loved watching friendship endure despite the most difficult of situations and the most horrifying of obstacles, and I could say the same about enduring love. What both of them did was no laughing matter especially because they were both consistent no matter what timelines they existed in. Whereas Homura was the apotheosis of friendship, Madoka was a paragon of the goodness of humanity.

Homura sacrificed her soul so that she would have a chance to save Madoka from her fate and the fate of all magical girls, and like Rintarou went back through time, over and over again, just to protect her from becoming a magical girl. She went back a countless number of times only to fail over and over again and see Madoka still saving her at the end. When she finally gave up near the end of the series, she saw Madoka die thousands of times just saving her.

... she became someone determined to protect the only person she felt was worth sacrificing everything for

There’s little more to be said about Madoka: she was indeed the series’s Christ-like figure, the Dostoevskian idiot, the one who acted contrarily to both society and common sense. She took on all the despair accrued from millennia of suffering magical girls and promised hope to them, just so that she could protect everyone she cared for, including Homura. The sad thing was that she was going to be forgotten by everyone that she protected and cared for and live floating as a concept for all eternity.

While it was a terrible end for her, I nevertheless found the ending to be satisfying, as her best friend had never forgotten despite the loss of her existence, wearing her ribbon and tailoring her weapon to be akin to Madoka’s. The fact was that they never really parted, and Homura decided to fight on despite there being no threats of becoming a witch because it cherished the memory of Madoka. I found that a great ending.

I also appreciated the series because of its well-executed temporal recursions. While it wasn’t as clever or as well-integrated as Tatami Galaxy’s, I think it was beautifully-rendered all the same. I still think Tatami Galaxy is the best series I’ve seen, however, because I’m personally partial to series that expound on their plot as uniquely as possible. It’s the same between Inception and The King’s Speech. The King’s Speech is a great film and it deserved its victories, but I prefer Inception because of its non-linear storytelling that was pulled off beautifully. The same could be said between Tatami Galaxy and Madoka: Madoka was a story of friendship and sacrifice told very well, but it wasn’t as inventive as Tatami Galaxy. I’m not saying Madoka is a worse series: it’s just that I prefer TG more.

As regards Madoka and Steins;Gate, I’m also going to have to give a small edge for Steins;Gate not because Homura was less noble than Rintarou, or that I underestimate what Madoka did for everyone, but because I hated Sayaka quite a bit. She was the aberration among the Magica Quartet, and she pissed me off more often than not. She was the selfish one, the one who hurt the people around her just because she couldn’t think straight – and she really had no excuses for acting the way she did to Madoka. I simply dislike people (and myself sometimes) blaming others for their own faults. I didn’t see anyone as incorrigible as that in Steins;Gate, even though Kurisu’s sacrifice for the sake of Mayuri was incomparable to Madoka’s.

... and like an avenging angel tried her best.

Mami was a genuinely good existence, making the best out of her forced contract with Kyuubey by trying to save as many people as she possibly could. I don’t even blame her for her breakdown, because she was willing to kill herself as well just so that they could not hurt others. Kyouko, despite her initially selfish façade, died so that she could protect Madoka and pacify Sayaka’s witch. Homura and Madoka are as noble as they get, as I explained in the previous paragraphs. For the former, it no longer mattered if no one believed her so long as she could save Madoka and fulfill her promise to Madoka: it was both beautiful and heart-wrenching when she hardened herself and decided to fight as much as she could for as long as she could for Madoka’s sake. Sayaka was the aberration, the difference, and the reason.

There was no one like her in S;G, after all. Moeka clearly had psychosis, so I excluded her from the usual crew, but the rest sacrificed the thing they desired the most just so they could save their close friend. Each of them, from Rintarou to Feyris, gave something they eminently treasured just so that Mayuri won’t die. Other people probably noted of countless other similarities between Madoka and Steins;Gate, so I don’t need to explicate any further.

I guess I also just really love watching romance that’s genuine between two individuals. I have re-watched the kiss between Kurisu and Rintarou about three times, and I have no problems re-watching it again. There’s so much love between them that’s tinged with an equally heavy amount of sadness. I don’t underestimate the love between Madoka and Homura, but I prefer watching romantic love.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Angelus and everyone else who prodded me to watch Madoka. The series was really brilliant and one I would not hesitate to re-watch again. Although I’m saddened by the fact that I really don’t have much time to organize and collate a more robust analysis of the series, I have no regrets with the series whatsoever and would recommend it to anyone open-minded enough to go outside their box once in a while.

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4 Responses to “Madoka: of temporal recursions and noble hearts”

  1. Angelus Says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed Madoka!

    The only bit I can’t agree with you on is Sayaka, in that I found her character far more tragic than annoying. It was clear from fairly early on that things would not go well for her, but I wasn’t prepared for the outworking. “I’ve been such a fool”, she says as she realises her by now inevitable fate.

    Sayaka is like the little mermaid – not Disney’s sanitised pabulum, but instead Andersen’s raw, cruel original without the happy ending he clumsily tacked on later. Indeed, we see Sayaka’s witch with a mermaid’s tail, and during the conversation between Kyouko and Madoka in episode 9 the day after their first encounter with Sayaka’s witch we see (at least in the BD version) mermaid and unicorn wind chimes hung together, representing Sayaka and Kyouko. The little mermaid bargains with a witch for the chance to gain both love and a soul, but Sayaka (unknowingly) gives up her soul for love and becomes a witch. Just as the whole Madoka story subverts one genre, so this tragic pericope subverts yet another.

    Yes, Sayaka was a pain, but Kyouko had come to love her (interpret that how you will), and was willing to try anything to somehow get her soul gem back. In the final confrontation between Sayaka’s witch and Kyouko in episode 9, the imagery with their colours, red for Kyouko and blue for Sayaka, is astonishing – they are depicted almost as twins sharing a womb. Kyouko tries to embrace Sayaka but she disappears, and then the colours become the red and “blue” of arterial and venous blood as the twins symbolically “miscarry” in a haemorrhage pouring out between Kyouko’s legs. I don’t know who specifically was responsible for that scene, but it has a savage brilliance stamped all over it.

  2. Ryan A Says:

    Great thoughts, and I still have not finished either Tatami nor S;G. I did finish Madoka though the result, while good, was not as dark and serious as I had hoped. To me, there was grazing atop deeper philosophical elements in Madoka but ultimately did not fall into the realm of literary or philosophical fiction. There was plenty of symbolism and attribution to culture as we know it, but I genuinely feel it’s primary purpose was entertainment. Acceptable, though perhaps a missed opportunity for a greater impression. I also believe this was one of SHAFT’s best works to date, alongside the *monogatari series.

    Cheers.

  3. rds Says:

    @Angelius,

    Kyouko didn’t just tried to save Sayaka, IMHO she totally succeeded – alas, Sayaka was already so far down the rabbit hole that the only way to save her was to kill her. (…tears in my eyes…)

  4. Michael Says:

    I seemed to have left this site for over a month. Apologies to the people I haven’t replied to.

    Angelus, I re-watched that scene and the imagery was brilliant. I agree with you, and I appreciate the information you gave regarding her similarities with the little mermaid. Still, I couldn’t help but think that she could have skirted her doom by being less selfish, and my sister seems to agree with me. I guess it boils down to perspectives. We really just didn’t like her. She was the least heroic among the four of them, and it was also her fault in the first place that … I guess I simply have to disagree with you here.

    I found Tatami Galaxy to be more intellectual than Madoka although I could not stress enough my admiration for the series’s twist regarding Madoka and Homura. It was both heartwrenching and yet masterful, and I really liked the series because of that. And yes, Ryan, it is one of the best series SHAFT ever produced.

    rds:

    Sayaka was just … ugh 🙁

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