Grief and Loss in Anime: a case examination of Puella Madoka Magica Magi, Mawaru Penguindrum and X

Grief and Loss in Anime: a case examination of Puella Madoka Magica Magi, Mawaru Penguindrum and X

Whether you are recently introduced to anime or you are a seasoned fan, it’s highly unlikely you haven’t watched or simply heard about the first two shows in the picture above, because twitter, forums and blogs were abuzz and overly hyped about them last year. Now, it’s highly possible you don’t even recognize the hunks in the bottom and the anime/manga they are from, unless you are an obsessed fan of CLAMP or a MADHOUSE admirer. All three of them have as central themes the loss and how people face them. The important issue here is how these series present the themes and how well they handle them… 

Grief and Loss in Anime: a case examination of Puella Madoka Magica Magi, Mawaru Penguindrum and X
Mawaru Penguindrum had a great director, great visuals, great music, quite a bit of philosophy and psychology… but an utterly disappointing ending among other things that annoyed me in hindsight. I was hooked for almost the whole journey, only to realize later that, if it weren’t for the cliffhangers that left viewers want more, the storytelling wasn’t structured very well, the characters were messed up in mind and I had difficulties relating to any of them – in contrast to Utena-, and above all normalized/glorified a completely unhealthy reaction to loss, and gratified an unrealistic wish through a questionable final action.

90% of the characters wanted to bring the past back or preserve the present eternally in their immaturity of being unable to cope with loss. The Takakura siblings wanted to prevent Himari’s death and their made-up family from getting shattered, without really asking Himari herself, if she wanted to go on living; Natsume tried to keep her younger brother alive; Yuri and Tabuki desired to bring Momoka back, who was their only friend during childhood; and Ringo put literally crazy efforts to become her sister in order to reunite her family and feel some love.

I can aknowledge that all of them bore many wounds and at a very young age. I do understand that being left alone is the worst thing ever; I wouldn’t accept easily either the death of the only person that gives me love and lets me be myself. I also remember that Yuri and Tabuki did get liberated from their revenge ideas or their illusions of bringing back Momoka and got their relatively normal happy ending. Oh, and Ringo managed miraculously to be deleted from the to-be-hospitalized-in-an-asylum list and make up with her father, though we never see her resolving her grand issues with her mother.

BUT I wouldn’t become a creepy stalker, a possible rapist, a member of a terroristic organization or sacrifice myself to call the dead back from Hades… The end of Mawaru Penguindrum dipped itself in a melodramatic sauce that promoted ‘selfless suicide’ and praised the insane attempts of undoing death by resurrecting Himari at least three times during the series.

Grief and Loss in Anime: a case examination of Puella Madoka Magica Magi, Mawaru Penguindrum and X

Puella Magi Madoka Magica doesn’t have, fortunately, a totally happy-fairy-tale-like end like Mawaru Penguindrum. The two main occasions we encounter loss is when a) Sayaka expected Kyosuke to return her feelings after he was healed as a price for her transformation into a mahou shoujo and instead her best friend is his love interest- plus becoming a mahou shoujo entails the loss of your humanity b) Homura doesn’t accept Madoka’s death and keeps leaping back in time until she changes Madoka’s future. The Sayaka x Kyosuke storyline ends up with Sayaka turning into a witch and dying, while Madoka becomes a god, changes the nature of mahou shoujo and everyone -except Homura- forgets her.

Both deaths are definate and thus I’m much more pleased, yet the whole show depends on Homura’s infatuation for Madoka and her denial of the latter’s end. And no one ever comments on how unnatural or wrong this might be. I’d say it’s presented under the light of strong friendship or yuriness and therefore somehow justified, if not admired.

So, here comes X…

Grief and Loss in Anime: a case examination of Puella Madoka Magica Magi, Mawaru Penguindrum and X

For those of you, who need the general premise and more info on X, you can read more on the review I wrote this week.

X provides not only a larger field of study for the different types of losses, but also portrays the reactions  to very central deaths either as medical cases or as natural stages of grief. The huge cast and the pre-apocalyptic setting do help but still the way CLAMP wrote and commented on the mourning of the characters is worth praising, since it doesn’t glorify sacrifices and highlights that life is worthwhile. It also relates clearly the theme of wishing for death to actual deaths- and this is remarkable by itself as there is a big truth in this and fragments of reality.

Throughout the series we encounter Kotori’s, Sorata’s, Arashi’s and Karen’s loss of parents; Subaru’s loss of his sister; Kakyou’s and Hinoto’s loss of senses and autonomy (the first is comatose, the second deaf, blind, mute and paralytic); Yuzuriha’s loss of her dog, Inuki; Kotori’s, Seishirou’s and Sorata’s deaths that affect respectively Kamui, Subaru and Arashi and many others. For brevity’s sake I’ll focus mainly on the last three.

Generally, losses are part of life, they are universal and needed to help us grow up. In X of course where the end of the world might come soon and two sides fight each other, massacres and deaths are a rather frequent phenomenon with a very violent nature (it was even more violent in the manga with decapitation, dismemberment and inner organs gushing outside of bodies). When speaking of mourning, we can ‘t forget such factors that influence the time that is needed and the difficulty with which a death is processed and accepted. The way of death certainly is a major one – no wonder Kotori went crazy, especially, since she wasn’t allowed to process her mother’s death-; then the personality/sensitivity of the person grieving, the relationship shared, the existence or lack of family support, the age -too young or too old people don’t overcome grief easily- and the case of multiple losses are some crucial factors.

Grief and Loss in Anime: a case examination of Puella Madoka Magica Magi, Mawaru Penguindrum and X

When we mourn, we feel pain that stems from not bearing our own weakness. This is exemplified by Kotori’s death and Kamui’s case. He was completely unable in the end to offer Kotori the protection that he would like against every danger, every pain, the lost time and death. Kamui had recently lost his mother in  a suicide and was left alone wondering if he was at fault, why his mother didn’t think of him feeling abandoned, and on top of it he has to witness the gruesome death of the girl he cherished and at the same time the loss of his best friend Fuuma, who changed personality completely. The shock is so big and his grief that deep that he falls into catatonia; he doesn’t move, doesn’t communicate with this world. He refuses to move on and dwells in the place of psychological suffering. For him the time has frozen and it’s thanks to Subaru that he takes the decision to live and try his best to save what is left to him. Kamui doesn’t want to regret anything else. Later, it’s Sorata that helps him remember to keep going and convinces Kamui to eat- while mourning many people lose their appetite and as Arashi puts it, the will to eat is the will to live.

Subaru’s story unfolds mainly back in Tokyo Babylon and ends here with him killing involuntary Seishirou, the person he fell in love with and killed his sister. Subaru due to the painful events of the past, experienced both the loss of his beloved sister and the loss of his innocence. He pursues Sakurazukamori not to get revenge but to be acknowledged as his equal and fall by his hand. Their ‘love’ is twisted. His incapability to process the losses that happened made him sick and the whole affair is treated as sick. Subaru himself points out in his monolog that he is love sick in all its sense.

Lastly, we see how Arashi reacts to Sorata’s flirting and his death. At first, she tried to avoid the pain by not getting emotionally involved. The problem though is that what we can do in order not to suffer more, is not to love less, but to learn, when the time to say goodbye comes, not to stay attached to what is no more. Arashi also knows that Sorata will die protecting her, so the whole time she experiences the loss of a future she can’t have. Yes, loss concerns not only facts, but illusions and dreams, too. In her state of denial, she rushes to the opponent’s side, in an effort to prevent Sorata’s death. Unfortunately, he dies and she weeps and weeps and she’s filled with pain and sorrow. Yet, she doesn’t act out; she manages to work through her loss and improve. Arashi follows Sorata’s request to live. Because by living , he lives inside her. And that’s how it should be. If the other lives in us, through the sweet memories, Death is a great liar.

P.S.: A big part of the post is inpired by and based on Jorge Bucay’s book “The Road of Tears”.

For more of my CLAMP series reviews, visit the Down the Clamphole! post.                 This post is also one of my entries for the Manga Moveable Feast which for this month centers around CLAMP.


4 thoughts on “Grief and Loss in Anime: a case examination of Puella Madoka Magica Magi, Mawaru Penguindrum and X

  1. It’s obviously my bias talking here, but yuri takes top priority over “accepting death and growing up as a person” Besides, Homura’s quest for love made me write a damn poem that got me an A+ in Literature class. Also, Homura got a “till we meet again” yuri ending. Homura’s quest to save her beloved from her fate was more likable than The Takabura Bros. descent into dorkdom. I would also support Kyouko’s attempts to show Sayaka “the light, if you know what I mean.” because Kyosuke chose to wallow in despair and mope like an emo. However, Sayaka was infected with “tweener” syndrome (I can heal this boy’s cold heart and win his love in the process because I like losers.) so she had to learn the hard way.

    Speaking of Penguindrum, it was a tough show for me to review. I didn’t like the way it turned out but nobody read it, so it’s all good. Anyway. I initially kinda liked Shouma and felt pity for him having to follow Ringo along in her hilariously insane scheme to “become” her sister by getting jiggy with Tabuki…but then he ruined “the moment”. After that, he turned emo and I slowly lost interest in him. I even began feeling sorry for Ringo, who had since become a “tweener” for Shouma..and I still don’t get why.
    I never liked Kanba. He reminded me too much of Drake Parker from “Drake and Josh”. Heck, Kanba and Shouma were nearly perfect anime renditions of Drake and Josh. Yuri was awesome. Heck, I even supported her as a bisexual hottie. Then the 2nd half of the show started and I lost all sense of…any sense the show made initially. I was so confused throughout the 2nd half. Just when I thought things made sense, another curve ball was thrown. I even thought the show had “jumped the shark” without me realizing it.

    My point is, the show slowly became less appealing during the 2nd half. I’m no stranger to shows that start off hilarious. then pull a 180 till the very end, but Penguindrum overdid it. I still have not seen Utena, but if it’s as good as the Movie, then I have a feeling it’ll be less morbid and more enjoyable.

    I STILL haven’t seen X.


    • We all have bias towards people and things. As long as we can accept that we can communicate peacefully and logically. I love romance when done right, but I usually seek other things as well. I liked Madoka as a series due to its darkness and the ‘care what you wish for’ theme. As for the yuriness, I’m a Sayaka x Kyouka fan (though their story needed more development).

      About Penguindrum I felt pretty much the same. I liked Kanba at the beginning, then Shouma became more likable than him- personality-wise. But still I couldn’t feel affection towards anyone.

      Yes, yes Utena the series is Ikuhara’s masterpiece. Makes much more sense, you can identitify and it hurts, but you finish the series and you know you’ve taken sth from the series (lessons, memories…). Be patient at the first arc and then you won’t be able stop watching.


  2. @Kencana: There's hardly anyone that dislikes Sorata, but I don't think he'll make it, unless we have a big twist and somehow X will connect to TRC and xxxholic… I believe that Sorata doesn't have the will that Yuzuriha has to live and that he has allowed the fortune-telling to dictate his life…


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