Blickwinkel is a blog that offers perspective, and I thought for today, in true blickwinkel fashion, that I’d do something I would normally never dare to. And that is to play devils advocate with my old pal ImperialX (His opinion on the conclusion can be seen here) So without further ado, heres my take on why Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica’s conclusion was just not very good.
Version Two: After the incredible influx of comments and subsequent debating, I realized that perhaps I had not gotten my points across clearly enough. I have since rewritten this post with a clearer format and ideas, and hopefully that will dispel some issues people may have.
The first step we’re going to take, is to take a look at the thematic implications which Madoka’s final wish and the subsequent results have. Madoka wishes to destroy all witches, in the past, present and future across all dimensions so they are never created. The mechanics of this wish violate some sort of universal law, and as a result, the physical laws of the universe are rewritten to suit Madoka’s wish. From the surface, it is clear the theme that SHAFT was trying to bring across was the idea of self sacrifice. This is evident from the fact that Madoka transcends existence and becomes a deity, and that the final episode aired on Good Friday. Both these are obvious allusions to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, who died bearing all of humanity’s sins. In a similar sense, Madoka now carries all the taint of soul gems which are about to become grief seeds upon herself.
Basically, the entire anime was leading up to this moment. All the issues and problems raised are to be seemly solved by this epic Deus Ex Machina. But are they really? Let’s have a look.
1. One of the major points of the story is the idea that the world is slowly being destroyed due to entropic decay. The conflict that revolves around this theme is whether it is an acceptable sacrifice to collect energy from witches, at the cost of the girl’s lives which the witches originated from. (And to a lesser degree, the harm which the witches cause). We are presented with two sides of the argument. Namely, viewpoints from Kyuubey and the girls themselves. To Kyuubey, the logical and calculating viewpoint, the sacrifice of a few to save the universe is an logical and obvious trade, whereas the girls who represent emotion and compassion, this is something unacceptable. The conflict between these two different viewpoints is brought forth many times in many different mediums, notably war movies and even survival horror.
What does Madoka do to address this issue? Change the laws of the universe so that both sides are happy. After the conclusion, the world as changed. Kyuubey no longer harvests energy from witches, but from curses that originate from negative emotions of humanity. The girls no longer have to be conflicted about being harvested for energy as witches, and Kyuubey still gets his quota to save the universe. Why is this answer unacceptable? Because it doesn’t address the issue at hand. Who is right in the end? Kyuubey or the girls? Is it an acceptable sacrifice to harvest the witches’ energy or not? The show never really address this issue in the end, rather it dodges the problem by changing the circumstances around it. And while from a story perspective this may be a clever way to settle things, it leaves a big gaping hole where a problem used to be.
2. There is a scene towards the second half of the season, where Kyuubey equates their ‘farming’ of humanity to our farming of cattle. Madoka’s reaction to this reality becomes an interesting point of discussion, because she breaks down in tears. Does she represent perhaps, our unwillingness to accept that there may be a force stronger than us that controls us (the value we place on our freedom), or is the relationship between us and Kyuubey a more sinister metaphor for our relationship to all animals we consider inferior to us?
We may never know, because Madoka’s ending once again dodges this issue. The new set up make it out so that instead collecting energy from witches, we collect energy from negative human emotions. If I had to draw a parallel, it would be like: Instead of killing cows for meat, we are now picking apples off the ground from what the apple tree dropped. The former topic is still something heatedly discussed in many parts of the world, but no one will shed a tear for the apple tree. How we treat creatures we consider less sentient, how we would reaction to a race more sentient than us if they controlled us. Madoka doesn’t address any of these. Once again, it chooses to dodge the problem by offering an easy alternative.
3. One of the major ideas that was built up was the idea that using magic to solve problems isn’t the answer. Sayaka and Kyouko’s stories are perfect examples of this. In the former, Sayaka wishes for her crush’s injury to be cured, only to have him stolen by her best friend, something that leaves her in despair and ultimately leads to her downfall. Kyouko wishes for her father’s success, only to have it lead to her family’s ruin. In the earlier episodes, HUGE emphasis were made on the importance of the wishes, how you had to choose carefully and decide whether not it was worth risking your life, and also how you had to be careful if you were making the wish for something else, that you weren’t just seeking their approval. The entire concept was built around the singular idea that wishes are not something that comes for nothing, and that a price of equal value has to be paid. The show even goes as far as to depict famous historic female figures as Mahou Shoujos, attributing both their achievements and untimely deaths to the consequences of magic.
And then, along comes Madoka. She makes a huge wish to should all the burden of all Mahou Shoujos everywhere in all of time and space. Surely such a wish would need to have consequences right? Yup, as a result of her wish, all the negative energy gathers into her soul gem and hurles itself towards earth.
But then she gets out her bow and shoots it. Problem solved.
Am I missing something here? Is the show telling me that the best way to solve a problem is to shoot it with a giant magical bow? Surely not. Out of all the actions in the anime, Madoka’s is the only one that doesn’t seem to have a equal and opposite result. Some people might argue that she sacrificed herself as the payment, but I don’t buy that. Call me heartless, but I hardly thing 1 person is enough too account ALL THE TAINT of ALL MAHOU SHOUJO across ALL OF SPACE AND TIME. Madoka is still after all, only a middle schooler, not the *cough* Son of God *cough*. In the end, the resolution was something that defied the conventions which the Madoka universe was set in, which to me just seemed like the easy way out in order to have a bittersweet ending everyone will like.
I’ll also take this opportunity to make the Code Geass comparison, which I know many will point out. In both anime, the conclusion is based on the protagonist sacrificing themselves by taking on the burden of the rest of humanity. The distinction is that Code Geass doesn’t really deal with the the theme of consequences in the same way that Madoka does. In Code Geass, it is illustrated that every action will lead to an inevitable consequence, but the nature of this consequence is very obscure. In Madoka, things are much more clear cut, and throughout the anime the idea that good and bad must balance each other out is emphasized greatly. In Madoka we can more or less predict that a positive wish will have an equal negative repercussion.
Again, Madoka’s wish just HAS to be the exception to the rule. When Sayaka selfishly wished Kamijou’s arm to heal, she died. When Kyouko selfishly wished for her father’s success, her family died. When Homura wished for Madoka’s safety, she got stuck in an endless loop of tragedy. But when Madoka wishes for everyone’s safety, she gets that wish. Why is that? Is it just because she’s the protagonist, she gets special entitlements? I don’t buy it.
4. This point ties in with my previous one, but the anime makes a huge emphasis on the fact that there are no selfless good deeds. Right on the second episode, Mami sets the tone for this idea, asking Sayaka “Are you helping them because you want them to say something to you?” Even Madoka’s wish can be considered selfish. Why you ask?
As long as something we wish for is driven by something we desire, either emotionally, physically or mentally, then our wish is a direct fulfillment of that desire. Desire is after all, an imperfect human emotion, and THAT, qualifies the wish as being selfish, regardless of whether the act itself is selfless or not. Madoka’s one and immediate instinct was to protect her friends, fellow Mahou Shoujo and the city from Walpurgisnacht. It was also explicitly stated that it was her dream for a talentless person like her to be able to help others. Her wish was a direct fulfillment of these two desires, and the result, however noble, was only a consequence of that. This was the unsavory truth that Madoka tried to drill home to us for 11 episodes.
Which then raises the question. Why draw the parallel between Madoka and Jesus Christ at all? The death of the Son of God is arguably the only selfless sacrifice in the history of man, if such a thing existed. In terms of motive, the two couldn’t have been more different. If SHAFT was using this just to bring our attention to the idea of self sacrifice, then they really have overkilled it. I can’t tell you if this was a story oversight or just bad character design, but there is definitely something wrong with it.
5. Evolution and other sentient life are two points which Kyuubey brought forward quite frequently. The former point is most obvious as an issue when Kyuubey suggested that “we’d all be in caves if it were not for their intervention”. This might not be obvious to some, but it actually serves as a strong basis for the anime suggesting extraterrestrial interventionism. Kyuubey also mentions that there were other species they looked to for gathering energy. Obviously, the implication that can be draw here (hold on to your hats people), is that there are other life out there in the galaxy. These two ideas, coupled with the crisis of entropic decay, bring forth the idea that the world is much larger than we realize, and humanity much smaller.
For nine episodes, Kyuubey toys us with these ideas. And then they are never brought forth ever again. Not even Kyuubey’s origin is explored at all. Forget thematic, this almost feels like a plot hole to me.
6. It is revealed some time into the show that humans have souls. The amount of spiritual and religious implications that can be drawn from this are enormous. For instance, both the use of magic and emotional grief lead to the tainting of soul gems. The tainting of souls can obviously be equated to committing a sin, but yet emotional grief is determined on an individual basis. Does this mean that the anime is suggestion, that in terms of spirituality, which of our actions are considered ‘sinful’ are determined by an individual basis? That would also contradict the idea that sins are predetermined by a set of written rules such as the bible, and raises some interesting implications about the validity religion. (Again, this is counter-intuitive considering the fact they made Madoka out to be a god)
And then there is issue of the soul within the body itself, which EVERYONE made a HUGE deal about. Sayaka literally depressed herself to death because she couldn’t see herself as a real person anymore. But then she dies, and then everyone else just decides to accept the fact and move on. Really, so do souls constitute the human, or does the body? Is a soul without a physical form really as lifeless as an inanimate gem? Again, Madoka’s conclusion doesn’t really deal with either of these issues. Instead it just sweeps it under the rug, hoping everyone would forget about it.
7. Finally, I want to talk about Kyuubey, who I believe is the single most undeveloped idea in Madoka. There is literally SO much SHAFT could have done with this character. Is he perhaps a sinister representation of the ugly but necessary truth when dealing with difficult decisions? Is he perhaps a reference to the devil, giving people wishes in exchange for their souls? Does he illustrate the importance of emotions and their value in keeping our humanity? Or perhaps our limitations and inability to look at the greater picture because of our emotions? Where is he from? He is made out to be calculating and robotic, and yet he expresses concern for the decaying world, showing a very advanced and complex level of survival instinct. These are all potential avenues that could have made for a very engaging antagonist and even anti-hero.
But as it stands, all SHAFT made Kyuubey out to be was an insufferable jackass who only cared that he got the energy he wanted. Why? Because Madoka’s final wish completely sidelined all the issues that Kyuubey represent and made them irrelevant. Nice one SHAFT.
Bottom Line. Madoka’s conclusion had one idea. And that was to make Madoka out to be some sort of Deus Ex Machina savior that solved all the problems and tied up the story in a neat little package. What does that leave all the wealth of themes and ideas that were picked up?
MADOKA’S FINALE DOESN’T DEAL WITH ANY OF THESE ISSUES.
As the philosophical and psychological thrill ride that so many make Madoka out to be, from a thematic perspective, the conclusions really isn’t that good. In fact, it’s terrible. It’s like writing a book, and then deciding to leave out the epilogue in the final print. Sure, the story was exciting and the anime enjoyable to watch, but when I finish and close my laptop, I haven’t learnt anything. Madoka hasn’t taught me anything about myself. That to me, only makes for a relatively good, but not great, anime.
Leave a comment below! I’m always in the mood for a good discussion.