Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
I always dreaded the moment when I would become one of those “Back in my day” kinds of guys, but in this case I just can’t deny it: they don’t make Anime like they used to.
Like most people, I was originally drawn to Japanese Animation due to its rougher, more detailed designs and artwork; whereas most American cartoons of the 80’s and 90’s featured simplistic designs and kid friendly action, most of the domestically released Anime at the time featured full-figured men and women engaging in intricately detailed (and often brutal) fight sequences involving super-powers, giant robots, and blood-splattering martial arts. My pre-teen brain instantly classified it as “a comic book come to life”, and for the next couple of decades, that assessment remained more or less accurate.
But somewhere along the last few years, I lost touch with most recently-created Anime, whereas before I would originally scoop up everything I could from the local video store or on syndication. These days, the quality of animation from Japan’s shows no longer dwarf American cartoons; in fact, several of the most top-rated broadcasts (including Avatar: The Last Airbender and Teen Titans) directly drew inspiration from anime, to the point that such concepts as large eyes and giant robots were actually growing stale.
Perhaps that is the reason so many current running anime shows try to appeal to fans in an entirely different way: titillation. While nudity and anime have often gone hand-in-hand in the past (I thank the almighty every day that I did not watch Gunbuster with my parents as originally planned), they rarely defined the shows themselves. Even Evangelion’s episodic promises of “more fanservice” were an elaborate mask to the elements that had fans tuning in during its original run (or in America’s case, frantically searching music stores to purchase the absurdly expensive VHS tapes).
But nowadays, we have shows like Queen’s Blade and Manyuu Hikenchou, which are based entirely on the premise of enormous breasts and the women attached to them. The rest of the series fodder are comedies that either play on internet memes only amusing to 2ch browsers, or the uncomfortable fetishes pandering loli lovers or moe fans (or heck, both at once). Although there are some legitimately entertaining fanservice-driven shows like Highschool of the Dead (which exploits its blood and boobs so passionately that they become entertaining again), the current focus of sexuality over substance has forced me to rely on word-of-mouth in order to narrow down the flood of shows down to the gems. And the latest online buzz directed me to a 2011 series known as Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a series that I wouldn’t have given the time of day at first glance.
Keep in mind it has nothing to do with the fact that it was a Magical Girl show; truth be told, Magical Girl anime can often become some of the most entertaining to watch, regardless of its cutesy character designs or prevalently pink color schemes. For every middle-school boy who claimed not to be into Sailor Moon, the North American ratings proved that the majority of its demographic was male (though the short skirts might have had something to do with it). Nanoha was the last MG series I enjoyed, not because of its deep story or deconstruction of common tropes (of which it does neither), but because it was an entertaining and visually stunning series filled with likeable characters and screen-filling laser beams.
Unfortunately, Nanoha was also plagued with fully nude transformations and panty shots. As mentioned above, the loli complex that has always lingered around the medium seems more prevalent these days, and with Internet forumers becoming more and more open about their fetishes (not just the cesspool of anonymous 4chan’ers), even something as seemingly innocent as Cardcaptor Sakura becomes difficult to sit through. Let us not even discuss the ponies…
Yet the unanimous praise surrounding Madoka made it hard to ignore, with the ultimate clincher being one commentator claiming that it was “Sailor Moon meets Watchmen”, to which other fans testified as being an accurate statement. Intrigued, I set out to watching the 12 episode series at the beginning of this month.
As of this writing, I have watched the series up to three times, sifted through its bonus commentary, and waded through the nearly endless supply of surprisingly well-crafted fan stuffs. The hype was dead-on, and I have officially become a fan.
Simply put, Madoka Magica was not just one of the best Animes I had seen in the last few years, it may stand as one of the best series of all time. While it’s become a tired cliché to compare a high quality anime to Evangelion (forever cemented as the “holy grail of anime”), the comparison is apt in this case. Like Evangelion, Madoka takes a basic anime premise and tears down its metaphorical walls with a blunt, often harsh deconstruction of its tropes that introduces real world consequences and tragedies associated with giving young girls magical powers.
But it isn’t the social commentary or tragic outcomes that lead me to compare it to Evangelion. Rather, it’s the care and detail that is put into both the story and animation that has me comparing Madoka to one of Anime’s most celebrated masterpieces. The animation, as fluid and well-drawn as it is, utilizes many different angles and cutaways, coupled with unique and often surreal imagery (which was handled by a separate studio) to tell half of the story without using words. It brings to mind the film Pan’s Labyrinth, which also alternated between two different visual styles (the real world and the “dream fantasy” world) that differed in looks but still intertwined conceptually.
The story is also told with expert care, often going so far as to “deceive” viewers in more ways than one. Saying that it merely starts as a by-the-books Magical Girl series that soon pulls the rug under you would be only half accurate; even when you manage to gauge the show’s true intentions, the number of twists, turns, and sudden plot revelations continue to catch you off-guard every time. And even if you do see the twists coming, the execution (helped largely by the Japanese cast, who claimed to have been crying for real during several key performances) makes these moments come alive.
Oh, and it’s sad…really, really sad. While there have been plenty of anime that have been defined by its depressing subject matter, Madoka’s drama comes across as one of the more relatable offerings thanks to its (mostly) ordinary cast of characters. Instead of being thrown into a fight they could not back down from, the principle cast of Madoka openly volunteers to become Magical Girls, either for a desire to fight in the name of justice, and/or to fulfill their hearts’ desire with a promised wish. From the beginning, we can see that Madoka already has everything she could ever want: a loving family and close friends.
And yet, she and the other characters become “tempted” by Kyubey, who promises to grant any wish they desire in exchange for becoming a Magical Girl. Sounds like the ideal superhero fantasy that any middle-schooler would sign up for. It isn’t long before the horrific consequences of their actions come forth and end up destroying the lives they once had, which is what makes Madoka such an effective tragedy. The story was based upon the novel Faust, which created the classic cautionary tale of “a deal with the devil”, and it really shows here.
And yet in the grand scheme of the plot, everything happens for a reason. Though the writer responsible has an infamous history of creating grim-dark storylines, Madoka isn’t a series that is depressing just for the sake of being depressing, even though it certainly feels that way for much of the 12 episodes. But enduring its hardships up to its bittersweet finale reveals the show’s true meaning: to never lose hope, even when things appear hopeless, and that friendship can become the greatest power in the universe.
Even amidst the tragic deaths and depressions that the characters endure, the structure of the series and its inevitable conclusion makes the tragedies a narrative necessity…which makes the unavoidable fates of the cast even more tragic as well as bittersweet. A common theme in Madoka is that “for as much joy as a wish creates, an equal amount of despair is also felt”. The same logic can apply to the series itself, and its numerous themes, character motivations, and unforgettable sequences make it an anime worth discussing on a deep and personal level….which is why I can safely label it as “the Evangelion of Magical Girl shows”.
And that is why I’m discussing it now. Continuing “Anime April”, this is:
(Once again, there will be full spoilers for Madoka Magica in this article. You’ve been warned…twice)
I’ve never actually cried during an Anime, but I’ve certainly felt an emotional impact during some of the best shows. The final episode of Evangelion, as confounding and rage-inducing as it was (the director received numerous death threats) still had a powerful message that had me chocked up after the fact. One Piece contains so many scenes where its characters are fully submerged in snot-filled tears of happiness and/or sorrow that it’s not surprising how infectious it can be. Even happy outcomes like the hard-earned victory to a boxing match in Hajime No Ippo is presented with such passion, you can’t help reaching that same emotional high as you did during the Rocky flicks (which I guess means Ippo is a perfectly accurate portrayal of the sport).
I have watched the finale to Madoka at least four times, and with each viewing I’ve come closer and closer to legitimately letting loose some waterworks. In fact, I wish I did just straight up cried, because even after watching the series to completion, the emotional resonance would linger far after the fact. I won’t claim that Madoka is the most depressing Anime I’ve ever watched, but the concept of watching horrible things happen to innocent characters, and their struggle to both endure (much less survive) such tragedies results in a much sadder feeling than other series that have you cheering out of happiness. There are happy moments too, as well as an ultimately bittersweet outcome that’s far more satisfying than the “Kill Them All” endings that earned some classic series their infamy, but depending on how much you care for the well-written cast of Madoka Magica, you may find yourself clumsily drying your eyes more often than not.
To narrow down such moments to ten choices seems almost like a disservice, but I’ve ultimately chosen the following scenes as having the biggest emotional impact for me, no matter how many times I re-watch them. In order, these scenes are:
The majority of people who have watched Madoka Magica will likely claim that the series does not officially begin until Episode 3, and for good reason: what began as an intentionally by-the-books Magical Girl series soon caught all of its unsuspecting viewers off guard with the first (and far from last) major gut-punch in the series.
When Madoka and Sayaka first came into contact with ace Magical Girl Mami Tomoe, their lives would forever be changed in ways they could never have imagined. Despite the Silent Hill-esque creatures looking to tear the two girls to pieces, it was Mami’s gracefulness and strength that truly grabbed their attention. To Madoka, the prospect of fighting alongside someone as beautiful and confident as Mami on an equal level was far more tempting than the promise of making any of her wishes come true; for a typical dreamer like Madoka, becoming a Magical Girl who could defend her friends from any inhuman threat was the ultimate wish come true, and witnessing Mami’s prowess in battle as part of a “Magical Girl Initiation” filled her with the same sense of wonder and excitement as any child given the chance to tag along with a superhero.
But following her sudden, gruesome demise at the hands of a voracious Witch, the sobering reality soon kicked in, both for the two middle-schoolers and the viewers.
Yet it wasn’t until we witness both characters sulking atop their school rooftop, separated from the rest of their classmates (including Hitomi, who was designated early on as part of the inseparable trio) that we truly understood how big an impact Mami’s death had on the two adolescents. Despite only knowing her for a brief time, it was clear that both girls cared for her deeply, both as a role model and a friend.
It also reinforced Mami’s last words of caution of how life as a Magical Girl is one filled with loneliness. The truth to this statement would only become more apparent as the series was finished with its warm-up.
Even from the first episode, viewers were quickly trying to ascertain the supposed mysteries and clues hinted during its premiere…as well as whether or not the series would develop beyond its (intentionally) cliche premise.
But if there was one thing that everyone could agree on early on, it’s that Madoka’s mother Junko was an awesome mom.
Like a more successful Misato (but every bit the heavy drinker), Junko was a hip and likeable mother who was clearly the breadwinner in the family (the father didn’t seem to mind his role as housemaid). Her lax behavior with her daughter may have seemed initially irresponsible, but she was also able to give her legitimately good advice whenever needed. Their relationship was so endearing that even statements like this proved heartwarming.
Which is why it was a tragedy in itself how little screen time Junko was given after her initial introduction; When the show’s dark secrets began to manifest, the once cheerful Madoka gradually sunk deeper into despair; by episode 11, after having lost her closest friends (both old and new), one look was all it took to see how utterly broken she had become.
When Madoka’s mother finally showed up again after a multi-episode hiatus, it almost seemed hopeful. Surely she could see the emotional state her daughter was in, especially after attending the funeral of her best friend. Even if Madoka still wasn’t willing to confer to her mother about the demonic rabbit whom only she could see and hear, Junko must have had some words of encouragement that could help ease her daughter’s pain.
Unfortunately, this was where having a loose perspective as a parent came back to haunt her. Rather than approach her daughter, Junko has chosen to give Madoka the space she needs in the hopes that she will eventually come to her when ready. Unsurprisingly, the wait has been hard on her.
We see Junko sharing a drink with Madoka and Sayaka’s teacher, who up to this point had served no purpose beyond a running joke about her failed relationships (plus, I had to look up her name: Kazuko Saotome). As a probable parallel about the series’ theme of friendship, the two adults appear to be good friends of their own, sharing their sorrow over the loss of Sayaka and the ongoing rift between Junko and Madoka.
But more importantly, this scene also shows the rift between Madoka and society in general, unable to connect with anyone beyond her inner circle of similarly cursed Magical Girls, which have now been cut down to two.
For much of the series, Homura Akemi was the biggest enigma the show had to offer. The most we could ascertain was that she possessed some sort of time-stopping magic, and that her career as a Magical Girl has left her emotionally scorned, to the point that her actions were seen as both blunt and heartless. Never afraid to lay on the harsh truth to Madoka, even when she’s at the peak of sorrow, her uncaring behavior seemed completely unjustified.
Then, one episode completely changed our perspectives of her, and she instantly became one of the most sympathetic characters in the entire series.
It wasn’t too big of a shock to learn that Homura had lived the events of the series before, based on her knowledge and convenient appearances. Naturally, this lead to the biggest question posed in nearly every time travel premise: If you knew what was going to happen, why didn’t you warn everybody?
Turns out she tried that already….and the results were utterly disastrous.
For many fans who mourned her untimely demise, seeing Mami alive and well again, along with Madoka as her Magical Girl partner, was a joyous sight, especially in light of the tragic events of the last few episodes. Even when witnessing Mami’s death for a second (technically first) time, Homura’s Groundhog Day antics allowed us to see almost all the Magical Girls assembled as a group for the first time. At this point, Homura was still a shy girl who lacked in confidence and ability, but still clearly cared for the other girls. Surely she was able to get through to them about the truth behind their contracts with Kyubey?
What we got instead was a distraught Mami ready to murder the rest of the group following Sayaka’s transformation into a Witch. The person originally hailed as the most confident character in the series was the first to crack after learning the fate of all Magical Girls. Yet even as she was ready to kill a frightened Homura, it was impossible to hold a grudge against Mami….her tearful expression of grief only proved that she viewed her actions as a mercy toward the comrades that she deeply loved. It was particularly telling how Kyouko was the first person she killed, considering the history the two once shared. As misguided as this bout of madness was, it was still evocative of the strong bonds they shared.
Unfortunately, this was ultimately what caused Homura to sever her bonds, deciding from then on not to rely on the other girls in her quest to save Madoka from her predestined fate. Though there were occasional signs that Homura still cared deeply for her former friends, her fanatical obsession to save Madoka (and only Madoka) would cause her to view the other girls as lost causes, even going so far as to consider killing Sayaka before she became a Witch….which was exactly what Mami nearly did to her in a previous timeline.
But it wouldn’t be the first time Homura had to mercy kill a friend; In what many have considered the cruelest moment in the entire series, Madoka begs Homura to destroy her Soul Gem before she becomes a Witch. Even when viewed out of context, the scene is incredibly difficult to watch…Homura’s blood curdling scream before she pulls the trigger is so effective that the director chose not to include a “bang!” sound effect afterward. The anguished cry was enough to leave a lasting impression.
It is also after this failed timeline that Homura officially loses her innocence, tossing aside her glasses as well as any preconceived notions of relying on her other friends for help. From here on out, she would attempt to change fate all by herself, and vowed to do whatever it took (and however many times necessary) to save Madoka, her “one and only friend”.
Homura’s determination parallels the notion that in order to become an effective Magical Girl, one must cast aside their humanity. Sayaka tried to dull all feelings of pain in order to be an effective fighter, Kyouko chose to only use her powers for her own benefit, and even Mami’s confidence was just a feint to mask her loneliness (making her renewed feelings of joy a probable distraction that led to her eventual demise). Homura’s determination to save Madoka, as noble as it might be, can also be seen as an obsession fueled by her hatred and sorrow…which meant she too was pushing herself to dangerous levels.
Mami’s death in Episode 3 may have been the first legitimate shocker in the series, but Episode 6 marked the first time a simple phrase could elicit a similar reaction.
After a cryptic scolding by Kyubey, the truth regarding Soul Gems hit Madoka and the others like a ton of bricks. Agreeing to a contract may grant someone the powers of a Magical Girl, but the process involved having their souls ripped from their bodies and placed into a Soul Gem. And in an attempt to break up a battle between Sayaka and the other girls, Madoka just threw her friend’s soul onto the back of a speeding truck…
This sudden revelation brought about many implications, all of them horrific. To Kyubey, housing someone’s soul in a portable gem was seen as convenient, as it allowed their fragile bodies to endure the harsh battles with the Witches…but to Madoka and Sayaka, it was like having their very humanity taken away from them. It also revealed without a doubt that Kyubey wasn’t as trustworthy as he originally appeared, unable to grasp why humans would take issue with his decision.
But it was the image of Madoka tearfully embracing Sayaka’s lifeless body that turned this scene from shocking to tragic. In trying to help her dearest friend, Madoka’s impulsive actions ended up nearly killing her instead, and the simple gesture of Madoka cradling Sayaka’s head, as if hoping to rouse her back to life despite Kyubey’s insistence that her body was merely a lifeless shell, really hit home how helpless their situation had become.
After Episode 6’s revelation, two things became apparent from here on out: the series would no longer pull its punches, and Sayaka was the punching bag.
When Sayaka made her contract with Kyubey, her intentions seemed noble; her wish would be able to heal the broken wrist of her violin-playing childhood friend Kyousuke, and she would be able to defend the town from Witches in Mami’s place.
But after learning of her new undead status, as well as the knowledge that her friend Hitomi was planning to confess her feelings to Kyousuke, Sayaka’s black and white outlook began to bleed out into dangerous levels. Unable to trust the enigmatic Homura or adopt Kyouko’s selfish lifestyle, Sayaka instead chose a path of self destruction, engaging in battles that would take their toll on both her physical and mental being. When she finally lashed out at her best friend Madoka, she knew that she was beyond saving.
The climax to Sayaka’s turmoil occurred in Episode 8, where Kyouko makes one final attempt to appeal to Sayaka, unknown that it was already too late to save her. The image of Sayaka’s tearful face, just seconds before succumbing to despair (and thus becoming a Witch, another fact that Kyubey did not bother mentioning) was the final end to one of the most tragically written characters in Anime history.
Nobody believed Kyouko would be able to free Sayaka from her Witch form; Even Madoka, who nearly offered her soul to Kyubey beforehand, didn’t appear convinced that Kyouko’s plan would work. Yet we all wanted to hope that the girls would be able to pull off a miracle without making a contract, and that the end result wouldn’t be the grim outcome we were all realistically expecting.
One look inside the Witch Barrier and we all knew that Sayaka was beyond saving. Seeing her innermost desires spiral into a chaotic symphony of regret and despair brought a new perspective to previous Witch encounters; what was originally thought to be abstract window dressing was in fact the end result of what were originally Magical Girls cursed by their own failed dreams (Charlotte’s room, for example, was a combination of sweet cakes and medical equipment, a haunting visage to her tormented back story).
While Madoka’s pleas fall on deaf ears, Kyouko is beaten mercilessly, to the point that the world around her begins to grow quiet. She prays to God (perhaps for the first time in a long while) to show her at least one happy dream in her life. With all other options gone, her final decision was to put an end to both her and Sayaka’s suffering….a final attack that would envelop both of them.
Many Otaku have taken Kyouko’s sacrifice as a sign of romantic love for Sayaka…to the point that the production company have pandered to the fanbase with a few suggestive supplemental material. While I won’t debate this interpretation (at least not in this article), an alternate hypothesis is that Kyouko’s desire to save Sayaka was intertwined with saving her lost faith; as someone who cast aside everything after the traumatic death of her family, Sayaka’s foolish ideals reminded Kyouko of her former self, forming a mutual bond between two previously antagonistic characters. Brushing aside the romantic subtext (intentional or not), Kyouko wanted to die with her beliefs intact, even after failing to achieve the miracle she so desperately wanted.
The message of “dying alone” only becomes more profound after the final episode; as Madoka ascends into Godhood, we are treated to a montage of dying Magical Girls, each having their soul saved by Madoka before their sorrow transformed them. Each of the girls shown come from different backgrounds, but they all shared one thing in common: they were all alone during the last moments of their lives. Whatever circumstances lead them to their respective outcomes, their pained expressions gave proof enough to Kyouko’s words.
Despite her selfless sacrifice to keep Sayaka from experiencing similar grief, this act of kindness still could not mask the tragedy of this outcome, as it resulted in the death of both characters. And if the fan theories involving a sort of Purgatory for Witches hold true (more on that in a later article), then Sayaka would have been alone in the afterlife after all…a terrible fate that makes Madoka’s own eventual sacrifice even more necessary.
Having failed to stave off Walpurgisnacht yet again, Homura lies defeated and injured. While normally she would use her time shield to reset the timeline once more, her realization that reversing time will just increase Madoka’s karmic destiny even further (at this point, she was already powerful enough to destroy the entire solar system) causes her to silently sit back and accept her inability to change the future.
Even after all of the suspenseful moments of this series, it was obvious enough that this was just a set up for Madoka’s heroic rescue; we saw Madoka reaching some sort of resolve beforehand, causing her to rush to Homura’s side. And with the episode mere minutes from ending, this setup was clearly intended for a cliffhanger. Even after everything that had occurred, we knew this would be the one instance where we could finally hope for a good outcome.
But then they had to go and play the most depressing, hopeless piece of music to keep us in suspense, as Homura’s Soul Gem begins to quickly fill up with despair, as her eyes similarly well up with tears. Even with the knowledge that things evidently turn out okay, Homura’s pained expression coupled with the sorrowful soundtrack make this one of the hardest scenes to watch.
Homura may have had the upper hand with her ability to turn back time, but she could not escape the curse that all Magical Girls shared: when her grief was at its peak, the accumulation of sorrow would cause her Soul Gem to shatter, thereby turning her into a Witch. Turning back time would not erase the hardships she had seen and endured during every failed timeline, and though the exact number of times she had repeated the same month over and over was up for debate, she had clearly reached the necessary quota for tainting her Soul Gem.
This brings a new perspective to her quest to change Madoka’s fate; while Homura’s devotion to her friend was undeniable, it was also the only thing standing between her and total despair. Even if she believed that her quest was hopeless, she knew that giving up meant forfeiting her very soul….in fact, even if she did manage to defeat Walpurgisnacht and keep Madoka from forming a contract, it is unlikely that either of them would be able to return to a normal life….Madoka had already fallen into despair after losing Sayaka and the others, and Kyubey would undoubtedly continue to manipulate Madoka into making a contract. Things would never go back to the way they were in Homura’s original timeline, and that realization would very likely cause her to succumb to the despair building up within her for so long.
In other words, her fate was inevitable, and this scene showed firsthand what Homura’s tearful expression would look like upon that realization, now that the fight was officially taken out of her.
That is why the only way to achieve a happy ending was to re-write the universal law that leads all Magical Girls to becoming Witches. By sacrificing her mortal existence, Madoka was able to erase the existence of Witches both past, present, and future. Without getting into the complexities of such a wish, the universe itself was reborn, having had all traces of the existence of Witches erased….as well as Madoka herself.
It didn’t require Homura’s anguished cries to realize what a cruel fate this would be, but Madoka’s optimism assured her that she would continue to exist in a spiritual level, touching the hearts of every human on the planet, Magical Girl or otherwise. In that respect, she would never truly be alone.
As assuring as such a claim may be, the scene in which Homura speaks with Madoka’s (former) parents is as heart-breaking as it is bittersweet. Madoka’s baby brother Tatsuya is somehow able to retain his memory of Madoka, for all that implies, but her loving mother Junko appeared completely oblivious of the daughter she once had.
As tragic an outcome as it might appear, there is some solace to be gained by the episode commentary, in which the actresses for Madoka and Homura share their interpretation: though Madoka may no longer exist on a physical level, her presence is forever felt by her family and friends, like a cat sitting in the corner. Coupled with Junko’s words with how “nostalgic” the name Madoka felt, it gives credence to the notion that just because she had forgotten her daughter, she has not forgotten the love she felt for her child. It doesn’t make the overall outcome any less sad, but it brings some relief to this bittersweet conclusion.
Every single one of Madoka’s cast of Magical Girls has a tragic backstory, Witches included. But none had struck an emotional chord with me as much as Sayaka, whose tragic downfall was given so much exposure that the series writer jokingly tweeted that she was “the real main character”.
Though every character had their moments of strength as well as weaknesses, Sayaka was the only one who could not overcome her own inner torment, resulting in her unfortunate transformation and eventual demise. Rather than condemn her like some viewers for being weak-minded and materialistic, I chose to praise her as being portrayed with such humanity and realism. Her solidarity and self-loathing recalled similarities to Asuka of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame, another character who I adored for her fearlessness in addition to her flaws.
Though her career as a Magical Girl was similar to the other characters who had all been deceived by Kyubey’s promises of having their wishes fulfilled, Sayaka’s story is the only one we see in its entirety in addition to Madoka’s. Even though the latter did not become a Magical Girl until the final episode (in this timeline, anyway), she was always standing by Sayaka’s side supporting her, crying alongside her, and doing everything humanly possible to help her. Even when Homura insisted that she was beyond saving, Madoka never gave up on her friend.
And that is the very reason I adored the relationship between Madoka and Sayaka above all the other relationships in this series, to the point that I personally found Madoka’s climactic acknowledgement of Homura being her “best friend” somewhat undermining of everything she and Sayaka endured beforehand. While it may not have been as effective were she to say “one of my best friends”, perhaps the wording could have been altered somewhat so as not to potentially downplay Madoka’s relationship with the other characters.
But regardless of subtext or implication, the facts were indisputable: Madoka and Sayaka were the two characters we watched the longest, the two that knew each other the longest, and the two who endured the most together, Homura’s multiple timelines notwithstanding. Their love for one another was unquestionable, and the very notion that they were able to reunite again in death was simply heartwarming.
Though the new timeline created by Madoka’s wish allowed all the Magical Girls to be given a second chance at their lives, it did not prevent them from passing on once their Soul Gems had become tainted and/or exhausted. Since Mami and Kyouko’s fates were caused by Witches, they were able to survive in Madoka’s Witch-free timeline, but because Sayaka was always fated to give up her soul for Kyousuke, she would always succumb to despair after her feelings were not reciprocated.
Though the details of Sayaka’s demise in the new timeline are up for debate (and hopefully will be clarified in one of the three new movies coming soon), the brief wording suggests that she had sacrificed herself to defeat a powerful Magical Beast (a mysterious new enemy that had replaced Witches…again, hoping the new movie clarifies on this a bit). Whether by exhausting her Soul Gem and/or tainting it with her grief, Sayaka had once again succumbed to her fate….only this time, her spirit was able to be saved by Madoka rather than transform into a Witch.
Through Madoka’s divine powers, Sayaka was able to witness Kyousuke’s performance at an undisclosed concert hall. While Madoka lamented not being able to save her friend’s life, she believed that Sayaka would not have been content had she not been able to heal Kyousuke’s wrist with her wish. In more ways than one, Madoka’s wish was able to save Sayaka’s soul, as well as the souls of every other Magical Girl to come before and after her.
The notion that it was necessary for Sayaka to die in order to reach a happy conclusion shares the same cruel consequence as Madoka having to sacrifice her existence, even with her tearful assurance that she no longer had any regrets. However, it also suggests that Sayaka and Madoka can be together again in whatever “afterlife” was created from the latter’s wish. Fans have theorized that by personally guiding the souls of every Magical Girl who had reached their appointed time, Madoka had essentially created a “Magical Girl Valhalla“. If that term were to be taken literally, then perhaps Sayaka will be allowed the role of Valkyrie to Madoka’s Goddess, thus fulfilling her original desire to be a Magical Girl who fights for justice.
Whatever the interpretation, this sequence remains the most emotionally engaging for me, serving as a bittersweet finale to all the hardships that Madoka and Sayaka had to endure throughout the series. And seeing the two of them clad in their original school uniforms may suggest they were able to return to the way they were at the start of the series, resting in the eternal paradise created by Madoka’s whole-hearted wish. And perhaps one day, we will see all five girls reunited again, bound by an unbreakable friendship which transcended any timeline or reality.