Madoka Magica: The Law Condemns, But Grace Saves

Using the framework of the “Magical Girl Warrior” genre, this anime series retells the famous Christian morality play “Faust.”
Daniel Oaks | May 14, 2014 | 11 comments |

cover_madokamagicaFirst produced as a 12 episode TV series, and later released as a two part theatrical movie. Puella Magi Madoka Magica (aka Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica) is a retelling of the famous Christian morality play “Faust,” using the framework of the “Magical Girl Warrior” genre (eg: Sailor Moon).

We follow the titular character, 14 year-old Madoka, and her friend Sayaka, as they discover that there are creatures called “witches” that spread despair and curses in the world. These witches are opposed by warriors called Magical Girls (aka Puella Magi). Mentored by the heroic veteran Mami Tomoe, Madoka and her friend are invited to become magical girls themselves by making a contract to devote themselves to fighting witches. As compensation they are offered one wish, for anything they desire.

Opposing them is the mysterious Magical Girl Homura Akemi, who insists that becoming a magical girl is a mistake and strives to prevent Madoka from contracting. Later they meet Kyoko Sakura, a former protege of Mami. Raised as a Christian, Kyoko has rejected her father’s teachings, and now leads a life devoted to only her own survival and pleasure. Kyoko has no patience for weaklings who prat about justice and protecting others. The only thing important to her is looking out for herself.

The five girls struggle with the selfish desires within their hearts. Slowly realizing that even the best of humans cannot truly be described as good. All the while, the ominous Walpurgisnacht approaches, threatening the utter destruction of their hometown.

This show was surprisingly moving to me. While familiar with “Sailor Moon” because of my sisters, I have never been interested in the Magical Girl genre. I was enticed into watching the first episode with the claim that there would be flintlock muskets that shoot laser beams. (There are, and they are quite awesome.) I found much more, and was hooked enough by the Faustian overtones to watch a couple more episodes before determining that this is probably the best anime of the decade.

The final climatic episodes were delayed by the tsunami that struck Japan, and ended up being aired on Good Friday, which perfectly fitted the tone of the ending. Emotionally, Madoka Magica is a story of grief and agony that is miraculously transformed into a story of joy.

Particularly fun was participating in the weekly episode discussions. They were more philosophical then any discussions around anime that I have seen since Neon Genesis Evangelion. But with Madoka the comments were much more religiously oriented. Among a group of anime fans I found myself discussing not only morality questions, but also comparing different characters to Peter or John the Beloved, as well as discussing the necessity of grace.

It was interesting that in a forum were the atheists are always so loud, I soon discovered that well over half of the forum were actually devout Christians. I had discussed many anime with these same people, yet not until we watched Madoka Magica together did we share with each other our religious beliefs. As a gospel conversation starter, Madoka Magica is one of the best secular choices out there.

Because of the dark and heavy themes, I would not recommend this show for children under age 11 without prior review. The show is available on Netflix. An English dub is available and is excellent.

The soundtrack by Yuki Kajiura is stunning in quality. The theme for Mami Tomoe, “Believe in Justice,” is particularly popular, and has generated numerous fan variations on Youtube.

The direction by Shinbo is well done as always. The artistic decisions fit the story very well, giving it an atmosphere similar to “Edward Scissorhands” or “Nightmare Before Christmas.”

The primary writer, Urobatchi, is not a Christian. Explaining why he wrote this story, he said that he had become so disillusioned with the sinfulness of humans, that he found he could no longer write happy stories. Inevitably his character’s actions would lead to their tragic end. Wanting to write a happy ending, he turned to the only religion that he felt truly confronted this flaw in human nature: Christianity. While his depiction of Christianity is an odd mix of Catholic and Protestant theology, this story is an interesting look from the viewpoint of a non-Christian who takes Christianity far more seriously than many Christian writers.

Dan Oaks grew up in the American West. With a degree in economics, he now teaches American history, world history, and calculus at the high-school level.

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Julie D

I’ve been adding some of these animes reviewed to my to-watch list. It’s nice to see some suggestions for a genre that I have no clue where to begin.

Leah Burchfiel

Oh, oh,oh! Unsolicited suggestion time!

I think Fullmetal Alchemist (either the original series or the Brotherhood remake) is a great introduction because it incorporates a little more Western culture than a typical anime, and the dub is good. Lots of fighting and some philosophy and FEELS.

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles is a bit weird in art style, but it’s frakking adorable. I’ve only seen it in subs (fansubs, no less), so I can’t attest to the quality of the dub. This is the shoujo-iest shounen I’ve ever seen, but it works. Fighting and adorable young love. And Mokona.

And a comment section or so ago, I namedropped The Story of Saiunkoku. Granted if you can’t stand even implications of yaoi, the first several episodes will be difficult, but it’s not that important to the plot.

Fairy Tail, which I recommend over Inuyasha, is good but a looooong-term commitment. And there’s a solid chunk of fanservice with boobage and skimpy outfits, but the story is good enough to hold its own against it. I watched the series in sub but the movie in dub, and they both seem pretty good. Lots of fighting, friendship, subplots, and regular FEELS.

D. M. Dutcher

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles is probably not the best to start with. It relies on knowing about both the companion series Xholic and a lot of CLAMP’s other works like Card Captor Sakura, X/1999, Tokyo Babylon, and more. You miss a lot if you can’t recognize the characters from when they first appeared. Might be tough for a newbie.

FMA and Fairy Tail are decent shonen series. Shonen means young boy, but are more akin to young adult novels if people wrote them for teenage boys instead of girls.

If you’re new to anime, two series I’d recommend without hesitation are Squid Girl (ika Musume) and The Master of Killing Time (Tonari-no Seki Kun.)  Both are light and short comedies, but aren’t  too in-jokish while introducing you to a lot of Japanese culture.

Leah Burchfiel

Tsubasa was actually my first CLAMP, and I didn’t have too much problem with not knowing the other stories. As for Squid Girl……I had a trainwreck sort of fascination for as far as I got along (about half a season). SO MANY FISH PUNS.

Christian Jaeschke
Christian Jaeschke

I haven’t seen the movies but I quite enjoyed the Modoka Magica series. There’s definitely some Buddhist influences (how could there not be, it’s from Japan) but overall, I saw more of a Christian influence. I enjoyed the story and the characters. It was thought-provoking and clever. At one point, a female character feels bitter about her dad being a pastor and people turning away from his teachings. But he did begin to teach a false gospel, so fair enough.

Fullmetal Alchemist is great (I prefer the manga to the anime, although I haven’t seen Brotherhood).

Another anime series I might recommend: Trigun. I didn’t enjoy it as a whole (the animation wasn’t to my taste, about 2/3rds of the series is fairly self-contained and for the most part, the story tone is just weird) but there are several fun characters and great Christian themes and the last third or so is something you seriously don’t see in anime. Finally, the lead, Vash the Stampede, is a numbskull but very skilled and hates violence.

D. M. Dutcher

Madoka’s a dark deconstruction though, and I’d probably bump the warning up past eleven to sixteen. It gets a lot of power from taking the ideas of the magical girl genre and twisting them hard to tell an adult, mature story. It’s a compelling story, and probably one of the best anime of recent years, but there’s a lot of pain, futility, and sadness in it. Faust indeed.

Christian Jaeschke
Christian Jaeschke

Mid-teens and older sounds about right. I can’t imagine an 11 year old watching the series and understanding it or even enjoying it. Definitely better left until they’re older and more mature.

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