In Madoka Magica, there is a large disparity between the beginning and the rest of the anime; Madoka’s main struggle in the first few minutes of the episode was whether she should wear ribbons in her hair, fearing that they were “too flashy.” However, the anime quickly tumbles down a tumultuous, black-shrouded funnel of anguish. Madoka, the namesake of the anime, is introduced as an average middle school student, has a not-so-chance encounter with a magical cat-like creature named Kyubey, her everyday life is drastically altered in an unimaginable way.
Madoka Magica revisits the magical girl genre and injects into it new twists and turns normally not found in a typical magical shoujo anime. The “normal” girl discovers the existence of a world filled with magical school girls who fight a daunting force of evil, which in this case, consists primarily of witches. In exchange for obtaining magical powers and the granting of one wish by Kyubei, a magical girl must shoulder the task of eliminating the witches.
A magical girl becomes a witch after death, which follows the breaking of a soul’s gem. The soul gem is the source of a magical girl’s magic, and a necklaced, gold-cradled gem in which their souls reside. Essentially, the witches are analogous to the zombie, in that the girls are stripped of their humanity and a separation of the soul and body occurs.
Post-transformation, the girls’ souls manifest into a tangible form known as the soul gem, and every time a magical girl uses her powers, the gem progressively turns darker until the girl becomes a witch herself. In killing a witch, a grief seed can be obtained. The grief seed replenishes magical girls’ powers, but should be possessed with caution as the absorption of too much grief can lead to a witch respawning.
When Madoka, the optimistic pink-haired heroine, encounters the mysterious transfer student with ebony-spun locks, Homura, lays bare her intentions to prevent Madoka from forging a contract with Kyubey, who on the other hand, insists on Madoka’s magical transformation. An upperclassman, Mami Tomoe, offers to show Madoka and her friend the witch hunting routine she undergoes each day as a magical girl. In the beginning, magical girls are glamorized and idealistically perceived as heroic; but as they soon learn, that is not the case.
Caption: Madoka falling into this dream-like space with a multi-leveled carousel may be allegorical for the seemingly endless, destructive cycle of despair.
A prominent theme is the clash between sparkling idealism and deep cynicism; the question we are left with is whether there is a fitting balance between the two. The juxtaposition between the kawaii, pastel art style and the darker elements of macabre suggests a disconnect between appearances and reality. Homura states that underlying innocence is naiviete, beneath courage lies foolhardiness, and that dedication reaps no rewards.
Madoka embodies innocence, and continues to push away the idea of being a magical girl. The girls blame Kyubey for knowingly inflicting their misery, but given that he comes from a race that cannot feel emotions, this turnout is unsurprising. However, in a different light, human desires may be to blame for their dismal circumstances. Although Kyubei did not inform them of all the conditions of their permanent transformation, the basis on which they formed the contract was that they would receive one wish. The colossal sacrifice required, giving up their souls simply to resign to a life of fighting until death and then being reborn as a witch, in exchange for a wish seems equal on the surface in that sacrifice is necessary to fulfill a certain human desire; however, if one fights only to die and ensue despair, the wish must be incredibly fulfilling in order to make the exchange a justifiable one. Ironically, having a wish, an innately human quality, is followed by inhumane methods in attaining it in Madoka Magica’s case. A parallel can be drawn between the motif of the ends justifying the means found in Madoka Magica and politicians who want change but acquire the power to engineer change through corrupt means.
History has dictated that whenever revolutionary ideas begin to fester, there is a force that attempts to drive out those ideas due to fear of change. The process for implementing change is generally one where hands must be dirtied in order to accomplish the goal, and sacrifices are made with the greater good in mind. However, whether the greater good outweighs the individual remains subjective. In the case of Madoka and her friends, the decisions to become a magical girl are made with the greater good or the greater benefits in mind, to protect the world from witches and to fulfill a girl’s wish.
Sayaka is Madoka’s long-time friend who was at the scene of their first encounter with magical girls. Enchanted by the idea of magic and miracles, Sayaka attempts to take on the role of the savior; her idealistically noble demeanor, however, ultimately plunges her into her own downfall. She encompasses the tragic hero archetype, compassion being the tragic flaw and the reason for her plight. Different from Madoka, who is more meek and feeble in demeanor, Sayaka’s boldness brings her to adorn the laced dress and soul gem, and leaps into the world of magic without careful consideration of the potential consequences. While Sayaka gets in over her head with the magical girl idea, Madoka remains on the sidelines, a safer place; they both possess a sense of naivete and innocence, however, those qualities prove more detrimental to Sayaka than to Madoka.
Madoka ends the endless, destructive cycle of despair when she ascends to a god-like existence, and ensuring that magical girls are no longer tormented by the seemingly meaningless idea of their existence. The ending is brilliantly crafted, with the contention for balance between good and evil, idealism and cynicism, the final verdict being hopeful realism; the ending provides the audience with a light at the end of a long, turbulent tunnel.
My drawing depicts the destructive cycle of despair mixed with symbolic elements of the karmic balance between “good” and “evil” through the swing carousel; similar to the alternations between “good” and “evil,” the direction that the carousel leans toward teeters with time and gravity. While the butterfly is allegorical for freedom, the ribcage-like features of the butterfly is allegorical for the paradoxical, oppressive nature of freedom as represented by the demonic hands reaching out from within the cage.
Words and drawing by Tiffany Yu
Images by crunchyroll.com and Madoka Magica