“Alright, you put us here. How are you going to get yourself out?”
“You can bail out anytime.”
“How low you want to go, Rooster?”
“I can go as low as you, Sir, and that’s saying something!”
–Maverick versus Rooster, Top Gun: Maverick
On this snowy day nine years earlier, a chime on my iPad momentarily distracted me from my studies. My proteomics exam had been less than a day away, and I had spent the day at my desk. Feeling confident that I was as ready as was reasonable, I decided to call it a day and take a look at the notification. One of my friend’s classmates had Tweeted that he was about to head to the local screening of Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Rebellion Story (Rebellion from here on out for brevity). I felt a twinge of annoyance – I had heard about the local screenings, but after learning that the film was screening the day before my exam, I decided to sit it out. I shook this annoyance out of my mind and began clearing my desk of papers, notes and textbooks, giving the film no further thought until Rebellion‘s home release three months later. I was amidst a much more relaxed term, and this afforded me time to watch Rebellion. Two hours later, I found myself with a film that had been quite entertaining, and expressed an interest in seeing a continuation. However, weeks turned into months, and months turned into years. The absence of a continuation to Rebellion had spoken volumes to one obvious fact: while Rebellion had been a technically superior film, Homura’s decision to seize Madoka’s power and rewrite the universe in her own image undermined the themes the original Madoka Magica series had sought to convey. Madoka Magica had supposed that great change demands great sacrifice, and that one could only reach such a conclusion by being exposed to the facts. Having Homura suddenly channel her own feelings, which she characterises as obsessive love, into taking control of all creation rather than accepting Madoka’s decision and continuing to act in Madoka’s memory, felt as though it had undone an entire season’s worth of effort. Although this was to set the stage for a continuation, the fact that no sign of said continuation materialised until nearly eight years later left Rebellion feeling quite unnecessary. Moreover, because Rebellion suggested that Homura and Madoka would eventually clash owing to their radically different beliefs, Rebellion created the impression that the story had now dug itself into a hole, one that could not seemingly be resolved without resorting to storytelling sins like deus ex machina or chalking things up to a bad dream. While at first glance, Rebellion can appear to be extremely difficult to resolve in a satisfactory manner, it should come as no surprise that a simple solution exists for what otherwise would be a complex problem. In other words, there is a way for the upcoming Walpurgisnacht Rising film to resolve everything in a satisfactory fashion, without falling back on the so-called cop-outs that degrade a story’s consistency and impact.
In Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Manson proposes that life is a game of choosing what fucks one gives in response to their day-to-day lives. This book is broken up into nine chapters and suggests that happiness is largely illusionary because of how people approach it. Homura’s actions in Madoka Magica, and by extension, Rebellion, are wholly motivated by a desire for her own happiness vis-à-vis Madoka’s well-being. Because Homura’s definition of happiness is directly tied to Madoka, she goes to extraordinary lengths to try and achieve a world where they can be together, free of any struggle and suffering, even if it comes at a cost to Madoka herself. However, happiness cannot exist without dissatisfaction, and Manson argues that happiness comes from accepting dissatisfaction and knowing one can work towards lessening it. The remainder of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is given to exploring different mindsets one must be cognisant of in order to begin bettering their situations and finding happiness by solving problems, versus creating new problems for oneself in the pursuit of happiness. In the context of Rebellion, two points stand out: “You are not special” and “You are wrong about everything”. Homura, as a result of her rewinding time, gains a great deal of knowledge and insight into what happens. Over time, she believes that she alone can solve Madoka’s suffering, and that everyone else is merely an obstacle. Homura falls into the trap of seeing herself as special, and that she is right about being the only person who matters to Madoka. By Manson’s arguments, Homura believes that she alone has suffered more than the others, and as a result, everyone else around her is unremarkable and unworthy, rendering them expendable. Similarly, because Homura believes she’s right about everything, there is no reason for her to help Mami, Sayaka and Kyōko on the grounds that they’ll simply end up dying anyways. This is why in each and every timeline thus far, Homura is left without allies in her corner. Magia Record had already, and helpfully, established that individually weak Magical Girls can do so much more together. Applying this to Madoka Magica, the implications are simple: if Homura had help from a confident Mami, determined Sayaka and selfless Kyōko, then she and Madoka would stand a chance of taking down Walpurgisnacht directly. In order to reach a point where everyone’s alive to help her, Homura must realise that she’s not special, and moreover, she’s wrong. Once she spots this, it becomes possible for her to realise there is merit in opening up and trusting the other Magical Girls, be upfront about their circumstances and how in spite of this, there is value in fighting for what one can control.
Screenshots and Commentary
- I vividly recall watching Rebellion back in the March of 2013. By this point in time, I was already admitted to graduate school, so I wasn’t worried about the grades in my remaining courses, and I took some time to myself to relax. This included setting some time to go through Rebellion in full. Although I had greatly enjoyed the visual spectacle that was Rebellion, the film had left in its wake the expectation for a continuation: from a thematic standpoint, because Madoka had scarified her corporeal form and ascended to a different plane of existence to ensure the well-being of other Magical Girls, Homura’s decision to undo Madoka’s actions created a fundamental conflict within the narrative.
- Homura herself stated as much: Madoka wouldn’t take these outcomes sitting down, and suggests that they would probably clash as enemies should Madoka learn of the truth. These comments appeared to back the franchise into a corner, since it didn’t seem conceivable that any sort of continuation could wrap things up in a satisfactory manner, short of using storytelling shortcuts, and until Magia Record, the Madoka Magica franchise only continued to be advanced through manga side-stories. I imagine that the lack of progress on a movie stemmed from the question of how to go about resolving things in a way that the writers could accept, and in a fashion that would leave viewers happy.
- That Walpurgisnacht: Rising was announced after Magia Record hints to me that, while work on the latter was taking place, the writing team figured out how they could wrap things up without betraying the most essential aspects within Madoka Magica. This had, in turn, gotten me curious about seeing whether or not I’d be able to come up with a thematic approach for how Walpurgisnacht: Rising might be able to build upon Rebellion without resorting to storytelling sins, or more colloquially, “cop outs”. I’d been interested in such an exercise since Rebellion ended, but never could quite figure out how Madoka and Homura could set their differences aside.
- The answer came to me after reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, a self-help book that graces the shelves of my local bookstore and caught my eye owing to its distinct title. While Mark Mason doesn’t say anything I don’t already practise, or otherwise have a modicum of understanding of, seeing everything coherently laid out was a reminder that my approach towards life was sustainable to some extent. That is to say, I don’t pursue happiness so I can gloat about having more or better than my neighbours, but instead, I try to focus on the things in my life I can address, and I believe that the best thing about being me is that I’m an unremarkable person.
- I am aware that amongst the Madoka Magica fanbase, highly complex theories, arcane philosophical principals and obscure psychological concepts are preferred for discussing the anime and its outcomes. However, these methods have never worked for me: reading the ideas folks write on Fandom Wiki, Reddit and Tumblr, I’ve noticed that a number of them all share in common the use of eighteenth and nineteenth century models of philosophy and psychology as the basis for their discussion. While works of these philosophers and psychologists are important in the sense that they form the foundations for contemporary knowledge, I argue that using these works in their original form leads to conclusions that may not be necessarily correct.
- An analog I draw here is how, in the eighteenth century, mental health issues were viewed as a dæmonic possession, and symptoms were managed by means of exorcism. Today, such views are not mainstream, and as awareness of mental health improves, there is a greater emphasis placed on social and emotional support, as well as professional assistance and use of medication where appropriate. Similarly, the psychologists and philosophers that Madoka Magica fans refer to wrote their theories in response to observations made based on their time, and in the centuries that have passed, society has changed unequivocally.
- This means that, to discuss a work like Madoka Magica, which was written in the twenty-first century, it makes sense to apply twenty-first century solutions towards the problems that Homura and the others face. Although Manson does not write with the same eloquence as Friedrich Nietzsche or John Stuart Mill, he does speak to problems that are more relevant to people today. This is why, where models like Utilitarianism or Nihilism alone aren’t particularly useful in the context of Madoka Magica, the cruder-sounding idea of “giving fewer fucks” about the things one can’t control that Manson describes ends up being more valuable to figuring out one set of steps for breaking Homura out of her self-destructive habits.
- Manson doesn’t write about any –isms, and instead, uses plain prose to convey his ideas in a clear, concise manner. I appreciate this, since he ends up abstracting out complex ideas into terms people can relate to, and this is how Manson is successful in selling a particular idea. It is therefore with some irony that, by choosing to give fewer fucks about the philosophy and psychology models that other discussions emphasise, I was able to conclude that, unlike what the me of nine years earlier had thought, there had been indeed a way for Urobuchi and his team to neatly wrap things up.
- In this case, I actively chose to approach things in the way that I was most comfortable with and ended up working out one possible path that Walpurgisnacht: Rising could take in order to produce a outcome that is respectful of Madoka Magica‘s themes while at the same time, solving the unanswered problem that is Homura. Homura’s actions are motivated entirely by selfishness, and one of the side-effects of this is that her decisions become increasingly self-destructive over time, to the point where she’s seen as passing over some sort of event horizon of sorts and therefore, cannot better her situation.
- Manson would disagree; even if one can’t choose their circumstances, one can choose how they react to it. Homura chooses to let her attachment to Madoka dictate her actions, and while it is true that Homura can’t control how the Magical Girls around her act, or the overarching plot from the Incubators are, these factors alone are not responsible for how Homura feels about her situation. Instead, this falls squarely on her shoulders. This inevitably leads to the question of how Homura can better her situation, and the answer is perhaps as unintuitive as it is effective: Homura needs to realise that her approach is wrong.
- This is apparent to viewers, who’ve seen her go through several timelines trying to set things right, and failing each time. However, what most viewers have not yet brought up is how Homura reacts to things. In a game where my objective is to defend an objective, and I’ve got AI companions helping me, if I choose to neglect the companions, and end up failing, on my next attempt, I would consider making a more conscious choice to keep my AI companions alive so they can assist me in defending said objective. Homura goes in the opposite direction, believing she alone can protect Madoka.
- Manson’s approach explains why Homura continues to choose the path of isolation even though at the start of every timeline, she has the choice of saving the others with her knowledge and making an attempt to fight as a team: it is easier to go with a familiar path that requires no second thought, no second-guessing and allows her to dismiss everyone as being wrong. To accept that she needs the others would break down her identity and put her in an uncomfortable state, but this is actually less uncomfortable than messing up and resulting in the deaths of everyone around her.
- Being wrong is simply a part of life, and while people have an aversion with being wrong because it challenges their sense of identity, the reality is that life isn’t a game of being right all the time. Instead, it’s a matter of being less wrong, more often, as one accrues more experience. In conjunction with being mindful of the fact that one must necessarily take responsibility for their decisions, one can begin reflecting on things and take a more active role in bettering a situation. With this being said, the sorts of decisions Homura take in Rebellion leave her further away from the outcome she desires, and I reflect on my own story with decision-making brought about by Rebellion‘s local screenings.
- Owing to the timing of things, I had been unable to make it to the Scotiabank Theatre Chinook, which was the only theatre in town that was screening Rebellion. Ticket sales had begun shortly after my alma mater had released its exam schedules, and to my great disappointment, both slots conflicted with my prior commitments; the morning after the December 9 screening, I was set to write one of my exams, and on December 15, I was set to help with a kata tournament at my dōjō. As much as it pained me to do so, I sat out both Rebellion screenings. In the short term, I regretted my decision almost immediately: anime movies in my side of the world are exceedingly rare, and Rebellion had marked the first time that an anime film was shown in local theatres, and to commemorate this, attendees were given a mini autograph board.
- In the months after, I fell into a bit of a depression, frustrated that I continued to miss out on things. However, in the long term, my decisions meant I would have the last laugh – I was offered admissions to graduate school, and this set me down my career path. This is where the importance of taking ownership of one’s decisions comes in. I chose to sacrifice short-term happiness for an uncertain future, and while I did miss out on both a once-in-a-lifetime moviegoing experience (and the limited edition mini autograph boards that were handed out to attendees), I gained something much more valuable.
- If any anime movies do screen in the present, I have no qualms about skipping them if there are other obligations to attend to: one way or another, if I wish to watch a given film, I will end up watching that film. Back in Rebellion, one aspect of Rebellion that I found especially touching was its portrayal of Madoka Kaname. Soft-spoken, kind-hearted and gentle, Madoka felt like an innocent presence throughout Madoka Magica, but here in Rebellion, Madoka’s actions, and the imagery surrounding her character, is indicative of someone who can be a bit more playful when the moment allows it.
- Madoka is the only person who is able to bring out Homura’s true self: around others, she maintains a facade of aloofness and detachment, but of all the characters, she’s the most fragile and in need of support. The following conversation between Madoka and Homura suggests that even if Madoka herself doesn’t fully understand what Homura’s going through, she’ll still do her best to help out anyways. What follows is one of Rebellion‘s most-scrutinised moments, with viewers taking to Fandom Wiki, Tumblr and Reddit to analyse the scene down to the last quark. However, the flower field scene is not as complex as people made it out to be, and as it turns out, people are focused on the significant of Madoka and Homura’s words, rather than what Homura is going though (and more importantly still, how Homura can unfuck her situation).
- Homura’s remarks here about feeling completely alone, as though no one understands her, show that she’s her own worst enemy. This a consequence of having attempted everything possible to create a world where she and Madoka could be happy. We turn again to Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, whose first chapter openly, and boldly says, “don’t try”. Manson isn’t suggesting that one simply gives up and resign themselves to death. Instead, Mason is inviting readers to consider the idea of not pursuing positivity, but instead, accept negativity and using this dissatisfaction to overcome adversity.
- In the context of Rebellion, it simply means, the more worried that Homura is about Madoka, the more she becomes anxious about succeeding, and the worse she off she becomes because instead of her game plan, she’s now thinking about what would happen if she fails again. Manson calls this the Feedback Loop from Hell. Logically, when one chooses to stop worrying (“don’t think, just do”), they relax a little, and then instead of being anxious, one can act with conviction. In conjunction with accepting she was wrong to push everyone away and acknowledge that she’s not more special than the people who are willing to help her, Homura does indeed have a credible way of fixing things.
- I have noticed that almost all of the conversation out there tends to focus on the significance of the flower field scene, but these conversations invariably focus on the problems that Homura faces, rather than attempting to work out any solutions. I’ve found that the best anime discussions will attempt to draw out ways that characters can improve their situation because, by considering solutions, people are also compelled to consider their own problem-solving strategies and assess whether or not they’d work in different scenarios. Reflection is a valuable exercise and is a part of self-improvement, but admittedly, it’s also a highly personal exercise that may need some finesse to incorporate into an online discussion.
- Reflecting on a given topic has allowed me to reason out why certain things are the way they are, and returning the problem of accessibility, I think I’ve got an explanation for why Rebellion was only given two screenings here at home. Anime movies are, by definition, for a niche audience, and the need to book out a screen means that, for a theatre, that’s one screen they’re not showing something more suited for local audiences. A theatre will therefore take a loss if they can’t bring in enough viewers for that screening. Moreover, Rebellion was released just before The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and a month earlier, Thor: Dark World had premièred.
- Between competing local films, and the fact that theatres tend to become busiest during the last week of the year, Cineplex doubtlessly decided to schedule Rebellion in December, right before The Desolation of Smaug released. The timing (Monday evening, and Sunday morning) was chosen because these are the times when things are less busy. Taken together, the inconvenient timing of Rebellion was made so the Scotiabank Theatre at Chinook could minimise disruption to their most popular screenings, and at times where fewer people were likely to be available to watch said screenings.
- From a business standpoint, Cineplex’s decision makes sense. However, the end result was that the two screenings of Rebellion coincided with exam season, and this made it extremely difficult for me to fit things into my schedule. Other Madoka fans had expressed similar annoyance at the fact that Rebellion screenings were out of the way, and even if they were in a larger population centre, screenings were placed at odd times of day or otherwise conflicted with their exams. In the end, luck would also play a part in determining who would attend the screenings: some folks bought tickets even before their institute’s exam schedules were posted, and then, if luck had not favoured them, they simply sold the tickets off to other fans.
- If I didn’t have an exam the next morning, I would’ve ordered my tickets without a second thought: hindsight is 20/20, and while Rebellion is a great film, it’s not so revolutionary or groundbreaking that I’d risk my degree for it. Having said this, I have heard rumours that one individual, a member of TV Tropes, actually did end up skipping one of their scheduled exams so they could go watch Rebellion. For their troubles, they wound up failing said course, which had been a programme requirement and ultimately, this individual was required to withdraw from their major, effectively undoing four years’ worth of effort.
- Assuming there is truth in these rumours, we have a story here of someone who was so devoted to Madoka Magica that they more or less gave up their career and aspirations for the sake of an anime movie. I am reminded of the first chapter in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, where Manson describes how the constant search for happiness leads people to choose what feels good and is easy, over doing more meaningful things that can make one feel bad and almost certainly is not easy. For this individual, it was easier to go skip a difficult exam and go watch Rebellion. While the movie was running, life was good, but things turned out less desirable in the long term.
- Unsurprisingly, the key to living a fulfilling life is to choose one’s struggles and then embrace the fact that it’s going to take some effort to reach one’s goals. For instance, as a software developer, I face problems I’ve never seen before, in parts of a system I’ve never seen before, on a daily basis. I’m not a passable developer because I fix bugs or deliver features, but because for me, there’s a sort of joy in tracing through a system, learning how it works and then trying to piece everything together like a puzzle. When I do figure something out, the accompanying sense of accomplishment makes the struggle worth it.
- The same sort of mindset can similarly be applied to Madoka Magica: Homura is constantly seeking out an ideal solution for herself and Madoka, but along the way, she’s lost sight of what made it worthwhile and has truly become lost. By assuming the devil’s form at the end of Rebellion, it felt as though this film had undermined everything the series before had stood for, and this made the film a little difficult to accept for some. In the end, it is going to take a number of the points Manson raises in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck to fix things, and my hope is that Walpurgisnacht: Rising will accomplish this.
- I have spent the whole of this post singing praises for The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck while at the same time, applying it to the context of Madoka Magica. It should be unsurprising that this is a book I would recommend to readers; it succinctly explains how a change in perspective won’t help one become a happier or more successful person, but it can lead one to make peace with their lives and value healthier things. In the case of Rebellion, I’ve picked out some points that could be utilised to pull the story out of its hole: this is what motivates the choice of page quote.
- While Homura is happy with the world she’s created, one which sidesteps the Incubator’s system and allows Madoka to have a corporeal existence again, the possibility of conflict remains quite real. Despite Homura’s confidence that she can handle things when the time comes, I imagine that a different approach was needed to properly wrap things out: this peace is built on a lie, and as is usually the case, such times do not last. With this post in the books, I remark that I’m now fully refreshed on Madoka Magica and quite ready to take on Walpurgisnacht: Rising.
- At the time of writing, there’s still no news of when Walpurisnacht: Rising will come out, but once it does, I’m looking forward to seeing if my thoughts hold any water. With this in mind, whether or not Walpurgisnacht: Rising will actually screen on this side of the world remains to be seen. If there are screenings, and said screenings line up with my schedule, it may be worthwhile to go and watch the film. There’s always the possibility the movie will conflict with my schedule, but this time around, I have one of two options available: I could either skip the film again and wait for the BDs, as I usually do, or if there is a fair incentive to do so (e.g. new mini autograph boards are handed out), I could always request a vacation day if my workload isn’t too heavy.
On paper, this is quite easy to say, and although the specifics behind how this comes about will be Gen Urobuchi and his creative team’s responsibility to sort out for Walpurgisnacht: Rising, there is one final detail that makes Manson’s approach viable. Madoka Magica has established that Homura has a soft spot for Madoka, and where Madoka is concerned, Homura tends to show her true self. If Madoka and Homura were to conflict, the former would have the edge here. There isn’t a need to resort to more forceful measures because Madoka can utilise this aspect of Homura, guiding her down a path where she can begin to see the other Magical Girls as valuable friends. In this way, Homura would realise that she isn’t special: each of Mami, Sayaka and Kyōko have each suffered in their own right, but they would be committed to helping break this cycle together with Homura and Madoka. Similarly, Homura would also realise that she was wrong about needing to do everything alone, and that Madoka is the only person worth saving. As such, Walpurgisnacht: Rising could be thought of as being broken up into three acts to deliver such a story. After Homura takes another loss (perhaps depriving her of her godly powers) and encounters an incarnation of Madoka who is aware of what has happened, Madoka and Homura can work through things together and rebuild the Holy Quintet, coming to finally learn what trust looks like. With the team able to work as a cohesive unit, they can then square off against, and defeat Walpurgisnacht together, without falling on Madoka’s sacrifice or any other means that give the Incubators leverage over the outcomes. Having seen Madoka Magica and Rebellion anew, it is quite easy to spot that Homura’s worst enemy in Madoka Magica isn’t Walpurgisnacht, or even the Incubators. Instead, it is herself; if she can overcome this particular adversary, Walpurgisnacht: Rising will offer viewers a satisfying and decisive conclusion, one that longtime fans deserve and need. With all this in mind, I have presented merely one approach for how Walpurgisnacht: Rising can apply Manson’s lessons and apply it to solve a problem that has lingered in the Madoka community for the past nine years. I have no qualms with acknowledging that these are merely my thoughts on it, and if Urobuchi is able to sort things out in another way that proves just as satisfying, I would be quite happy to accept the outcomes. With this being said, Madoka Magica‘s themes are is contingent on what happens in Walpurgisnacht: Rising – there is always the possibility that this continuation could dig things into a deeper hole, and it will be interesting to see whether Urobuchi sees Walpurgisnacht: Rising as a conclusion or escalation. If it happens to be the latter, viewers are in for a helluva long wait; although Walpurgisnacht: Rising was announced back in 2021, the whole of this year has passed without news, and the reality is that the release itself is likely still a long ways off. However, there should be a modicum of solace now in knowing that at the very least, there is at least one way the story could be resolved in a consistent and satisfactory manner, without breaking what had been previously established – all Homura has to do is give a few more fucks precisely about the things she can control (with a gentle dose of guidance from Madoka), and this will allow her to overcome the cycle of failure she had seen until now.