Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Who’s the ‘bad guy’? (Or why there isn’t one)

If I were to ask you which character in Madoka was the ‘bad guy’ I wouldn’t expect to get many different answers, in fact I pretty much expect to get two:

  • Kyubey

OR

  • Walpurgisnacht

Both I think would be answers that miss the actual point of the series, but these are the answers I would assume I’d get. Walpurgisnacht is one that’s pretty easy to counter, if it’s villainous so are the entirety of the main cast by virtue they will become like it when they die. It’s actions are not conscious so it can’t be considered evil in the same way a natural disaster could, it just….IS.

And that’s the thing about the entire Madoka series, it just is, ultimately Madoka has NO VILLAINS OR HEROS and to suggest that it does really misses the point of the series: That human ideals are just that, human. There is no ultimately right or wrong thing when it comes to the universe. Also, things don’t change, any action you take will eventually become moot so that action in itself is somewhat pointless.

To explain what I mean by this I would like to go over each character and explain why their actions, whether intended to be good or not, ultimately achieve nothing

Kyoko Sakura

Kyoko_magical_outfit_2

Kyoko is my favorite character in the Madoka series. Why? Well her design does of course help but I think Kyoko embodies the series like none of the other main cast does. Youtuber Digibro  says in his video on the series that Kyoko doesn’t really add much to the series. I would say that’s incorrect. Kyoko is the series. Her character arc gets across its point perfectly, the illogical nature of human emotion and how in the end those actions one takes are ultimately pointless. Take a look:

  • Out of love for her Father she becomes a magical girl, at first it’s great for them but then it ends up killing her entire family
  • Between then and the series by ignoring that emotional side of hers she enjoys the most stable time in her life
  • During the series she is unable to deny the human (emotional) part of her and dies trying to save Sayaka

In a nice three act structure, Kyoko’s arc both shows how destructive positive actions can be and how none of her actions ultimately made a difference.

Sayaka Miki

Sayaka-Miki-sayaka-miki-34623900-602-350.png

None of Sayaka’s actions can be considered heroic. Feel free to argue with me but her wish to make ‘s arm heal ultimately came from her desire to be with him not to simply see him get better, in fact Kyoko calls her out on her bullshit in a great scene midway through the show.

Her wish ultimately changes nothing, all the pain Kyosuke harbored was just pushed onto her. That idea of entropy again. She was never going to be with Kyosuke, and nothing was going to change that. In the end Kyoko and Sakura come together to help each other achieve nothing.

Mami Tomoe

TomoeMamifull1230310_zpse9a98bf9

Again, what does Mami achieve? Nothing. And again her desire to have Sayaka and Madoka to fight alongside her is innately selfish, she herself cannot alleviate her pain, only share or pass it on to others.

Like Kyoko, she lives and then she dies all without ever doing much. It’s also worth noting that she is presented as the ‘ideal’ magical girl and is the one with the least emotion, and when she starts to show great deals of it she almost instantly gets punished for that.

Homura Akemi

Mahou_Shoujo_Madoka_Magica_-_12_-_Large_33

(There will be spoilers for rebellion from here on out)

Homura is an interesting case in that the intentions of her actions can be considered either heroic or selfish, being that she either wants Madoka to survive or isn’t prepared to live in a world without her (it’s the latter), either way it matters not because her actions ultimately do nothing, in fact even in the short term she only makes Madoka’s power as a witch grow greater every time she tries to save her and ultimately it’s Madoka herself that “saves” everyone.

So from here you might think that Homura’s actions did change something (Madoka’s fate, albeit indirectly) and ultimately she’s a hero. She’s not but dealing with why is easier explained through Madoka.

Madoka Kaname

MadokaKaname

Madoka is obviously NOT the series antagonist…..right? She’s the only one of the characters who seems to have actual selfless motives behind her actions (or really action, singular).

Talking about her or Homura as a singular entity is difficult as their characters are so heavily linked that explaining one without the other is pointless.

At the end of the series Madoka and Homura seem to have truly changed things, getting rid of witches and (seemingly) taking pain away from her friends and the human race.

There are two different things to point out about this though:

  1. In a strictly logical sense Madoka has caused a greater damage to the universe as a whole than she has fixed. Kyubey makes the point that just one Witch generates enough power for a countless number of sentient beings to thrive, and in the series epilogue and movie it’s discovered that the “new” Wraith system provides less energy to counter entropy. She actually shortens the universes lifespan.
  2. It’s also shown that she doesn’t really change anything at all. When Homura is removed from Madoka’s sphere of influence her soul gem does turn into a witches labyrinth, Madoka’s fix is a half-measure, she is still going to become a witch (one now of immeasurable size) if the universe doesn’t succumb to entropy first.

Madoka is again, only taking on the pain of those she “saves” she is not extinguishing it, she actually says so herself,  so in terms of net impact on the series’ universe she by far damages it the most.

(Now this is an educated guess on what the next Madoka project might entail, but the way that Rebellion  takes the happy enough ending of the series and plunges it into despair, just like Kyoko, Sayaka and Mami where a powerful wish’s initially good outcome becomes bad due to the wish itself, in all of these the maker of said wish ends up dead due in part to it’s outcome, with the status quo largely staying intact, the next Madoka project will return the series to a state incredibly similar to the one we saw in episode one, nothing changes after all)

Kyubey

Kyubey
“Fuck you”

Kyubey is the closest thing to a hero in the Madoka franchise from an objective standpoint. It is doing a job which greatly benefits life as a whole, not just one subsection of it.

Being an emotionless being it offers a lot of commentary on the series’s idea of the illogical nature of humans, it’s talk with Madoka when it shows her just how deep hypocrisy runs in our veins and  asks of her what is one life compared to thousands only prompts a “you wouldn’t understand” response from Madoka.

Why would it? Objectively he’s right, this truly is for the greater good of the universe, and it itself says that the deal is more than fair and no one was forced to take it. Kyubey exposes just how useless human emotion is from an objective standpoint, it is capable of causing us to do things that are detrimental to ourselves and society.

So without the shackles of emotion, do any of its actions ultimately change anything? Of course not. It’s aware of this. In one of the many timelines we are shown Kyubey tells Homura that Madoka’s witch will provide them with a lot of power, but not that it will actually SOLVE the problem of entropy. Eventually when there are no more humans entropy’s grasp on the universe will cause it’s demise and there’s nothing anyone, Kyubey or otherwise, can do other than prolong the inevitable.

The only villain here is life itself: emotions are illogical and painful,  nothing matters, we’re all going to die and there’s nothing you can do about it.

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Psychime

 

 

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Psychime

Borderline anime analysis from a borderline psychopath

8 thoughts on “Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Who’s the ‘bad guy’? (Or why there isn’t one)”

  1. It’s an intriguing way to view the series and I must admit I’d never even considered who the antagonist was because to me it seemed the show didn’t need any external villain as the story really about the choice the girls made and the consequences of those choices. Thanks for sharing an interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I in fact only viewed it this way on my 2nd re watch of the series, it re contextualizes all of the characters and I found it quite interesting (regardless of whether or not it was he shows ultimate intention I still find it fun to interpret)

      And of course that’s all I want my writing to be, interesting so thank you very much!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ok, but there is kind of a flaw here: throughout most series the villain is often the cause of the problem and I believe you’ve explained that thoroughly. However, when you place characters in roles you are forced to put in a physical entity or I guess an abstract but sentient entity but you get my point. Saying that that “life is the villain” is more so just an interpretation or view as to how you see the series yourself. Which is generally true.
    Everyone goes through life experiencing hardships, no exception and I really feel this series was meant to convey the message that your decisions ultimately have consequences.But in writing, this is impossible. Because then every story would have the same antagonist: Life.
    And I say antagonist because a villain(s) isn’t necessarily the antagonist, what you think is a villain can often be perceived as subjective. Some just think the villain is someone who just causes harm for the sake of his own ideals and some think it’s just someone who’s purposely being an obstacle for the protagonist. But an antagonist is someone who’s objectively causing trouble or creating obstacles for the protagonist to face. And that’s what I feel you gloss over a little bit, your giving off this notion that Madoka Magica doesn’t have an antagonist but an antagonist is.. Generally always there and it’s always some sentient being even if it’s a being that doesn’t appear in the story. Other than that, nice work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I mean not to present the argument that there is no antagonist but merely no objective villain, since our protagonist is presented as Madoka our antagonist is Kyubey but seeing as his actions aren’t villainous I found on a re watch that if you watch it with that in mind you come to a much more complex resolution about who’s right and wrong.

      I merely meant for it to be an interesting take on the show and perhaps I didn’t explain that thoroughly enough (got a little bit of flak on the Madoka reddit for this article in fact).

      And thanks for the comment, when people go out of their way to read and respond to my work it makes it feel worth the time!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, what I meant was just that you make it a little unclear as some automatically group “antagonist” and “villain” together and that could cause some confusion.

        Like

  3. Hmm, interesting. I like the idea of what you mean here but not sure if I’m totally convinced. It seems to me that you are wanting to imply that human nature is the true antagonist and villain of the anime, which I would agree with, but other times you say what the OP states above, “an antagonist is…” and don’t really give me a concrete answer.

    If anything it sparks an interesting conversation, which is always good 🙂 I’ve tapped out on articles from ya that are on topics familiar to me so I’ll eagerly await what you come up with next!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I disagree with almost everything you say here, but I’m having fun responding. If I come across as hostile, please note that is not the intent. In fact, your analysis was (broadly) my initial opinion of the show.

    First, good and bad are subjective. This show does have villains and heroes, as I’ll explain in a bit, just as all conflicts do, but they don’t stay consistent across varying viewpoints, which fluctuate based on people’s subjective values*.

    Which obviously means that the universe, which has no opinion either way, can’t weigh in on whether something is good or bad. Which means that the universe doesn’t get an opinion, therefore something not being good or bad according to the universe DOESN’T MATTER. If something matters to an individual, then it matters, just not to everyone.

    “Mattering” does not require total agreement with every single sentient being in existence. It’s not a popularity contest. The show itself doesn’t “matter” objectively, but it obviously matters to us otherwise we wouldn’t have bothered writing anything about it.

    *Values are subject to shift given certain motivations, such as a fear of death or dislike of cognitive dissonance (this is a bit circular, but it’s not super important so moving on).

    KYOUKO

    You seem to be misusing the word “logical”. You can be completely driven by emotion, but still be logical. Emotion is a motivator, logic is a game plan.

    For example, Kyouko being “illogical” when she died would only be true if she had wanted to live more than she had wanted to end Sayaka’s suffering. But she didn’t, she was willing to die there. She thought, “I want to end Sayaka’s pain more than anything. To do that, I have to die. That seems to be a fair price.”

    I would say that her story arc is more hammering home the theme of the show, the price of getting what you want.

    SAYAKA

    Sayaka’s actions were heroic. They made a point of having Sayaka contemplate whether she was healing Kyousuke for her own benefit, implied that she wouldn’t do it for that reason, and then had her heal him anyway. She never even tried to date Kyousuke, she never resented him, and at the end even said it was worth it. Do you think EVERY EMT or doctor is only in their field because they want to get something directly from their patients? Yes, some are. But not all doctors.

    If you don’t apply that logic to medical professionals, then you can’t to Sayaka.

    Kyouko wasn’t “calling her out on her bullshit”. She was projecting her own priorities about self-preservation onto Sayaka. Sayaka became offended that she would talk about/threaten him like that, and so went to kick her ass. If Kyouko had had a point, Sayaka wouldn’t have just let Hitomi date Kyousuke.

    Sayaka healed Kyousuke, Kyouko ended Sayaka’s suffering. They did accomplish things; it’s just that the price they each paid was too great.

    MAMI

    If you think that Kyuubey’s tricking of little girls for its power collection scheme was in any way noble, then you can’t argue that Mami telling Sayaka and Madoka about the dangers in fighting for a cause she believes in is selfish. Mami believes this is a cause worth fighting and dying for. She respects Sayaka and Madoka enough to allow them to make the same choice she did.

    Yes, she wants a partner, wanting things isn’t selfish. She is not willing to endanger civilians in order to have one. She educates them, giving them all the information she has, so that they can make an INFORMED choice (something Kyuubey chooses not to do).

    She encourages Sayaka and Madoka to take their time, cautions them against rushing into things. She only tells Madoka to wish for a cake after Madoka had already made up her mind to fight alongside her. And even then, Mami told her more about how hard her life as a magical girl was, giving her another opportunity to back out.

    Mami consistently puts people’s lives ahead of her own happiness; it’s really tragic, especially considering the circumstances under which she made her wish (“[3 seconds. Do you want to die, or live on as a Sailor Scout?]”).

    Mami did accomplish a great deal, far more than most. She had been working her ass off saving people, but never undid any of her work by transforming into a witch.

    I recommend reading some of the manga side stories to get a better picture of what Mami was like, if the show wasn’t enough.

    HOMURA

    Yes, Homura does want to live in a world with Madoka. Her heroism/”heroism” is a bit different from everyone else’s because she doesn’t share most people’s values. Her values make her selfish, but her values also make her “heroic” for the sake of ONE person. She has personally been responsible for more deaths than ANYONE ELSE IN EXISTENCE. Every time she reset the timeline, she was effectively killing everyone else left alive (which admittedly Madoka did on an even greater scale until Homura did her Rebellion retcon, which I’ll get to in a minute).

    Where I disagree with you on Homura’s “heroism” is the implication that Homura wanted to live in a world with Madoka more than she respected her. Homura had a wide window before Madoka made her wish but after she became aware of Madoka’s intentions, during which she could have reset the timeline.

    But let’s say that Homura couldn’t timetravel just then; it’s a little unclear in the show if she could have at that moment.

    Homura had deep respect for Madoka, as evidenced by the fact that she continued fighting on for the world Madoka sacrificed herself for, instead of just letting herself succumb to despair and being taken by the Law of Cycles. She even said that the world wasn’t worth saving, but that she’d try her best just because Madoka would have wanted it.

    If she had wanted to live in a world with Madoka more than she had wanted to honour Madoka’s wishes, she would have stopped purifying her soul gem and gone to live with Madoka in the magical girl afterlife.

    MADOKA/KYUUBEY

    Your position on the Wraith system implies that extending the universe’s lifespan is a good thing. But the universe itself isn’t sentient. Only the people who live within it are. Allowing it to continue only means that more people are born and more people suffer and more people die. Any potential “happiness” does not matter to someone who has never existed, but suffering and death matter a great deal to someone who does.

    And Homura only becomes a witch because of Kyuubey. If she hadn’t been cut off from the Law of Cycles, she never would have created a labyrinth (and it’s worth pointing out that her labyrinth wasn’t a volatile hellscape. It was just a playground she could hangout in with her friends).

    So Madoka is useful, but Kyuubey wanted to be a controlling dick and so went out of its way to ruin everything.

    Yes, if she is removed from Madoka’s influence she will become a witch. That’s like saying, “If you remove the solution, the problem will continue to exist.”

    Kyuubey is a villain not only because it was turning children into weapons for its own (unexplained) ideology, and not only because it was ensuring more and more people would be born/suffer/die for no purpose, but because it was responsible for Homura’s kidnapping, imprisonment, and ultimately transformation. It experimented on a child because it wanted to kidnap and control Madoka/God. Experimenting on children is bad. Turning children into soldiers is bad. Using children as sacrifices is bad.

    Trusting Kyuubey is a bad idea, not just because it deliberately leads little girls into suicide/murder, but also because it outright lies. Yes, lies. Its stated goal is to delay/destroy entropy. But it’s already done that with Homura! When Homura gets her powers, it says, “Your wish has overcome entropy. Go now.”

    That means that in any timeline where Kyuubey became aware of Homura’s powers, it would also have been aware that there was an avenue to accomplish its stated goals without creating more magical girls. Why has it never attempted to use Homura’s power? It could have said, “If we can figure out a way to use your powers to destroy entropy, then I’ll never make another magical girl.” it doesn’t even try to manipulate her into working for it. It just taunts her. There is no reason for it taunting her before her battle with Walpurgisnacht other than spiteful satisfaction. In fact, making her aware of the effects of her powers works against its stated interests, because Homura doesn’t want to keep timetraveling!

    So it doesn’t negotiate. Because it wouldn’t be able to continue harvesting energy for whatever its REAL reason is if it did.

    Kyuubey isn’t as emotionless as it likes to present itself as. It clearly experiences annoyance, fascination, frustration, curiosity, and whatever emotions lead it to be a smug, controlling asshole for its own sake. it must experience some degree of displeasure or fear at the thought of dying, and there is some emotional impetus leading it to its pretension of honesty and refusal to consider viewpoints other than its own.

    It likes to gaslight its victims by saying things like, “[it’s your fault for not asking. I would have told you if you had asked]”. But it already knows that humans ALWAYS (according to it, it’s “always”) get upset when they discover its so-called “plans”. So it has no grounds to be acting like an innocent in regards to its victim’s suffering (also let’s not forget that it mutilates and violates little girls’ souls using experimental technology it doesn’t understand. And that it tortured a newly traumatized Sayaka in order to make a point, because she was upset about the aforementioned violation and it was too damn impatient to use its words).

    But let’s say that Kyuubey is being honest about its intentions. Why would that make it a hero? Does it matter that the universe is being prolonged? According to your analysis, things will be just as shitty regardless of what it does. And according to your analysis, saving ANYONE’s life is meaningless and will only cause greater pain. Why doesn’t this reasoning apply to Kyuubey? Have you ever applied this reasoning to something that saves lives in OUR world?

    Either things only matter if they matter objectively (which is a contradiction), or things mattering is inherently subjective and therefore it requires no external validation for something to matter to someone.

    I would argue that the point of the show is not, “nothing matters so why bother”, but that “there are a lot of things worth caring about, but the price of caring is unfairly exorbitant.” I mean, Madoka rewrote the universe. And then Homura did it again (which resulted in something very different from the first time). People died each time they did that. Both of those things MATTERED.

    I suggest that the best thing to do is to end the universe. Madoka’s wish still mattered, but I agree that it was not in a good way. If Madoka had just ended the universe, that would have been good. But instead she ended it, and then created another one, which inevitably would have been ended in a few millennia if Homura hadn’t so very kindly decided to save everyone’s time by tearing it apart, and then by less kindly making a new one. Or Kyuubey could have done that a few zillion years ago. But, whatever.

    That was fun. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to expound at length on this show!

    Like

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