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Analysis / Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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Symbolism of the Witches

Note: a lot of this relies on All There in the Manual information grabbed off the show's wiki.

  • Gertrud: The witch in the first and second episodes. Her barrier is full of garden motifs- roses, vines, thorns, butterflies- and all of her minions have giant mustaches. The runes in the background mostly revolve around "presenting roses to the queen" and variations on "No Trespassing." In addition to her obvious obsession with roses and dislike of people trampling through her garden, her official profile also calls her "insincere" and notes that she put all of the mustaches on her minions herself. Perhaps she wished for a rose garden... or for someone to give her a rose (a man with a Porn Stache, presumably).
  • Charlotte: The dessert witch in Episode 3, and an accomplished Knight of Cerebus. Her barrier is pretty much made entirely of food, especially cake, but according to her profile, her favorite food is cheese... which she can't make, since it's not a dessert. There's also a bit of a medical motif (pills, syringes, minions wearing nurse hats), and her Grief Seed was found stuck in a wall by a hospital. Her profile says that she wants everything and never gives up; this latter comes across in her second form, which just produces a new copy of itself when injured. Her real body resembles a doll, and even appears to be sitting and having a tea party. "Charlotte" is also the name of a kind of hybrid cake/trifle dessert.
    • According to production notes in the show's guidebook, the human Charlotte's mother was dying, but Charlotte didn't use her wish to save her. Her mother wanted to eat cheesecake, but her daughter (whether out of either concern or petty greed) didn't share it with her. This also draws an interesting parallel to Mami, who also didn't use her wish to save her dying parents.
    • At the very end of the anime, a motif shot is shown with all of the magical girls seen in the anime, even those seen only as witches. One of the girls, the second from the right, has hair similar to that of Charlotte's first form.
  • Kirsten/H.N. Elly: The witch in Episode 4 that almost killed Madoka. Her barrier is full of TV screens and pixel art, and her profile describes her as covetous and reclusive; it's pretty obvious that she has a hikikomori theme. She's unusual in that she has two different names displayed; most likely, the "H.N." stands for "handle name" (Japan's Engrish equivalent term to "screen name") so "Kirsten" is her real name, while she would go by "Elly" online. However, it's also possible that it's a very roundabout Shout-Out: If the "HN" is instead combined with "Kirsten," that would make her initials "HNK," an anagram of NHK, which would be rather appropriate given the aforementioned theme. At one point, one of her screens displays a silhouette of a magical girl. In all likelihood, this was her original appearance. This magical girl appears in the ending shot that shows all of the magical girls who appeared in the anime (even as witches), adding credence to this theory.
    • Some think that Kirsten may have been, or wanted to be, a net idol. This is partly due to her silhouette having more than a passing resemblance to Miku Hatsune. According to the official guidebook, the human Kirsten's wish was to preserve a memory forever.
  • Elsa Maria: The witch that Sayaka goes completely nuts against in Episode 7. Her barrier is all in flat black and white, almost like a shadow play, and the background has geometric patterns reminiscent of stained-glass windows. She is kneeling on some sort of outcropping shaped like a hand holding either a torch or a Catholic monstrance, praying towards the object. She herself never moves; however, her minions form a Living Shadow of vines and roots that attempt to pull living things in. According to her profile, she considers this "being saved," and the minions are the remains of her victims, bound to blindly believe and search out new companions. The symbolism here is a lot clearer than most: the Church Militant theme is very strong, with the black-and-white symbolizing her simplistic view of morality. One popular theory is that she's Kyouko's younger sister, who Kyubey secretly contracted, though there's little to no evidence to support it.
    • According to the official guidebook, the human Elsa Maria wished for someone far away from her to be happy.
  • Oktavia von Seckendorff: Hooo, boy, this is going to be a long (and spoileriffic!) one. This is the witch who appeared in episodes 8 and 9. A slightly different version appeared in episode 10. She also used to be Sayaka, which gives us a lot of extra insight into the symbolism behind her barrier and appearance. She appears as a mermaid with three heads and the upper half of her body clad in plate armor and heraldic symbols, wearing a cape and carrying a giant sword. The cape and sword are holdovers from her magical girl form, and the armor represents her Knight in Shining Armor tendencies. The mermaid tail, especially combined with her profile's description of her as "prone to falling in love," is probably in reference to Hans Christian Anderson's version of "The Little Mermaid." Sayaka's story, suffering to please the man she loves who ultimately rejects her anyway, closely parallels the original fairy tale. In the end, her earthly goal was doomed to failure, and it's only through divine intervention after death that her soul is saved. Coupled with the heraldry, it also brings to mind the myth of Melusine; it should also be noted that Goethe wrote a version of this story. Her barrier is full of music-related symbols, to the point where many of the runes are actually written in a variant font that resembles musical notes or instruments. The hallway that Kyouko first enters by is covered in concert postersnote , while the room at the center of the maze resembles a concert hall, packed to the roof and housing a ghost orchestra. This is, naturally, connected to Kyousuke and her wish for him to be able to play again. At one point, a figure that appears to be him can be seen standing in the center of the concert hall stage, holding a violin. Like most of the witches, she has a Madness Mantra written in runes throughout her barrier: "Look at me!" This comes from her frustration at Kyousuke ignoring her despite all her efforts to comfort and help him. She wants him to notice her, but he didn't even bother to tell her when he got out of the hospital. Her name also bears some analysis. "Oktavia" is derived from the Latin word for "eight," and is probably intended as another musical connection (an octave is an interval of eight notes). Her last name is likely a reference to the poet Karl Siegmund von Seckendorff, who wrote a novel titled The Wheel of Fate (which explains Oktavia's wheel attack) and set part of Faust to music. (Alternately, the wheels may be in reference to the Wheel of Fortune tarot card; it represents possibilities, opportunities, and sudden changes, which would certainly be appropriate. Or it could just be a reference to the train aboard which Sayaka crossed her Moral Event Horizon; it's implied that she murdered a pair of bartenders whom she heard spouting misogynistic sentiments.)
    • The episode 10 version is, as mentioned, a little different; some of her minions, instead of all being members of the orchestra, are dancers that look a lot like Hitomi. Presumably this is either a manifestation of jealousy (basically, a wish to control her rival) or due to differences in the timeline that affected their relationship. It's also worth noting that Oktavia has no problem with running them over with the wheels she sends out, almost as if she wanted them to get hurt...
  • Izabel: Briefly seen in episode 10; in an alternate timeline, she attacked Homura, who had to be rescued by Madoka and Mami. Her barrier is heavily art-influenced, with surfaces inspired by Pablo Picasso's "Guernica" and Vincent van Gogh's "The Starry Night." Odds are good that she wished to be a great artist.
    • Additionally, her witch card states that her nature is vanity and she is weak against criticism. Given her "familiar" barrier, she may have been a prideful but uncreative girl.
  • Patricia: Also shown briefly in episode 10. Her barrier is full of clotheslines holding school uniforms, and she herself appears to be a ball of arms in a dress that eats via some sort of orifice in the middle. The more optimistic guess is that she wished to be pretty, fashionable, or, as per her Witch Card, class representative... the pessimistic guess is that she was sexually abused.
    • Another guess is that she wanted to live a normal school life. Considering how things are... well, it is really possible.
    • The official guidebook states that the human Patricia wished for a sunny day after a rainstorm, hence the blue sky in her barrier.
  • Roberta: Another witch shown briefly in episode 10. Her barrier seems to be filled with colored squares that are crystals or candy. The floor of the witch's barrier, as well as the clothing of the witch itself, are filled with flower and gear symbols that alternate with each other (they seem to be the same symbol with the colors alternated). The witch is in a yellow cage, and she seems to be lacking a head and arms. As the witch appeared in an alternate timeline, it has been speculated that this is the witch form of Mami. On the other hand, if she didn't get her head eaten by Charlotte in that timeline, then why is the witch headless?
    • The witch's card suggests instead an attention-desiring party girl that played around with men's hearts.
    • Word of God confirms that this witch is not Mami: "A witch who lived for a long time as a magical girl. She is weak, as she was no longer a girl when she became a witch (mid-20s to 30s?). The form she takes in her barrier is how she would've turned out in the future (around 40s). What she desires is life. Enjoys alcohol and books."
    • It may even be possible that she's Kazuko Saotome, Madoka's teacher, who loves reading and alcohol, and often complains men only love her for her looks.
    • Considering her nature is rage, perhaps she wished for revenge on an old boyfriend?
    • According the official guidebook, the human Roberta wished to have friends who wouldn't dislike her.
  • Kriemhild Gretchen: Very little is known, but what is known is probably worth commenting on, given than Gretchen is the witch form of Madoka seen in one timeline in episode 10, who, according to Kyubey, is powerful enough that she will destroy the world within ten days. Gretchen is the name of Faust's lover; Kriemhild is derived from German words meaning "mask" and "battle," leading some to speculate that the mask at the end of the ED is her face. It is also worth noting, however, that Kriemhild is the central character of the German poetic epic Nibelungenlied. The Nibelungenlied is the story of Siegfried the Dragonslayer, his murder, and his wife Kriemhild's revenge upon his murderers. Although her exact form is unknown, we do know that she is massive. Like, mountain-sized. Her Grief Seed, incidentally, has Madoka's pink ribbon on it.
    • Which is probably the cutest grief seed ever.
  • Walpurgisnacht: The most powerful witch until Kriemhild Gretchen, Walpurgisnacht is a looming threat throughout the entire series. In fact, she's so powerful that she doesn't need a barriernote — she just floats straight into town and starts letting her familiars loose and throwing buildings around. She's also nearly indestructible, easily shrugging it off when Homura blasts her with enough weaponry to outfit a small army. Given her plot-critical nature, all sorts of crazy theories cropped up about Walpurgis, particularly theories that she was the witch form of a main character, usually either Sayaka (due to some details of clothing), Madoka (due to her immense power), or Homura (due to the gears). However, these particular theories were all Jossed eventually, leaving us free to speculate wildly about Walpurgis herself. There are a few major things to keep in mind here. One is her name— Walpurgisnacht, or Walpurgis Night, is a German festival in the spring which is also believed to be a night on which witches gather. It also features in Faust I, when Mephisto takes Faust there to try to distract him from thinking about his lover Gretchen; when it doesn't work, Mephisto instead takes him to where a play is about to be shown. The second half of this is notable: Walpurgisnacht is, according to her card, the witch of stage settings. Another interesting detail is that some of her minions resemble the silhouettes of magical girls. All of this combined has led many to believe that rather than being the expression of one girl's despair, she's an amalgamation of many— sort of a composite witch, which would also explain her incredible power. Another theory relies on the carnival theme that other of her minions seem to have, and theorizes that she is the green-haired girl shown in the montage of Madoka saving all the witches in the finale, based on the fact that maypoles and what seems to be part of a fair can be seen behind where she was dying, and the location may have influenced her witch form. And, last but not least, there's the simplest one: She started out as an ordinary magical girl that wished to join a theatre troupe, but in a time when theater was a male-only profession (thus her nature is inability). Since her fall into witchdom, she has been perpetually gathering other Witches as "actresses" for her "productions".. It is notable that she is the witch of stage machines, which in Greek theater was the "machina" part of Deus ex Machina. This is appropriate as her appearance instigated Madoka's ascent to godhood. And yet another theory would be that Walpurgis was a lonely girl who was a victim of bullying and treated like a circus freak (hence the circus theme). She was helpless against it (hence the helplessness) and possibly wished to have friends (hence the mahou shoujo-like spectres; maybe said wish made her powers only fully workable when other mahou shoujo were near/being copied from other mahou shoujo, driving further the point of helplessness). She probably was curious and kept asking Kyubey about how the system worked (alluding to "The witch's mysteries have been handed down through the course of history" part; it could be referring to Walpurgis herself, or to how the system worked). Through years of loneliness, possibly coupled with some nerdiness, she treated life like a theater machine, where she just wanted to be the main character and see a happy ending. Her despair was that she ended up lonely again, because all of her friends became witches, but she couldn't do anything to help them. She became a powerful witch because she carried the burden of all magical girls who became her friends through the course of her history. There would be a chance of her being a Large Ham, given the witch's attitude (loud laughter and spinning around). The fact the witch tries to destroy the entire world as a "grand finale" might definitely confirm her hammish nature.
    • It is also speculated that since, in Oriko, Oriko sees Walpurgis in a vision, she may actually be Walpurgis.
    • Word of God has confirmed that Walpurgisnacht is a fusion of multiple witches (although she was originally a single witch). She's like a tornado that can come across other witches and absorb them, according to Urobochi. Her character card which states that her nature is helplessness and that she symbolizes the fool who continuously spins in circles is a borderline tearjerker when you remember how the Puella Magi system works and what Homura's situation is about.

Symbolism in the opening and ending

  • Opening lyrics: The lyrics of the opening theme "Connect" are about a Determinator who refuses to give up hope or stop trying to fulfill a promise they made. There's also a lot of references to time. After Episode 10, it became clear the song is written from Homura's perspective: She's in a "Groundhog Day" Loop, going through it as many times as she has to in order to protect Madoka and stop her from contracting with Kyubey.
  • The black cat: In the opening there is a black cat that appears twice. In the group shot we are able to see that Madoka is with Kyubei while Sayaka has the cat. In the actual series, the cat doesn't appear at all. So why is it there? Black cats are often associated with witches. It was foreshadowing her eventual fate.
    • As it turns out, the black cat has another significance that is only revealed in the Drama CD accompanying the Blu-ray/DVD. You remember how every girl has to make a wish to become a magical girl? In Episode 10, we see several timelines, but until the fourth, Madoka was already a magical girl when Homura arrived. So this raises the question: what did Madoka wish for in the original timeline? The Drama CD answers that question. The cat's name is Amy. He/she is Madoka's contract; she wished for the cat's well-being. This gives us a glimpse into another facet of Madoka that doesn't get much play in the series: despite her defining issues, she's an extremely kind Friend to All Living Things who will go to great lengths to help anyone, even a stray cat. Something that Homura points out at the time.
  • The two Madokas: The opening theme has a brief section featuring Madoka's Transformation Sequence, where there appear to be two of her that ultimately merge into one. There are a couple of ways to interpret this, given the ending. It may represent the fact that Madoka's immense magical power comes from the fact that she has essentially absorbed all the "bad karma" from previous iterations of Homura's loop. Alternately, it may represent her ultimate fate— the slightly older Madoka is the God!Madoka created when she Ascends to a Higher Plane of Existence at the end of the series, and the transformation sequence ending in the two merging is a representation of this transition.
  • Ending postures: In the ending we can see the silhouettes of the girls. Several of them are clues as to their eventual fates: Mami is the only seated figure, in reference to her death (which occurs in the first episode to include the ending sequence); Sayaka is turned away from Madoka, perhaps symbolizing her future corruption into a witch; and Homura is the only character other than Madoka who is seen to move — most tellingly, she reaches out as Madoka's silhouette runs past.
  • Ending lyrics: Here. Very cryptic, and a bit on the creepy side, this lyrics of this song actually seem to be a tribute to Mami. She's urging Madoka to make a contract and talking about how she's wanted the power to fight the darkness since she read fairy tales as a child. However, the overall tone of the lyrics, especially combined with the melody of the song, suggest that this is a very bad idea. Given the Wham Episode the ED was first played after, it's an appropriate tone for it to take.
    • The ending lyrics seem to fit Homura (again) even better- she references being a normal girl while Madoka has the power to protect people, and that this power isn't there anymore. ("Like the ancient magic /I saw in my dreams when I was young" and "The courage from the flower that was plucked/lays in my frightened hands." - she's even the one who plucked the flower.) And that speaker in the song seems to have wanted to desire power for someone else's sake, according to the full single ("Someday perhaps you, too, for someone's sake/will desire power"), which fits Homura much better than Mami.

Deconstructed tropes

  • Selfless Wish/Be Careful What You Wish For: Remember that here we will talk about "deconstruction" as "exploring the real-life implications of the trope". Kyubey grants wishes in exchange for the wishee becoming a Magical Girl and fighting monsters for him. The problems that arise from the granting of the wish aren't exactly because of the wish itself, or from Kyubey — while he's not exactly trustworthy, he has no incentive to screw with people's wishes. The problem is that the person making the wish is almost never honest about what she really wants. Veteran Magical Girls repeatedly warn potential ones against the perils of a selfless wish, and that's part of what makes it so tragic: there is no such thing as a selfless wish. Every supposedly "selfless" wish has a selfish motive behind it (case in point: Sayaka's wish to heal Kyousuke), and seeing the chance for that selfish desire slipping away with the rising happiness of someone else sends a Magical Girl deeper into despair...
    • In fact, this is the very reason why Madoka's first and last wish (cat's well-being, and helping all the magical girls) don't make her unhappy and don't make anything worse. Instead of rejecting the selfishness behind her wishes and hoping for more, she accepts that she will be getting exactly what she wished for and nothing more, and that is why she was happy with the wishes she made.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility and For Great Justice: In this series being a Magical Girl isn't a synonym for being a heroine. As Kyoko shows, some people would actually use that power simply for the perks.
    • Mami takes the concept of "pre-teen young girls with magical powers fighting monsters to save people daily" to its most logical conclusion; what she demonstrates is the true effect of taking that great responsibility and choosing to be a heroine, especially a middle-schooler who essentially had it forced on her because she had no other choice at the time. As she said herself- being constantly busy with hunting Witches leaves little to no spare time to have fun or make friends, leading to her becoming an incredibly lonely Stepford Smiler who latches onto the one chance she gets to make friends. She pushes herself too hard and desperately tries to hold herself together under those conditions- there's nothing actually good about being a magical girl, she tells Madoka. Living the life she does, even if she does help people at her own cost, leaves an effect of her mental and emotional state that is only reinforced by her loneliness. She breaks down crying when Madoka tells her she'll fight beside her. Simply put, her lifestyle is hardly a healthy one. And that isn't just because she's a magical girl— again, being a magical girl doesn't automatically mean being a heroine- but because she plays this trope as straight as possible by acting as much as a selfless heroine as she can. And when we first meet her, that's indeed what she seems like— enough that Sayaka tries to take after her.
  • I Just Want to Be Special/Jumped at the Call: Deconstructed with Madoka. She feels she isn't special and constantly makes remarks about she wants to make a difference by becoming a Magical Girl. However it is made clear in the show that Madoka's life is already great and she really doesn't need to be "special" because she has a loving family with enough resources to live very comfortably. And as episode 10 shows, becoming a Magical Girl actually ruined all the happiness she already had and couldn't appreciate. This is reinforced by the fact that, as opposed to the other girls, she isn't even able to think of a wish to ask Kyuubey. She really doesn't need a wish, she just wants to feel self-fulfilled.
    • However, what episode 10 demonstrates is slightly Zig-Zagged. During the first timeline- right before going to stop Walpurgisnacht, knowing that she was going to die, she freely admits to having no regrets and says that it was really worth it; the Drama CD reveals, it helped her build her self-confidence and become a much more headstrong girl, curing her inferiority complex. She eventually sacrificed herself by launching a suicide attack against Walpurgisnacht and saving everyone this way. In other words, she died happily, with no regrets, knowing that she saved others through it. But it also meant leaving Homura behind, who couldn't accept this ending. So was becoming a magical girl ultimately good or bad, and should have she? This question is left unanswered. However, perhaps this is to further deconstruct Homura's time-traveling- by proving how it actually made things worse for Madoka, as in every other timeline, either she didn't become a magical girl and kept on being the confidence-lacking girl she is, or did become, but paid a much higher price and suffered a lot more for it. And it calls back to the aforementioned Selfless Wish as Homura's wish was exactly of the sort the veteran magical girls warned new girls about—a seemingly Selfless Wish with rather selfish reasons behind it which was not what the wishee really wanted—which is why it ended up making things worse.
  • Monster of the Week: The Magical Girl Warrior genre has a long tradition of monsters that a) resemble everyday things twisted into something you'd see on a bad LSD trip and/or b) are Powered by a Forsaken Child in some way or another. HeartCatch Pretty Cure!, for example, had Monsters Of The Week made by ripping out human souls and inserting them into objects, with the victim's consciousness eternally reliving the state of misery and despair that made them vulnerable in the first place. This show demonstrates how horrifying on all levels opponents like this would actually be if the plot did not mandate that they be ineffectual Mooks.
  • The Power of Love, Love Martyr, and/or other tropes connected to the idea that love must be completely selfless: In normal series, the Magical Girl Warrior is extremely devoted to her friends and love interest, placing their well-being as well as the world's over her own needs and pretty much beating herself up if she has to do otherwise. Likewise, Sayaka thinks that it's okay to use her wish in benefit of the injured and despaired Kamijou, but when she says it out loud, Mami doesn't seem convinced and even asks her if she's actually doing to have Kamijou owe her. Later she uses her wish anyway for him, but while he DOES heal, he doesn't run into her arms for comfort and moves on so fast that he doesn't even tell her he's leaving the hospital. That gets her mocked by Kyouko, who even says she should've broken his limbs to force him rely on her. And as time passes, she learns that in this show, being "completely selfless" in regards to those she loves simply doesn't work: love does involve at VERY least a part of selfishness. (And her friend Hitomi proves it right: she's selfless when she gives Sayaka the first shot at confessing to Kamijou and by actually telling her instead of doing so behind her back... but being selfish in regards to actually confessing when Sayaka doesn't take the chance is what works, and she becomes Kamijou's girlfriend instead.) This causes Sayaka to progressively break down, which shows via her: going Ax-Crazy on Elsamaria out of frustration, refusing to use Grief Seeds because "it's what others do", snapping on the Jerk Asses that show her exactly what they think of fully selfless persons (that they're extreme doormats to be used and thrown away - and specially if they're women), and finally becoming a witch. Her last words before she crosses the Despair Event Horizon and has her Face–Heel Turn are "I'm such an idiot", acknowledging how wrong she was before she definitely loses it.
    • Did you miss the whole ending? Puella Magi Madoka Magica's plot is all about Power of Love and Power of Friendship. Madoka's complete selflessness and Homura's incredible devotion were the keys to breaking the Vicious Cycle. But this overwhelming importance of Power of Love and Power of Friendship is exactly the reason why the series judge those who use love and friendship to mask their selfish desires for gratitude and approval so harshly. Mami dies because she placed having friends over the safety of said friends and because she didn't saved her parents with her wish Sayaka tries to cast herself as a Love Martyr, but fails horribly because she actually isn't. Homura had to go through hell to prove the purity of her intent to protect Madoka and is saved only when she stops caring how Madoka views her in the process.
    • This is reinforced by the fact that the version of Madoka that ultimately triumphs Is the one that is fully aware of the consequences but makes the sacrifice regardless of them including losing everything.
  • "I Know You Are in There Somewhere" Fight: When attempted on Oktavia/Sayaka, it works about as well as you'd expect talking to an Eldritch Abomination killing machine to work. The fact that Kyouko wasn't fighting to kill also made the fight much harder than it would otherwise have been, which ultimately led to a Heroic Sacrifice that probably wouldn't have been necessary if they had accepted that Sayaka was gone.
  • Reset Button Ending: In a normal Magical Girl show (say, Sailor Moon, for example), when the button's pressed, everyone resumes their lives not being a Magical Girl or they are simply alive or something that is positive. In Madoka, when it's pressed, everything is pretty much the same, except for the fact that Magical Girls fight demons now, and that instead of becoming Witches, they are whisked away by Madoka. Note that when the button's pressed, only three of the main Puella Magi remained, with the two missing being Madoka and Sayaka.
  • Mentor Mascot and The Needs of the Many: The mascot's role is usually to guide the newly awoken/created/etc. magical girls through their task, often instructed to do so by a higher (usually good) power who cares about humanity's well-being. Incubators, on the other hand, use humans as the means to an end. While their intentions may ultimately be good, their lack of emotions make them too utterly removed from human concerns to comprehend the damage they are doing these girls. Kyubey and the Incubators deconstruct the mentor mascot by showing us the motives, mindset, and tactics of the type of creature that would orchestrate the magical girl scenario; and the consequences of their actions.

Feminism, and Reconstructing Magical Girls and Witches

  • Madoka Magica deconstructs the Magical Girl genre by having a Magical Girl being the immature form of a witch. How does one reconstruct that? To answer that, first we must ask, what does a witch represent? One could say that the fairy-tale witch demonizes the idea of a woman having power. A potential reconstruction could involve the idea of witches being "evil" and "abominable" as either propaganda designed to keep girls under control, or what an empowered female looks like from a sexist perspective. The heroine's journey would be finding out that the witches are not, in fact, as evil as she has been led to believe, and her maturing and awakening to her true power as a witch as she struggles for freedom from those who would control her.
    • Interestingly, Strike Witches follows a somewhat similar matter, except in a much more Moe manner and produced by a completely different company. Compare and contrast the two's general concepts of feminism in a male-run environment. Also, Madoka happens to almost follow the exact concept on how the girls in Strike Witches get their powers. See the Black Cat entry up in the Symbolism section for more information.
    • Another possible reconstruction is to keep the ideas of witches as Eldritch Abominations, and that all magical girls have to eventually become witches...but it turns out that Eldritch Abominations are not evil. Suddenly becoming a witch is like growing up - it seems scary at first, but then it's not bad at all, just different.
      • The problem is all of this is that it doesn't fix anything when the witch's themselves are indeed being genuine threat and danger to innocents, nor does it fix anything by switching the role of villains around, as it will just portray authority who may have legitimate concerns as inherently evil. A better idea for a reconstruction is to either portray both sides as in the wrong and have the magical girls work to convince both sides to change and form a truce of understanding, or to portray the witches/monsters/whatever as a legitimate threat and danger but at the same time also showing them as products of their environments, with the magical girls working to change the ways of the underlying issues of their flawed society to be better and more understanding and accepting so that such evils can never happen again.
    • Empowered females cause people to jump off rooftops?
    • I would bring up the fact that in a lot of cultures, girls and women are socialized in a way that teaches them to keep their true feelings masked, to be nurturing and to take care of others before themselves. How many actions and behaviors are classified as "unladylike" because a little girl is being selfish, or taking up too much space? How many guys want girlfriends who moonlight as their moms because they cook and clean and take care of them and ALSO provide a ton of emotional and sexual intimacy? The Witches in Madoka Magica are all in deep, deep pain, and their harm to others is because they're taking it out on others instead of keeping it bottled up. The Soul Gems become tainted and darker the more bad energy they absorb, and Grief Seeds bloom into Witches again if too much bad energy is absorbed to keep a Soul Gem clean. The Witches aren't evil, they're in open agony, rage, grief, and it is as terrifying as it is tragic. It's frightening because of just how much emotional labor they've taken on through their trials as Magical Girls. The first paragraph has some credence to the idea of deconstructing and reconstructing what Witches are and what they mean. The girls are urged to make their wishes in a "selfless" way, and when they aren't honest about what they actually want or mean, it backfires. Madoka breaks this by knowing she will get what she asks for, and therefore asks for something she will be happy with, or makes do with what she has done. She doesn't hide.

The Extent of Goethe's Influence on Madoka

  • It has been said by some that Madoka Magica is a dead ringer for Goethe's tale but to what extent is that really true? We can safely assume that Kyubey is our Mephistopheles because, well, he hands out contracts in return for peoples' souls. Naturally, he never actually lies but actively tries to manipulate girls into contracts in order to accomplish his aims. But we can't say that Madoka is our Faust since she has not exactly made any contract as of yet. It could be said that Sayaka is a closer match; she does go through with the contract and uses Kyubey's power to fulfill her heart's desire without ever truly considering the implications, eventually losing sight of her good intentions after realising that even though she got what she wanted, she can never truly have it. Or perhaps Faust is Homura, making the deal, again, for love.
  • The problem is, the context is completely different. Mephistopheles gives Faust an infinite amount of power and an indefinite amount of time to use it in hopes that it will corrupt him utterly and allow him to win his wager with God. A better metaphor would be that Kyubey cuts out the middleman and simply gives the girls their moment of happiness that they wish would be prolonged forever, at which point they die and their souls are his. From that point on they are doomed and not one of them will earn redemption which was one of the major themes of Faust; because he used his power to benefit his fellow man in the end he was able to escape his bargain whereas a Magical Girl never will.
    • Except Madoka does escape because she uses her wish to help humanity and her fellow magical girls by using a wish base on her love for others, thereby escaping her fate of hell and making magical girl heaven. So yes, she's Faust. Homura actually also escapes in Rebellion, and she also made a wish genuinely based on love, just a selfish and possessive kind. She remakes reality into her own, personal form of heaven. To sum up: they are both Fausts who have diametrically opposed motivations.
  • Faust was a man who had everything he wanted (knowledge) and was offered something that he could not achieve through mortal means, thus giving him a choice and making it clear that he chose damnation willingly in order to satisfy his desires. Several of the girls never got the chance to make a choice and Kyubey engages in some rather bald-faced manipulation in order to push the rest over the edge. None of the main characters really get to make a choice from a position where they have everything, making their situations much more sympathetic in the interest of storytelling. Additionally the story of Faust is underpinned by the notions of God and the Devil, the Judeo-Christian idea of good and evil, but the question still remains as to how evil Kyubey really is. His race does not have emotions and doesn't share the same value system as humanity, so is what he is saying really evil? Utilitarians might argue otherwise.
  • The Faustian bargain is a very powerful part of pop culture that underpins the entire series, but the direct comparisons are a little more difficult to make. The series is very heavily influenced by imagery from Faust but comparing any characters directly is like comparing Saito and Dorothy simply because neither of them are in Kansas anymore.
  • There are a lot of similarities in the relationship between Faust/Homura and Gretchen/Madoka. Faust/Homura brings Gretchen/Madoka in trouble then desperately and hopelessly tries to save her. In the end it is this effort mixed with Gretchens/Madokas purity that saves Faust/Homura. In both stories the happy end is achieved trough "cheating." Both last scenes from each part of Goethe's Faust have equivalents in Madoka Magica: The prison scene from the first part several times in the tenth episode after the walpurgisnacht; the ascension scene from the second part in the the last episode.

Episode Positions/Timeline, Character Outline, and Faust

There is a special area that is within Episode 1 that takes a direct excerpt from Goethe's Faust. This picture from the wiki has been translated and allows for a complete understanding of the anime itself and possibly why their positions were chosen. This is also a case of Shown Their Work, since this comes directly from the original material. Here is the translated version (numbered lines as a reference).

NOTE: Beyond this point, this will be an extremely spoiler-filled section, and, due to this nature, spoiler tags will kept off. You have been warned.

Witch's one-time-one (or Das Hexeneinmaleins)

1 This you must ken (understand)!
2 From one make ten,
3 And two let be,
4 Make even three,
5 Then rich you'll be.
6 Skip o'er the four!
7 From five and six,
8 The Witch's tricks,
9 Make seven and eight,
10 'Tis finished straight;
11 And nine is one,
12 And ten is none,
13 That is the witch's one-time-one!

Analysis (when I say "reference," I mean how the above is a cross-comparison to Puella Magi Madoka Magica):

  • First line: It's a Meta line, showcasing how all of the episodes are intertwined with each other. It's just that the initial episodes are obscured from the real truth, and how the characters don't even know what they got themselves into. Note how every episode begins and ends with the same one as before it, so all of these episodes are Book Ends of each other. Finally, Kyubey knows exactly how to manipulate others without violating his own morals, even if he doesn't have any.
  • Second line: Episode 10. A Start of Darkness, if you would like to assume this, due to how Homura wanted to go back in time, and because of how Madoka will always follow her fate of death. It's also a recursive line, showcasing how Homura is trapped within the April, the month before Walpurgis Night.
  • Third line: Episode 1. Note in the beginning when Sayaka and Madoka are together, walking over to school, but Hitomi is separated. Subtle Foreshadowing, indeed.
  • Fourth line: Episode 2. Madoka, Homura, and Sayaka meet with Mami. Homura, however, is discouraged by Mami. Mami does not know anything, despite what she says, and Sayaka is Wrong Genre Savvy at this point. Madoka has no idea which person to choose.
  • Fifth line: Episode 3. Mami dies, and its back to the fourth line, which would be Episode 4. This is a subtle way of showing Four Is Death, but it is done one point ahead of time. However, in the real timeline, this is the perfect place to insert Four Is Death, because Episode 10 comes before Episode 1. The "rich" portion is Kyubey tempting her with dreams of power after Mami, the only good Big Sister Mentor she thought she had.
  • Sixth line: Episode 5. An intermission episode, showcasing Madoka deciding between becoming a Magical Girl and not. Interestingly, this line is the exact inverse of what happens in the episode. Finally, this episode is also when Kyoko comes in, and when Sayaka becomes a Magical Girl.
  • Seventh line: Episode 6. Again, it references Kyoko and Sayaka, this time not because of their differences, but because of their similarities.
  • Eighth line: Episode 7. The first thing Sayaka thinks is how Kyubey tricked him. It is possible she knows what went wrong, but fell on the wrong ideals due to Mami. On the other hand is her Relationship Values, which falters by the end of the episode. The exact same thing, word for word, happened to Kyoko's father. This makes Sayaka's role in the anime even more interesting, because she is the ideal character for Faust.
  • Ninth line: Episode 8. Combine Episode 6 and 7 in a nutshell, and you have this episode. Combine their Wham areas, and you have Episode 8's revelation that the Magical Girl's contained power can force them to become a Witch. Surpringly, this takes One-Winged Angel and Clipped-Wing Angel to a literal level.
  • Tenth line: Episode 9. References the deaths of Kyoko and Sayaka. Metaphorically speaking, Kyoko was reminded of her father (and herself) by Sayaka, so it's only proper that they would die together. This episode is the last of the Wham Lines.
  • Eleventh line: Episode 12. This line means to throw sense and nonsense out the window (first line) and continue as usual. From a troper's perspective, this line references the Gainax Ending, the Bittersweet Ending, the Broken Aesop, and the Lost Aesop all at the same time. Could also be referencing Episode 9, at the end of which all of the current Puellae Magi are dead, except for Homura, the only one left.
  • Twelfth line: Technically speaking, Episode 10 is actually Episode 0, or the Zeroth Episode. Also, Episode 11 is exactly the same as the third timeline in Episode 10.
  • Thirteenth line: Episode 12. Title Drop. Sequel Hook. A lot of other things. Including the forgotten.
    • "[E]very episode begins and ends with the same one as before it". What does that mean? With the same what?

Judgment Ethics vs Ethics of Care

Judgement Ethics is the school of thought that regards an ethical decision as the one with the best outcome for all concerned, delivered impartially. Emotion is considered an impediment to this impartiality, and therefore emotional reactions should be excised from the judgment made. Kyuubei epitomises this school of thought - from his point of view, the suffering and deaths caused are a small price to pay for preserving the universe.

Madoka, by contrast, represents "Ethics of Care". Care ethicists hold that emotion and empathy are of vital importance in moral judgments, and that special consideration should be given to those who are directly affected by the decision, particularly those most vulnerable (such as the girl making the contract). Madoka, having seen and empathised with the human consequences of Kyuubei's system, made her wish as an ethical decision based on her compassion.

Madoka, the Incubators, and Utilitarianism

Related to Judgement Ethics versus Ethics of Care above. For utilitarians, the most ethical decision is that which brings the most amount of benefits, and the moral worth of an action is determined only by its resulting outcome, and that one can only weigh the morality of an action after knowing all its consequences. For Happiness is one such example of utilitarianism, however this seemingly idealistic rule can be very easy to screw up, as shown by the Totalitarian Utilitarian. Act utilitarians are those who follow this and nothing more.

The Incubators are act utilitarians taken to the extreme: if saving the universe brings the greatest benefits, and if saving the universe means the suffering of a few, then this suffering of this few must lead to the greatest benefits. A similar situation happens in Warhammer 40,000: brutal regimes like the Inquisition are not just important, but necessary, because the universe there is so damned dangerous and humans are the brink of extinction. As someone else put it: "if you let me put my thumb on the utilitarian scales, I can get you to agree that you have an affirmative moral duty to torture a three-year-old child to death." Made worse by the fact that the Incubators, having a psychological structure different from that of humans (remember that in Incubator society emotion is considered a mental disorder, but they imitate human emotion in order to manipulate them), have no concept of such things like privacy and sanctity of life.

Now, Madoka is being driven further into this conflict between her own conventional morality (e.g., things like "love thy neighbour as thyself") and the Incubators' utilitarianism. Everyone around her is suffering, but the problem is that this vicious cycle of utilitarianism also makes sense, and thus she cannot argue against the Incubators' position. But if she cannot argue against, why not compromise? At the end of the series, she gets an opportunity to change the Powered by a Forsaken Child-based universe and create a new one which also fits in with her morality that is based on rule of compassion. Thus Madoka adopts Rule Utilitarianism: she can still preserve conventional rules that allow a comfortable life for everyone in this universe (like for example the necessity for Incubators and Magical Girls to fight entropy and ensure the prosperity of human civilization), while dumping those conventional rules that are unnecessary and harmful (like for example having magical girls fall to despair and become Witches).

It should be noted that the show is heavily influenced by Hegelian philosophy (in notable opposition to Evangelion's Kierkegaardian), and that this is a version of the dialectic: the Incubators' seemingly "utilitarian" Blue-and-Orange Morality, and human emotion-based morality. (Note also: the Incubators are trying to prevent the entropic death of the universe that arises from an increase in chaos, whereas the "enlightened" magical girls, such as Homura, are fighting against their Lawful Neutral philosophy. Ring a bell?) However, Madoka, in the end, decides that both the thesis (creating Puellae Magi are necessary to save the universe) and the antithesis (the Puella Magi system is unethical and cruel) are both equally valid. Thus, she discovers the truth in the synthesis of the two ideas, creating a much less cruel world where Puellae Magi, instead of being doomed to die as witches, Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence with Madoka.

Incubators, their role as Ancient Astronauts, and the Garden of Eden.

In one scene, Madoka comments that it would be better if the Incubators had never come to Earth. Kyubey's response: "Your people would still be living naked in caves." The implication being that a majority of human civilization is due to the advancements that came from wishes, and curses, that Magical Girls have made since before history. Rather, we see the metaphor in civilization itself. Like Wishes, every discovery that mankind has made can (and has been) used for both good and ill. Fire brings warmth, energy, and destruction. Here we see Kyubey claiming that his race was the Serpent that gave mankind the Forbidden Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and how civilization/science is the knowledge of good and evil.

Madoka Magica: A theological treatise describing the contrast between Eternal Punishment and Universal Reconciliation?

The concept of Eternal Punishment in Fire and Brimstone Hell originated from Tartarus in Classical Mythology, but was originally reserved for the most vile Complete Monsters. The original Jews believed in Conditional Immortality where the Fruit of Life is reserved only for believers, while sinners are "returned to dust". The Jews used the metaphor of the real-life garbage incinerator "Gehenna" to signify a place where sinners are annihilated forever. However, the concept of Gehenna gave an excuse for Tartarus to be adopted by the then-exceedingly-corrupt Catholic Church who modified the concept to include all non-Christians and thought criminals, in order to strike totalitarian fear into its subjects and to give an excuse to make suicide the illegal "unforgivable sin" forcing the suicidally depressed to turn to lifetime Catholic obedience instead. This is most exemplified by Dante's Inferno, the most iconic image of Hell, and which is now accepted as canon by Christians. Obviously, this suffered God Is Evil accusations.

Other theologians such as Origen proposed an alternative theory:Universal Reconciliation.

If God is merciful and all forgiving, then God will have mercy on and forgive everybody. Of course, some souls that did a lot of sins and regrets in life would be delayed and "purified" for their sins before being allowed to Heaven, but eventually, in the end, all shall become one with God. They offered Word of Jesus, such as the "Love your enemies" commandment and the "Prodigal Son" parable, as proof of concept. They also took the "Prodigal Son" parable as a metaphor for Lucifer himself; he left God thinking that it is "Better to Reign in Hell than serve in Heaven," but eventually realized the futility of his ways, and God is more than happy to accept him back and forgive him. Universal Reconciliation was suppressed as Heresy by the Catholic Church, who detested the idea that Lucifer, thought-crime and victims of suicide can be forgiven. It only became popular once again during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, where the influence of Humanism coupled with the fall of Catholic hegemony allowed widespread criticism of the "Fire and Brimstone Hell/Dantes Inferno" concept of Hell.

In modern Christian apologetics, two alternative theories to Fire and Brimstone Hell emerged: first, the aforementioned Universal Reconciliation. Second, the idea of Eternal Separation, where Hell isn't a literal place of fire and brimstone, but rather a depressing state of mind where your own thoughts, memories, guilt, remorse and pessimism separate yourself from the hope and light of God for all eternity. This is now the position adopted by modern Catholic theologians such as Pope Francis himself.

Mapping onto Madoka: When a Puella Magi suffers Absolute Despair Event Horizon, she transforms into a Witch isolated in her own Barrier. If you would observe the Witches' Barriers, you can see that they are Absolute Terror Fields serving as psychological museums about the most profound regrets, negative emotions, unwanted memories and guilts made by a Puella Magi in life. For example, Oktavia (Sayaka) has one of her familiars representing Kyousuke, who represents her most painful regret in life. He, that symbol of regret, will always be there in front of her, impossible to remove. The Puella Magi's soul is essentially Mind Raped by this Self-Inflicted Hell of traumatic memories, for all of eternity.

Therefore, Witches represent Eternal Punishment/Separation, the traditional Christian view that once you are sent to Hell, you will suffer in it forever. Christian apologists try to defend this idea from God Is Evil accusations by replying that it is not God who sends you to Hell, but rather, is it you who sends yourself to Hell through your own thoughts and memories. Hell is not a literal place of eternal fire and brimstone, but a metaphor for a psychological state of mind suffering from angst, remorse, pessimism and depression. The mind is its own place, can make a Heaven out of Hell or a Hell out of Heaven. If you are a Pessimist, then you would expect the worst out of everything, and if you expect the worst out of everything, then you would think that you are in an inescapable Hell and therefore succumb to Absolute Despair. If you made a depressing suicidal tragic life full of regrets and unwanted memories, then the replay of these memories would Mind Rape you to Absolute Despair Event Horizon, and you would become a Pessimist with low self-esteem. Your pessimism then projects an Absolute Terror Field that isolates yourself from the hope and light of God for all of eternity. Similarly, people accuse the Incubators (the Old Testament God and his angels) as sadists who manipulated the Puella Magi into Eternal Punishment, but ultimately, it is the Puella Magi themselves who adopt a Pessimistic philosophy, let themselves be corrupted to Despair, create Absolute Terror Field Barriers and become Witches. The Incubators are simply there as angels to oversee the system because it sustains All of Creation, with Eternal Punishment representing a cruel form of Law and Order that protects against Entropic Chaos.

Realizing the injustice of the order, Madoka, the Messianic Archetype, sacrificed herself, modified the entire system, and ascended to Heaven as a God, existing at every point in space and time yet transcendent from it. She overthrew the Incubators for a while and allowed the Puella Magi, who would rather be condemned to their own Hell forever, a chance of repentance. Sayaka, who would rather have become the eternally suffering Oktavia, was therapeutically helped by post-ascension Madoka come to terms with the choices she made in life. Kyousuke no longer represents Sayaka's biggest regrets. Instead, he represents how at the very least, she made other people happy, and that in itself makes her happy, allowing her to accept the final afterlife of contentment that Madoka made for her.

Madoka, the Messiah, represents Universal Reconciliation, the all-forgiving Jesus Christ who shall redeem all souls to Nirvana. She even forgives the Incubators, knowing that they have the good intention of protecting the universe against Entropic Chaos, and gave mankind Civilization. That's why she did not annihilate them, but simply removed the Eternal Punishment of the Witches and replaced it with a weaker, but nonetheless more forgiving, system. In the meantime, the dichotomy of Puella Magi and Demons still exist to represent Order against Chaos, and some souls that did a lot of sins and regrets in life would be delayed and "purified" for their sins before being allowed to Heaven. But eventually, in the end, all shall become one with God/Madoka.

  • I find this theory to be neat but mostly myopic to the buttloads of Buddhist symbolism. Madoka does have a good fair amount of christian imagery, but complete christian interpretations are probably the weakest of interpretations because they leave unanswered so much, and give clumsy explanations for things. The story does have elements of all these things though, and it's certainly better than most "Madoka is the christian god/jesus" interpretations I've seen. Madoka is a martyr like Jesus was, and even provides a kind of salvation. but rather than representing the messiah, she has more in common with kwannon.

  • The enlightened Buddha who rather than take the final step in her path, chose to instead turn from her path and help others reach enlightenment, therefore suffering eternally in karmic burden for others. the issue of Karma is one of intense issue with Buddhism and it's connection to entropy is palpable. This is honestly the point when most christian only interpretations break down because Christianity deals with eternities, and positive emotion leading to salvation. Buddhism, and by proxy, Madoka, is about impermenance and the futility of the natural world. It posits that all dreams and wishes eventually lead to despair, as Karmic forces balance out. No matter how hard you try, your wishes will be ground to dust, because the world is inherently decaying. Even positive wishes of faith do not pan out.

  • Madoka then gives her salvation by relieving the magical girls from this system. By taking their karma onto herself she invites them to exist in Higan, In a state completely divorced of both the desire, and the decay, of the natural world. The witches place of being is then not the expression of hell, so much as it is a natural expression of the pendulum swinging back for them, of their hopes turning to despair.

  • Without this knowledge, it's impossible to see the subtlety of what Kyuubei is really doing; he is exploiting humans to gain energy by the entropy or decay of the human emotions instead of the universe. With decay being a huge theme, Madoka's ties to both Mary and Kwannon, the destruction of Mitakihara, the timelines, and the magical girls themselves, It's myopic to view Madoka as only a Christian story. It uses both to great effect, but Buddhism is Elemental to some of the grandest and most obvious themes in Madoka. Over all I'd like to here more of your theory and analysis with these elements integrated into it's narrative. for more research, there are better links that explain elements more than I can.
    • I do agree on Madoka having both Christian and Buddhist elements, especially how Madoka was a rich girl who rejected her perfect life in order to learn suffering (like how Siddharta Gautama the Buddha was a prince before his self-imposed exile), and how the eternal recurrence of Homura led to Madoka's power. However, the difference between Madokamism and Buddhism is that the Buddha never actually saved all other sinners, but only taught those sinners how to achieve Nirvana by themselves. On the other hand, Jesus, despite the personal agony on himself, insisted for the wish to save others, even forgiving the very sinners who committed atrocity against him. Madoka acknowledged that the Incubators have committed atrocities against mankind but she chose to accept all the punishments for herself instead of wishing the Incubators out of existence.

  • It's also present in the series' presentation of desire - as the Buddha taught, desires lead to suffering. Rather than it just being having desire that causes problems, it is reality as the characters impose it to be that causes issues (in other words, desires plus a person's 'ego reality' i.e. how they perceive things to be vs how they actually are). Homura wants to protect Madoka, which isn't what she actually wants (she probably just wants to be happy together with Madoka) and she continually imposes her desire to protect Madoka onto Madoka, ignoring Madoka's increasing desires to fight. Sayaka is much the same - just healing Kyosuke's hand isn't what she actually wants and she suffers because her conception of reality (Sayaka the hero) is vastly different than the ensuing reality (Sayaka the less competent than everyone else magical girl discovers she's essentially a zombie).

Madoka as Japanese women's negotiations with European power

  • According to Prof. Akiko Sugawa-Shimada, in the original cultural context of mahou shojo anime, the shojo use symbols of American femininity lifted from shows like Bewitched to "transform" into new empowered forms as a negotiation with their daily roles as Japanese women. However, Madoka is distinguished by traditional mahou shojo by using classical European motifs, by featuring "puella magi" who fight with actual weapons to claim territories.

  • Mami represents the idealized haafu who is othered by society and feels she is forced to deny her heart as a Japanese girl, Kyoko is the impoverished daughter of a Christian convert, Sakura's a working woman employed by an international company, and and Homura is a NEET turned military otaku who laments the loss of the authentic Japanese spirit, who is represented by Madoka, who refuses to make a contract that only leads to the creation of a "witch" that drives modern-day people to commit suicides and join cults like Aum Shinrikyo.

  • The other girls become "Puella Magi," bound by their contracts, but only Madoka retains the heart of a "mahou shojo," which represents a healthy integration of Japanese and Western ideals.