Japanstudies Program, Leiden University
Japanstudies Program, Leiden University–– BA in Japanese Studies BA in Japanese Studies
Nietzsche vs Buddha:
Nietzsche vs Buddha:
The Philosophy of Madoka: Rebellion
The Philosophy of Madoka: Rebellion
Remen Shafi Remen Shafi
Word count: 7548
1. Introduction………...2………...2 2.
2. The casThe case of e of bodhisattva bodhisattva Kaname Kaname MadokaMadoka………..3………..3 3.
3. The casThe case of e of ubermensch ubermensch Akemi HoAkemi Homuramura………..10………..10 4.
4. A A clash clash of of idealsideals………...19………...19 5. Conclusion
5. Conclusion………...………...……… ...25...25
Gekijōban Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magika Shinpen: Hangyaku no Monogatari (hereafter Rebellion after its localized name) is the movie sequel to the megahit anime series Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magika. Just like the series, it is written by
Urobuchi Gen,directed by Akiyuki Shinbō and animated by studio Shaft. It follows the series’
deuteroganist, Akemi Homura, now as the main character, getting swept in again by the Incubators’ plot as she tries to find redemption in the new world.
As most of the research done in the field of
anime pertains mostly to the classics, thiscritical analysis will try to add to the body of scientific work by examining a more
contemporary piece of work. This essay will explore the meaning behind the movie and for properly doing that, will also look closely at the preceding series. The
research question is then: “How do the ideal human forms of Mahayana Buddhism and Nietzsche relate to each other in Madoka: Rebellion”? Note that the viewpoint presented here is merely one of many interpretations possible for a work as dense as this one.
For this I will first analyze the philosophy behind the series to be able to put the
movie into a correct framework. Then I will have a look at the themes Rebellion itself offers. Finally, both need to be taken together to get the entire picture.
No knowledge about the source work or philosophy is pr esupposed, so ample descriptive context will be provided throughout.
2. The case of bodhisattva Kaname Madoka
Seeing as Rebellion is a direct sequel to the series, to really understand the movie we will have to take a closer look at what came before it. To that end, first a synopsis of the relevant story is in order:
The world of Madoka Magika suffers, much like our own, from entropy, the constant dissipating of energy eventually leading to heat death of the universe. An advanced, emotionless alien race, called Incubators or Kyubey for short, is determined to put a halt to this seemingly inevitable fate. For this end they have managed to find a source of energy that apparently exists outside of the system, emotional energy. To harvest this energy, he deceives and contracts girls by masquerading as the mascot
character often seen in typical magical girl shows, to become magical girls and fight for him, in return fulfilling any wish they might have. Unbeknownst to them, this will unavoidably turn them into witches when they run out of energy eventually, the very enemy they are supposed to be fighting. Furthermore, only by defeating these
witches, can magical girls restore their magic from the grief seed they drop, leading of course to heavy infighting. The process of becoming a witch, transforming the girls’ hope into despair, is the emotional energy the Incubators are after. Kyubey’s cause would be a commendable one seen from a utilitarian point of view, where the need of the many overrules that of the few, but he is clearly depicted to be the antagonist of this series.
Enter Kaname Madoka, an ordinary, amicable middle school girl with an inferiority complex due to not feeling of use to anyone. One day she gets approached by Kyubey and contracts for a wish that remains unknown, but surely the resulting feeling of finally being useful was of bigger importance to her. Soon after, the sickly
and timid Akemi Homura transfers to Madoka's class after a long absence due to being hospitalized. Not being able to integrate well back into normal life, Homura is quickly targeted by a witch that feeds on her negative emotions of being completely useless, but she is saved by Madoka and another magical girl, Tomoe Mami. Madoka and Homura, both having gone through the same doubts, instantly connect. This
would however not last, as not long after, Walpurgisnacht comes to their town of Mitakihara. This enormous witch destroys the entire town in its wake and Homura has to watch on as Madoka marches on into certain death, Mami already having been killed. When the inevitable happens, Homura in her agony decides to also contract with Kyubey. Her wish being that she wants to redo her meeting with
Madoka, to this time being the protector instead of the protected. Subsequently she gains the power to go back in time, to before she had met Madoka.
What follows is Homura going through many loops of the same month, f ailing every time in her goal of saving Madoka. Which changes from simply saving her life from stopping her from contracting, as that effectively comes down to the same. Every loop she learns more of the Incubators’ plot, but for every time she also grows more cold and distant from the horrors she encounters, becoming more and more focused solely on her mission. Homura’s constant resetting of the world for Madoka’s sake places Madoka as the focal center of it, steadily increasing her karmic burden, meaning her potential as a magical girl gets enhanced and her wish can also be more powerful every time.
The final timeline then is where the series starts and also where all but one episode takes place. This time Kyubey’s plot slowly gets revealed to Madoka and the others and he also reveals to Madoka the role he played in humanity’s history and along with it all the suffering and despair he brought to all magical girls of the past. Having
acquired the truth, Madoka is compelled to act. She, defying all genre conventions, finally contracts in the very last episode as Homura again lies beaten at the hands of Walpurgisnacht. She wishes to destroy every witch that ever was or will be by her own hands the moment they are born, ending their endless cycle of hope and despair. By doing this, Madoka becomes a concept of a newly created universe, one that
erases all witches from the world, any trace of her having existed as a person
completely gone. Homura because of her powers and link to Madoka is the only one to retain full memories from the previous universe, but she loses her time
manipulating powers and thus is forever unable to undo these events. Instead of witches, new enemies, wraiths, form directly from humanity’s negative emotions. These enemies however encourage cooperation by dropping more restoring spoils and Kyubey also has no reason to deceive the girls anymore, making life as a magical girl somewhat easier. The fighting still continues, but rumors spread of the salvation that awaits magical girls at the end of their life. Homura awaits the day when she will be able to meet her again, till that day, she vows to protect the world Madoka cherished so much and decided to sacrifice herself for.
The story of Madoka portrays then how one achieves the ideal of Mahayana
Buddhism, becoming a bodhisattva. To understand this, we will first have to look at the fundamentals of Buddhist thought.
One of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is the inevitability of dukkha, suffering or unsatisfactoriness. A form of dukkha is one that arises from the transient nature of everything, impermanence, as seen with for instance the issue of entropy. Escaping this leads to detachment and thereby stepping out of the karmic cycle of despair, which is exactly what Madoka did for all magical girls when she ascended at the end.
(Blue 2015, chap. interlude 2) Because of this ongoing decay, Buddhism says that the world is rotten. Your desires will make you grow attached to things that will eventually all fade away, leaving only pain. One of the most telling examples in the series of this is how the magical girls’ wishes always turn out in the end. Kyubey fulfills them just as told, but eventually they tend to backfire and lead to nothing but regret. When Sayaka wished for her violin-playing childhood friend, Kyosuke, whose hand was made unusable after an accident, to be cured, she actually unconsciously hoped for his love in return. Predictably, this did not pan out the way she wanted it to and the eventual decay into becoming a witch was only accelerated as a result.
Desires seem to be the root for all suffering.
Buddhism also sees everything as one, everything is merely diff erent expressions of one ultimate reality. Think of how witches turned out to be actually magical girls themselves. The characters Homura and Kyōko are both seen to have a Christian upbringing, making them believe that they can save people in this world. But they inevitably fail, as in a Buddhist non-dualistic world, there is no distinction between saved or not and everything leads to decay. (Ibid, chap. 11)
Another important concept is karma, which is basically cause and effect. Good
intended actions will lead to good things and bad intended ones to bad outcomes. By acting, you are thus trapped in a cycle of karma as every consequence also of course leads to other consequences. This is the aforementioned phenomenon that allowed Madoka to gain the power for a wish that could change the entire universe, by
placing the karmic weight of several worlds on a single person. Karma also traps beings into an endless cycle of rebirth, samsara, forcing them to undergo the effects of the karma from past lives. Escaping from this fate requires true understanding of the nature of this world, understanding the nonduality of everything. Even going as
far as to say that there is no self, no real distinction between ourselves and the other. The closest realm to reaching Nirvana, which enlightenment leads to, is the human one. It makes sense then from a thematic standpoint, why Madoka remained
uncontracted for so long. Because magical girls are likely referring to asura,
demigods much more powerful than any human that are however controlled by their negative emotions of resentment. Seen as one of the unlucky births in Buddhism, they come about because of good-intentioned actions leading to bad results.
Nirvana is the result of having broken free from samsara. There is no more sense of any delineations or desires. Without desires, there is no suffering and no more karma is produced. Nirvana literally means ‘snuffing out’ of for instance a flame, which is exactly the imagery we see when Madoka comes to take away the various magical girls at the end.
From this basis, we can have a closer look at Madoka’s development throughout the story in the final timeline.
Madoka starts out as a girl that feels lost, she believes she is utterly powerless and useless. She wants to give her life meaning by helping people and being depended on, that’s why she’s taken on the position of the class nurse. Her intentions in other words are led by her desires and are thus selfish, even if its effect would be
selflessness. Intent is more important than effect in Buddhism. Because of Mami’s early death at the hands of a witch however, she quickly learns that contracting spells certain doom, making that option of assuaging her feelings of worthlessness not a choice anymore. But later she learns from Kyubey of the history of magical girls and experiences all their suffering, seeing how their sacrifi ces have built the foundation for humanity up till now. This makes her understand the nature of the world, by
feeling the pain of all magical girls as it was her own, she becomes selfless. Her intentions also thus become without personal desires, she simply wants to end the cycle of suffering out of a moral duty.
In Buddhism, only when one learns of the cycle of samsara and the true nature of the world, can one break free from it. Madoka coming to learn about Homura’s time loops and Kyubey’s scheme, thus allows her to reach enlightenment. (Ibid, chap. interlude 1) Madoka with her wish quite literally erases the ego, by destroying her own
resulting witch-form that came from all the suffering she had taken on. Earlier on in the series, Mami made her promise that she would wish for a cake if she didn’t know what else to wish for by a certain time. Having now made a wish without holding any desires, we get to see a symbolic scene of Mami handing Madoka her promised cake, affirming her transcendence. (Ibid, chap. 12)
Madoka in this instance is not a Christ-figure, a martyr, who dies taking all the suffering onto the self. As we have seen, she has become without a self and is therefore not even capable of suffering. She also does not bring salvation to the
suffering of the magical girls, as they still suffer just the same. They have simply been granted a peaceful death, where they don’t keep on cursing the world as witches
after their demise, breaking the karmic cycle of suffering and despair. Madoka rather takes on the role of a guide, a bodhisattva, leading them to their enlightenment. (Ibid) The bodhisattva is the ideal form reached in the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, where out of karuna, compassion, the enlightened one stops just short of Nirvana to help others achieve the same goal. This is opposed to the ideal in the Theravada tradition, the arhat, which simply goes into Nirvana and is acc ording to Mahayana therefor seen as selfish as only the self is concerned. Bodhisattva realize that as there is no self distinguishing us from others, there is also no difference between
one’s own liberation and that of others. They help their targets through so called expedient means, being able to judge how to appear and behave in a way that’s perfectly suited to the person they wish to enlighten. This can be seen in the scene where Madoka helps Sayaka let go of her worldly desires and regrets, by showing her a future of Kyosuke performing a concert again, making her realize her wish was not in vain. The Buddhism that Madoka Magika thus adheres to is that of the
Mahayana school of thought.
Madoka more specifically seems to be inspired by Kannon (Ibid, chap. interlude 1), the bodhisattva who embodies karuna. In certain Mahayana scriptures, some
bodhisattva receive Pure Lands, celestial realms. Here people who have died having already cut off some of the chains that bind the mind, get reborn as anagami, a
partially enlightened being that still craves for material existence among others things. In the Pure Land, they work towards reaching Nirvana.
In the end, Homura was left alone in the new world, continuing to protect it as the keepsake of the one she dedicated her life to. But what if, borrowing Nietzsche’s words, she could not affirm this new world, what if she could not find solace in the essentially life-denying thinking of Buddhism?
3. The case of ubermensch Akemi Homura
At first glance the subtitle of Rebellion seems to refer to Kyubey, who again plays the role of antagonist in this story. But it was most likely kept ambiguous to keep it open for multiple interpretations. The title might then be alluding to Homura’s rebellion against Madoka’s Buddhism.
Rebellion follows the same basic structure that the series did, which is three-part: pretending to be a normal magical girl show, the enemy turning out to be oneself and then an overturning of the rules the world runs on. (Ibid, chap. 8) The difference in theme will come from a change of main character, going from the caring Madoka to the goal-oriented Homura.
First a quick synopsis outlining all the relevant plot details needed:
When Homura on a whim talks to Kyubey about the system of the old world and Madoka, he becomes curious because of the vastly more efficient energy retrieval method she presents compared to their current world. Determined to analyze and manipulate the mysterious power that extinguishes magical girls as they die, he entraps a Homura close to her limit in an isolation field. In t his field she can not be taken away and as a result turns partially into a witch. Madoka, as the concept called Law of Cycles, comes to Homura as she normally would when a magical girl is about to die, but gets trapped in the witch’s barrier. This barrier consequently also sucks in the other main characters and manipulates their memories to have them live in an idealized world of cooperation and little conflict, this is where the movie starts. Soon Homura herself, who appears at first as she was at the very first timeline, begins to doubt the reality of the world they’re living in right now. She reaches the answer that
she herself was the witch responsible for trapping everyone, after which Kyubey explains to her his scheme to get Homura to cooperate in luring out the Law of Cycles. Betraying Madoka is of course the last thing on her mind and she even decides to fully turn into a witch on purpose to try to foil Kyubey’s plan. Turning into the witch of Shigan, a Buddhist concept symbolic for the mortal realm humans inhabit, the opposite of Higan that stands for the afterlife and enlightenment. The other
magical girls however won’t have their friend bring herself to ruin and save her f rom herself, then together break the isolation field from within. Now that everyone is free again, Homura can finally be taken away by Madoka without interference,
accomplishing their long awaited reunion. However at that moment Homura grabs Madoka and starts distorting the world. Similar to how the magical girls already taken away by the Law of Cycles are shown to be in control of their witch-forms by having overcome their despair through detachment, Homura gains immense power by fully affirming her despair as a part of her and deploys a witch-like barrier over seemingly the entire universe. In it she recreates the world as she sees fit, returning again to the timeframe of her multitude of loops, with Madoka once more part of the world. She erases everyone’s memories and gives them the blissful life they all missed on.
Now to understand the sudden tonal shift at the end of the movie, a better
understanding of the character of Homura will be necessary and for that end an outline of the philosophy of Nietzsche is required.
First is the will to power, the fundamental force behind every action according to Nietzsche. This idea states that sentient beings are always driven by the
accumulation of power when functioning in a healthy way. We become unhealthy when we adhere to an ascetic ideal, where we deny something that is undeniably
part of our very being. This is the will to death, born out of a rejection of the world like the Buddhist doctrine does. Power in this concept does not simply mean political or social or even physical, those are however expressions of it. It is defined in a more general way in that it is how we value our own worth to form an identity and from that evaluate ourselves against others, acting consequently. (Burnham 2015, p. 342) A healthy life then is one that seeks out power and growth and overcomes itself. How do we overcome the self? For starters, nihilism has to be conquered. The eternal recurrence as Nietzsche devised it is meant to be the ultimate test of
overcoming nihilism. The idea states hypothetically that we are living our lives in a perfect loop that keeps on repeating itself into infinity, the question is whether one would be able to find joy in that and affirm life. As you right now have no memories of previous possible loops, you would not consciously experience eternity. However aside from all the pleasant moments, you would also of course be forced to relive every painful one. Being able to look at your life and seeing every occurrence, good and bad, as necessary to your being, is what Nietzsche calls amor fati, the love of fate. The concepts of eternal recurrence and amor fati surely found their basis in the religious upbringing Nietzsche had growing up, as they similarly state to accept
everything as given to by God, good or bad. (Young, p. 18) A religious person, according to Nietzsche, believes that whatever happens, occurs in order to to
enlighten him. Of course this belief can also be used outside of religious context as a sort of personal providence, turning everything that happens to you into the best. (Ibid, p. 67) Amor fati and acceptance of the eternal return a re the redemption that Nietzsche created for himself after he lost his faith. Redemption for Nietzsche is not deliverance from sin, but a total affirmation of all aspects of life, with all the pain and
absurdity included. (Ibid, p.380) Homura, who in the series kept repeating time to try to change it, was of course the complete opposite of this ideal.
If someone is able to able to answer a resounding yes to the concept of eternal recurrence, they lead a healthy and life-affirming existence in Nietzsche’s eyes. Nietzsche also says it is important to construct a narrative out of one’s own life and not being ruled out of it by the environment, paving the way for personal happiness. (Ibid, p. 336) The will to death manifests itself when we fail to face the challenges in our lives as a result of a failure to unify our instincts into single-minded drive,
eventually leading to a life-defining task which is preferably other-focused. (Ibid, p. 547) Homura of course already manifested this tas k in the series, protecting Madoka, which was in fact the only thing that kept her going in her hopeless situation. She only ever started to despair when it was made apparent to her that her cause was only worsening the overall situation. However she clearly failed to stick to her own narrative at the end of the series where she was unable to keep protecting Madoka and was forced out of her role by circumstances. With this, in the new world, Homura loses her life-defining task and thus her reason to be. It i s this broken state that she was likely in, before the start of Rebellion, that lead to her despair.
When all these concepts are correctly applied and life is positively affirmed, one becomes the ubermensch, a morally superior being. Perhaps the most impo rtant aspect of the ubermensch is that he is capable of creating values. He does not adhere to an existing value system, but creates his own. Being able to look from a metaphorically higher perspective and taking into account the views of others, he makes new values for himself and for others to follow. What kind of values these are, Nietzsche remains silent on as his insight is that it depends completely on the
that does promote a set moral doctrine. The ubermensch is seen as morally superior by definition, because the necessity of supplanting older values with newer ones, imply that they are inherently better. There is of course no objective comparison
possible between different circumstances. (Hongladarom 2011, p. 56) How are t hese values then created? Naitō (2011) says that we first need to ask ourselves the
question of nihilism. Nihilism is the question of ‘why?’ without an answer. From his point of view however, question and answer are a single unit that both need to be changed together to acquire the answer. The answer could in this case be equated with the world and our effect on it, the question with our self and our methods. To be able to attain the values to change the world around us and get our answer, it is t hen imperative to change ourselves and our way of life fundamentally.
The ubermensch is meant to be an unreachable goal that is to be chased after. The ideal is opposed by what Nietzsche sees as the most despicable of modernity, the last man. The last man strives only for egalitarianism and comfort, having everyone be equal and thus having everyone also be sentenced to mediocrity. The last man embodies Christian morality, the source of everything wrong with modern man according to Nietzsche. On the other hand stands the ubermensch, who strives for individual greatness and through it benefits everyone around him. (Young, p. 198)
Looking now at Homura’s development, it becomes clear she goes from ascetic to a Nietzschean ideal over the course of the movie, reaching the status of an
As opposed to her self-loathing earlier coming from her failures, when Homura finds out about being trapped inside a witch’s barrier, her anguish comes rather from the fact that she was deceived so easily into believing this saccharine lie. The illusion
makes a mockery out of Madoka’s heroic sacrifice and only functions as running away from reality. During this scene of internal monologue where she thinks about all of this, we see the world around her take form in all kinds of shapes and sizes. As it is inside her own barrier, it is reflecting her unconscious and betrays her actual desires. The screen flashes “Who is dreaming?” in the characteristic witch rune language, indicating that she’s not being true to herself. Also her familiars start
shouting “Gott is tot,” which, aside from being an obvious Nietzsche reference, shows how she is beginning to step away from the Buddhist ideal and asceticism. Later on her familiars also repeatedly chant “Fort! Da!,” referencing the coping mechanism for loss Freud observed in his grandson. Freud theorized t he boy was simulating the appearance and disappearance of his mother, a situation he was normally powerless to control. Through reenacting it in a self-controlled environment, the child tries to gain mastery over the situation. Homura is thus still traumatized by the loss of Madoka she suffered and is trying to deal with her grief. She is slowly beginning to realize that her desires mean more to her than being virtuous as she gradually awakens to her true self.
Freedom, becoming who you really are, comes from overcoming all kinds of internal hardships. (Ibid, p. 499) The illusion helps Homura realize that what she actually wants is the dream. When shortly after she encounters the memory altered Madoka, who says that she could never stand to be separated from her friends and family, Homura’s mind is quickly made up. She finds meaning in life once more by picking up her life-defining task again and sets out to save Madoka, even against herself.
Nietzsche does hold that free will is very limited against environmental influence, meaning Madoka’s decision to sacrifice herself might have been forced upon her by the circumstances and that it wasn’t what she actually would have wanted. Of course
this also works the other way in that the Madoka Homura encountered in her barrier is one that does not possess the knowledge to make an informed judgment on the matter.
It could be said that this objectifying behavior sets the tone for the rest of the movie, but Nietzsche and his views of love would have a more sobering look. Nietzsche rather wants to demystify the emotion of love by intrinsically linking it to a perceived opposite, greed. The statement is that the emotion can range anywhere from love to greed, depending on the level of satisfaction, in fact they come from the same instinct. With this Nietzsche tries to strip away the holiness that love has acquired through a religious morality backdrop, making the emotion human again instead of otherworldly. When affirming life, one cannot avoid looking boldly into the ugly parts as well. So when Homura brings down Madoka from her heaven and traps her within her world, surely that is an act more on the side of greed, yet it cannot be misconstrued as not also being an act of love. Stepping over other people’s freedom like this is also a necessity says Nietzsche. For if we don’t support our own values enough to push them and simply see everything f rom a historical context, we’ll become unable to prefer one set of morals above a random other one. He calls this effect nihil admirari, a kind of postmodern nihilism. (Ibid, p. 161)
As Homura begins to overcome herself, she realizes that pain is required for growth and victory. The famous quote from Nietzsche of “what does not kill me makes me stronger.” (Ibid, p. 351) She comes to the realization that all her suffering up till now had been for the sake of Madoka, that’s why she says that even her pain is dear to her now. In other words, she embodies the ideal of amor fati now through her life -defining task. Using the concept of sublimation, converting negative emotions into a positive counterpart, she transforms her despair and suffering into her love for
Madoka. This transformation becoming a literal one as she harnesses her full potential and becomes the demiurge of her new world, proudly naming herself the Devil, just as Nietzsche said morally ‘good’ people of modern society would call an ubermensch. (Ibid, p. 522)
As mentioned before, the ubermensch exists for the betterment of society and the idea that only his wellbeing counts is wrong. Just as Zarathustra’s love of life was so overflowing that he had to share it with the world, the ubermensch raises up
everyone around him through his individual mastery. The signposts seen in Homura’s new world bearing her salamander imagery seem to symbolize that she intends to guide humanity. In Nietzsche’s ideal form of the state, which is basically copied from Plato, the philosopher king leading the world is one that can will the eternal return. Descending into her world, sitting under a parasol emblazoned with the runes for eternal recurrence, Homura boldly jumps into the time that was once the source of all her suffering. Only this time, with her outlook of amor fat i, she is the one in control and fit to lead. Nietzsche ideal state would also have a religion to create a unified people under a single set of values. This would however not be a religion that
idolizes otherworldly, perfect gods, but ideal forms of humans as the Greeks did. The appearance of a floating rock bearing the symbol of the Law of Cycles and a statue of Madoka seems to suggest she has been put up as such a figure of reverence. Even if it is working towards an ideal state, is it justified even as an illusion?
Nietzsche considers the will to truth, even in science, as a leftover from life-denying religious values. Why else would we strive for truth even when it comes at the cost of our happiness, it’s because seeking the truth has become a virtue f ounded on
Christian morality. (Ibid, p. 441) From Nietzsche’s point of view, Homura is then justified in telling this noble lie as long as they are happier this way. It could also be
said that it is not all that different from what the Law of Cycles was doing before, bringing in magical girls without their consent. (Blue, chap. 17) Looking at this matter through Buddhist eyes however reveals Homura to correspond to Mara, an asura that tries to lead enlightened ones astray using the material world and illusions. Having successfully trapped a bodhisattva because of her desires, Homura can also be seen as the biggest criminal to Buddhists.
When Homura finally encounters Madoka in her world, their reunion is anything but sweet as Madoka unknowingly condemns Homura for her actions. But when Homura responds that she doesn't care even if Madoka ends up becoming her enemy, what’s more she expects it even, it shows she has truly become independent. Only her life-defining task of ensuring Madoka’s happiness still counts. She has become self-sufficient as a free-spirited leader should be according to Nietzsche. Not in service of an external morality anymore, she has adopted the master morality that is completely self-focused. Only her will to power remains. (Young, p. 335)
In the end, Homura can be seen standing alone over a cliff, the ground and moon in the background seemingly cut in half. She falls down. Is this mirroring the descent from the mountains Zarathustra made to spread his overflowing love or does it perhaps refer to the Fool’s Journey? Or could it be thinly veiled suicide imagery, indicating the path of the ubermensch is maybe not one that leads to happiness after all?
4. A clash of ideals
The credits of the movie show silhouettes of Madoka and Homura-shaped figures dancing separately on both sides of the screen. What’s more interesting however is what’s behind them. Behind Madoka appear very natural shapes, like hills and
vegetation, while behind Homura appear mostly human made objects, a cityscape is prominently featured. This corresponds to the concept that Nietzsche used of the Apollonian, meaning individuality, reason, the material world, and the Dionysian,
meaning harmony, nature, otherworldliness. These concepts symbolize nicely the differences between the two models of ideal humans discussed. Let us then take a closer look at what their similarities are and what exactly sets them apart.
Nietzsche early in his life was a big fan of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, which takes the same stances as Buddhism on numerous points. Later however, Nietzsche would reject it as a nihilistic lifestyle. While his critique mainly f ocuses on Christianity and the Christian morality that he says plagues Western society, his rhetoric can also be used to extrapolate his views unto Buddhism.
First I will look at some commonalities they share, but also look at where they inevitably diverge within these points.
The overcoming of the self is a big part of both phil osophies, though they differ
tremendously in the journey to that goal. Whereas Buddhism applies negative action, by means of asceticism, Nietzsche promotes positive action through his will to power. (Skowron 2014, p. 336)
It can be said that they both have Marxist aspects, as they are forms anyone can attain regardless of background. They also both heavily emphasize personal effort. The way the concept of the self is viewed from the two viewpoints is quite similar. Both see it as a construct without any objective status. The difference is then that the enlightened Buddhist completely throws away the entire construct and only keeps what is necessary for daily life, whereas the ubermensch remains strongly attached to his self while knowing it is merely a construct. (Hongladarom, p. 55)
The bodhisattva and ubermensch both share the same goal of aiding their community, but again their execution is vastly different. Where a bodhisattva tries to bring the
same enlightenment he has to everyone, the ubermensch raises the value of
everyone around him by providing his unique skillset, equality versus clear hierarchy. Buddhism also worships enlightened people instead of the unattainable God, just like Nietzsche proposes his ‘religion’ would do in his ideal form of state. (Young, p. 517)
Next an analysis on the various differences between the two models.
According to Nietzsche there are two types of selfishness: one is the sick kind, which primarily takes from others, and the other is the holy kind, which instead gives out of their overflowing self-fulfillment. (Ibid, p. 374) Nietzsche would place the ubermensch, because of their other-focused life cause, squarely in the holy kind. A Buddhist would argue however that as opposed to the bodhisattva’s universal love, the uber mensch shows selfish behavior as it is ultimately still grounded in their own desires.
Nietzsche considers his enlightened form of egoism superior to alt ruism though, as according to the will to power as fundamental force, altruism boils down to mere pity. Till the end he however remained rather inconclusive over whether he thinks true altruism actually exists or not, whether it is simply the satisfaction of the own impulse
to feel superior over the other or not. Buddhists would naturally fiercely deny these allegations due to the no-self doctrine. But even if altruism was real, Nietzsche
believes that it would certainly be less productive than his offered methods. Because in the long run, identifying with the suffering of the whole world would work
discouragingly as one realizes not much can be actually done about most of it, leading to despair and eventually life-denying behavior. (Ibid, p. 377)
Another key difference lies in how they approach desires. According to Nietzsche, religions, including Buddhism, promote self-hatred by vilifying various emotion. T his is of course one of the main conflicts presented in Rebellion, where Homura suffers from severe self-hate as a result of the ruling morality not allowing her to feel the way she does. Nietzsche states that the church, but surely more religious institutions
could be included, uses this as a method of maintaining control over the people, as it is no doubt impossible to stay sin free. (Ibid, p. 257) Ever since the advent of social Darwinism, Nietzsche finds that the selflessness asked for in Christian morality, which also goes for Buddhism, is not congruent with reality anymore. This leads to the problem where ought and is become separate in their minds, the world is not how it is supposed to be for them. This can consequently only lead to world-denying
nihilism a la Schopenhauer. It is thus necessary to change our view of the ought by having another look at the workings of all dynamics in the world, here Nietzsche proposes the will to power as driving force. (Ibid, p. 408)
Loy (1996, p. 50) however states that nihilism isn’t the meaninglessness in itself, but rather the fear for meaninglessness and trying to run away from it. The will to power can then be categorized as fleeing because of a sense of lack, in that sense it would then be wholly nihilistic. The only solution to this would be to fully embrace that
being led by the will to power can never be called freedom, Buddhism however can speak of true freedom as it tries to unleash itself even from concepts like that. (Davis 2004, p. 128)
Nietzsche also puts up the argument that it would be arrogant to not look at the full spectrum of the world, like desires in Buddhism, forcing their own incomplete ideal of the world onto reality. This would only halt true growth, as an entire aspect of life is being left out. Fooling themselves like this leads to some happiness, but it’s denying yourself of a more fulfilled happiness. (Young, p. 409) This thought can be compared to in Madoka Magika where Madoka’s whisking away of the magical girls has no actual effect on their suffering on Earth. The practice then of affixing a metaphysical solution combats only the symptoms and does not solve the root of our problems. Furthermore, Rebellion shows Nagisa, a part of the Law of Cycles, deciding to come down because she craves cheese. What seems like a silly gag, actually does carry a meaning, seeing as cheese is made from rotten milk. It would seem that the Pure Land holding no decay actually can lead to unfulfilledness. Decay is then seen to be a just as integral part of life as anything else. (Blue, interlude 2) By not accepting all of it, life can never be affirmed.
On a more practical note, Nietzsche also finds Buddhism lacking as it is unable to confront opposition because it’s such an inward lifestyle. (Young, p. 547-548)
Nietzsche himself had on the other hand been a huge proponent of resisting against the corrupt institutions around ourselves, precisely due to the big influence our
surroundings have on us. What’s more, Mahayana scriptures reveal that the merit gotten from performed rituals far exceeds those from morally good deeds (Buswell
2004, p. 532) It becomes apparent then that being an actual good person comes a distant second to upholding the traditions.
The question then remains, do these arduous paths actually lead to happiness?
Nietzsche states that if you simply concentrate on your life task, happiness will follow automatically. But Rebellion does put into doubt Homura’s mental condition at the end. Could she even be called insane, like Nietzsche was at the end of his life? She even calls herself the Devil, much like Nietzsche fashioned himself the Antichrist. Several other little hints throughout the movie throw suspicion on the ideal of the ubermensch leading to happiness. Already in the opening movie, we can see
ambiguous glimpses of what’s hinted to be Homura’s world because her Devil form hairclip can be seen. But all we see is suffering and ruin, more specifically, ruins of ancient Greek pillars, the very culture Nietzsche kept wanting to return to. Then there’s the suicide imagery, showing Homura’s familiars, essentially her
subconscious, taking their shoes off and jumping down. As suicide jumpers in Japan tend to take off their shoes before jumping, this is a clear reference to that.
Furthermore, there’s the recurring imagery of Homura and Madoka at the grassy hill, each time they stand further apart. At the end, Homura sits all alone, the other half of the scenery completely gone even. But loneliness is to be expected. After all,
because of a lack of equality, an ubermensch can’t love or be loved, only revered. (Young, p. 378) It is also possible that she became a combination of an ubermensch and an unmensch, where the sub-human drives have not been sublimated into
humane ones. (Ibid, p. 506)
It can’t however be denied that Homura is making everyone around her happier. She gave them a chance to become life-affirming by accepting their desires instead of
suffering and waiting for the metaphysical salvation like Mami mentioned before in the previous world.
Also the Buddhist way of life is cast into doubt. When looking at for instance the answer Madoka gave in the flower field, implying she was not happy at all to be separated from her loved ones were she not forced to do so because of
circumstances. Moreover the lingering regret the magical girls that were part of the Law of Cycles exhibited was puzzling as they were supposed to have been freed from worldly attachments when they ascended. An indication perhaps of the Buddhist ideal not being a realistic one?
It seems then that the ambiguous final scene of Homura jumping also embodies the message of the series, it’s completely open to interpretation. While it might be easy to say the movie promotes a Nietzschean philosophy by having the ubermensch
triumpih over the bodhisattva storywise, thematically both sides are treated rather equally and neither is condemned. In the end it simply boils down to different people making different choices. By showing us multiple paths to reaching an ideal existence, it offers us the luxury of choice and attempts to wake us to our personal ideal. The ending statement, shown in runes, seems then to be of particular significance:
To then answer the question of how the two different philosophies shown relate to each other, both ideals have different values and are meant to be applied by different people. The movie itself is never judgmental towards either side and the decision is kept to the viewer as it relates to his or her personal morality.
The movie is a postmodern work, inviting the audience to find the answer that best fits their life. It also takes away the absolute truth the series on its own painted and exhibits the subjectivity of reality.
By showing us also the faults of both ways, it reminds us that ideals will always
remain ideals and that there is probably no one true way to getting there. This is then a tale that cautions us to not adhere to just one ideology.
In this sense, this story seems close to the Greek tragedies Nietzsche held in such high regard. These tragedies also depicting all too human gods, rather idealized humans, as role models for the audience to learn from.
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