Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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Cancer
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Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Postby Cancer » Sat Feb 09, 2019 6:39 pm

Having recently re-watched one of my favorite anime series, I decided to share a few occult-themed interpretative points about it. My readings will spoil most of the plot, so if you haven’t seen Puella Magi Madoka Magica and are even slightly interested, go stream it right now. There is a chance you will find it enjoyable even if you’re not an anime fan and not, like me, a fourteen year-old girl at heart.

I’d like to argue that as Madoka gradually subverts expectations about the magical girl genre, it also leads the viewer inwards, into a more and more esoteric understanding of the world. Most interestingly for SoA’s members and guests, all of the show’s big twists resonate strongly with Satanism. It is fundamentally a journey from innocence to suffering, and from suffering to enlightenment.

The first stage on this way is the ”complicating” and death of the benign mentor figure, Mami Tomoe. In the third episode, it is revealed that her outward cool and self-security are really just that, outward, and that she didn’t even become a magical girl voluntarily. Right after a beautiful ”hope spot”, where she thinks that Madoka and Sayaka are going to join her as magical girls and alleviate her crushing loneliness, she is then killed by the witch Charlotte. The only guide and protector the point-of-view characters are left with is the detatched, saturnian Homura.

I can’t fit a full consideration of the girls’ planetary correspondences into this post, so let’s just say that this move from a spiritual (/magical) life under Jupiter to one under Saturn is very indicative of things to come. Madoka and Sayaka are on their own, with no ”mom” to watch their back (Mami’s name isn’t exactly the height of subtle symbolism). As aspiring occultists, they are shown that traditional RHP-spirituality is not really an option in today’s world.

The next point of interest is Sayaka’s fall from grace. Convinced that somebody needs to take Mami’s place as an ”ally of justice” — and, crucially, motivated by another, semi-conscious desire — she makes a contract with Kuybey, wishing for the hands of a boy she’s in love with to heal. She hasn’t taken the lesson of Mami’s death (amplified by Homura’s warnings) to heart, and proceeds to try and live just the kind of occultism the show’s world is hostile to. In the end it’s maybe not even being too RHP that dooms her, but interpreting the RHP ideals too exoterically, with a violently ascetic mindset and little willingness to understand (seeming) evil.

Her transformation into a witch is where the show irreversibly leaves mundane matters behind and starts the process of initiation. Fittingly, the more of an uncaring monster she becomes, the more her polar opposite, badass might-makes-right-nietzschean Kyoko, gets humanized. Finally, she is what Sayaka always should have been: a brave, calm, truly self-sacrificing warrior. (That her regret and change are a result of witnessing Sayaka’s idealism hints at the series’ ultimately non-cynical message.) The pair destroy each other in what is also the consummation of the ”little ego” — or outward world, as highlighted by the fact that immediately after they are gone, in episode ten, time (/material existence) is revealed as illusory.

So now we get to understand the Satanic archetype proper, Homura. She has been ”resetting” the same stretch of time over and over, trying to find a way to keep Madoka from getting sucked into the cosmic horror story of magical girls inevitably ”maturing” into witches. As with Satan, her workings can only be traced back to their original loving motivation by considering them paratemporally. It is she who is Madoka’s ”best friend” and who suffers the most because of the world’s evil, but within the confines of (the current) time(line), this can only be vaguely intuited. In a further Satanic parallel, despair — the essence of all of the girls’ shortcomings — is her only real sin; this purity of motivation is what has so far prevented her from turning into a witch herself.

The imagery is complicated a bit by Kuybey/Incubator, who shares in the Satanic role as both a manifestation of totally uncaring instrumental reason and a reference to Goethe’s Mephistopheles. Unlike Homura, he remains, in the most important respect, inscrutable through to the end: we can’t fit ourselves into his emotionless perspective although we intellectually understand what he is after. Even he serves a purpose, however. Neither Homura’s reality-defying powers nor Madoka’s ascension into godhood would be possible without him.

The final mystery, the conclusion of the drama, is played out between these two Satanic aspects and messianic ”everygirl” Madoka. The Incubators’ ruthless mechanical law (that demands tooth for tooth, a fate of despair for a fulfilled wish) is turned into a law of mercy (that saves magical girls from eventually inflicting their curses on others). Madoka quite literally dies for every magical girl’s sins. I don’t really know what to make of the fact that it is Homura who has crucified her at the ”midpoint of destiny”, due to whose effort it is that Madoka is in a position to ascend from. This — and the initial ordinary kindness that Madoka showed Homura in the first timeline, kicking off the whole miracle play — could maybe be read as an allusion to the concept of Lucifer-Christ and to the inseparability of what to us seem like its components. Something about the relation keeps escaping me, however.

So I hope it doesn’t seem ridiculous that I’ve written such a bloated post about a work in the same genre as Sailor Moon. To me, there’s actually something really appealing about the mix of cutesy / whimsical aesthetic and almost comically serious BIG THEMES often encountered in anime. It helps me sustain a kind of lightness of the soul. Just to be clear, though, I do consider Madoka an actual masterpiece of art, and think that there’s much more to uncover about it. I’ve just barely touched on the witches as an analogue for downward-path magicians, for instance, and talked about the series’ fine, deliberate visuals only indirectly. The movie, Rebellion, I’ve neglected completely. So I expect someone to come add to my observations. Or debunk them, or whatever. Thing is, I NEED an excuse to go on talking about this show :D .
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Smaragd
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Re: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Postby Smaragd » Sun Feb 10, 2019 2:23 pm

I've tried to watch the series as someone recommended it on these forums years back but the anime culture is too much for me. Yet I couldn't read your interpretation through as I might find it bearable in some moment of madness and I want no further spoilers.
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Re: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Postby Insanus » Sat Feb 16, 2019 12:40 am

Smaragd wrote:
Sun Feb 10, 2019 2:23 pm
I've tried to watch the series as someone recommended it on these forums years back but the anime culture is too much for me.
I likely did. The movie Rebellion is probably my favorite movie :)
Anime culture being "too much" is something I've heard often. "Too much" is actually relevant to certain aesthetic in some cartoons drawn in this way even though "anime" is not a genre in itself. This shameless hyperexpressiveness of fantasy I guess you refer to is something that I personally like very much, but I understand how it might simply feel unnecessarily pornographic or superficial.
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Re: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Postby Smaragd » Sat Feb 16, 2019 10:40 am

Insanus wrote:
Sat Feb 16, 2019 12:40 am
This shameless hyperexpressiveness of fantasy I guess you refer to is something that I personally like very much, but I understand how it might simply feel unnecessarily pornographic or superficial.
Thats what I meant yes. I've swallowed my preferences couple times and whatched this sort of stuff for a season or two, but the style asks me for re-adjusting everytime. In some points of life that might be good actually, but as a child born to the monstrously superficial digital age I've felt the need to refresh myself with the slow tempo art house stuff. Though I can imagine how one could medicate the same problem by embracing the hyperexpressiveness fully. And what better way than this obnoxious series. Getting tempted now actually.
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Re: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Postby Cancer » Sat Feb 16, 2019 1:21 pm

Some of the conventions in anime routinely make me wince too. Like the fanservice, of which there is plenty even in some really high-quality series. One of the minor, incidental things that I like Madoka for is that the characters aren’t sexualized at all, even though the show’s other target demographic is young adult men. It’s great to get to admire pretty dresses and jewelry without constantly being told who and what to desire.

And about the over-expressiveness... As a passionate reader of (neo)romantic poetry, I’ve gotten used to it. To me, it isn’t necessarily even intuitive to link over-the-top feelings and drama to the present day: laconic language and a striving for objectivity are staples of modernist literature, after all, and while post-modernists try to counter this, they most often do so by means of technical tricks and cold, mocking exaggeration. The emotional restraint — or ”shamelessness” — needed for getting the most out of anime is the same as is needed for seriously reading Edith Södergran or the early Percy Shelley, both by turns kitschy and sublime. One has to bracket one’s cynicism and see what happens.

To generalize a little, the anime fan and the ”fan” of poetry share a predicament: how can I STILL, even as an adult, be into this ridiculous daydreaming?
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