“Can you hear the bells / Can you hear the alarm / Can you give away your life, like a good luck charm?”
– The Vigilantes of Love
Madoka Magica’s final episode does not end in a climactic battle. Madoka “defeats” Walpurgisnacht, but their confrontation takes all of fifteen seconds, and has little to do with what this episode is about. Madoka opens this episode by telling Homura that she has found her wish, and is going to become a magical girl. Homura despairs at this, saying “if that’s true, what have I been fighting for?” And Madoka’s response to this is the essence of her wish, of the certainty that she wishes to bring to this world. “Believe in me,” she says. “I promise that what you’ve done for me will not be in vain.”
The cyclical nature of karmic destiny has been a key refrain in Madoka Magica. It underlies the system Kyubey is abusing, but it also seems to thematically reflect the ways our hopes are often abused by the world. The meaning of a witch is that all the hope and joy a magical girl brought into the world must be counterbalanced by despair. It’s a cruel and unfair concept, the idea that all our hard-fought victories will eventually balance back to zero. It’s a system Madoka Magica’s heroes rally against – and it’s a system Madoka herself is determined to destroy.
“I want to erase every witch before they are even born,” she says. What she promised to Homura, she wishes to bring to every single magical girl. Magical girls will still fight, and still eventually have their strength falter – but their dreams will not be stained by unhappiness or despair. They will bring light to the world, as they always hoped they would. Madoka’s wish aims to oppose karmic destiny, and make the world a place where every girl’s hard-fought prayers are honored.
Madoka’s wish is the essence of Madoka’s strength. “I want those magical girls to stay smiling until the very end,” she says – and though Kyubey speaks of tangled fates twining into one power, it seems clear that only Madoka could make this wish because only Madoka could care this much. Madoka is not a fighter – her strength is in caring for her friends, and through the power of this wish, Madoka becomes empathy itself. A counterbalancing force, the essence of what individual humans can do to rise against an uncaring universe. The certainty that no matter how hard things get, someone out there still cares about you.
Through Madoka’s sacrifice, the system itself gains a fragment of humanity, honoring the spirit of her wish. Meeting with old friends, Mami tells her that “you’re not just making people’s hopes come true. You’re becoming hope itself.” But Madoka likely does not see it that way – she is not giving these girls hope, she is merely honoring the hope they already have, and proving it was worth holding close. As individuals, we bring our hopes to the world, and often see them mistreated by the whims of fate. Madoka is not the source of this hope, but the open hand saying that it’s alright, and they were not wrong. “If someone says it’s wrong to have hope, I will tell them they’re wrong every single time.”
It is Madoka’s empathy and kindness that change the world. In a system that all series long has refused to acknowledge her strength, to the point where she couldn’t believe in it herself, it is only her resounding value that brings peace. Embracing their sadness, Madoka expresses a spirit of kindness large enough to carry every single magical girl. “I won’t let your prayers end in despair,” she says. “So please, believe in yourselves until the very end.” As her power expands to encompass the world, Walpurgisnacht is reduced to just the spinning gear, icon of inescapable karmic destiny. And Madoka smiles at this sad artifact, and opens her arms to embrace the heart inside.
Having transcended her body, Madoka is finally, finally able to connect with Homura. The difficulty of connection has been one more tragic theme in this series, and Homura has exemplified it. The more she tried to help her friend, the further away she fell, until Homura felt sure her feelings could never reach Madoka. But in her current form, Madoka sees all of Homura’s trials, and acknowledges their value. Homura cries at the loneliness of Madoka’s fate, but Madoka doesn’t see it that way – she understands that the spirit of charity she now embodies means she will never, ever be alone. “Even if you can’t see or hear me, I’ll be right there by your side,” she says. Homura fears forgetting her friend, but Madoka’s faith is strong. “I’m sure if it’s small enough, a real miracle just might happen.”
Sayaka also receives a final visit, one also dedicated to acknowledging the validity of her feelings. It was Sayaka’s strength and pride that saved both Kyousuke and Kyouko, and Madoka knows that Sayaka would not want those feelings tarnished. Sayaka maintains her proud self, dying as a glorious knight for what she believed in. Reflecting on Kyousuke’s performance, she acknowledges that her true hope was to let more people experience that. Sayaka’s sacrifice brought its own light into the world, a hope summoned without the need for counterbalancing despair.
And so Homura is left alone with her memories, in a world that cannot remember Madoka’s sacrifice. Life isn’t suddenly perfect now – magical girls still fight against terrible odds, and still eventually make the ultimate sacrifice. There are still cycles of grief, and the world itself is still not a fundamentally caring place. But there is a light in this world. Our human strength can only do so much; not all of us can be strong in the same way, and all of us tire in time. But we can still care for each other, and honor the empathy that Madoka embodied. “Don’t forget. Always, somewhere, someone is fighting for you. As long as you remember that, you are not alone.”
Our strength is the kindness we bring to each other. Madoka may not grace our own world with charity, may not be waiting with open arms. But the spirit of Madoka Magica is a real and true thing, something even this show helps bring to the world. We all have such a power, and we are all important, vitally important for it. Extend your hands, let your strength be the strength of another. And know that someone is fighting for you.
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