Even thought we’re barely past the halfway point, I can already see Puella Magi Madoka Magica (PM3) easily winning best anime of the season and almost assuredly winning best anime of 2011 – though, Brain’s Base recently brought out their big guns by announcing the third season of Natsume’s Book of Friends – mainly because I have faith Shaft/Shinbou won’t pooch the ending in light of past series like Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, Bakemonogatari and even Hidamari Sketch S.3. That hasn’t stopped me wondering how PM3 will end nor has it stopped many in the anime blogosphere either.
I’m seeing certain assumptions being made by some people about the ending that I think are premature at this point and could lead to disappointment when the ending doesn’t go the way it appears to be going. It certainly could go that way but I still see room for PM3 to end happily (or moderately happily).
(Note: I tried to get this done before episode 8 but it looks like I came up a bit short. Since I took so much time writing this I didn’t want to not post it in light of whatever happens in episode 8 but there’s probably more than one idea that no longer is possible. Either way, I’m pretty sure I want Kyubey Barbeque.)
In school, and even now, my talents lay more in the science/math direction so I never really studied the concepts behind creative writing creation and formal critic techniques but the Internet means I can learn just enough to be dangerous. One such item I’ve learned is something known as Chekhov’s Gun which is a concept in writing that basically says that if you mention a gun in the beginning of a story, it must go off before the end of the story. This maxim makes sense to me, especially if you flip it around and think of a story where a character uses a gun at the end of a story when no mention of that gun’s existence occurred before that point – that’s where your deus ex machina endings come from and everyone hates those endings. The ending of the Avatar animated series is a very egregious example of this.
The gun – or more accurately, a BFG – that’s introduced in PM3 during episode 1 was the concept of someone gaining a wish in return for becoming a Puella Magi (magic girl). This BFG will get fired before the end of the series. We know it, Kyubey knows it, Madoka knows it and Homura knows it as well. And that’s okay because Sayaka’s wish shows that Kyubey, for all his creepiness, will legitimately grant a person’s wish without twisting it around. If Madoka picks the correct thing to wish for, as I think she will eventually figure out, than we can get the happy ending that seems nearly impossible at this point. As far as we know, she already has more knowledge of what she’s getting into then any of the other Puella Magi we’ve met so far and not needing anything for herself will allow her a greater degree of freedom in making that wish. (What Homura knew before making her wish and what her wish is unknown at this point.)
I’d love to see what Kyubey would do if Madoka wished for him to kill himself and turn himself into a tasty, slow-roasted barbecue meal. I bet Madoka would learn loads of interesting information about what’s really going on. Like if there’s other Kyubey’s to complete the contract when this Kyubey is dead and what Kyubey actually does with those full grief seeds (i.e. why he needs to live).
Going back to Homura, initially I thought she was just a jaded Puella Magi that made a wish that she regretted later and merely wanted to stop Madoka from making the same mistake. That idea no longer fits and the more I think about, the more I think Homura is the key to everything. What if Homura knew another Puella Magi that was killed before becoming one herself and so she wished that when she was about to get killed as a Puella Magi that a message would get sent back in time for Kyubey to find the person that could/would save her and for her past self to know who this person is and for Kyubey to forget about her since everyone finds this guy creepy.
That’s probably not it but I keep going back to the dream Madoka has in the first episode. It felt like a prophetic dream, even down to the color of ribbons, but it was also instrumental in getting Madoka to accept Homura; Sayaka never had that dream and continues to be suspicious of Homura. Also, watching Homura fight leads me to think that Kyubey wouldn’t stand a chance against her. She could have made road kill Kyubey delight before Madoka/Sayaka had the chance to intervene if she wanted to but didn’t. Then there’s the strategy of Homura’s to keep Madoka from becoming a Puella Magi, it’s really a lousy one because by befriending Madoka it gives Madoka twice the reasons to decide she needs to become a Puella Magi. It’s more like Homura is managing the point when Madoka makes the contract with Kyubey.
The introduction of grief seeds and how they worked is probably the most unsettling idea that PM3 introduced (I’ll get to why shortly). It also reminded me of another anime – Umi Monogatari (Sea Story). In this anime an island is threatened to be swallowed into darkness by an evil entity known as Sedna that was reawakened when a magic seal was broken by accident. Towards the end of the show it was revealed that the islander’s tradition of “infusing” a pebble with one’s pain, suffering and despair and then tossing it into the ocean at a seaside shrine caused that spot of the ocean to eventually physically manifest the amalgamation of all those sorrows and troubles into the being Sedna. Once our heroes figure this out they realize that if the islanders accept their small pieces of darkness back then Sedna would dissipate and the crisis would be averted.
I’m reminded of Umi Monogatari because of the similarities between it and how grief seeds work which also leads to why I find grief seeds so unsettling; namely, that being a Puella Magi is implied to be evil.
When Kyubey takes the full grief seed from Sayaka he mentions that adding anymore darkness to it might make a witch appear yet when a witch is defeated there’s a certain level of clearness left to it’s grief seed for the use of the Puella Magi. It’s like, as the witch uses it’s powers to spread despair, it’s own soul is being cleansed. I wonder then, if a witches’ grief was split up into small enough pieces and parceled out to many people, would this end the problem of familiars and witches causing people to kill themselves and other such large-scale acts of despair. This by itself doesn’t make Puella Magi evil but when we add in that using one’s powers as a Puella Magi to defeat familiars and witches causes one’s Soul Gem to darken, we’re getting somewhere. This shouldn’t cause a Soul Gem to darken if what the Puella Magi is doing is good. Unless one wants to argue that the ends justify the means.
Speaking of Kyubey, it would be very easy to dismiss him as an evil being at this point but I think it’s a little more complicated than that. If/When we finally meet sentient aliens the chances that we both look at the world the same way is extremely slim. This will make communication and understanding each other quite difficult and the probability of accidentally creating an interstellar incident is frightfully high. Kyubey is an alien in the truest sense of the word and so it’s difficult to use human standards to judge him without some consideration. I’m willing to let some things slide with Kyubey; however, I fault Kyubey for his apparent lack of effort to understand humans and his choice of prying upon young girls who generally lack the cynicism of adults, the ability to understand consequences like adults and having an emotional delicacy that makes it easy for someone to manipulate them. I can just imagine Madoka’s mom bringing a 200 page legal document to Kyubey outlining her terms and conditions upon becoming a Puella Magi.
I also fault him for not mentioning at least something about the importance of a Soul Gem to the Puella Magi. He wouldn’t necessarily have to say they are now essentially the Soul Gem but just that it’s very important nothing happens to their Soul Gem. Mami might not have put her Soul Gem in such a conspicuous location if she had known.
I wonder if Kyubey has a Soul Gem and if he does, where is it?
Before Madoka makes her wish she needs to find out Kyubey’s motivation for finding Puella Magi to hunt witches. I’d be willing to bet that his reasons aren’t that high on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maybe he’s a pedophile that likes to grope young girls or maybe it’s because Kyubey eats the full grief seeds that the Puella Magi have topped off with their own darkness. In either case, Kyubey would prefer a continuation of the current situation with no interest in finding a final solution about the witches and familiars. He might even be instrumental in insuring the next generation of familiars and witches are set in motion after feeding on a grief seed.
Or maybe it’s the wish granting that creates witches and familiars. Kyouko mentions that an equivalent amount of despair is created when a person wishes for hope but looking at what happened with her, it seems like the hope was repaid with a steep percentage of despair as interest. This would explain why there only appears to be a single Kyubey; as evidenced by Kyouko assuming Homura makes her contract with Kyubey and Kyubey seems unconcerned about finding Puella Magi for the rest of the world. If this idea is correct and Madoka remembers Kyubey’s statement that one’s wish influences the power of the Puella Magi – maybe Madoka has to flip the wish around. If she’d wish for a great amount despair to shoulder herself then she could become the ultimate Puella Magi and an even greater amount of hope is created from her despair.
In closing, if we step back and consider the show I’m curious what people think are the chances of Puella Magi Madoka Magica will outsell Bakemonogatari on a per volume basis and K-On! on an overall sales amount in Japan and will PM3 (or Bakemonogatari) ever get licensed for North America.