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.
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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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