Apples and Devil’s Deals: A Religious Analysis of the Apple Scene in Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

How ’bout them apples?

I’ll start off by noting that I have yet to finish Madoka Magica (blasphemy, I know), and that overall I haven’t found myself terribly engaged by the show. It too often plays as being too over-the-top, a show obsessed with suffering for the sake of suffering. Its a lot less sleaze-tastic than the very similar UtaKata, but it nevertheless fails to interest me for many of the same reasons.

Of course, none of this is to contend that it is a bad show, precisely, although I would not grant it the status of “good”, either. No, because, regardless of my own general bland feelings toward it, it possesses quite a bit one can dig into – including the apple scene in episode seven of the show.

For a refresher, this is the scene wherein Kyouko cajoles Sayaka into taking a stroll with her, all the while toting a massive brown paper bag full of apples. They end up in an abandoned church, and, as it turns out, it was the church Kyouko’s father ran. She is trying to demonstrate the futility of making wishes for the sake of others, although it is too late for Sayaka to change her mind on that count, and also is making an argument for selfishness in general (never mind that she doesn’t quite practice what she preaches in later events). Her father, apparently, was not a popular preacher initially, and it was only through Kyouko’s wish for his popularity that he became so. But the man found out, and lost his mind. He rejected his daughter as a ‘witch’ and took his own life. Kyouko’s attempt at altruism backfired magnificently. The rest, as they say, is history.

(As a pure aside, I think that this entire scene is the most artistically well-done sequence in the entire show.)

Throughout the entire tale, Kyouko is either fiddling with or consuming her eponymous apples. It is a fruit that is very, very heavily associated with her, to the point that her color scheme takes a nod from them – red hair, red clothes, red eyes. And the narrative takes place within the confines of a church. Combine it with the fact that Kyouko’s own father, who appears to be a Christian minister of some sort, labels her a ‘witch’ (what is a witch? we may ask; a fallen woman, we may answer) upon discovery of her deal with Kyuubey, and it is difficult to ignore the symbolism at work.

Kyouko is our Eve in this scheme, Kyuubey our Snake, the offer of a wish the apple (although the Fruit of Knowledge is never given a definite fruit identity, it has in recent history, roughly the Renaissance period forward, been depicted as an apple). In taking hold of it, Kyouko essentially passes it along to our would-be Adam, her father. That he isn’t actually aware of what is happening plays in further to the story of Eden, as Adam passively accepted the apple when it was offered to him; Kyouko’s father doesn’t wonder about why he has suddenly gone from Mr. Unpopular to the hottest ticket in town. He doesn’t pause to consider it at all, at least from the narrative perspective we have, instead accepting it at face value: the people want to hear to Good Word, this fruit is delicious. It is only when he discovers that his daughter is a magical girl that the wheels come spinning off the bus.

So, the Fall of Man. In gaining knowledge, her father comes to despair. Adam realized he was naked and Kyouko’s father realizes that his congregants are literally enchanted. What follows is death.

Kyouko herself gains knowledge, too, and likewise comes to unhappiness, although unlike her father she is capable of adapting. But she herself takes on the guise of the Snake, at least as things develop, for she offers a literal apple to Sayaka while also holding forth an apple of knowledge as well. Sayaka’s already dealt with one Snake in the grass, and made the mistake of taking the apple from Kyuubey, but tosses the apple back at the second she encounters. She opts to remain in a flawed Eden in doing so, for she’s rejecting the knowledge that the world is itself a flawed place and that magical girls really perform no justice. Instead, she decides to remain ignorant, and when the knowledge does force itself in, she cannot handle the incursion for it runs headlong into her own convictions of truth, justice, and nobility. Whereas Kyouko looked at darkness and said, “Darkness, take my hand.” Sayaka is too inflexible to do so. It is only inevitable that her fate is an ugly and rapid transformation.

Of course, at this point we run into a rather intriguing thing to consider – for, if acceptance of the apple means suffering, and rejection of the apple means suffering, what does it say about free will? Or, even more simply, the human existence carte blanche?

Or we can get into a more theological question – if the Fall of Man resulted from acceptance of the Fruit of Knowledge, what would rejection of it have meant? Would the end results have been any different, or was the ensuing state of affairs something inevitable?

I think that, at this juncture, it bears mentioning that I myself do not take the story of Genesis to be literal. I believe it says a lot about a culture’s values and that it is important for all that follows, but I do not take it literally. I am myself a progressive Christian, although I tend to call myself deeply blasphemous or simply a wanderer of the desert depending on how generous I’m feeling toward myself at the point in time when asked.

However. Eternal bliss because of eternal ignorance. An inevitable intrusion of pain regardless of whether knowledge was accepted or not. Or the choice to seize the apple. I’m glad Eve took the apple.

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16 Responses to Apples and Devil’s Deals: A Religious Analysis of the Apple Scene in Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

  1. yaranakya says:

    The apple here is interesting because of its multifunctional symbolic nature:
    – the original sin (as discussed in your post)
    – sin in general (where the mere possession of apples implies Kyouko stole/killed/abused her powers for her personal gain)
    – life (food as one of the symbols of life – Kyouko’s tender treatment of food because she has known want)
    …and finally, an offer of friendship and understanding. It is the mixture of the obviously good and the obviously evil that marks every aspect of a magical girl’s life that shows us how twisted the situation of the girls is.

    But what is particularly important is the question of what Kyouko is trying to achieve by ‘tempting’ Sayaka. There’s a reason why this exchange will eventually decide the outcome of their relationship.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      To get very specific, I was struck by Kyouko’s reaction to Sayaka’s tossing of the apple, as it reflected my own reaction, although mine was far less extreme.

      Yes, very specific, and didn’t really respond to much of what you said. I find what you said to be interesting but don’t really have much of a reaction to it.

  2. Mike says:

    Did you also notice when Kyouko was choking Sayaka that the angel in the background stained glass window had her sword running through them?

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I noticed it, but didn’t think it was necessary to mention it given that I was focused specifically on the apples and the parallels Kyouko herself seemed to have with Eve.

  3. lvlln says:

    Fascinating bit of analysis. I too thought that the art in entire flashback sequence was very well done. And Christian themes into anime that actually MEANS something? Now THAT is blasphemy.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      It is rather rare, although I’ll also point out that its very possible Shinbo and his staff flubbed a bit on their research. Kyouko’s father looks a lot like he’s meant to be a Catholic priest, and the concept of ex-communication is rather Catholic within Christianity. He could be an Episcopal minister, but I’m inclined to think not given that Catholicism is more visually recognizable than is Episcopalianism by non-Christians.

      One of the few other shows to utilize Christianity in a non-meaningless fashion would be Samurai Champloo, something I’d love to re-watch in light of having studied religion in college.

  4. inushinde says:

    I think that’s a means to an end, with the notion of free will being that end. To sit by and watch those you love suffer is maddening, so any alternative to end that suffering for a brief period of time is preferable to having it fester.
    But hey, it’s Madoka Magica. If there isn’t inherent symbolism everywhere you look, whether it’s actually present or not, you’re doing it wrong. And it certainly provides interesting discussion.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Well, I’d quibble about how meaningful much of the symbolism is ultimately, but there is some interesting stuff floating around.

  5. Roghek says:

    Very interesting, indeed the concept of the story is very similar to the fall.
    Is it better to remain ignorant and happy, or to gain knowledge? But with knowledge comes death, those magical girls who made the contract will eventually die.
    But for myself, I think eating of the forbidden fruit means more than accepting knowledge and death within the knowledge, but also the rejection of god, they believed the snake instead of god.
    So, would it have been better to not take the fruit? I doubt that is even an option, the wish, the fruit is just too good and tempting to not be taken, even if that means death, not to count or contract seeker is so good with words, he will only tell you what you need to know and what you want to hear.
    I think madoka and the fall might have more in common now that you pointed this out, because with sin there comes redemption, and hope (Example Pandora’s box) but I won’t say anything more than that because you haven’t finished it yet, still I hope I tickled your interest in the series a bit more so you can finish them 😉

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I did finally finish it the other evening. One can certainly go further with Christian allusions, given Madoka’s ultimate role. I really enjoyed the ending, liked it a lot more than the previous ten episodes.

      Maybe not so much a rejection of a deity as an attempted rejection of reality. But the wages of sin are surely death, right?

  6. V says:

    First comment after lurking for ages… Love the blog!

    Anyway, I love reading analytical posts like this. Maybe because I’m absolutely terrible when it comes to seeing symbolism, but I’m definitely going to rewatch that episode. 🙂 I gave up on Christianity years ago, but Biblical theorizing such as this is still fascinating to me. 😀 Kudos!

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Well, glad to hear you like the blog, although I’m not always hyper-timely on responding to comments.

      To me, this sequence and the final two episodes are the ones I find worthy of re-watching, although I am dubious on the rest. Hell, the art direction of Kyouko’s flashback alone is worth a re-visit.

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  9. I have a small contention with something you said here, “Kyouko looked at darkness and said, ‘Darkness, take my hand.'” I see this as portraying darkness in a negative light as we all too often do. But for me, one person’s darkness is simply another person’s reality. Not everyone gets to live a virtuous life either by choice or by circumstance. I see Kyouko simply making lemonade out of her lemons.

    The magic girls seemingly can avoid becoming witches if they balance their actions by carefully managing their emotions and actions; a great analogy for the balance in our own lives. Sayaka could not maintain this balance and that was the end of her, but Kyouko found a way to live comfortably with the unfortunate circumstance she found herself in. I’m not saying Kyouko was right (I’m not sure even Kyouko thought she was right) but I’m definitely saying that she wasn’t wrong to make that choice.

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