With this episode, Puella Magi Madoka Magica concludes its entire “middle act” involving Sayaka. Needless to say, it doesn’t end on a terribly optimistic note.
The conflict of course is Sayaka’s recent transformation into a witch, which Homura confirms to be the case to both the other girls and the viewer by extension. Even before Kyubey mused on the connection in the last episode, the signs were there. Magical girls have Soul Gems. Witches produce Grief Seeds that magical girls need to keep their gems healthy. Furthermore, and you’d admittedly would take it for granted, one has to wonder where witches even come from in the first place. It all lines up too well and sure enough, it’s all entirely intentional.
You do get some worldbuilding shortly after with Kyubey explaining to Madoka why the system is the way it is. Apparently, Kyubey is a member of an alien race known as the Incubators who are concerned over the eventual heat death of the universe. In their research, they conclude that powerful energy generated by emotion can counter the entropy. But because Incubators are emotionless, they cannot produce such energy. Thus, they created magical girls and witches, tapping into the emotions of young girls to create the energy that’s needed. Some suspension of disbelief is admittedly required here. Like, I have how human emotions are that powerful, more than the ability to literally grant wishes. Furthermore, I get that this is a magical girl series but surely the Incubators realize that humans in general are a very emotional race, right?
I’m willing to look the other way with these nitpicks as the twist surrounding witches works so well for the narrative. As if the job of a magical girl couldn’t get any more thankless, we learn that they don’t serve any righteous purpose but strictly functional one. To succeed in their job isn’t by helping others but by enduring for long as they can or become the very thing they’re intended to fight. Worse is that this a potentially endless cycle, one that admittedly serves a great purpose but at the cost of countless young girls to suffer in the process.
All this further strengthens some of the characterization of the cast. Kyubey once more proves that he can only understand the situation from a purely objective perspective and fails to see why the system as the twisted machine that it is. Homura further proves her disdain for her job which in turn further fuels her disapproval for Madoka to become a magical girl. And as for Madoka, she is, as always, incredibly empathetic. She horrified at what she’s learning and she can’t help but lament for all the girls, past and present, affected by this never-ending cycle.
After making a temporary retreat, Kyoko becomes determined to save Sayaka. She willingly uses her magic to keep Sayaka’s human body from deteriorating and she enlists Madoka’s help in confronting Sayaka, speculating that she might be able to get through to the witch since she’s her best friend. Naturally, when you’re this far into Madoka, you’re inclined to see this plan as foolish. Prevailing with the power of friendship? It just sounds too good to be true. Plus, there’s some logistics to consider as well. If there really is a way to save magical girls from their fates as witches, such a method would’ve been known by now. That Kyubey claims he doesn’t know if it’s possible immediately sounds suspicious too.
Be that as it may, the show does make you want to see this plan somehow work, if only because it would greatly satisfy the characterization of both Madoka and Kyoko. Madoka’s biggest strength is her compassion and empathy and possibly getting through to Sayaka with just her words would be a great opportunity for her to make use of those attributes. On top of that, she’d feel like she’s doing her part for a change, as opposed to watching from the sidelines and feeling powerless to do anything. Meanwhile, you have Kyoko who is a different person now than she was when she was first introduced. Not too long ago, she wanted to fight Sayaka and believed in only doing things for herself. And yet, she’s doing the opposite as she wants to whatever she can to help her former rival. It’s surprising but it’s also the natural development for her character arc, growing out of her self-centered outlook and becoming a far better person than she herself ever expected.
The ensuing fight between Kyoko and Sayaka’s witch form has a couple of details that stand out to me. Most of the domains we’ve so far boil down to simply being nightmare fuel but the one in which Sayaka resides in is incredibly on point. The whole place greatly resembles an auditorium which is clearly meant to be a nod to Kyosuke and his violin playing. Even after losing all of her humanity, Sayaka still remembers Kyosuke and her failure to escalate things between him and her still weighs heavily on her mind. It also gives some hope that some of her former self is still remains. Another detail is the fact that, for once, Kyoko is fighting entirely on the defensive. Part of that is to keep Madoka safe but it does appear that Sayaka’s witch is too powerful for the veteran magical girl to handle. Sayaka finally does become stronger than Kyoko but ironically, she achieves this not as a magical girl but by unintentionally becoming one of the monsters she swore to fight.
As expected, the plan goes awry. Sayaka tries to kill Madoka and seeing that Madoka can’t even get through to her, Kyoko is forced to give up. She then entrusts Homura to take Madoka to safety and stays behind to sacrifice herself and destroy Sayaka. For Madoka, this is bound to be a huge blow for her. Once more, her biggest strength does little to actually contribute to the conflict. What’s even worse is that this isn’t the first time she’s felt this way when trying to help her best friend. Oddly enough, the same can’t be said about Kyoko. Yes, she dies in the end but her sacrifice is befitting of her character development. As short lived as her new outlook on things is, she at least goes out by making a selfless action, putting Sayaka out of her misery and helping Homura and Madoka escape.
With that, Madoka reaches its endgame. Kyubey reveals he intentionally let Kyoko try to save Sayaka, knowing that with her gone, Homura is left to fight Walpurgisnacht alone and she can’t win unless Madoka joins her. Even with her hands tied however, Homura remains adamant in keeping Madoka out of the fight. It really begs the question as to why she doesn’t want Madoka to become a magical girl. Fortunately, we’ll learn soon enough.
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