Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica – 9

Evil shadow is evil

I’ve always felt that Shinbo was at his best adapting other works rather than staging original series. While that would seem to bode ill for my feelings about this series, I don’t really think it does. Adaptations suit Shinbo because they keep his dark side – twitchy, gimmicky visuals and clever-clever dialogue – to a manageable level. Well, while this is an original series it’s clearly a collaborative effort. Much of the look comes from Ume Aoki’s character designs. The clear creative force behind the plotting is Gen Urobuchi. So in a sense, this is a real-time adaptation for Shinbo – and the magic formula is working. His skills in terms of pacing, staging and cinematography are put to use and the final product reflects some of the best work he’s ever done.

For all the more classical inspirations that Urobuchi has called on for this show, this week’s most obvious one was right from the heart of manga – Bokurano – and Shinbo’s panning shot of a room full of chairs at just the moment Incubator was describing its scheme to Madoka was a brilliant acknowledgment of that fact. Incubator’s story turned out to be a fairly predictable one – it claims to be working to save the universe, which will eventually die off due to entropy. In a closed system, energy is always lost when something is converted into something else so the universe will eventually run out of it. Incubator’s alien race searched the universe and discovered that the emotional trauma of pubescent girls trumps any other potential power source (tell us something we don’t know) and hatched the brilliant scheme of turning them into witches, harvesting the energy emitted when their soul gems turn into grief seeds. So you see, it’s actually a noble creature, not an evil little bastard – and the sacrifices the girls make are for the greater good. It’s not capable of emotion so it doesn’t understand why humans don’t think it ends up being such a good deal.

The only flaw in all this, of course, is that Incubator has proved itself to be a deceiver of the highest order. When Kyoko asks if Sayaka can be saved, it tells her it doesn’t know. Later, it tells Homura that of course, saving Sayaka was impossible – but it needed to let Kyoko kill herself (more in a minute) so that only Homura would be left to fight the powerful witch Walpurgis Nacht, and Madoka would be forced to become a Puella Magica and eventually give it that good energy it craves so badly. And where was all this talk of noble sacrifice when the girls were signing up – lost amid all the talk of saving people and protecting the ones they loved from witches? I don’t think Incubator is a credible witness at this point – not by a long shot.

In reality, not all that much that happens on Madoka Magica is really a surprise. Again, this is more the Greek tragedy than the suspense thriller. All of the deaths so far have been telegraphed well in advance – Sayaka for weeks, Mami and Kyoko early in their final episodes. Kyoko had clearly played her role – she was a pretty dark soul to begin with, and once she’d seen the truth of Incubator’s scam there wasn’t really much reason for her to go on. Except, that is, to try and save Sayaka – and really, that means trying to indirectly save Madoka. Once she realized the futility of that, she performed a kind of self-immolation to put both herself and Sayaka out of their misery. Sayaka’s witch lair was Shinbo at his best, proof that these are the dark, Freudian side of their creators, the former magical girls. Sayaka’s was a nightmare vision of concert posters, shadow orchestras and yes, Kamijou – kind of a grisly spectre’s memories of life on Earth. Staring that down, was it any wonder that Kyoko chose to end Sayaka’s suffering and spare herself the same fate?

I normally wish for happy endings in animes, but this is one time where I really don’t (if Urobuchi-san were even capable of such a thing to start with). I hate to say it but it just wouldn’t be true to the story – the message of this series is not that everyone is good at heart and things will all work out, as long as you have hope. Madoka is the poor innocent at the heart of all this, but how has she been rewarded for it? She’s lived to watch her friends die, one by one – and now she’s faced by a likely choice between her own life and that of the entire city. At best, we might see an ending where Homura is able to stage one last noble sacrifice and leave Madoka standing at the end, alone with her regrets but at least alive. Anything more than that would feel like a cop-out – or at least that’s how it feels to me right now. This is a tragedy after all and the power comes from knowing what’s coming and being powerless the change it. If it never comes, that cheapens all the pain and suffering that came before it.

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