Despair and Hope in Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Plenty of spoilers ahead, but unless you’re living under the most darkest shadow on Pluto, I assume you have already watched the final episode and are still scrambling to put the exploded parts of your brain back together.

Everyone knows the run-down : Puella Magi Madoka Magica is one of the best shows this season, if not this year, if not even in the past few years, Evangelion vibes here, the show was great, and unlimited amounts of heaping praise from all corners from the aniblogosphere with not one blogger flaming the show or calling it bad. We all got that, so hence, no generic review praising the show. Praise has already been given. What I’m here to write about today, is once again, the theme of despair and hope in PMMM as well as PMMM’s final message, as I interpret it to be.

PMMM has shown us multiple times that in hope, despair still lurks about. Just as how there can never be complete despair, there can never be complete hope. In their hopes of fulfilling their impossible dreams, the girls unwittingly trade their souls  – and ultimately their lives-  to the marshmallow devil, only for them to die and suffer horrible outcomes, just as how Kyubey puts it (I paraphrase), ” The more impossible your wish is, the worse the outcome.” Flashbacks hint at famous heroines being magical girls (oh, the massacre of history ) such as the Joan of Arc (executed by burning at the stake) and Cleopatra. (supposedly died of an asp bite, which isn’t too bad when you think about it) In chasing that small glimpse of hope, they ultimately fall into despair.

Yet, we see that even in their despair, there is hope. On the surface level, their deaths ‘contribute to staving off the heat death of the universe‘. But for ultimate despair, let’s talk about the Walpurgisnacht.

Unlimited Bazooka / Boomstick Works (UBW).

Undoubtedly the most powerful witch to have ever appeared on the show, the Walpurgisnacht was capable of surviving thousands of what looks like RPGs and rockets and bullets and what seems to have been equivalent to the power of an entire nuke, yet seemed unaffected. At the crucial moment, as the skyscraper struck Homura, Homura slowly fell into despair, into despair that despite her countless times trying to save Madoka, it was her time loops who made Madoka even more powerful, it was her fault that Madoka was now being targeted by Kyubey in every timeline and it was once again, her failure to stop the Walpurgisnacht, and as her soul gem slowly became tainted with despair, out of nowhere Madoka appears and comforts her. (The building is an entire highway away from Madoka’s shelter and at least 60 storeys high, by the way.)

What we see here is Aristotelian tragedy in action. Characterized by the peripeteia (reversal of fortune) and the harmartia (tragic flaw). Homura’s harmartia is how she cared so much for Madoka, and this would only lead to Madoka becoming even stronger and stronger as Homura tried to save her. The peripeteia, I think, would be the part where Kyuubey reveals the result of her actions to Homura, making her fall slowly into despair. And from the falling action, we all know what happens in the end : as Homura remains severely injured from the Walpurgisnacht, she lies there waiting for death –

Even at the brink of despair, a glimmer of hope shines in and saves her.

Madoka appears, clears up her soul gem and makes the contract, the wish to be able to completely eradicate any witch when they are born, from the past to the present to the future. In other words, kill all witches that ever and ever shall exist. Madoka’s wish effectively made her god, as she became an entire different concept in another dimension, doomed to floating about in eternity and erased from existence. Leading to of course, this scene:

I'm sure Yi had at least something to say about this scene.

All the accumulated despair was enough to engulf and effectively, erase the entire Earth from existence. As Homura survived the ordeal, she was too, sentenced to the endless fate of floating about in eternity with Madoka……nude. (Couldn’t help it.) Enter subtle yuri, and since Madoka was godlike, another universe was created, and all the wishes were ultimately fulfilled, as she even showed Sayaka (who was already dead) her crush’s performance. It was an effective closure to the whole magical girl vs witch scenario. When Homura awakes in the world again, Madoka is gone from existence. No-one remembers her, not even her family. Homura wears a ribbon in the same way as Madoka to remember her, who , when floating about in the other dimension, told her that she would always look over her. (Here comes the Church of Madoka.)

Even in this ending, where hope triumphed over despair, where good beat evil, the show doesn’t end. For there aren’t any Magical Girls anymore save for Homura (as far as we know), and while Kyubey might have changed the way he does business (now he’s just a regular mahou shoujo pet.) Homura is doomed to fighting demons forever (a play on the phrase, maybe?) and in the ending scene, we see her in the middle of scenic nowhere, slowly walking towards an army of demons with her having some kind of new ability (wings that look like those of a witch, really.) What we see is her having to continue her life-long struggle. No end, no hope, no companion. Despair once again.

And here is the final glimmer of hope : as she prepares to fight the demons, she hears a whisper-  Madoka – telling her that she had done a good job, and with new-found energy, she flies towards the demons, preparing to take them down. And thus is the entire scheme of PMMM: an endless cycle of hope and despair, of good times and bad times, of life and death.

I believe one of the messages of the show is eloquently expressed in the above shot, that we are not alone, and we can always rely on others to help us, that we should not give into despair as hope is easily in our grasp. One other message, I believe, is that life is like PMMM (or is it the other way around? ) , an endless cycle of hope and despair.

After the bad times, there will always be the good times. After suffering, there will always be happiness. After the rain, the sun will shine, and hopefully, there will  be a rainbow.


Further Reading

Ghostlightning talks about the importance of world building in PMMM

Yumeka’s take on the final message of Madoka Magica

Madoka Magica: The Ending – Scamp’s take on it.

Surprisingly, nothing on the yuri-like scene : Yi talks about Buddhist elements in PMMM

About Valence

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29 Responses to Despair and Hope in Puella Magi Madoka Magica

  1. I honestly think it’s better off pushing such an overt message. It’s not very well written, as assurances go. It’s one of the reasons this show can (not) advance in my own personal collection of favorites.

    • Valence says:

      The ending message? I find it to be kind of meaningful, perhaps, but when you think about it, perhaps you’re right. Sure, it links to every episode of the show and whatnot, it seems kind of…..weird to push this message.

      Although I still like the message though. I felt it was a good way to sum up the show.

  2. feal87 says:

    …And no, Homura is not the only Mahou Shoujo left as Kyubey/I’m going to do more contracts in the near future as the problem at hand (heat death) was not resolved AT ALL. 😐

  3. baka~ says:

    I read from one comment that in the end, this is still an Urobuchi ending where the protagonist ‘dies’ perishes but I guess, what matters is that this finale conveyed the message of hope to the viewers… still hoping for a movie or a second season though… even an Oriko Magica spin-off anime is ok with me 😀

    • Valence says:

      Oriko Magica would be nothing more than an attempt to make more money off the success of the original, and I’d watch it anyway.

  4. Yumeka says:

    Thanks for the link back ^_^ And I love that first picture XD The show really surpassed my expectations.

  5. Anima says:

    Ahh, the ending was so full of a mixture of hope and despair. It’s been a while since a show made me feel like that. I’m sure Kyuubey is still making contracts, because there’s still work to be done against entropy. The only thing he really concretely stated though was that there wasn’t witches left (because “the soul gems dissipate when depleted, not even we can explain that”).

    Best show 2011? I’ll be impressed if that can be topped.

  6. ~xxx says:

    The first pic was definitely awesome…

    And I would thought that PMMM was a stereotype magic girl show…
    But I was Blown away…

    Well, Overall… I could say that this is now one of my favorites as of this time…
    Man, I wish Shows could be as awesome as that.

  7. @fkeroge says:

    Drat, you beat me to making a post XD

    The story of Madoka is in fact, pretty simple if you go back on it. The message was “there is hope in this world despite everything that happens,” just like most healing literature. All the scientific themes and the classic literature references are simply decorations.

    Anyway, I’m going to be doing one about the philosophy and themes of Madoka as soon as I am out of the countryside.

    • Valence says:

      I would have done more, if I had the chance to read the other articles floating about the blogosphere. But darn the super-busy schooldays in Beijing I’m having. Not much time for posting, I sure hope Anima does something soon..

      One more question: does Homura die? Because I read a post that theorizes that she did die in the end.

      • @fkeroge says:

        The ending kind of leaves more room for speculation. None was explicitly stated about Homura’s fate. Maybe they’re going to expand the story, but I don’t know if they’ll do that.

  8. Azure Hoshizora says:

    The nude part wasn’t whats bothering me. Its the nude SPARKLING…

    The “You are not Alone” from the screenshot pretty much shouted out to Evangelion.
    The lack of Sayaka and Kyouko was disappointing, not that I don’t like Homerun and Madokami

    I should have a lot to say about this post but having just re watched this for the 3rd time; I’m pretty much trying to piece my brain back again.

    • Valence says:

      Someone said she died to go meet Madoka, someone says she didn’t die, someone said the things she fed Kyuubey were blocks of despair…..and the list goes on.

  9. Yi says:

    I think the idea of hope is explored really well by PMMM. By showing a really devastating despairing situation, it manages to make the glimmer hope shine that much brighter. I thought the ending is particularly nice in that it shows just what hope can do. Lovely anime!

    • Valence says:

      The ending is nice, yet bittersweet, no? Homura is still a slave to the system, but on the bright side she knows she has a god-like entity watching over her. . . . . .

      “rank myself the favourite child of Fortune.”

  10. abscissa says:

    I think the final message is cheesy, nonetheless I couldn’t disagree. The only complaint that I have is, I wish it retained it’s fact over fact approach until the end instead of “fictionizing” some of its valid concepts. But of course, with Madoka’s quality, petite things are forgivable.

    • Valence says:

      minor things are forgivable, yes? But its end part is amazing in the way they bend the fact over fact approach to their advantage, seen by how Madoka manipulates the wish.

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