Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 11

Kyubey has learned the truth of Homura now, and as this episode opens, he reveals one more awful secret. Apparently, it was precisely Homura’s efforts to save her that have made Madoka such a perfect target for Kyubey’s mission. By converging so many worldlines into one Madoka-focused reality, Homura has given her friend an inescapably huge karmic destiny. Just like Sayaka came to believe, it seems that everything balances out – for every breath Homura expended in attempting to save her friend, an equal amount of power was added to her tally, giving Kyubey that much more reason to pursue her. “Excellent work, Homura,” Kyubey tells her. “You’ve raised Madoka up to be the most powerful witch we’ve ever seen.”

Madoka Magica

Rain falls on the city as Madoka attends Sayaka’s funeral. As Homura suggested and likely handled herself, Sayaka’s body was left in a neutral area, and now she’s just one more news bulletin before the weather report. Madoka’s house seems very different, now. With the rain hanging overhead (both a precursor to Walpurgisnacht’s arrival and an emblem of Sayaka), the lighting is subdued, and we see Madoka meet her mother at the end of a long, impersonal corridor. The chairs that always signify loss appear even here, and for the first time, Madoka is unable to turn to her mother for guidance. Madoka has become completely isolated, almost surely just as Kyubey planned.

And then Kyubey himself arrives, and drops some more hard knowledge on Madoka. Apparently, the incubators have been with humanity throughout history, inspiring young women from Cleopatra to Joan of Arc. Describing their relationship with humanity, he compares it to the relationship humans share with livestock, and chastises Madoka for not being “rational” in her response to this comparison. “Compared to your relationship with livestock, we are actually much more accommodating,” he says, and it’s true – though of course, this perspective requires not seeing the sentience of humans as particularly noteworthy or valuable. Kyubey’s philosophy is rules and results untethered from compassion, his little victories throughout the show more based in “ah, of course it is so” resolution of intellectual tension than any kind of true satisfaction.

Madoka Magica

His instincts are again incompatible with Madoka’s values, or those of any compassionate individual. There is so much suffering in the world that attempting to look at the “big picture” is almost destined to fail – but fortunately, humans are not programmed that way. Instead, we expend our charity where we can, caring about those around us while hoping to do right by our values in a vaguer general sense. To Kyubey, this compassion is the “impossible energy” of magical girls, something he can only value as a resource and not parse as an emotive, identity-critical reality. And so when he describes the end of magical girls, he states that they were “betrayed by their wishes,” doomed by hoping for things that lay outside of their destiny. He cannot see that this attitude condemns humans simply for being what they are – or he can, and feels it is irrelevant. But it is the human spirit that causes us to hope, dream, and care for others that he mines for his one purpose. His system punishes the best of us for the hope and charity that makes us great.

The next scene exemplifies the goodness of humanity, as we get a rare conversation between Madoka’s mother and teacher. Apparently, the two have been friends for a long time – likely since they were kids themselves. Madoka’s teacher frets over her inability to help her students, and her mother worries about Madoka no longer feeling like she can talk honestly with her. The two console each other, and talk of the difficulty of life at Madoka’s age. It’s a charming scene that humanizes both of these characters, the kind of characters who normally don’t receive any focus time.

Madoka Magica

Madoka’s teacher had largely been used for gags, but here we see she’s a compassionate person with her own individual life, worried about her students and doing the best she can. Their conversation acts as a counterpoint to Kyubey, and perhaps more specifically to the conversation between the two men Sayaka ran into. These two women have grown into confident adults without losing any of their empathy. They’re still struggling, but life is a struggle. Their very lives prove you can make it through.

But for now, Madoka only has Homura to turn to. Her visit begins mediated by that inescapable chain, but as Madoka questions her, Homura begins to break down. At last, Madoka’s fundamental nature gets through Homura’s walls, and she confesses the truth. In a scene broken into echoed images and mediated by that swinging pendulum, she tells of the many times they’ve met before, and how her feelings have become more and more distant from Madoka’s reality. Her cold persona wasn’t just a reflection of her mission – she’d arrived at this point because she was scared of being rejected by the one she loved. “In truth, I think I lost myself long ago” she says, her words again echoing Sayaka’s ultimate fate. Homura has been forced to give up everything of herself in order to survive the pain of her journey. Now she exists only to fulfill her wish, that goal the one thing she can’t throw away.

Madoka Magica

And so Homura fights and fights and fights. After a foreboding introduction, Walpurgisnacht finally arrives, heralded by the same theater curtains that opened the series proper (now revealed to be another in-universe trick). Homura’s ambush is an escalating series of attacks reflecting her power’s fundamentals – use her mastery of time both in an immediate and timeline-based sense to engineer a situation where conventional weapons can destroy a witch. It’s a glorious spectacle, but the music and Homura’s expressions keep it framed as grim and inevitable, a sequence of absurd punches that, as gratuitous as they seem, Homura knows have little chance of actually killing the witch. And so they don’t. Pure physical strength and determination cannot defeat this challenge.

And back at the evacuation shelter, Madoka makes her own choice. Knowing that Homura cannot save herself, she makes an expression we rarely see from her – not insecurity, but total resolve. Moving to leave, she is stopped by her mother, and the two share one last, vital conversation. Madoka’s mother accuses her of not thinking of other people, because she seems to be throwing her own life away – but Madoka assures her that is not true. Having bonded with Kyouko and lost Sayaka and learned how much she means to Homura, Madoka knows she is not valueless. She knows that her very existence is important, and that she is loved by others, and that that by itself is a responsibility. She would now never throw away her life fruitlessly, simply to feel loved by a friend or like she has some purpose in life. None of us need a grand purpose for our lives to be precious and have meaning – we simply have to connect with others, to be important to them and have them be important to us.

Madoka Magica

And it is because Madoka cares so deeply about those around her that she has to go. Homura cannot protect Madoka’s family, and cannot protect herself. Madoka cherishes both these things, and like Kyouko once said, she has arrived at the moment when she is truly forced to fight. We do not fight because we want to, and we do not fight because we can. That is not the kind of strength that makes Madoka great. Madoka’s strength is the strength Kyubey cannot parse – the empathy and connection she feels towards others, her ability to give of herself emotionally for those around her. Madoka’s parting here exemplifies the strength she has finally come to recognize in herself, a strength her mother has always valued. And so she lets her go.

At last, the stage is set. Defeated once more, Homura wonders at what her journey even means. Having learned she’s only adding to Madoka’s burden, how can she possibly go on? But as her Soul Gem fills with clouded skies, Madoka reaches out. Doing what she’s always done, she extends a hand, and tells Homura that she’s done enough. Homura has fallen, but when we fight by ourselves, we are destined to fall. The weight is too much to carry alone.

This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.

11 thoughts on “Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 11

  1. “when we fight by ourselves, we are destined to fall. The weight is too much to carry alone.”

    I guess that’s why even Modoka ends up falling in the end (in Rebellion I mean). She too, tried to bear everything on her own.

  2. “The next scene exemplifies the goodness of humanity, as we get a rare conversation between Madoka’s mother and teacher. ”

    I always thought that it was a very nice (and deeply touching) idea to show Saotome-sensei here as a real person, with worries and actually good words of advice for Junko Kaname, her friend. In the first four episodes, Saotome-sensei is played as an exaggerated character who says obviously stupid things for comedic relief: she is ‘the picky woman who is having relationship problems’. Here, in this scene with Junko, she is a real person, with real feelings, very far from the caricature who asks which way eggs should be fried. It’s as if the show were chastising us for thinking that comedic characters aren’t real people… by showing that they are. In the rewatches, I could no longer laugh at Saotome-sensei the same way I had laughed the first time… and I admired the way PMMM has of making even minor characters come alive, perhaps even worthy of their own spin-off series.

    “As Homura suggested and likely handled herself, Sayaka’s body was left in a neutral area, ”

    Just a small deail, but… I don’t think this was the result of Homura’s suggestion; after all, Kyōko was motivated by her desire to keep Sayaka’s body fresh when choosing that hotel room (and having Sayaka’s body lie on the bed). She clearly wasn’t thinking of what the consequences would be when the police found the body, because she wasn’t going to abandon it… her plan was to bring it back to life. But then she killed herself fighting against Oktavia…

  3. “And so she lets her go.”

    Madoka’s mother, Junko Kaname, often gets strong criticism from viewers for having let her daughter go. What kind of parent would let their children go outside with such a raging storm, when catastrophes were happening and people had to stay in an evacuation center? No self-respecting parent, they claim, could let their daughter simply go out and do what she wanted — the risk is too high. And Madoka’s answer to her — “someone has to take care of Tatsuya and daddy” — was often considered too dismissive, the kind of thing typical heroes often say in less complex shows. What do you think?

    Personally, I agree that it takes some suspension of disbelief to believe that a mother would let her 14-year-old daughter go outside under such dire weather conditions. But I also see it as a great symbol of the kind of trust Madoka has earned from her mother: Junko Kaname is willing to believe that her daughter, whom she once described as having ‘passed childhood with flying colors’, as ‘never doing anything wrong’, as ‘always trying to do the right thing’, wouldn’t do such a thing unless she had a really good reason. Because of that, this scene always stood as a symbol of Madoka’s mother’s trust in her, and I always found it really beautiful that there could be so much trust in a parent-child relationship.

    Although I can also understand the criticism of Junko’s parenting — I imagine that, had Madoka’s existence not been erased from her memory, Junko would probably have blamed herself forever for Madoka never coming back –, I always had a deep heart-warming feeling at the level of t mutual trust these two had developed in their relationship.

  4. “Doing what she’s always done, she extends a hand, and tells Homura that she’s done enough. Homura has fallen, but when we fight by ourselves, we are destined to fall. The weight is too much to carry alone.”

    This scene never fails to make me tear up, no matter how many times I watch it. Well done, Urobuchi. Well done, Shinbō. This is a great moment in which the strength and power of kindness is shown in a way that is far deeper than the usual “power of friendship” found in other Mahō Shōjo shows. After spending so much time punishing people for believing in friendship or justice, the show reaches out to both feelings at a deeper level.

  5. That’s strange to realize how optimistic this serie can actually be.

    That’s a world where wishes are stronger than aything else in the world. Even Kyuubey can’t totally control them (That’s (partially) why he pshychologically manipulate girls. To keep this power in check.) and where human connection (AKA Friendship or Love) can save the day.

    It’s… well an idealistic tragedy, which is an oxymoron, but seems fitting for the show…

    • An idealistic tragedy. Full of inspiring defeats, and heartwarming sadness. That is not a bad description. JesuOtaku once said that this show is strangely uplifting: unlike other tragedies like Bokurano, it doesn’t leave you apathetic, thinking that life is pain and nothing is worth it — no, somehow it seems to fill you with the power of redemption and the desire to go out and do something about the world.

      Strange, isn’t it?

    • “Hope in the face of an uncaring world” is one of my favorite dramatic modes. Idealistic tragedies are very much my scene.

      • What other shows would you compare to Madoka Magica in this respect (besides Neon Genesis Evangelion)?

        • Psycho-Pass is another really good show with similar themes, by the same author as Madoka. As long as you ignore Psycho-Pass 2, which is some utterly dire miseryporn.

  6. The musical score for the battle with Walpurgisnacht, and particularly when Homura has her moment of truth in the rubble, is really great. Getting the score on CD is one reason I felt getting the you-want-how-much? Aniplex USA limited edition was worth it.

Comments are closed.