Magical Girl Martyrs: Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Purity, Beauty, and Passivity
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The Japanese animated television show (or “anime”), Puella Magi Madoka Magica, has garnered significant popularity. Anime fans and critics alike often hail the show as a progressive criticism of the magical girl genre. Indeed, the show gives its female characters complex, nonlinear narratives, breaking down the dichotomy between innocent young girls and evil old women that is prolific within the magical girl genre. While Madoka Magica does make important headway in the realm of dismantling harmful female archetypes, the moral judgments the show assigns to those archetypes, coupled with the regressive ways in which it represents female agency, problematize such a positive reading. In order to address this issue, I will briefly examine the history of magical girl anime, locating Madoka Magica within its generic tradition. I will perform a close reading of the show through a feminist critical perspective in order to assess the way that the elements of the show critics have cited as progressive function within its broader narrative, especially in relation to female purity and agency. I argue that Madoka Magica’s revolutionary potential is stifled by the fact that it demonizes impurity at the same time as it portrays impurity as almost inescapable, ultimately suggesting that the only acceptable strategy for girls is to be completely passive in order to remain pure.