Monday, March 11, 2013

March 11, 2013 -- Life in the Third Circle

Hamha, everybody!

I'm back for week two of my journey through the uber-depressing hellscape that is Puella Magi Madoka Magica (Madoka Magica for short; Madoka for shorter). Hey, did you guys know that there's a dub of this show. I won't be talking about that, because the last thing I need is to invite sub-purists (a term which is a bit of an oxymoron if you think about it) into this already bleak and macabre house.

Remember kids: "Ad Hominem" is just a fancy way
of saying "You're right!"

Today we'll be looking at episodes 4-6. As usual I will be engaging in EXPLICIT, HARDCORE SPOILERS so if you plan on ever watching Madoka I'd recommend you do that before you read this. You'll like it. Trust me. I'll wait.

You're finally back! Thank goodness. I've been alone with my grief for the past week after that horrifying incident where

Visual Approximation

Yeah that. Naturally I knew that it probably isn't going to be as lighthearted and cheerful as even a lesser PreCure would most certainly be. As such, I've prepared an emergency pick-me-up for my inevitable crash into despair after watching three episodes of Madoka.

One must always have a hobby.

Adventuring aside, I'm enjoying this show and like what it has to offer in terms of character depth and storytelling even though we're a third of the way through the show and the title character hasn't even become a magical girl yet. In every magical girl show I've watched or written, the main character is the first to get her powers, and I have to admit that it's a brilliant subversion of genre conventions.

However, you have to remember this wasn't the first show to use upsetting imagery to make an impression on the viewer.

I'm told Mermaid Melody wasn't actually a psychological horror
series, but if that were true...
Hold on, I can't finish that image caption joke, I'm too distracted by something. New joke:

"Well, now we know where the rest of Soleil Moon Frye's
breasts went."
Tasteful. Anyway, sorry if I seem to be avoiding the issue but I need to cling to what joy I can find before I go back to watching "Bad Things Happen to Good People: The Anime".

At the beginning of episode 4, we rejoin Sayaka as she attempts to visit her unrequited love in the hospital only to find that he's undergoing physical therapy and won't be able to see her that day.

Madoka is, naturally, still quite upset over watching her friend get brutally savaged by Eric Carle's doomspawn but is nonetheless happy to be alive. She's come to the conclusion that the life of a magical girl isn't worth the risk of losing her life and hurting others, to die alone and forgotten like Mami did, and decides that she isn't going to make the contract with Kyubey.

That little bastard, in a show of acceptance that I hadn't expected, is willling to let Sayaka and Madoka off the hook and leave them alone. Call me crazy, but I don't entirely believe him. Kyubey explains that with Mami gone, another magical girl will likely show up to take Mami's witch-hunting grounds to harvest grief seeds. See, apparently Mami is one of the VERY few magical girls who actually fight for justice. The majority of them simply hunt down grief seeds to try and keep their magical powers topped off.

It's an interesting statement on human nature, actually. I'm not the sort that subscribes to the belief that people are inherently selfish or bad, but there is some truth to the idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Given the ability to exchange a wish for infinite power, it only seems natural that most people wouldn't be capable of dealing with that power. Only through strength of character or some life-changing event could a person overcome the temptation to misuse their fantastic abilities.

Though even the best of us can't resist the siren call
of being in terrible movies.
Madoka goes to Mami's apartment after school and has a good cry as she apologizes for not being able to do anything to save her. At this point I don't have the heart to tell her that the contract with Kyubey probably corrupts one's eternal soul, damning Mami to a nonexistance in neither heaven nor hell for an eternity after her death.

She meets up with Homura outside of the apartment complex, who tells her that she shouldn't blame herself for what happened. The two have a cheerful walk home as they discuss lighthearted topics like how long it will be until people realize that Mami is missing and how many people Homura has seen die over her career as a magical girl.

Before the two part ways, Homura warns Madoka that an even greater tragedy is imminent and hints that her kindhearted nature may wind up accelerating its arrival. How did that old saying go?

"A cynic is the one who knows the price of everything
and the value of nothing. Also Homura is a Debbie Downer."
Yeah, I think that was it. You know, I'd like for at least something nice to happen just for a second. I know bad things are going to happen, as that's sort of the theme of this show, but it'd be nice if these characters at least got some sort of vindication, like Mami did, before their inevitable gruesome ends.

We haven't checked in with Sayaka in a while, so we join her visiting Kyousuke in the hospital. He's listening to classical music as Sayaka continues to bring him CDs to give him something to hear in the hospital. Unfortunately, it would appear that she didn't think her plan through as far ahead as she should have. See, she's employing what we romance experts call "The Harvest Moon Approach." Don't know what that is? Allow me to explain.

The approach is named after Harvest Moon for the Super Nintendo. In that game, there is a dating and relationship system wherein you can pursue and ultimately marry a girl in your town. This is accomplished primarily by showering them with gifts until they like you enough to accept your marriage proposal. Because as we all know, women are like ATMs that you deposit gifts into until they let you withdraw sex.

And alcohol is like a sex credit card.
What Sayaka seems to have forgotten is that the main drawback of the Harvest Moon Approach is that it doesn't actually work.

Well... for the most part.
Kyousuke asks Sayaka if she's torturing him by forcing him to listen to all that classical music, music that he can never play again due to his injury. He slams his fist down, crushing his CD and player as blood sprays from fresh cuts in his arm. It looks painful, but he remarks that he can't even feel pain in his arm or hand anymore. Sayaka tries to reassure him, but it's no use. The doctors have already told him that he has no chance of ever being able to use his hand again. Short of some kind of miracle, he has no hope of recovery.

Sayaka is starting to get that look in her eyes as she tells Kyousuke that miracles and magic are both real and that he shouldn't give up hope.

"Don't give up hope! The soulless gaze of hell itself will
surely heal your playing hand!"
On her way home at night, Madoka notices a friend of hers from school wandering through the streets with a familiar look on her face. Upon closer inspection, she's been marked by a witch, which can only mean that she's marching to her own death. Madoka follows her and attempts to stop the gigantic suicide mass gathering in an abandoned warehouse. This is clearly a powerful witch if it's capable of charming such a large group of people into sacrificing themselves.

Madoka is able to prevent the suicides, but is unable to escape from the witch, who captures her and begins torturing her with guilt trips and imagery of Mami's death. It's like a Catholic family reuinion. She's powerless to stop the witch as she floats helplessly on the other side. Then this happens.

oh hi nightmares. Didn't think I'd be seeing you again so soon.

As she is stretched to impossible degrees with no hope of salvation, a friendly face shows up just in the nick of time.

While I'm happy that she was able to save Madoka, I can't help but feel that Sayaka may have...

Yeah, that.

She's able to save Madoka with some badass swordplay. Homura does not seem amused by this turn of events. Kyousuke wakes up in the middle of the night to find that his hand is working perfectly. People seem happy and sure of themselves, which can only mean that we're about to have our hopes and dreams snuffed out like a candle in the wind.

This is Kyoko. She wanted Mami's hunting grounds. Now Sayaka has claimed Mami's hunting grounds. Kyoko isn't thrilled about this. End of episode four.

Episode five is about who cares, because all I choose to remember from this episode is MAHOU SHOUJOU REAL BOUT EX HD TURBO ARCADE EDITION VER. 2013.

Admittedly, Sayaka vs Kyoko isn't the fight that I
REALLY wanted to see.
Actually, let's backtrack a little bit. The first scene in the episode is a flashback to Sayaka forging the contract with Kyubey. This is a crucial scene because it shows how magical girls receive their powers. My suspicions weren't confirmed until episode 6, but in order to become a magical girl, Kyubey extends his ears like a pair of tendrils to rip the soul out of the pact-maker and compress it into a gem form.

Hardly surprising, considering that the source of a magical girl's power is called a "soul gem". More and more I find myself really falling in love with the moral issues presented in this show. In this case, it's a question of what you're willing to give up to help another. Sayaka loves Kyousuke and blames herself for his condition. In order to "save him", she is willing to give up her soul and condemn herself to a lonely existence risking her life to save a world that doesn't even realize she exists, and she does this by having a potentially immortal spirit animal separate her soul from her body.

But the haunting beauty of the situation doesn't end there. Remember how grief seeds are used to purify soul gems after a magical girl uses her powers? Remember how they work by extracting dark energy from the user's soul gem? What does that imply about the nature of a magical girl's powers and the effect they have on an individual?

Once again, we come back to that notion of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Which means that a grief seed could have prevented this movie.
 And no, I will not drop this issue. It was a very disappointing film!

Back to Smackdown vs. Raw: Mahou Shoujo edition. The fight is instigated after Sayaka is about to kill a familiar before it can become a witch. The familiar is saved at the last minute by Kyoko, who doesn't want it to die until it has the chance to kill more people and become a full-fledged witch. That way a grief seed can be harvested after it is killed.

Naturally, Sayaka isn't too keen on the idea. She attempts to resist Kyoko, who responds by politely smacking her up and down the corridor with her all-in-one chain-spear, her weapon of choice. It's a savage attack, but Sayaka is able to get back up and continue her fight. Kyubey explains that this is possible because her wish involved healing someone, which allows her own body to heal faster than a normal person.

So now we know that the condition of the wish can affect the nature of the girl's power. With that in mind, I'm starting to wonder what Kyoko's wish was and how it relates to her constant junk food eating.

Sayaka puts up a valiant fight, but there's no substitute for experience, and it doesn't take long for Kyoko to overpower her. Just as she's about to deliver the death blow, the show teases us again with the threat of Madoka making the contract before Homura intervenes, ending episode five.

With episode six, we're treated to further anticlimax as Homura simply karate chops Sayaka in the back of the head to knock her unconscious. After a stare-down with Kyoko, she effectively ends the fight, frustrated to know end that she has to continually warn Madoka to stay the hell away from anything that has to do with magical girls. This can mean only one thing.


Remember, the choices you make will influence what ending you receive.

Joke A:
"A movie with 21 main characters and only an hour and a half
to tell a story! Now do you understand the pain of being a magical girl?"

Joke B:
"Where was Homura when this magical girl-related travesty
could have been prevented?"
Joke C:
"Uh oh, Madoka. Better make sure Homura doesn't find those
pictures on your laptop hidden in the 'Tax Returns 1987' folder."
Which joke did you pick? Write your answer on a 3x5 index card and staple it to a pigeon.

Sayaka purifies her soul gem, but the grief seed she's been using can no longer hold any more impurities without re-hatching into a witch, so she feeds it to Kyubey. Oh yeah, he eats grief seeds. Because I don't have enough reasons to mistrust the little rat, he now eats the compressed essence of witches.

Kyubey explains to Sayaka that the only way she could ever stand up to Kyoko is to gather more grief seeds so that she doesn't have to worry about running out of magic. Kyoko has way more experience than she does and is technically a much more capable magical girl than she is as well. All of this is just Kyubey's way of saying "Hey, you know who could really curb-stomp Kyoko Sakura? Madoka. You should totally tell her to become a magical girl okay?"

Homura confronts Kyoko at an arcade, warning her that something called "Walpurgisnacht" will be happening soon. At this point, I can't tell if Homura is just a chronic buzz-kill or if she's just the hype-man for the end of the world. I'm picturing her as being one of those people you knew who wouldn't shut up about the Mayan calendar back in December.

In any event, it doesn't sound good. Homura also takes the opportunity to tell Kyoko not to fight with Sayaka again, assuring her that she wants to deal with Sayaka herself in the most peaceable way that she can. Kyoko promises, and since she seems like the type of person who always follows the rules and does what she's told I'm guessing we can take her at her word.

I'm kidding, she confronts Sayaka outside of Kyousuke's house and chastises her for making a wish for someone else. I'm guessing Kyoko is going to wind up being the character that all the internet cynics like the best. I'm also guessing that with the way this series has been going so far, her philosophy and approach to life will turn out to be the correct one, leaving her the only one alive in the end.

She continues to goade Sayaka into a fight, mostly by telling her how she should use her powers to completely break Kyousuke's body and mind so that he would be completely dependent on Sayaka for everything. It's a much better plan than healing him and giving him a second chance at his dream.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, middle school girls are pure, unfiltered, high-octane evil.

"You like Kyousuke? OMG, why? You're not even hot. I mean you're kind
of cute, but your hair is just a mess and you're gonna get fat."
Also, don't translate the Japanese in that picture. I'm quite certain I don't want to know what it means.

Kyubey is one step ahead of the game, and leads Madoka to the scene of the fight by telling her that Sayaka is in danger.

She arrives just in time to interdict before the two exchange blows, with Homura arriving shortly after to deal with Sayaka herself. The latter is clearly ready for a fight, but Madoka is so eager to prevent the fight that she grabs her soul gem out of her hands and throws it into traffic on the highway below.

Sayaka instantly collapses and is explained to be dead.

Wait what!? That's a little unceremonious. Only J.K. Rowling is allowed to use "and then she died" as a legitimate death scene.

Okay, technically she isn't dead, she's just mostly dead.

Quota successfully filled.
Part of the Terms of Service Agreement on which Sayaka hastily clicked "I Agree" was that Sayaka not be more than 100 meters or so away from her soul gem. See, the soul gem, much like the name suggests, is the new home of your soul. Upon making the contract, your body is now literally a tool of your soul, and if the soul gets too far away, the body collapses into a useless husk.

It also means that Kyubey really is harvesting souls. This is apparently news to Kyoko.

After Homura uses Buz from Girl in the Gold Boots's ability to teleport in order to recover Sayaka's soul gem, which landed on the back of a truck unharmed, thankfully.

There's a close call wherein Kyoko hoists Sayaka's dead body into the air to confirm that she is, in fact dead, and the realization that she is terrifies her to the core. Kyubey doesn't understand why she would react this way to finding out that all magical girls are essentially dead but for a jewel containing their soul.

The episode ends with Homura returning with Sayaka's soul gem, and Sayaka waking up like nothing is wrong.

If you ask me, this is rapidly spiraling out of control. The only good thing that seems to come from being a magical girl is the cool powers and the granting of any wish your heart desires. Everything else, like the soul-crushing lonliness, the general husk-like state of your utility body, and the risk of death, seems like too steep a price to pay for having a really cute skirt.

HOWEVER! What I'm really concerned about, moreso that we're now six episodes in and Madoka still isn't a magical girl, is this Walpurgisnacht that Homura mentioned and how it relates to our eponymous protagonist. If I had a guess (which means that this is the part where those of you who have seen the show get to laugh at how wrong I am), I would say that Kyubey has something to do with the arrival of whatever catastrophe Homura is so concerned about. Since we now know that she may not have necessarily forged a contract with Kyubey for her powers and she seemed eager to kill him in the first episode, my gut is telling me that little bastard is trying to engulf the world in 1000 years of darkness and she's the only one with the power to directly defy him.

This leads me to my two conflicting theories:

1) Homura is at least part-witch: This is the least-likely option, but not one that I can discount completely. I joke a lot about her being a complete buzz-kill, but the implication I'm getting is that her attitude goes beyond cynicism and actually belies a rough history with magical girls that led to her abandoning an affiliation with fellow witches while still not actively allying with the magical girls. That and it would also explain how she knew enough to try and warn Mami that the witch that eventually killed her was different from other witches even though it had just hatched from a grief seed, meaning that there was no way she could have had prior contact or knowledge of it. Plus I don't recall ever having seen Homura's soul gem.

2) Magical Girls can discover their powers on their own: I change my mind. Maybe this is the least likely one. Assuming she isn't a witch, it is possible that she is a very strong magical girl. Further assuming that she didn't make a contract with Kyubey, maybe girls with a strong enough potential can develop powers on their own. Perhaps Kyubey missed his chance at stripping her of her soul on his own to bring on the 'nacht and has found another way to use Madoka to the same end.

Couple this with the fact that he seems REALLY interested in making Madoka a magical girl, to the extent that he seems to be using Mami's death and Sayaka's transformation as a means to an end of hitching Madoka to this crazy train, and it's impossible for me not to think that Madoka herself is capable of something beyond Kyubey's ordinary magical girl contract. In other words, even though I don't know for sure what would happen, I'm about 90% sure that something very bad will happen if she makes the contract. Not just for her, but for everyone.

We're halfway through this, folks, and I'm still afraid of where this ride is taking me. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to watch something less disturbing. Like the Blue Tax commercials. See you next week.


  1. This comment contains no actual spoilers.
    Very interesting predictions. I didn't think too much in-between episodes because I watched them all within a day or two. I can see where you would get some of these theories...

    Let's just say that what makes Kyubey so evil, as you've put it, and what makes Homura the Debbie Downer are probably a lot worse than you can guess at this point, haha.

    1. Yeah, I had a feeling that my desperate longing for things to not be as bad as I think they're going to be may have skewed my thinking.

      Have you stapled your "Choose Your Own Joke" answer yet?

  2. I'm afraid we don't get pigeons where I live, so I'll send my answer by crow. Regardless, great review. Admittedly, the only things I know about this anime are from your reviews, the TV Tropes page, and a Doctor Who crossover fanfiction I read once. Might be worth checking out personally, but I'll ease myself into it like almost everything else I do.