Home > Episode Reviews, Puella Magi Madoka Magica > Puella Magi Madoka Magica Episode 3 – Come On Die Young

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Episode 3 – Come On Die Young

The third episode of any anime is a bellwether, a statement of what it’s going to become. Well, usually, it’s a down episode no matter the show’s future performance, as the artists and writers have exhausted the buffer they built up before the first episode aired, and the buzz of a new show wears off for the fans, and they start to figure out what they’re in for over the long run.

Sometimes, though, it’s the best episode of a show, or at least a local climax, the finale to the show’s first arc. Either way, it sets up expectations for how the rest of the show is going to pan out.

Madoka’s third episode does just that. It’s a shot across the bow, a statement of just exactly what kind of show it wants to be. And what it wants to be is nothing less than the most polished, dark, and exciting show of this new season.

Kyubei’s body casts a long, cute shadow on the dying Mami

After seeing cool older girl Mami beat up on witches last episode, the girls are excited to make their contract and become magi, but still don’t know what to wish for. One of them asks Mami what she wished for, and the show cuts back to a flashback of her dying in a car crash, the lifeless eyes of Kyubei, the magical creature that magi make a contract with, staring at her, waiting for her to make her decision.

“Dying back there would have been even worse than the life I have now,” she says. As if you couldn’t tell by now, a contract to devote your life to neverending war against evil is not something to be taken lightly.

Asian business culture often involves heavy drinking. Madoka seems disappointed at her mother for stumbling home drunk yet again

And yet, despite the repeated warnings from everyone who actually is a magi, Madoka and Sayaka are insistent on going through with it. It’s hard to blame them, though: if someone offered to grant any wish you had, would you pay attention to the potential consequences?

In general, we aren’t very good at truly understanding the future consequences of our decisions, especially when we’re being offered anything we could ever want. Because, really, how could you turn down a shot at having a wish like that come true, even if it meant a life of peril and death? Imagine, every time something bad happened: got a bad grade on an exam, didn’t get the girl, passed over for the promotion, having to live with the knowledge that, in an instant, you could have that, or anything else you wanted. And all it would cost is your life.

In case you can’t tell, the piece of cake has ‘delicious chocolate’ written on it

I think anyone would feel the pull, the seduction of having any of your desires granted, which is why stories like these are so universal. From Aladdin, to Faust or the Monkey’s Paw, people have long been fascinated with the ability to make your dreams come true in the blink of an eye. And usually, the equivalent price that comes with your heart’s desire being granted.

After all, resisting temptation typically makes for a pretty dull story. Jesus may have resisted the devil’s temptation in the desert, but he’s in the minority for stories like these. Far more often, this premise is a setup for tragedy.

Sayaka’s friend Kyousuke, a musician tragically injured and unable to play, will undoubtedly play a role in her becoming a magi

And so it is with Puella Magi Madoka Magica, it seems. The show has made it very clear that only a truly desperate, greedy or naively ignorant person would ever want to be a magi, given the difficulties. And not only that, but this episode also raises the possibility that the wish itself will go awry.

Not in a cheesy Monkey’s Paw way, but in the sense that the actuality of realizing your heart’s desire so cheaply wouldn’t really lead to happiness, or that the girls might not understand well enough the implications or their motivations for wishing something. When Sayaka asks if she could use her wish to heal her crush, Kyousuke, an up and coming violinist whose wrist, and therefore future as a musician, was irrevocably damaged in an accident, Mami sagely asks if she really wants her friend to be healed, or if she just wants the praise for being the one to heal him.

The witches’ mazes are still a sight to behold. Here, the girls take cover behind a giant doughnut to regroup

And yet, despite fair warning from just about everybody, the girls continue down that path, because how can they not? For a show about girls with superpowers battling evil, Madoka Magica’s greatest strength is, ultimately, the very simple yet tragic story it is telling about our innate failings as humans to really understand the consequences of our actions and make sensible decisions. It’s a story about the power of temptation, and the way we can destroy ourselves with a powerful enough suggestion.

Because Kyubei might be an adorable, vaguely feline Mephistopheles and Mami may be an enabler out of her own desperate loneliness, but the two people most responsible for the girls’ inevitable downfall are themselves. They’ve been warned constantly for three episodes now about what exactly they’re getting into, but you know they’re going to persist.

Just look at those blank, uncaring eyes. And the capricious, always present half-smile

It is inevitable. I mean, for all the high tragedy, this is still a magical girl show: the protagonists have to actually become magical girls. I just think it’s marvelous that the show has made this inevitability something to dread.

It’s a great way to turn any genre show/film into a tragedy: set up things so that the genre convention that everyone knows is coming is a thing to be dreaded, rather than something to be celebrated. Make the girl leaving her stable and loving but dull long-term boyfriend for some guy she met a week ago but showered her with stupid displays of affection the inevitable consequence of her inability to be happy in a long-term relationship, rather than something to be celebrated. (The Wrestler does this to great affect with the old “inspiring comeback” sports movie cliché).

Here’s Akemi in the classic badass shot: walking toward the camera with an explosion behind her

But that reliance on subverting genre conventions makes me wonder how well Madoka Magica will be received if it ever gets picked up for distribution in the West (it’s the only show we’re writing about that’s not available for streaming). Will the pathos still be as effective if the audience’s only experience with magical girls is not watching Sailor Moon “because it was too girly”?

Moreover, will the show still be interesting once the girls have made the contract and sealed their fates? I don’t know how long its run will be, so it could be over by that point, but if it does last two seasons, I wonder if it will be able to sustain this same level of tension.

So, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is one of the best things airing in a season full of good shows. You should watch it, if only because I couldn’t even write about this episode’s best part, for fear of spoiling it. Let’s just say that it is unexpected, brutal, and firmly establishes the grim realities of Madoka Magica’s world. It also cements this as a show that you should be watching.

You can watch this episode here.

  1. Novalysis
    February 12, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Just wait till you see Episodes 4, 5 and 6. Especially 6. Magical Girl may be a total misnomer.

    • February 13, 2011 at 10:33 pm

      If Madoka makes it through the entire series without making a contract, this post will look pretty silly in retrospect. Still, with Kyubei’s constant hard sell, I don’t see her making it.

      I will say, as of episode 6, the show reminds me more of Shakugan no Shana than any magical girl show I know of.

      • threeheadedmonkeys
        February 14, 2011 at 9:34 pm

        Well, Shana is sort of a magical girl show. Save for a random walk-on by a basically unimportant character, all the flame hazes are female. Although Shana also had a much larger male cast than Madoka.

  1. February 8, 2011 at 11:55 pm

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