Bristle’s Babbles #10 – ‘Defending Madoka Magica’

NOTE: NOTE: Old post, sorta rambly. Also, some opinions expressed are different to my perspective as of now.

As film critic Gene Siskel once said, “There is a point when a personal opinion shades off into an error of fact.”. That is to say, while there’s an emphasis on subjectivity in critique, you have to draw a line and realise that certain things are pure fact. That’s something I strongly believe, and it’s inspired me to discuss things in relation to that. What I’ll be doing right now is looking at Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a series that has become a fairly big deal. Though it is largely pretty well received, its popularity leads to it becoming divisive with some crowds. I’m not saying you’re wrong for disliking Madoka Magica, but what I am here to argue is that certain criticisms I’ve heard people give the series fall into what I deem “errors of fact”, criticisms that I believe are just flat out wrong.

The first of these would be criticisms regarding Mami’s character and her development. I often hear people criticise the series by saying that Mami didn’t have enough time for you to really care about her when she died. The biggest problem with that argument is that people are focusing too heavily on the arbitrary quantity of time that was spent on her. Mami was around for roughly two and a half episodes, which adds up to around 45 minutes to 1 hour. Do you want to know who else had roughly that amount of time on screen before their death? Mufasa from The Lion King. Considering Mufasa’s death is widely seen as one of the most profound moments in any animated Disney film despite being around for less than an hour, you have to throw out the assumption that the amount of time spent on the character directly relates to the magnitude of their death. Mufasa’s death hit hard because of the context, not because people cared about the character as an individual. He had a role and his death affected that role. I’d actually say Mami is a more fleshed out character than Mufasa, though. She had a role as a mentor figure for Madoka and Sayaka, expressed through her poise, the way she interacted with them and her actions in protecting them. Her perspective gave them insight into the life of a Magical Girl through her simple but effective backstory that outlined her reasons as well as the mature front she puts on to hide the fact that she’s vulnerable. Mami’s death wasn’t the be all and end all of the series, but her perspective was Madoka and Sayaka’s introduction to the life of a Magical Girl, and in dying they lost that mentor figure who had helped them understand the situation they were in, her death leaving them to question what they had been taught by her and thus leading into further questions about being a Magical Girl quite nicely. I’d say that’s enough to warrant calling Mami a worthwhile character whose death had enough meaning considering her place in the broader scheme of things. My one gripe with the recap movies is that they cut out the backstory, completely missing that significance that Mami had and assuming that her overall lack of prevalence was enough to warrant dumbing her down.
I won’t delve any deeper into my disagreements with particular criticisms of the series because the third movie is perhaps a hell of a lot more divisive. Let’s start from the top. One criticism I’ve heard is that the early scenes in the movie that are uncharacteristically upbeat and cutesy are nothing more than self-indulgence with a franchise that has knowingly become a cash cow. I firmly believe that SHAFT and Urobuchi are creative minded people first and foremost, and in doing so I realised the intent of the earlier scenes. I think it’s pretty clear that those early scenes have every intention to be uncharacteristic because the idea that the movie spends a majority of its run time on is that something isn’t right. It throws you into something that appears to be totally isolated from everything you know about the series and it does so with every intention of creating an unsettling tone, which I’d say is a more logical interpretation than assuming they leaned towards something similar to the typical Magical Girl fare just for the sake of having fun. Those scenes are undoubtedly quite fun out of context, but in context it’s actually quite sinister. The film is pretty natural with how it slowly leads you in to realising that something’s truly wrong and that they’re not just ret-conning. At first Homura doesn’t realise something’s wrong, but she slowly but gradually catches on. Things get weirder and weirder, the visuals start to become more and more abstract, the score gets creepier and creepier. Those earlier scenes and the scenes that follow build up beautifully to the climax of the movie.

Finally, there’s the most divisive aspect of all: The Rebellion ending. Many people have said that it’s a pointless twist that does nothing but serve to keep the franchise moving forward, that if you cut it out the movie would be so much better. Riddle me this, if Homura didn’t act then what would Kyubey have done? Why, he would have kept attempting to thwart Madoka and her Law of Cycle, perhaps never becoming aware of how dangerous human emotions are. Hell, he might have eventually beaten Madoka. If Urobuchi simply wanted to keep things going, he could have easily just had Kyubey doing the same thing over and over again, making Kyubey into nothing more than a black and white villain character. For Kyubey to some extent to learn the error of his ways allows for the character and the story as a whole to advance in a lot more interesting ways. Do I think that Homura’s actions came out of nowhere? Absolutely not. Do I really need to mention the scenes in the series and the movie where it was clear that Homura wasn’t acting in the most rational way but could also be somewhat justified? The climax of the movie had Homura attempting to transform into a witch when she was at her lowest point of despair, and in the twist her transformation was caused by manifestation of hope and despair all at once. I’d also argue that her being a witch is quite interesting in that not only is she an equal to Madoka but also seems to occupy a sort of grey area between good and evil like Kyubey does, but even more interesting is that despite sharing that grey area with Kyubey she’s the exact opposite. Kyubey acts without any inkling of emotion, whereas Homura acts purely on emotion. I could go on for days and days about the broader implications of the final scenes in the movie and why they work and why they’re brilliant in what they bring to the series, but you get the gist of what I’m saying.

I think you could argue that there’s some level of subjectivity to what I’m saying, which is very true, but at the same time I do believe that I brought up some purely objective merits in things that people often bash in the series. When you criticise the series for those specific reasons I outlined, I believe that regardless of whether or not I’m right that you’re wrong, plain and simple. I admit that’s a pretty bold statement to make, but I really do believe that Madoka Magica is worth such statements.

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