How do you define love?
“Love” carries with it perhaps more meaning than any other word in the English language. It’s such a powerful, personal concept, that each person connotates it differently from the next, carrying experience, beliefs, hopes, and other items into his or her definition of the word.
A Google search for the concept brings up this simple meaning: “an intense feeling of deep affection.” On the other hand, St. Paul famously defines it this way:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
– I Corinthian 13:4-7
In other words, love is demonstrating deep kindness to someone without regard to how it affects the lover. This is largely the meaning for love which I embrace.
Akemi Homura, on the other hand, sees love quite differently (Spoilers for Madoka Rebellion after the jump).
As Madoka Magica The Movie – Rebellion – comes to a close, Homura has become something other than that which we had known her to be all this time – through the television series, the previous movies, and even most of this one. She calls that which she has become a “demon.”
Upon meeting the Madoka of the world she creates, Homura finds that object of her twisted love is already starting to remember who she once was. At this point, Homura asks her what she values more – desire or order. In Homura’s mind, these are the two choices. And knowing Madoka’s previous self-sacrificial actions, Homura seems to equate love with these two ideas. Madoka answers “order,” referring to a world of harmony and cooperation, as her type of love; Homura, on the other hand, desires desire.
The newly-made demon’s choice comes almost painfully to the audience. In a series so built upon making sacrifices to love others – Kyoko for Sayaka, Homura for Madoka, and Madoka for all – it’s perplexing that the entirety of the franchise ends on a note of selfish love. Homura rewrites Madoka’s wishes and those of her friends as well to achieve her own desire. Once starting out with a heart seeking to help Madoka, Homura eventually disregards her friend entirely, as she ironically saves Madoka not for Madoka’s sake, but for her own.
Homura’s choice is not uncommon. If we’re honest with ourselves, we make that same choice daily, if not on the cosmic level that a magical girl makes it. We choose our own desires when they conflict with the interest of others, even those we love. We choose ourselves when it is easy, practical, and comforting.
Is that the state of man? Is that what Urobuchi is trying to tell us, that mankind is ultimately destined to live selfishly, squandering even the selflessness that the best of us has to offer?
I don’t think that’s quite it.
While the movie ends with this self-loving, destructive tone, I found the finale to be strangely hopeful.
After Madoka replies that she prefers “order” to “desire,” Homura remarks that the two girls will eventually become enemies. And it’s in that antagonistic line that we see hope subtly buried.
The final scenes demonstrate that Madoka will eventually remember herself – and maybe not so much because of flashbacks from the past, but because, as the movie tells us, Madoka is who she is. Although timid in some timelines and take charge in others, one thing never changes about Madoka – her selfless nature. And in this world, it won’t be some spiritual battle between rules/order and desire/chaos that will occur, but rather between selfless love and selfish love.
Homura’s fantasy is already falling apart, even as it has just begun. No matter how many timelines she creates or how many universes she alters, Homura’s way is imperfect, for it is not love. It’s the exact opposite – it is the desire for oneself without regard to others, rather than the desire for others without regard to oneself.
And as Paul says in the verse just following those I quoted, it is not selfish desire, but “[selfless] love [that] never fails.”
And ultimately, that’s the point of Rebellion. After all their journeys, the girls’ story will end on an uplifting note, as they are reunited, some resurrected, and one perhaps brought again to salvation. Homura, like a sinful mankind, attempted to destroy God as she builds her own image of God, but in a conclusion that will play out off-screen, she will fail against a higher love, which as Urobuchi has pointed out time and time again, will always save the day.