What does Puella Magi Madoka Magica mean

"I still believe that if Madoka Magica had been written hundreds of years ago by a dusty, old folklorist, you would be allowed to study it in school today."
-Jacob Hope Chapman, Anime News Network-
(translated from English)

INTRODUCTION

This is a very long, interpretive review that may give the impression that Madoka Magica is a series that is difficult to understand. However, this is absolutely not the case! Madoka Magica is easy to understand (the age rating of twelve and over is justified in my opinion), but still leaves plenty of room for interpretation. That's one of the reasons I love the show so much.

Gen Urobuchi has become one of my all-time favorite storywriters in the past few years, not just in the anime medium, but in general. The way in which he uses his characters to illustrate a certain ideal and at the same time weave this into a coherent, thematically round story, has a great fascination for me. On the occasion of Universum's Blu Ray re-release of Madoka Magica, I couldn't help but finally add my subjective mustard.

Each of Urobuchi's works explores the psychology of humans in some way, mostly diving into the deepest depths of the mind. What at the beginning still looks like a genre-typical representative of an anime series, treads unexpected and almost always dark paths within a very short time when the name Urobuchi is involved. That is not by accident. At the age of 24, the man spent several months in hospital because of an epidemic, during which time he lost access to the outside world and to those around him. According to his own statement, he felt like "a dead man". This experience influenced his writing style for several years and aroused his interest in the human psyche, especially societal behavior. The further you go back in your biography, the more pessimistic is your worldview. His visual novel Saya no Uta is a horrible work (not from a technical point of view, but thematically) with a young protagonist who wakes up in a hospital after a car accident and perceives his whole environment, including his fellow human beings, as an intestinal mass (coincidence?).
Without giving too much away, the story does not end particularly well in any of the three possible endings and is definitely not for people with bad stomachs ... or western viewing habits ... or aversion to cannibalism ... as well as sexual assault (the only one of his Works that I definitely don't want to touch again).

It was only with the lite novel Fate / Zero, which was masterfully adapted as a TV series by Ufotable in 2011, that Urobuchi dared to take the first real step to deal with his trauma in a self-therapeutic and almost optimistic way. At least comparatively optimistic. After all, Fate / Zero is about a man who sacrifices everything, wins little, watches evil win and still finds his peace.

Hey, I said "first step" towards self-therapy, not overcoming it. The overcoming came with his next work, which I would like to analyze in detail here. A title that just rolls off your tongue: Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which means something like: The magical girl Madoka. Sounds super cute and optimistic, doesn't it? Let's put it this way: Real optimism is only earned if you go through hell and can still smile afterwards.

SERIES SYNOPSE

Madoka Kaname is an ordinary Japanese girl (pink hair is common by Anime standards) who goes to Mitakihara Middle School with her equally ordinary friends Sayaka and Hitomi and does the ordinary things of everyday life. Do the red hairbands go with my hairstyle, will I fall in love soon, should my crazy class teacher undergo psychiatric treatment? The usual.

But all of that changes with the arrival of mysterious new classmate (and part-time Schwarzkopf model) Homura Akemi. The strange girl confronts her out of nowhere with the following words: "Do you think your own life is valuable and precious, do you care about your family and friends?"
Madoka affirms this with obvious confusion.
"If that is really true," continues Homura, "then stay the person you are now and never change, because if you do that you will lose everything."

But this is by far not the strangest encounter Madoka has that day. Soon the strange, talking cat creature Kyubey appears and makes her and her friend Sayaka the offer to fulfill their dearest heart's desire, when in exchange they become so-called Magical Girls and fight against evil witches. How will Madoka decide?

ORIGIN

When Urobuchi announced with a wink in 2011 that he would try his hand at a so-called Healing Type Anime with his next project, he was understandably viewed with skepticism by his die-hard fans, among whom he was now known as the "Urobutcher".

So-called "Healing Types", which often include the Magical Girl genre (e.g. Sailor Moon), are usually characterized by a relatively inconsistent, shallow story that is specifically designed to create a cozy, unhindering feeling in the audience. A genre that was originally harmless and aimed at young girls at the beginning and was supposed to convey positive values, mutated over the years due to the "Moe movement" to fan service, which was aimed at lonely, male otaku (anti-social Japanese nerds). To make it as short as possible: Moe roughly stands for "watching cute anime girls doing cute things, of course in an absolutely non-ambiguous way, wink, wink".

The anime market is literally inundated with such titles as the demand is very high. A necessary evil (?) That keeps the industry going and studios raise the necessary financial resources to occasionally produce artistically valuable series. Moe is basically a Japanese Michael Bay film. Both meet simple needs and are pornography to some extent, just without sex.

One of the most famous Moe Healing Type directors is Akiyuki Shinbo, whose older works have a certain questionable reputation. However, this changed when he hired Gen Urobuchi, well aware of his oeuvre, as a scribe for his next project.

Shinbo ran Madoka Magica's entire marketing campaign under a Moe guise and kept his intentions regarding the actual tone of the series under wraps until it aired. Even the character designer Ume Aoki was not initiated into the story creation process and designed little Madoka and her friends in the belief that they would "fight" funny witches with the power of friendship and an extra load of icing. As you may have guessed by now, things turned out a little differently.

AUDIOVISUAL IMPLEMENTATION

As already mentioned, Madoka Magica's style is initially misleading, but by no means arbitrary. The puppet-like design of the characters fits in perfectly with the theme of objectification, which the series deals with, among other things. The implementation of the modern city of Mitakihara and the psychedelic witch labyrinths is also visually stimulating. The way in which the various settings are illuminated and the (imaginary) cameras are placed reveals a range from idyllic calm to threatening light / dark contrasts, which at times even evoke memories of film noir. The animation is not the best I've ever seen in an anime series, but it is still on a high series level and is more than made up for by the artistic aspects.

The highlight and visual unique selling point are undoubtedly the witch labyrinths, which were brought to life with various collage stop motion techniques and at times give the face the feeling of a so-called Kamishibai, a Japanese paper theater. Special respect deserves special respect to the animators at Shaft and Gekidan Inu Curry for the fact that they use this extraordinary style to create visual metaphors that make continuous reference to action-related events.

Just as impressive is Yuki Kajiura's usual dark soundtrack, which creates a mystical and, if necessary, hopeless mood with catchy melodies. Many of the musical themes appearing here have such a high recognition value that they unfold their effect even without visual support.

The intro and first outtro song are deliberately naive and sugar-sweet in order to maintain the Moe facade of the series for as long as possible. When the second outtro song "Magia" by Kalafina starts at the end of the third episode, it fits in perfectly with the rest of the soundtrack.

A great job has been done at the German synchro. The adaptive script translates the subtle meanings of the original into German without falsifying the statements. Almost all speakers fit like a fist in the eye. Especially Kaya Marie Möller as Homura is demanded a lot of emotional vocal performance in the final episodes, which she masters perfectly. Rubina Naths as "cuddly" Kyubey also hits the right note out of pretended cuteness. Only Lydia Morgenstern as Madoka Kaname occasionally sounds a little too sorry, while her Japanese spokesperson Aoi Yûki maintains a better balance of insecurity and care. But that is criticism at a high level. Anyway, German anime dubbed versions are usually much better than their reputation, for which I finally wanted to break a lance here.

The series is delivered on two Blu rays, six episodes per disc, in a simple Amaray. Except for the reversible cover, there is nothing special. As a fan, I would have preferred a fancy slipcase, but you can be glad that Universum has made it through to release the series again on Blu Ray at all.

As expected, the picture quality is very good and free of picture disturbances. I didn't notice any phantom images either. Definitely an upgrade to DVD. The 5.1 sound mix for both language versions is also welcome.

!!! START OF SPOILER WARNING !!!

This is the time when I recommend you to pause this text if you have not yet seen Madoka Magica and to do so immediately. Of course, I can't promise anyone that you will like the anime as much as I do, but since it only lasts 12 times 24 minutes, you have nothing to lose, right? (With the exception of € 54.99, of course) In addition, the following analysis makes direct reference to the plot and assumes that you are familiar with the series.

START OF ANALYSIS

Madoka Magica is a tragedy according to the classic rules of Faust. However, it is not so easy to change the names of the characters in Goethe's classic one to one by Madoka and the like (with the exception of Kyubey, who is clearly an embodiment of Mephisto, but has a completely different personality than his literary counterpart). If that were the case, Urobuchi would not have done anything special either, because wrapping old junk in new wrapping paper is no art (that was a metaphor, I'm not saying that Faust is old junk).
No, Madoka follows the narrative rules of tragedy established by Goethe and breaks completely new ground by combining these rules in an intelligent and meaningful way with fantasy / sci-fi cues and addressing other humanistic topics that were not the subject of Goethe's classics.

As mentioned before, Urobuchi writes his characters as human or, in the case of Kyubey, inhuman embodiments of certain ideals. To explain this in more detail, I will now illuminate each main character one after the other. Let's start with the cutest sociopath mascot in anime history.

KYUBEY THE INCUBATOR

The incubators are a species of sociopath. A swarm intelligence without empathy for other life. Kyubey literally takes advantage of the young women's feelings, but at no point is he aware of his guilt. He does what it takes to keep things going, even if it involves twisting truths. The interpretation of its character is possible in several ways.

One has to keep in mind that this story comes from the worldview of a Buddhist-influenced hemisphere. Yin and Yang, which are often mistakenly reduced to good and bad in the West, actually stand for a multitude of opposites. Including decay and renewal, one of the main themes of Madoka Magica. Kyubey is the godfather of this story as a kind of administrator of these two forces. He accepts that both are part of a cycle. That one cannot exist without the other. An apple spoils and becomes earth, an apple tree grows out of the earth, a magical girl spoils and becomes a witch, energy is gained from negative emotions. A bizarre idea, without a doubt, but actually obvious when you consider that the first Magical Girl Manga and Anime have their origins in the western model of the witch and, seen in this way, return to this origin through decay.

Another interpretation is the feminist view and Kyubey as the personification of patriarchy. He uses young women to follow his culturally accepted agenda. He puts her in colorful clothes, a cultural corset, and lets her embody an ideal based on a construct of lies. This interpretation is particularly supported by Sayaka's storyline, but more on that later. It can be understood as a very positive and progressive statement that the wisest of the five protagonists, Madoka, ultimately succeeds in outsmarting the system devised by Kyubey and, in the truest sense of the word, in rewriting the world order.

MAMI TOMOE

The picture book Magical Girl, as one would expect from the usual representatives of this genre.
Good heart, powerful, motherly, the perfect mentor it seems and then beheaded in the third episode.

In other Magical Girl anime, Mami would undoubtedly be a leader, but Madoka Magica puts familiar archetypes in atypical scenarios. Mommy didn't choose her role, but was forced into her yellow corset without anyone caring whether she was even suitable for this calling. When the calculating Kyubey visited her shortly after a car accident, Mommy probably only had a few seconds to think about her wish. One wonders whether she would have formulated her wish for survival in more detail if she had had more time. One also wonders whether there might not be family members in the car. Mami's empty apartment supports this assumption. In her eyes, Mommy had missed the chance to do more than save her own life.

None of that is outspoken in the series. You get all the necessary puzzle pieces to come to this conclusion, but you have to put them together yourself. A sign of the author's respect for his audience. Not everything has to be said all the time.

Mommy does what she can to make up for her "mistake". She tries to maintain the facade of the perfect magical girl in a system that does not allow this in the long term.
Like the other four main characters, she is not stupid, but still too naive to understand that everything is a set game. In addition, she lets herself be influenced by her loneliness. It is no coincidence that due to her euphoria, Mommy blesses the time shortly after Madoka offers her to fight as Magical Girl at her side. With Mami, the optimistic, naive facade of the series also falls, and Madoka Magica shows his gloomy nature.

SAYAKA MIKI AND KYOKO SAKURA

It is not without reason that I deal with both characters at once, because Sayaka and Kyoko are the most obvious metaphors for Yin and Yang in this series and are therefore inextricably linked, even if the absolute opposite seems to be the case at first.

Sayaka is a somewhat boyish girl who, like so many teenagers, confuses her first romantic feelings with true love and, of course, expects them to be reciprocated. The boy she picked was a talented violinist until his play arm was smashed in an accident. Sayaka, who believes in law, order and selflessness, sees it as her duty to become a magical girl and to help her boyfriend.
The dark path that she then treads but very quickly brings out feelings in her that she did not know that they slumbered in her.The boy does not reciprocate the affection, Sayaka does not experience the gratitude that she did not openly demand, but unconsciously wished for in her innermost being. Sayaka then lapses into depression, self-loathing, and anger when she realizes that Kyubey orchestrated these feelings in her only to achieve his goals.

This culminates in a scene in which Sayaka uses her magical abilities to kill two men in a subway (at least presumably) who are chatting disparagingly about one of the two taking advantage of his girlfriend. Shortly afterwards, Sayaka becomes a witch. The process of the decline of her soul is complete.

Anyone who recognizes certain parallels to "The Little Mermaid" in Sayaka's Story Arc is not on the wrong track. Just like in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, a significant change takes place in the life of the main character through magical action, she falls in love with a boy / prince. However, the latter falls in love with someone else, which means that the main character perishes as a result of unrequited love and runs the risk of losing her soul and turning into sea foam or a witch. It is not for nothing that Sayaka's witch shape has the characteristics of a mermaid. In the fairy tale, the mermaid gets the advice from her sisters to kill the prince and thus to regain her old life, which brings us to Kyoko.

Kyoko seems to have been made for Kyubey's harsh system. She's already done it. She has already been betrayed by her own wishes, has lost her family as a result, accepts that this was only because of her own naivety and thus advises Sayaka to simply take what she wants. "The boy is no longer interested in you? Then break his legs and make him dependent on you again!" Advice not entirely dissimilar to that of the mermaid's sister.

Statements like these are also reflected in Kyoko's actions. What she couldn't have in her past, she takes. Their family was poor and starved. Today, as a powerful magical girl, she crams as much unhealthy food as she wants without having to worry about the negative effects.

In contrast to Sayaka, she reacts far less desperately when it comes to light that the souls of the girls have been transferred into Soul Gems, and their bodies now function like puppets whose pain can simply be switched off. In fact, Kyoko applauds that her body has been instrumentalized by Kyubey, using it for her own benefit.

No wonder that the two characters can't stand each other at first. It's also not surprising that both characters get along very well at the end of their storyline. Kyoko recognizes himself in Sayaka throughout the story. Neither of them got what they hoped for and Kyoko doesn't want Sayaka to suffer the same suffering as her. Tragically, this pity awakens a naivete in Kyoko that ultimately leads to her downfall. In most stories, a character development like Kyoko experiences would be something positive and she would succeed in destroying the wicked witch and freeing her friend, but naivety in the system created by Kyubey does not succeed. In these key moments, Madoka Magica is reminiscent of grimm fairy tales, cold and cruel. But just like those old fairy tales, this story also has a moral.

HOMURA AKEMI

As mentioned several times, decay and renewal is one of the central themes of Madoka Magica. A basically neutral concept that has been perverted by Kyubey in order to achieve the most profitable result possible.

When Homura sees through this, she tries to find a way out of this vicious circle by ironically creating her own vicious circle, grandiose failure and unknowingly playing into the hands / paws of Kyubey. Her desire to turn back time again and again until she manages to prevent Madoka, the person who once saved her life, from becoming a magical girl himself, ultimately only leads to the karmic energy being released (another Buddhist concept) concentrated in Madoka, she becomes an even more terrible witch and is therefore even more productive for Kyubey. If Homura breaks the cycle of decay and renewal that she has caused, Madoka will suffer; if she maintains the cycle, Madoka will suffer too.

Homura's story begins in a hospital and ends in a web of depression and despair, which has some parallels with the author's past, as I mentioned above. This is of course only a conjecture and should not be accepted as a fact by any reader, but I think it is possible that Urobuchi wanted to process part of his experiences with Homura's storyline. This assumption is supported by various interviews in which Urobuchi stated that he always consciously allows part of his personality to flow into his characters in order to be able to build a better relationship with them.

It makes you think that Homura will ultimately not be able to find a solution to her problem on her own and that she is forced to fight again and again against the witch Walpurgis, her very personal, indomitable Moby-Dick. It literally takes the intervention of divine powers (Deus Ex Machina?) To straighten things out. An intervention that would have been impossible without her intervention, which in retrospect throws a positive light on Homura's ordeal, as well as the ordeal of the other characters, because there is an important factor that Kyubey did not take into account: Madoka herself.

MADOKA KANAME

The term Deus Ex Machina that I just mentioned has its origins in classical Greek theater, in which an actor who embodied the role of a god was lifted onto the stage from above by means of a crane. This divine intervention brought about by a machine, Deus Ex Machina, has acquired a different meaning over time, which now relates directly to the narrative and has a negative reputation. The modern narrative element Deus Ex Machina is mostly used when the author cannot come up with a logical solution for his story.

A silly example: In a film, the main characters, in this case a small group of soldiers, are surrounded by an overwhelming number of enemies. The situation is hopeless. From a purely logical point of view, the main characters would have to die. The author has written himself in a dead end. But suddenly a meteorite falls from the sky and kills all enemies. None of the main characters contributed anything to this solution. The rescue came completely casually. A weak author cheats his own story in this way, a consistent author would have let the characters die and a great author would have found a logical, thematically coherent reason why the meteorite struck, why this Deus Ex Machina came about. A reason that would have given meaning to the entire story. The latter is the greatest narrative challenge. A challenge that Urobuchi masters with flying colors.

The role of the insecure Madoka is secondary in the first eleven episodes. Only in the tenth episode do we see her for the first time in her Magical Girl form and that only in an alternative timeline. So it's pretty unusual to name the whole series after her and yet the only logical decision when you consider that her passivity is of decisive importance.

It was only thanks to the mistakes of her friends and the advice of her parents that she was able to gain enough experience to understand and rewrite Kyubey's system. Her wish to destroy all witches before they arise is a paradoxical wish and a selfless sacrifice, because from now on she must exist in all times and in all places in order to make it come true.

Someone like Mommy would not have been able to do this because of her fear of loneliness, but unconsciously gave Madoka the important lesson of questioning the system. Someone like Sayaka could not have done it because of her longing for recognition, since Madoka's task presupposes that no one knows that she exists (with the exception of Homura, who, thanks to her desire to protect Madoka, cannot forget her). But without Sayaka's ordeal, Madoka would never have understood the full implications behind Kyubey's system. At the end of their journey, Kyoko believed in the hope of being able to redeem the corrupt witches, but simply did not have the strength to do so. However, Kyoko's change of heart strengthened Madoka in her selflessness. Homura was too caught up in her narrow-minded ideals and driven by her selfish love for Madoka without taking the big picture into account (a topic the film Madoka Magica: Rebellion explores), but she unwittingly bought Madoka time to see what she saw to process and give it enough karmic energy to have the power to make a change.

Of course, her mother also played a key role in Madoka's maturation process, explaining to her that you cannot grow up without making mistakes. The only problem is that in the system that Kyubey created, you don't get the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. This flaw in the system will be eliminated at the end of the series by Madoka thanks to her gained experience and wisdom.

However, all of this would have lost its meaning if their wish had resulted in a simple happy ending. The corrupted cycle of decay and renewal was only cleaned up, not eliminated. It is still the fate of every magical girl to despair of her wish. However, where her path previously ended in a dead end of depression, she now awaits the reward in the form of redemption and peace of mind. Yes, they will all die, but at least they will not have to suffer forever.

Madoka's wish is indeed a divine intervention in the sense of a Greek tragedy, but not a Deus Ex Machina as it is understood in modern literature, even if it can easily be confused with it.

!!! CONCLUSION AND END OF THE SPOILER WARNING !!!

Urobuchi manages to combine all these apparently nihilistic themes into a coherent whole and thus give them a moral which, in view of the many elements that were used, represents a narrative balancing act. A feat that could easily have ended in a mess. The fact that Urobuchi performed this feat so perfectly speaks for him. Seldom have I been so impressed after a narrative work.

No scene in vain, no spoken line of dialogue wasted, rich in meaningful imagery. In addition, the degree of careful story planning with extremely effectively placed twists. Madoka Magica isn't great because, as so often described, it's a "dark deconstruction" of its genre. It's great because, despite its gloom, it preserves the optimistic origins of its genre and emphasizes it with drastic consistency. The level set by Madoka Magica should serve as an example and catapults this anime together with works like Revolutionary Girl Utena and Princess Tutu to the top of the Magical Girl genre.

If you like this series, I recommend the two just mentioned Magical Girl Anime Revolutionary Girl Utena, an extremely difficult to interpret art house anime that will delight any art fanatic, as well as Princess Tutu, a child-friendly Magical Girl Anime, which deals with various classical ballets. Of course, I also recommend the other two great Urobuchi series Fate / Zero, the superior prequel of the retarded older brother Fate / Stay Night, as well as Psycho Pass, a series that deals with a world without clearly defined moral principles (only season 1, season 2 does not come from Urobuchi's pen and has a significant drop in quality).

Hopefully you enjoyed my somewhat excessive analysis.