Madoka Rebellion Story movie: a personal interpretation

This post is very different from the usual content on this blog (it doesn’t even fit into many of the categories), but I felt I needed to write something in response to the third Puella Magi Madoka Movie: The Rebellion Story. Needless to say, this entire post is a spoiler for anyone who has not seen the material at hand. It’s also a personal interpretation informed by some readings from the Puella Magi Wiki. So only read on if you have watched the movie, don’t mind being spoiled, or have no intention of ever watching it (or the series). Though in the last case, why are you even reading this?

Spoiler warning:

Spoilers start after this break


Perhaps it was the sudden turn of events – an inverted deus ex machina, if you will – that pinned me to my seat, unable to believe that Urobuchi would so blatantly hijack the most fulfilling of endings.

It is this rapid descent – of a character, and of the plot, that stunned viewers like myself, and prompted knee-jerk reactions on the way to the bathroom afterwards.

The cynical part of me says that it is a way to extend the franchise, to leave the ending open for a flood of new material and characters that would no doubt bring in much needed revenue for the studios.

Face value interpretation, and its consequences

Taking the plot development at face value is an exercise which is deeply disturbing, because it involves the fall of the deuteragonist of the franchise (though some, including myself, would argue that hers is the role of a protagonist, judging by her active agency throughout the series and movies).

In this analysis, this character, whose passion and commitment and pathos we embraced, crumbles under the emotional strain, showing a side of her personality we previously had no real inkling about: yandere.

To fulfil her selfish desire for a world ideal for herself, she tears down the system wished for by the sacrifice of her closest friend, and remoulds the entire universe according to her whim.

The brilliance, of course is that it makes a mockery of the aspiration of any self-proclaimed “fans” to truly know the character of their object of admiration. That despite the long journey through time (literally), we really knew nothing of her personality.

But it’s also problematic because with a single plot twist post hoc, Urobuchi strips the significance from some of the most beautiful expressions of emotion in the preceding material. It does worse than rendering the eponymous heroine’s sacrifices and wishes meaningless.

It twists the commitment and faithfulness of our deuteragonist – perhaps the single most enduring trait of the series and earlier movies and a key plot device – and renders it a perverted and selfish obsession.

Poking holes in the face value interpretation

Summary of a face-value interpretation: Our long-haired anti-heroine selfishly wanted to be reunited with the figure of her admiration.

Going by the Luciferian references and the “Rebellion” title, as well as her very own words, our anti-heroine thus aimed to usurp the power of “God” for her own selfish reasons.

Towards this end, she hurt her best friend (and unforgivably, imprisoned her in ignorance), denied her peers their freedom and agency, and sacrificed the ideally balanced the universe to transform it into one dictated solely by her desires.

Problem: If her goal were simply to be once again together with the heroine, she had ample time to choose one of two options. Firstly, she could have opted to continue living in the world she had constructed as a witch. Secondly, she could have lay back and allowed herself to be taken by the Law of Cycles.

The first option is perfectly valid because it is remarkably similar to the universe she created in the end. Both are effectively within her witches labyrinth (the only difference being the scale of coverage).

In both, the object of her affections lost her connection to her greater powers, and the memories associated with those powers, rendering her a more-or-less the girl from most of the series. Even so, it was explained that she was the “real thing” and not a construct of a witch’s imagination.

The second option would have had them reuniting in transcendence, and as evidenced by the appearance of Sayaka, magical girls taken by the Law of Cycles don’t just disappear. They hang around and do have interactions with the apotheosised heroine.

There was no real motivation for her to risk hurting and alienating her best friend if she was driven primarily by her loneliness/need for contact.

A more nuanced interpretation

Perhaps this approach to the material is simply the desperate need on the part of fans to see light where there is naught but darkness.

Certainly, given Urobuchi’s reputation, it’s tempting to lay down our arms and accept that he has written a relentlessly pessimistic script, a universe briefly illuminated by hope, but quickly snuffed out with lies.

But for various reasons, I feel a more nuanced interpretation of the plot stands to be more interesting. It also allows for a certain degree of character and plot development (beyond simply “she went crazy”).

And because it’s a massive pain to have to refer to characters without using their names, I’m going to start using their names here.

The first part of “Rebellion” is not just wish-fulfilment on the part of the producers.

It is wish fulfilment, of course. We got to see a Homura vs Mami extreme-gunkata combat. We got to see Charlotte as a cute-yet-scary plushie thing. We got to see an ideal world with the magical girls working in a team with fun (if awkward) transformations a la the typical Mahou Shoujo genre. We got to see witch-vs-witch combat. And of course, the Sayaka x Kyouko relationship was completed.

But to see this first part of the plot as a delightful prologue before the dark twist which makes up the “main” plot would be a mistake.

The events of this part of the plot informed Homura’s decision to do what she did later. Here are her reasons:

  1. Homura started as an “acolyte” of Madoka. Magical girls had to keep fighting the wraiths in order to render her sacrifice meaningful. Living in a dream world and neglecting their real duties meant disrespecting Madoka’s wishes.
  2. The main development came when Homura got a deeper understanding of Madoka. Where before she had put Madoka on a pedestal as a strong and reliable ideal (basically, God), her interactions with the Madoka in the witch’s labyrinth (who is the real one, it must be stressed) gave her a realisation of the very human aspect of Madoka. One who was afraid of being separated from her friends and family – for whom that every idea would be unbearable.
  3. (It should be noted that Homura had held that shallow “pedestal” view of Madoka throughout the entire series, which includes the first two movies. She yearned only to be reunited with Madoka, but fought on in a world in which everyone had forgotten her because of the promise of reunion at the end.)
  4. This led Homura to realise very real and human sacrifice that Madoka made with her wish, beyond a simple tokenistic “she gave herself for the world” kind of way. Apotheosis, Homura realised, was not a fair trade for Madoka’s separation from her loved ones, especially because of Madoka’s intrinsic nature as a person. In coming to this realisation, Homura regretted her earlier inability to prevent Madoka’s sacrifice.
  5. By extension, she reasoned that having Madoka continue her role as the Law of Cycles meant continuing to hurt her by separating her from her loved ones.
  6. She found out from Kyubey that it is possible for “mortals” to interfere with the Law of Cycles (Madokami) – if she can be observed/touched.
  7. Given the advanced capabilities and tenaciousness of Kyubey’s kind, Homura correctly surmised that it was only a matter of time before they succeeded in stripping the Law of Cycles of its power – rendering Madoka’s sacrifice (and continuing pain) meaningless.
  8. The universe dominated by the Law of Cycles was not ideal: Madoka continued to take on the pain and hopelessness into herself, and Madoka’s wish had not negated the fundamental mechanism that turns magical girls into witches – as shown by Kyubey’s experiment.

The above interpretation sees a progress in Homura and Madoka’s relationship, a development in Homura’s character (beyond just snapping and becoming yandere), and plausible reasoning for Homura’s actions (whether we agree with them or not). It also explains why Homura chooses to seize power and compromise her relationship with Madoka rather than resign herself to the Law of Cycles.

Questioning the interpretation

Is Homura masochistic?

Yes she is, beyond all doubt.

Was it selfish?

Yes, because she effectively sacrificed everything else, including the whole universe, Madoka’s original wishes, and even her own relationship with Madoka in an attempt to correct the situation and alleviate Madoka’s pain.

But it’s a strange sort of selfishness because while the focus of it all is on making Madoka happy, I get the sense that Homura would be more than happy to sacrifice herself for it.

Was it effective?

Maybe. Seemingly without the despair and evil of earlier models of the universe, there are no longer any magical girls. It’s still unclear what the mechanism is for getting rid the curses (Kyubey seems to play a part), and how they’re going to deal with entropy.

Or perhaps because the entire universe is in Homura’s “witch labyrinth”, she also has absolute control over all of that stuff.

It’s also highly probable that Kyubey’s kind now have zero idea about the Law of Cycles (since their memories would have been reset), greatly limiting their ability to interfere with it.

It’s by no means the ideal world, but I am thinking of it as an in-between temporary state.

One problem with this view of the world is where the Law of Cycle exists, and whether Homura has control over it. It seems she does not, thus her need to keep Madoka from “re-apotheosising”.

Was it self-defeating to create a world where Madoka is not her “true self”?

Depends if you think the entire Madokami is Madoka’s true self. Homura seems to think that just the human/magical girl parts of Madoka are Madoka’s true self, thus her separating that part from the Law of Cycles.

Why did Homura become “evil”?

Perhaps because Homura has retained her enduring view of Madoka as an absolute “good”.

If Madokami is pure good, acting against her wishes (even if it is out of love) means Homura can only be evil. It’s maybe easier to think of it as Homura’s version of Zero Requiem.

But this question also raises one of the weak points for this interpretation, because Homura managed to intentionally corrupt her Soul Gem beyond the state of the witch’s curse and it became a Dark Orb.

So it’s entirely possible that she has become absolutely insane during this process (since magical girls lose a large degree of their own sanity/personality when turning into witches).

How did Homura have enough power to fight against Madokami?

In Madoka’s original transformation, the threads of fate from multiple parallel universes focused on her, giving her the immense power needed to make her wish come true despite its paradoxical nature, and transcend reality.

A similar but negative mechanism applies to Homura. She collected all the pain she endured for the sake of Madoka over the various time cycles, and added it on to her existing curses in the Soul Gem, boosting her “cursed level” beyond that of a witch, with corresponding power level increases.

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