I do apologize for bringing up Evangelion AGAIN, but you know, there are some areas where the two shows are opposites: in Evangelion, there’s a ton of symbolism relating to the Abrahamic faiths, but the show isn’t really about any of that; Madoka doesn’t bother with much religious symbolism (in fact, most of the symbolism is about other things entirely), but the show is literally about a girl who dies for our sins. Evangelion uses religious trappings, Madoka uses actual religion.
However, one thing they have in common is that while at first the Christian parallels on both shows jump out at you, to me the real substance of the religious material in both shows has more to do with Jewish mysticism and/or ideas that predate Christianity. Rather than being a token similarity, or the fact that one show was influenced by the other, I think it’s because both shows want to deal with religion (to the extent that Eva deals with it at all) on a more primal level, and if you want to go truly primal with religion, the year 0 is just too recent.
In fact, Madoka takes the core idea of the Christ figure, which predates Christ, and cleanses it of all the patriarchal and/or illogical baggage its acquired over the millenia; our savior Madoka isn’t born from a virgin, some warped idea of feminine perfection, but from a vivacious woman who isn’t afraid to get drunk off her ass if that’s what the situation calls for. Also, people don’t owe Madoka any sort of debt; She took on the burden of saving the world because she wanted to (no wish is selfless.) There’s no second coming on the horizon, because she did everything she wanted to do right the first time.
However, as much as the Christ parallel is obvious (and airing the final episode on Good Friday was cute, whether or not it was intentional), I can think of no better summary for the final episode than the tagline of Kabbalah: “God is a Verb.”
Now I’m not a kabbalist, and trying to apply kabbalism to fiction (especially when it comes to Evangelion, appropriately) tends to produce all kinds of pretentious gook I’m not sure I can really get behind, BUT.
In this one case, I think the idea of God being a verb- epitomized by Madoka, who is constantly, actively in the process of saving people from despair everywhere- really does fit with the show’s apparent message. God isn’t some aloof figure; it’s whatever is actively working to save your ass from the ravages of the universe. And the beauty of it is, that idea works whether you want to believe in the idea of an actual god- like what Madoka becomes- or if you’re of a more atheistic bent and believe that the closest we have to the benevolence of a God exists in people who choose to do good, against all odds.
Madoka and Other Good Stuff
Maybe I should have done this first, but to conclude, I’m just going to list a few things I loved about this series that don’t fit anywhere in particular.
-The fact that we got a parent character who wasn’t clueless. I know there has been some criticism that there was no point to Madoka’s mother- she seemed like she was going to be much more important in the plot than she actually was. However, I think the fact that Madoka’s mother had an inkling of what was going on, even though she didn’t know the details, really was the whole point; this wasn’t a world filled with five smart people and a bunch of clueless NPCs. Things like the mother’s friendship with Madoka’s classroom teacher may have seemed inconsequential to the overall plot, but they helped us believe this was a world filled with actual people who were worth saving, not just helpless background figures.
-The fact that a character truly went all out for the “final battle.” This may just be me, but I hate it when a character makes a big deal that they’re going to face their nemesis for the last time, and they make a big show of cocking a handgun. It’s like, you stupid idiot, if this is truly the last battle then don’t take a self-defense weapon, take a rocket launcher- in fact, consider taking twelve. Even though she was unsuccessful, watching Homura use every conceivable tool at her disposal to try to take out the Walpurgisnacht was satisfying, because the viewer could feel confident that if there was any chance in hell that the witch could have been defeated with conventional weapons rather than magic, Homura would have done it. It left no doubt in our minds that Madoka’s actions were necessary, something surprisingly rare in this brand of fiction.
– The fact that what was basically a Deus Ex Machina ending actually worked for once, because the show set up enough narrative and thematic scaffolding for it throughout that it didn’t feel like a cheap cop-out. I know some people will criticize the ending for being too easy, since Madoka basically became powerful enough to solve everything, however they spent the entire series laying the groundwork for why Madoka was so important in this scenario, and they did it without making the character into a total Mary Sue that we hated.
-That it was not only unpredictable, but even the stuff that WAS predictable somehow didn’t disappoint. Some may recall that I asked as early as episode 5 why Madoka couldn’t just “wish for no more witches,” and that’s 90% of what happened, yet the mechanics of how it happened were sufficiently interesting that I never felt tempted to say “bwah, I saw that coming.”
-The fact that someone actually deconstructed a genre like they said they were going to, instead of deconstructing one or two elements and calling it a day.
I’m sure I could think of more, but rather than prattle on indefinitely, I’m just going to rest secure in the knowledge that there’s no way I could possibly do justice to this show in a blog write-up anyway, and leave it at that. Of course, if you disagree with any of my thoughts on this show- disparate as they may be- you’re welcome to tell me so in the comments. I promise I won’t get mad, unless you say anything mean about Homerun-chan, who was so adorable with Kyubeh in the last episode by the way.