❝ I’ll do it over, no matter how many times it takes. I’ll relive it over and over again. I will find a way out. The one path that will save you from this destiny of despair. Madoka, my one and my only friend. I don’t care, because if it’s for you, I’ll stay trapped in this endless maze… Forever.❞
Homura Akemi of the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica is trying to save her first friend (and love, to be honest) Madoka Kaname from becoming a Magical Girl and consequently dying/becoming a Witch. She attempts to stop Madoka from making a contract with a rabbit-esque familiar, named Kyubey, who makes said contracts in exchange for the granting of any one wish.
Magical Girls have jewels called Soul Gems, which are actually tied to their being itself. They must fight Witches, as Witches cause despair to infect other people in the area they inhabit. When a Witch is defeated, they leave behind “grief seeds”. Magical Girls use these grief seeds to cleanse their Soul Gems of their own despair, caused through fighting and just life in general. However, the insidious plot behind all of this is that all Magical Girls are fated to fall into despair and become witches, as the intense amount of emotions that Magical Girls go through during their transformation into Witches are actually harnessed as energy by the Incubators — which is what Kyubey and his species actually were all along.
When Madoka falls victim to the powerful witch Walpurgisnicht in the first timeline, Homura makes a contract with Kyubey with the wish to redo her first meeting with Madoka and be someone who could protect her. Homura had been quite meek and awkward back then — however, due to the trauma and challenges she endures, she becomes quite resilient, strong, and protective.
Despite the length of this, that’s actually somewhat of a concise version, so here’s a flowchart:
…And an important scene from timeline 3:
However, that is just the anime series. There are more movies, but the most recent and important one is Rebellion. Basically, in rebellion, Homura becomes a “demon” in order to rewrite the entire universe, break off what is known as the Law of Cycles, punish Kyubey by channelling all the despair into him, eradicate the Magical Girl/Witch system, erase everyone’s memory, and have them live normally. Her main motivation in this is, as always, protecting Madoka. However, this is framed as a morally dubious action in the movie, as the Magical Girls now feel somewhat “out of place”, and Homura has to strip Madoka of her godly abilities (which were achieved when Madoka made a contract and wished to stop all Magical Girls from becoming Witches, which meant she sacrificed her own human existence). Sayaka, Madoka’s best friend, actually remembered the past timelines at first — until Homura erased her memory, saying she’d be an enemy to her when the time has to come.
In this way, she can be seen as a tragic heroine as she does experience a “fall from grace”, however, her actions (as far as we know until the next sequel) made the universe “normal”. Some people think she is a villain, some think she is a heroine, and that is what I think makes her so interesting. She is a dynamic anti-heroine who sacrifices everything for the one she loves.
Puella under a Posthumanist Lens: Transhumanism
Posthumanism is a philosophical framework that, at its core, revolves around the idea of concepts “beyond human”. There are seven different branches within posthumanism. The one most applicable to Puella Magi Madoka Magica is transhumanism, which is defined as “an ideology and movement which seeks to develop and make available technologies that eliminate aging and greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities, in order to achieve a ‘posthuman future’” (Bostrom). In simpler terms, cyborgs and superheroes and cool things like that.
Magical girls undoubtedly fall under the transhuman category. They can “transform themselves into different beings with abilities so greatly expanded from the natural condition as to merit the label of posthuman beings” (Bostrom). In fact, there is even a “transformation sequence”, which is a staple in multiple pieces of media in the “magical girl” genre.
Firstly, the relativity of the soul gem should be noted. The most important thing for a magical girl is her soul gem. The gem is posthumanist in that it, quite literally, is an extension of their human form, as well as a work of advanced technology. They cannot survive without it once the contract is made. If the gem moves too far from their body for too long, they will die.
Secondly, the force behind the creation of the gems and the magical girls themselves, Kyubey, plays a significant role as well. Kyubey is represented as rabbit-like creature, not a human. This makes it easier for the audience to believe that he does not have any emotions like he claims, and that he truly cannot empathise with human suffering. He can resurrect as another copy of himself, too, making him as unrelated to conventional humanity as he can be. This allows him to act as a symbol instead of a character throughout the series. He is a walking lesson: one cannot evolve without giving up something in return.
If humanity wishes to extend its capabilities beyond the natural realm, we will need to pay a cost. Homura’s own power ends up destroying her sense of values — all that matters in the end is Madoka, and nothing else. This has consequences for the rest of humanity, as she rewrites the entire universe. She calls herself evil, at the end, a demon who has messed with the powers of a god (Madoka). Madoka, throughout the series, is shown as incredibly forgiving, humane, and even weak at times. She is an embodiment of humanity, even when she becomes a god. Homura’s saving/ripping of Madoka from the Law of Cycles, a natural occurrence in their universe, is symbolic of Homura disrupting natural order and letting her abilities evolve beyond what she could mentally handle. She has become the ultimate power, but at what cost?
It is often difficult to find a well-written series that portrays women as dynamic people, due to the majority of male directors that have no idea what they’re doing, institutionalized and systematic misogyny, and people forgetting that women are, uh, people. However, the entire main cast of Puella Magi Madoka Magica is female. All of the girls have complex emotions, realistic developments, and unique identities — especially Homura. Homura develops from a shy, glasses-wearing, braid-touting girl to a cold, tough, long-haired badass.
However, Homura isn’t just a feminist character because of her development. Homura hardly, if ever, interacts with men. She does not need a male character to support her. She does not need a “male figure” to model herself after. Her entire motive is centered on Madoka, a girl. Homura is not a character made for the purpose of catering to men or the male gaze.
Additionally, Homura is implied to be a lesbian. As a result, she goes directly against the purpose of the male gaze, which is to “reassure men of their sexual power and at the same moment deny any sexuality of women other than the male construction” (Berger, 1972: 64). She is a girl who loves a girl in a popular piece of media, and that on its own is feminist, because men are just not apart of her equation. They don’t matter here, and that is honestly so refreshing. Basically, Homura is a powerful morally-ambiguous lesbian, and that’s awesome.