Puella Magi Madoka Magica 11&12: A Better World?

 So, that’s all folks (for now at any rate). Madoka made her choice. She did sacrifice herself for all of her friends and loved ones, as we knew she would, no matter what she decided.

The show is called Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and sure enough, despite all the tangents into friends and traumas and motives, this is the story of Kaname Madoka, and how she became a magical girl.

Madoka as we met her at the beginning of this series was timid, uncertain, lacking in confidence and unable to find the strength to face up to the problems in her world. She always seemed weak and inactive. In episode 10 we got a suggestion that this wasn’t the ‘true’ Madoka, though – it was what this world had made her. The Madoka that Homura knew was a strong, selfless girl who stepped up to the occasion and vowed to protect what she loved even if it meant giving her life; in short, she was everything a magical girl is meant to be. By protecting her, Homura shields her from challenge after challenge and allows her to see how she could end up, overwhelming her until she feels completely helpless. Like this, Madoka is no good to anyone. All her friends want to defend her innocence, and throw themselves in harm’s way to do it. She is left alone, and even more paralysed in grief and fear.

But I’ve discussed already how Homura is destroying what she wants to protect. What’s interesting about episode 11 is that, out of the scared shell of our current protagonist, the Madoka that Homura loves re-emerged. Homura is Madoka’s only friend left, the depths of whose friendship she can only begin to appreciate having heard Homura’s story. To protect her, Madoka steps up, finally, to the challenge. There is an irony, of course, that Homura chases Madoka time and time again because she owes her; Madoka saves Homura now because of the debt she feels towards her protectress.

A nice little twist which hadn’t occurred to me what the avoidance of Homura simply resetting a reality she isn’t satisfied with. Kyubey hypothesises that with every re-run, Homura is making Madoka more and more subject to karma with every rescue. The more this burden weighs on her, the greater the energy she will unleash as a magical girl – and as a witch. Realising this, Homura freezes, unable to see a way out, unable to protect her friend, and she despairs.

And then, her angel appears.

Remember this line?

Madoka puts herself forward to save Homura, as she always does. She has her wish, and she’s willing to sacrifice herself to make it come true. She’ll be removed from the world, from her friends, from her body, but that’s ok, because Madoka really is that selfless (unlike her friends, I would say) – if it protects her loved ones, anything’s ok.

Grant it, Incubator!

You can tell this is the right time, because Madoka speaks with confidence and command when she makes her wish. She’s demanding this, she knows she has the power, and she’s aware of what she’s doing but truly doesn’t care about the consequences. Kaname Madoka changes the world. Even the Incubators themselves are swept up and changed by her wish.

The implication is that such a wish could never have been successfully made by anyone else. This relies in the inference that the power available to grant a wish is proportionate to the potential of the girl, that is the amount of energy she can contribute and, apparently, how loved and protected she is by others – her karmic burden. Because of Homura’s obsession, the sacrifices of the other girls, and maybe even Madoka’s wonderful mother, Madoka is able to prevent anyone ever becoming a witch.

Such a wish has far-reaching consequences. Kyubey is understandably dismayed, since this will rather hobble the entropy trade. The lives and deaths of magical girls are altered backwards and forwards in history. And, like Homura before her, Madoka becomes the fulfilment of her own wish. She is transformed into ‘a force of nature’, a goddess in Kyubey’s terms, who watches over magical girls and saves them from despair at their ends.

Suddenly this isn't looking so unlike other magical girl shows.

 Selfless Madoka chooses to give up her humanity and become something greater instead, not for her own sake (she has no high ambitions) but for the sakes of others.

So the world is re-made, this time without witches. Magical girls still exist, and so do the Incubators who create them. The two seem to be on much friendlier and more open terms, though, and one assumes the Incubators still use magical girls as an energy source of some kind. Madoka’s darker nature shows in these last scenes, because it’s rather unclear what the new situation is. Magical girls fight ‘magical beasts’, which presumably prey upon humanity as witches did, and they can still fall in battle. On the bright side, they no longer risk becoming witches and performing the curses they fought against until another, equally doomed girl slays them. On the shadowy, uncertain other side is the nature of the new foes. Magical beasts are vaguely humanoid, and their origins are unknown. Could they be just as bad?

In the final scene, we see Homura going into battle in an empty landscape, a scenario that feels an awful lot like a Walpurgisnacht of a different kind. Once again, she’s to face this on her own – but not alone, really, because she remembers Madoka, and as her eternal protectress, Madoka watches over her. It’s a happier battle than the one we started the series with. At the same time, what it means and what might happen are unknown; Homura’s witch-like wing manefestations are of unknown significance. All we have is Madoka, apparently unworried, watching from outside the world.

This has been a summary post. There are a lot of things I’d like to discuss about this show, both from these two final episodes and from the series as a whole, but they can wait for other posts. Let me finish by saying that I have really enjoyed this series, and although it ended with a typically anime burst of dreamlike sequences and transformation, I am satisfied with the ending. It showed how every character who had come before had a story that was vital in shaping Madoka, even if her time to transmute it all only came at the last minute.

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2 Responses to Puella Magi Madoka Magica 11&12: A Better World?

  1. BlueJay says:

    One of the things that I rather respect about anime is their tendency to resolve matters in ways that I would never predict. I’m not sure if this is due to me not having watched enough anime to begin picking up on the trends and the tropes that are commonplace or simply because (as someone who is not Asian) there are ideas of narrative and storytelling in place that are different to what I am used to.

    Self sacrifice appears to be a common theme among anime endings and I can think of a couple of examples off the top of my head where the main or at least major characters forsake a considerable amount in order to put the world to rights. Full Metal Alchemist saw Edward Elric giving up his alchemy in order to seal away Homunculus (in Brotherhood) or sacrificing himself in order to return Alphonse to his body, after Al had already done the same thing to Ed. Recent events in Bleach have flayed Ichigo of his abilities in the pursuit of halting Aizen. Shimon must give up the woman he loves in Tengen Toppa. The list continues.

    As Madoka worked its way towards a close I started to wonder how the writers would choose to finish the series. Either a happily-ever-after ending or a bleak and depressing finish would not have been out of place. Instead, going for the grand re-write of nature almost felt like a cop-out. At first, that’s the important bit.
    Madoka’s wish feels like it bears the hallmarks of a cheat code. Up, up, left, right, down, X to destroy all witches and unlock Madoka’s alternate costume.
    And then I considered things. Kyubey can only grant this wish because of the sheer volume of Karma that Madoka has accrued thanks to Homura, no other Magical girl could have done this. And then there’s the sheer cost of Madoka’s wish, not just a blanket kill-spell but a Geas that binds her to destroying witches across time and space, making her something both more and less than human.

    I’m realising that this ‘comment’ is getting entirely too long so I’ll wrap things up for now and finish with the note that it was nice (if not unsurprising) to see that echoes of Madoka survived the remaking of reality. Then end of the show could have had an entirely more depressing tone if all memory and trace of Kaname Madoka vanished. Because, let’s face it, if you’re going to turn into some primordial force and safeguard the universe instead of living the rest of your life, you’re going to want a little bloody recognition!

    • Curuniel says:

      You’re right about the karma accumulated from Homura’s actions, and I think that one of the great things about this story which can only be appreciated in retrospect is the way that all the other magical girl characters contribute to leading Madoka to her decision. Homura provides the energy, which of course means that Madoka’s wish is powered (indirectly) by love! Mami introduces her to the loneliness of magical girls as well as their bravery and the potential to do good. Sayaka teaches her the hard way about what magical girls truly are, and what they’re doomed to inevitably become. Kyouko shows her that power can be abused, but that more can be achieved when magical girls work together rather than against each other. I believe Madoka would have needed all of these insights (well, Kyouko arguably doesn’t contribute much) to make her wish and have it successfully granted. Thus, the whole series really has been Madoka’s story all along even while Madoka sat by and did nothing right up until she did everything.

      Anime endings are odd things, and they often seem to touch on a lot of things very quickly. I think Madoka was rather good for closing the story we were following (which after all we know is just one of many, because Homura is a time-traveller) but leaving a lot of questions open, especially since Homura is now living in a whole new universe with its own problems and battles. It’s also nice that having established her as a time-traveller I’m more willing to accept that Homura remembers Madoka through the power of love and a goddess’s hair ribbon – even if she doesn’t actually retain any time-travel powers now…

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