Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
For most user-owned websites, a year’s hiatus is usually long enough to write off a dead domain. And yet, I just couldn’t let this one go. The consistent user feedback (yes, even the spam comments helped in their own way) and the need to share my opinions, however received, was too much to just let this blog die. I spent a lot of time considering the best way to return, which topics I should discuss and which features I should focus more on.
Having failed to come up with a concrete answer, I decided to just follow the age-old family advice: go with the flow. Rather than obsess about the best way to reacquire user interest, I’ve decided to simply go with my heart and write about what I want, when I want.
Plenty of other blogs stick to current trends, hotly debated topics, or a specific genre fueled by fandom and/or nostalgia. For me, I simply can’t be tied down to a single point of discussion, even if the majority of my articles thus far cover specific franchises like Final Fantasy or Anime.
Incidentally, I’m in the mood to talk about Madoka Magica. Small surprise, seeing how the newest film, Rebellion, has hit DVD and Blu Ray in Japan while also featuring official English subs for anyone crazy enough to pay import fees or just about shameless enough to torrent it (of course, the latter would happen a lot less if Aniplex’s DVD prices weren’t criminal in of itself).
I had actually gotten the chance to watch the movie in theaters back in December, but the obsession to pick apart the themes, theories, and characters hasn’t diminished since watching the original series back in 2012. If anything, the events of Rebellion only increased that drive ten fold.
Which of course means that I will now be discussing spoilers from the movie. If you’ve managed to avoid the outbreak of fan-art, tumblr gifs and /a/ posts, you’ll want to stop reading this and future Madoka-related articles. For the rest of you, I hope you’ll find enjoyment as I discuss some of my nearest and dearest topics related to the series that quickly became one of my favorite Animes of all time.
Madoka Magica is a series that both pays homage to the Magical Girl genre while also turning it upside its head. Most people call it a deconstruction, though they do so erroneously; despite its darker and more tragic themes, the series actually embraces its Magical Girl tropes lovingly, using a darker narrative that still conveys messages of hope, love and friendship.
The latter is probably the most important theme of the series, and also one of the most defining of the Magical Girl genre; “Power of Friendship” has used to the point of parody in other shows, but for Madoka Magica it was the most sincere theme in the entire narrative. The events of the story took place precisely because of Homura’s unbreakable devotion to Madoka, while Madoka gained the courage to endure the horrific truths regarding the creation of Magical Girls because of her own devotion to saving her friends, be they old, new, or forgotten.
Keep in mind that for the purposes of this article I am using the term “friends” in a purely platonic manner. It is impossible to overlook the yuri fanbase, and I’m not here to discourage their beliefs or interpretations. But to make things simple, let’s just state the fact that all five characters care for one another very strongly, and each feature a bond that defines many of their actions over the course of the story.
But of all those relationships, the one I felt the most strongly toward was the friendship between Madoka and Sayaka. For me, the interactions and decisions between these two central characters were not only the most emotionally gripping, but possibly the most important in the entire series.
This is really a superficial reason, but I can’t pretend that not to impart some bias into these articles; part of the reason everyone can proclaim something as their favorite is because of bias, after all. Part of what makes Madoka and Sayaka so fun to watch is the way they complement each other visually.
Sayaka is a tall short-haired tomboy who acts impulsively and always speaks her mind; Madoka is a diminutive pig-tailed girly-girl who carefully watches her words and tries not to offend anyone. As personalities go, they differ enough without reaching that spectrum of polar opposites (such as Sayaka and Homura, the most glaring night and day contrast out of all the characters) and instead balance one another through influential traits (more on that below).
This concept also extends to their Magical Girl attire (even though they only appear together as Magical Girls in just a couple of scenes): Sayaka is a front-line fighter who uses a sword to attack her enemies up-close, while Madoka fights from a distance with a bow, while Sayaka is garbed in a stylishly blue-colored garment consisting of a mini-skirt and cape versus Madoka’s pink-themed frilly dress. In RPG terms, Sayaka is the tank who faces the enemy front and center while Madoka is the ranged dps who supports Sayaka from the rear. From a visual standpoint, they make up the ideal duo both in and out of their Magical Girl roles.
The reason I mentioned their visual appearances first is because it also defines them as characters; according to the PSP game, a Magical Girl’s outfit is determined by the visual representation they create within them. In other words, Sayaka and Madoka unconsciously chose their Magical Girl attire because that is how they viewed themselves when making their respective wishes.
Why is this important? Because according to the prequel chapter in the novelization (made indisputably canon as it was referenced during the intro of the recap films), Madoka was a timid young girl who would often be subjected to bullying and other frightening situations. Sayaka, who befriended her at a young age, would always step forward to protect her, helping to boost Madoka’s confidence while also appearing as a princely protector in Madoka’s eyes.
By taking the events of their childhood, the decisions both characters make following the story are given greater context. Sayaka visualized herself as a knight determined to protect her friends because she had placed herself in that role by befriending Madoka years prior. Madoka, meanwhile, was so eager to become a Magical Girl despite lacking a wish for herself because she greatly admired Mami, who in turn reminded her of Sayaka: a strong and confident friend who would always rise up to defend people.
In other words, Madoka’s true wish was to change her role from protected to protector, an argument further strengthened in the latest Vita game Battle Pentagram. Whether indirectly or otherwise, these two helped shape the people they would become in the future, as is usually the case with lifelong friends.
I know I said earlier to leave your yuri goggles off, but hear me out. Two of the reasons I dislike yuri discussions are because A) fans tend to come up with thinly-veiled/nonexistant justifications for their pairings (more often than not it only requires that two characters occupy the same existential plane) and B) creators tend to feed their fans with inconsequential “moments” that amount to nothing more than wink-and-nod fanservice.
Ironically, Madoka and Sayaka actually have one of the strongest shipping arguments, despite ranking somewhere in the middle among yuri fans. The concept of a tomboyish childhood friend constantly protecting her weaker counterpart to the point that the latter views her with a princely adoration has been the basis for many other shipped pairings in the past.
And yet, Shaft have also gone out of their way to wholly dismiss any notions that Madoka and Sayaka are romantically interested in one another. For all the moments where Sayaka publicly announces that she will make Madoka her bride, she also teasingly inquires about her love life. Even during The Battle Pentragram, largely considered the most pandering piece of media released yet for the series, the maxed-out event scene between Madoka and Sayaka features Madoka stating that she loves Sayaka, but does so using the platonic/familial usage of the word (daisuke da yo, which has the same context as saying “I love you” to a close friend or family member). For Madoka, she is stating her love for Sayaka as a sister, not a lover, which is wholly different from the infamous declaration given by Homura at the climax of Rebellion (“Ai Yo”).
So what does any of this have to do with yuri debates? By effectively dismissing any romantic notions between the two characters, the playfulness and camaraderie between Madoka and Sayaka can be enjoyed for exactly how it appears: two best friends who openly care about one another. It creates a (for lack of a better word) purer outlook between the two, as you don’t have to constantly wonder if their interactions are being pandered to the yuri-loving fanbase (at least, not too often).
But the reason I adore it so much is that they are primarily written as friends before anything else. When compared to many of the attempts to write Madoka and Homura in a similar manner, the Madoka/Sayaka bond feels much more natural and a whole lot less pandering. Regardless of where you stand in the whole yuri/shipping spectrum, it’s hard not to appreciate the genuine love these two share for one another.
There’s no denying that it was Homura’s wish to redo her meeting with Madoka that set the stage for the events of the TV series, as well as lead to the eventual climax where years of failed timeloops and an unbreakable resolve finally culminated in Madoka’s wish rewriting the very laws of the universe.
But for the first viewing, we as an audience are unaware about any of this until the final few episodes. When viewing the events in real-time, the story officially starts with Madoka and Sayaka falling into a metaphorical rabbit hole and coming into contact with Magical Girls (Mami) and the creature that creates them (Kyubey).
Normally the protagonist’s tomboy BFF does not get involved in the main character’s hectic new lifestyle until after her initial discovery, if at all. But by having Sayaka discover the existence of Magical Girls alongside Madoka, it firmly cements her place as a central character. In fact, she arguably takes over the role as main character for a good chunk of the series, which leads credence to the theory that Madoka herself is not the actual lead, but instead a narrator/witness to Sayaka, Homura, and the others.
The point is that during this portion of the series, Homura is a mystery character who keeps to the shadows, her true goals and motivations kept secret until the revelatory tenth episode. During that time, it is Madoka and Sayaka who are the focus for the audience (it is also through them that Mami and Kyouko are developed as characters, serving as secondary leads concurrent with Madoka and Sayaka, respectively).
And if you really want to get technical (and I do), Sayaka’s role in the story actually predates and precedes Homura’s; not only did Sayaka befriend Madoka years before meeting Homura, she may have even been responsible for giving Madoka the confidence to befriend Homura in the first place, according to this excerpt from the browser-based MMO. While side material like this are typically hand-waved as non-canonical, it is an interesting theory that fits well with Madoka’s personality and the influence someone like Sayaka would have on her.
This argument is only strengthened further when you consider that Homura would not even be alive at the series’ final timeline if it wasn’t for the bond Madoka shared with her childhood friend, though this bond also served to hinder Homura from achieving her single-minded goal. More often than not, Sayaka was the one who would get in Homura’s way, whether directly or indirectly; Homura’s attempts to communicate with Madoka in a cryptic manner would be thwarted by a protective Sayaka, while Homura’s warnings about making a contract are routinely ignored by a desperate Madoka wanting to use her wish to save Sayaka.
In this respect, Homura failed. While Madoka’s wish was a pragmatic solution to eliminate the suffering of all Magical Girls in the world, consider how Homura was the only person to be denied her one true desire: to be with Madoka. Though not likely intentional on Madoka’s part, Homura was forced to continue living on in the new world Madoka created, while still keeping her memories of her friend despite everyone else forgetting that Madoka ever existed.
And yet, who was the very first person among the main cast to reunite with Madoka in the afterlife? Sayaka, the person Madoka most wanted to save for the majority of the story. Madoka may not have been able to prevent Sayaka’s death, but she still succeeded in saving her soul, and it is in Rebellion that we finally witness the results of Madoka’s sacrifice as Sayaka grows into the heroic protector that both girls desired. When you think about it, it’s not too much of a stretch to believe that Madoka’s wish was more for Sayaka than it was for Homura from a thematic standpoint. This could also explain the retconned insertion of Sayaka’s Theme during the 2nd film’s recap of Madoka’s sacrifice, implying that Sayaka’s sacrifice and suffering were among the most pivotal memories that shaped Madoka’s wish.
As much as it sounds like I am undermining Homura’s role in Madoka’s story, I am instead suggesting that Sayaka had as much an influence in the development of both the character and the overall plot as Homura did. Both characters represent an important, unbreakable bond toward Madoka that carried across multiple timelines, as well as in death; the final scene in the concert hall where Sayaka is given the chance to witness the results of her sacrifice is the most telling example. During this scene, Madoka appears alongside Sayaka as a normal human, despite her new role as a Goddess. Just as the two characters began their story together during the start of the series (aka the final timeline), so too do they reach the end of their journey together, forever by each other’s side. It is a friendship that transcends time and space, life and death. In my eyes, it will always remain the definitive relationship in this tragic, beautiful tale of overcoming sorrow with the power of friendship.