Oh Madoka… I have always had fairly mixed feelings about the series that have added up to a rather more neutral impression than most folks. Overall I still consider it a good show but I’m not quite sure I see in it all the things the majority of fans seem to. Admittedly I have only seen the original anime series and none of the movies or manga, but to me it always seemed a little…unrealized.
Of course I’m probably wrong about that. The series’ ongoing popularity and the undeniable mark its left on the medium in general is proof that it was something special indeed. Also Kyubei is and always will be best evil Pokemon… spoiler. Actually while I have you here, spoilers galore. I’m going to talk about some big old Puella Magica Madoka plot twists, beware. I’m sure no one has ever done that before. If you haven’t seen the show…please forget about that Kyubei thing. He’s not really a Pokemon…
As I was saying, Madoka has a huge amount of potential. It’s absolutely packed with fascinating elements but between the half dozen plot twists and shocking reveals, the tons of characters, the complicated universe with its own unique assortment of rules, the 12 episodes end up feeling very cramped and few plotlines are really given a chance to shine. It’s frustrating because you can really see how great it would be to learn more about any of those threads but we’re left we a near taste of what could be. Let me show you what I mean, let’s talk about Sayaka.
Sayaka Miki is Madoka’s best friend and her character foil in early episodes. She’s energetic, outgoing and a little brusque, where Madoka’s is quiet, timid and cautious. They complement each other well and the series makes sure to drive the point home by giving Sayaka an all blue color scheme in contrast with Madoka’s pink one.
Sayaka is introduced to the world of Magical girls at the same time as Madoka and her eagerness to take on the role in the hope of bringing about positive change is instrumental in convincing Madoka to follow suit. Unfortunately, it’s that very same deep rooted idealism that leads Sayaka to harsh disillusionment, causing her to lose herself and become a witch. This moment represents the moral shift in the series, forcing Madoka and the audience to re-examine their preconceived notions on the nature of magical girls, heroism, right and wrong and really everything we thought we knew…
It’s a pivotal plot point that has certainly made an impact but for me, it always felt emotionally shallow. In order for the entire narrative to neatly fit into the allotted number of episodes, this reveal has to come at roughly the mid way mark as there is still a whole lot of story to tell. Furthermore, the initial hook required the audience to care at least somewhat about Mammie while the ultimate resolutions is only satisfying if we’ve built up enough of a connection to both Himura and Madoka’s, and their relationship has been thoroughly fleshed out.
As a result, everyone else’s character development is pushed to the sidelines. That girl with the ponytail and tragic backstory – don’t remember her name. Their non magical girl friend, you know, whatsherface… Sayaka does fare marginally better than the extras but in my opinion she simply doesn’t get the chance to grow beyond spunky best friend archetype. So when her downfall comes, I cared about the plot implications but not about the character that much. I wasn’t heartbroken by any means and carelessly moved on to the next plot point as if nothing had happened.
This isn’t good though. Madoka doesn’t really go into that much detail about its lore or sci-fi aspects. It has some great fight scenes but not enough to call it an action anime. What ties the series together, and its biggest selling point, is the raw visceral impact it has on it’s audience. Yet, when the best friend and sunny happy genki girl got viciously cut down before our very eyes, I just shrugged.
It’s not only that Sayaka was a virtual stranger to me, there’s also a saturation problem to deal with. A lot of stuff happens in Puella Magica Madoka, and I mean A LOT. By episode 6 I’d already had 4 shocking reveals, three surprisingly gory and uncomfortably cruel scenes and at least one betrayal. What’s one more grim twist at this point. Not to mention that I hadn’t been given a chance to catch my breath or a reason to crack a smile since this whole ordeal started. I was a little exhausted. It makes it harder to care…
Not that it was all bad mind you. As a plot device, Sayaka does her job superbly. She lets us in on yet another convoluted layer of the narrative in a way that’s both dynamic and organic. She gives Kyubei a perfect excuse to go on an exposition dump without it feeling forced and she is faithful to her role as a tool to the very end, as Kyubei appears even more callous and inhuman by remaining unmoved by the situation.
Unlike my usual character posts I don’t particularly like Sayaka. I don’t dislike her either. I simply don’t know her. What I do know is that Madoka is a good show that was just a few episodes short of being fantastic. But it overreached a bit and found itself wavering under the weight of it’s own ambition. And that’s incredibly obvious when you look at the character of Sayaka. She is a character entirely created to serve the plot and there simply wasn’t enough time to make her into a complete person. She deserved better than to be reduced to a simple device and Madoka would have been a better show for it.