Sayaka Miki is a Hero

When we think of heroes, the picture that likely manifests for most people is a savior. Whether a guy in colorful spandex fighting crime or knight with a sword staving off evil creatures, heroes go above and beyond to save others through their actions. The piece that really sets apart what a hero can be, however, is what they stand for. The most memorable stories of heroes are the ones that confront them with the cracks in their own morality, such as Batman refusing to kill even The Joker. These moments remind us that even the best heroes are human or at least fallible in much the same way. No matter how hard you try, you can’t save everyone. In some cases, you cannot save yourself. This is the case with Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s spunky, driven blue-haired heroine. Yet there is no doubt in my mind; Sayaka Miki is a Hero.

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While every one of the girls of Madoka prove themselves heroic in some way, Sayaka envisions herself in the role quite easily. She has a deep empathy and desires to protect the people and world she cherishes in the sweet, fluffy way one may expect of middle-schoolers. Even her initial appearance as a magical girl invokes many ideals of heroism— shrouded in a cape, a white knight comes out of nowhere to save the innocent just in time. She also has flaws one might expect of a starry-eyed middle-schooler, such as deep self-loathing and naiveté (a relatable slate).  She’s fiercely loyal to her friends, but she also has an inherent tendency to distrust (namely, Homura and Kyoko when they first appear). The key piece here is her wish, and more precisely whom it was for. Kyosuke is a longtime friend (and more importantly big crush) of Sayaka’s and she dutifully visits him as regularly as possible. He sits in the hospital recovering from an accident which renders him incapable of using his hands to play the violin he was so fond of. He sees no way he could possibly ever do what he loves again short of an improbable miracle, and it leaves him depressed. Sayaka, it turns out, is capable of just that miracle.

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The hands are healed and Sayaka is now a magical girl, having been granted her wish by sociopathic space rodent Kyubey while foreboding red skies look on. Sayaka promises to never regret her wish, and then something else red falls into her life to really test the limits of that promise. Kyoko is someone much like Sayaka— her wish was for the sake of someone else, but she has come to regret this and now looks out only for herself. Naturally, this does not sit well with Sayaka, who holds on to her own rigid ideals of heroism as a selfless act. Kyoko has no time for such ideals— she is no doubt aware what destructive potential this rigidness holds and is eager to strike it down. While their initial hostile encounter ends in a Homura-induced draw, this feud leads Sayaka to declare to Madoka that she will fight anyone who is as bad or worse than the witches in the name of protecting those she cares about— even fellow magical girls. Her moral imperatives in her own heroic ideals outweigh seeing beyond the myopic nature of this stance.

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Soon after a revelation would be made that would shock all the girls and leave Sayaka in particular shaken. The Soul Gem lives up to its name as when one is left without theirs— as Sayaka was— they cease living until it is returned; a person’s soul is actually housed in it. Soon after a clearly similarly shaken Kyoko attempts a form of reconciliation, walking Sayaka through her own wish and the tragic events it led to. Kyoko sees this as a warning in the form of advice from someone who was in a remarkably similar position, and came to know regret for it. This does not deter Sayaka, who pledges she will never allow herself to regret using her wish on the behalf of another. The ideals of her justice and heroism do not allow her to see that as anything but giving up on helping others, and she instead thinks of how much good she can do with this power. She holds firm to her righteousness, thinking of the many ways she can fulfill being a hero with her abilities.

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Sayaka is not as stable as her resolute speech would have one believe. Kyosuke, the crush she made her wish for, has been approached by Hitomi— another girl who happens to be a close friend of Sayaka’s and Madoka’s. Hitomi does not want the dueling interest to dampen their relationship, as she is quite aware of Sayaka’s feelings. She gives Sayaka a chance to reveal her feelings first, but the soul gem revelation has left her too shaken to think she can approach Kyosuke, feeling as though she cannot ask her longtime crush to hold and embrace what feels to her to be nothing more than the body of a zombie. This also leads to thoughts that are naturally not so kind to Hitomi, and Sayaka clearly loathes that such thoughts even momentarily came into her head, as she tearfully confesses to Madoka. The limits that human error place on such rigid ideals are clearly shown in the self-loathing here, as Sayaka hates that weakness allowed a crack in her valuing her friendship and acts of saving people even when it is clearly an understandable emotional reaction.

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The downward spiral continues as Sayaka seems to be increasingly detached and troubled. She angrily confronts Madoka, only to immediately regret doing so and declare herself beyond help at that point. She watches Hitomi and Kyosuke get closer from a distance and grows only more emotionally distant, even telling Homura that she is okay with dying. Riding a train late at night and with likely no real destination, Sayaka finds the real breaking point of her spirit as well as her ideals. The dark and dreary train is occupied only by Sayaka and two rather awful men. They sling revolting insults about women and a partner of one of the men specifically back and forth until Sayaka can take no more. She confronts them, defending the woman so ridiculed by the men and then wondering if this world is even worth fighting for. With her emotional state already critically fragile, forcing her to question her ideals and the world she wanted to save because of them pushes her over the edge. When Kyoko finds her alone, Sayaka admits that she can’t remember what she found so worth protecting, and that none of it makes much sense to her anymore. The disillusionment proves fatal, as tears are shed, the soul gem bursts open, and Sayaka Miki the hero is no more. Only a witch born of the bitter disillusionment and regret remains.

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Sayaka could not save herself, but that doesn’t mean she has not saved others in some way. Kyoko is reminded of what drove her to become a magical girl, and attempts to rescue Sayaka from her witch form in whatever way she can. When this proves impossible, she sacrifices herself to ensure that Sayaka is not alone to the very end. Kyoko possessed the very same empathetic drive Sayaka had, and Sayaka managed to reawaken it within Kyoko, who now knows what she wants to protect. We see once more what mark Sayaka has left on the world as she watches Kyosuke play one last time. She is not free of the emotions leaving all this behind brings forth, but she is content to leave the regret behind knowing he will be happy with Hitomi and his continued playing. His life was saved by Sayaka’s actions, and he’ll never know that was the case despite how much joy the regained use of his hands brings him. She changed his life for the better by sacrificing herself. That’s what it truly means to be a hero.

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Sayaka’s story is a cautionary tale, and some may be tempted to think she failed to be a hero. This idea of a hero, much like Sayaka’s, puts heroism far above a level humans can attain. She did indeed fail to balance her emotions and human error with her sense of justice as a magical girl, something that is understandable for a middle-school student suddenly tasked with saving the world, one would think. While all heroes are good, not all heroes are infallible. When it comes to someone like Sayaka, to be a hero is to be human— an empathetic human trying their best to protect what they cherish. Sayaka may not have protected herself, but she had a tangible impact on those around her. She revived that empathetic drive in Kyoko and gave so that Kyosuke could regain his ability to play music. Sayaka isn’t perfect, Sayaka is human, and most of all, Sayaka Miki is a Hero.

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Girlish Number and The Mask

“You just lose it when you get older.”

These are the words Karasuma Chitose hears when she half-heartedly thanks some fans for support, and obviously isn’t doing a good job hiding her listlessness. Of course, this is a terrible thing to say to anyone and speaks to an entitlement all too common. In both life as well as being in the public eye, you are never allowed to let your mask slip. People will judge for even the slightest hint of a bad mood, or at least that’s what you tell yourself. As someone who was always self-assured to a fault, Chitose now finds herself assured of little but her own perceived worthlessness. The mask has fallen off, and doesn’t seem to fit back on. Anyone who has felt such a sense of self-loathing could tell you it’s an awful place to be, but for someone who has never faced resentment like it before it must be an especially dispiriting feeling.

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There are a number of things that led to this, and for Chitose it must feel like a collapsing house of cards. Her brother Gojo is no longer her manager, and her new manager is a handful, to say the least. Chitose would likely never admit it, but her brother had been an important emotional crutch for her. Not a crutch she was going to be able to lean on forever of course, but one that was pulled out suddenly enough to visibly affect her. Gojo had pointed out that she needed to change, but now she is faced with the reality that she just isn’t very capable on her own. Despite wearing the mask well, she was not exactly on her way to becoming a pro voice actor. Gojo is aware of this as well, and once Chitose also becomes aware of it, they share little but disappointed glances. Gojo is the one person whose disappointment gets to Chitose above all others’. With the crutch gone, there is nothing able to keep her afloat. Her now missing undue confidence is what saved her, and managed to even earn her a set of fans.

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One such fan is a newbie already seemingly more promising than Chitose herself- Nanami Sakuragaoka. She’s a charming, hard working high school student who’s talented enough to be seen as the new big thing by management. She’s also a fan of Chitose, seemingly admiring her even if it’s only thanks to the mask. This isn’t the boost of confidence it might sound like to Chitose, though- from her point of view, Nanami is everything she isn’t, and she resents that. Nanami is young, a go-getter, and most importantly talented. Her sudden rise to prominence only increases the pace at which Chitose begins to doubt herself and her goals. She’s staring down what is basically her replacement. Even if that’s not the outright intention it will surely feel so in the near future. Her career feels over even though it just started. It doesn’t help that Gojo went down a very similar path- a brief time as a voice actor before never doing so again. His own exit from the job does not sound pleasant either. Chitose hates what she is and how inevitable going nowhere seems to be, and it must feel odd to know something just like this happened to Gojo before her.

girlishnumberwantobe1girlishnumberwanttobe2So where does Chitose go from here? Well I can’t imagine Girlish Number will have its characters moping around for the entire final stretch of its run (not that I’d be entirely opposed to that specific show either). The mask has now come off, and it is arguably a necessary opportunity for Chitose. Going in to Girlish Number most would expect her to go through some growth and development of her own, but I’ve been struck by just how relatable or understandable her current struggles are. I suppose that’s plain to see. The world’s a tough place, and there’s always someone better than you. There’s always something to feel guilty or self-conscious about. But what really matters is how we respond to these things. Eventually the mask will slip and the emotional wall will come down. It’s not wrong to feel down when it does, but at some point the real test becomes pushing on without it. It’s okay to be the real you. I look forward to Chitose learning this herself.

91 Days and the Cycle Of Revenge

Spoilers for the ending of 91 Days! Please watch that before reading this. It’s good though, you should anyway!

In his final moments, Angelo Lagusa stands next to only one man. This man is so many things to him: an accomplice to the murders of his family, the one closest to Angelo’s own victims, and a former friend. Ostensibly, this friendship was naught but a lie- a creation of necessity for Angelo to get himself close enough to those he intended his revenge for. But, as he stands next to his only living target, he confesses something. The reason he didn’t kill that man Nero Vanetti even when he had the opportunity, something Nero himself had angrily questioned him about. “The reason I didn’t kill you…is because I didn’t want to.” He says no more than that, yet it says so much more about him.

While one might want to assume that it is a typical kind of forgiveness that drives this newfound respect for the life of another, the steps it took Angelo to get here make that a bit harder to reconcile. Angelo did not simply call off his revenge realizing he had made a connection he did not wish to sever- he had arguably already completed his plot of revenge. He had killed essentially every other key figure in the Vanetti circle, something which leads to the downfall of the Vanetti mafia family (The new Don of the rival Galassias family even thanks him for indirectly aiding him, after noting that Angelo had orchestrated this all quite deftly). He even tells Nero at first that he spared his life because he wanted Nero to feel just as he did back when The Vanettis had the rest of the Lagusa family killed. Considering his second explanation is so earnest, one may be tempted to simply disregard this earlier one, but I wouldn’t be so quick to do that. I think both can be at least somewhat true at the same time, especially considering Angelo could very well have thought this long before any sentimental feelings would have arose. In Angelo’s own words he wanted Nero to know this feeling he had carried for so long- “a fate worse than death”. Loss throws anyone into despair, but having your whole life and everyone you loved ripped away from you hurts in a way little else can.

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This last point is a key one in a different way as well. Nero is completely on his own in the end, speeding off in his vehicle to a destination he doubtlessly knows as little of as we do. Angelo had lost his entire family, but he was not truly alone. His childhood friend Corteo had been there for him back when he had no where else to go, and was still there for him for as long as he could be. That even meant joining him on his quest, sliding himself along with Angelo into the mafia world. Of course, this was destined to end poorly as Corteo was never going to find himself fitting in with the criminal underworld. But even Angelo probably never imagined that the man holding the gun to Corteo would be himself. The events of the story had led up to Angelo being tasked with killing Corteo in order to prove his loyalty to the man he intended to betray and kill. While this is the first and perhaps only time killing elicits an emotional reaction from Angelo, it shatters an already broken man. It’s a tear-jerking moment, but also an anger-inducing one. Angelo’s revenge led him to kill the one person who truly cared about him. He was all Angelo had left, but he couldn’t bring himself to abandon his goal so he might save his friend. Could he really claim to have no reason to live after his family died despite having such a close friend? Could he really claim to have been just as alone as Nero is in the end when Nero has no best friend to turn back to?

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It is this action that really makes Angelo’s reluctance to kill Nero so surprising. His actions led to the death of his best friend at his own hands, and yet the target of his revenge is someone he has seemingly grown so close to that he can’t bring himself to finish the job. Though he doesn’t exactly lay out his reasons for no longer wanting Nero dead so there is interpretation to be had there. Perhaps he really had grown fond of Nero, despite killing those closest to him and destroying his life. Perhaps he had realized that revenge was no longer a pursuit he cared about, especially since he had already accomplished everything else he had set out to do. He could even have felt that he in fact had finished his revenge plot, as Nero had no where to return to, leaving him in a rather similar position to Angelo all those years ago. But unlike Angelo, Nero sees the future differently. “You don’t need a reason to live. You just live.” After he shares this and Angelo tells him his true reasons for not killing him, Angelo slowly walks forward, likely aware of what comes next. Nero takes out his gun, lines up his shot, and hesitates ever so slightly. But in the end the sound of the bullet being fired echoes out among the soothing sound of the lightly crashing waves, and Nero is now well and truly alone. The cycle of revenge is one that is never truly complete.

Battery 3: What Goes Around Comes Around

Battery is a pretty simple show. I don’t mean that in the sense of it being a typical sports series. Battery is a full-on character drama with the central sport serving as a vehicle for the drama. The characters themselves are nuanced and interesting, in part thanks to coming off believable. Battery itself is very down-to-earth, with drama not nearly as heightened as many of its peers. That is exactly what I mean by “simple”- Battery is a show about understandable people living rather normal lives. Main Character Harada is a teenager with a very recognizable attitude, and as one might expect, it does not endear him to many people. batterytheworst

This characteristic attitude was very visible from the beginning, but it is the third episode that displays the inevitable effects. Harada turns off pretty much everyone he comes into contact with. His mother snaps at him for being demanding in a way that seems very understandable given how cold he acts towards everyone including (perhaps especially) family. His school baseball team coach tells him he must get a haircut, a request that even I must admit comes off as a bit odd but one which it is easy to assume the coach has his reasons for. Harada is predictably less accepting of this demand. He counters that it is completely nonsensical and irrelevant to his playing the sport, going so far as to say to the person who is as close to a friend as he has gotten that he’d be willing to lose his chances at ever playing just to indulge his defiance. Harada does not like playing by others’ rules when they don’t make sense to him. Not only that, but he also assumes his skill will lead him to the playing field anyway, thinking the coach would use him no matter what in order to have the best shot at winning. Almost as predictable as his defiant nature is the reaction of his teammate.

Go bonds with Harada over their shared interest in baseball, but he doesn’t completely understand the attitudes that Harada consistently carries. When Harada claims he is willing to forgo his opportunity to play for his petty reasons, Go lashes out in his own brand of defiance. He can’t believe what Harada says and it leaves him as angry as he is stunned. In a bit of violent rage Go grabs him by the neck, choking him a bit, telling him off for looking down on people. Harada’s bad attitude came back to bite him in a moment that was likely cathartic for many viewers. Much like a baseball it came back at Harada forcefully. Also much like a baseball, it came back and Harada didn’t expect it and thus couldn’t deal with it (Though to be completely fair, he was gasping for breath at the time). batterysupporting

It’s not at all hopeless for Harada though. Not only do the general conventions of coming-of-age stories such as this dictate that it is likely he will be able to mend these bridges, but he has shown a softer side before. In the previous episode he broke down after finding his brother who had been missing for much of the day. Contrary to his loner persona, this shows that he genuinely cares and worries about his brother at least. Harada may be a bit of an asshole, but that’s not exactly an unusual trait in a teenager, and if he learns to play ball with others, he might truly shine while really playing ball. He may have received more than three strikes, but he isn’t out yet.