Why Madoka Makes a BAD Christ Figure

One of my favorite things about blogging is connecting with anibloggers all over the country (and world!).  I’ve made friends with many bloggers and become a fan of so many others.  One blog I follow very closely is Anime Bowl.  Run by Tommy, Anime Bowl is a unique blog that follows anime and football.  He focuses particularly on anime conventions, Bleach, and the Green Bay Packers.

Tommy also writes on faith and anime from time to time (he did a wonderful guest post for us in the past).  For Easter weekend, he wrote a terrific article that I want to share with you.

On Beneath the Tangles, we focus on connections between anime and Christianity.  Perhaps the anime we’ve written about more than any other is Puella Magi Madoka Magica.  I’ve been persistent in my comparisons between Madoka and Christ, while also sharing other connections, including those made by other bloggers on their own sites.

Kaname Madoka

Art by 茶谷湊

Tommy, however, says that the analogy doesn’t work:

So for Easter Sunday, I can’t help but thinking of the parallels between Puella Magi Madoka Magica and the Easter story. On Good Friday and Holy Saturday, I struggled and struggled at fitting together the puzzle pieces. Madoka represents Jesus, Kyubey is Satan, who’s Homura? But all those comparisons break down when you look at the most important part of Easter.

He focuses on a very significant and important part, and one that’s worth pondering particularly in light of Easter.  I highly encourage you to head to his site and read the complete post:

Easter: Why Madoka doesn’t measure up

What do you think?  Is he right?  Do we miss the point if we don’t discuss the resurrection?

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About TWWK

TWWK, known to outlaws and lawmen alike as Charles, lives deep in the heart of Texas, where he drives cattle and boot scoots (not really - though he does sport a pair of rattlesnake boots). Somehow in this frontier, he also finds time for his wife, children, and church. Oh, and anime, too.

Posted on 04.02.2013, in Anime, Christianity and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 46 Comments.

  1. I’m aware that this was not the main point of Tommy’s post, but I found his understanding of Kyouko somewhat confusing; after all, we have no idea what the content of her father’s preaching was or why exactly people objected to it–although the fact that he killed his family certainly doesn’t inspire confidence–and her backstory is eclipsed by the other sacrifice that she makes in the series. That is a tone argument, however, and doesn’t actually make him any less correct. The lack of a Resurrection indeed makes the Madoka-Christ parallel incomplete at best and misleading at worst. I would split the difference and say ‘facile’ fits quite well.

    This is why I have said for two years now that Madoka works far better as an example of the Buddhist ideal of a bodhisattva–an admirable ideal in itself, and worthy of respect on its own merits, but not possessing the same actual saving power as the Death and Resurrection of Our Lord. To compare the two is to do Christianity a substantive disrespect for obvious reasons, and Buddhism a social disrespect by trying to jam it into a Christian framework in a way that (in this case) doesn’t really fit.

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    • Thanks for the insightful comments!

      You’re absolutely right that Madoka fits better in the Buddhist framework than within the Christian one. And while it can’t properly convey the story of God’s redemption (though what property can?), I would say that the parallel is valuable in that it conveys the tone of Christ’s sacrifice to non-believers in a way that they perhaps wouldn’t otherwise accept. Madoka as an innocent who gives everything up out of love finds a partner in the Christ story. And although it’s basically a surface-level comparison, I think it’s one that is powerful and gracious, and something that we admire because we don’t see it in our own lives. And in that way, it demonstrates an awesome love that reflect’s Christ’s own, even if it pales in comparison.

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      • Very true. Your last sentence is how I feel about a lot of religious and philosophical ideals that aren’t necessarily Christian, actually; as Christian writers who make a study of pre-Christian or non-Christian mythology, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, often like to say, mythological and religious ideas the world over have a tendency to reflect or refract imperfect but still valuable images of God’s love for us. (This insight is how I feel able to devote myself to the academic study of Japanese Buddhism from an outsider’s, and a Christian’s, perspective.) All that I think has to be avoided is the idea that Madoka actually IS or is supposed in a real sense to be Christ; the idea that the sacrifice that she makes fits into a Christian ethic and can even be used to demonstrate things about that ethic is perfectly valid, as I think it is with all or most instances of worthy self-sacrifice.

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        • Your comments remind me of the Church of Madoka, which is a very popular group on Facebook. -_-‘

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        • It was St. Basil the Great who said to take from the pagans that which was worthy and to leave the rest, when referencing their literary and philosophical works. I think as long as we keep it in this perspective, then there shouldn’t be too many problems. I do have to agree though, that Madoka is far more a Bodhisattva than a Christ figure.

          By the way, in terms of comparing Eastern Philosophy and Christianity, I suggest all read “Christ the Eternal Tao”. Lao Tzu is a perfect example of a pre-time of Christ philosopher who was very close to figuring out the Truth. The parallels between his philosophy and Eastern Orthodoxy are sublime, to say the least.

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          • Thanks for the suggestion!

            It’s good to hear from you again – I miss your blogging!

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          • I’ll second that recommendation, and works by or about Lao Tzu in general. I’d argue that Mencius also carries quite a bit of value, at least in the realm of social ethics.

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  2. I disagree since she is resurrected as a god – invisible and unknown to all but still an existence that watches over everyone. Homura is the only who knows as she witnessed the “resurrection,” and her small banter with Kyuubey I thought was quite an accurate representation of a discussion about proof vs faith and new vs old ways of forgiveness of sins. Homura is hinted toward being able to hear Madoka’s voice as well as shown using Madoka’s weapon, a bow, which parallels the voice and power of the Holy Spirit, respectively. Incidentally, Urobuchi has mentioned the 3rd movie explores how the burden of responsibility is too much for Madoka to handle so ha I’m still wrong!

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    • With my original post, I tried to focus on some of these ideas you mentioned. I’m glad you brought these points (and others) up!

      Tommy’s emphasis on the resurrection is a good one, though, and the hints of knowing what Madoka has done (as you mention, Homura seems to have some semblance of a memory of the past events) is a bit different from the full impact of Christ’s resurrection (and later ascension).

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  3. It’s difficult to see anything ” Christian” in animes, unless the the creator is a Christian himself/herself. I’ve read thousands of mangas, and even in parts where Jesus , Christmas or anything that hints of Christianity, their concept is totally off tangent, if not actually totally whacked. That’s why I’m not surprised that even devils and demons are , more often than not, the heroes of the manga… Akuma….

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    • Definitely, you’re right. What we try to do here is discuss spirituality in terms of anime, knowing full well that it’s almost never intentional.

      But, you bring up a really valid point, because the writer of Madoka may be Christian; at the very least, he seems to have a strong knowledge about Christianity. I think it’s safe to say that he had Jesus in mind when he wrote the finale of Madoka Magica (which aired on a Good Friday, btw), though I’m not sure if it was more along the lines of something significant (“I want to parallel this to Christ”) or passing (“Hmm…that’s a little like Jesus!”).

      Thanks for the comments, as always! I don’t know how you find time to keep up with other blogs when you have such a bustling one of your own. :P

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  4. Murasaki Lynna

    While I appreciate Tommy’s point of view, and I can definitely see it from his perspective, I can find an answer to that.
    First of all, I’m not going to argue the importance of Death/Resurrection. I wholly agree. However, Madoka did die and was ressurected, just not in the same way you think. When Homura and Kyuubey go into the future, they watch Madoka briefly become a witch. She then “destroys” herself. Does that not count as death? And yet, she doesn’t remain a witch or even really die. For all other Magic girls before that, they became a witch, and then were destroyed, the end. So, basically, becoming a witch meant death. Therefore, their last enemy was not dying, but becoming a witch/despair. But Madoka didn’t remain a witch/dead, but instead was “Resurrected” as a goddess-like being. While it’s true that no one remembers her, that doesn’t mean she’s truly dead. She’s shown both talking to Sayaka and Homura hears her voice at the end. She was briefly consumed by the despair she saved theirs from, but she “rose again”. It’s just like how the pharisees lied about Jesus being dead, and doubtlessly many people believed them, but that didn’t stop him from being alive, did it?
    I’m sorry if this didn’t make much sense.

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    • Those are great insights, Lynna, and yes, they make sense!! :)

      This further reminds me that I really need to purchase the final DVD volume (I won the first two). There’s so much I’ve already forgotten about the final episode, even though it hit me very hard the first time I watched it.

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  5. I have voluntarily cut down on my work schedule. I have my laptop at school, and reads during my breaks.

    If you read shoujo romance….. Christmas Eve is when a couple declare their eternal love, and DO IT ! Pffft.

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  6. I know, right? I’m like, What the….. Is this how they think of Christmas? TWWK, you know what I mean. They go to school on Christmas day, too. But then , we have to understand this is how we, true Christians , show Christmas to non-Christians. Too commercialized. It’s Jingle Bells all the way, not Holy Night.

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    • Yup, yup – I could never criticize the Japanese, who are 99% non-Christian, in how they approach Christmas, particularly in light of how we’ve commercialized it in America – Christians here as much as anyone.

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    • I was actually talking to someone from Japan yesterday about this, and she asked if I found it offensive the way they treat Christmas. My thoughts echoed yours: since America has largely secularized Christmas, then its largely us who is to blame.

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    • Hold on. You’re mad that a country of pagans use Christmas, a pagan holiday that was originally hijacked by Christians, because they put their own spin on it?

      Pot.
      Kettle.
      Black.

      Anywho, regarding the Madoka/Christ thing, I agree. Madoka is not a Christ figure. To me she is even more than a bodhisattva. She is Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. That means she’s Christ, the Buddha and Mary all rolled into one.

      At least for mahou shoujo anyway.

      All of the girls are representatives of Samsara (Karma) and the The Six Realms of Existence.

      Mami – Devas (gods – small g)
      Homura – Hell
      Miki – Asura (demi-gods)
      Kyouko – Hungry Ghosts
      Madoka – Human
      Kyubey – Animal

      With Madoka being identified as the representative of the human realm she alone is able to break free of the wheel of karma, ascend and become a higher being. However, instead of moving on, she still remains to watch over and assist those who are trying to do the same thing.

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      • I have not read that interpretation (or I had forgotten it). Thanks for sharing.

        Long time no hear!

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      • While the early Church picked December 25th as a theological response to Sol Invictus (and one can see this blatantly in the troparion for the day in the Orthodox Church), nothing about the holiday itself is pagan as Nativity was a development out of the Epiphany season which was about Christ’s manifestation to the earth (and the real kicker is that the major holiday was Theophany, or His baptism, instead of Nativity!). Other than the date I don’t see how this is really a high-jacking. Yes, as Christianity spread, certain practices such as the Yule Log were taken from the pagan context and recast in the Christian mold since Christianity is supposed to transfigure all things, and native populations were probably all for this. That’s also not to mention the vast majority of ‘pagan customs’ have no actual relation to pagan holidays.

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        • Only later.

          Look Christianity went through a lot of changes while it was still an underground and outlawed religion. In the first couple of centuries it absorbed a lot things (Gnosticism, paganism, Marcionism etc) before it was legitimized by Constantine and the Nicean Creed.

          Yeah, pagans were happy to keep their practices and holidays after converting to Christianity but don’t you dare try to excuse syncretism as “transfiguration.”

          It was what it was.

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          • I’m going to have to disagree that Christianity proper went go through a lot of changes (certainly not dogmatically) within the first few centuries, though Bultmann et al. may think so. One can read a clear and consistent theology (with advances in terminology) throughout the Scriptures in continuity with the Church Fathers (Sts. Irenaeus, Ignatius, Polycarp, Athansius, etc). The whole debate that Nicaea was over was set up largely around the teachings of Arius and nothing to do with the aforementioned heresies which had already been declared heretical (though the shaping of the canon was certainly as a reaction to the teachings of Marcionism, but that was almost 200 years before Nicaea).

            Syncretism? Perhaps in the sense it adapted things and changed their theological meaning to conform to Christianity, but not as an amalgam of dogma. On that point we’re going to have to disagree.

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  7. Personally, I’ve never seen Madoka as specifically a Christ-figure–even though she does “resurrect”, that resurrection is not of her physical body, which is one of the most important parts of Christ’s resurrection.

    Rather, I see the story of Madoka Magica, and Madoka’s role in that story, as a reflection (whether intentional or not) of the Gospel. Like most reflections, it is not perfect (I’m thinking more of a reflection on water or glass than a reflection on a mirror), but it does capture a lot of important parts of the Gospel: the inability of humans (or magical girls) to escape from sin, the need for someone to bear the wages of others sins on himself (or herself), and the resulting life of hope that can come after that.

    So for however Madoka doesn’t (and I might add, shouldn’t) equate to Christ, that does not change the fact that the Gospel, or at least a major aspect of it, is reflected in her story.

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    • Thanks for sharing. That’s a great frame to put the series in, taking a step back and looking at the larger gospel message that can be seen through the plot of the series.

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  8. I didn’t know that celebrating the birth of Christ was a pagan holiday.

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    • I’m no expert on the history of Christmas, but I do know there are a ton of influences from a variety of non-Christian festivals, and perhaps even more than that. Of course, “Christmas” by name has always celebrated the birth of Christ.

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      • The date for the celebration of Christ’s nativity was taken from Sol Invictus, there’s no debating this. The vast majority of the cultural practices that are alleged to have a pagan origin (mistletoe, Christmas trees, present giving, etc) actually have no pagan connections and is just pop-mythology. While Yule Logs were an adaptation of a pagan practice (which isn’t inherently anti-Christian, since Christianity is supposed to transfigure all things), the only other ‘pagan’ influence is Santa Claus, and even that is a 50/50.

        Santa is partially based off Germanic mythology, but also upon the 4th century bishop St. Nicholas of Myra. The use of stockings, giving presents, etc., are derived from the historical figure, while the elves, reindeer, flying in the sky, checking whose ‘naughty or nice’, is probably from the Germanic mythology.

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        • Thanks for all the background. Protestants often, I’ve found, know very little about Christian history. Of course, this may just be personal experience. :P

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          • I’ve noticed it to, and its one of the unfortunate things of going from Acts to the Reformation. Even if one doesn’t believe in it, there was 1500 years in between, and its worth studying.

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      • The date of december 25th predates the imposed Sol Invictus festivity.

        An interesting article:

        http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v

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  9. And I’m not mad.

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  10. My comment was a serious one, TWWK. I should have added a smiley at the end of the sentence.

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  11. OOOOps…. I meant WAS “NOT” a serious one.

    Religion is always contentious.

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  12. It’s called paraphrasing: it’s not word to word translation! I’m an atheist yet even I see that Madoka is a Christ figure: dying for a greater good, compassionate nature, taking away the other’s burdens, becoming a god. There isn’t a literary resurrection but you can argue that in New Testament, after resurrection Christ also attained transcendence and he never lived among mortals again, just like Madoka. And resurrection is not unique to christian myth – stories about coming back from the dead were told long before times of Christ: Osiris and Dionysus, come to mind. So there is definitely parallels between Madoka and Jesus. I think that there is stronger connection between those two, than for example, between Jesus and Superman, who is oftentimes presented as Christ figure, even though there is literally nothing in common between those two.

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    • Thanks for your commentary. Although I do think I’m seeing the imagery from a non-biased perspective, it’s certainly good to hear some similar feedback from one who isn’t a Christ follower, particularly in light of all the different analysis provides from so many other perspectives.

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  13. HERESY!

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  1. Pingback: Madoka > Jesus – Human vs God | Ashita no Anime

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