Madoka Halfway Commentary

I said I was going to finish Madoka by New Year’s; as is I might finish it by Christmas.

I suppose it’s too bad that I knew Madoka was going to turn dark, because so far things are turning out pretty much as I’d expect, rather than what someone might expect from a show with a cute opening named Puella Magi Madoka Magica. There is one exception—

—and I guess I’d better give a SPOILER WARNING for the rest of this post. I’ll put particularly egregious things behind spoiler tags like this, but even the uncovered parts probably constitute minor spoilers.

Anyway, there is one exception: we’re halfway through the show, and Madoka still isn’t actually a magical girl. Which makes me think now that maybe it’s not going to happen. Or that it will happen in the last two episodes. Hm.

Other than that, though, things are mostly happening as expected, and honestly I’m seeing way more ominous notes than what the show has actually presented, based on Revolutionary Girl Utena and (again) on Stefan Gagne’s “Sailor Nothing”. I’ll talk some more about this in the screencap section below, but for example it’s very obvious that Kyubey is trying every way he (they? it?) can to get Madoka (and Sayaka) to do the thing, very possibly including some offscreen work. What is his motivation in all this?

(I guess I should stop talking about “Sailor Nothing” being similar or different in order to not spoil that.)

Episode 6 also has a particular revelation about Soul Gems that horrifies both Madoka and another girl, Kyōko. I have to say I’m…not actually so weirded out by that? Although if it means they’re not going to age that’s a little weird. …Hm, that gives me an interesting theory about Homura…

I don’t know if I have much more to say in general. There are some good “discussion prompts” for what it means to help someone, to take responsibility for someone, etc., but I’m not sure how much of that is actually in the show and how much is just me connecting things back to Doki Doki Literature Club. (Which I did not finish, so I’m not sure how much I can validly discuss it.)

Oh, the choral bits of the soundtrack are nice. Most of the rest of it is forgettable.

Okay, time for that patent-pending analysnark section, featuring screencaps from episodes 2-6.

Mami: "I live here alone, so feel free to make yourselves comfortable."

Okay, if she lives here alone, how does she have all this stuff? Can she really take care of herself? Is some of this also magic?

(We know why she lives alone, but still.)

Sayaka: "Are they different than magical girls."

Are witches different than magical girls? Eh heh heh…I’m willing to bet “no”, though the existence of “familiars” is a mark against that. Still, that could just be an alternate method of reproduction. (More on this below.)

Also, it’s interesting that they’re using the word specifically for “witch”, 魔女. That’s a gendered term, even though the “witches” in the show are weird surreal kids’ cartoon creatures. It makes another link between the “witches” and the “magical girls”. (Which, for the curious, is written 魔法少女, with the same first and last characters.)

See also: “A witch is just a magical girl who read up on feminism.”

Hitomi: "Don't you see that it's a love that can never beeeeee?!."

Poor Hitomi. Forcibly third-wheeled and likely to have a hard time figuring out she’s very possibly gay. (Evidence: her treatment of love letters in episode 1, not to mention this particular freak-out.)

(Madoka's sketches of magical girl costumes)

The filled-in eyes are kind of freaky, actually. Also, doesn’t that one on the left look like [character from late-game Umineko]??

(Also, I haven’t had a place to mention it, but the girls are all nicely color-coded, even down to their eye color matching their hair. Madoka/Hitomi/Sayaka form an RGB trio, Mami is yellow-gold, and Homura, of course, is black.)

Sayaka: "Wishing for something so strongly you'd gladly trade your life for it..."

I actually really appreciated this discussion of privilege in Episode 3. It seems like for once the wishes being granted aren’t being Monkey’s Paw’d into something terrible, but that does raise the question of why Madoka and Sayaka are the ones being contracted. Surely there are girls who would have agreed much more readily, like Mami.

At this point, Sayaka is also thinking about this on a higher level than Madoka, which made me remember also that they’re in middle school. This whole system is really exploitative.

Madoka: "But I can't become a magical girl for a cake!"

I very much enjoyed this line.

Okay, it also gives me the excuse to talk about two points. First, Mami’s sudden vulnerability when Madoka says she’s not alone anymore. That was honest, and she’s just a middle schooler too. Even just having people to talk to must help a lot…although it does put extra pressure on said people. *cough cough*

The second point is that Madoka originally said she’d become a magical girl to help people. Would that actually work? If you actually made that your wish…what would happen?

Madoka: "I'm alive... And your cooking... tastes so good, Dad..."

Okay, what kind of parents let their kid just go off to school after bursting into tears at breakfast?

Madoka: "Somehow, it feels like I'm surrounded by strangers..."

This is actually a pun in Japanese: the term Madoka says for “strangers” is 知らない人, which could be interpreted as “people I don’t know” but also “people who don’t know”. Sayaka replies with “indeed, it’s because they don’t know.”

(I’m guessing that the translation is “correct” in that native speakers would assume the “strangers” meaning for this phrase. If not, it’s potentially a totally different pun.)

(Madoka and Homura are walking on a bridge at sunset)

This section’s about how all magical girls inevitably die in the Shadow Realm, that you aren’t just risking your life for your wish but effectively giving it. There’s no “retirement”. There are no “magical women” who’ve managed to stay alive long enough to grow up. I thought this was an interesting point to bring up explicitly.

(“Sailor Nothing” also touches on this.)

I also liked this particular shot, with the long shadows. My symbolism senses are tingling, especially because there are other shots in this scene where whenever Homura says something crushing the lens flare of the setting sun is obscured by buildings. But I don’t have anything for this part, so I’ll have to stick with “I also liked this particular shot”.

Kyōko: "Witches eat weak humans."

Another Japanese note! Kyōko uses the word 食う here for eat rather than the typical 食べる. This is a “lower” (perhaps “crasser”?) word choice in a way that doesn’t translate to English because “eat” is already so simple. Given her “food chain” analogy, my mind is picking “consume” as the next closest thing if you weren’t going to use “eat”.

(I’m sure there’s an equivalent example for this kind of word choice in English, but the closest I can think of is euphemisms, and 食べる is just a normal word. Maybe “manager” vs. “boss”, if “boss” were less common?)

(shot from the opening of episode 6)

It took me until episode 6 to figure out what was going on with the widescreen: it’s the section before the opening credits of each episode. I don’t think this has any meaning, and indeed they start with a few seconds of the previous episode for context, just blatantly cropped down to widescreen. Not sure why they even bothered.

Kyubey: "If it absorbs any more impurity, a witch could hatch from it."

Here we are back on my “magical girls become witches” theory. Grief Seeds, Soul Gems. Magical girls, witches. When a magical girl falls, what happens to her soul and her magical power? When a magical girl is unable to clean her Soul Gem, does she lose access to magic or does she become a witch?

And then there’s Kyubey. Speculation: is he actually making the Grief Seed “safe”, or is he just going to plant it again? Or is it what he feeds off of?

I’m actually not sure the show is going to resolve the first point, of where witches come from in the first place. Still, though.

(Kyōko plays Dance Dance Revolution)

I’m always amused when the opening song finds its way into the actual world.

Homura: "Two weeks from now, 'Walpurgisnacht' will descend upon the city"

I know I’ve heard this word before, but I can’t remember where. Oh well, I guess we have a deadline now. Who wants to bet that “two weeks from now” is the second-to-last episode?

Madoka is available on Hulu. (It’s probably available elsewhere too, but Hulu is where I’m watching it.)