Sayaka Miki Analysis 3: Discussion of Psychology

Welcome to Part 3 in my Sayaka Miki character analysis blog series. This time, we’ll discuss a few topics related to psychology that come up in Sayaka’s story in Madoka Magica. Let’s Rant!

Trauma and PTSD Discussion

Fans of Madoka Magica often make parallels between issues in the show and issues in reality. Sometimes, we consider aspects of the characters that were not explicitly addressed in the show. One such topic is how traumatizing it must have been for Madoka and Sayaka to see their idol, Mami, being killed so violently. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, occurs in some people who have lived through a shocking or dangerous incident. Symptoms include flashbacks, frightening thoughts, avoiding thoughts related to the traumatic event, being very tense, having outbursts of irritation, increased negativity, feelings of guilt, and casting blame.

Sayaka experiences some of these indications. Part of why she takes over Mami’s work as the city protector is a sense of false guilt for helping lead to Mami’s demise. Angrily, Sayaka throws blame onto others, saying Homura plotted Mami’s death, and Kyouko is probably glad she’s gone. Sayaka feels increasingly hopeless about the world and herself, experiencing constant tension and frequent eruptions of anger. She is always scared to go Witch-hunting. It makes her tremble and sweat, perhaps giving her frightening thoughts or flashbacks.

Implications of The Truth Behind Soul Gems

When a girl makes a wish and completes the contract to gain magical power, her soul is removed from her body and transferred to the Soul Gem. Here, the “soul” is the core of a person’s personality and consciousness, as well as the part of them that uses magic, and the will to make the physical body function. Nothing seems changed, as long as the Magical Girl stays within roughly a hundred meters of her Soul Gem. Outside that range, the soul loses connection to the body, which will then essentially die. However, if the soul gem is reunited with the body within a few minutes, the Magical Girl will be resuscitated. That’s what happened with Sayaka.

As mentioned earlier, thoughtful fans of Madoka Magica sometimes compare matters in the show with those in our reality. We like to see and think up metaphors and analogies; often, they come to our minds without us even trying to think. Regarding the Magical Girl system, several allegories come to mind. The contract scheme steals the souls and violates the bodies of the young girls who are recruited. This could be an analogy to forced prostitution, or any underworld industry which takes advantage of minors, promising a great deal, and leaving out important information. Kyubey’s deals are simply that morally disgusting.

Kyubey tormenting Sayaka

The way the Magical Girls are dealt with and used could also be analogy to the way patriarchal religions treat women. Mostly in undeveloped nations, but really all over the world, the extremist male leaders of religion and society oppress the women. For example, females may be prevented from choosing their own marriage partner, having jobs, leaving the home, dressing the way they want, talking to men in public, or learning to be literate. Even in the U.S., there are sects of religions which exert too much control of women, such as the Quiverfull Movement and various Evangelical Christian congregations.

Does the extremist religion example really fit with Madoka Magica? It does, but loosely, at least compared to the deception and mistreatment of minors in underworld industries.

The Incubators (Kyubey’s alien race) select young and naïve girls and lead them to believe in a certain way. They withhold truth. The girls have no say in what happens to their soul, or how the removal of it will affect their physical bodies and emotions. Magical Girls are ultimately tools for gathering magical energy for the society of Incubators and other races in space. In the same way, women ruled by the religion forced on them are not in charge of their own bodies. They are living tools who must serve the spiritual leaders (the men).

Feminism Discussion

Many viewers and reviewers have pointed out that Madoka Magica contains feminist themes and messages in addition to its darker ones. Episode 8 has a key scene in Sayaka’s story, where in she boards an express train and overhears two sexist men saying terrible things. This is the last straw for Sayaka; it makes her lose the last of her faith in humanity. She was already dealing with low self-esteem, hopelessness, the belief that she’s not human, losing the boy she loves, and failing to be a hero of justice. Below are some of the lines the men say. (Translation varies.)

–“No way, you can’t let that dumb slut make excuses. You gotta get her to fork over all the money she makes. Women are total idiots.”
–“You just can’t treat women like rational human beings. Better to treat them like dogs.”
–“Give them an inch and they’re all over you, whining to get married and stuff.”
–“I tell her, ‘Do you think a retarded hostess like you will be still be around in ten years? That whore body won’t last forever!'”
–“Man, women are so annoying when it comes time to dump them.”

Gen Urobuchi, the creator of Madoka Magica, tends to make and/or be involved with light novels and anime featuring strong female characters. (Urobuchi was the original creator of Fate/Zero and helped work on Psycho-Pass.) Sayaka is often perceived by fans as a feministic character, who defies stereotypes (like being a timid Japanese girl) and respects strong young women. To Sayaka, sexism and abuse of women are some of the worst sins in all humanity. Also, she was relatively sheltered; this is probably the first time she’s heard men bragging about mistreating women. Sayaka loses her mind, kills the men, and begins her transformation into a Witch.

Of course, it was wrong to kill the men on the train, even if they deserved it. But the point is the makers of Madoka Magica chose to have a scene portraying sexism and mistreatment of women as evil, with the feministic Sayaka standing up to them. Another evidence of feminism in Madoka Magica is the occasional presence of Madoka’s mother, Junko Kaname. She’s not only confident and a giver of very good advice to her daughter; she’s the breadwinner of her home, with a stay-at-home husband. That’s extremely rare in anime.

Even without those examples, the empowerment of women theme can be seen throughout the anime. Madoka is a timid, frightened, and sort of helpless girl. After seeing her friends die and her world head toward destruction, she becomes empowered. She transforms into the most powerful Magical Girl of all time. Not only that; she also breaks apart the unfair magical world system and completely rewrites the unvierse so magical girls don’t have to suffer. Now there’s a good story of a girl becoming mighty in the face of hopelessness.

Body Dysphoria Discussion

Sayaka is deeply upset that Kyubey removed her soul without consent. The best way to understand her shock and depression is to compare her situation with things that might happen in the real world. Suddenly discovering your body is unlike that of “normal” people could cause shame, shock, and depression similar to that which is felt by people with body image issues, people experiencing onset of mental illnesses, people who have had appearance-altering surgery or injury, people who are ashamed of scars, people whose genders are not the same as their born sex, or anyone of racial minority who is ostracized. In short, it’s body dysphoria.

The soul being removed from the body can also be an analogy for different kinds of physical trauma, not the least of which is rape. The source of Sayaka’s depression is this: something suddenly happened to her body that she did not consent to, and which radically changed the way she viewed herself physically and emotionally. It also changes the way she interacts with others.

Dissociation and Self-Injury Discussion

If Sayaka detaches herself during a fight, her body feels no physical pain. Disconnecting the soul and the body, or using a Soul Gem to block out pain, is only a fantasy, but one that’s extremely psychological in nature. This development is symbolic for depression, dissociation, or problems with self-injury. Let’s briefly look at each of these three hidden meanings. First, In Major Depressive Disorder, it’s common to isolate oneself from the world as a means to avoid even more unpleasant feelings. This is a form of detachment that depressed people may believe will help their emotional pain, but it only weakens them in the long-run. With less interactions, they become less responsive.

Another form of becoming numb is “dissociation.” It means a temporary detachment from reality—not to the point of hallucinations or psychosis, but still mentally unsettling. Dissociation can be a standalone symptom or an indication of one of the Dissociative Disorders. People with other mental illnesses like Borderline Personality Disorder and PTSD can also experience dissociation. Usually, being in a state of dissociation means you feel like the world, yourself, or other people are unreal. It may be severe or mild. Experiences vary widely. For some people with dissociation, they feel so unreal that they can’t connect fully to their five senses, and consequently may report numbness to physical pain.

Finally, self-harm is relevant to any discussion where characters block out pain and knowingly allow themselves to be hurt. For the self-injurers known as “cutters”, each person might have a different reason for hurting themselves, or may engage in hurting themselves for a sense of psychological reward. The reason for some is that they simply enjoy the sight of blood, and turn to it when distressed.

My cutting problem started nearly five years ago and I do it much less frequently now. When cut in the past, it’s because I felt tangible emotional relief from punishing myself. Many others “cut to see if they can still feel.” They are already so depressed and dissociated that they feel numb, and believe that cutting will remind them that they are still real and human. That’s probably why Sayaka allows herself to be hurt.  

Thank you for choosing Anime Rants today! I hope you’ve found these psychological discussions interesting and enlightening. Have a wonderful day!

Other Posts in this Series:
Sayaka Miki Character Analysis Part 1
Sayaka Miki Character Analysis Part 2
Sayaka Miki Character Analysis Part 4


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(All images were found by searching the web, and I don’t own any of them.)

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