[Madoka] Of Body and Soul

“You tricked us, didn’t you.”
“I told you precisely what I wanted from the start: for you to become magical girls. I didn’t explain exactly what form you’d be taking to do that.”

– Miki Sayaka and Kyubey

On April 10th in the year 428, Nestorius, a Syrian monk and preacher, was made the Archbishop of Constantinople. In his new position he began to admonish the use of the term Theotokos (Θεότοκος), or God-bearer, when referring to Christ and insisted that instead people use the term Christotokos (Χριστοτοκος), or Christ-bearer. While Nestorius may not have been teaching the strict two-sons Christology that he is now known for,1 nevertheless his charges were responded to by many theologians of his day. His primary foe was St. Cyril of Alexandria, whose one-person/two natures Christology was vindicated at the 3rd ecumenical council at Ephesus and is the dogma of the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and the majority of Protestant churches.

St. Cyril, in explaining his theology, utilized many analogies that tried to show the mystery of two natures that were in one-person, but nevertheless never co-mingled, that is, combined their essences together into a new kind of substance. The Ark of the Covenant’s being made of both wood and gold, the light that emits from a precious stone, the fragrance that comes from a lily, a piece of wood that is ignited by fire, the live, burning coal that was shown to the prophet Isaiah, even the unconsumed Burning Bush itself were all examples of how divinity and humanity co-existed in the one person of Christ. Though the divinity actively interpenetrates the humanity and transforms, or transfigures it, it never changes its essence. Likewise, the divinity does not change into humanity, making Christ a mere human being.

Yet the most powerful of all of St. Cyril’s examples was that of the relation between body and soul. Human nature was neither fully body (as is commonly argued today) or fully soul (as was commonly argued by most Hellenistic philosophies), but rather a union between the two where there was a clear distinction between each essence, and yet a union in that they were intimately connected with one another. None of our acts as human beings is purely of one or the other, even if the degree of which is active may vary from action to action.2 For example, St. Cyril writes in his Scholia on the Incarnation:

And yet, if it is necessary to speak of it, as if in a mirror (2 Cor. 3:18), human sense can have some kind of notion, for the Word was united to the body which had a rational soul, in the kind of way that the soul of a man is united with its own body; for even though this is a different nature to it, the soul still has a habitual communion and union with the body to such an extent that it cannot practically be seen as a different thing to the body, in so far as through the composition of both there is one living creature formed (though as I have said earlier, the Word remained in his own proper nature).3

The point I am drawing from the theological battles between St. Cyril and Nestorius is this very “habitual communion and union” between the body and soul that is so central to Christian anthropology. Man is body and soul, the division between them is abhorrent and unnatural, which is why man is not fully judged until the second coming when the two will be united once again. The communion (I rather like that phrase) between body and soul is a theme that plays out in Madoka, especially in the tragic character of Miki Sayaka.

Sayaka is Madoka’s closest friend, and was with her when she encountered her first witch and was saved by Tomoe Mami. Despite Mami’s cruel ending as a Mahou Shojo, Sayaka’s crush and goodwill for her friend Kyousuke leads her to make a contract with Kyubey and become a Mahou Shojo herself, vowing to be like Mami and protect the people of the world from the evil of the witches. Sayaka, though, quickly deteriorates and becomes filled with grief and despair herself, largely because of the revelation at the end of the sixth episode (This Just Can’t Be Right): that her body is no longer her body as the two have effectively been separated.

Kyubey’s logic behind the separation is pragmatic: the bodies that humans have are incredibly weak, and would break effortlessly. By separating the two essences of a person, one can use magic to maintain their body in battle and do and endure things most people only dream of. “After all…all they really are is a cluster of neurons,” what difference does it make what body they are in? Kyubey himself shows his ambivalence towards the body as he merely integrates his soul into a new one each time the current one is destroyed (especially by that that pesky Homerun-chan). The body doesn’t matter, only the soul. What we have here is an anthropology that is certainly not Christian.

Yet, the reaction upon finding this out is not a Platonic detestation for the flesh, nor is it an Buddhist ambivalence towards the body; rather, there is outrage. “Bastard…What have you done?!” growls Kyoko as she grabs Kyubey and screams at him. “You’ve got to be kidding me! So now you’ve made us into zombies, or something?!”4 Madoka weeps, “That’s horrible…too horrible for words.” Kyubey sighs audibly: “You humans always react this way.” But why is that, why do Madoka and Kyoko react that way. They aren’t alone in this, as Sayaka in the dialogue that began this essay accuses Kyubey of tricking the girls, and later on after being told by her friend Hitomi that she too has a crush on Kyousuke, and will give Sayaka one day to initiate a relationship with him, she breaks down in front of Madoka:

I’m going to lose Kyousuke to Hitomi! And there’s nothing I can do, because I’m already dead, because I’m a zombie! I can’t ask him to hold me when I have a body like this! I can’t ever ask him to kiss me!

While it’s probably hard not to laugh only getting the line with a bit of context, the feelings one gets when actually watching the show, especially as this is towards the end of Sayaka’s deterioration, is quite the opposite.

But the key remark she makes to Madoka is that she is “already dead” now that the body and the soul have been separated. Kyubey puts it in even starker terms when he explains the situation to Madoka and Kyoko: “Did you really think you could fight witches with the same fragile bodies that humans posses?” Kyubey’s syntax here has major implications (though of course this point could always be wrong given the original Japanese): the girls themselves are no longer human, as the standalone ‘that’ separates the Mahou Shoujou from mankind. This is furthered when Kyubey remarks how the only thing that matters is the soul anyways, and that is all we really are (rather Platonic, eh?).

This separation is not natural, and the end of episode 7 (Can You Face Your True Feelings) shows the utter abhorrence of their divorce. Sayaka, while battling a witch, is being beaten badly. Kyoko makes her appearance, but her help is denied as Sayaka emotionlessly replies, “Stay out of my way. I can do this alone!” As she beheads the witch she begins to laugh maniacally, and as the latter has a last ditch effort to protect herself, Sayaka mercilessly slashes her again and again, blood spraying everywhere, laughing the whole while. Her words encapsulate the very point I’ve been making: “It’s really true! If I just detach myself I really don’t feel any pain!” As the screen fades to black, we hear Madoka plea: “Stop…please, just stop.” Sayaka’s depravity is effectively what happens if one tears asunder the human person as she herself completes the very dehumanization that Kyubey began.

This makes the final episode (My Very Best Friend) that much more meaningful. If one is careful, they can discern a difference between Sayaka’s ‘death’ in episode 6 with how the girls die in their last moments. When Sayaka’s soul gem went too far away from her human body, she stopped mid-sentence and collapsed. However, after Madoka removes, or takes on, the despair of each magical girl and shatters their soul gem, the girls are still momentarily conscious before their death and often smile. The visual implication is that the union between their body and soul have been restored, and they do not die as ‘zombies’, but as humans. Thus, though Madoka is likely a tale of Buddhism, its anthropology is distinctly Christian, for the girls all have the communion of the body and soul that St. Cyril used to argue that the preexisting Logos Himself became man, both in body and soul.



1 For more on this and the entire Christological controversy of Ephesus, see John McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy. NY: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004. All relevant information was taken from this book.

2 Ibid., pg. 199.

3 St. Cyril of Alexandria, Scholia on the Incarnation. Trans. John McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy. NY: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004. pg. 318.

4 I couldn’t help but think of philosophical zombies whenever they brought this up. I wonder if there’s a connection to be made.

Image References (In Order)


3 thoughts on “[Madoka] Of Body and Soul

  1. Well said, all of it.

    Other than Kyouko, whose beliefs are based in Christianity for obvious reasons, the characters in Madoka probably all share the usual vaguely-defined Japanese spirituality, rather than professing any specific belief system. This is further implied by Madoka’s rejection of religious labels in her “kami sama demo nan demo ii” / “a god, or whatever else” line during her ascent to concept-hood. It is particularly cruel, then, that the first absolute proof of the existence of the soul those girls get is the experience of losing the soul’s “rightful shape” as one with the body.

    That said, Madoka’s ascent itself could be considered a successful retention of the “self” without the “body”… though she could also be considered to have discarded body and soul simultaneously on her way to something beyond them (the aforementioned concept-hood). So yet again, Madoka gives enough leverage for both Christian and Buddhist interpretations.

    • Cytrus,

      Oh no doubt; when I mean that the shows anthropology of body and soul is distinctly Christian, I obviously doubt the creators had that in mind but rather it just lined up. I agree that their first recognition of this is in such a cruel context — that’s actually a point I wish I had thought of myself when writing this post!

      As for your musing of Madoka’s ascent, and that of holding person-hood without body (which, I have to imagine, is more Christian than Buddhist), I think that the very last scene may lend some more to this reading as we hear Madoka distinctly talking to Homura, indicating a sense of person still there, even if no longer in body and/or soul. That said, the show definitely gives leverage for both readings, and undeniably to the side of Buddhism.

  2. Nice writing there. I was worried that you would stray into completely theological territory at first, but I’m glad that you gave a balanced view on both that aspect and the anime itself.

    I was also quite fascinated with the concept of ‘soul + body’ St. Cyril advocated. Up till now, my view was that Christianity always looked highly upon matters of the soul (to the extent of obsession sometimes) while belittling concerns of the flesh (or even downright abhorring them). Thanks for giving me something to chew on!

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