Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 5

Episode five opens with that repeated shot from Kyousuke’s bedside, as the wind blows from the outside world he can’t reach. It’s one of many visual touchstones that Madoka Magica works hard to establish and solidify, giving the show a strong internal vocabulary. The coming scene revels in another of Madoka’s big visual icons; the distinctive profile of Kyubey himself, as Sayaka agrees to make a deal.

Madoka Magica

The setup for Sayaka’s wish is incredibly intimidating. A red sky hangs in the distance, broken by black skyscrapers like giant teeth. Flowers drift in the breeze, and Kyubey’s strange image is inescapable. Kyubey’s design is pretty brilliant, frankly; he’s just enough of a tiny animal to pass as a magical girl companion, but he’s fundamentally off-putting in spite of that. His color palette feels wrong, somehow; flat white and hard, pinkish red, colors that barely appear in nature. His strange crown and ear-tufts make his shadow clear in every scene, but it’s his eyes that steal the show. Perfectly round and monochrome, they reflect no emotion at all, revealing his role in the story. They’re like beads sewn into an empty doll, watching without feeling as Sayaka falls into shadow. Like he always knew this was going to happen. “Just accept it. This is your destiny.”

The episode proper opens with Hitomi at school, in a scene that serves multiple purposes. First, it outright clarifies what happened after the ending of the last episode. Second, it gives Hitomi the spotlight, keeping her relevant as her final key role approaches. And finally, it demonstrates Sayaka’s “neutral behavior” at school, as she once more seems to revel in playing the girl with the secret identity. Sayaka seems to enjoy being a magical girl a little too much to be an actual good one.

Madoka Magica

Sayaka outright declares this in the next scene, saying “it’s been a while since I felt this good.” When Madoka asks her if she’s scared or has any regrets, Sayaka can only think of regretting not becoming a magical girl sooner, and possibly saving Mami. Becoming a magical girl plays directly into Sayaka’s personality type and self-image. Even when trying to comfort the guilty Madoka, she can only speak in terms of how right this feels for her, saying “it’s like I was destined to become a magical girl from the start.”

It’s a very Sayaka decision, and once more reflects how essentially no character in Madoka Magica has “default dialogue.” They have quirks of various kinds, but their actual actions and self-expression all reflect full personalities and distinctive motivations, motivations that are generally born of their own self-image. Madoka Magica doesn’t generally have to go loud with its big character turns because its fundamentals are so very solid. Every character expresses individuality in their every action.

Madoka Magica

And so Sayaka takes her leave, her final “you don’t have to become a magical girl” coming across as a little hollow, given her own choice has isolated Madoka even more. Sayaka heads off to visit Kyousuke, still stranded in his hospital room even though now “it’s starting to feel like the accident was just a bad dream.” It’s an awkward way of framing his injury, considering how much Sayaka sacrificed to repair it. It speaks to the ephemeral nature of the wish’s happiness, and of how magical girls themselves are eventually treated.

But Sayaka has no time for grim reflections on her own mortality. She has to enjoy her wish! And so she wheels her crush out to the rooftop in order to have him present his own gift to her. The framing of Kyousuke’s recital mirrors that of the bargain that bought it, from the setting and fading light (though more of a natural bright orange than Kyubey’s red) to the specific shots used. The flowers rise like tiny hopes this time, but can’t help echoing Sayaka’s falling body. “My wish came true,” Sayaka tells herself. “I will never regret it.” Good luck with that, Sayaka!

Madoka Magica

After a brief scene introducing us to Kyouko (where we learn she’s clearly got some sort of food motif going on and is a bit of a wildcard, along with the fact that even Kyubey can’t predict Homura’s actions), Madoka meets up with the Sulk Queen herself, Homura Akemi. Madoka tries to sell Homura on Sayaka’s good qualities, but Homura only sees them as flaws. Sayaka may exhibit all the qualities traditionally associated with a hero, but in the world these magical girls actually live in, heroic ideals will only get you killed.

Once again, Homura’s two identities across two viewings of the show alternately color her words here. Although she initially comes off as aggressively cold, lines like “excessive kindness leads to weakness” are painful to hear on a second viewing. It’s clear that Homura has come to this view, and to her current style of hands-off guardianship, over many, many trials. Kindness isn’t scorned because it represents weakness – it’s scorned because it’s been cherished and attempted and ultimately discarded. “There’s no reward for dedication of any kind,” she says, speaking numbly to both Madoka and herself. “That’s why Mami lost her life.”

Madoka Magica

Homura accompanies that last line with a really mean piece of visual storytelling, as she actually yanks the head off her own coffee. But it’s a moment that reflects this whole scene’s dead-on visual storytelling – Homura’s lines are accompanied by awkward closeups, fisheye lenses, or harsh angles, while Madoka constantly seeks to recent the focus. Homura urges Madoka to give up on her friend, which only isolates Madoka more. “That contract takes away everything except for a single hope,” she says, and for the second time in a row, Homura’s exact words push Madoka closer to the hope she will eventually become.

The rest of the episode passes in a flash. As Kyubey relaxes after a hard day’s work, Sayaka seems more excited about her duties than anything, ostentatiously referring to her work as “what a hero does.” The first shot outside her house manages to sneak in one more of those lurking chains, reflecting both the beginning of the show and the battle to come. And then Madoka appears, feeling both worried for her friend and also very lonely. As the two commiserate over the coming battles, Kyubey’s specter is omnipresent. Kyubey mediates all of their interactions now, constantly pushing Madoka closer, using the threat of losing one more friend to manipulate her. Kyubey’s kind of a jerk.

Madoka Magica

But Kyouko’s kind of a jerk, too. Shattering a briefly-glimpsed world of children’s toys and crayons, Kyouko scolds the new magical girl, saying that she shouldn’t be killing familiars that aren’t yet witches. “If you let it go, someone’s going to get killed,” Sayaka says – but of course, that’s what Kyouko wants. Actively munching on another snack, she explains that the food chain of witches and magical girls demands human sacrifice. Being a magical girl is about survival, and surviving means you let others die.

Sayaka hates all of this, of course. Kyouko isn’t just betraying Sayaka’s ideals; she’s actively mocking them, treating Sayaka’s whole identity as a naive joke. Sayaka is furious, and Kyouko seems legitimately invested in her scorn for Sayaka’s philosophy. Their battle is a glorious spectacle, evocative shots demonstrating Kyouko’s power and Sayaka’s desperation as Sayaka is literally beaten back by the chain, a symbol of inevitability that’s perfectly suited to Kyouko’s role in the story. The two clash and spark, Kyubey pushing Madoka even closer to her contract as contrasting ideals are stress-tested through combat. But Homura is ready this time; she breaks the fight herself, dancing through water drops and stealing Sayaka away. It may require a deal with the devil, but being a magical girl sure does look cool.

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6 thoughts on “Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 5

  1. Warning, spoilers to follow:

    I’ve had a friend and a couple people online say to me that they thought Madoka was a bit of a one-dimensional character, suggesting that her resistance to becoming a magical girl frustratingly stalls the plot and seems unlikely considering what she is (an impressionable kid). Yet I honestly think this makes her more believable, and adds good dramatic tension to the story. Knowing her level headed mother, Madoka never seems like someone to rush into a decision, even under stress. What’s more, she’s constantly reminded by the examples around her of how dangerous and scary it is to be a magical girl. Every time she gets closer to making the big decision, another reveal makes the whole prospect that much more terrifying. Also, in hindsight, her refusal to make the decision seems like another result of her place at the center of Homura’s time-travel shenanigans. Their is more significance to her wish now, so Homura’s warnings have greater weight to them, and Madoka seems to sense this, caught in an awful place, making the story both interesting, but also painfully tragic. It’s very good.

    The only complaint I really have with the story as a whole concerns Kyubey’s lack of an explicit explanation about the limit of wishes. Later in the show he/she (it?) implies that the potential power of a magical girl determines the strength of her wish, further implying that despite what Kyubey says earlier in the show, you can’t wish for anything. But that is never made clear and thus leads to all the “wish” based logical conundrums that people are bound to ask… like, “Why doesn’t she just wish that there are no more witches in the world?” It’s honestly a very honest question, and difficult to dismiss given the logic of the world. its also implied that wishes have consequences, but this is never made explicit enough, and yet Madoka just seems to understand it instinctually, which I have a harder time buying. And it seems odd that Kyubey wouldn’t explain more. Sure it’s part of how he manipulates the girls, and possibly portraying the wishes as these magically limitless things, but he seems fine with info dumping his true intentions to Madoka later. So why not give some more details upfront at least for the viewer’s sake?

    it’s kinda hard getting into that little demonic head of his, but I suppose its part of why so many of the odd things he does makes sense with a more global perspective. I often find myself having to read between the lines with him, as it feels like he is withholding information from us even to the end. For example, he says he picks young girl’s because they are the most emotional beings on earth. I kinda call bullshit on that. I think that might be a small part of it, but I really think it has to do with the fact that its easier for him and his kind to keep young girls isolated. If he doesn’t want to be found out by humanity at large, best to pray upon the weak, manipulatable, and powerless members of society. But he wouldn’t want to share that with the girls. I suspect It’s that way with a lot of things concerning him. Any thoughts?

    • Well in terms of how kyuubei seems to operate he tends to go alot on unspoken implications. what i mean is he tells them facts about what their wishes are and the “price” in simple terms. He tells them that they can wish for anything and the price is to fight witches. When he typically deals with his “chosen” they are desperate for a miracle of sorts. In Mamis case he appeared after a horrible car accident and offered her a wish. In Kyokos case he appeared after her family was exiled from the church and became destitute. In Sayakas case he appeared again after her friend became despondent with his injury. He phrases the deal in such a way that the unspoken parts would prevent someone from making that wish. I dont think most peoples first wish would be to get rid of all the witches when there are other things they can wish for.

      He keeps them in the dark about what making the deal really means by approching at a time when they are less likely to question his deal and the nature of the price. In the end I guess its rare that a prospective magical girl spends so much time aware of the fight before making a wish. The reason why he kept around her without her and Sayaka making a contract is to not only inform them about the deal but since they will be in danger they are more likely to make a impulsive wish. Normally there is nothing anyone could do since once the deal is made there is no turning back.

  2. I strongly disagree with your statement that “essentially no character in Madoka Magica has ‘default dialogue.'” I think that each character (maybe except Madoka) is the purest form or personification of a philosophical belief. (I think I found someone throughly explain this in detail before, but I cannot find that webpage. I only remember that Kyouko is hedonism and Kyuubey is utilitarianism.) Most, if not all, of the characters’ actions basically “default” to their respective philosophies.

    I have been wondering for a while now that why you felt that Shinsekai Yori has a problem with weak characters, but Madoka doesn’t. However if a show has weak characters, then it better do something else well as a replacement if it wants to be a masterpiece. It was world-building for Shinsekai Yori. For Madoka, the replacement should have been some sort of message/idea delivered in the end, with the rest of the story building up to it, except that the ending is a horrible inconsistent mess. (It’s the second worst anime ending I’ve ever watched.) And don’t complain that this kind of story can’t have strong characters; Yuuki Yuuna is similar to Madoka but has extremely quirky and likable characters.

    Except for this glaring flaw though, Madoka does everything else extremely well.

    FYI, I gave Madoka 8/10 (would have been 9/10 or 10/10 if not for this problem). I gave 9/10 for Yuuki Yuuna, and 10/10 for Shinsekai Yori.

    • Well, I disagree with you. Yes, you can put philosophical labels on the characters in PMMM, as you could perhaps on many a real person in this world (my friend, in this hotel room, sitting in front of his computer and answering e-mails, would be pragmatism), but this by no means limits or diminishes them as individuals, where they go way beyond the philosophical labels they (claim to) espouse. Kyōko is hedonism, but this hedonism is rather superficial and stems from her family trauma; deep down, Kyōko is much more thoughtful, with transcendentalist leanings (belief in god, in some sort of trascendental ethics — “stories where love and courage triumph in the end”), as her theme song (“Confessio”) alludes to. Kyōko is more deeply defined by dropping down to her knees after realizing what her end would be than by continuously munching on junk food. Which is not to say that these ‘superficial’ elements do not tell us something important about her — about her trauma, about how she reacted to it (unlike Sayaka, she didn’t fall into despair, but rather became angry enough to survive the downfall of her ideals and learn to cope with what she saw as the ‘reality of life’, albeit with gaping spiritual and emotional wounds (see e.g. her eating disorder).

      All of this IS Kyōko, and only part of this is “hedonism”. To think of the characters in PMMM as simply mouthpieces for philosophical systems is, in my opinion, a gross oversimplification.

      Which is what I fail to see in Yūki Yūna is a hero (which to me is a 7/10 at best). The Yūki characters seem to be based on the Madoka characters, but without their depth and complexity: unlike Madoka characters, Yūki characters do not seem to have a complicated internal life that could, by itself, offer enough material for a 12-episode spinoff series… What is Fū, other than the horror at having ‘brought her sister into the mess of the Hero Club’? What is Itsuki, Fū’s sister, other than ‘the ex-future singer who lost her voice and thus can no longer realize her dreams’ (sort of like Kyōsuke in Madoka Magica)? Even Togo, who ends up attempting to realize Homura’s “dream” of ‘destroying the world’ — she certainly goes through emotional hardships, but other than a vehicle for expressing them, who is she? The patriot who started out loving the Shinji-sama? In the entire animē, my favorite character by far was Karin, and yet even she appears to be following a (admittedly wonderfully executed) tsudere route, going from ‘I-am-better-than-you-all/I’m-the-real-hero-here’ to someone who really cares deeply about her friends of the Hero club.

      As for From the New World… The one thing in it that I find deeply wonderful is its world-building; in that area, I give it a 10/10: it was an intriguing world, a world which had to fear its own children (ogres! karmic demons!) in order to continue existing, a world in which the consequences of the existence of psychic powers were treated seriously. But the characters… were often flat. And that, despite the fact that their mutual emotional connection (a trait which, in a nice little bit of cruelty, was even genetically programmed into them) was often great and wonderful to see. Saki is great as a centered, serious person, but she often wavered, not knowing what to do, and not “getting” what was happening around her. She does finally understand that Squealer was the real (covert) hero of the whole story, and that the humans, despite their emotional bonding and physical beauty, were actually the villains… but then she does… nothing about it. Hopes are expressed that the situation of the Monster Rats will change in the future, but nothing is really done. I could expect this from Satoru, or Maria (who only thought about Momoru), or Momoru (who was emotionally weak), but Saki was the rational center of the whole gang (since Shūn died); and yet she does nothing! What does she believe in? What does she want to fight for? What is important for her? Because of these problems, a show that is a 10/10 on world-building became at best an 8/10, and even that mostly because of Squealer.

      But hey — everybody has their own opinion, and the way we engage with a work of art is deeply subjective. If you could relate more directly and more emotionally to the characters in From the New World or in Yūki Yūna is a Hero than to those of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, then that is what counts for you, and I wish you happiness and a lot of pleasure with these shows.

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