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The cover of the first BluRay volume released ...

The cover of the first BluRay volume released by Aniplex, featuring two of its main characters, Madoka Kaname (right) and Homura Akemi (left) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica has an ending that, to me at least, feels Arthurian in nature.  As a result this review needs to cover some apparently unrelated topics, so please be patient as you read on [1].

Be careful what you wish for and equivalent exchange

The danger of making wishes has long been a running theme in anime. I first encountered it with Vampire Princess Miyu, and Full Metal Alchemist quantified it [2] by imposing an equal price for any wish or transformation.

Obviously this is a much older archetype – the three wishes granted by a genie spring to mind, and there are countless others.

This is why I compared Kyubey to Mr Morden: he encourages characters to make wishes without fully explaining the price.

What I didn’t realise at the time is that this practice on Kyubey’s part was somewhat justified [3], but also constituted a classic evil custom straight out of the Arthurian mythos.

The power of virtue and wisdom

For me one of the recurring themes in Arthurian Mythos is the ending of evil customs not by violence [4], but by fulfilling the custom in a virtuous way.  Achieving this requires that the knight possess some level of wisdom or knowledge [5].

As a mythological expression of the belief that just ends can only be achieved by just means, this has always resonated with me [6].

It also plays a major part in the ending of Madoka Magica.

The power of friendship

The other key element in the ending of Madoka Magica is the character that, out of friendship and love, makes a horrible mistake.

The mistake in Madoka Magica will never be fully redeemed, but provides the path to wisdom for the friend to solve the evil custom. This is both quintessential anime, and also fits the Arthurian pattern where the first knight to challenge a custom often fails only to be redeemed by another [7].

Knowing what to wish for, and accepting the price

Ultimately when Madoka learns the truth of the magical girls, she realises that only by fulfilling the custom can she change it, and willingly pays the price in full. The price is extremely high, but Madoka’s cheerful acceptance of it changes everything.

This ending is well handled, and changes all that went before. There is still a lot of Break The Cutie going on in Madoka Magica, but there is also a reason for it, as well as redemption in the end.

As I was watching Madoka Magica I was uncertain if I was going to end up with another Life on Mars: a compelling show to watch, but not one that I’d ever be willing to watch again.

The ending has changed this somewhat. At some point in the future I might rewatch Madoka Magica because a) there is an ending that offers hope, and b) knowing the ending may well change my perceptions of the earlier episodes.

What am I missing?

The Arthurian mythos was the lens through which I saw the ending because it is the lens that is part of my cultural knowledge. I’ve done this a number of times, and it does sometimes make me wonder what aspects of Japanese culture and mythology I’m missing.

It may simply be that the Japanese warrior culture produced similar myths that parallel the Arthurian mythos.  As a result any anime drawing from those Japanese myths may resonate for me with the Arthurian mythos instead.

It may be something else entirely. I simply don’t know enough about Japanese mythology [8] to have an answer for this, so think of this as the obligatory disclaimer on the review.

Other Bits and Pieces

Madoka Magica has a very distinctive visual style that is well worth appreciating.  There is a well planned mix of stark clarity in some scenes contrasted with surreal elements in other sequences.

The soundtrack, particularly the ending credits song Magia by the ever talented Kalafina, is fabulous.

What isn’t fabulous is the truly pitiful extras on the Madman blurays. Three discs, separately released, and the only extra is a textless opening? Really?

Summary

Madoka Magica is an impressive deconstruction of the Magical Girl genre, well worth watching at least once.  Best taken in small doses, I wouldn’t recommend more than two episodes at a time for a first viewing.



[1] On the plus side, this review will end up mostly spoiler free as a result.


[2] I imagine that this is true for both anime versions of Full Metal Alchemist, but I haven’t seen Brotherhood yet (I’m thinking about getting it though).


[3] I’m not going to say how Kyubey is justified in doing what he does, only that it is at best a partial justification.


[4] I must admit that Arthurian stories where evil is ended by righteous mayhem also exist, and in great numbers. 🙂


[5] I suspect that these types of stories may have developed to raise the Arthurian knights to a higher level than historical nobility, and also as propaganda to make real knights look less like brutish thugs. But I digress, which is why this is a footnote. 🙂


[6] This resonance partly explains why for many years, and despite the rampant sexism, Greg Stafford’s Pendragon has been my RPG of choice when I choose to be a gamesmaster.


[7] The roles often rotate for this. Gawain, Agravain, Gareth, and Gaheris always seem to be rescuing each other from something that a particular brother is better suited for than the others. Usually the best suited brother is the last one to turn up. 🙂


[8] I must also admit that anime is a very bad way to be learning those myths. I try to keep that in mind whenever it might be relevant.