This post is the fourth of five covering the series ‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica’. It contains spoilers for episodes one through ten, with some speculation for episodes beyond that.
Without knowing, at the time of typing this at least, what the final episodes of Puella Magi Madoka Magica hold, I think it’s safe to say that nonetheless, this episode will have no difficulty standing on its own feet. Pulling back the curtain on a mystery that has dominated the series since its very first episode alone would be enough to elevate the episode’s standings, but the content of what was revealed surely sends it over the edge. In terms of the overall narrative, I find this episode playing an interesting role. As much as I wanted to learn about Homura’s intriguing past, I also felt that the larger story was in a position where it had the audience in the palm of its metaphorical hands. That’s an enviable position to have an audience; to move away from the main story into a flashback – albeit a flashback for Homura, who is arguably more of an active character than our alleged main character – is a daring move, and one that could have backfired had Homura’s story been even slightly less engaging than what it was. I’m tempted to suggest that interspersing Homura’s story with the finale would have created a tighter, denser finale but on the other hand, the finale and the flashback could also have served as mutually distracting elements which would have kept the audience from focusing on either element of the story. Unlike previous posts on this series, this week’s post will be focusing solely on episode 10:
Episode 10: I Won’t Depend On Anyone Anymore
A few things become obvious in the first few minutes of the episode. The scenes from the first episode, featuring a confident, self-assured Homura and a somewhat awkward Madoka did not depict either the duo’s first meeting nor their original dispositions. The natural questions here are: what made Homura change so much? What about Madoka, who appears much more capable and confident here than in the normal timeline? Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows my feelings about time travel – I always want to know what kind of time travel it is, whether it’s the immutable history kind of time travel (where nothing actually changes, despite what the protagonists try) (see Groundhogs Day)or if it’s the butterfly effect type of time travel, where the smallest deviating actions from the protagonists result in disaster (see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). Either way, this version of Homura paints a pretty dismal picture; she is awkward and unimpressive in every way, and in a harsher climate would be the prime target for bullies looking to make a quick buck. She is not unaware of this fact however, and her misery is powerful enough to attract a Witch. Like Madoka in the first episode, Homura is completely overwhelmed by the Witch and very much taken in by Madoka, who shows up to rescue her. Things play out that repeat the series so far; Madoka and (a yet to be beheaded) Mami explain things to Homura, who plays the same role in this timeline that Madoka and Sayaka played in the timeline that we spent 9 episodes watching. The topic of Walpurgis Night comes up and soon we learn that Madoka is the only one capable of stopping it. Madoka sacrifices herself in order to kill the Mega-Witch but Homura is heartbroken; the girl she so liked and admired sacrificed herself to save Homura herself. I’m sure that Madoka died for more than Homura herself, but I’m not insensitive enough to raise the issue at such a delicate time.
Kyubey, never one to miss an opportunity for exploitation, steps in when Homura is at her emotional weakest and offers her his (its?) usual Faustian deal. Homura, distraught and grieving, accepts and so begins our little time-travel-turntable. I won’t ruin the moment by questioning just how incredibly powerful Homura’s emotional distress would need to be in order to overcome sometime as all-encompassing as time itself, but at the same time – that’s a pretty huge deal. That’s not a localized power like teleportation or regeneration or sprouting ribbons – Homura reversing time is a universe-wide event. It’s really a big fucking deal. Just saying. That’s a lot of angst.
The next scene establishes that we are indeed in something of a Groundhogs Day type loop, albeit on a much longer time scale (which makes Homura’s power even more broken, but enough about that). Homura awakens in her hospital, but with her memories of her previous time loop largely intact. She goes a little over the top in her enthusiasm in greeting Madoka, but the episode thankfully doesn’t focus on the million yuri rumours that were born in that scene alone. Madoka, who seems especially sharp in these alternative timelines, catches on that Homura is a magical girl almost immediately and soon the other magical girls are caught up with this latest information as well. At this point, I can’t help but think that perhaps one reason that Madoka in ‘our’ timeline (i.e. the timeline that we spent the previous episodes watching) is always so uncertain and lacking in confidence is because she has already deviated too far from her ‘original’ set of actions, so each action she takes in ‘our’ altered timeline feels unnatural in a way that she can’t actually explain, but which results in her uncertainty. Regardless, we have a bit of training montage as we learn that Homura is pretty much useless in combat despite her absolutely overpowered abilities. It’s a deficiency that is easily overcome however; Homura takes a note out of Peter Parker’s playbook and develops her own set of munitions. It isn’t enough unfortunately; even though Homura is able to contribute something, it isn’t enough to keep the Walpurgis Night at bay and soon a familiar scene plays out again: Madoka is dying again in Homura’s arms and the nightmare restarts.
Eventually, Homura discovers Kyubey’s secrecy and implicit betrayal – however, this news is not well received, especially by Mami, possibly explaining why in our timeline, Homura did not bother explaining this to the girls beforehand. Homura stocks up on non-explosive weaponry by essentially robbing the police and military. In one version of events, Sayaka’s depression and anxiety breaks her, like it does in our timeline, and the grief causes the group to fracture, with Mami’s breaking the hardest and killing Sakura upon learning the Witches’ true origins. Madoka is forced to put Mami down, but this destroys Madoka’s own already damaged spirit and Homura is forced to return back. I guess seeing stuff like this goes a long way in explaining why Homura was so reticent in sharing what she knew in the timeline we saw. We eventually see the promise that Homura made to Madoka – to return to the past and prevent all this from happening, specifically, Madoka becoming a magical girl. It is the final piece of the puzzle in explaining why Homura was so very determined to keep Madoka in particular out of this mess. It must have been incredibly frustrating to see Madoka slowly inch closer and closer to opening that Pandora’s Box despite all the effort and suffering that Homura had to go through in order to prevent it. Homura makes the promise and has to put Madoka down before she becomes a Witch. With that a new iteration of timelines – Homura using any means at her disposal to keep the inevitable from happening, and failing each time. It is a lonely life the way Homura’s narration explains it; the knowledge she possesses makes her reluctant to form friendships and so she fights Madoka’s good natured intentions on her own, though with little to ultimately show for it.
The episode isn’t quite done kicking the audience in the nuts quite yet. There is a final revelation; Madoka’s status as the strongest magical girl has an implication that we haven’t considered yet – it means that she will become one of the strongest Witches ever created and it will take a magical girl even stronger to defeat her. I don’t know if I am right in thinking that there is an unsustainable cycle implied therein; a strong magical girl giving birth to a strong monster requiring a stronger magical girl to defeat it before herself becoming a stronger monster, indefinitely. Of course, perhaps a group of them could band together to defeat a great enough threat, but it seems that that possibility seems remote and unfeasible. The idea of Madoka herself becoming a Witch isn’t particularly shocking – for a period of time, when this episode brought in the elements of time travel, I wondered if Madoka herself would somehow become the Walpurgis Night – the real impact is on Homura, for whom the stakes have, impossibly, been raised even further. Not only is she now fighting for a personal victory in saving her friend but also for the larger objective of preventing the birth of a monstrous Witch. The real miracle is that she hasn’t gone mad from the strain just yet – though at this rate, I wouldn’t rule it out.
PS: This post was more or less typed out a whopping three months ago. I know it’s been a while, and apologetic as I am for that, I can’t promise it won’t happen again. I’ll complete Puella Magi Madoka Magica this week and see how it goes from there. Between work, moving around, studying for exams and working on my own novel, I haven’t had time to finish this the way I should have. I have a little more time this month and so, please accept my humblest apologies, and I’ll see you here next week. I promise.