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!)