Wrong Every Time: Gen Urobuchi and the Human Spirit

Management: Spoilers ahead for Madoka, Gargantia, Psycho-Pass, and Fate/Zero.

It’s not a complicated question. You hold the gun, target in the sights, finger on the trigger. An innocent, no question. But the stakes could not be more clear: one or one hundred. Either you kill this one person, ending their life and putting their blood on your hands, or you do nothing, and one hundred die through your inaction. Is it morally permissible to fire? Is it morally permissible not to? You could ask them first, I suppose – are they willing to die for the sake of one hundred strangers? That would certainly be noble of them, and possibly clear your conscious. But what if they say no? What if the stakes are one thousand strangers? One hundred thousand? One hundred billion?

Kyubey gets kind of a bad rap. He doesn’t just ask his single strangers – he grants wishes, giving them power beyond anything humanity could hope to achieve. He lets them play the hero, live as long as they’re able to manage the consequences, potentially even change the world. And he even takes no for an answer! Granted, he doesn’t generally clarify the exact nature of the bargain being struck – but there’s a lot hanging in the balance there. One girl for one hundred billion life forms, again and again, forever.


His choice certainly makes sense, at least from one perspective – the utilitarian viewpoint. That which aids society and promotes greater general happiness is Good. That which aids only the self or those close to you at the expense of greater happiness, is Evil. As overtly defined by Striker in Gargantia, Utilitarianism can also be referred to as the Greatest Happiness Principle – each individual member of a society should act in such a way as to promote the greatest total happiness of that society. And when adopted as a formal law, the utilitarian principle can certainly produce results!

Take the Galactic Alliance, for example. Although that society’s utilitarian contract is railed against as inhuman, its almost insect-like treatment of the human race as one single-minded colony results in great technological innovation and societal focus, creating a military strong enough to do battle with the equally single-minded Hideauze. Or consider the Sybil System of Psycho-Pass – though the show’s protagonists accept its preeminence only grudgingly, it is only because of their position on the fringe of that society’s effectiveness that it seems so prone to failure. In the normal case? People find jobs according to their ability within a society so devoid of violence and disorder that crime is considered almost a novelty. When all humanity is bent towards a single purpose, great things can be accomplished. A stable society is achieved, a monumental war is waged, the universe itself is maintained – all at the mere cost of a few lives per billion.


Well. Perhaps that’s not the only cost. Ledo might have thought differently, for example. Not at the beginning, when he worked as a perfect cog, counting the hours of service remaining to earn a freedom he couldn’t begin to value or even comprehend. But perhaps he might have found cause to complain when he first remembered the death of his brother – one of those small sacrifices necessary for the good of the colony, the remembrance of which was essentially conditioned out of him by a value system which only favors that which benefits the collective. Kyouko might also find cause to complain – again, perhaps not at the start, when her acceptance of the system as a given still acts as a defense mechanism against grief. But by the end, when acknowledgment of Sayaka as her emotional shadow leads her to sacrifice herself for just one other person? It seems unlikely that Kyouko would accept the utilitarian ideal. Ledo, at least, is eventually given the opportunity to choose. When his connection to his own emotions has been reawakened and a gateway back to the Alliance model is offered, he is given a chance none who exist within the utilitarian systems are offered: the chance to become a human being.

Because in Urobuchi’s worlds, it is not enough to eat and breathe and sleep. That might count as being alive, but it does not count as living. That which is most fundamentally human is that which separates us from animals, who act according to their programmed instincts – the ability to choose. This isn’t directly correlated with compassion – there are good people even within constricting systems. And choice is clearly not the same as virtue – the nihilists of Fate/Zero and sociopaths of Psycho-Pass live according to their own choices, and provide stark examples of the individual cruelty present even when systemic inhumanity is broken. They see the system of sacrifice for the greater good as meaningless, but can find no other meaning outside of self-worship. And they are not entirely wrong.


The heroes of Urobuchi’s worlds do not reject utilitarianism. They struggle against it, and seek a better way, but they are not blind to the bargain Kyubey has struck, or his reasons for doing so. Akane ultimately accepts the current existence of the Sybil System, though promising to seek a better way. Kiritsugu embodies the utilitarian ethos as he seeks peace, though he feels only a miracle could replace such a system. They do not blindly deny utilitarianism – in fact, they might even be considered paragons of it, the few citizens able to think in terms of the greater good at all times. Given an entire society of Akanes, utilitarianism possibly would be a tenable societal structure. It would not require conditioning or forced bargains – everyone would simply take the long view instinctively, and choice would be allowed because society could operate assuming everyone would make correct choices. This is the utilitarian ideal as formally envisioned – a society not of slaves, but of enlightened individuals, accomplishing great long-term goals of their own initiative. A society of Madokas, able to take the suffering of these systems upon themselves as a personal burden. But in Urobuchi’s view, that ideal is just a fantasy. Most humans cannot take the eternal long view – most humans think in terms of the people they love. Does this make them weak, or unworthy of saving?

No. If the system designed to raise up the cumulative mass of individuals assumes an incorrect view of humanity, then it is the system that is wrong, not human nature. And in spite of all his negativity and character-killing, there is nothing Urobuchi finds more powerful or inspiring than human nature. A character like Yayoi from Psycho-Pass doesn’t think in terms of the political consequences of her actions – she thinks in terms of being close to the woman she loves. When Kyubey attempts to explain his reasoning to Madoka, she can’t even comprehend his words – she simply repeats that his reasoning is ‘too terrible’ and blocks her mind, too empathetic to handle the scale of sacrifice he’s describing. When discussing the slow utilitarian path towards general happiness, John Stuart Mill stated that “though a long succession of generations will perish in the breach before the conquest is completed… every mind sufficiently intelligent and generous to bear a part… will draw a noble enjoyment from the contest itself.” Perhaps it was thoughts like these that left Kyubey so perplexed regarding Madoka’s reaction. And yet this weakness, this inability to reason in terms of the utilitarian ideal, is what ultimately makes her mighty.


Urobuchi’s utilitarian systems are designed to make the most of our weak, fragile individual nature. They succeed, more or less. But in doing so, they sacrifice that which makes us most powerful – our moments of greatest sacrifice, greatest triumph. Most human beings cannot sacrifice on the societal level – but given the chance, many of them would die happily for their closest friend. When we put our struggles in emotional, personal terms, we can rise above even a hopelessly powerful system, rise above and do incredible things. There may be no rational counter to the eternal question of the one versus the many, but human strength has never been fully rational – and in those irrational moments of desperate, hopeless sacrifice, we are most powerful, most full of grace. Rider charging towards a battle he knows he cannot win. Kyouko sacrificing herself to save a friend long past saving. Chamber destroying himself so that Ledo may live. These choices may not make sense according to any greater, widely applicable logic. But these characters do not make them because they’re stupid – they make them because they’re human, and as humans they must keep trying, keep fighting for a better way. When pressed to explain Kiritsugu’s inconceivable wish for peace, Irisviel does not frame it as naivety, optimism, or even compassion – she says “Kiritsugu has faith.”

Urobuchi’s stories do not void their meaning in the ending, or wave away the oppressive nature of reality. When the dust settles and the heroes are gone, the Sybil system still stands. Madoka can only replace her reality with a new world marginally less terrible. And Gargantia only thrives because the Hideauze are a distant specter. But Urobuchi does not concede to these systems – in spite of their necessity, he sides with Madoka, sides with Kiritsugu, sides with Akane. When it comes down to our individual, emotional potential, he has indomitable faith.


In 1984, Orwell described his society’s future as “a boot stamping on a human face, forever.” Urobuchi likely sees that same image, but in his view, there is something almost beautiful in that. It is not the boot trampling down that really matters – it is the human rising up, ever-struggling, defiant forever. Humanity’s irrational, emotional hope is its greatest strength, and no system of regulated virtue could ever shatter that. As Madoka says, “If anyone says there’s no reason to hope, I’ll tell them they’re wrong every single time.”


I didn’t want to clutter an explanation of Urobuchi’s philosophy with a direct point-by-point debate with utilitarianism, but I suppose I should clarify his argument to some extent. Mill himself does not claim all people should think in terms of the long view – in fact, he directly states that “it is a misapprehension of the utilitarian mode of thought, to conceive it as implying that people should fix their minds upon so wide a generality as the world, or society at large.” The utopia he describes is intended to come about as a long-term shift in human nature – a move towards adoption of the Greatest Happiness Principle as default morality. Urobuchi is not so optimistic about such a shift – his societies jump to that end stage while maintaining an “unenlightened” populace, forcing utilitarian morality not through selflessness, which requires an acknowledgment of individual desires and willing rejection of them, but instead through denial of self, which uses systemic control to remove the choice-centric human element, making the utilitarian “correct” choice the only choice. Urobuchi’s societies make an unquestionable god of the utilitarian principle, and in doing so they destroy any value that system could provide. But the alternative is irrelevant to his worlds, and I would guess contrary to his base idea of human nature – Mill speaks regularly of how “the deeply rooted conception which every individual even now has of himself as a social being, tends to make him feel it one of his natural wants that there should be harmony between his feelings and aims and those of his fellow creatures.” When Urobuchi creates a character who really does feel that inherent broad-hearted instinct towards societal harmony, they come across as almost inhumanly perfect – the Akanes and Madokas of his world. If the utilitarian principle ever can be successfully applied to humanity, it won’t be to the brand of humanity Urobuchi believes in. As far as Urobuchi is concerned, the final word on how utilitarianism could actually be applied comes from Mill’s application of the theory to the idea of justice: “all persons are deemed to have a right to equality of treatment, except when some recognized social expediency requires the reverse.” I’m fairly certain “preventing the slow entropy death of the universe” falls under the category of social expediency.

42 thoughts on “Wrong Every Time: Gen Urobuchi and the Human Spirit

  1. A few completely random thoughts, most of which will miss the point of your post by a few miles:

    This notion of the social acceptance of the Greatest Happiness Principle is an idea that, in Urobochi’s stories, stems from a person’s agency(a concept he loves to highlight). I’m basically going to point at nature vs. nurture here, but I think it is worth noting that Urobochi’s protagonists are almost one and all outside the system; they are converts(Gargantia), or criminals(Makishima in Psycho-Pass), or victims(Madoka, Phantom) or completely isolated from the system(Kiritsugu). This I find to be curious, because in Urobochi’s stories, we often find ourselves in the shoes of the stomped, but rarely ever the stomper.

    Consider Shin Sekai Yori, in which the general happiness principle has become the default morality, and children are provided a liberal, scientifically-oriented education that emphasises individuality and the freedom of thought. They are, in a sense, indoctrinated into independant thinking, and then they use it to go about justifying the mass-murder of queerats, yet they are hardly the villains in the story, despite them being the stompers. I’d argue that the stomper can even be an equally graceful figure.

    There’s more in SSY, because in any society, there will be children, and if utilitarianism becomes the default morality and is taught to said children, it will inevitably descend into dogma, and lose the considered, self-aware quality that the convert into utilitarianism has. Even a naturally created, enlightened society will grow unenlightened with time, because conventional ‘enlightenment’ is a process of breaking out of your initial beliefs, and considering new ones.
    [^Even the cliched examples of enlightened figures support this last notion. Think Buddha and Gandhi(who, earlier in his life, was one of the ‘White Indians’ so reviled in colonial India).]

    The discussion in paragraph 9 reminds me of Shiro Amada from MS Gundam – The 08th MS Team, which didn’t have any resolution either. In any case, it might be worth noting that no anime I have seen has ever dealt with the idea of the corruption and failure of these ‘pure’, symbolic, ‘human’ gestures, and I don’t think Urobochi has tried this either. Here’s to hoping MS Zeta Gundam tries it.

    Oh wow, that’s a lot of rambling. Anyway, great post, though I think I might have given away that I have no grasp of what the intention or tying theme behind the post was.

    • It’s actually fantastic that you brought up how even if utilitarianism were adopted as a default morality (which is the only way it could be consistent with a society of free-thinking and individualist humans, as demonstrated in SSY and denied as a possibility in Urobuchi’s work), it would then descend to unquestioned dogma, which always strays from its original purpose. Fantastic because that’s actually one of the central arguments of John Stuart Mill’s OTHER famous essay, On Liberty – the idea that the reasons for any law or concept of morality must be continuously taught and continuously challenged as vigorously as possible, because the alternative will always lead to complacency, dogma, and eventual misunderstanding, misapplication, and abuse. I hadn’t considered just how neatly these two concepts tie together until you brought up the great example of SSY, which does indeed do its best to depict how such a society might work in practice (with the additional wrinkle of ESP lending some serious urgency to the maintenance of that system).

      I’m trying to think of a good example of the corruption of one of those pure symbols, but nothing’s coming to mind at the moment. I feel like I must be missing some good ones, though…

      Anyway, thanks for your comment – rambling or not, I think you brought up a great angle to attack the subject from.

      • Oh sh*t I feel awesome now.

        Actually I’ve just realised that such a story exists in anime: Evangelion 3.33. It was, if you ask me, ruined by timing constraints and wonky characterisation, but the ambition was there.

  2. As someone whose moral intuitions are such that utilitarianism just seems to clearly be The True Morality: Oh, so that’s why Urobuchi’s stuff rubs me the wrong way!

    Although I don’t think Kyubey can really be utilitarian, because he claims his species do not feel emotions, which should include happiness. Sacrificing a being that can feel happiness for the sake of beings that can’t is, in utilitarian terms, equivalent to just killing them for no reason, and that’s the end that Kyubey is seeking out, benefits to the part of humanity not being exploited are just side effects.

    • I think the happiness thing is a bit of an arbitrary distinction. Utilitarianism is referred to as the “greatest happiness principle” because happiness just happens to be the thing most easily correlated with the greater public good (though this is kind of a chicken and egg situation, I guess) – Kyubey’s race may not experience happiness, but it is clear their goal is the continued survival of the universe at large, which we can fairly safely correlate with the well-being of all species/beings that would otherwise be destroyed, which it seems safe to assume will result in a greater amount of happiness/satisfaction/public good than leaving the girls alone and letting the universe die. It’s also clear that Kyubey’s race values their own existence and the existence of the universe, so I think them simply not being apathetic towards destruction qualifies them as a race with desires we can consider utilitarian parallels to our own feelings of happiness.

      • I don’t think it’s arbitrary at all, I think it’s very important. Once we start valuing things other than people’s happiness, we can have hypothetical situations where those values are traded off against total happiness, giving us nightmare-worlds that our moral philosophy has certified ethical.

        • Again, clearly Kyuubey’s race values their own existence, which means they find some purpose in life. Mill posits the most fundamental purpose in life as the search for happiness. I agree that anything more complex than that can lead to the twisting of the principal – but I think for the purposes of this show, there’s no reason no to assume the incubators are working in service of whatever equivalent to happiness is their most fundamental purpose in life. If the show actually made an issue of their corrupting utilitarianism, there would be an argument here – but their actions all follow the utilitarian principle if we decide to respect whatever they find most valuable in life as individuals. And their actions also work according to our happiness-based definition of utilitarianism, if we take the happiness of all potential future humans into account versus the happiness sacrificed by one current girl here and there.

          I agree that shifting utilitarianism from happiness to other goals can result in corruption, but I just don’t think that’s a relevant complaint for this series – this series intentionally simplifies the question so it’s a given the incubator’s actions are correct according to utilitarianism.

          • Sentience plays a central role to utilitarianism. Its shift of moral consideration from rationality to sentience is precisely why it began the animal rights movements. You can’t just interpret it as the other species’ equivalence of happiness.

  3. Yes! I’ve always felt, while discussing Urobuchi and my appreciation of his works with friends, that it’s all about hope for me. How do you find hope within all that despair and destruction, they say. Well, because it’s part of human nature to keep on hoping even when all seems lost. The magical girls in Madoka don’t get set free by Madoka’s sacrifice. They still suffer and, eventually, die for the greater cause. Kiritsugu has to realise that the miracle he wished for does not exist while paying a huge price for it. He will not live to see his dream come true. Neither Makishima nor Akane get to destroy the Sibyl system in the end. The system wins – for now. And yet, even within this feeling of having come full circle in the end, there is hope for a better, happier future. In all of Urobuchi’s stories. He might crush the idealists (Sayaka), but he never looses his respect for them. It seems, to me, like he might almost envy them in a way. Madoka’s last words to Sayaka were proof of that respect. Even within this cruel world we’re living in, where one’s hopes and dreams are shattered by indifference, where we are too small and powerless to make a difference, it is never wrong to dream of and fight for a better romorrow. It’s what makes us human. By empowering his characters with the ability to keep on hoping, keep on fighting, I feel Urobuchi has to be far from disappointed in human beings. This feeling of hope is what Madoka gave back to the girls. And while Kiritsugu has lost, well, everything, the story ends on a note of hope, with a new hero being born. (One, that we knew, will be able to end this war, at last.) And, as for Psycho-Pass, that has to be one of the most powerful endings ever written. While the system has won and people are clearly not ready to be freed from it just yet, Akane’s belief in humankind never wavers. The people will earn the freedom Makishima wanted to force on them. By and for themselves. And, someday, someone will come and turn off the power. By their own free will. If that’s not a message of empowerment of humankind, a testament to our potential and strength, I don’t know what is.
    Thank you for putting into words so much better what I have always felt about Urobuchi. Your post was truly inspiring. (I also read your review of Uchouten Kazoku, couldn’t agree more with what you said.) This is a wonderful blog, I am looking forward to reading all your other posts and reviews.

    • Thank you very much! I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and it’s great to see that other people share my feelings on Urobuchi’s philosophy. To me, his style of optimism seems like the only kind with real weight to it – optimism in spite of realism, in spite of accepting and never turning away from the harshness of the world. He accepts the cold realities of these places, but his faith in people is stronger for it.

      As far as Urobuchi envying the idealists, I think that’s completely true. Someone else linked me his postface for Fate/Zero, which pretty much spells this out:


      • Thank you very much for your response. I believe Urobuchi is an optimist BECAUSE he knows and accepts reality’s cruelness. Which is something I can and even want to identify with. That link was really interesting as well, thank you.

  4. I just made a word press account and I was very happy to see that someone actually took the time to break down Urobuchi’s work. He is my favorite anime writer and I’m glad to see other’s think the same. Kind of unrelated, but my favorite effect that Urobuchi’s writing has on me is the fact that he takes these roles that everyone associates as a noble or harmless like a “hero” in Fate/Zero or a “savior” in Madoka and shows you that if you truly want to be something so pure and good, you have to realize that you’re going to bear the weight of everything you save the world from. One of my favorite moment in Fate/Zero is when young Kiritsugu just finished shooting his father and Natalia asks if he needs anything before he leaves. Kiritsugu’s face is completely content as he says “Nothing at all” and you realize there that this kid just realized his dream of being a hero, but look at what he had to go through to get that epiphany. It’s so heavy, but then Urobuchi shows that these characters can still persevere knowing that. It’s the very definition of conviction and I think it’s something incredibly noble. I LOVE Urobuchi. XD

    • Yeah, Urobuchi really doesn’t let his characters get away with simple philosophies! They sort of embody the idea that ignorance is bliss – the more they become aware of the consequences and necessary compromises of their worlds and actions, the more weight they must carry personally in order to live according to their ideals. And the fact that they DO carry on is inspiring stuff.

  5. I would love to read a follow-up as to if you’ve found any changes to your perceptions written here, based on PMMM Rebellion. (And perhaps how that interacts with the situation where Urobuchi did not envision the end of Rebellion the way it played out, but only wrote it after being told to create a situation in which the franchise could go on. In other words, his original canon ending for Homura (the one implied by the end of the TV series) was rejected twice, (when they decided on a continuation movie, which “rejects” the TV series ending, and then when his original movie ending was also rejected) and the direction taken for Rebellion is thus more of an exploration of a path set out by others.

    • I was actually recently on a podcast all about Rebellion, which you can check out here if you’d like:


      As far as how Rebellion relates specifically to Urobuchi’s philosophy, I’m not sure what Urobuchi’s original ending was, but my interpretation of the current ending is that Homura is now demonstrating the excesses of rejecting utilitarianism – whereas Urobuchi’s heroes tend to accept self-sacrifice as a necessary measure to replace the societal sacrifice of utilitarianism (or simply come to peace with it in some way), Homura is basically the manifestation of the selfish love utilitarianism rejects. Which puts her in line with characters like the “artists” from the first half of Psycho-Pass, or Ryuunosuke from Fate/Zero – her desire to preserve her individual will extends far enough that it directly interferes with the will of others. Which on a small scale is always the tradeoff utilitarianism is designed to prevent – directly or indirectly, rejecting utilitarianism reduces SOMEBODY’s happiness, somewhere. Urobuchi thinks the tradeoff utilitarianism requires removes a necessary human/emotional element from life, but in Rebellion he demonstrates that the opposite pole also results in a chaining of human nature, as Homura’s selfish wishes as an individual end up superseding the wishes of her friends.

      • I should inform you that the notion of the Rebellion ending having been changed is no longer correct. Urobuchi did not have a script when he went with that ending, since he is the type of writer to create the climaxes of his stories before fleshing out the beginning and the end. He actually likes the idea of Madoka and Homura being enemies (although it is not specified within the film or by him whether they are actually going to be physical enemies once Madoka gets her memories back or simply in terms of ideals, but it could easily be both) and says it makes for an interesting conflict. Earlier on back when the first two recap films came out, he said that Magica Quartet would probably be doing a second season after the movie trilogy but he might end up leaving before that. I wonder if he’ll change his mind going forward.

        In my eyes, Rebellion is a commentary about how human nature will forever be morally ambiguous, and how such ethereal forces as love and emotion cannot be trumped by a system that decides to use them as a ‘means to an end’. It is pretty much like saying that the Incubators think they know what’s in everyone’s best interest, but only the individual can determine that and they cannot stand up to a God no matter how advanced they are. In the series proper, I guess you could even argue that Homura was a utilitarian character despite even being shown to reject it. Within this movie, she is shown to be mentally unhinged and emotionally tired, however, her original goals in saving Madoka which seemed impossible and even she accepted this fact, remain intact. She is pretty much a victim of the system wanting to break out, solely because of the fact that things such as ‘love and happiness’ are not considered as valuable to her universe as the end result. She also considers Madoka’s sacrifice to be a failure, as in several scenes in the film it is heavily implied that Madoka is either not happy being God, not happy existing on another plane without Homura or because of her selflessness chooses to act in the name of duty rather than her ultimate desire. Of course, Homura’s mentality being the way it is now, she clearly thinks that Madoka’s thoughts are the former two I mentioned, since the Madoka she talks to is the amnesiac Goddess Madoka that descended into Homura’s witch barrier world in order to save her along with Sayaka and Nagisa.

        That being said, we can argue that both Homura and Kyubey are in the wrong here, because Kyubey only cares about a world where he can utilize the emotions and memories of magical girls as an energy source for the greater good, yet fails to understand that someone could consider his race’s actions selfish since they clearly are going to be the only ones to survive when the heat death actually comes and they have not even taken note of the consequences of creating such a system. Their ambition has been flaunted not once but twice by Madoka and Homura respectively, proving that their logic is flawed. Which is kind of fitting since even he admits that the Incubators aren’t miracle workers and the magical girl system defies all laws of logic.

        However, Homura creates what SHE thinks is a perfect world for Madoka and her friends because of the fact that she feels absolutely insecure over not being able to protect Madoka from her self-sacrificing nature and not being strong enough to challenge the system for what SHE sees as the greater good. Since the girl has lived nearly her entire life alone and suffering with only the most fleeting moments of love and happiness between her and the friends she’s ultimately failed, it really isn’t hard to see why she would put her interests above their own for their ULTIMATE happiness. However, it is because the society born from both Kyubey (considering the majority over the minority) and Madoka (being an outcast as she was the only one who remained with her memories intact and only altered the system into being less cruel) had treated her as if her own happiness didn’t matter that she decides to ‘rebel’ against an order that she thinks is not ideal (magical girls not living past their own emotional self-destruction and becoming a shell of their former self, Madoka having to give up her physical existence for the sanctity of everyone else).

        Allow me to note that Madoka and Goddess Madoka are considered to be two different entities in Homura’s eyes. Madoka the person is the ‘success’ of her efforts to fight fate and Kyubey’s system and the Goddess is her ‘failure’. However, her happiness does not come from having Madoka all to herself, it comes from Madoka being alive and safe with the people she loves even if she and Madoka would never be ‘together’. She is completely and utterly willing to give up her own happiness for everyone else’s (she burdens all the evil in this world, becoming an anti-Madoka because she has regrets about her decisions) and even brings Sayaka, Kyouko, Nagisa, Mami, Hitomi and everyone else Madoka loves back solely because she cares only about their ULTIMATE happiness instead of their initial happiness. You can argue how selfish or selfless this really is, but the fact that Homura even asks Madoka the question of whether desire (the mutual happiness of all individuals) or order (the safety and security of the majority being first and foremost over an individual’s happiness) are more important means that she isn’t oblivious nor entirely confident about what she has done. I’m interested in your thoughts on this, especially whether you think defying a system that suppresses the desires of individuals can really be considered as ‘evil’ and ‘sacrilegious’ as I often see people interpreting the movie as if Homura’s transformation into a ‘demon’ is a defiance against utilitarianism or the fulfillment of a system that proves social expediency won’t be halted by considering the best interests of all concerned even if the decisions made on their behalf isn’t unanimous.

        I will admit that I am not familiar with all of Urobuchi’s work or the concept of utilitarianism as applied to ‘real world’ instead of just the heavy allusions certain existential anime such as Urobuchi’s works, Evangelion and works by Chiaki J. Konaka and Kunihiko Ikuhara present on the subject, but I very much appreciated everything you said on Urobuchi’s writing style and perspective on human nature and idealism both simple and complex. Although I have not seen a lot of his shows (was planning to watch Phantom, Fate/Zero and Psycho-Pass and am now even more excited to do so) so I do not know the context of all of the examples you discussed, I still got the main points out of what you were saying on the topic. And I am not deterred by spoilers like the ones that were in your article, these actually reassured me that the same messages I got out of PMMM would be seen inside these other works, so that is a plus. Thank you for that. And I hope I made myself clear with everything I was saying regarding my views on the subject. This coming from a person who absolutely loved Rebellion but tries to look at Homura’s actions from a neutral yet logical perspective.

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  7. Interesting text.
    But there some things here that do not are Urobuchi ideas, like the Kiritsugu ideal, it’s something already stated on F/SN visual novel, in Gargantia yes,he made the Galatic Alliance of Humankind system as he says on a interview (sorry, but i read like 3 interviews about gargantia and don’t remember which one that he says), i don’t think that Gargantia is a Urobuchi show because many ideas was given by other people like the Director who changed very much about the story (before the director joined the team, Gargantia story was to be placed on another planet). indeed, this utilitariam and distopic ideas is very strong on his anime scripts, which i think is a anime only thing, because in his VN works his characters didn’t want to make a “greater good” to humanity but to themselfs, like Zwei from Phantom of Inferno, he was forced to be an assassin to a criminal organization in US, and only dreamed to live a peaceful life when this “nightmare” end, Kong Taolu from Kikokugai wanted revenge and hoped that he could bring his sister back collecting her soul fragments, but in those stories there are a opressive reality too, even more than Madoka or Psycho Pass, and his bittersweet endings.
    And don’t worry, i didn’t spoiled anything.

    • Can’t really argue about the thematics of his VN works, since I haven’t read any of them. You may be right, and this is something he only really explores in his anime – perhaps he thinks this medium is better suited to articulating these kinds of points.

  8. Nice article. Gen Orobuchi is probably my favorite anime writer just cause I love almost everything he’s done. I really like how you made the point that even though he examines the dark side of humanity and has a lot of dark stories, at the end of the day, emotion, human spirit, and hope is portrayed as the right answer. He writes dark stories yet they empower the human spirit.

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  12. Great,almost understand.Society and personal profit.总觉得这应该给我们中国人某些问题一些启示

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  15. This is the first time I’d seen a discussion like this. All that I had seen in the net is pretty much the complete opposite of what you guys are saying in here.

    When I was able to watched Gargantia I consider Gen as the best writer in the world, but after Rebellion I consider him the kindest. Though I’m sure as hell that he would deny that.
    I wonder how Gen thinks now? He once said “Could it be that I can only create pieces that give men courage and hope in my next life? When I wrote this, I wrote ‘courage’ as ‘lingering ghosts’. And there’s no chance of recovery for me?” Does he still thinks this way? Many people misunderstood Gen, and its not surprising. For those who are living in bliss with their ignorance. They can and only can see Gen as a nihilist. He crossed the line already but who was it that crossed the line first? Most people might point fingers to others saying “He’s the one who is wrong.” But Gen will never do that. He will point at himself. If he will be blamed by all of these then so be it. If the right answer can only be obvious if someone is doing the wrong thing: Then let me do it.

    I’m so glad when he said “Right now, I’m moving forward step by step. No matter where I end up in the future, I am already very happy at the moment”
    This is the best discussion about Gen that I’d seen, if only we could translate this whole thing and make him read it and tell to him… You’re not alone anymore

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  17. How do you feel about this as a criticism of Urobuchi?
    As Togame says in Katanagatari, every character needs a catchphrase. This “catchphrase” is something that defines a character, outside of the story. It can range from a saying like cheerio, to a trait, like not understanding how society functions because you were never part of it. You see it in Utena, when she is stretching while talking, and in Touga’s playboy attitude. It can even be between two characters, like in ping pong, where Smile and Peco don’t watch the other’s match because “they know who will win”. Even Oregairu does it, with Hachiman’s “rotten eyes”, and his constant silent judging of others. None of this is necessary for the actual story, but it adds that extra “human” touch. Urobuchi replaces this “catchphrase” with something inside the story. Because of this, characters are defined by what they represent, instead of who they are. Yaoi is a character who ignores political consequences, Kyuubey is a character who represents utilitarian society, and Madoka is a character who cares about others. But they only are this way because that is the character needed for the story. This allows Urobuchi to define humans, without writing characters who are purely human. In my view, because of this, Urobuchi doesn’t have a character who is defined outside of the story, and that makes it harder to relate to them. I cried when I learned what Homura had been through, because I understood the concept of it, but I cried when Hachikuji disappeared because never again was I going to hear “I bit my tongue”. I use Isin the most because I believe he is the best example of an author who writes these “catchphrases”, but they can be found in many other anime. I consider Urobuchi one of the best authors in general, but his character writing has always stopped me from giving his shows a 10. Even though Madoka is one of my top five shows, I still only gave it a 9, only because the characters felt a little less than human. I don’t know if I explained everything well enough, but this is my only problem with Urobuchi, and I just wanted to try to put it into words.

    • That’s a very interesting argument. I also feel that his characters do not feel like characters sometimes, more like concepts. But, with me, that strikes a nerve and lets his shows resonate with me even more. By abstracting a character and making him some sort of “vessel” for a certain philosophy or concept of humanity, I feel they get elevated to be even more (not less) than fictional characters. While I might be less able to relate to them emphatically (because they stay at a greater distance, emotionally, than characters that feel like “friends” after a certain amount of time you spend with them, so I completely agree with you there), by representing a bigger part of humanity through their actions, it somehow makes the impact deeper and more profound. It’s more of an intellectual, abstract form of connection (them representing something bigger) than an emotional one. I think that’s a very conscious choice, especially regarding all the literary references Urobuchi likes to drop. In Madoka, it’s Faust that’s most prevalent, which is a very classic example of having your characters represent (certain aspects of) humanity and, through them, explore the big questions of the how and why of our existence. Faust doesn’t have hobbies or individual quirks that define him or are supposed to make us care for him on an individual, personal, emotional level. He’s not meant to. When Sayaka falls because she had to realize the selfishness behind her sacrifice, it’s not really about this individual girl not getting enough love from the guy who was supposed to love her and falling into despair. At least I don’t think so. It’s about Urobuchi telling us there’s no such thing as altruism and that we are fooling ourselves if we believe in cop-outs like heroic sacrifices. Homura, the determinator, ends up dooming the one she chose to put herself through hell for. Luckily, at least as we here on this blog seem to think, Urobuchi’s a nice guy with, after all those doubts and fears, chooses to believe in humanity after all and provides us with a glimmer of hope amidst the despair. Long story short, I kind of agree with your assessment but come to a different conclusion about what this means for me as a viewer.Curious what Bobduh will have to say about this.

    • Eh, I think this “catchphrase” theory is a reaaally reductive way of viewing character writing. In fact, I feel stuff like that is often used to avoid truly well-rounded characters – it’s actually a useful thing to apply to side characters, because you don’t have time to make them stand out as well-rounded people, but if a main character can be reduced to that, they are not a particularly good character. Isin likes to give his characters little gimmicks, but that’s more a game he plays as a writer than anything else – it’s a self-conscious artificiality, something that shows up in a lot of his characters because many of his characters see their “selves” as a kind of performance. These things aren’t what make his characters human, though – they exist as selves aside from that. “Cheerio” is just a quirk, but Togame’s underlying personality incorporates multiple levels of self-deception, obligation, pride, and loneliness. In contrast to that, most well-written characters that aren’t written as “performative” tend to make their little tics more subtle than that, and their personality can’t be summed up by such overt details of representation.

  18. This is a great write-up, and it seems you really like Urobuchi. Have you considered reading his visual novels? You would probably love Saya no Uta, and I would want to hear your thoughts on it.

    • I would also love to see bobduh’s take on Saya no Uta. It’s an earlier work, and, despite all the gore, perhaps less emotionally gripping than Madoka or Fate/Zero, but still it poses great, deep questions. (It seems to me Saya no Uta questions the very notion of happiness, and blurs the distinction between good and evil to the point in which they end up looking pretty similar, if not the same…).

  19. Utilitarism to Urobutcher? I agree to disagree. Isn’t it what he just mostly hates in his worlds. The dystopian world in Psycho Pass and Madoka lies in the part, that there is utilitarism right at the start. Perverted idealism, systems that are not controlled by the individui. Mill and Bentham have nice basic views, with better worlds in their sense, but it’s more like Foucaults fear of self regulating, inhuman systems and Adornos Mimesis to the dead.This is, what happens in his worlds. Society is some kind of monster in front of Urobuchi that grew to the worse.

    The good part in some people. I don’t think is part of Urobutchi’s views. En contraire: Society has a bad influence on our human nature. The collective evil. So are the heros: They are all alienated or victims. Kiritsugu, Revy, Shinya, Fuminori – their problem is, that they are castaways. Far away from the conventional muster.
    Uro said himself, that he liked american literature from the 18-19 hundreds as inspirations… and you see that. Fear, distrust… in these new systems. There is not one scapegoat, it’s always the mass, that is not seizable

    Now we go down to the point with why utilitarism does not work here… I don’t think that the individual is without guilt and fault, they are not the victims of the society/utilitarism. There is always a offender/victim ambivalence, because all his tragic heroes will be offenders some day. See all noted above.

    Is there an option to choose? I think partly. He denies systems. Characters fail because they are victims of the system, but also, because they talk as indivua against those systems. It is partly human. e.g. Idealists fail, because they think only on the good in humanity. Rock fails like that. Moral systems are a sign of weakness.

    And now on to the irrational stuff – Uro is like Nietzsche… a nihilist. Imho he doesn’t – Nietzsches Zarathustra is also not nihilist… Most people just do not think to the end. Sure, he tries to show the viewer, that established systems are stupid, inhumane systems, that are not good and will not lead to good. But that is not his end of the line – his stories start at that point. Characters like Shiny or Kirei start their stories as nihilists. And Urobutchi shows, that this is not the end, there is enough to tell here.
    That which rescues those characters, is irrationality. One can go to the point, that normal values and virtues are irrelevant and one is going for their own values.
    Zarathustra said, the “glooming nihilism” is beaten the moment, humanity is going through a moral evolution. Fuminori can live his life the moment he throws away his human morality and lives his own value-system.

    It’s not always good in his works, sometimes highly problematic. But it’s important and somehow… right.

    I think he is that kind of guy to have a look at so much bad things, to be an optimist. There is always some glimpse that he wants to be one. That Madoka quote nearly nails it. There is no reason to have faith in good. The hope is in the irrational part of humanity.

    That’s the reason his works are so unconventional and qeird. And that is what he wants them to be. Poking people to rethink their inner values.

    • No reply? Awe. I really thought a long time about what to write, because I liked your intro. 😮

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  21. i’m not sure if it’s more correct to say that this review is beautiful, or that it does an excellent job capturing the beauty in Madoka and Urobuchi’s other works. great read nonetheless

  22. Nice read! It really inspired thought… thank you!

    Since you are heading at philosophy partially, might as well bring Hegelian dialectic into play. There, the critical thinker starts with a Thesis and, after identifying it’s problems and contradictions, develops an Antithesis. Ideally, the Antithesis gets rid of the problems and contradictions without producing new ones by developing solutions or an understanding. Together they result in Synthesis.

    It gets problematic, when Thesis and Antithesis are both able to make their point, but (seemingly) contradict each other. Because sometimes, there is more than one “right” or “wrong”. Both opinions may be right, but they are not leading to one single Either-or-decision. You can still end up with a solution accepted by both ideas, but you may have to compromise.

    As an example: Let Madoka be the thesis and Homura is the antithesis. Starting with Madokas wish of becoming hope itself, it got better for all Magical Girls without difference except one – herself. Indeed, if not for that wish, Madoka wasn’t even a magical girl!
    Homura stands for the exact complementary – she does not care for all others (including herself), but for only Madoka. Together, these wishes are irreconcilable. But they are also both justified.
    No synthesis possible?

    Homura takes the contradiction one step further. She keeps the essence of Madokas wish, but reinstates Madoka next to her dear ones, with the exemption of her very best friend, which chooses to supervise the new world as a devil in order to maintain the yin-yang balance. Now Homura has her way. But very much like Madoka she didn’t include herself in the scheme. Of course, Madoka won’t accept that.

    But the starting point in this next world is a completely different one, also because Homura has put the Kyubeys into suffering. The next Antithesis (Mamis?) to Homuras new Thesis might as well be one everyone is happy with. Or it won’t… since we have at least five girls with rich karma.

    Maybe we need both the Madokas AND the Homuras for utilitarism to really work. We would need the selfless, and we would need people, who care for the selfless. We would also need the Kyubeys to acknowledge that their goals are not necessarily our goals. If they need sacrifices for their wishes to work, they should find a way to sacrifice themselves (both Madoka and Homura did) or wish for something lesser.

    You’ll find this scheme in other Urobuchi work as well – Akane and Shinya, for instance, or Alexander and Arthur(a), if their conflict had more screen time…

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