8bit- your sister hates Madoka because it's a nihilistic paean to disillusionment and the destruction of innocence wrapped in the flayed skin of Sailor Moon.
MM is darker than Akira. Darker than Ghost in the Shell. MM takes, as its fundamental core theme, that the universe runs on crushed dreams. And it does so without going bleak, without being obvious, without dwelling there in this painful Japanese shut-in self-referential crap world like... certain other popular Anime right now that suck.
Start from the credits:
Everything is a cutesy allegory to dire, dire shit that happens in the series:
- cutesy girl looking worried in a forest (as she contemplates the ultimate destruction of the universe)
- memories of the capers she had with her friends as her pet watches on (who are all dead, as the Demon of Negentropy watches on)
- lounging discouraged in bed (as the true weight of choosing to be a magical girl weighs on her)
- happy innocent frolicky sexy time in magical space (as Kyoko and Sayaka exercise their pact of mutual annihiliation)
- flashes of ancillary characters (who either die or are lost forever)
- running through the rain, late for something (the end of the world)
- eye opening on a "cat" (that is actually Satan)
It's a vaguely disquieting sequence even if you've never seen the show. It's bits of supposed normalcy that aren't quite right - just like the show.
Because that's the thing - it's a story about girls who try to do the right thing only to get fucked by the universe. None of them have a positive role model. That's the amazing thing about Madoka's mom - she's the worst role model in the world. Her positive contribution to Madoka's life is "always act as if you have a secret admirer" which, on the face of it, seems nice... but turns out to be emphasis for Homura's obsession which leads to the end of the world. The closest, clearest example of poor choices is during the storm - Junko catches Madoka sneaking out into a Class V hurricane and says "well, if it's in your heart, you better go."
The Magical Girls, for their part, look to Mami for guidance... even though Mami makes no bones about being lost and disillusioned. The advice she gives is, by and large, wrong - as demonstrated by her strategy and tactics that end up with her getting beheaded. So the girls turn to Kyubey, who is everything wrong with Djinn or Beelzebub. Even Homura, when giving advice to Madoka, advises her to "stop caring" - advice that she herself can't take, thus the Universe keeps looping back on itself.
It's a tricky, tricky show - they do everything we always tell beginning screenwriters not to do because they're so damn hard to pull off. An observer might be tempted to call Madoka a passive protagonist - in other words, a "hero" that never makes any active choices to advance the plot, instead having the plot thrust at her. It's the same mistake people make about Back to the Future, because Marty is constantly reacting rather than acting. However, the true protagonist of Madoka Magica is Homura - she drives every single story point -
- to the point where she's the antagonist as well. Kyubey is no more an antagonist than the tornado was in Twister. He's a force of nature. He offers a choice, nothing more, and he offers it with imperfect information. The true driver of everything negative in Madoka Magica is Homura, something that doesn't work without a massive perspective flip a la North by Northwest.
And that's where I was so utterly, completely sold. Giving the antagonist POV 3/4 of the way through a show is some of the most dangerous doubling down you can do in screenwriting and what they created was just a thing of pure beauty. Watching it through the second time was absolutely heartbreaking... because you know that the story is really about Homura and you watch the show through her eyes. You see all the fucked up choices that lead to destruction. You know that all the evidence for the shaft these girls are getting is right before their eyes. And all the weird shit that didn't hit you quite right the first time slaps you square in the face.
So you know the thing is on an endless loop. You know that you are watching the manifestation of Homura's unrealized dreams bring about the destruction of the city. You know that with each go-round, Homura faces a futile battle, growing stronger, more disillusioned, more disenchanted, more jaded. You know that she's going to turn into a witch. And you know that before she does, she pops out of the timeline and into another, leaving Wallpurgisnacht (clock gears and missiles in full effect) to destroy the world.
Homura never cleans up her mess. She bails to remake it bigger, badder, stronger, until even Kyubey is left going "what the fuck is so unholy powerful about this Madoka chick?"
Where things really get bleak for me is when you realize that even after Madoka brings about the literal destruction of all things, left to wander space and time alone as an abstract concept beyond thought or interaction, Homura remembers. And Homura still has the power to do it all over again.
So there's the true question: Who was Wallpurgisnacht originally? Because at some point, the loop started... Homura was weak and Mami lived long enough to train up Madoka and get killed by a Wallpurgisnacht that wasn't Homura.
But it could have been Homura from another universe because Homura is the only one who gets to cross timelines. Not even Kyubey can do that. It's all theoretical to his species, and they have control over fundamental forces like entropy.
I found the symbolism in the weapons to be icing on the cake:
- Madoka uses a bow, just like Artemis/Diana, the virgin goddess of the hunt. Madoka is purity.
- Mami uses a matchlock rifle, the international symbol of sportsmanship. Mami is fairness.
- Sayaka uses a sword, typically associated with purity.
- Kyoko uses a spear, either masculinity or nobility.
- Homura... Homura uses straight up bombs and det charges and missiles and grenades and other stuff that has nothing to do with symbolism.
Homura is a terrorist.
And that's where it all comes together for me: Madoka Magica is about the destruction of innocence. The protagonist (Homura) is working to preserve innocence. The antagonist (Homura) is willing to destroy that same innocence to preserve it. Homura is an innocent that, in the interests of doctrine, becomes radicalized to the point of callous violence.
And it does this with Magical Girls.
Anyway. I was blown away. Madoka Magica basically takes the lowest-effort form of media imaginable, throws every masters-level storytelling device at it and absolutely plants the dismount. It works at whatever level you want to get out of it. They could have been so obvious with it (as anime almost always is) but the subtleties and lyrical open-endedness of it were just stunning to me.
Lots of people think Inception is a great film. I think it's a ham-handed exercise in masturbation wherein Chris Nolan hits you over the head with how dark he is as he unsuccessfully remakes Dreamscape. Madoka Magica, on the other hand, is what Inception should have been - the filmmakers are using an innocent vehicle to demonstrate that innocence must die.
'cuz that's really where it's at: if Madoka had let Homura die, the universe would have continued unabated. Then, if Homura was willing to let Madoka die, that universe would have continued unabated. But since one good turn deserves another, and because we all fight for what we love, and because the preservation of innocence is one of the driving forces of civilization, we end up with war, jihad, ethnic cleansing and chemical weapons in Syria.
It's a hell of a show.