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.”

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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.”

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 10

“I / I am a time bomb, and I / I only live in that one moment in which you die.”
The Dismemberment Plan

Episode ten opens with the arrival of a new student – Homura Akemi, a shy girl with braided hair who’s been isolated in the hospital due to a heart condition. She doesn’t say much, but it’s clear through her defensive body language that she’s uncomfortable, and not used to interacting with lots of people. Fortunately, she’s saved from the questions of her curious classmates by Madoka, a smiling girl who leads her to the nurse’s office. Though Homura is so insecure she turns everything into an insult towards herself, Madoka is kind to her, and attempts to draw her out of her shell. The contrast between the confident and outgoing Madoka and the nervous, lonely Homura is striking.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 9

Madoka Magica’s ninth episode opens with a terrible transformation, as the witch that was Sayaka Miki takes form. Not yet aware of the true nature of witches, Kyouko fights back against this new creature, asking what it did with her friend. But even if the audience hadn’t figured out the truth by now, Kyubey has finally spilled the beans.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 8

“Like a spent gladiator / crawling in the colosseum ducts / he can count on his remaining limbs / all the people he can trust.”
The Mountain Goats

Sayaka Miki is falling apart. As she strikes again and again down on the fallen witch, we see a girl who’s completely given in to her anger, because she has nothing else to guide her. In the wake of her fight, she doesn’t even use this chance to protect herself – she tosses the Grief Seed to Kyouko, saying she doesn’t want to “owe” Kyouko anything. Sayaka’s need to be a hero has isolated her entirely now, and Kyouko revealing that they have much in common has actually made things worse for her. Sayaka doesn’t want to believe Kyouko is an older, wiser version of herself – she wants to believe she’s an enemy of justice, and thus foists that identity on her. What Sayaka wanted has spiraled beyond her reach, and with the situation no longer in her control, she reverts to her simplistic “I just have to be stronger to make this work.” But none of these characters are strong enough to make it alone.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 7

Madoka Magica #7 opens with a furious Sayaka, stomping home after having learned the true nature of magical girls. The opening shots hide her feelings in shadow and low frames before they’re made clear through a pair of cuts, as Sayaka gently turns on her light and then angrily tosses the soul gem aside. Sayaka then she turns that anger on Kyubey, demanding to know why he didn’t tell her the truth. And of course, his answer is classic, ever-smiling Kyubey: “you never asked.”

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 6

It turns out deals with devils generally aren’t the most reliable bargains. The consequences of Sayaka’s choice begin to pile up in this episode, as her rescue by Homura only seems to prolong the inevitable. Sayaka’s self-image and motivations are fundamentally incompatible with the nature of a magical girl; the more she struggles, the worse things become. And Kyubey knows this, and always knew this, but he doesn’t care – Sayaka herself is not important to him. Sayaka is leverage, one more tool moving him closer to his actual prey.

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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.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 4

We all handle grief in different ways. For Madoka and Sayaka, Mami’s absence is like a stifling weight in this episode, pushing each of them in their own unhappy direction. They now know the truth about magical girls, and have some idea of the actual bargain they are making. But knowing the danger won’t be enough to save them from themselves.

The episode opens with Sayaka running from her grief, running to the boy who gives her some sense of stability. But he’s not there for her, and so she can’t escape. Shots of the hospital frame Sayaka as trapped within geometrically impossible rooms with nearly vertical vanishing points, emphasizing how unreal and alienating her world now feels. Like with the witch worlds, Shaft’s tendency towards stark, interpretive backgrounds fits here – in the wake of loss like this, you won’t necessarily recognize the world around you as a place you know. Shots on the elevator position Sayaka as trapped, as her melancholy leads her to blame the same old target – herself.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 3

Madoka Magica’s third episode opens with the reveal of Sayaka’s secret treasure, the one thing she might be willing to die for. Sayaka is a strong-willed and driven person, but Sayaka is also a teenager, and her secret reflects that; it’s a boy she happens to like. The late afternoon light sets a melancholy tone as we’re introduced to Sayaka’s crush, a boy who keeps smiling even though he’s bedridden, who turns away when he has to cry. It’s a very efficient bit of storytelling, and one more example of how Madoka embraces narrative minimalism and inference to make the most of its running time. We just get a brief conversation detailing the tone of their relationship, and then Sayaka’s “gift” sends her back into a memory, where she sees the passionate boy who inspired her love. Her gift is as cruel as Kyubey’s, and her revery seems like Madoka’s simplistic idealization of Mami; with a cut to her crush’s tears and then his crippled arm, we see that his smile is a mask. A destructive little tragedy in a minute and a half.

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