Part Three: Or, Silly Sayaka Snapped Her Sick And Shattered Psyche
Stuff Jesus and the cards and the Great Danes, when will this loser actually do what he promised and talk about the flipping show?
The question, I am sure, burns in everyone’s minds, or at the very least determinedly fizzles. And so, dear imaginary readers, I would like very much to reiterate my position: I have absolutely no idea what I am doing.
I do, however, have a sizable stockpile of ideas, which I can probably spew at random long enough to fool you all, so despair not! We shall get there, even if squeezed on the economy-class coach of the toy train of the dilapidated nursery of life.
Anyway, attentive and diligent readers will recall that in my first essay I proposed a blanket definition of Urobuchi’s worldview as manifested in the shows of his that I have seen, otherwise known as his central Idea:
The world is cruel and unforgiving, and will never allow any form of idealism to succeed. Hence, in order to be a hero and save the world, one must overturn the world system with magic, miracle, or both. Anything else is wishful thinking, and hopelessly selfish.
Today, we are finally going to explore how he plants the seeds of this Idea by personifying it in the form of worst girl.
(But Troy, you immediately clamor, frothing at the hem of your rented body pillow, how could you be so mean as to dismiss a girl who only wanted teh raburabu in her kokoro, and quite possibly other parts of her?)
A good question. I’ll elaborate later.
Now, first things first: Urobuchi thinks that heroism is, by-and-large, stupid. He may not necessarily put it in those terms, and he’s too competent to simply sneer and be done with it, but it is clear from his shows that he tends to side with the cold pragmatists against the wide-eyed idealists – examples include Saber and Rider’s (ig)noble ends in Fate/Zero, Tsunemori Akane’s slow undeception in Psycho-Pass, and, most relevant to our purposes, Miki Sayaka’s rapid descent into insanity and death.
(The exception is Kamen Rider Gaim, but as that show was written with a target audience made up largely of six-year-olds and the plot swings around the most belligerent set of dancing fruits you’ll ever meet, I would be very concerned if it wasn’t an exception.)
Like comets, Urobuchi’s idealists always have hard dirty cores hidden in their brilliant shells, some selfish desire or another that underpins their supposedly selfless wish to be heroes. This doesn’t mean that Urobuchi is incapable of lamenting the doomed sacrifices of his deluded deuteragonists – the respectful treatment of Sayaka post-mortem and the exquisite, soaring uplift of Rider’s last charge prove otherwise – but it does mean that he can never let them win. Because if you let an idealist win, you only give credit to the delusion, and in doing so lead even more souls astray.
Now, what about Sayaka? When I watched the show for the first time, I was immediately struck by the parallels between Sayaka and the protagonist of the original Fate/Stay Night series, Emiya Shirou.
Urobuchi is no doubt intimately familiar with the visual novel/anime/manga/movie/animeagain/guesswhatanotherthreemovies, having both written its official prequel and cultivated a close friendship with its head writer, Kinoko Nasu. I propose that Miki Sayaka is his answer to Emiya Shirou, and thus his personal refutation of the entire concept of heroism in the Magical Girl genre.
(For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Fate franchise, which is categorically the worst thing to grace anime fandom in the last ten years, where have you been, and can I buy a ticket?)
I’m only half-joking. I love Fate (and hate it; I think that’s a given for anyone), but Emiya Shirou is, depending on how you look at him and which route you’re on, either an okay-kinda-good point or a disastrous one. I shall now summarise Emiya Shirou in five points for the uninitiated, drawing on the version portrayed in the Unlimited Blade Works anime adaptation.
So You Want To Be The Bone Of Your Sword Of Your Whole Life?
- You have to really like saving people.
- You have to like saving them so much that it’s actually a pathology that invades on your instinct for self-preservation and capacity for self-worth. (You take to danger like a three-legged puppy to a bright orange ball, repeatedly placing yourself in danger to the detriment of those who care about you.)
- You have to embrace this pathology so incredibly hard that when your crush, your schoolmates and yourself from the future all tell you to stop, you refute them not by changing your behaviour, but simply by repeating yourself really long and really loud.
- You repeat yourself so long and so loud that you win the game, the big ol’ magical war, and life.
- Congrats, you’re a Hero of Justice.
In other words, Shirou’s wish to be a Hero of Justice only comes true because the writer, the universe, and the Gods of Plot conspire to make it so; in any sane world, even a fictional one, his boneheaded and unhealthy fixation would lead to his swift demise.
Urobuchi intimates this in a roundabout way in his prequel to F/SN, Fate/Zero, by having Shirou’s adoptive assassin father, Emiya Kiritsugu, try exactly the same thing – only now, because the Nasuverse is in the cynical hands of the Urobutcher, Kiritsugu ends up a broken man, disillusioned and destroyed, with little more than a childhood fantasy to keep him company at the end of his life. See, Kiritsugu also wished to be a Hero of Justice, but he didn’t know what Urobuchi knows – that the only way to save someone else is to sacrifice another, and thus the man who would save the most must damn his own soul.
In other words, it is inherently selfish to strive for heroism, because he who seeks is inevitably forced to skew the scales of justice, to decide whom and whom not to save. He is placed in the seat of Themis with unbound eyes, and, seeing, is left with no choice but to despair and die.
…Only maybe that wasn’t direct enough, and Urobuchi needs to make the same point again, but this time by lifting the pair out of the Nasuverse and plopping them into the cold, clammy depths of People Make Mortifying Mollusks. The reincarnation of Emiya Kiritsugu is Akemi Homura, the distaff Essentially Kerry; the reincarnation of Emiya Shirou is Miki Sayaka. Owing to my wish to milk my idea-udders for as much as bovinely possible, we will focus today on the latter, and… all together now –
(Leave the former for a future essay, you groan in obedient chorus.)
Yes, very good.
Now. When we are first introduced to Sayaka, we know very little about her save that she is a bit of a tomboy, and that girls can’t love girls. Soon, we learn three things about her.
- She is hopelessly in love with Kyousuke-kun, an aspiring violinist who had his dreams crushed by an unfortunate accident that took away the use of his left hand, and wishes to be with him.
- She wants to be a Hero of Justice, in more or less the same way that Emiya Shirou does.
- She is an idiot.
Why, you ask? Well, for starters, Urobuchi makes it abundantly clear that her second wish is inextricably shackled, and indeed subordinate to, her first one. As her free-with-every-Soul-Gem sign-on-bonus wish, Sayaka wishes for Kyousuke’s hand to be cured, doubtlessly imagining that this will rejuvenate his zest for life, create rainbows in the sky, and also indebt him, whether he knows it or not, to Sayaka herself. It is the failure of this dependence to materialise, rather than any terrifying revelations about the nature of Magical Girlhood, that is the primary cause of her slide into self-loathing and ultimately despair, the living death.
As Anti-Climacus so trenchantly observes:
“But in another sense despair is even more definitely the sickness unto death. Literally speaking, there is not the slightest possibility that anyone will die from this sickness or that it will end in physical death. On the contrary, the torment of despair is precisely this inability to die. Thus it has more in common with the situation of a mortally ill person when he lies struggling with death and yet cannot die. …When death is the greatest danger, we hope for life; but when we learn to know the even greater danger, we hope for death. When the danger is so great that death becomes the hope, then despair is the hopelessness of not even being able to die. It is in this last sense that despair is the sickness unto death, this tormenting contradiction, this sickness of the self, perpetually to be dying, to die and yet not die, to die death.”
Sayaka, having placed her sense of self in the hands of a boy who barely knows that she exists, and having become in her own mind ‘Kyousuke’s beloved,’ is ultimately broken when she realises that she cannot become that self. She flees, temporarily, into the secondary persona of a ‘Hero of Justice,’ pretending that it is more important, but this offers her little respite; her refusal of Homura’s repeated offers to renew her Soul Gem are therefore not so much due to moral scruples as they are to a subconscious desire to die.
(It is uncertain what the scruple actually is with using an artifact obtained from a formerly-human human-eating monster to purify one’s own soul, inasmuch as the monster is already dead, and would have caused more human deaths if it were not dead, and at any rate refusing to save yourself helps no-one. This is why I think Sayaka is an idiot.)
The parallels with Anti-Climacus are further strengthened as we observe Sayaka’s degeneration; desirous of blocking out emotional pain with a cruel form of self-mortification, she dulls her sense of pain and achieves the wild frenzy of a bloodied berserker, laughing wildly as she batters both the unfortunate Witch and her own body to a bloody pulp. Clutched entirely by the sickness unto death, she torments herself to no end, because despite her agony she is a Magical Girl, and cannot die.
And then the change. In the Christian worldview of Anti-Climacus, death is merely a passing into eternity, and thus, regardless of destination, life; Urobuchi creates a one-sided version of this vision, and has his Magical Girls pass not unto judgment, but straight into damnation. For when a Magical Girl becomes a Witch, she loses all sense of self; she cannot hear the voices of those who wish to save her, and she cannot be redeemed. Despite Kyouko’s entreaties and Madoka’s pleas, the Witch Oktavia cannot hear them; only let fall her catherine wheels and move her sword, marionette-like, deprived of even the power to scream.
Her annihilation is a blessing.
We will meet Sayaka once more, when Madoka remakes the order of all things. Even Urobuchi thinks the current scheme unfair. However, countless other girls certainly suffered the same fate, or at least they did in the old way of the universe, sustained and perpetuated by the Incubators. We shall hence examine the remainder of the so-called Holy Quintet, the rest of the main characters, before arriving at the redemption, in order to see the skill with which Urobuchi wraps them in his thematic net.
And yes, I made a Rebellion reference. I too, wish to die, but cannot. Who’d write the rest of these essays?