Finding the Revolutionary Spirit in Madoka Magica

After watching the conclusion to Madoka Magica a couple of weeks ago, the first thing that came to mind was how nihilistic the whole ending was. In the context of its genre, the series could easily be seen as revolutionary. I, on the other hand, have come to see it more as a work of revolution than a revolutionary work.

In my post on episode 10, I pretty much dismissed the first 9 episodes as completely irrelevant. Only after thinking about the conclusion in great length did I come to realize that I was probably wrong about that point. And the idea that changed that is nihilism.

Now for a little bit of explanation. Nihilism described at a most basic level states that life has no purpose, meaning or morality. As a political movement it demands change through violence. These come together to form the story of Madoka as a tale of revolution where Kyuubei plays the role of moral nihilist in that he believes the morality that Madoka and the others go on about is merely a construct created by humans. There is no true morality, hence the conversion of magical girls into witches is fully justified as it serves the universe as a whole.

The girls all have their various reasons for entering into the contracts only to find that there is no meaning in doing so. Mami fights against a lonely world only to be killed as a result of actions by those who finally get close to her. Kyouko wished to help others only to have it lead to the deaths of those she loved not once, but twice. Sayaka went in as an idealist trying to save the world from evil and Kyousuke from sadness, only to find the world not worth saving and Kyousuke ending up with her friend. These three found the world to be meaningless in different ways.

Homura and Madoka are different cases when it comes to their entering the deals. Homura sees a world without Madoka as completely meaningless, as a result, she utilizes every means of violence to change the world into one that does have meaning. Madoka, on the other hand, sees little meaning in her own life making it easier for her to simply enter into a contract to save others to try to find meaning.

Through this lens, I can see this world playing out as completely meaningless where the only way to advance the world is through contracting one’s soul. Homura is constantly revolting against this and failing repeatedly. However, through her failures she empowers the one who can change the world and ultimately succeeds. Madoka destroys all witches past and present, and the world was made a better place. In fact it could be said that the acts of rebellion against society by the other magical girls that existed via contracts, led to a change where they would no longer have to sacrifice everything.

Now to move on to my opinion on Madoka as a whole. Despite that thread tying it all together, it still felt like there were two independent stories going on. The first nine episodes and the last two episodes could work on their own without that tenth episode. What I did like was the level of ambition put into this in the way that the lives of these people were not perfect, and the world itself was full of problems that even having magical powers could not address. I did also like the designs of some of the places, particularly the school. The really interesting part will be how well it holds up in 2 or 3 years time. If I were to hazard a guess it would be remembered as a solid work, but not revered as a classic.

4 thoughts on “Finding the Revolutionary Spirit in Madoka Magica”

  1. It looks like you found some meaning in a meaningless world yourself (the world of Madoka, of course). I tend to like stories that give you the message that warping the world has consequences (FMA, .hack//SIGN, Katanagatari) that sometimes aren’t worth the result or power. Though through much of this show I did struggle to find the fairness or meaning in the story up until the last episode. Despite Madoka’s sacrifice her former world is still warped, and she sacrificed everything just to give her home a fighting chance. It seems horribly unfair that a sweet little girl like her had to go through all that just to be a whisper in the ears of a few people. I find that somewhat poetic and I think this show will get stronger over time as people rediscover and dissect it over the years. Not a favorite, but I show I greatly respect.

  2. Given that Shinbo expressed his desire to make a spin-off in the future (according to an interview), if he fulfills his promise this franchise might get a perception overhaul beyond its 12-episode straitjacket.

  3. Great point on nihilism. I found Madoka to ultimately be about recognizing the nothingness of their sufferings, and letting go of that in some sense. Homura is probably the best model. She finds life without Madoka meaningless, so she strives to change that. Then at the turning point, she finds her violent struggles meaningless, and resigns. Nihilism plays into this wonderfully.

    About the ending, it does seem somewhat somewhat out of place with the first episodes. But I do think episode 10, 11, 12 are threaded by a consistent theme to the earlier episodes. In some sense, it’s all about a cycle of suffering, and eventual break from that cycle. I agree though that the execution of these episodes (particularly the transition between the first and second parts) are pretty weak.

    1. I’m glad someone else finally saw the nihilism in all of it. I think the ending was trying to finish off the notion that Madoka seemed to struggle to find a place in her world, but ultimately she really had no place in that world after all. It definitely doesn’t fit in to a large extent.

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