Madoka Magica and…Sacrifice?

Puella Magi Madoka Magica has come and gone, and it’s going to be a subject of much discussion. Part of it may simply be that the delay caused by the earthquake in tsunami Japan magnified the anticipation for the finale even more than the already huge expectations for the show, but I think this anime is going to stick in people’s minds for at least the near future. Though the show has its flaws, overly expository dialogue and some contrived twists to name a couple, I found it to be an overall strong show and indeed an interesting twist on the magical girl genre that understands what magical girls are about.

I’m going to be discussing the show and its ending in depth, so take this as the Spoiler Warning.

When I originally wrote my post on how Madoka Magica subverts/deconstructs the magical girl genre, I left off with a final question: “How much are you willing to sacrifice to make your wish come true?” Wish fulfillment is a big part of magical girl anime and Madoka Magica saw fit to directly question that fundamental part of the genre. Since then, we’ve learned some of the finer details of that sacrifice. The “soul gem” is actually the soul given tangible form, which in turn means that the physical body is now just a shell. If the soul gem is not maintained by defeating witches, it transforms into a grief seed and triggers a transformation into a witch. The stronger the wish granted, the stronger the rebound.

Madoka’s answer is simple: It’s not a question worth asking. To put it differently, as soon as you engage that question of sacrifice on its terms, you’ve already lost.

Madoka’s wish is to prevent every magical girl, past, present, and future from turning into a witch. She fires a volley of “arrows” which traverse time and eliminate the possibility of any girls becoming witches, and in doing so changes the fundamental laws of the universe. In a way, to wish for the non-existence of witches is on par with asking for infinite wishes from a genie’s lamp. Both seek to circumvent the rules of the wish-granting mechanism, but there is an important difference. While the “infinite wish” is structured to take advantage of a loophole, Madoka’s wish is simply unreasonable and illogical.

Kyubey mentions that any wish with a logical component to it can be twisted and deformed, and when the wishes are in some way personal, even if they were meant to help another, such as in the case with Sayaka’s wish to heal Kyousuke’s hands, there is a degree of rationale that can be exploited or overturned. Only an illogical wish such as Madoka’s can avoid such a fate. Instead of wrestling with the question of sacrifice, Madoka disregards its importance, and in doing so breaks the magical girl/witch cycle.

Homura’s wish sits in the middle between the rational wish of Sayaka, Kyouko, Mami, etc. and Madoka’s. Specifically, Homura wished to go back in time and meet Madoka from the very beginning in an effort to save her. It was somewhat of an unreasonable wish, but it became bound by the logic of Homura’s magically derived time control ability. As Kyubey says, as soon as Homura sees the reasoning behind her wish as hopeless, her soul gem begins to transform, though it seems to halt when Madoka appears by her side. It’s not just a lack of grief seeds which causes a magical girl to lose herself, but a loss of hope brought about when the complex structure of the logic behind that hope crumbles.

Another important component of Madoka’s wish is that it is selfless, both in the hyper-literal sense (she actually becomes without corporeal form and erases her history from the world) and in the more traditional sense in that she does it without even thinking about it as being particularly significant. A couple of months ago, someone asked me on Formspring if I’d ever sacrificed something for a friend with no hope for reward. My response was that it’s not good to think of the things you do for friends in terms of favors and rewards, or indeed, sacrifices. Personally speaking, I believe that when you structure your friendships so logically, you lose the meaning of a friendship, and Madoka’s decision carries that idea. The selflessness of her wish means that there is no possibility of regrets, no possibility to lose hope, which is why she is able to maintain it and remake the universe in the process.

One point of contention with this idea I’m presenting could be that Madoka “logically” could do it because she was the only one who had the power to do so as a result of Homura’s countless trips back in time. I have two responses. First, is that Madoka and Kyubey only had a vague idea of Madoka possessing great potential as a magical girl. Madoka did not have any idea of her limits and simply wished for something beyond the capabilities of the universe itself. Second, is that it would have been all too easy for the wish to have been much smaller, as we see from all of the other characters, who while not as powerful as Madoka, made wishes they thought were big.

Madoka, while restructuring the cosmos and altering the very nature of entropy, does not solve all problems and in fact creates some new ones. Taking place of the witches are bald men in cloaks known as “magical beasts,” whom the magical girls and the Incubators (who have also been modified) still have to battle. But even with this new danger, her greatest gift is undying hope for all magical girls that have been or ever will be. Maybe it’s a little unreasonable to always be hopeful, but it’s a good way to live.

I’ll leave off with two notes. First, consider comparing Madoka to Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann, particularly in how they both have limitless potential, how they had to come face to face with a unique form of entropy, and how their decisions somewhat mirror each other.

Second, is this, for all you New York area Madoka Magica fans:

(Thanks to Narutaki for helping with this!)

20 thoughts on “Madoka Magica and…Sacrifice?

  1. So far the only real point of discussion is what you’ve bolded in the text. You say it is illogical, but I don’t think a non-lawyering read of the story supports that statement. In other words, it feels that in order to come to the conclusion you did you have taken some facts and ignored others, or interpreted some things differently.

    But at the same time, I think someone else can do a similar read, ignore some facts and kept others, and come to a totally 180 conclusion that you did. So even before we discuss the quality of the ending I think people need to get on the same page.


    • Given the responses to the ending so far (and I’m going to throw mine up soon as well), that will be pretty hard to do. I do like how the argument is structured here though.


    • When I say that the decision she made is illogical, I don’t mean that you can’t see the events that led to her making her decision, but that given all that happened to Madoka, in the end her wish felt like something that was very human in its irrational nature, but in a way that’s different from the very human wishes of everyone else. The way I see it, Madoka is not clever or cunning, so her wish comes entirely from a desire to help for no other reason than to help, and to do so by giving all of the girls hope.


    • It’s interesting, because that comment shows the subjectivity and inconsistency of human logic. In effect, you undermine your own argument. :P

      But as long as there is room for interpretation and criticism, there will be different interpretations and criticisms. After all, it is all just in the eye of the beholder.


  2. But one thing I do note from people who have some dissatisfaction with the ending say a lot of stuff like “it was too easy” or “it was too much” or “it was too happy”. And you can easily extrapolate those statements into “that was unreasonable and illogical”. In their standards, yes, but still all the same.


  3. >>hough the show has its flaws, overly expository dialogue and some contrived twists to name a couple

    Am I the only one who likes large amounts of expository dialog and “contrived” twists? Is this why I like Index so much more than the rest of the ‘sphere? Anyway,

    >> consider comparing Madoka to Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann

    Immediately made this comparison when not only was there colorful cosmos and breaking the rules of the universe, but the kid started playing Ave Maria on violin.


    • Some of the twists I liked, but, for example in this episode when it showed magical girls and incubators being responsible for World War II or whatever (and the rest of history too), I couldn’t help but make a face.

      As an aside, I’m waiting for fanart combining Cosmic Madoka with Precure Infinite Sillhouette.


      • I didn’t mind that twist because I felt it fit with the other ways that the mahou shoujo phenomenon was made to be a Big Deal. Remember, in the second episode, Mami explains that pretty much all killing, all suicide, etc. was because of witches. Meaning that said witches must have existed for all time to facilitate that killing, so it stands to reason that there always had to be magical girls to combat the witches. It’s true that violence is what has always advanced our culture, so Kyubei’s reasoning that we’d be living in caves if not for his people seems pretty sound. All of it gives more meaning to what Madoka did in the end.

        Besides, how could you not love seeing Cleopatra and Joan of Arc as cute magical girls?!


        • >>Besides, how could you not love seeing Cleopatra and Joan of Arc as cute magical girls?!

          You can’t. I wonder if she was still a magical girl when Caesar came along?

          But to me, the exposition was a head fake. Like the thermodynamics thing. It seems to be explaining about the universe, and it is, but the purpose, and what you take from it, is that all these explanations are really just changing the scale of the show. Entropy made the events cosmic and Cleopatra made them endless. Kyubey was getting too antagonized and so he was made an act of god, kinda. Really, it’s just ‘broadening’ the scope of the story. I quote martin in that these developments make it seem that
          “…these girls are fighting the very nature of the universe and causality, as opposed to trying to break free from their own contracts.”

          With that in mind, I’m able to bear through those tedious, often troll science (troll history?) plot points.


  4. Pingback: Madoka Magica and the Weight(lessness?) of Expectations « Drastic My Anime Blog

  5. Nice write up.
    To me the last episode had a strong feeling of feminism. The witches could be how women are viewed in some cultures (especially in Japan). There was not really a presence of men in the series with the only ones being the boy Sayaka sacrifices her soul for and the misogynist business men on the subway in episode 8. The demons that roam the world after Madoka takes away grief seeds resemble older men, which could represent Japans (or maybe just the older generations) out of date thoughts and treatment of women. Regardless there is some depth in the series and will likely be a lot of new anime fans Evangelion. Hopefully this brings on a stronger presence of good anime in the near future. Shaft is gonna make a ton of money on this series.


  6. This post helped a lot actually with the digestion process.

    I think possibly the nature of the work being translated in the first place means that it is a bit tougher to grasp at the nuances (as well as the fact that you are constantly distracted by the show’s entertaining visuals).

    I can completely see this theme running throughout the entire series – it’s the conclusion that really definitively ties things together; throughout the entire thing QB is set up as the rational foil – who presents his arguments through the classic economic lens of gain/loss, contrasted with Madoka (and to an extent the rest of the girls) and their very human emotions which aren’t grounded in considerations of gain and lost – they’re something that you just do.


  7. Pingback: Agreeing To Disagree: Aftermath Of Madoka Magica « Midnight Equinox

  8. I thought a little girl that saw 2 of her best friends die in horrible ways, one good friend exploding herself and her best best friend nearly dying just to save her


  9. I thought Kyubei’s comment about how emotions are treated as a mental disease on his planet due to how rare they are was interesting and gives an explanation as to why he sees things so economically. His race does not understand emotions because having emotions is seen as an aberration.


  10. I just read/browsed through about two dozen posts on the final episode, and yours was the final one. I really enjoyed the analysis! Oh, and to top it off, as I was reading through, I recognized the formspring question you mentioned – and wouldn’t ya know it, I was the one who asked it. ;)


  11. A bit late to the party, I just finished the series and I’ve been looking over analyses of the series and I finally found one in yours that made it a lot easier to consolidate my thoughts on the show.

    Thank you.


  12. Pingback: Random Thoughts Upon Revisiting Madoka Magica | OGIUE MANIAX

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