Ever feared going to the doctor?
The blogosphere literally exploded with really interesting things to say about Madoka after episode 3, which really is no surprise considering just the force of one particular event that happened during the show. And if you haven’t watched Madoka 3 yet, I highly recommend you stop reading, and go watch it, because that singular event needs maximal impact. But let’s take a step back from that event, and consider… Oh I don’t know… Everything else that happened.
This week’s episode tackled a new topic in comparison to the last two episodes. I brought up the idea of choice, and what it essentially means to be a mahou shoujo in my previous post, but this week added a new dimension to the conversation: wishes and dreams, and in particular what it means in relation to being a mahou shoujo.
Now the idea of choice was kind of up in the air last week, but I think that the revelation about Mami this week really slams it home. The fact that Madoka and Sayaka have to choose whether to become mahou shoujo or not is central to what’s going on here. I hate to sound like a broken record, but we’re now 3 episodes in, and the protagonist still isn’t a mahou shoujo. I mean seriously? I came into this show expecting a cute pink outfit and moe girls fighting the evils and crimes! That’s pretty much what the damn promotional art told me! Where is that?
Where are my rose-colored mahou shoujos???
Well the lack of an immediate switch from normal girl to mahou shoujo really emphasizes just how difficult and painful the decision is. But the interesting part here is just how easy it was for Madoka to decide to be a magical girl. She’s the sore thumb sticking out among a sea of far more rational people. The presentation of her character brings into focus the kind of person that becomes a mahou shoujo girl, and who the genre is geared towards: the normal person.
I mean let’s consider her rationale for becoming a mahou shoujo. She wants to be good at something and help people. Isn’t that a simple mentality? Even so, it’s a mentality that everyone has. After all, who wants to be normal? It’s the normal people who’re the weird ones! Right? Well let’s think about what it means to not be normal, framed in the mentality of a mahou shoujo.
… Well that’s actually kind of hard at this point, mostly because the problem here is just how ambiguous the contract is. Is there a time limit to the contract, or do they have to be a magical girl forever? Is there a limit on the wish you can make? Can you bring Mami back to life? What the hell is Kyuubey anyway? He says at one point that there are no “rules” barring a wish from affecting another person, so what the hell are the rules, and where do they come from?
Will we end up seeing THIS? (Image credit to meltyMAP)
These questions are all floating around my head, but in the typical world of mahou shoujos, it’s really a non-issue. You’re pretty much forced into the role of the mahou shoujo, with little say on your end. Sometimes you really don’t want to be a mahou shoujo, but you end up doing it anyway. A common story element in a lot of mahou shoujos is a sort of “act first, think later” mentality, where the rules of the world are explained after the girl becomes a mahou shoujo. It’s flipped here in Madoka Magica, which really highlights the question that other mahou shoujo shows don’t really ask: What does it mean to be a mahou shoujo in the first place?
For some, it means being a warrior of justice so to speak. Or maybe it means doing the right thing. Or maybe it’s a way to find out what you really are in life. Ok, great. Now those are the positives of being a magical girl. What about the negatives? Well…
This could happen…
Yes that does suck to say the least. But it does really point out something that really has to be emphasized, and emphasized hard. Being a mahou shoujo is serious stuff. The impact really is decreased in other shows, mostly because the positives tend to wash out the negatives, but Mami’s death came in fast and hard. And that’s important to emphasize this fact. We can kind of brush off what happens in the middle of Nanoha or Sailor Moon because it’s pretty much a good end. I really don’t think that we can brush off Mami’s death. Of course, I may have to eat my words by the end, but I get the feeling that we won’t forget this singular event.
And part of the reason why is, I think, because of just what Mami didn’t get to experience. For her entire life as a mahou shoujo, she’s been alone, and just when you think that she’s finally found a companion, the rug gets pulled out from underneath us. It’s a really wonderful bait and switch, and it was only really possible because it was the mahou shoujo genre. We don’t expect anything like what happened to actually happen in this genre so early. It just… doesn’t happen.
So what does it mean? In essence, it means that the world really isn’t as clean as it seems. And this really is an important part of the narrative, however obvious it may seem. In fact, there have been subtle clues pointing towards this fact. For example, in all of the Witches’ labyrinths so far, they’ve always mirrored the area that they’ve enclosed, but as the Witches subvert more of the area, the environment completely changes. For example:
The hospital environment when Sayaka enters.
The environment around Charlotte’s cage.
By the time Madoka and Mami enter, it’s now a combination of sweets and hospital.
And after a while, it’s become all sweets.
Of course there are other examples of this as well, such as in the beginning of the episode where the lamps are present in both worlds. In episode 2, the Witch’s labyrinth initially looked like the broken building area, but when you got to the Witch’s lair, everything changed. The exception here is episode 1, where the world seemed to already be completely subverted, but the consistent patterns in episodes 2 and 3 still convince me nonetheless.
And this, I think, is also the significance behind the Faust quotes seen in episode 2. It’s been a while since I read Faust, but people just looking at the story as a deal between Faust and the devil are missing half of it. The reason why Faust makes the deal with the devil is because he thought that the world was completely ugly. Is there anything beautiful in this world? He doesn’t think so, so he challenges the devil to convince him otherwise. As you can tell, the situation here is completely different. For Madoka, the world is already as beautiful as it can be. She’s rather the opposite of Faust.
The world is wonderful isn’t it?
In that case, what in the world are these Faustian quotes talking about? It’s possibly a giant red herring, but assuming otherwise, I believe that they refer to the dichotomy between the mahou shoujo and the witches. The witches deconstruct the world, and the mahou shoujo build it back up. Ok, now that’s even MORE out of context than all the theories flying around about the parallels between Kyuubey and the devil, but it’s the best I got. Honestly, I’m having a hard time trying to connect Madoka Magica and Faust, mostly because the parallels just feel too weak for me.
As a side note, it’s entirely possible that Madoka’s views on the world might actually change because of this event, which would be interesting to see, but then it ends up matching up even less with Faust so…
I mean really, if you can see this and still be fine… (Image credit to kamekichi27)
But moving on, all of these elements indicate something rather crucial to me that really isn’t apparent in a lot of other mahou shoujo series: the Witches are part of this world. It might just be me, but it’s extremely rare for a mahou shoujo series to let the “magical” world and the “real” world overlap. Often times the magical part of the world is set in some other reality, or even if it does touch reality, it never subverts reality. I’m not sure if I’m phrasing this right, but put it this way: When was the last time in mahou shoujo anime that you saw something fundamentally wrong with the world? The only one that I can think of is Princess Tutu, but that series doesn’t even pretend that it’s trying to be grounded in some sort of reality.
The message here in Madoka seems to be something that I don’t recall seeing before in mahou shoujo series, in that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world. It would explain the apocalyptic dream sequence at the beginning of episode 1, and it would also be a pseudo-explanation as to why the show appears so dark. Also, I get the really strange feeling that that was the theme with Charlotte this time around. What may seem all nice and pretty and easy… Isn’t really on the inside. (By the way, if you extrapolate this to Kyuubey with no evidence, I will get angry at you.) And who’s the only one who can save us from ultimate destruction?
… … We’re screwed.
And as an end note, I rewatched this episode multiple times while writing this post, and now I’m at the point where watching the last parts of this episode literally frightens me. I’m not sure what happened. I think the reality of it all hit home…