Sayaka Miki Character Analysis 4: Struggle and Purpose

Attention all she’s, he’s, and them’s, it’s time for another Anime Rant! This is part 4 of my Sayaka Miki character analysis blog series. These posts were published back in March as a 4-part series. However, they weren’t well-suited for a blog, so I’ve been editing, rewriting, and restructuring them, as well as reducing the word count of each post. I hope I’ve fixed most of the errors by now. Below are links to the other parts in the series.

Sayaka Miki Character Analysis Part 1 (Introduction)
Sayaka Miki Character Analysis Part 2 (Sayaka’s Personality Type)
Sayaka Miki Character Analysis Part 3 (Psychological Topics in Sayaka’s story)
There may be additional part added in the future.


The Specific Struggles of Sayaka Miki

Sayaka goes through hell in Madoka Magica. In some instances, she wouldn’t have suffered as much had she improved her behavior. A few flaws and/or mistakes that she could have avoided were romantic expectations, stubbornness, and antagonism. In other cases, the issues Sayaka faced were beyond her control. For example, she couldn’t stop the death of Mami, being tricked by Kyubey, having her soul and body altered, lacking natural magical talent, lacking skill with using weapons, losing the boy she loved, and having natural emotional reactions to trauma. Sayaka develops disillusionment, negative self-image, and symptoms of major depression.

To start with, what expectations did Sayaka have for the world and for herself? Well, her wish was to heal the boy she loved, but her reason for fighting as a Magical Girl was to be an altruistic hero. She expected all others to be the same. In Sayaka’s mind, she could fight a Witch as well as any other Magical Girl. This romanticism ended up being detrimental. The pressure she put on herself to be a righteous and independent hero was draining. So was fighting alone, without accepting help from another Magical Girl. She expected too much of herself.

Moving on to stubbornness and embitterment, nobody in Madoka Magica is as obdurate as Miki. She hates Kyouko and Homura because they’re self-interested and not “heroic.” She lashes out at anyone who disagrees with her, including her timid best friend Madoka. Sayaka refuses to owe any debt and resolves to never do anything she will regret. Her doggedness is further evidenced by the fact that she fights by herself in her own way, even knowing that each battle takes from her lifespan. Despite being given helpful and realistic advice by Kyouko, Sayaka denies it, sticking to her strict principles. She treats Kyouko’s lifestyle with contempt.

Sayaka’s inflexibility is partly a reaction to disillusionment. First, she discovers that even the most experienced and talented Magical Girls, like Mami, can be brutally killed and forgotten. Then she finds out most Magical Girls are like Kyouko: more interested in survival than in altruistically saving people. Following that, Sayaka learns the shocking truths of Soul Gems. It’s one appalling discovery after another. Waking up to the cold facts of the world is almost a universal experience, and can happen to anyone at any age. Some people, like myself, struggle for years simply trying to adjust to reality. It’s a struggle that many can appreciate.

Casual watchers may not realize that Sayaka has a negative view of herself because in the early episodes she acts so assured, and in later episodes, she acts so conceited. While Miss Miki started as a sanguine girl, her self-confidence was smashed after seeing Mami die. In episode 4, Sayaka calls herself a horrible person for not healing Kamijo. Her over-the-top spunk in episode 5 is an obvious façade to hide how doubtful she is that she can live up to Mami’s legacy. Kyubey’s words in early episode 6 convince Sayaka that she’s the least talented of all the Magical Girls, and this eats away at her nonstop. The examples go on and on. Let’s look at just a few more.

After discovering the truth about Soul Gems, Sayaka calls herself a zombie and ceases to believe she is worthy of Madoka’s friendship or Kamijo’s love. Nobody who truly valued themselves would fight the way Sayaka does in episode 7, purposely taking hits and getting shredded. Then she calls herself “beyond saving” after hurting Madoka’s feelings in (ep 8). The low self-esteem we see so clearly in Sayaka is an issue that affects millions in America in real life. This is another reason why people sympathize and empathize with Sayaka.

Sometimes lack of self-esteem is part of something bigger, like major depression. Manifestations of Major Depressive Disorder are long-lasting moods of sadness, loss of interest in activities, feeling suicidal, feelings of worthlessness, fatigue, hopelessness, helplessness, and irritability; and loss of hope in humankind. Miki exhibits all these traits. Her mood becomes gloomier after Mami’s death, and even gloomier after she finds out about her altered body and soul. She loses interest in school, and loses her enthusiasm for fighting. She’s fatigued throughout most of the episodes, but especially in ep 8. Irritability starts seriously in ep 5, and in ep 8 Sayaka welcomes Homura’s offer to kill her.

“Loss of faith in humanity” may sound melodramatic and even a bit comical to some, but for most of us with major depression, it’s a dead-serious matter. First of all, a great many people wonder about humanity’s core nature or whether humans can redeem themselves. To be mentally healthy, it’s best to have a positive view of humankind, or at least enough positivity to balance the cynicism that the majority of adults naturally develop. If one’s belief in the goodness of their fellow human is removed, one may become unhappy with the world, or resentful or hateful to others. They may become hopeless at the thought of the many sins of our species.

For people like me and Sayaka, a sudden loss of faith in humanity was significant enough to make us believe that all our work and our lives until this point were meaningless. Anyway, Sayaka is a great example of a character going through a depressive episode. Contemplate for a moment some of her lines in episodes 7 and 8. I’ll provide you with something she said, and then I’ll explain how it’s similar to the experience of depression.

“Hitomi is going to take Kamijo! But there’s nothing I can do…
because I’m already dead! Because I’m a zombie!”
~Sayaka Miki, Madoka Magica episode 7

The sentiment here is that even though Sayaka could try to change things around her, she feels like she cannot—she has no hope. Though she was being almost literal about being a zombie, we in reality can give her words a different meaning: the feeling of being dead. The feeling of being so inexpressibly hollow and miserable that you no longer feel like a living human being– I know that sensation too well. This line is also applicable to dissociatve disorders. Feeling numb and detached from oneself or the world is like living death: or being a zombie.

“All I can do is kill Witches. It’s the only worth I have left.
I’m a walking, talking corpse, pretending to be alive.
Nothing can ever be good for me again.”
~Sayaka Miki, Madoka Magica Episode 8

This expresses feelings of worthlessness and helplessness involved in depression. It describes the desperation of hanging on to the last thing that you believe you can do, while at the same time knowing nothing can bring you satisfaction again. What’s more, you barely even care anymore, because of the emptiness inside. 

“So what if I die? That just means I can’t fight Witches anymore. That’s fine with me.
Someone like me, who already can’t defeat Witches… the world doesn’t need me.”
~Sayaka Miki, Madoka Magica episode 8

This line takes things further in expressing the feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness that come with depression. Sayaka’s willingness to die hints at suicidal thoughts.

Regret, despair, and loss of faith in humanity are evidenced on the Bus/Train Scene, where Sayaka asks, “Hey, is this world really worth protecting? What have I have been fighting for? Tell me.” Finally, the things she says to Kyouko on the platform reveal inability to care, one of the worst parts of depression, dissociation, PTSD, and BPD. “It’s because I don’t care anymore,” Sayaka states flatly. “I can’t remember what I thought was so important, so worth protecting. Nothing makes sense.”

Sayaka’s Purpose in the Story

As part of the analysis of her character, I feel it’s important to point out Sayaka’s main roles in the plot of Madoka Magica. Her main purposes were showing the sad and cruel end of the Magical Girls, facilitating important discoveries about Magical Girls, enabling character development of Kyouko, and helping push Madoka to her decision in the last episode. The creators of the show may have also wanted to feature a “heroic” girl with zealous idealism to balance out the others, who are largely oriented by self-interest.

At the end of the series, Madoka brings change to the existing system of Magical Girls and Witches; in order for viewers to understand her major decision, it was critical to make them see the unfairness of the current system and how devastating it could be. Over the course of Madoka Magica, most of the featured Magical Girls die. Many fans said the deaths of the young characters were some of the most heartbreaking elements seen in any anime. Sayaka’s case was the one most closely followed by the plot. In her story, several dismaying aspects of the Magical Girl and Witch system come to light.

The cruelties of the system are numerous. The Kyubey race purposely targets young teen girls who are vulnerable or naïve. These girls cannot understand the value of a real miracle, and will most assuredly make a wish they regret. Next, the separation of the soul from the body makes many girls feel less than human, and they are never told upfront. Kyubey never tells them that in magic, hope and despair exist in equilibrium, so for every wish, there will be a curse. Worst of all, Kyubey’s targets all eventually turn into mindless, murderous Witches.

Sayaka was the catalyst necessary to reveal all the truths that Kyubey didn’t mention. Magical Girls rarely fight because they want to be heroic; they only hunt witches to collect the Grief Seeds that purify their Soul Gems. Without Sayaka’s fights with Homura and Kyouko, the audience wouldn’t know this. Same for the other dark truths. Sayaka experiences temporary death when her soul is moved 100 meters from her body. This illuminates the truth about Soul Gems. Finally, Sayaka proves that Magical Girls turn into Witches when she becomes one. 

Two other important roles of Sayaka were enabling character development of Kyouko, and helping inspire Madoka’s decision in the last episode. At first, Kyouko seems like a bullying bitch. In reality, she was angry with Sayaka’s naivety because of what happened to her own family when she tried to do the same. This wouldn’t have come to light if Sayaka hadn’t agreed to go to the old church with Kyouko in episode seven. We also get to see Kyouko saving Sayaka several times with no benefit to herself, proving that she cares. As for Madoka’s epic wish in the finale, she would never have been brave enough to do it if she hadn’t seen Sayaka suffer and die by the hand of the Magical Girl system.

Sayaka’s story is the tale of a righteous warrior who falls into darkness. Obsessed with the image of a selfless hero, she couldn’t function in a system where her ethics must be forsaken in favor of survival. Some of Miss Miki’s afflictions were brought on by her idealistic nature, naivety, and obstinacy. (In that sense, she is similar to well-known anime characters like Saber from Fate/Zero, Shiro Emiya from Fate/Stay Night, and Akane Tsunemori from Psycho-Pass.) Because of her refusal to adapt, Sayaka fell into deep despair. Still, I’m not the type that simply wants to make an object lesson out of one of the realest and most sympathetic characters in this decade’s anime.

Rather than emphasizing what Sayaka did wrong and how she could have corrected herself, I want Madoka Magica viewers to understand how truly tragic a character she is. Miki isn’t easy to get along with when she’s under stress, but what else do you expect from a fourteen-year-old girl? In the beginning, she was so vibrant, full of life, playful, and confident. She was genuinely warm and loving. Sayaka longed to heal the boy she loved and protect her loved ones by fighting Witches. Yet she became the exact same kind of monster she previously worked so hard to destroy. She lost her soul, wounded her friends, and even killed people.

This is why the ending of Madoka Magica is so important. It paints a picture of hope for characters like Sayaka, who seem destined to become victims of the system no matter how hard they try to just be good people. It isn’t all hearts and flowers; Sayaka still effectively dies. But the Law of the Cycle saves her from the fate of being a Witch.

Closing Thoughts

ENFPs or any other personality type can become disillusioned or fall into depression. Any type can suffer a mental disorder like BPD, as well. For some people, recovery or therapy treatment can be almost immediately successful. But for many of us, major depression and other mental illnesses can go on for years without any letup. This doesn’t mean we should give up. Remember, due to the actions of Madoka, Sayaka’s spirit was rescued just before it reached the point of despair. The coming of the Law of the Cycle (or Goddess Madoka) can be an analogy for healing: recovery from loss, from severe depressive episodes, or from problematic behaviors. It can be a metaphor also for finding peace within oneself.

There is a way out of the cycle of despair, though it probably isn’t a Magical Girl Goddess. For some, the way is religion and spirituality. For others, it’s finding a stable and supportive group of friends, family members, or colleagues. For others still, medication, lifestyle changes, and psychotherapy are the answers. People like me must work hard with therapy and medications for many years in order to find stability. I didn’t succumb like Sayaka. I’m more like the Magical Girls who go on fighting Wraiths the best they can, with the hope that one day, the Law of the Cycle (healing) will come. At this point in my life, I’m no longer defined by despair.

There is something in common needed for all the forms of healing I mentioned. Humans are social creatures. We need to maintain one or more close relationships, no matter what our situation may be. Sometimes, simply knowing you are not alone is enough to survive. My family is what kept me from going all the way and killing myself. If Sayaka had paid more attention to the good friends by her side, perhaps she wouldn’t have despaired. Even if you are unaware of it, there’s someone in the world thinking about you, praying for you, or cheering your people on. That’s a key message in Madoka Magica, as you can see by watching the story of Homura in eps 10-12. These words are displayed in the very last scene.

“Do not forget. Always, someone, somewhere, is fighting for you.
As long as you remember her, you are not alone.”

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

6 thoughts on “Sayaka Miki Character Analysis 4: Struggle and Purpose

  1. Great analysis of Sayaka’s character and the parallels between her experience and the experience of struggling with mental illness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Thats exactly what I tried to communicate.

      Like

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