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.

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.

Love, Hate, and Passion

This post was largely inspired by the most recent Aniwords over at Crunchyroll, be sure to check it out before reading this! Kind of awkward to open a post like this but hopefully these isolated italics separate themselves well enough.  

Everyone has favorite things that they hold near and dear to them. Even if we don’t fully understand why, we know something made us respond ecstatically enough to want to become a champion of its value. It is a fascinating subject, but what of the other side of the coin?  We know we like things and generally can at least describe how the variables of the show make us feel. We wouldn’t know a work was a favorite without the resonance we feel when something manages to win us over so thoroughly. Saying you loved a work tells us something just as important as saying the shot framing greatly impressed you. Loving something means the majority of it was something you fully enjoyed. Does this apply to things at the opposite side of the spectrum as well? Does something one hates do just the same thing as something one loves? The answer is unsurprisingly of the complicated variety that requires I examine it by writing more words, but framing it as a “spectrum” may prove to be apt.

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One of the biggest roadblocks to understanding why someone dislikes a thing is general vagueness of their thoughts. Communication is a two-way street, but it can be harder to cross at times than one might expect (and this is not something that should at all act as a judgement of others, it isn’t at all rare). For instance, a common criticism of many things is a simple statement of the writing being bad or subpar. But in what way is that the case? Did it fail to properly define characters or stakes? Was the dialogue poorly crafted or ill-fitting for that particular work’s context? Do the plot turns just flat out not make sense? Sure, we know what we mean when we say the writing lacked polish, but does everyone else? That’s a pretty broad criticism for one to simply infer or interpret. Criticism relies heavily on the ability to make an audience understand one’s feelings on many variables as strongly as they possibly can. On the other hand, it is often tough for many to articulate just what it is they dislike about any given thing. How can others understand your viewpoint when you yourself don’t even fully understand it?

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Certainly I have had moments where I failed to understand or articulate my reasons for not liking something. I think most everyone can say at some point they’ve stumbled upon something they didn’t care for but also didn’t sufficiently understand why. Sometimes it can even make one envious of those who are truly articulate and able to so thoroughly explain their feelings on just about anything (I know I’ve been there). I would make my own speculation that this applies more to the works that leave one bored and apathetic rather than the works that one truly detests. While certainly not always the case, apathy probably indicates a work that may be competent but with values completely opposed to those of the non-receptive audience. Recall that I said a spectrum is an apt description- loving something and hating something are the two ends, and the closer you get to the middle, the more apathetic and less emotionally charged one is. It’s easier to explain why I hate something as opposed to why something fails to elicit any sort of reaction at all. I think that is chiefly because hate, much like love, is passionate. Tearing something to shreds is an emotional reaction much in the same way expressing love for something is. This in turn makes it easier to understand why it is you or I react that way. If I hate something, it is likely easy to pick out why my feelings on it are so strong compared to other instances because it is easy to know when something feels so incredibly off. This perhaps even makes it more true than for works you cherish. Think of it like your kitchen table- being messier than usual will probably jump out at you faster than being cleaner than usual (though I suppose this metaphor depends on the average appearance of your kitchen).

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This is not to say that all or any of this applies to everyone at all times. No theory as to why or how someone reacts to things is going to be consistently accurate. No one fully understands everything about their emotional reactions to things. Emotions themselves are very nebulous things! Engaging with art, whether by writing lots of words about it (maybe I’ll even become good at it!) or simply staring at it in awe, is a form of self-discovery. Every day we learn more about ourselves and others, and express it in a myriad of interesting ways. That’s a pretty cool thing.