I think my biggest fear with rewatching Puella Magi Madoka Magica (again) was that even if I still really loved the show, it wouldn’t hit me as hard as it did back in 2011. And it’s true that I’ll never replicate that first viewing but honestly, a lot of the story beats so far still get to me. Case in point, Sayaka’s entire arc is still brutal to sit through. The shock value is maybe a bit lost now but knowing exactly what happens actually works too because now, I’m dreading to experience the fate that ultimately befalls this character. No matter how much I could emotionally prepare myself for this, it all still hits like a truck.
It goes without saying that Sayaka reaches her breaking point in this episode. Following the fight from last episode, it’s clear that the knowledge that she’s not fully human anymore has completely warped her sense of wellbeing. She feels expendable now and even though she can block physical pain, she’s still emotionally drained because of her new mindset. Furthermore, you have Sayaka refusing to take the Grief Seed dropped by the Witch she fights, apparently to make things even between her and Kyoko though I think Sayaka is also trying to state that she’s not in the business to collect the loot and is taking the moral high ground. Even before getting to the ending, you just know that this is an incredibly huge mistake based on what’s been previously established. Grief Seeds are integral for maintaining one’s Soul Gem. To give it up and continue to fight enemies that may or may not produce such a rare item is simply a recipe for disaster.
Meanwhile, you have Kyosuke drifting farther and farther way from Sayaka, especially with Hitomi making her move (forget Kyubey, there’s the real villain of Madoka). I’m not the biggest fan of the whole subplot but it serves its purpose in destroying Sayaka on a personal level. Kyosuke has no knowledge of what she’s done for him and she’s losing him to someone who actually has the guts to confess, a friend of hers no less. In effort to keep her mind off of it, Sayaka devotes herself more to being a magical girl but the baggage of that job piles on even more as a result.
Perhaps the scene that finally brings Sayaka over the edge is a scene where she takes the train and overhears and confronts two men complaining about their girlfriends (the show also implies that she kills them as her powers go haywire). The conversation the two men share affects Sayaka in two ways. The first is that it reminds Sayaka that as much as she wants to use her powers to save others, the people she may be helping could very well be rotten to the core. In turn, that forces Sayaka to question if she’s really using her powers for good. The second way in which the conversation works is the slight parallel it has to Sayaka’s relationship with Kyosuke. The two men complain about their girlfriends but, as Sayaka points out, their girlfriends probably want their feelings reciprocated, much like how Sayaka wishes Kyosuke would reciprocate her feelings towards him. In turn, the conversation reminds her how she ultimately gained nothing and lost everything despite her well intentioned wish. In both personal and idealistic terms, the conversation makes Sayaka realize how thankless everything she’s been doing is, be it her wish for Kyosuke or her service as a magical girl.
Oddly enough, Sayaka’s descent into madness causes Kyoko to now come across as the more likable and more rational character, and that’s in spite of the latter’s antagonistic introduction. As selfish as Kyoko is, her mindset to do things for herself has proven itself to be healthier than Sayaka’s selfless ambition and it’s allowed her to better deal with and accept everything that’s happened so far. Hell, Kyoko is even proving to be the more empathetic character, sympathizing with Sayaka and helping her on numerous occasions even though neither of them see eye to eye. In contrast, and despite Sayaka’s desire to help others, Sayaka has grown rather bitter and resentful towards everyone. Even Madoka isn’t spared from that treatment as Sayaka blurts out that she thinks if Madoka really wants to be of help, she should become a magical girl and suffer with her. She does regret it soon after but the damage is done and it’s hard to deny that Sayaka still meant it.
It actually didn’t occur to me until this rewatch that Madoka is also kind of a foil to Sayaka. While Sayaka hopes to contribute towards the greater good for her powers, she’s confronted with the presumption that she’s not that powerful. Meanwhile, Madoka thinks she’s powerless to do anything and yet, she apparently has so much magical potential that she could be considered if a god if she utilized it. Sayaka desires to be a completely selfless magical girl but in the end, she becomes resentful of the people around her. In contrast, Madoka continues to be empathetic even when people either give her the cold shoulder or don’t appreciate her efforts at all. Ironically, Madoka is the closest to sticking with the ideals Mami held and she still remains to be a normal human being.
More and more, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Madoka means a great deal to Homura. In one scene, Homura offers a Soul Gem and when Sayaka rejects it, she tries to kill her. Homura then admits that her original intention isn’t to help Sayaka per se but rather to spare Madoka the pain of seeing Sayaka destroy herself. Later, when Kyubey tells Madoka that her wish and high magical potential could be used to save Sayaka, Homura shoots Kyubey before a contract could be made. This second scene is particularly poignant as Homura breaking down and pleading with Madoka to not think so lowly of herself and take such a drastic measure, even referring to Madoka by her first name. It’s a huge contrast from now Homura generally conducts herself but it also doesn’t feel out of character. Rather, it feels like she’s being more honest with herself and it sells the idea that Homura cares about Madoka despite the emotionless an coldhearted exterior she projects.
Another big detail is the nature of Homura’s powers. It turns out that she can manipulate and travel through time, which leads Kyubey into concluding that she must be from a different timeline. I’ve held off on it but Madoka has gone great job throwing hints on this detail. You have Homura seemingly moving from one place to another as though she’s teleporting. When she enters the fray, there’s usually a shot that shows something in motion suddenly stop in its place before resuming its animation. It’s subtle enough that one might take it for granted but it’s also puzzling should one notice it.
But anyway, the idea that Homura is a time traveler explains a lot. How does she already know Madoka when they first meet? Why does Madoka have a faint suspicion that they’ve met before? How does Homura know everything about magical girls, witches, and Kyubey? If she’s from a different timeline, than odds are she’s met Madoka and learned all the truths in the timeline she’s from. But while that does add up, you then have to wonder some things. How exactly did Homura find out about everything Kyubey neglects to explain? What relationship did she have with Madoka that she seems to care a great deal about her? If she’s so adamant that Madoka should not become a magical girl, does that mean she was one before? If she travelled from a different timeline, why is Homura time traveling in the first place…?
I have just one problem with the episode’s ending and that’s the fact that you have Kyubey spelling it out to the viewer what exactly happens to Sayaka after her Soul Gem becomes completely impure. With such a shocking turn of events and with how it cuts off at the end, I get that some clarification in order. That said, surely Sayaka’s Soul Gem shattering and her suddenly going through a violent transformation is enough visual indication of what’s unfolding. Also, who on Earth is Kyubey musing to? But that nitpick aside, this scene is the pinnacle of an already depressing episode. After spending so much time seeing the characters fight the Witches, it’s never occurred to them and it may not have necessarily occurred to you where these monsters actually come from or why their source of power fuels a magical girl’s. Suddenly, it all clicks at this very moment that magical girls and Witches may not be so different from each other. As Kyubey puts it, just as a girl matures into a woman, a magical girl matures into a Witch. That twist alone hits hard but what gets me even more is what happens to Sayaka. After suffering for so long, she finally admits her mistakes. Unfortunately for her, it might too late for her to change.
Thanks for reading!
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