Home > Episode Reviews, Puella Magi Madoka Magica > Puella Magi Madoka Magica Episode 10 – At Home at the End of the World

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Episode 10 – At Home at the End of the World

Madoka Magica has been slowly unraveling its mysteries for the past few episodes, but has kept a fairly tight hold on a big one: the identity of dark magical girl Homura Akemi. We know a bit—that she can manipulate time, that she comes from an alternate version of Madoka’s reality—but we don’t know her origins the way we do the other girls.

That ends here, in perhaps the best episode of the show so far.

Meet the original Homura Akemi—shy, quiet, and sickly

Homura Akemi is a shy, bespectacled middle school girl with a sickly disposition. Hospitalized for months with a weak heart, she is finally released from the hospital, where she transfers into a new middle school. There she meets Kaname Madoka, a bold, cheerful girl who looks after her. When Akemi’s depression attracts the attention of a witch, Madoka and Mami are there to save the day.

Akemi idolizes Madoka, until the Walpurgis Night comes. After Mami is unable to defeat it, Madoka rushes into battle, desperate to save Akemi’s life. She’s fighting a losing battle, though, and both she and Akemi know it. In the heat of the moment, Akemi makes a decision—she’ll give up her soul in exchange for a chance to redo her introduction to Madoka, if she can protect Madoka instead of being protected by her.

Even with magical powers, Akemi isn’t a terribly good fighter at first…

She stands no chance on her own in such a frail, inexperienced state, though, and so she is unable to save Madoka from the Walpurgis Night. So time rewinds again, giving her another shot.

This is how the episode plays out: a seemingly endless series of repeats, of alternate takes on the show’s narrative arc, as Akemi searches for the series of events that will prevent Madoka from death or despair.

…so she does what any Japanese middle school girl would do: learn how to make explosives

Living through the same few months over and over again, she transforms into the battle-hardened veteran we know, using magic to get rid of her need for glasses, raiding military bases and Yakuza hangouts frozen in time for guns and explosives. She becomes strong, but never strong enough to take on everything herself.

At last we see the present storyline, but from Akemi’s eyes. If she seems suspicious and guarded, it’s because she has every right to be: she’s seen this all before, and knows exactly how the other girls will react.

Mami and Madoka are a newly-formed team of magi when Akemi meets them

She’s also entirely alone, in a world that isn’t her own, fighting solely for the sake of a girl that may or may not know who she is, and will never know the extent to which she has suffered.

This entire story is handled beautifully, a nearly-complete character arc in one episode. Traditional action shows would spend tens, if not hundreds of episodes chronicling a character’s rise to power, but that’s obviously not the point here.

Mami is unable to take the truth of their destiny, and turns on the other magi

Madoka Magica is a show of heroic tragedy, so a character’s flaws are just as important, if not moreso, than their ever-increasing power. Akemi’s main flaw is her hyper-autonomy, her insistence on fighting off every enemy, no matter how tough, herself, and her inability to work with others.

Her partnership with Kyouko was almost non-existent and she threatened to kill Sayaka if she hurt Madoka any more as Sayaka’s spirit crumbled. If not even Madoka, with her incredible natural ability, can defeat the Walpurgis Night alone, how can Akemi hope to?

I’m just glad there’s finally a shot of Akemi walking towards the camera with a massive explosion behind her

Whether Akemi’s story is part of the show’s likely-happy ending, or she too becomes a tragic figure is still to be determined, but if she does survive, it will probably only be because she is willing to work with someone else, whether a newly minted-mage Madoka or someone else.

This episode, though, is a tale of endings that, due to Akemi’s time-rewinding, never came to pass. It’s Madoka at its most brutal: stripped down to a series of gut-wrenching deaths and tragic sacrifices. Scenes that might have an entire episode built around them if they were part of the main continuity come every few minutes, with heart-rending sobbing or anguished cries of despair even more frequent.

I was originally going to have every picture be of a crying girl, but after thinking about it, I (wisely) chickened out

If you’ve been watching Madoka for its epic melodrama, this episode will not disappoint. Pathos drips from every scene, but never to the extent that it feels forced or inauthentic. The world of Madoka is sufficiently bleak and the writers talented enough that it all comes naturally.

It’s an excellent episode, the apex of an already impressive show. The television broadcast of episodes 11 and 12 have been delayed due to the recent earthquake and tsunami (and because SHAFT is likely behind on animating them), but I’ll be covering them when they do air, hoping for a satisfying conclusion to an amazing series.

You can watch this episode here.

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