So, as of writing this, I just finished Madoka Magica, the 12 episode TV series, about 30 minutes ago. You won’t get this for a week or so, but know that everything is very fresh in my mind, just like the remnants of tears on my cheeks. Oh, the tears. There were quite a bit of them.
I’m not wasting a whole lot of time with an introduction this time around since there’s a whole segment dedicated to that. Let’s just get right into this. I loved Madoka Magica so much, and I adored everything about the characters. It’s one big character study, and I love series like that so much I can’t explain it, which is why that’s exactly what I’m going to try to do.
Rather than talk about the series, I’m going to gush about the magical girls and why they’re so damn good, and why I relate to every one of them. I’ll do my best to keep things as spoiler-free as possible but read at your own risk. Madoka’s not long. Go watch it. I also waited too long to experience it. Don’t be like me.
I tried to figure out how to present this post for a while, and I decided that I wanted to talk about each of the girls along with the associated emotion I get the most from them. This naturally turned into me relating the main five to the five stages of grief, given how somber the series is, and it turns out that I’m not the first to make this connection. Go read this great post here on the subject, please. It fits really well. Though, I don’t entirely agree on who represents what.
Introduction: The Price of Happiness
We all want to be happy. For some, that’s simple. For some people, just living a slow, easy life, talking to family, hanging with friends, enjoying each day to its fullest can be enough. There’s no need for anything more or less.
For some, they desire more. Maybe they desire to make a difference in the world, to deviate from the norm. Maybe they just can’t live like everyone else. Or maybe their life circumstances made it so they never could, even if they wanted to. Regardless, they, too, want to claim happiness.
Madoka Magica is about happiness, but more so about the length some go to obtain it and what price they will have to pay to do so. Yes, it’s about magical girls doing flashy battles with witches, but all that pales in comparison to what’s actually going on. It’s not about the flashy fights; it’s why they chose to participate in them.
The whole story is centered on one simple concept: you can have one wish granted, any wish you so desire, but that comes at the cost of your life, whether you end up dead or not. In some way, you will die no matter what, at least the current you will. It’s about whether there’s any wish you would sign that contract for.
Stage 1: Denial – Mami Tomoe
Mami is the first magical girl we really see in the series, at least the first one who has a clear goal from the beginning. And likewise, it’s not that hard to understand her actions or emotions. The way she reacts to the events is natural. It makes sense, just as anyone’s first instinct after a traumatic event would be to deny it. They’ll fight with every fiber of their being to refuse it because that’s all they can do to keep sane.
That is Mami’s character in a nutshell. Mature, strong, and brave, but all of that is just a mask of denial she uses to block out the scared girl forced to fight alone that she really is.
Whether it’s through grieving or not, I live in what is essentially a constant state of denial. You could call it hope, which is also correct, but depending on how you really think about it, the two words are synonymous. One is blind confidence in a better future, and the other is the refusal to accept the present staring us right in the face.
I try my best to understand that and accept that fact, and move forward regardless of if it’s foolish to do so. Basically, anyone would tell you that, but I don’t really care. I’m too stubborn to be swayed, but the thought is always there, and so is the idea that it would be easier to give up. Mami also faces a lot of unfair truths in her story, and she doesn’t quite go about them the same way. To be fair, I haven’t been as beaten down as she has either.
Ultimately, I believe in my stubbornness, and I will blindly charge ahead, thinking I can make some sort of difference, but there’s always the thought that what I’m doing is pointless in the back of my mind. That any sort of hope I see is actually me just continuing to deny the fact that I will fail like many other people.
Do I really have something different in me, or am I just trying to make myself believe I do? The lines between those have blurred to the point that I really don’t know which is true anymore. To be honest, they both probably are.
Similarly, Mami also has a dream. She wanted to live, and she’d figured that was worth losing her “life” for since she had already lost hers. She was on borrowed time. The wish of a desperate girl to live then transforms into a wish to do good with the life that she was granted—something to justify the fact that she’s alive.
She hears of these witches, these clear evil beings in the world that must be slain, and she has a chance to do just that. She can use her borrowed life to save others. She’s ok with fighting and nearly dying every day because she can protect others. She can be a hero.
But in reality, that’s just a facade. Mami is still just a scared girl, putting on a brave face, not only for those around her but for herself. Because if she begins to let that mask of lies crack, she’ll never be able to recover.
And that does happen in the series, but she only manages to regain control because Madoka promises to fight alongside her, which in the end is all she really wants. She didn’t want to fight for justice or save the world. She just didn’t want to be left alone, whether in life or death, and I don’t think anyone can blame her for that.
Stage 2: Anger – Sayaka Miki
Sayaka isn’t an angry person by nature. Prior to becoming a magical girl, she’s incredibly kind to Madoka, Hitomi, and even Kamijo, who she loves. So kind, in fact, that she even became a magical girl, not for herself, but for someone else. She felt that her life was worth the happiness of others. In fact, her downfall stems from the fact that she is far too kind.
But that then brings into question whether that’s really what she desired or whether she wanted some of that happiness to fall back on her. Is there even a difference? I don’t know the answer to that.
I have a very negative outlook on kindness. I don’t think anyone does anything without wanting something in return, even if that’s something innocent. A simple kind word or action to someone, even without asking for anything, will still fill your ego and make you feel like a “good” person. You aren’t doing anything for free. It just comes down to how fair the exchange is and how much it hurts either party.
This is where Sayaka ultimately goes wrong. She does something out of the kindness of her heart for someone she cares deeply about, but she starts to feel regret when none of her kindness has any pay off for her. She sacrificed her life and will receive nothing from it.
And so, this kind person begins to resent the world that she felt a strong desire to protect. She sees that it’s unfair. It’s a cruel world that would let a kind person like her suffer. She starts to notice more suffering that is ignored every day, and she starts to wonder if there’s any purpose in protecting the world. Her kindness turns to anger, and she begins to hate everything she used to love.
I do not consider myself a nice person, at least not in the traditional way you think. Do I try and act kind, respectful, and help people when I can? Yes, but I don’t do it because I’m necessarily nice. I do it because a lot of the world is full of horrible people that only care about themselves that I spent years being pissed off at until I eventually realized that I wasn’t any better.
That led to me being pissed at myself for being a hypocrite, and that, along with me growing as a person and experiencing more people and things eventually turned me kinder than I was before. I’m far from perfect, but I truly try to be a decent person, and all of that stemmed from my wanting to be better than the people that I resented. Not because I’m “kind.”
Whenever I do something considered good that isn’t convenient for me to do, I don’t do it because I necessarily want to or because it would help someone; I do it because I would feel like I was living a lie if I didn’t. That anger at myself is usually enough to make me do the right thing, or at least what I feel is right. That and I refuse to live in any world where decent people get stepped on, and that’s unfortunately how things usually are. I’ll never add to that.
So I can truly understand why Sayaka didn’t want to protect the world anymore. I see stuff pretty much every day that my fellow humans do that makes me think we aren’t worth protecting. As a species, I really don’t think we are. But there are so many good people out there that are truly worth fighting for that even if there’s far less of them; they make up for the bad tenfold. Along the way, Sayaka forgot that fact.
Stage 3: Bargaining – Homura Akemi
Homura is the character I think most people will relate to. There are times in our life where things do not go our way. That’s natural. It’s a part of life. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty big part of our lives, and for some, it’s worse than others.
It can be as simple as something you were really looking forward to buying being sold out, or a job interview not going the way you want despite trying your hardest, to even bigger events that are out of your control.
Life does not always go your way. Not to get too personal, but that’s kind of the vibe of this post anyway, I was involved in a car accident a few weeks ago by the time you read this. I’m ok, and nobody got seriously hurt (except the vehicle) but it still scared me quite a bit. I blame myself for it, even if there were a lot of external factors that were not my fault.
I immediately started to imagine scenarios where I didn’t make any mistakes. I started to psychoanalyze myself and critique everything I did to an unfair extent, all to try and distract from the fact that things don’t always go your way, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Yes, it could have been avoided, but I only see that after the fact. In the moment, there was nothing anyone could do to prevent it.
Much like my senseless worrying, Homura also stresses over events that she cannot change. The only difference is that she’s actually given the ability to try and change it, but she sees after countless, endless cycles that things were out of her control from the beginning, and there’s not a single thing she can do about it. She’s completely helpless.
That helplessness is one of the worst feelings you can ever have, and thankfully, I haven’t had to experience it all that often in my life, certainly not to the extent that Homura does.
Stage 4: Depression – Kyoko Sakura
Truth be told, Kyoko could represent either Depression or Anger, the same way Sayaka could, but while I get both emotions from either of them, Sayaka gives off more anger, and Kyoko gives off more Depression for me. Honestly, though, they’re two sides of the same coin. Kind of like their characters. Coincidence! I think probably so!
Kyoko is one of the sadder characters because while everyone has their backstory, I think I relate most strongly to her. All she ever wanted was to do good in the world, essentially, but, like Sayaka, she finds out that the world isn’t quite what she believed, which causes her to go into a downward spiral that makes her into who she is now.
As I alluded to before, I do not like people, or at least a lot of the world makes it hard for me to. Still, there’s nothing I want more than to meet and interact with genuinely nice people because I feel like they’re sadly a rarity, and I believe it’s always been like that. People just want to be fed the same stuff over and over, never bothering to broaden their horizons or grow in any way. Some do, but not all.
Sometimes the world beats you down for just being yourself, which can make you slowly start to change. Kindness breeds kindness the same way that hatred does. Kyoko was a genuinely nice girl who was willing to sacrifice herself to make her father, and by extension, everyone who meets him happy, but because of how cruel the world can be, she ends up getting the shaft for it.
She was willing to sacrifice everything to make the world a better place, but it turns out that isn’t what anyone ever wanted, and she suffered because of it. She tried to help the world change for the better. She tried to help her family she believed in, and because of that, she lost everything. The world didn’t want to change, and nobody wanted to grow.
Things like that can change you, and while it didn’t quite make it to her core, it also changed Kyoko. Because the truth is, the world is a really depressing place that will try and break you, and it will if you let it. It’s up to all of us to stay positive, keep open minds, care for each other even if we can’t for ourselves, and do our part to make this rock worth living on, even if we have to fight every step of the way, even if we want to give up at every turn.
Part 5: Acceptance – Madoka Kaname
Madoka could only ever be acceptance, because not only is she the first stage of healing and the last stage of grief, she’s only reached this because she went through everything else. She wouldn’t be who she is or change the world in the way she did without everything she went through.
She’s been lied to, betrayed, hurt, angered, depressed, any emotion you could think of; Madoka has suffered throughout those 12 short episodes. And at the end of all her suffering, she doesn’t give in to despair but instead uses all of her experience to bring hope to a world that has none. Regardless of how beautiful that idea is, I can relate to her a lot because I’m at the same point in my life she is, though I’m not quite saving the world.
I’m at the stage in my life where I accept myself. I don’t worry about people that judge me and I accept and even embrace parts of me that I wouldn’t growing up. I’m currently writing about how I, a grown man, relate to frilly-dress-wearing middle schoolers that fight monsters, clearly, I stopped caring.
It’s not like I was ever the type of person that wasn’t accepted by most of society, some people had it way harder than me, but I was always the socially anxious nerd that liked to hide out by himself and play video games. When I found anime, that was yet another thing I was worried people would find me weird for, and I had to make a conscious decision to continue watching it because I was worried people wouldn’t like me for it.
Throughout those years, I went through just about every emotion we’ve talked about, ending with me accepting myself for how I am, the good and the bad, and embracing the weird things that make me who I am. I wouldn’t be writing this otherwise.
Madoka, even prior to her acceptance of the story’s events, was the character I understood the most. While I get Kyoko’s pain and I understand every character’s feelings, Madoka was practically me looking into a mirror. I understood everything she was saying and every little thing she was feeling.
Her life was seemingly perfect. She had family and friends that cared for her and never had to worry about anything, but deep down had this sense of emptiness and a lack of self-worth. She didn’t feel like she was good at anything, and thus she didn’t feel useful to anyone or the world at large. She needed her “thing” to give her life meaning. Why I can’t say my thing is becoming a magical girl or being some allegory for Santa Clause, I understand exactly where she’s coming from because I was there myself.
No matter how great someone’s life seems, you don’t truly know how they feel on the inside. Ultimately, nobody, family or not, can tell us how to feel. They can help us grow and accept things, but you’re only truly happy when you have some sense of understanding and peace inside you. It’s only when you accept yourself for who you are through thick and thin can you be happy.
That’s not to say you can’t change; Madoka does just that. But in order to change and grow, you need to accept and know where you’re coming from. Madoka’s journey from beginning to end is just that. She goes from a sad girl without purpose to a strong magical girl that changes the world.
For all of these characters, why the circumstances might not be the same, the feelings and emotions they go through are relatable to anyone, and I really feel like that’s the main point of Madoka Magica in the end, and also the real tragedy of its story. All of this could truly happen to anybody.
Yes, it tells an exciting story from beginning to end that really utilizes those 12 episodes, but more than anything, it’s a big character study about five girls all at different points in their life who deal with the same horrible experience in different ways, all of which happen to be really well-written and relatable. So much so I just sat down and wrote about 3000 words about it.
I try my best to write this stuff spoiler-free and interesting to everyone regardless of if you’ve seen the series or not, and I think I did alright here, but I couldn’t commit to that fully with Madoka Magica. This series was (unsurprisingly) spectacular and made me cry a handful of times, including the entirety of the last episode.
Not every series has done that to me, and the only way I felt I could honor it was to talk about it in a bit more of a personal way. I implore you all to go watch Madoka Magica if you haven’t yet. You really, really won’t regret it. That and you’re kind of watching anime history, so it’s worth it.
Thank you very much for reading
I hope you all have a great day and remember: somewhere out there, someone’s fighting for you. As long as you know that, you’ll never be alone.