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.