Since I just posted recently about watching Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, it's perhaps also fitting that I recently rewatched another epic Mahou Shojou anime. I wrote about Puella Magi Madoka Magica once before earlier last year when it was airing. At the time I wrote the entry, I was only around 9 episodes through the show but was loving it and eagerly anticipating the finale. I wasn't the only one as the show was immensely popular and had a large following online. There had been a lot of buzz about it, especially after the unexpected decapitation of poor Mami in the 3rd episode. (see previous entry for details.) That pretty much said clearer than anything that this wasn't a little girl's mahou shojou show. There might be pretty outfits and a transformation sequence or two, but the bloody death part sort of puts a damper on things.
It turned out that nature conspired against all Madoka fans as right as the penultimate episode was supposed to air the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami struck, turning the country upside down. The animation company responsible for the show had its building damaged which inevitably delayed the last couple episodes. In addition, considering those last episodes consisted of an apocalyptic storm destroying a Japanese city, they figured it was only politically prudent to delay the airing indefinitely. This of course led to many smartasses on the internet claiming that the earthquake was really in fact a manifestation of Walpurgis Night and it was a plot to hide the existence of witches.
She will turn all of fate's misfortune to nothing.
She will flood the earth with magic,
and take all of humankind into her play.
A moving stage construction.
If everything is a play, no unhappy things will exist.
It may be a tragedy, but it'll all be part of the script.
The play stops on Walpurgisnacht,
and the earth does not turn even once more.
The story will not change.
Tomorrow, and the day after, is the night of Walpurgis.
It wasn't until over a month later that the last two episodes finally aired and it was worth the wait. It really was an amazing sort of wrap up to the series and I'm not the only one who came to that conclusion. It received raves from all over, and not just from the creepy otaku realm. According to Wiki:
The show won the Television Award at the 16th Animation Kobe Awards, as well as 12 NewType Anime Awards (out of 21 total awards given) and the Grand Prize for animation in the 2011 Japan Media Arts awards.
The latter of which is actually handed out by the Japanese Government's Agency for Cultural Affairs. It's probably fair to say that almost everyone who has any interest in anime at all went sort of Madoka-obsessed for a few months.
I basically described the plot in the previous entry, but I thought it would be interesting to highlight one chunk I only barely touched upon. Every time I think about Madoka, I'm reminded of that scene in the Matrix. Hell, let me just go snag a video of it from youtube.
I imagine that there must've been a 'Morpheus' or two among the puella magi over the centuries and I can see them giving a version of this speech to other girls, warning them of the incubators. In the end, the entire point of the whole wish => magical girl => despair => witch cycle is to convert the emotional lability of girls into a battery for the universe. Basically, the incubators have found a way to defeat the first law of thermodynamics, namely that energy can neither by created nor destroyed, through angst. Yes, it's true. Angst ends up providing the salvation of the universe believe it or not. By sending these girls through that cycle of hope and despair energy is created, energy which the incubators like Kuybey can harness and use to stave off the heat death of the universe.
As for the incubators themselves, while cutesy, they are completely emotionless. They actually view emotions as a form of mental illness which only crops up rarely. Thus it was to some surprise that they found an entire planet full of beings who to their perspective are completely batshit insane and yet seem to generally function. It turns out that this generalized insanity was a treasure trove of untapped energy though.
A lot of the later episodes consist in large part of the girls angsting about how unfair and cruel the system is. It's not like Kyubey was deliberately hiding the information as he just didn't volunteer any of it until they discovered bits on their own. From the incubator point of view, it's a symbiotic relationship. The granting of wishes and the sacrifice of all of these magical girls throughout history have propelled human civilization and allowed it to advance as a whole. They claim that without the incubators human beings would still be living in caves. In return, the incubators take the energy from the girls thus sacrificed and used it to keep the universe alive, which humanity will also benefit from once they reach the stars. Now, maybe it tells you something about my personality but I thought that Kyubey had a pretty good point, assuming it was all the truth. The internet as a whole vehemently disagreed. It's seldom you'll find any character more generally loathed than Kyubey.
It's generally believed that he and his race have nothing but evil intentions and their goal is to trick young girls into making contracts. My perspective is that if that were really the idea, they would have gone about it in a far more sneaky and nefarious way. Not to mention they probably wouldn't have so readily offered the truth when actually asked about it. This just tells you that if anyone ever offers you a magical wish, that you should take some time and read the damn fine print before deciding just how many zeros are in a trillion.
I won't spoil the final ending of the anime in case anyone out there still wants to see it eventually. It's really worth the time IMO. If nothing else, you need at least a smattering of Madoka knowledge to get half of the anime memes running around nowadays. So I'll leave it there with a Madoka/Portal mashup I found which I thought was hilarious.