Madoka Magica is well known for being not only an excellent and memorable anime, but also one that made religious symbolism look easy. Thus, it’s fairly intimidating to write anything about this anime, despite its massive potential for commentary.
Even more intimidating is that BtT’s original founder, Charles (TWWK) also wrote a very well worded article about this exact topic when he covered the final episode of Madoka: Puella Shoujo Madoka Magica 12: The Hope We Find.
To make matters worse, through my research for this “Black Saturday” article, most of the writings I found made it a point to say that Madoka DOESN’T make a good Christ figure (whether better or worse, both opinions exist). So the pressure is on and it’s a bit nerve-wrecking.
Yet here I am to tell you how she, despite her humble circumstances (or maybe because of her humble circumstances), can serve as a prime example to make us ponder Christ’s own life and sacrifice for the world. It will be easy to get distracted by all the excellent symbolism in grief seeds, witches, kyubey(s), etc., but I’ll try to stay on target. This post will contain spoilers from the 12-episode series which you all should go watch if you haven’t already.
As I referenced earlier, the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter is often referred to as “Black Saturday” or “Holy Saturday”, if it’s even mentioned at all. Nowadays, it’s often brushed off as the day of rest after the grim, though optimistically named, Good Friday and the period before making your way to church on Easter Sunday to celebrate the much happier resurrection. Though at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, the day after his death represented by this Saturday, was most certainly the longest, if not the most hopeless, for his disciples and followers, who weren’t sure if He was going to come back to life or not, it could be said that the whole life of Jesus told in the four gospels was building up to his death and resurrection. In fact, I think that’s truly the case. Everyone somehow knew it was going to happen, but not everyone really believed it at first.
In the same way, especially after you hit episode 3, Madoka Magica becomes a fairly dark and fairly hopeless journey of “Is Madoka going to become a magical girl? We think so, but who knows truly? And do we want her to?” And while there were other characters and their stories in the anime, the main plot was leading up to Madoka becoming a magical girl, which led to her sacrifice. Really, throughout the whole series, while somewhere in your heart you know Madoka is going to become a magical girl, you wish there was another way.
Another similar setup that is similar in both the case of Madoka and Jesus is what their sacrifices accomplished; it changed the way souls were saved.
In the Old Testament, in order to be forgiven of your sins (“wash” the tainted parts of your heart/soul in the eyes of God, basically), you had to offer sacrifices to God, usually by killing some type of animal, depending on your sin. In Madoka Magica, magical girls had to kill witches and take their grief seeds to purify their soul gems (aka: their actual souls) to keep themselves from death and/or falling into grief and becoming a witch.
Both methods required some type of killing, and both methods were still only temporary methods for salvation and proved to be impossible to follow perfectly due to the failing human nature as seen by the many failures of the Israelites in the Old Testament and by Madoka’s fellow magical girls who continued to fail time after time. Thus, in their respective contexts, both Jesus and Madoka needed to die despite neither of them deserving it, but only one could be resurrected. It could be argued that Madoka had some sort of resurrection similar to Jesus’, though she never came back in the flesh. If she had, she would have become a witch, thus cancelling out her own wish to get rid of the witches before they even were born, so she really couldn’t be resurrected.
But both Jesus and Madoka brought hope to the hopeless, which is the most important point to fall back on and the strongest point of comparison. Both took the sins/grief of others in order to save them without any expectation of thanks.
It’s strange for me as a Christian to compare Jesus to a fictional character, but I think Madoka’s story approaches the idea of people needing salvation in one of the most realistic ways. It’s easy to ignore the realities of life and death in our every day lives. Though the questions of “How far am I willing to go for my wish to come true?”, “How long can I keep trying to save myself and purify my own soul?”, “What will happen after I die?”, “What if I can’t keep this up? Trying to make myself a better person? What if I fail?” will always linger because, while Jesus died to save the world, sin still remains in the world. But Jesus’ sacrifice offered a way out of the spiral of hopelessness, a way to eternal life.
Certainly most of our situations are not as dire as a magical girl in a desperate struggle to keep from becoming a witch by fighting other “failed” magical girls and collecting their grief seeds, though, for me personally, it paints a picture of true hopelessness when all you have to rely on is your own strength, that may fail at any moment despite all your best efforts (see Homura’s brilliant, but in the end, fruitless attempt at defeating Walpurgisnacht in episode 11).
While Madoka did bring hope to the future of magical girls and a way to have them not to fall forever into despair, her memory only remained with one person (which Kaze wrote an excellent article about worth checking out: Akemi Homura and the Argument of Faith), and her sacrifice didn’t give a clear life after death.
Jesus died and was resurrected again and instead of being forgotten and fading away into the stars, as Madoka did, He spread hope through his followers and continues to be remembered and offer hope to each and every person.
While both Jesus and Madoka sacrificed themselves selflessly for the benefit of saving the world, Madoka at least had Homura left to support her until the end. But even Jesus’ closest disciples and friends turned their back on him when he was going to die, so He was truly alone in his death. Even God didn’t save Him from dying. Even though He resurrected Him in three days, he suffered through the torture, ridicule, and betrayal without anyone to offer their support in order to save people, many who had not even been born yet, who may never accept him as their savior takes a great deal of love. Love, I would personally venture to conclude, that’s even more powerful than a magical girl who can rewrite the universe’s laws of magical girls and witches.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica 12: The Hope we Find
- Good Friday Musings and Rewatching Madoka Magica
- Easter: Why Madoka Doesn’t Measure Up
- Something More: Madoka v. Jesus, Kirino Acts like a Christian, and Christ the Stampede (see: The first series of post links, and another blogger’s response. It’s a long but interesting read.)
- Despair and Hope in Puella Magi Madoka Magica