Psychopathy, Feminism, and Narrative Agency in Madoka Magica: Kyubey’s Story
Gen Urobuchi loves him some psychopaths. He’s fascinated in both the sociological and biological factors that go into sociopathy and what can possibly lead that person to do harm. In other series, he’s focused on sociological/developmental natures of psychopathy- specifically Psycho Pass and Fate/Zero. (For the sake of this essay, we’ll keep the definition in the ballpark of “a sociopath who has developed the intent to harm”.)But what about a species that, assisted by sociological factors, has evolved against the capacity for empathy, and how does that play against and with certain aspects of our society, such as… women’s agency?
Kyubey, the primary antagonist in Madoka Magica is an alien from a far off species known as Incubators that have evolved in one way or another to perceive feelings, particularly empathy, as a mental illness in itself. Therefore, most human emotions transcend his species understanding and are simply (unwisely) put to the side in making certain decisions for these girls. The exception to this, of course, is when the incubators seek out to recruit girls specifically in a state of emotional/mental turmoil.
Alright, before we really start swimming in things, I think it’s only fair I put this up:
So, before we get into the meat and potatoes of our narrative, let’s talk a bit of brain biology. This species-wide cognitive process suggests a lack of amygdala: a subcortical structure that exist in both hemispheres of our monkey brains that specialize in the processing of emotions, particularly fear. Perhaps just as relevant, the amygdala plays an essential part in the processing of human body and facial language, and is often attributed to sociability. Kyubey’s species, through any variety of factors have simply evolved out of or without the need of one… or at least one that is highly underdeveloped compared to us. And so, we wind up with a blank-faced Übermensch with no need for social cues that are totally independent of one another, even to the point of being able to consume bodies that they can simply take their consciousness out of when need be.
On the feminist side of things (yes), Kyubey is an agent to systems that are specifically designed to remove control from young women. He takes the “power” of these women, both physically and mentally, into his own control and has no qualms about disposing them for his own needs when they become useless to him. Often interpreted as analogous to the workings of female puberty, these young girls are turned into destructive transcendent forces because of the very processes Kyubey has deceptively put on them by taking advantage of emotional and mental weakness. This is seen in any number of cases, from cornering Mami in a life or death situation (eventually being made into an unknowing, and particularly insidious emissary of the Incubators, but that’s a conversation for a different day) to taking advantage of Sayaka’s very humanity. “Witch” in itself is awfully appropriate wording in this case considering that, throughout history, women who grew old without husbands and decided to take agency over their own lives were seen by society as evil neglectors of the family. And yet, destructive monsters are exactly what these women become due to having that power manipulated away from them under the skeevy guise of “universal betterment”. An awfully powerful statement on what stagnant emotional disassociation does to humanity, in my eyes.
And you see, through it all, the Incubators also completely, utterly, dangerously…full of shit. In an extremely powerful narrative move Urobuchi hasn’t minced words about what Planet Kyubey is really about, and that being that they’re simply selfish assholes that use the guise of intergalactic protection as a ruse to take advantage of other species for their own gains, and this is made all the clearer in the third film installment, Rebellion. There’s a litany of examples where they stand by and endanger the entropy of the universe. In the main series, they simply allow Madoka to destroy the world as a witch on multiple occasions, allowing entropy to wreak havoc on the universe with almost the slight chagrin of seeing a mad scientist experiment gone all too right. They keep Homura in a highly dangerous state in Rebellion, endangering themselves and the universe for the sake of study. And they also absolutely have the capacity for fear when something is out of control, after which they become awfully broken and confused. This is where we see some evidence for a shrieking little amygdala somewhere in their brains.
Narrative Agency via Madoka:
Throughout the story, the audience is taken on a ride that brings us from seeing the plausible value in Kyubey’s ideas (that are still being taken advantage of to a dangerous level) to being totally terrified of the cognitive processes that got the species to that point, which is thus: “There should be no human narrative aside from what we allow. Human will gets in our way”. When Kyubey brings his “big speech” during the middle of the show that reveals the eventual fate of magical girls and the systems that facilitate them, he demonstrates a total control of the narrative (and thusly the narrative of Madoka’s world) thus far.
This in itself is a catalyst to Madoka’s own development in the show, which takes her from a naïve, noncommittal little girl to someone who recognizes the necessity of relying and trusting in herself, turning into (during a pretty jaw dropping scene) a fully actualized women taking the power back in a hopeless situation. Homura’s journey, on the other hand, takes an antithetical course. It too is redemptive. She sacrificed her own humanity instantly for the sake of preserving the purity of what the incubators value (her gem), playing the system and saving Madoka while causing herself to be broken and selfishly relying on Madoka as her personal eternal savior. This grows to the point of wanting to “protect” her when the apocalypse was at humanities doorstep and it was time for our girl to rise to the challenge and sacrifice herself. Fortunately, in the end she’s able to recognize the necessity of self-reliance through Madoka and continues to carry on her values in the reset world.
With this conclusion, we see the destruction of an oppressive regime at the hands of self-actualizing girls, taking down a monster by the hand of its own system. An ending for Kyubey pretty fair to the rules of entropy, I’d say.
Rachael’s a student at a Florida university that frolics regularly in Disney parks and has an entirely too extensive collection of stuffed animals. If you wanna follow her other random musings on cartoons (or just stop by to say hi) there’s her blog https://lotsofframes.wordpress.com/ and her Twitter.
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