Vrai, Mercedez, and Alex return for the 2nd half of Madoka to talk about Madoka’s character arc, the aggravating entropy twist, and how the TV finale still resonates.
Date Recorded: April 24th, 2021
Hosts: Vrai, Mercedez, and Alex
0:02:05 Sayaka and Kyoko Apologia
0:23:21 Dub blaccent
0:32:11 Magical Girls of HISTORY
0:35:46 “Kyubey is a TERF”
0:41:30 Urobuchi’s Al Qaeda quote
0:47:23 Madoka’s agency
0:48:55 Is it gay?
0:51:36 Samsara and Godoka
0:59:35 The message
1:03:51 Final thoughts
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast, and part two of our Puella Magi Madoka Magica rewatchalong. My name is Vrai. I’m a content editor at Anime Feminist, and you can find me where I freelance on Twitter @WriterVrai, or you can find the other podcast I cohost about weird, obscure, and forgotten media @trashpod. And with me again today are Mercedez and Alex.
ALEX: Hey! I am Alex. I’m a contributions editor here at AniFem. In my daytime life, I am an exhausted academic. You can find me on Twitter @TheAfictionado, like “aficionado” but with a T in it because I talk about fiction. It’s still the best pun I’ve ever come up with, and I will hang on to it till my final days upon this planet.
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles] I love that. My name is Mercedez, and I am Anime Feminist’s resident idol lover, a title which I am going to use every single time I’m on a podcast. [Chuckles] Thank you. I am an editor at Anime Feminist as well as a writer for a lot of different sites including, most recently, the Anime News Network. And yeah, I’m your all-around cool person who does localization and a lot of stuff.
VRAI: You’re so busy all the time.
MERCEDEZ: I am so busy. I, much like the magical girls in this show, would just like to have someone take my soul away.
MERCEDEZ: For a moment.
ALEX: Is that what you really want? I guess we can get into that. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: No, I love the work I do. And unlike poor Sayaka, I like existing. Pour one out.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, so I’m gonna try really hard to keep some semblance of form on this podcast, but I make no guarantees that this won’t just dissolve into shouting and feelings, because that’s the Madoka experience.
MERCEDEZ: I mean, I said in our Google Doc that this podcast is officially in defense of Sayaka Miki, Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s most tragic character. I said that for a reason, because it’s true. This is just Sayaka-cast.
VRAI: We can just dive in with Sayaka. Both of you feel free to go ahead because this arc makes me cranky, so I want both of you to have the floor ahead of me.
MERCEDEZ: First of all, Sayaka: chaotic bi energy.
VRAI: Very much. It’s very good.
ALEX: It’s the sword. It’s the dual-wielding.
MERCEDEZ: I mean… So— I mean— S-S— [Sighs] [Chuckles] I don’t know how anyone’s gonna transcribe the sound I just made, but—
VRAI: CJ will manage.
MERCEDEZ: Sayaka and Kyoko have such sapphic energy that I began to compose poetry in the vein of Sappho. I was like, wow! This show really has—and I know we can talk about this—this show really has these girls die, and it’s essentially because of each other!
VRAI: [Tearfully] They have the whole gay death scene!
MERCEDEZ: When Kyoko’s like “Ah, man. I guess this is it for me. Time to go rescue my girlfriend.” And the ending song? Oh God!
VRAI: [Chuckles tearfully]
ALEX: Yeah, I totally forgot there was a special ending song over that art of them falling down into the water together. I was like “Oh no. Oh my goodness.”
MERCEDEZ: And Kyoko looks so at peace. And Sayaka’s crying because, you know, Sayaka’s whole arc through episodes 7 and 8 and into episode 9 is basically her realizing that she sacrificed herself, as many of us who suffer under heterosexuality at some point do, for a man—in this case, a boy—who is never going to like her, nevertheless love her, in the way that she feels towards him. And it’s really tragic and, honestly, as a queer adult, hit very differently seeing her come to this realization that “There’s no point in me existing. There’s no point because I’m never going to get this love.” And so she just ends it the way that she wants, just lets the world burn. And y’all, I cry. I cry bad. [Chuckles] I cry.
ALEX: We didn’t get to talk much about Kyoko last time. So you want to do a quick… Because their arcs are kind of intertwined, especially at this ending point. So let’s do a little Kyoko appreciation station. I find her a super interesting character, in a way that I don’t think I really appreciated when I watched it when I was younger. I think a lot of the nuances of her arc kind of went over my head, like, for example, that quirk where she’s eating all the time. I was like “That’s kind of odd.” But of course you put that backstory together and it’s because it’s a survival instinct. She was starving at one point. There was food scarcity, and so now she feels like she has to eat all the time, as almost an angry thing, like a defense mechanism.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, because she gets super angry at Sayaka when Sayaka throws the apple on the ground, and she’s like “Don’t you ever do that in front of me!” And upon your first watch, you’re like “Whoa, Kyoko. It’s not even a Golden Delicious. It’s not even a good apple.” You’re like “Mm, it’s maybe a Red McIntosh at best.” In this watch, you’re like “Oh. Oh, God.” It’s because Kyoko was starving, because her father’s church wasn’t doing well—and, I assume, her father’s Christian church because he looks like a priest.
ALEX: It has the cross imagery, so I’m going to presume, yeah, some sort of denomination. It’s kind of unimportant because it went off the rails and—
VRAI: Yeah, the specificity of excommunication… I mean, I don’t know, but that feels to me like a very Christian…
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. And there is a lot of nuance. There is also the fact that… Y’all, I forgot Kyoko’s family was ended in a murder-suicide.
ALEX: It’s grim. It’s grim.
MERCEDEZ: That happened and I was like “Oh! Christ, is there magical girl therapy?” Kyubey ain’t offering that. No…
ALEX: That’s kind of the end question of the whole show: “Is there magical girl therapy, and can we get every single character into it?” That’s kind of what cosmic Madoka is trying to do, maybe: offer them all cosmic therapy.
MERCEDEZ: This would be so different if Madoka’s wish was “I wish to get my license in psychotherapy.” This show would be so different if Madoka got certified and was like “Maybe we all just need to have a talk.”
ALEX: [Sighs] To loop back the thing that I also didn’t realize on first watch, because this follows straight on from the reveal about the Soul Gems, about the empty bodies and about how they kind of can’t die so long as their Soul Gems are intact. So, the implication there, I believe, is that Kyoko was effectively murdered by her father, but because of the magic, she managed to kind of come back. So that’s just something she has to live with now, that she was killed by someone who was meant to be her caretaker.
That’s something that you will carry with you. And it’s like, yeah, no wonder she’s so standoffish and so brash and so reluctant about everything. You would be. That fundamentally changes you as a person! It’s not gone into as much as it could be, but it’s just an extra thing hanging there, like “Yeah, you sacrificed your soul for this person who you loved, and he literally killed you.”
MERCEDEZ: Right. And I think it’s interesting because Kyoko’s often seen and, I’m gonna just say, also by the fandom, I think, was initially perceived as a very brash, kind of rude character, when she absolutely is doing for herself because the time where she trusted the adults in her life to help her and do things to help her… Yeah, the adult she trusted and loved the most, when he finds out that she helped her [sic], is not grateful, in fact, basically rages against her and pretty much is like “You’re not my child. I don’t want you,” kills her family, and then—I think that interpretation is interesting—basically kills his daughter, and it’s only the fact that he doesn’t hit her Soul Gem that saves her. It’s only the fact that her soul is literally this crystallized physical form that she can keep away that saves her. And it’s horrific.
ALEX: It is. And so, again, it’s no wonder she gets so touchy with Sayaka because she sees her younger self in her and is like “Hey. Don’t!” which honestly is perfectly reasonable advice once you know the context, especially that bit. Because yeah, I think it’s in episode 6. It sounds very mean at the time, but she’s like “Hey, why didn’t you wish that he would just fall in love with you? Why didn’t you say what you actually wanted instead of having to be a martyr and a hero?” And Sayaka’s like “No, shut up! I’ll be a good person!” So the audience is kind of on Sayaka’s side at that point, and so Kyoko sounds really mean, but she’s making a really good point and is drawing from this experience. And I feel like we’ll get more into that question the further we go into Sayaka Town.
VRAI: That Kyoko flashback sequence is maybe one of my favorite scenes in the whole show. There are a lot of scenes during these couple episodes that are just absolutely breathtaking, maybe some of the best in the show. But I think that this scene I really like because of how restrained it is. It implies a lot of dark shit, but you have to kind of unpack it, like you were talking about. And I think that it’s both to the show’s credit, because I think it really gets at how magical girl shows at large tend to portray very dark content with that kind of abstracted imagery and suggestion. I love the paper dolls so much.
And then it’s also kind of to the show’s detriment, because then you set it up against Sayaka’s horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad day, which is just the least subtle thing on Earth. I think this section loses a lot of people, and I do not blame them because it makes me kind of annoyed every time, because Kyosuke and Hitomi are not bad people and they don’t know what’s going on and Sayaka’s not a bad person either. It’s just a tragedy of misfortune. But it’s also so contrived to me because, ah, gosh, Sayaka learned that… she’s struggling with this existential crisis, and then, what’s the worst and saddest thing that could happen to her? Immediately after that somebody else is going to confess to her crush, and what would be even sadder is if it was her best friend.
MERCEDEZ: But see, I actually like that. I actually like that because I think… and I think I said this last episode, I think the feelings especially… and I’m going to say AFAB teenagers, because I think this is something very specific that society structures for teenagers that we perceive as being female in a binary. I think the emotionality of how you’re supposed to feel when your friend likes the boy that you like is a very cultural thing. And I think it’s cultural in a global sense. And I think… whereas it is not subtle [Chuckles] at all. I mean, Sayaka is just having anvil after anvil dropped on her. But I did kinda like that. Yeah, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Her best friend, who doesn’t know any of this stuff is happening in her life, likes the same guy. And what is the absolute worst thing? She confesses. And Sayaka, who gave up and did so much for him, gets nothing.
And I think it’s actually, in a weird way, kind of true to how society expects you to feel if you are a teenage girl who likes a guy, and I kind of appreciated that they captured how it feels when you’re in that position, even if that’s not necessarily the reality, because you’re right: Kyosuke and Hitomi are not bad people. They have no clue that Sayaka’s fighting witches after school. They have no clue. But the way it feels is like “Ah, man, they went behind my back. And I have to give it up to Hitomi, but maybe Kyosuke really likes me. Maybe he’ll see the sacrifice I did.” And of course, because he doesn’t have that information, well, yeah, they’re gonna say, “Oh, yeah, let’s try it. Let’s teenage-date.” And I kind of like that almost dramatic, heavy-handed emotionality because it feels like how it feels when you’re a teenager.
ALEX: Yeah, it captures that big feeling. Like that transition shot where she’s watching them chat on the bench, and then it goes into she’s falling into the bubbly water, and then it switches into her fighting a witch and just screaming. I’m like, yeah, that’s sometimes what it feels like to be 14. And so both the magic setup and the visual imagery, I think, captures that emotionality, captures how it feels in a weirdly authentic way. Yeah, but it quite breaks my heart.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] But it is not subtle. It is not subtle at all, and Vrai is absolutely right: it’s not at all!
VRAI: And to be fair, I think you’re right that that individual story beat has a lot of truth behind it. I think maybe where it loses me is that it’s all strung together with… on the one hand you have the Soul Gem on the other side, and then this arc requires you to make so many big emotional leaps from… she’s crushed by that, and then we have to jump immediately to “Not only will I fight all the familiars and protect everyone. I also won’t use any Grief Seeds or use any magic to even keep myself alive” because we need her to be as sad as possible, as fast as possible.
MERCEDEZ: I think if there had been an episode between that to show that actual… What is the word? “Degration”? Is that a word? Did I make that up?
VRAI: There we go.
MERCEDEZ: Degradation. If we had seen that decay of Sayaka going from a girl who’s like “You know what, maybe I can… Okay, I’m still going to do the right thing” to, like, “I don’t care about anyone. I don’t care about myself. I’m going to try and do the best I can. And if I sacrifice enough, maybe I’ll get something in the end. Maybe Kyosuke will recognize me. Or maybe someone who I care about will recognize me.” If we had seen that decay and had Madoka been 13 episodes, that would have been [Blows a kiss] chef’s kiss. But what we get is 12 episodes anda very crunched sequence where, yeah, Sayaka goes from incredibly optimistic to incredibly misanthropic in like five—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Downright suicidal, honestly.
MERCEDEZ: She is suicidal, and I think that’s also something you see as an adult. Sayaka is incredibly self-destructive and basically all but looks at the camera and says, “I’m going to die by suicide.” And that is definitely something I did not get on my first watch. But on this watch, I was kind of stuck in my seat, just like “Wow, Sayaka is a deeply suicidal girl.” And that’s also very true to teenage girls worldwide. Unfortunately, it’s a very true thing.
VRAI: The fact that she’s a very brittle sort of character is kind of an interesting thing about her. Madoka is very flexible, and Homura is kind of made to be that way. But Sayaka is such an optimist that she has these very high ideals, but they can’t take being challenged, which is true to being that age. And so she falls all the way to the other end of it.
ALEX: She’s a very stubborn character. And that is set up at the start. And yeah, it goes to the absolute extreme because, yeah, like we were talking about, it can feel a teensy, tiny bit ham-fisted. But also, to me, it makes sense that she would be like “No, I’m going to be the best person alive. And no one help me. No one give me any assistance. No one give me any advice. No one touch me. Even if this destroys me, that’ll be making a point.” Eerily, she kind of puts her own sense of self aside for these very black-and-white ideals she’s internalized about how to be a hero, how to be a good magical girl. And, again, the very Urobuchi-esque question here is “Can you truly be a hero in this very cynical world?”
Which, again, this is the last time I’ll bring up Fate, but knowing that he had also written Fate/Zero and knowing that things like Psycho-Pass were in the works for the next few years, seeing this in conversation with those is quite interesting because it’s like “Yeah, you really hadn’t gotten this out of your system, had you, man?” because that question of “Can you do good in an awful world?” is really at the crux of the show, as we’ll get to as we talk about the conclusion, but it goes wrong. The answer in Sayaka’s arc to that question is no, at least not in the very rigid view of heroism and chivalry and goodness that she has. And I think because she’s so ideologically inflexible on it and stubborn, again, as a 14-year-old feeling these big feelings and thrust into this adventure would be, it goes belly up for her. And that’s ultimately her tragedy, is that she’s a kid who is sucked into this system that exploits these ideas that she has and just runs her into the ground and doesn’t contradict her when she’s like “I’m a monster and I must sacrifice myself.” Kyubey’s like “Yeah, sure, go ahead. I’m not going to tell you no.” [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: And it’s interesting because… One thing I really realized about Sayaka on this watch is… I think—and maybe we won’t all agree, but I’m gonna speak for all of us—I think all of us can agree Madoka is not the protagonist of this show. At all.
VRAI: Ah? Hm?
MERCEDEZ: Okay, maybe Mercedez feels that way. I don’t think—
VRAI: No, no, no, go on, go on.
MERCEDEZ: I don’t think Madoka is the protagonist. Instead… Oh, okay, someone help me. The word that means two protagonists. Deuro…
VRAI: Deuterotanic? Deuteragonist. There we go.
ALEX: [crosstalk] Deuteragonist, I believe. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, deuteragonist. I actually want to pitch that the actual leads of this show, the actual deuteragonists are Homura and Sayaka, and that Madoka is actually just this girl who has a lot of consequence around her and a lot of connections and Madoka is important, but actually the show is really about Homura and Sayaka, two characters who are quite the same but split in very different directions. I had the thought in episode 7 and even more in episode 8, especially because Sayaka’s whole story just crushed me, from the moment where she says she’s a zombie because… Mind you, I’m watching the English dub, and the voice acting actually was really good because we’re gon’ get into some bad voice acting.
MERCEDEZ: But the voice acting for this was really good because she sounds so shattered. And I really had this thought. I was like, you know what? And especially what you just said, Alex. This show really could be Magical Girl Sayaka Magica, because she kind of is this leading character until she isn’t.
ALEX: Maybe she reads herself as the main character of her own adventure, and that’s kind of her downfall in the end.
MERCEDEZ: But she does, right? Because her outfit has a cape. She has a sword. She’s kind of channeling these Tezuka Princess Knight vibes.
ALEX: Yeah, true.
MERCEDEZ: Mind you I’ve never seen Utena, but from what I understand from the imagery, that’s kind of at play here, it feels like, because she—
VRAI: There’s definitely at least one overt Utena reference during the red and blue image during the fight with Witch Sayaka.
MERCEDEZ: But Sayaka clearly sees herself as the literal protagonist of her story. She’s got a cape and this really stylish outfit, and her music is always very… Mami’s is very victorious. Mami’s… what is it, a leitmotif? Mami’s leitmotif, “Believe in Justice,” is always very… it’s justice-sounding. It sounds like a bunch of horns and golden and brassy. And Sayaka’s theme is very beautiful and powerful and emotional. And it’s clear she sees herself as the main character, and that is her downfall. Sayaka forgets that you’re the main character in your life, but you’re never the main character in anyone else’s life. That’s just perspective.
ALEX: Yeah. And she then also is very willing to cast characters like Kyoko and Homura as the villains in her story that she’s the hero of. And I don’t know, Madoka’s like her sidekick? I don’t know. The bit that most breaks my heart, actually, about all of this is a bit where she’s sitting in the rain with Madoka and she gets all snappy with her about how Madoka’s not helping, and she runs away, and she immediately says, “Oh my God, why did I say that? Why did I…?” And that’s the last conversation they have!
MERCEDEZ: Is that before she gets on the subway?
ALEX: Yeah, I think she gets on the train after that. So, it’s this absolutely heart-shattering note to leave on. She has dug herself so deep into this hole that she’s just being rude and standoffish—
MERCEDEZ: It’s heartbreaking.
ALEX: —and cynical to the people who love her the most and the people who stuck by her the most. And she knows that, but she’s (A) too stubborn and (B) too deep in her depression to actually turn around and try to make it better.
VRAI: And then she definitely kills some guys. And I think we’re not supposed to be on her side, but I am.
MERCEDEZ: I believe wrote in the notes, and I’m just gonna read it verbatim: big feelings on this subway conversation, because Sayaka does a subway murder and it made me feel like that Esmerelda “Justice!” GIF.
MERCEDEZ: And I’ll say it’s a very different experience in the dub. Y’all, I gotta talk about it. I gotta talk about it really quick.
VRAI: Yeah, you mentioned this. Ooh!
MERCEDEZ: Okay. I believe that the Madoka dub came out in about 2014. And I just want to give you some frames of reference for what was happening in 2014 America, because stuff was going down. That was still Obama era. But we were seeing the signs of what would go into DJT’s very recent… I almost said “a reign,” but, you know, his very fascist movement. However, to get back to the dub. In the dub, the words used to talk about the women, these two high schoolers, is how I’m interpreting them… They look like high schoolers.
ALEX: Oh, really? I had pictured them as older, like college age or even 20s.
MERCEDEZ: Okay, let’s go college age because that actually helps a little bit in the show’s defense. So, first of all, they’re using words like “dumb slut.” They’re calling the women bitches and hoes. However, here’s the thing: they say it with an African American blaccent.
VRAI: [Hums as if muffling a yell]
MERCEDEZ: And it’s not great.
VRAI: [Flabbergasted] Why?
MERCEDEZ: They’re like “Yo, these dumb bitches. They be…” And you’re like, whoa, okay, that’s not great. That’s not great, because what it immediately does is it “urbanizes”—and I’m using some scare quotes—“urbanizes” the scene, and it feels very fraught, because this is a really important scene from Sayaka’s perspective, because she definitely does a murder. I don’t care what Urobuchi says. I know he says it’s ambiguous. She kills two dudes on a train.
MERCEDEZ: But it also kind of tainted the scene, because all I could focus on was the fact that they had a light blaccent. And I don’t know who did the ADR script. I don’t know who was in charge. But I’m calling this dub out in 2021, because that was unacceptable then—
MERCEDEZ: —it’s unacceptable now, and it never should have happened. And I know I had this same qualm, if you’re listening, in Akudama Drive until I did find out that it was a Black man. But Panty & Stocking, I’m still mad at you. But it’s just not great, and it really tainted the scene because it’s unnecessary and what it does is it makes it feel charged in a different way. And it takes away from what I think, and I think we all can agree, is a really powerful scene and kind of terrifying scene. It’s a little bit terrifying because Sayaka is at a point where her view of saving humanity is doing whatever it takes. But then hearing a blaccent and then hearing them be like “Yo, I had to, like… And then, dawg…” They don’t say “dawg.” They fall very short of saying that. But you can tell when someone’s using AAVE as decoration. It’s not great. Dubs really need to stop doing that.
VRAI: Yeah. The whole point of that scene is that Sayaka is becoming aware of misogyny in the world around her. And now you’ve made it… Ah!
MERCEDEZ: You’ve made it misogyny with ethnic microaggressions. Which, you know, yum yum! I don’t want it.
ALEX: [crosstalk] That’s a choice.
MERCEDEZ: But that’s partially why I watch dubs, especially for stuff like this, because I think it’s important to bring that up as how that can color somebody’s viewing. And what it did was it made me feel even more disgust for the scene towards the men, but then I was like “God, who…?” Because this dub was by… I mean, it’s airing on Crunchyroll, so Funimation didn’t do this dub, but…
VRAI: No, Madoka is one of those licenses owned by Aniplex USA.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Aniplex should be a little bit ashamed that this was allowed to fly. And what it says to me is that even though you have Christina Vee, who is a woman of color, there clearly weren’t enough people of color in the room to be like “Mm, maybe don’t have the Japanese men talk in a blaccent like they’re from the Bronx.” It’s not great. And it’s not. It’s not.
VRAI: It’s not. There’s no good pivot out of this. But… [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: I mean, but Sayaka absolutely does a murder.
VRAI: Oh, she absolutely murders them and it’s good.
MERCEDEZ: [Through laughter] Absolutely murders…
VRAI: And then the show decides that it wants to be smug about itself for a minute and breaks the tight framing we’ve had on learning things as the girls learn them, and we swoop out to Kyubey revealing that it was midi-chlorians all along. I hate…
MERCEDEZ: So I don’t know what midi-chlorians are.
ALEX: Is it the Star Wars thing?
VRAI: Yeah, that was the thing in Phantom Menace where it’s revealed that the Force is actually tiny, micro science creatures in your blood and it can be measured.
MERCEDEZ: So it’s not magic?
VRAI: Yeah, no, yeah. So midi-chlorians is like—
MERCEDEZ: Did I just make somebody listening to this real angry because I called the Force magic?
VRAI: The Force is magic.
MERCEDEZ: It’s magic!
VRAI: It’s space fantasy and it’s magic.
ALEX: Exactly, yeah. Structurally.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Midi-chlorians is like shorthand for…
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] I mean, Darth Vader is just Voldemort in all black.
ALEX: It’s that first movie’s fault that the hero’s journey as a monomyth structure came back into vogue. And I’m not going to go on a tangent about that, because I have some academic beef with Joseph Campbell. We’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about my anime beef with Gen Urobuchi.
MERCEDEZ: Isn’t he sexist? I believe he’s sexist, right?
ALEX: I mean, he’s from the ‘40s. So he has everything that comes with that.
MERCEDEZ: Ooh! Do better, Joseph Campbell!
ALEX: And just whole issues of that strain of structuralist mythology. It was basically ye olde TV Tropes in a weird way of all of these scholars taking aspects from myths from around the world and from very different cultures and mushing them together into convenient patterns, which can erase some nuance.
MERCEDEZ: And that’s kind of what happens here, though. There is no nuance. Kyubey looks at you and he’s like “Hey, viewer. Guess what? My name is Kyubey and I’m here to spoil things for you.”
VRAI: “I, too, have watched Utena! But I’m gonna do it in a blunter and less good way.”
MERCEDEZ: Kyubey basically is like “Guess who reupped their Funimation and Crunchyroll!” And you’re just like “Kyubey, I don’t need to know you subscribe to anime to spoil this for me.”
VRAI: I truly, truly hate when shows that want to be cool and important decide that the way to do that is to sciencify magic concepts. I fucking hate it.
MERCEDEZ: Kyubey literally could have been like “I’m doing this for the lulz,” and that would have been much more of an engaging thing, because I did realize on this watch… I know a lot of people feel that Kyubey is just chaotic evil on the alignment chart. I think the true horror of him is that Kyubey is actually chaotic good with a splash of lawful evil, because Kyubey really does think that they are doing the right thing for the universe, even says we have to think about… you know, “You want humanity in the future to be able to go out into the world and experience a world and connect with cultures in a world that’s not dead, right? So if we have to sacrifice some teenage girls, that’s what we gon’ do.” And Kyubey really thinks that they’re doing good. The horror is that Kyubey is not at all bothered by the fact that the batteries he’s using from space Target are teenage girls.
ALEX: Exactly. Yeah, that’s the thing that makes it really scary, is that Kyubey is not like a cackling evil villain. They are just very pragmatic, and so far as they can tell, this is the correct thing to do. And again, it’s that very pare everything back down to that almost trolley problem-esque question of the many versus the few, and it just makes logical sense, right? So, okay, hang on. And while we’re talking about the entropy shit, what did you guys think of that reveal that magical girls have been here throughout history?
MERCEDEZ: Okay. I had—
ALEX: [crosstalk] Because that gets into some interesting critical stuff for me.
MERCEDEZ: Y’all, my first thought was “Did magical girls create slavery?”
ALEX: Oh my goodness!
MERCEDEZ: Because Kyubey is like “Everything bad that’s happened is the result of a witch” and that “if we hadn’t interceded, you all would have been in caves.” And y’all, I’m so sorry. This is probably because I’m Black. [Chuckles]
VRAI: No, you [should] ask these questions!
MERCEDEZ: I literally wrote— I gotta find it in my notes, but I believe I was like “This is not great when you consider slavery might be a product of Kyubey’s species intervening.” The same for witch hunts, any major event in history… America might be a result of Kyubey, and I don’t know if I mean that positively.
MERCEDEZ: Because he shows Cleopatra. And I was like “Wait a minute! Wait a minute!”
ALEX: Yeah, that whole sequence… It’s because it’s so quick. It’s kind of interesting, but it also makes me itch, because I think, for example, it would be fair enough to play around with “Oh, Joan of Arc might have been a magical girl,” because she’s already a highly mythologized figure.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Well, actually… Actually, there is a spinoff where Joan of Arc is a magical girl! [Chuckles]
ALEX: Really? I was gonna say, every anime property, especially if they have a gacha game, is now obligated to have a Joan of Arc character.
VRAI: Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. There’s a spinoff where [Chuckles] she’s a magical girl.
ALEX: Wow! See, so playing around with that, I’m like, okay, fair enough. Any depiction that we have of Joan of Arc in fiction now is so beyond herself. But then it gets into stuff like I think one of them is implied to be Anne Frank. And I’m like, hello? Don’t do that.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. No, no, it’s not an implication. It’s not an implication. Little Anne was a magical girl.
ALEX: [crosstalk] Yeah, and it’s like, what is this show…?
MERCEDEZ: And that’s where it becomes quite ghoulish, especially when you think about Japan’s very real-life entanglement with Germany during World War II, when they were not on… I’m not gonna say there’s a good or bad side because I don’t think it’s as clear cut. But I do think the side that caused a genocide is bad. And I’m going to stick to that whether or not anyone listening likes that.
ALEX: [crosstalk] Yes, I think that’s a fairly sensible take.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, and so when you think about Japan’s real-life entanglement, because then… Okay, so if we have magical girls in Japan, that implies girls like Anne Frank are magical girls, girls who were in horrific situations like enslavement or the various things that can happen and are often unfortunately visited upon teenagers, any of them could be magical girls. And I guess that’s where you have to suspend your disbelief and be like “Sure, Cleopatra was a magical girl. Just gonna push that aside.”
VRAI: But also there’s so many ways that you can unpack this and they’re all bad because—
MERCEDEZ: They are.
VRAI: Why are only girls magical girls? (Because they’ve never heard of a magical boy show.) It’s because girls’ emotions are just so powerful and unruly, and it’s unique to girls!
MERCEDEZ: And then I have to say, it also made me think. I was like “Wait, okay, you mean to tell me nonbinary and trans girls cannot be magical girls?” And I was like “Ooh, Kyubey’s a little bit of a gender essentialist.”
VRAI: Do they not think that hard?
ALEX: [crosstalk] I think they might be.
MERCEDEZ: I never thought I would say these words out loud. Are you ready for ‘em? Kyubey is a TERF.
ALEX: Honestly, let’s think about that for a second. You may be onto something there because, yeah, they have very essentialist views.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Yeah, Kyubey’s a TERF.
ALEX: [Chuckles] They believe in girl power in a very literal sense, in that they are using girls as the batteries to prevent the heat death of the universe.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. And internet, you can quote me and slap that on a meme: Kyubey is a TERF.
ALEX: God. Oh my God. Okay, that— Okay.
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles] I don’t know how to transition from that, other than— Gosh, and y’all? I also—and I’m just giving you my darkest thoughts during this watch—I did have the passing thought. I was like “Wait a second, if Cleopatra…” And then I went to the slavery thing, and then I did have the thought “I swear to God, if I find out some ‘Harriet Tubman was a magical girl’ BS on the internet, I’m gonna screech.”
ALEX: Oh my God.
VRAI: Oh no! Yeah, no!
MERCEDEZ: Because it does open up this really horrific Pandora’s box that now I can never shut.
ALEX: Exactly! Which is why it’s so… They just kinda toss it in there, and it’s like, is this worldbuilding or is this opening a can of worms?
MERCEDEZ: It’s bad. It’s bad.
ALEX: It’s worm-building?
VRAI: And I feel like the natural knee-jerk response would be “Oh, you’re just overthinking it,” except that this is the exact kind of world-explaining monologue that says, “All right, we’re going to put together a cohesive explanation for how this has all happened. But don’t think about the parts we didn’t want you to think about.”
MERCEDEZ: And this is what Urobuchi likes to do. From my understanding, this is kind of what happens in Psycho-Pass, where the idea is really neat but then you start to think about the real societal ramifications. And they’re not great. It’s not great.
ALEX: Yeah, like you said before, Vrai, any kind of fantasy idea getting sci-fi-ified gets tricky very quickly, which I imagine we’ll talk about when we get to our Wonder Egg Priority retrospective.
VRAI: [crosstalk] [ominously deep] Wonder Egg thing.
ALEX: But also this worldbuilding trick of “Yes, our speculative element has always been here and it has influenced the world as you know it,” it gets weird very quickly. It just always makes me think of the Michael Bay Transformers movies, because they also have that worldbuilding quirk. It’s like “Ah yes, there were Transformers on Earth in the ancient times, and so that is how humanity and technology is how it is. And the Decepticon killed Hitler by turning into his watch or some nonsense.” So it always makes you think of that. I’m like, this is getting real Michael Bay real quickly. So it’s not— [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: I just want to back up the fact that that most likely is Anne Frank, because I know for a fact they show Queen Himiko, who is a real Japanese figure. They also show Joan of Arc and they show Cassandra of Troy. And that’s definitely Cleopatra.
ALEX: [crosstalk] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, I didn’t hear them say that. Interesting.
MERCEDEZ: They really had the gall, and they were like “Hm. You know who’s gonna be great?” Probably at least a Jewish magical girl, but I’m willing to say that’s probably Anne Frank that they were going for. Because when you think of a Jewish girl, Anne Frank is—and I don’t mean this at all offensively—Anne Frank is very codified in Western culture as the Jewish girl. And I think that’s ingrained—especially speaking as an American—that’s very ingrained from the moment that you learn about the Holocaust and you learn about World War II. Anne Frank kind of becomes the cultural image that has been taught, at least for millennials, I would say. And I don’t necessarily think that she is taught with the respect she deserves. I think she is used as a martyr. But I feel real discomfort with… we have this ambiguous “savannah” magical girl from “Africa” in scare quotes, but then they had the gall to use Anne Frank.
ALEX: Yeah, I was like, okay, playing around with… okay, yes, Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, very mythologized. But yeah, that’s within living memory. Maybe don’t mess around with that. Oh my God, anyway.
MERCEDEZ: And I’m sure that out there’s a Reddit where someone was like “Yo, what was Anne Frank’s wish?” Don’t ask that. Anne Frank was a real human being. She’s not a fictional character.
VRAI: I think part of my gripes with Madoka from a modern perspective are a little bit couched in the modern Madoka fandom. I think part of my crankiness with the rapid darkness of Sayaka’s arc is because I had to sit through Magical Girl Site, which looked at the darkest point in this show and said, “Let’s start there.” But then with this whole Kyubey thing and this and the entropy monologue, I think, on the one hand, it is really terrifying to sit through because of the way that Kyubey gaslights Madoka and—
MERCEDEZ: Rationalizes it.
VRAI: Yeah. And it’s this very assault-driven language, like “Why are you so upset about something based on a misunderstanding? It’s your mistake” and puts all of this on her. And it’s so upsetting to watch because she’s a child.
MERCEDEZ: Very. Very.
VRAI: But all I can think about watching that scene is (A) the many, many Reddit threads I’ve seen about how maybe Kyubey was right actually.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, God. White people on the internet.
MERCEDEZ: I’m sorry. I’m sorry, but we all know.
VRAI: Yeah, no. Yeah, no. Yeah, I’ll take that. That’s fair and you should say it! And then also, yes, Madoka fans, I’m gonna bring up the fucking al-Qaeda quote.
MERCEDEZ: I forgot we did not talk about that.
VRAI: Yeah! Yeah, because it belongs here. Because I think to an extent we are supposed to be like “It really makes you think, don’t it?” about Kyubey. And I’ll have Peter link it in the show notes. But to quote the relevant bit from an interview with Urobuchi… So the interviewer says, “Madoka Magica has an original story. Where did the idea come from?” And Urobuchi says, “I received a request to write a bloody story where magical girls appear and then drop out one by one. I paid attention to the aspects that are troubling or overlooked in the traditional magical girl genre.” (Fuck off.)
“I’ve been thinking that magical girls who have acquired superhuman abilities will find themselves removed from the world, which could cause contradictions and reactions.” And then the interviewer follows up: “Magical girls, who are full of hope and who strive to save the people, soon suffer from hatred and jealousy, which turn them into the enemy witches. The change from good to evil left an emotional impact.” And Urobuchi says, “For example, al-Qaeda brought down the Twin Towers due to their self-righteousness. Justice for some people is an evil for others. Good intentions, kindness, and hope will not necessarily make people happy.”
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Vrai, am I allowed to say a swear? Can I say a swear?
VRAI: Please swear.
MERCEDEZ: What the fuck, Urobuchi?
ALEX: What the fuck? So, I had managed not to hear of this until you put it in the show notes last time.
ALEX: And I have several questions!
MERCEDEZ: It is such a disingenuous thing to say that I don’t even know where to start. I don’t even… First, I guess, let’s start with the first one: that he clearly has never watched any magical girl anime. Clearly, because the genre has never overlooked— Need we go back to where we talked about…? Who was the magical girl that got hit by the truck? [Chuckles]
VRAI: Minky Momo, the one the producers would [reference]—
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Yeah! Yeah! [Chuckles] She got hit by a truck! Death has always been a part of magical girls. I think that’s a critical part, actually, of the genre, is talking about death.
VRAI: And it’s such an odd quote, particularly, not just because of what we were just talking about where the show gets a little tasteless—a lot tasteless—with real-world implications, but also because I think that the ending really sticks the landing in some ways—
MERCEDEZ: It does.
VRAI: —as far as Madoka being this beacon of hope, and hope is good and powerful, and that’s such a magical girl thing, and I get the wibbles a little bit.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, knowing that he was like “Well, you know, I think al-Qaeda brought down the Twin Towers… uh… their self-righteousness,” instead of the very complex background…
VRAI: Just like magical girls!
MERCEDEZ: [In light singsong] I don’t know what to say other than I’m angry.
ALEX: [crosstalk] I feel like using that as an example unprompted is very interesting. Okay, I said I wouldn’t talk about Fate more, but this is the last time. And I’m paraphrasing because I can’t remember it. But in the author’s notes at the back of the very first Fate/Zero novels, which I think was 2006, 2007… So, Fate/stay night happened (it’s the game), and then they got Urobuchi in to write some prequel novels basically about the hot dads of all the main characters from the original, a prequel setting up the mess the kids have to clean up in the next game. So, Fate/Zero has a very tragic ending because it is kind of the midpoint of a story and is setting up, like I said, the mistakes that the next generation have to fix.
So if you watch it on its own, it’s terrible, but if you know that there is hope at the end, it’s interesting. But that really suited Urobuchi because he was in this mindset where he really only felt like he could write tragic stories. So, him being brought on to be like, “Oh, okay. I know there’s a happy ending in the distance, so I’m going to write the midpoint of the story, where everything goes wrong for everyone. And that really suits me creatively at the moment.” And he has a quote in there, which, again, I’m paraphrasing, so please feel free to correct me because I don’t have it on me, but I remember this, because he has this thing he says.
He’s like “I can’t actually fathom writing a story with a happy ending unless it involves a character changing the world in such a complete way that the rules of the world as we know it change.” And I’m looking at Madoka and I’m like “Is that where you found a way to do that? Is that where you found a way to climb out of this dark and depressing writing rut you were in?” It kind of sounds like he’s describing a creative block, like he cannot fathom writing a happy ending unless a character remakes the world.
MERCEDEZ: I respect him as someone who does his craft, but this dude must like the smell of his own toots.
MERCEDEZ: I am already someone who is exhausted by men in general. But I have never felt more exhausted hearing someone talk about a man be like “I can’t write a happy ending unless it changes the world. Meh meh meh meh meh! Sadness is better.” Like, oh, God, go eat a Snickers bar and find some happiness. [Chuckles]
ALEX: Not even necessarily sadness is better but sadness is this deep inevitability. Again, he’s writing much more positive works now, so I’m like “I hope that something happened in your life that improved…” I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t want to speculate on him. But also, are you good, man? But again, it throws the ending of Madoka into really sharp relief, because I love this ending because it is so hopeful. And that is the hill that I will die on: is that the ending works, because it puts everything back together.
MERCEDEZ: It’s kind of a good segue into actually talking about agency in this show. Because this show returns agency to the girls, finally, at the end. Finally!
VRAI: And that’s why I don’t think that you’re wrong that Sayaka is a protagonist of the show. I think Madoka is as well, and it’s just kind of an ensemble piece, because Madoka’s arc is about that she has the luxury—not even the luxury—this hard-won privilege that she’s protected long enough to have all the information to be able to make an informed decision. And true agency.
MERCEDEZ: Right. Because the Madoka we meet is a Madoka who spends 99% of the show not as a magical girl. All of these threads of information that have been wrapped around her, she gets to finally access. And there are even moments where Madoka has hinted at remembering a timeline that she existed in, not clearly, but having a flashback and being like “I think we did this before. Maybe I shouldn’t do this action.” But she finally gets to make this choice, and of course, because of all the power stored inside of her and her comet-size Soul Gem, she gets to make a choice of “I want a world where witches don’t exist, past, present, future, where this is not anything,” and she gets to write the universe, which is pretty awesome.
ALEX: Yeah, she gets to become God. [Chuckles] Godoka.
MERCEDEZ: I do have to ask why they are naked when Madoka is about to fade and Homura is seeing her girlfriend one more time.
ALEX: That’s just sapphic. Sapphic culture is floating naked in the cosmos.
VRAI: I resent the “very best friend” line! I resent it so much.
MERCEDEZ: That was some cishet nonsense that I will not stand for. 2012 Tumblr would have hated that!
VRAI: I’d have even been happy with some CLAMP-esque “You’re the most important person to me,” because they did that with Kyoko and Sayaka. And that’s fine. They went with “friend.”
ALEX: Rewatching this show again is interesting because ten years ago I was walking through life blindly assuming that I was straight and cis, which is now hilarious to me.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Weren’t we all?
ALEX: But I remember watching this the first time and being like “That is so moving that they have this platonic bond that is so strong that it has reshaped the universe.” And look, honestly, I think it’s because I had that initial reaction, but even now I’m like, yes, I want to see stories where platonic friendships are treated as these great epic, cosmic love stories and they can change the world, but also I want to see stories where they are gay for each other and it is canon upfront and it explores that. So there are two wolves inside of me. But rewatching it I’m like, that’s pretty gay. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: And I think while we’re a far cry from where we were at the beginning of the 2010s, where terminology like “transgender” was still being thrown like stones… And I’m not going to pretend that people don’t use “trans” as an absolute pejorative against people. I’m not going to pretend that. However, I do think what we saw with Madoka in 2011 was really good representation at the time. But now in 2021, where we have a beautiful world where trans people exist, where people who are sapphic exist and they can be open about it and should, it doesn’t feel great seeing them be like “Oh, you’re my best friend,” when, no, we demand more and we should get more, right?
VRAI: I even think that it would almost be… [Sighs] It would still be a little annoying and disappointing, especially given what we know of the juggernaut franchise it became with all of the really leaning-into-that but not-quite-committal other material. But inevitably, this ending is colored by the movie.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Yeah. It absolutely is.
VRAI: That particular element of the ending is real colored by the movie, which we’ll get into next time.
ALEX: Ooh boy.
MERCEDEZ: I want to touch on this Buddhist cycle of samsara I’m seeing in the notes. I want you to hit that up, Vrai.
VRAI: Yeah, because I’ve seen people who didn’t really like the ending because they felt really bad for Homura being trapped fighting monsters forever. But I don’t know. I thought that (A) it’s kind of interesting because Godoka is so clearly pulling from Christian mythos or, as my wife grumbled on the couch next to me as she sat through the series, “Huh, the Protestant work ethic.”
VRAI: Where you work hard and suffer all your life and then Godoka comes to collect you and take you to Valhalla.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my gosh, that’s so true.
VRAI: But also, I feel like Homura’s story specifically really makes sense in a Buddhist tradition, where she has gone through this over and over again and finally she’s reached this last cycle where eventually she’s shed all of these worldly things, and then she’ll finally be free at the end of it.
MERCEDEZ: Well, and it’s interesting because—and I am speaking from what I know of Buddhism, so I absolutely might be wrong, please correct me—Homura kind of feels like a bodhisattva in a way, like she’s reached a level of enlightenment, she understands. She sees the truth, but she’s gonna remain because she understands that there are other people who are going to need help getting there. And I think that’s actually a really… It’s very Japanese to some degree, because Buddhism is a part of Japan. It was certainly imported, but it’s quite interesting. But I think if you don’t really know a lot about Buddhism, it probably would be a very dissatisfying ending if you’re not looking at it from that approach. And like I said, I might be very wrong in what I’m saying.
VRAI: And I am also quite basic in my knowledge of Buddhist theology, so…
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, I will say I want to push back against Godoka as Christian and see her more as being very Shinto and actually being kind of like Izanami, because they kind of have a similar way that Madoka’s origin happens just like Izanami. So, Izanami is one of the… well, she was sister-wife to her brother Izanagi. And basically, Izanami is the goddess of creation and she’s also the goddess of death. And Madoka is very much so the goddess of creation, a world that she creates, specifically a universe, and a reality where magical girls don’t suffer a living death, essentially, where they pass on and that’s it. You don’t have to suffer as a witch.
But she’s also the goddess of death, where she’s ferrying these magical girls across time and she spreads herself across time into a world where you’ve exhausted your Soul Gem, but she’s also the barrier between a world where you’ve exhausted your Soul Gem and you become a witch. She’s specifically blocking off that part of the world. When you die, it is not this tragic thing. It is a peaceful thing now. It’s just a fact. And I find that really interesting, and I say that because I think calling… I feel very fraught about calling Madoka Godoka because it feels very fraught to apply a deeply Western thing to a culture. And I know Japan has its own entanglement with Christianity, where there was a lot of pushback and a lot of Christians were killed in that pushback historically, and even today, there’s a lot to say about, like, Mormonism in Japan. And I know Mormons are no longer called Mormons; I believe they’re called Latter Day Saints, is what they’re going by. But there’s a lot of interesting entanglement with that.
But I felt weird applying it, and as I was watching, I was like, she’s kind of like Izanami. She goes on this journey into what would be Yomi, the underworld, but in this case, it’s a journey through Walpurgisnacht’s massive witch barrier. That’s kind of her Yomi. And she can’t return from that. She’s tasted the food of the underworld, but that food is like her wish. Her wish is ultimately what’s sustaining her. That’s what allows her to remain alive. And it’s just this interesting parallel, and I have no clue if I’m reading too much into it, if that was the intent, but I think it would be interesting to see some literature more so looking at her as being very similar to this mother goddess figure than to God, because I do think that’s a little fraught. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Yeah, no, fair. I mean, I think the series invites those comparisons a little bit with Rebellion. But I think that you’re right that—
MERCEDEZ: Yeah, they certainly do with Rebellion. Maybe I’m wrong. [Laughs]
VRAI: But I think you’re also right that certainly a deep and extremely underexplored and primary approach is Shintoism and Japanese’s own cultural norms. I did on this rewatch have a little bit of a feel about the very Tanabata vibes of Homura and Madoka being separated in sparkly spacetime.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. And I know we keep mentioning Rebellion, y’all, but it’s hard not to. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. You’re gonna join us in that pain next time.
MERCEDEZ: But even in that movie, the fact that… and, I guess, just to stick to this show, the fact that Madoka’s dress literally contains the universe as part of the backdrop… As part of the under-fabric of her dress, there is a universe contained within it that I like to think she’s protecting everyone from accessing. That kind of furthers the Orihime-and-Hikoboshi connection of the cowherd and the princess. They’re separated. And in a lot of ways, she and Homura cannot meet until their stars pass, and when that happens, Homura’s gonna be dead.
VRAI: [Whines sadly]
MERCEDEZ: That’s the only way they’re gonna meet again, is Homura gotta die.
VRAI: [sad voice in the background] I can’t, these feelings.
ALEX: Okay, so do you reckon that it’s implied that Homura is semi-immortal now, because what I’ve always read, that final scene where she has the big weird wings that look like the rest of the witch labyrinth opening up around her, but then she hears Madoka’s voice and then she smiles and she keeps fighting. So I kind of took that initially… and I think this may have been influenced by other conversations that I had, but every time she almost risks falling into despair, she remembers that her girl is out there and so she’s able to keep fighting basically indefinitely.
MERCEDEZ: God, that’s that good gay! Good gay stuff that I live for. Eat it up like I’m in a buffet. Yum yum yum! Delish!
ALEX: [crosstalk] An hour of gay will let you live forever.
VRAI: I see it. My interpretation of the last scene was always like this is her final battle, her great last stand.
ALEX: Ah, yeah. Mm-hm, mm-hm.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Yeah. I will say, the first time I watched it, I took it as Homura going into yet another battle. This time I was like “Yo, is Homura about to meet Madoka again?”
VRAI: [sadly] Yeah! Yes, she is!
ALEX: [crosstalk] Oh my God.
MERCEDEZ: Oh no!
ALEX: But you don’t get to see it. Oh, it pulls a bloody Song of Achilles, where the final bit is them just seeing each other in the underworld, and then it finishes and you’re like…
MERCEDEZ: I will say…
ALEX: Anyway. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: I will say I think that actually this may not be, because, like we said, we have another movie and that movie is a direct continuation.
VRAI: Now we’re just living in a beautiful time where the TV ending is self-contained.
MERCEDEZ: Did I make a wish to Kyubey for this? Because I’m sorry, everyone.
MERCEDEZ: I’m sorry!
ALEX: Rebellion exists and I am kind of at peace with that. We’ll deal with it next time. But to me this series is one of the most wonderfully, efficiently written, beautifully self-contained narratives, wonderfully paced, and the ending brings it all together, which again… I love this show. I have beef with, again, the perhaps unintentional impact it had on the industry. And again I reiterate that the problem there is that everyone who saw this and was like “Ooh, magical girl die? Make money,” they’re missing the point because the really powerful thing about this show is that… And let me tell… This show hits a bit different in the year of our Lord 2021.
MERCEDEZ: [Chuckles bitterly]
ALEX: Because the thing that is so powerful about the ending is that, yes, it projects this magical girl story onto a perhaps more realistic, more cynical view of the world, but then it says, “Yes, the world is cruel. Yes, heroism is not easy. Yes, hope and love maybe cannot change everything. But you know what? I’m going to try.” It’s like “No, fuck you. I’m going to be hopeful. I’m going to believe in the power of love.” And she does and it works! So it puts that all back together.
MERCEDEZ: It’s a deeply optimistic show. And the fact that in 2021 you could probably go on Reddit and see someone talking about how dark Madoka is and missing the point of, like, no, this is a show about teenage girls finally winning. And how do they win? They get their autonomy back. They stop being objects. They stop literally powering the world, and they finally get to just exist. They get to do this cool adventure, and when it’s over, there is a teenage girl, a peer of their own, to welcome them home and say, “Hey, you did a good job. And I’m gonna keep you safe. And hope is alive.” The fact that like this show’s legacy is “Ooh, Meguka! Real dark and grim!” is the worst. And I am so sorry that I made that wish to a talking cat-mouse named Kyubey to put us in this timeline, because it really is the worst.
ALEX: Yeah, maybe the industry legacy is that we had all those cash-cow copycat series, series trying to play with similar things and series who do similar things, getting adapted in the wake of this. But I think the people who get it, this is the legacy for them.
MERCEDEZ: [crosstalk] Us.
ALEX: Yeah. [Chuckles]
MERCEDEZ: Us. We get it.
ALEX: I mean, I said the show hits different in 2021. I think it’s possibly just because I’m older and wiser. I think the show kind of has a great weird evergreen quality to it where until, like Madoka, we are able to rearrange the world into one that doesn’t treat young women or young assigned-female-at-birth people like garbage and like objects, this will continue to resonate with audiences. I think that it has a real staying power, which I was pleasantly surprised to discover upon rewatching it.
VRAI: Yeah, no, as much as I have spent the last hour grumping, I really am on the whole fond of Madoka, and honestly, I think episode 10 is maybe one of the best single episodes of TV, period.
MERCEDEZ: Oh, my heart! My heart!
VRAI: So it remains deeply funny to me that this show and Yuri on Ice have the same episode 10 twist.
VRAI: Fucking funny.
MERCEDEZ: Oh my God, they do. God. Oh geez. As someone who staked their entire personality on Yuri on Ice in the year of our Lord 2016, oh my God. It was, because I remember… because I had moved to Japan and I started watching it and my life was kind of paralleling his, except where was my hot blonde somebody?
ALEX: Where’s my Russian?
MERCEDEZ: Right. But yeah, I remember watching it, and it— Oh my God, episode 10 does have the same— Oh, God.
VRAI: Uh-huh. Yeah. Yeah. The love interest was really gay all along and the protagonist forgot about it. It’s the same.
MERCEDEZ: Yeah. Yeah.
VRAI: All right, we are a little over an hour. Do you two have any final thoughts before we wrap it up real quick?
MERCEDEZ: I’m going to say I really think that if you are someone who… maybe some of these ideas about what we’ve pushed back against people who don’t watch magical girl shows, if any of those ideas kind of chafed you and you were like “Well, no, Madoka really is dark,” I implore you, you in your ripened age, as we have all aged, I really implore you to go back and watch Madoka and really internalize some of what you’ve heard and go back and watch and try to see it from the perspective of a teenage girl and really open yourself up to seeing that this is a genre that’s always played in that. And it’s important to have those conversations. Yeah, go give it a watch again. Make time.
ALEX: Yeah, honestly, give it a watch. Again, I have a few prickly issues with it. But honestly, it’s held up. I maintain that it’s one of the most efficiently paced, neatly characterized, thematically strong shows that maybe I’ve ever watched. It draws on a lot of stuff that’s come before. In a lot of ways, it’s not doing anything amazingly new, but it knits everything together in such a great way, and again, it brings it all to this conclusion that makes the whole tragic journey worth it. My one beef with the ending is that Sayaka’s still dead, but [Grunts with determination] we can get to that Rebellion story again. But yes, this is a series that I think will always have a very special role in my heart. I’m thinking of getting a tattoo based on this series, for goodness’ sake. So it’s special. It has such staying power and it has gotten all those half-hearted spinoffs and stuff because the original really was just something special. It was lightning in a bottle maybe, but it’s just that good.
MERCEDEZ: It’s a real gem of a show.
ALEX: It is indeed.
VRAI: [Suggestively] Heh?
ALEX: Hopefully not with someone’s soul in it, but perhaps there’s a conversation there to be had about the nature of the animation industry. That’s a weird note to end on. I’m gonna hand it back over to you, Vrai.
VRAI: All right! And on that note—
VRAI: Thank you so much for joining us, AniFam. If you liked what you heard, you can find more from us on our website at www.animefeminist.com. If you really liked what you heard, consider tossing us $1 on our Patreon, patreon.com/animefeminist. Even $1 a month really goes a long way towards making content happen on the page and in your earbuds. And also for $5 a month you can get access to our Discord, where we hang out and there are a bunch of cool people who talk about anime, and it’s fun. You can find us on social media as well. We are on Facebook at AnimeFem, we are on Tumblr at animefeminist, and we are on Twitter @AnimeFeminist. And buckle up because next time we’re going to round this out by finally following through on our threat to talk about Rebellion. It’s gonna be a time.
MERCEDEZ: [Sighs] Mm-hm.