Mahou Shoujo Madoka completely caught me off guard; it’s been a while since an anime infused my brain with some massive amount of steroid and made every neuron of my central nervous system working. Now that it finally came into its conclusion, I can’t think of anything else how to decipher this series but to psychoanalyze an exceptionally psycho-show using the theories of the most notable psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud. Together with Lacan’s concepts, I argue that Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica rightly befalls into the definition of Death Drive.
“The aim of all life is death…inanimate things existed before living ones” – Freud
Death drive is to find oneself grappling with the difficulties inherent in the topic of repetition. It is the drive to self-destruction and the return to the inorganic and inanimate state. Further, it suggests that every person has an unconscious wish to die and goes beyond the pleasure principle by means of reiteration: “the death drive is only the mask of the symbolic order.”
A central principle of death drive is the Pleasure Principle. Jacque Lacan elaborated this as: the subject intends exclusively at avoiding unpleasure and obtaining pleasure. It functions as a limit to enjoyment; it is a law which commands the subject to ‘enjoy as little as possible’. At the same time, the subject persistently attempts to transgress the prohibitions imposed on his enjoyment, to go ‘beyond the pleasure principle’. However, as a result pleasure turns into pain, since there is only a certain amount of pleasure that the subject can bear. Similarly, it is the drives which permit the subject to transgress the pleasure principle, it follows that every drive is a death drive.
Homura and Pleasure Principle
Trauma in death drive tells us that the subjects often tended to repeat or re-enact disturbing experiences to reminisce a painful situation. As we have witnessed, of all the characters, Homura is the most fully explored for this definition. She has a strong driving factor to search for the timeline where she can save and change Madoka’s fate. In order to do this, countless times she negated time despite the fact that every reiteration she does is giving her some pain and numerous times she wakes from her nightmare in the hospital room. Hence, through such a compulsion to reiterate, Homura attempts to ‘bind’ the trauma, thus allowing her to return to a state of quiescence.
When the ideas and experiences enter the mind and become bound, then we observe what appears to be innate tendency towards organization, increase complexity and development. But in the absence of binding—as in case of trauma—we are brought face to face with a more fundamental and contrary tendency of the mind to repeat old experiences. For instance, the act of negating time and waking up from nightmare symbolically implies Homura as masochist—always in search of painful pleasure.
Freud capitalized on the concept of ‘narcissism’ and realized that the ego is not simply a kill-joy, concerned solely with the suppression of libido, but is itself an erotically-charged figure within the individual’s economy of desire. It is apparent that Homura’s ego is not only the ‘headquarters’ of her libido but is also liable to become—itself—an object of her own desire. For instance, Homura always claims that she’s fine alone and can triumph the Walpurgis Night unaided. She also keeps on saying that there’s no way that Madoka can understand—her feelings. Hence, this narcissistic act has been deeply rooted from Homura’s intensely repressed but yet extremely erotic desire to Madoka, and as a result she was able to transform herself from being lame into a badass heroine.
Madoka and Jouissance
Jacque Lacan coined the term jouissance which means an excessive quantity of excitation which the pleasure principle attempts to prevent. In order to live we have to give up something, and it is this loss which fuels desire for that which we cannot have—unless, we’re ready to lose our life. The irony is that we are fully conscious that death is our end. This then, is the meaning of life.
Framing this idea, one of the significant characteristic of Madoka is her drive signifies jouissance. She chose to take her wish not due to fulfill her satisfaction of need but of her drive to release the unbearable pleasure. Throughout the series, we have seen how Madoka slowly developed the drive to become a Mahou Shoujo and that’s because little by little she sees her friends die. She came into the point where she realized that living safely with her family and normal life is too much of a pleasure due to the deaths that she’s witnessing. Because there’s only so much jouissance she can take, at the end she has no choice but the face her dead-end fate and accept the purpose of her life—to be the most powerful magical girl and witch.
Moreover, when meaning penetrates the realm of life we pass into human existence, and concurrently death unites with life. This is because the language which is the locus from which meaning is determined introduces something into subject, something which we can consider the cause of the subject. The cause of the subject is the signifier; consequently, no subject can be its own cause. So, if the subject (Madoka) is indeed constituted by signifier of the Other (contract with Kyubey), then the subject (Madoka) is alienated from itself (or simply has to let go of her original self that is defined as weak). Hence the Madoka’s wish is death, but is also her desire, the meaning of her life.
Madoka as Goddess of Life and Death (Reaction-formation Theory)
This theory tells us that it is usually assumed that the original, rejected impulse does not vanish, but persists, unconscious, in its original infantile form. Thus, where love is experienced as a reaction formation against hate, we cannot say that love is substituted for hate, because the original aggressive feelings still exist underneath the affectionate exterior that merely masks the hate to hide it from awareness.
As we have witnessed Madoka is characterised as a weakling, indecisive, and burden. Furthermore, she’s the last to wish and her “death” is regarded as the worse of all because she disappeared without proof of existence in the world that she saved. But how come death or being locked in eternity is not as terrifying as it seemed unlike the death of the other Mahou Shoujos deaths? Using Freudian perspective, indeed Madoka’s characteristics are all representations of death, indications of what lies beyond the signifier and the pleasure-principle. But by a reaction-formation, where substitution has taken place: Madoka turns out to be a goddess and her death turns out to be the loveliest and most adored. And, as always, the alternative upholds its relationship to the substituted element—the cruelty behind the “death and destroyer” becomes hidden but still there. Hence, Madoka as goddess is a creator and destroyer, representing both life and death.
Yuriscope: Interpreting Madoka and Homura’s Last Moment
Id is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality. In dreams, universe means oneness, flying signifies exhibitionistic wishes or sexual pleasure, aurora borealis symbolizes uplifting of spirits and feelings of affection and passion, and sea predicts unfulfilled anticipations and represents an inward craving for pleasure. Put them all together in that scene and you’ll get a perfect picture of Death Drive. Metaphorically, you’ll see pleasure (oneness), jouissance (orgasm), and Nirvana (nothingness).
My Stand About Kyubey
Until now, I still can’t understand why some people think that Kyubey is evil. The example of treating human as cattle clearly tells us the terror of humanism. We humans tend to think that we are the centre of the universe. We question right from wrong when things don’t go on our way, and most of all we define morality when in fact we couldn’t even accurately discern the exact boundaries of morality and immorality. Undoubtedly, I find Kyubey enlightening not because I’m against humans, but rather I’m against humanism.
Some Open Ended Questions:
Have you ever wonder about the symbolism behind “magical girls.” Why did Kyubey choose and attach grief and death only to girls? Why is ‘she’ so repeatedly placed at the concurrence between life and death? Or simply in a much broader question, why feminine figure?
If according to Lacan death is the “other” in human existence, then think about the role of woman under the patriarchal society. Think about the function of males in this anime. What does the equation tell us?