I said all along that the reason I wasn’t recapping Madoka was because I was too shocked after each episode to write anything, and that’s partially true, but there was another reason; it’s because I didn’t feel a need to. It’s fun to take a show that maybe isn’t appreciated as much as you think it should be and point out its nuances, but Madoka wears so much of it’s greatness right on its sleeve, I didn’t think anyone needed me to explain to them what the show was doing, or why it was so good.
For the same reason, while I did want to chime in with a few thoughts on the finale, I’m not going to go into too many specifics, because everyone else is doing a great job already- the show seems to have brought out the best in the anime community online, because I can’t remember the last time so many blog entries and response posts I read about a show were this insightful.
So if I spend a lot of this post comparing Madoka to other landmark anime, or talking about the show’s handling of religious ideas, rather than the actual plot and characters, you can go elsewhere for discussion of those things very easily- seriously, pick a website that deals with anime, someone will be saying something about this show that’s worth reading. But you’re certainly welcome to hit the jump for my personal and slightly-loopy take on it.
In short, I feel like the Madoka finale has finally healed a wound that I’ve had ever since I first saw The End of Evangelion in 1999- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann started the healing process, and Madoka finished it.
All three shows ultimately deal with the same major theme; how to persevere when you know despair is not just likely, but inevitable. In Evangelion, there is no real answer- it’s about the point where cognition stops, where you’re so tired of the cycle of hating yourself and your life, then gaining temporary respite, then going through it again that the temptation is to stop existing altogether. In all it’s forms, the show goes so far as to say “It’s worth existing” (although the jury is still out on the Rebuild movies, though I would be lying if I said I still cared), but it doesn’t give you anything to go on other than that. Okay, so I shouldn’t just kill myself to escape the pain, now what do I do? We can be reasonably sure that Shinji has no fucking idea.
I still love Evangelion, but I loved it more before I realized that the only answer it offers is really a non-answer. I didn’t see a need for the remakes, but honestly, it seems appropriate that a show about cognitive and spiritual paralysis would be doomed to continue indefinitely, in an elliptical and masturbatory sort of way.
Anyway, TTGL takes it a step further- not that you combat despair by “kicking reason to the curb”, because that ALWAYS works, but because believing in yourself is the best chance you have. People criticize TTGL for basically running on the “rule of cool” and stating that anything you want is in reach as long as you believe, like a Disney movie, but I can’t see it that way at all; after all, if the show is about the idea that you can get anything you want just by trying hard enough, then why did Kamina have to die? Why does Yoko always end up alone? Why did Simon, of all people, lose the love of his life minutes after exchanging vows? Because even in the hyper-GAR world of TTGL, fighting hard doesn’t really mean you win all the time- you just win a helluva lot more than if you weren’t willing to believe.
Now, in Madoka, the fight against despair is worth it because you can work towards a better world, where there’s that much less despair than there was before. It might seem like Madoka’s single-handed ascension to Godhood is a bit convenient- after all, if we could just designate someone a perfect despair-receptacle, well that would be cool, but it doesn’t seem too likely. However, she didn’t do it alone; it was her cooperation with Homura that made it possible. It takes a combination of individual will and cooperation to recreate the world.
To some, this may seem like too much of an abstract, friendship-makes-the-world-go-round, Care Bears sort of ending, but I don’t think so; after all, you don’t have to go too far back in history to see people coming together for a better world. In my opinion, there was a large coming together post-WWII, where everyone kind of went “Gee, that was really horrible- we have to do better than this”- and it’s no accident that Anne Frank is referenced in Madoka. The Post WWII world may have its share of problems, but I think much of the world did take part in a good faith effort to recreate it for the better at that time, and I do think the world became a better place as a result. I hope it doesn’t take something that horrible for us all to come together again in the future (and we could use some cooperation now, that’s for sure), but that’s something I’d best not delve into too much.
Next time on Part II: Madoka and religion, or how Madoka also shares with Evangelion that thing where it seems like it’s about Christianity, but it’s more likely about that old stuff that was around before Christianity grew up.