Nov. 16th, 2015

terabient: Madoka in profile, her hair waving in the wind (Puella Magi: Madoka)
Something that annoys me about a lot of Puella Magi Madoka Magica analysis: theorizing the whole story (or at least the original series) is one big Faust allegory--specifically, Goethe's adaptation of Faust.

This idea is so prevalent in the PMMM community; it's littered all over the Puella Magi wiki, the annual Anime Boston PMMM panel devotes like, half of the running time to an extensive Homura-as-Faust theory, and...I just don't see it? I admit that 99% of my knowledge of Faust comes from Wikipedia and 1% comes from cultural osmosis and references in other literature, so I'm not exactly the most qualified person when it comes to what is and what isn't a Faust allegory. But one of the most common descriptions about the plot of PMMM is 'Be careful what you wish for/the characters make Faustian bargains' and like...no, that doesn't happen at all??? I'm pretty sure the concept behind a Faustian bargain is that the person making the wish knows the consequences of their wish, but their desire for worldly power is so great they decide to go through with it anyway. The exact opposite happens in PMMM--with the exception of Madoka at the end of the series, none of the girls are aware of what their contracts entail, and their wishes are all made on behalf of others. I suppose Mami is an exception, in that she wishes to survive a fatal car crash, but that wish doesn't display the power-hungry desire that a traditional Faustian wish does.

"There are literally quotes from Goethe's Faust in the backgrounds of some episodes, and there's a witch named Gretchen!" Fair enough, but let's not forget that back in the 90s everyone thought that Neon Genesis Evangelion was heavily based on apocryphal biblical texts, because crosses and Christian names were everywhere. Then Gainax said 'lol we just thought it'd be cool and different.' I suspect that the references to Goethe's Faust in PMMM are quite similar, added for visual flair but nothing deeper than that.

"But isn't Madoka an example of the Eternal Feminine?" It is pretty clear that Madoka's final form/Godoka/the Law of the Cycle is an avatar of mercy, 'pure' (i.e. chaste) love, and hope, concepts that are typically coded as feminine. But that coding is as common in Asian culture as it is in Western culture. Not only that, but the magical girl genre in particular often climaxes with the main character turning--if briefly--into a being whose power comes from hope, mercy, or from the love of their friends; Madoka may fit the idea of the Eternal Feminine but it's through coincidence, not because she's a stand-in for the role of a female character in an influential piece of Western literature.

Finally, given the sheer amount of interviews with the creative team of PMMM--many of which directly ask what influences were baked into the plot of the show--if Faust played anything more than a superficial role, you'd think someone would've said so by now. But Faust never comes up in these interviews. Lovecraft does, various magical girl shows do, but I honestly can't find a direct mention of Faust by any of the Magica Quartet members. And believe me, I have looked. If it's ever come up, it's from something that's never been translated into English.

In short:

-Kyubey's contracts are like the polar opposite of a Faustian bargain
-Quotes from Faust are like Christian crosses in NGE: meaningless
-A Japanese show by Japanese creators for a Japanese audience is more likely to draw from Japanese sources before European ones
-Look, SOMEONE would have said something about it by now

I've never been a big fan of analysis that essentially boils down to 'The characters and plot of this show are stand-ins for the characters and plot of this cultural myth/piece of literature' and in the case of Puella Magi-as-Faust I feel it's particularly strained and ill-fitting. It's a little frustrating that's it's so widespread.
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