Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
The phrase “Homura did nothing wrong” has become a bit of a mantra among Homura-fans protesting the mixed reaction regarding her penultimate decision in Madoka Magica the Movie III: Rebellion. In the film’s climax, Homura rejects Madoka’s gift of salvation, instead allowing her soul to fall deeper into darkness so that she may unearth a power greater than or equal than the Goddess of all Magical Girls herself. In Homura’s own words, she denounced the paradise in Heaven and instead became the manifestation of evil itself: A Demon (or more appropriately, a Devil, as “Akuma” can be translated either way).
This shocker of an ending caused quite a stir among the hardcore fanbase: some fans now despise Homura while some love her more than ever. Many have gone back to the TV series’ source material to pierce together themes and statements that potentially served as foreshadowing of Homura’s descent into (debatable) darkness. Today’s article will in fact be doing the same: rather than discuss whether Homura did indeed do the right or wrong thing in the end, this article will instead look into the past mistakes she made during the course of the original series, and why they account for many of the most tragic moments that happened later.
At this point, you may be thinking that I am part of the anti-Homura crowd, but that is far from the truth. Rather than revel in the delusions of several other fans who insist that Homura is “perfect” (doubtless they are the same ones proclaiming her innocence now with the constant post-Rebellion debates), the reason I adore Homura is because of how much she subtly satirizes other characters that share her archetype; I’ve long grown tired of the unfriendly, borderline emotionless characters who are unmatched in skill and always soak up so much screen-time due to fan polls and author favoritism (such infamous examples include Sasuke, Byakuya, Sesshomaru, among countless others).
What makes Homura such an interesting subversion is that while she’s portrayed as (arguably) the most important character in the story, she is also shown as an emotionally vulnerable victim of circumstance and hubris. Indeed, while Homura may be applauded by fans for vigilantly navigating the endless maze that is the repeating month in order to save her beloved friend, few stop to realize that it was a maze of her own making.
In a series where the characters are defined by their mistakes and emotional flaws, Homura may stand as the most flawed out of all five girls…which is the real reason she should be so beloved.
Like any classic wish-granting story, none of the characters in Madoka Magica succeed in making a wish without having it horribly backfire. Even Madoka’s climactic wish that rewrote the very laws of the universe was not without its drawbacks.
Rather than blame this on whatever karmic curse (if any) occurs as the result of each wish, the fault lies instead on the person making the wish and the expectations they set up upon having their wish granted. Sayaka was probably the most prominent example, using her wish to heal the hand of the boy she secretly loved in the hopes that he would reciprocate her feelings, only to have things go wrong in the cruelest way possible. That being said, none of the characters are to blame for the way their wishes turn out, as the only way to circumvent the devil’s temptations is to avoid them entirely.
And yet, fans often give Homura a free pass on the notion that her wish was “unselfish”, since it was made on behalf of someone else (while simultaneously criticizing Sayaka for doing the exact same thing). Indeed, there is commendation for Homura throwing away everything she had in order to take part in a neverending battle to prevent Madoka’s death.
But think back to the situation before Homura rewound time with her wish: Madoka had died fighting Walpurgisnacht, but still managed to defeat the titanic Witch as well as protect her city. The threat had vanished thanks to Madoka’s sacrifice, with no indication that another massive Witch would be attacking the city anytime soon.
So why didn’t Homura just wish Madoka back to life right then and there? This question comes up quite often regarding other tragically slain Magical Girls, most notably Mami (who had died as early as episode 3, long before Madoka or Sayaka knew about the price they had to pay for wishes). There have been a few fan theories on why they never even discussed the idea, but as far as Homura is concerned, she most certainly prayed for a way to bring Madoka back. And though the TV series itself has never confirmed nor denied whether a wish can be used to resurrect someone, various side material (including Urobuchi’s own canonical explanation for Madoka’s original wish in Timeline 1) have confirmed that it is possible.
So once again, why didn’t Homura wish Madoka back to life? Why restart their meeting from the beginning when it means having to battle Walpurgisnacht again (not to mention the additional roadblocks that would hinder her for the next 100 time loops)?
Well, think back to the way Homura phrased her wish:
“I want to redo my meeting…”; “I want to become strong enough to protect her”. These words may sound inspired, but there’s also a dark underlining to them: Homura’s original desire was not to merely undo Madoka’s death, it was to be the one to prevent it. Ever since their first meeting, Homura was pressured to become a stronger person than she was, changing her role from someone who is protected by Madoka to someone who can protect her instead (if you read my previous article, you can see the irony in Madoka projecting that mindset to someone else).
Just like Sayaka, what Homura wished for on the surface only masked her true heart’s desire. Madoka’s resurrection would not have the same meaning compared to Homura getting a second chance to show off her newfound strength and confidence. To be fair, she probably never expected that her wish would endanger the entire world (and eventually, the universe), but when you consider how much happier the main characters would have been had Homura merely wished back Madoka on the spot (and there’s no reason she couldn’t have included Mami in the wish, either) had Homura not subconsciously desired to boost her ego instead.
Before you get too wound up by this accusation, I am well aware that we never witness all of the different things Homura tried in order to change Madoka’s fate. After all, the series only had time to show us four out of one hundred time loops Homura endured, so much of the following criticisms are based on speculation.
As facts go, however, we witnessed Homura sticking to a very specific structure during each time reset. Her most common routines involved A) keeping Madoka from making a contract, B) hunt down Witches herself, and C) develop a strategic counterattack against Walpurgisnacht. As we also witnessed, she fails in every single category in every timeloop we see.
But the real reason she remains trapped in her metaphorical labyrinth isn’t because of how massive it is, but because of how isolated she made herself. The one thing that Homura has more than any other character in the series is time; her magic shield is literally a magic reset button that allows her to completely rewind the world back to that first day of the repeating month every time. She will never run out of Soul Gems because she knows the location of every Witch. She will never age as she would technically have been in her 30’s by the number of loops she’s run. The only thing holding her back is her mental fortitude, which finally crumbles at the climax of the series.
And yet, with such an incredible amount of freedom, why is she confined to going to school, fighting the same battles, and failing the same persuasive conversations? In fact, why does she never go beyond the borders of Mitakihara city?
The answer to all of these is simple: to be close to Madoka. For Homura, having constant surveillance over Madoka is the only method she can conceive to protect her. But again, think about that magic reset button: just because her goal is to prevent Madoka from making a contract doesn’t mean it has to be done in a timely manner….she has all the time in the world to come up with new methods of attaining her ultimate goal. She could have taken some time off from her repetitive duties to improve herself mentally (rather than just physically with her magic), such as attending a one-month seminar to improve her persuasion skills. She could have memorized several important events that occur in that month and use them as proof that her predictions of the future are 100% accurate. She could even use her knowledge to convince the Japanese government about the existence of Magical Girls and Witches, and order a city-wide evacuation of Mitakihara before Walpurgisnacht touches down on the city. These are just a few of the many, many possibilities that Homura has the option of pursuing.
But since all of those options meant spending time away from Madoka, Homura probably never even considered them.
Arguably the most tragic moment in episode 10 occurs during what has commonly been referred to as “Timeline 3”, where Homura’s attempts to convince Madoka’s group about Kyubey’s true intentions were met with skepticism and distrust, resulting in a whirlwind of tragedy that results in the subsequent deaths of every Magical Girl save Homura (who instead must tearfully end Madoka’s life herself). From then on, Homura vows that she “won’t rely on anyone anymore” and proceeds to re-attempt her mission over and over without gaining the trust of Mami, Kyouko or Sayaka. Consequently, this also means she won’t go out of her way to try and prevent their fates, either.
The real tragedy of this sequence isn’t that Homura was forced to change Madoka’s fate alone, but how quickly she came to that conclusion. While we still occasionally witness Homura attempting to convince the other three girls that she is not an enemy (and failing each and every time), the manner in which she conducts herself is both misguided and often short-sighted. In fact, her inability and/or disinterest in swaying the other characters goes a long way in showing just how much Homura is lacking in her social skills.
In other words, Homura makes no attempts to befriend any of the Magical Girls. Instead, she tries to convince them of the horrible truths behind Kyubey and his contracts without offering any proof, or even empathy. It seems that whatever reserved disappointment Homura displays isn’t because she couldn’t convince any of the girls to believe her, but because they wouldn’t accept her claims at face value. Some people will defend Homura by placing all of the blame on the three girls, but in truth it is easier to say that Homura chooses not to make the effort in winning example.
The biggest proof of this is Kyouko; Despite having a reputation as a lone wolf who thinks only of herself, Kyouko is the one girl out of the three who is usually seen cooperating with Homura. Why is that? Because Homura understands Kyouko….or rather, understands how to manipulate her. Homura knows how to convince Kyouko to work alongside her for a mutual benefit, which makes her a valued ally to Homura….but not a friend.
The debate of whether or not Homura considers the other Magical Girls as friends deep down is an argument best saved for another time, but the point is that the alliance between Homura and Kyouko works because of its pragmatism; neither one is interested in befriending the other, so Homura does not have to make that extra effort in swaying Kyouko to her side. Compare this with Mami and Sayaka, two idealistic characters who carry both good-natured traits in addition to inner demons. From what we have seen in the original series, Homura does not make the time to learn the best ways to approach either of them…nor does she seem to care to.
Keep in mind, Homura isn’t at fault for not wanting to become their friend. Instead, she’s at fault for not learning how to gain their trust in a gentler, more strategic fashion. In the end of every timeline, Homura will always have to face Walpurgisnacht. Instead of devising ways to try and topple the titanic Witch by herself, she could have planned out the best way to recruit three additional Magical Girls to help her defeat the looming threat as well as prevent their friend Madoka from making a contract.
Again, we don’t know everything Homura tried to do in every timeline; there’s always the possibility that she already tried to enlist the aid of the three girls and still resulted in failure during the fated battle (as conceptualized in this fan-made video):
But I can only comment on what we have witnessed, which is Homura’s poor persuasion skills and a debatable lack of interest in saving anyone besides Madoka.
This may sound like a repeat of #3, but I felt that Homura’s inability to gain Sayaka’s trust deserved its own spot on the list. Why is that? Because of the strong bond Madoka and Sayaka share.
As detailed in my previous article, the two girls are lifelong friends who deeply care about one another. Their friendship is used several times throughout the series to move the plot forward, including the actions taken by the principal characters. In the case of Homura, it is used as a deterrent from her ultimate goal. In fact, it could be argued that Sayaka is (indirectly or otherwise) the biggest obstacle in Homura’s way (or alternatively, the second biggest obstacle after Homura’s own hubris).
In the beginning of the series, several of Homura’s cryptic interactions with Madoka are interrupted by a protective Sayaka. Later on, further attempts to persuade Madoka to stay out of the affairs of a Magical Girl are routinely ignored as Madoka tries several times to form a contract in order to help Sayaka. Even when Homura’s frustration brings her to the brink of tears, Madoka still does not fully heed Homura’s words, once again running off to save Sayaka.
Notice a pattern here? Regardless of how many times Homura tries to meddle in her affairs, the hard truth is that Sayaka is one of the most important people in Madoka’s life. For Homura to say that Madoka should give up on Sayaka is both hypocritical and pointless: there is no way Madoka would ever abandon a close friend, especially one who is practically family.
“But Sayaka is the jerk who is mean to Homura in every timeline!”, some might say, specifically pointing at Sayaka’s apprehensiveness in the third timeline. Keep in mind that during this scene, no one is heeding Homura’s warnings about Kyubey, not even Madoka (she instead tries to take the middle ground and keep everyone from fighting one another, as is typical of her).
While it is certainly true that Sayaka isn’t without her own faults, she still isn’t wholly unreasonable; as revealed in episode 8, Sayaka is someone who judges people by their true intentions rather than the facade they outwardly display. This is why she was able to understand and even respect Kyouko’s philosophy without necessarily agreeing with them. This is also why she is able to see that Homura had no intention of wanting to help Sayaka when offering her the Grief Seed (to which Homura then applauds her perceptiveness).
Had Homura actually taken the time to befriend Sayaka first, then reveal to her the earnest desire to protect Madoka, there’s little reason that Sayaka wouldn’t listen. In fact, we witness this very action in not one but two separate manga adaptions in addition to other videogame spinoffs. It isn’t impossible for Sayaka and Homura to become friends, especially when they both share a common goal: to protect their best friend Madoka.
As for whether Homura chooses not to befriend Sayaka out of personal resentment or possibly even jealousy, that is a debate for another time. The point is that Madoka simply would not accept any outcome where she loses Sayaka, and for Homura to ignore that only attributed to her own failure to prevent the death of the person she loved most in the world.
Even before confirmation of a continuation, there is no doubt that more than a few people smacked their foreheads over Homura’s conversation with Kyubey in the final episode, in which she reveals everything she knows about Madoka, Witches, and the Incubator’s original method of harvesting energy.
To recap, in this new timeline created by Madoka’s wish, everyone’s memories have been rewritten, including the Incubators. At this point, Kyubey knows nothing about Madoka Kaname or Witches, both concepts that have been erased from the new world. In fact, it is hinted that the Incubators were less prone to manipulate humans, possibly even sharing a friendlier relationship with Magical Girls.
All of that goes down the tubes when Homura shares all of her hazy memories with Kyubey during the final few minutes. Unsurprisingly, Kyubey shows great interest and curiosity over the prospect of gaining more energy through Witches as well as the all-powerful Goddess of Magical Girls. When it was revealed during Rebellion that Kyubey had used Homura as part of an experiment to take control of Madoka, the real shocking twist was how utterly unsurprising such a revelation was. In short, none of the events in Rebellion would have ever happened had Homura kept her big mouth shut.
The results, in which Homura falls into despair as the one and only living Witch in existence, is entirely of her own making. A rather ironic outcome if you subscribe to the theories presented in this article. There has been some mild speculation that Homura actually intended all of this to happen so that she would gain the power she need to ultimately rip out Madoka’s human side form the Law of Cycles, but it’s highly unlikely that Homura would be that clever to plan something so elaborate. It’s much more believable that she did not think her actions through, underestimating Kyubey once again by sharing her inner thoughts with him rather than Mami and Kyouko (who she was seen fighting alongside with, and are also confirmed to still be alive at this point). Once again, Homura chose not to confide in the people who could have helped her the most, and sought instead the company of a manipulative creature who does not understand human emotions but obsesses and desires Madoka.
No, Homura, you are the Incubators.