Sunday, March 24, 2013

March 24, 2013 -- Metamorphosis

Well, I'm now 75% through Madoka Magica, and I'm starting to notice a pattern with this show. I get the feeling that not everything is going to turn out all right in the end.

As always HEAVY SPOILERS WILL BE CASUALLY REFERENCED within this review. This is almost as much of a cyclical event as  the depression that falls over me after I watch three episodes of Madoka Magica in a row.

Watch this cycle continue to repeat after the break. Also remember that there are TWO Crunchyroll premium guest passes hidden within, so try and find them. The first code starts with a letter. The second code starts with a number.

For the first code, read carefully. For the second, remember that a picture is worth a thousand words.

At this point I'm really at a loss. If you've seen the show up to episode 9 then you know what I'm talking about. Where do I go with this? I can't make this funny! Bad things happening to good people isn't as much a form of high comedy for me as, say, bad things happening to stupid people.

Can you imagine how tough it would've been for me to joke around about Kent's arm-belts if episode 3 of Amnesia tried to pull off the same shocking twist as Madoka Magica's third episode.

I don't need to tell you that'd make things pretty awkward.

But putting all oF that aside, these three episodes served an extremely important purpose, bringing two character arcs to two very different conclusions while also giving us a peek at why Homura is such a Debbie DoWner.

To start out this trilogy, Sayaka is moping in her bed. Understandable, as devotees will remember that everybody had just found out that magical girls are ostensibly dead, with their souls compressed into a gem, rendering their body a simple tool for their souls to treat like a fleshy puppet.

She's having a minor disagreement with KyuBey, who seems to lack the empathy necessary to understand why some people would take issue with a small demon-fox ripping out their souls to turn girls into well-dressed superheroes.

Sayaka argues the point that Kyubey is a duplicitous little asshole (paraphrasing a bit), which causes Kyubey to explain that if he hadn't done that, the pain that one would sustain while battling witches would cause them to double over in agony after one hit.

He then does something to her soul gem that allows her to feel the level of pain she'd experience were it not for her soul's forced relocation, which causes Sayaka to collapse to the floor clutching her abdomen in excruciaTing pain.

"And then there's a dance scene. Now do you understand
why having your soul ripped out was for the best?"

That's the last Spider Man 3 joke for a while, I promise.

The next day, Sayaka is absent from school, choosing instead to curl up under the covers and sulk in her bedroom instead of interacting with people whose souls and bodies remain unified and whole.

On the roof of the school, Madoka and Homura have a frank discussion on the nature of Kyubey's contract, namely whether or not the wish you have granted is worth having your body stolen from you. Homura argues that even though it's a horrible situation, Sayaka's wish made the impossible (Kyosuke's injury being healed) happen. To make something that the laws of reality dictate as an impossibility occur, a considerable payment would have to be made.

So even if it sucks, it's technically a fair trade.

Statistically speaking, even the best deals have led
to something horrible happening.

You know, I always used to call that game "The 8th Guest". I could just never remember the title for some reason.

Sayaka's moping is interrupted by the chipper taunting of Kyoko SAkura and her magic bag of apples. Nice to see her eating healthy after all that junk food she downed in the last two episodes. And she eVen brought enough for both of them.

Which is to say one for Sayaka and twenty four for her.
Kyoko asks Sayaka to come with her for a friendly chat. Strangely enough she doesn't seem to have any violent intentions. Maybe finding out that all of the magical girls are zombies has mellowed her out a bit. She takes Sayaka to an old, abandoned church and offers her an apple.

Sayaka refuses the apple and throws it to the ground. This enrages Kyoko, who threatens to kill Sayaka if she ever wastes food like that again.

Kyoko, after calming down, tells Sayaka the story of her father. Kyoko's father was a minister at the church back when it was still active. Daddy Sakura thought that the only way to make the world better was if he were to start a new religion. Unfortunately, when he tried to spread teachings that weren't in the bible, his congregation fled and he was excommunicated from the church.

Her dad traveled, hoping earnestly that people would listen to his teachings, because he believed that through that the world would be saved. People continued to treat him as an outcast and refused to listen to his teachings.

Then Kyubey showed up.

"I see you're experiencing some minor family troubles.
You know what'd help with that? Maaaaaaaaagic."
Kyoko, without hesitation wished that people would listen to her father and take him seriously, exchanging her soul for her father's respect among the community. His congregation returned and soon his teachings spread. Everything seemed great. Kyoko would fight witches in the shadows while her father spread the good word in the light of day.

Then her father found out about the magical girl thing. He called Kyoko a witch who had enchanted people into listening, uNquestioningly, to his teachings not because they believed, but because they felt obligated to unlike most major religions which heavily encourage the use of critical-thinking skills and questioning of the status quo.

Eventually Daddy Sakura went crazy and committed suicide, but not before murdering his entire family. It was at that moment that she decided that using her powers to help others could only end in tragedy and that she'd never fight for anyone's sake but her own ever again.

That's why she's taken such an interest in Sayaka. She, like Kyoko, made a wish to help someone else in exchange for her powers. She only wants to talk Sayaka into living what's left of her "life" without causing herself any more regret.

Sayaka thanks her for her concern, but states her firm resolve to never regret anything ever again. She doesn't regret her wish and she never will. Unlike Kyoko who hides from responsibility, she will continue to fight for what she thinks is right.

Also Kyoko stole those apples. Sayaka can't eat all those apples.

Visual Approximation
The next day at school, Sayaka is back, and much to the girls' surprise, so is Kyosuke. He's still on crutches but has decided to come back to school to try and finish getting back into the swing of things.

After school, Hitomi wants to have a conversation with Sayaka. Is this going to be another long talk? BecaUse I still have two of these left to watch.

You may recall that Hitomi is the other friend that she saved when Madoka was feeling stretched pretty thin with that suicide cult in the warehouse back in episode 4.

Hitomi confesses to Sayaka that she is also in love with Kyosuke. She explains that she doesn't want to get in the way of Sayaka's feelings, so she gives her 24 hours to make her move. After that, Hitomi plans to confess her feelings to Kyosuke and let whatever happens happen.

Madoka meets up with Sayaka outside of her building, and I've never been more surprised to see the title character of an anime appear in said anime in my life. Madoka is more of a macguffin than a main character just based on her appearances in the show and the way Kyubey treats her potential as a magical girl.

The scene between the two friends is gut-wrenching as Sayaka confesses that for just a second, she regretted saving Hitomi from the witch as it would've meant having Kyosuke all to herself. Now she's going to lose the person she loves to someone else, because there's no way she'd ever be able to be with Kyosuke in a body that's no longer hers.

She has a tough time bAttling witches that night, but is saved at the last second by Kyoko. Sayaka refuses any additional help, opting to kill the witch on her own, fighting to her very last breath. It's difficult, but she eventually wins.

It's not a happy, triumphant victory, however. The stress and feelings of inadequacy have finally overwhelmed poor Sayaka. She's completely detached herself as she hacks away at the witch. The cuts on her face almost make her look like she's crying. Inside, she probably is.

The next episode picks up right after the fight as the witch's realm shatters and collapses. After obtaining the grief seed, she tosses it over to Kyoko without using it to clean her soul gem first. Sayaka seems to be on the verge of collapse as she transforms back into her human form (I use that term lightly).

Sayaka is now a completely different person, but Madoka is still trying to reason with her. Miss Miki is having none of it though, as she yells at her best friend and runs away, essentially ruining the only stable relationship she has left in her life. Dammit show, have you ever even seen a magical girl show? How could you disrupt the delicate balance that is the unbreakable friendship between the pink and blue characters?

If I can't live in a world where pink and blue can't
set aside their differences, I'm not sure what to believe in anymore.

Meanwhile, Kyoko and Homura are going over how they intend to deal with Walpurgisnacht. Homura shows off her boss satellite maps of the town and pinpoints the exact location the mysterious calamity will appear. Kyubey shows up to let them know that Sayaka is rapidly deteriorating, because not only is she not cleaning out her soul gem, but she's also because of her rapidly fading sanity and resentment towards the world in general.

It seems that she'll be a more pressing problem than Walpugisnacht before too long. Her soul gem is tainted, and if it isn't purified soon...

Like that but like a million times worse.

After school the next day, Hitomi makes her move on Kyosuke by inviting him to walk home with her. She makes a convincing opening argument for how much she is in love with him by making the boy on crutches walk more than he has to just so that she can take him someplace private to tell her how much she cares about him.

Madoka goes to check on Sayaka at her home, but she apparently hasn't been home since the night before. Three guesses as to where she is.

Yup. Not content with hating herself and the world around her, she follows the two and watches them hang out together. Now she's completely gone, fighting witches like the machine that she is as she slowly becomes more and more fatigued.

Homura tries to help her by giving her a grief seed to purify her gem, but Sayaka refuses, now having associated grief seeds with symbols of the selfishness of magical girls who fight only for their own personal gain. She seems to think she doesn't need them.

Homura is ready to kill Sayaka before she becomes a problem, but she's saved at the last minute by Kyoko. Sayaka hobbles away, but Homura is able to drop a flashbang and escape.

Sayaka tries to take the train home, and overhears a wonderfully high-brow conversation between two men talking about their dumb slut girlfriends (their words, not paraphrasing this time) and how they need to dump them soon because they keep talking about commitment and feelings and dumb stuff like that.

This displeases Sayaka, and then


She's gone.

It is heavily insinuated that she slaughters the train.

Madoka is sulking in the park, and Kyubey shows up to try and talk her into making the contract again. The little bastard tells her that if she wanted to, her potential could be enough to save Sayaka and give her back her humanity. Just as she's about to make the contract


Yes, Homura arrives just in the nick of time to plug that little abomination full of buckshot. She also finally appears to be at her limit in regards to warning Madoka about the contract, as she finally breaks her cold, distant facade and passionately scolds Madoka for ignoring all of the people in her life who care about her and that becoming a magical girl isn't worth giving up all that.

At this point one starts to wonder why Homura seems to care so much about Madoka. The latter even asks Homura if they've ever met before she transferred in.

Homura sits there broken as Madoka runs off to find Sayaka. Then


Well, yes and no. Apparently Kyubey has a near endless supply of spare bodies he can call in every time one meets a gruesome end. After DEVOURING HIS OWN CORPSE, he reveals that Homura can control time with her magic and that she is actually from the future.

Homura then makes a revelation of her own, calling Kyubey by his true name: "Incubator".

"Kyubey". "In-Kyubey-tor". Oh. I get it.

Incubator for what? That's what I want to know, but clearly I was right not to trust that little demon.

Kyoko tries to talk to Sayaka by bonding over a can of pringles. It doesn't work. With a final tearful utterance, Sayaka's soul jem turns jet black, releasing the powers of a witch. The final awful secret of the soul gems is finally revealed: They are an early stage of development for a grief seed.

Kyubey's end-of-episode monologue confirms as much, as he remarks on how clever it is that girls who are destined to become witches should be called "Magical Girls". I take it you all know what that means?

It means that I was technically right about the "Homura being at least half witch" thing. I just didn't take it all the way to assume that all magical girls have some witch in them.

It's an interesting dynamic that this show presents. The witches seem to exist solely for the purpose of self-annihilation. Magical girls are basically pubescent witches, based on what we've just learned. From what we've seen so far, it is the duty of the magical girls to hunt witches for their grief seeds until ultimately, their own souls become so corrupt that they morph into the very things that they fight against. Very poetic.

One more to go.

Now Sayaka has gone full-witch, and she's a tough one. Kyoko is unable to fight it, as Homura arrives to get her out of Sayaka's realm by stopping time and fleeing the scene.

They encounter Madoka walking along the train tracks and break the news to her. She drops to her knees, mourning her best friend's fall from grace. Kyoko sets her limp body on the ground for Madoka to mourn over before they take their leave.

Kyubey returns to harass Madoka, who doesn't seem the least bit shocked that the thing she just saw get shot up and shredded to pieces is now alive and well. It is now that Kyubey reveals what his goal has been throughout the events of the show.

Using the law of entropy as a jumping off point (as a would-be Thermodynamics nerd, I squeal internally for my favorite sub-branch of physics getting name-dropped in an anime that I like) he explains that he is part of an alien race that noticed a trend of increasing entropy in the universe. Energy changing forms ultimately creates a deficit to the point that eventually the universe will eventually "run out" of usable energy, leading to an increase in entropy, leading to, as we all know, the end of the universe.

Kyubey's race sought to postpone the heat death of the universe and keep the big wheel turning by using another form of energy: emotions. Unfortunately, Kyubey's race lacks the capacity to experience emotion. And that means it's CHOOSE YOUR OWN JOKE TIME.

Remember to choose carefully. The joke you pick will influence what ending you receive.

Joke A:

"I have been and ever shall be your friend... But you know,
if you don't want me to die there's a way I can make that happen
and you'll get to wear a really pretty dress."
Joke B:

"Which confirms our worst fears: Kristen Stewart
really is an alien."
Joke C:

"At last! An opponent who possesses the qualities
of a worthy air hockey adversary!"

Weak offerings, I realize, but like I said before, I can't really joke about a lot of this stuff without sounding like a snarky jerk. Shout your answer really loud into your mailbox so that I'll hear it when I go out to get the mail after work.

In any event, Kyubey goes on to explain that humans were chosen to take part in their program because of the wealth of emotions that they experience throughout their lives. That's why middle school girls are generally selected to become magical girls: at that stage in human development, the sudden spikes of hormones experienced in puberty provide obscene amounts of emotional energy that Kyubey's people can use to save the universe.

In short, Kyubey specifically seeks out these girls because they are emotionally fragile and lack the capacity to responsibly make major decisions. To call it devious would be an understatement.

Kyubey's role as an incubator is to collect the energy from grief seeds and send them back home. Humans are nothing more than batteries to that little demon. He seriously can't understand why Madoka isn't excited by the prospect of dying to save the universe.

Meanwhile, Kyoko is expending her own magic in order to keep Sayaka's body preserved, hoping against all rational thinking that there's a way to get Sayaka back now that she's a witch. When Kyubey insists that it's not impossible, while stressing that he's never heard of a case where it has ever happened, Kyoko is intent on finding a way to find out what Kyubey can't: how to bring back a magical girl who's become a witch.

She enlists the help of Madoka in hopes that hearing her voice will make her snap out of her despair and bring her soul back from the grips of witchcraft.

Sayaka's realm is beautiful, I just have to say. It's modeled after a concert hall, representing her despair over losing Kyosuke, and is plastered with imagery of her life after becoming a magical girl. The silhouette of a conductor stands before an orchestra full of violinists as witch-Sayaka dances sadly at center-stage.

Madoka tries to call out to Sayaka, but it does no good. She begins to attack Kyoko, who puts up a barrier around Madoka to protect her as she continues to call out to the wayward soul of her best friend. The fight seems to be too much for Kyoko, but she insists that she's fine and tells Madoka to keep calling out to Sayaka.

Kyoko is getting the tar beaten out of her, which she accepts as recompense for trying to kill her during their first meetings. The witch form grabs Madoka and attempts to crush her as she desperately calls out to whatever part of Sayaka may be left. 

Unfortunately there's nothing left, because this dumb show likes to give you hope and then rip it away from you while it kicks you in the nuts with golf cleats and twists its foot around. 

Kyoko decides she's not having any more of this, and attacks the witch, severing its arm and destroying the floor below. As she falls, she begs whatever deity may be listening for some sliver of happiness by the end of it all. It seems she knows that there's only one way this fight can end.

Battered and bloody, Kyoko asks Homura to help Madoka escape while she finishes the fight.

Kyoko unties her hair and tosses out her soul gem, summoning a giant version of her spear weapon to finish off Octavia (there's no hope that any part of Sayaka is left at this point) once and for all. She assures Sayaka that it'll be okay. She doesn't have to be alone anymore because she'll be right there with her in the end. Silhouetted against the white void, her attack looks like a snake waiting to strike. With one final blow, it all fades away.

And I'm sad again. Even though I liked Mami a little more, Kyoko was a really cool character and I really liked her. She acts selfishly, but only because her major act of selflessness caused her infinite suffering that she never wanted to experience again. Through her interactions with Sayaka, her world changes. The metamorphosis of Sayaka into a witch drives her to try to bring her back, and it is through this act of selflessness that Kyoko meets her tragic end.

Through it all, however, she is vindicated through her attempts to try and save Sayaka to atone for her hedonistic ways, and dies believing that in some way Sayaka will be saved through this fight. I'd like to believe in some way that the two of them understood each other in the end, and that despair once again gave way to hope, even if just a little.

See in this show, despair begets hope begets despair ad infinitum. In their final, despair filled instances, there was a sliver of hope as Kyoko tearfully reassured Sayaka that she wasn't alone. I think that hope might have saved them in the end so as not to make their deaths completely meaningless.

Or maybe I'm talking crazy. Always a possibility.

We return to Homura's base as she sits over her maps lamenting the loss of a powerful ally. Kyubey arrives and reveals that there was absolutely no way of bringing Sayaka back and that Kyoko was an idiot for thinking otherwise. It was all part of a plan to remove Sayaka and Kyoko from the equation so that Madoka would have no choice but to become a magical girl, as Homura can't hope to defeat Walpurgisnacht alone.

And the end credits give us a really sweet picture of Kyoko and Sayaka. It's a nice image to linger on, because even though the two experienced infinite despair, it still offers a sense of lingering hope. It's why I chose it as the title image of this post.

Pour one out for Kyoko and Sayaka, but hang tough because there's only three episodes left. Join me next week to wrap this thing up once and for all.

If you'd like to see a fight scene with a happier ending, might I leave you with this scene from a lesser PreCure?

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