Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 12

“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.”

Madoka Magica

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 Magica

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.”

Madoka Magica

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.”

Madoka Magica

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.”

Madoka Magica

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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9 thoughts on “Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 12

  1. Is your blog title a reference to that line Madoka says? Somehow I never made that connection.

      • I hadn’t noticed that! I thought the blog title was an attempt at showing modesty… and a shrug at all those discussions about animē (ultimately based on personal taste) in which people accuse each other of having the wrong opinion…

  2. And there I was thinking it was a reference to that ‘Why critics are always wrong’ article…

  3. Damn, I’m tearing up now. Amazing writeup — probably one of the most emotional and purposeful things I’ve read from you. Do you know what you might be covering next?

  4. I remember being so surprised by this ending .You think, certainly Urobuchi is going to end it all with a pile of corpses, isn’t he? I mean, he did that in Saya no Uta, he ended up killing Makashima in Psycho-Pass so that Kōgami had to flee, he left Kiritsugu with no hope of ever achieving his goal at the end of Fate/Zero, so that that line — ‘I wanted to be a hero’ — that we had already heard in Fate/Stay Night, suddenly becomes so heartbreaking as the very last line in the show… what the heck is he going to do to poor little Madoka?

    For some time I entertained the possibility that the end was not Urobuchi’s true intention. That what he had really had in mind was to let Homura fall into despair and turn into a witch (to be absorbed by and thus strengthen Walpurgisnacht) at the end of Episode 11, and that Madoka would come too late, wouldn’t meet Kyūbē, and would simply die in the Walpurgisnacht catastrophe, leaving her parents heartbroken (and her mother forever guilty for having let her go, getting so depressed that she ends up being fired from her corporate job and then dying of an alcoholism-related disease, leaving Tatsuya and Tomihisa behind without a future). I remember thinking, “that’s what Urobuchi would do, right? That’s what he is drawn to, isn’t it?… This bittersweet ending was added later on, maybe by Shinbō, maybe by someone else, right?…”

    Still… this couldn’t be true, considering organically well Madoka’s final wish flows from everything else that happened with her and with her friends in all the previous episodes. And that, after so much physical and psychological pain, so much suffering was lavishly piled up on those girls… The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that this was just perhaps the one perfect ending for this show. The real downer I had imagined Urobuchi presenting would, all in all, be less good, because it is so obvious and says nothing that hasn’t already been said by all the gut-wrenching tragedies we’ve seen in the previous four episodes. If all a show can do to conclude is repeat what it has already said, then this show is not perfect.

    Madoka Magica didn’t do that, and I am truly grateful to Urobuchi for that. Not diminshing his success with other shows, I think he really deserves to be remembered for this one. I hope he will produce other shows that are just as good, or even better; but frankly speaking, I find it hard to imagine how he could possibly top that. Well done, Gen. Hats off to you and your ideas. And my compliments to all the Quartet for their incredible roles in bringing this series into existence.

  5. A final question to Bobduh: since you’ve listed Neon Genesis Evangelion as the only show you consider better than Madoka Magica (because it ‘truly gets people’), would you consider also doing an episode-by-episode commentary for NGE as you just did for Madoka? Considering how well and interestingly you present your ideas, I would love to see your take on the themes, ideas and language of NGE.

  6. Thank for this very much. One of the few readings that explains why PMMM is Madoka’s story not Homura, and why Madoka is the heroine and the strength of the series.

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