Throughout the course of the series, there have been obvious and subtle Faustian themes in Puella Magi Madoka Magica (or as some say, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica). There’s the personification of white, fluffy evil, Kyubey (or as some say, QB or Kyuubee), the whole soul/wish exchange (the SEC should really look into regulating this), and so on.
And while I agree with these strong Faustian themes, I can’t help but look to other themes as well. What I see is Madoka becoming a Shakespearean tragedy. And another theme I see creeping into the series is the seven deadly sins, too.
Like all Shakespearean tragedies, there is an obvious hero whom all the sorrow seems to spiral around. In this anime, we have our cute protagonist, Madoka, who is an honest and compassionate character who the audience can understand and relate to. She’s one of the more human characters in the series and has no ill intentions for anyone around her, friend or foe. Even with Homura portrayed as the villain in the first episode, Madoka still tried to reach out to her in order to understand her and perhaps even become friends. So naturally, our attention gravitates toward Madoka, a character whom virtually all could sympathize with.
But Madoka is not without her flaws though. While still distant from the whole Puella Magi occupation, she continues to make mistakes that will soon irreversibly doom her. She’s already become too attached to this magical girl realm, even after it ended the life of two of her friends. And despite still being able to remove herself from this catastrophic situation, we have the general feeling that she’ll gradually become increasingly involved in it and find herself in a situation where she is forced into becoming a soulless mahou shoujo. And it’s due to her kind and caring personality that she’ll become doomed like all the other Puella Magi before her. We can only watch these girls make their mistakes and continue on with their tortured lives.
Furthermore, another element of Shakespearean tragedies is the role of the unknown. The unknown always limits the characters. For example, it’s still unknown to Madoka, and the audience for that matter, what Homura’s true goals are. Additionally, we’re left pondering what Kyubey will gain from contracting with Madoka. There are also other unknowns that have been cleared up since the introduction of Puella Magi, such as their roles in society, the dangers of their fights, the details of their contract, and the overall despair of their fate. What’s left unknown to the characters and the viewers will ultimately play a role in building up to the tragedy, much like it did with Sayaka’s soul in the previous episode.
So with the combination of a hero whom we can understand and sympathize with, their flaws and mistakes that will ultimately doom them, and the presence of the unknown, I’d say Puella Magi Madoka Magica has a decent recipe for a successful, yet basic Shakespearean tragedy. These themes are obviously not as dominate as the Faustian themes but the Shakespearean tragedy elements are there and could hint at a possible ending for Madoka and her friends.
In addition to the whole Shakespearean tragedy theme noted above, I began to try to see if I could identify another theme in the series. I made a joke to a friend that, with Kyoko’s constant consumption of food, that she is the embodiment of gluttony. It’s true, she’s always got some sort of candy in her mouth, although this episode she had apples (watching that figure, are we?). I then thought about Sayaka and the pride that she showed in this episode. Her steadfast response to everyone about having no regrets on her wish and her idealized sense of justice show how she holds her ego and ideals above everyone else. In other words, Sayaka is the personification of pride. Well, that’s two of the seven deadly sins, why not try to find all seven? After all, this is the seventh episode!
So, we have gluttony and pride down. Let’s look back at Mami. Mami’s blonde hair and golden-themed outfit seem to indicate her sinful embodiment would be greed. After all, she wanted Madoka and Sayaka to herself, having them avoid Homura. She was also the only one to make a wish from Kyubey for their personal gain. Next would be Homura and she fits in with sloth. Homura certainly could do a lot more than just warn Madoka once and walk away. She certainly seems laid-back and relaxed whenever anything is going on, be it a simple chit-chat or a battle. That and she never finished her Kyubey-killing which she started in the first episode. Now it’s hard to assign the sloth card to Homura when she’s the one who’s constantly there to save Madoka from certain doom and Sayaka from permanent death, but this is a silly exercise that’s mainly for fun. I mean, Kyoko hates wasting food (Sayaka tossing the apple) and Mami tried giving her Grief Seed from the second episode to Homura, who then rejected it, so this isn’t perfect.
Alright, we’re over halfway done and this is where it gets tough. Let’s assign lust to Hitomi, just because that’s the hardest one of the sins. She’s in love with Kyosuke, whom Sayaka has puppy-dog eyes for. She also suggested at Madoka and Sayaka having a yuri relationship in the second episode. So yeah, her mind is set on sex, so she’s lust. Kyubey would be jealousy. He certainly is jealous of Madoka’s potential and wants that all for himself. If there were a green-themed character, this would be easier. And lastly, Madoka is left with rage. Gee, I really hope that comes true in the latter episodes. Madoka filled with wrath and hatred would be fun to watch.
I’ve already asked a few people for their opinions on that list and have gotten varied responses. Some characters have done things that could contradict their personifications and others have blended their personalities, as well. For example, Homura could be rage, she seems to have a grudge against everyone else, and Madoka could be sloth, taking forever to decide on becoming a Puella Magi or not. And there are other examples, too, but too numerous to list. A point was also made that it seems out of place for these sins to be present in the series, especially given the lack of Christian or religious themes, but this was just a fun exercise to see what other themes could be present in Madoka.
Hopefully there’ll be some resolve or salvation for Madoka in the end but she needs to get into this mess before she can get out.