“It’s Harder to Raise Girls”: Magi Puella Madoka Magica and the Variances of a Mother

We only see her for a moment, but the daughter-less Junko Kaname is a far-cry from the fierce businesswoman we’ve come to know.

So, I did actually finish up Puella Magi Madoka Magica several months ago, and, yes, I do prefer the bastardized Latin version title. I couldn’t really explain to you precisely why, as even I’m not fully sure of the reason, but I suspect it has something to do with an enjoyment of the way Latin words relating to witchcraft sound (maleficum). Eh, who knows.

I’m not going to truly go into my overall opinion on the show, except to note that I really enjoyed the final three episodes and found the preceding ten largely tiresome and, really, repellant in the pornographic way in which the suffering of the characters was presented. But, hey, I’ll probably write a review someday, so we can bicker about my opinions on quality and enjoyment at that juncture.

Now, as for this post. It was partially prompted by ghostlightning’s 12 Days post on Madoka Magica, which dislodged the nagging feeling I’d had at the close of the show in regards to Junko, Madoka’s mother. We only catch a glimpse of her in the Madoka-less timeline, but its clear that the woman we are seeing is a very different one than the one we observed interacting with her daughter throughout the show. And I was, honestly, pretty disappointed in the change, as it seemed she’d become simply another mild-mannered mother, not the fiery, headstrong businesswoman dishing out hard truths to her daughter. Mother characters are so frequently a bland factor in anime that it was delightful to see such a break with tradition, and such a disappointment to have her end up as so many legion others.

It is also worth noting that mothers are fairly absent in magical girl shows, either dead (CardCaptor Sakura, Sugar Sugar Rune), absent (Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne), or fully in the background (Sailor Moon, which has the distinguishing factor of having TWO mothers for the lead who have barely any screentime!) (and some have all three! I’m looking at you, Ojamajo Doremi). If you think on it, its a curiously missed opportunity. I would fully welcome magical girl shows wherein mothers played larger roles. Boys in shounen fare often wish to follow in their father’s footsteps, after all.

I do digress, though.

“It’s harder to raise girls.”, “Girls are harder to raise.” I don’t know how common this is a sentiment in other cultures, but I know in my own its a common enough phrase that it rarely raises an eyebrow. I do know, however, that it really pisses my own mother off. I can recall one time in particular my mother expressing disgust over a relative of ours stating it as fact in conversation. I was a teenager at the time. She told me it was a load of crap, that kids are generally troublesome in their own unique ways, and pointed out examples amongst her friends. And then she sighed and reminded me that she always got phone calls from the school over my brother not paying attention in class and over me beating up other kids. “Kids are difficult either way. But I like it mostly anyway.” She smiled.

But I do think we can spin this another way. In our cultures, and in most cultures, raising girls is harder… not because of something inherent in a boy or inherent in a girl, but because of the ways in which our cultures treat girls versus boys. Its harder to raise a girl because there are so many negative messages constantly being directed at her by the larger culture, because she must work harder to be taken seriously.

Which brings us back to Madoka Magica. In the first episode, Junko applies make-up in the bathroom with Madoka, telling her that women must always look their best. I was annoyed by this initially, but I came to realize that Junko was just passing along an unfortunate truth to her daughter. She’s helping prep her daughter for the world as it is, because to her its the best way that she can ensure her daughter has the spine necessary to make it in the world. And we all know the Madoka we meet at that moment in time really needs all the help she can get.

As ghostlightning writes in his post, Junko has another heart-to-heart with Madoka a few episodes later in which she speaks to her daughter as one adult to another, not as an adult to a child. Once again, she’s presenting harsh truths to her daughter, educating her about the world. This is how the world is – it isn’t great, but this is how you deal with it… and its worth dealing with it.

Our last look at this Junko is when Madoka leaves to accept her fate. Junko isn’t happy to have her go at all, but she relents, knowing she has to.

And then… we see the shy mother of Madoka’s younger brother, seeming unsure in the face of Homura, the only person in the world who fully remembers a young woman named Madoka Kaname. Its a far cry from the woman we’ve become accustomed to. Raising girls is hard. Without a daughter, Junko lacks the toughness she previously possessed; she hasn’t needed it as she did before. As much as I dislike seeing her having become such a boring person, its an interesting message to have found in the show.

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8 Responses to “It’s Harder to Raise Girls”: Magi Puella Madoka Magica and the Variances of a Mother

  1. ayame says:

    wonderful observation! 😀 But I also kinda agree with your mother, mostly because when this is said the implication of raising a ‘good girl’ with untouched the space between her thighs is made. Which is quite disgusting. (Me hates religious conservatives)

  2. It’s harder to raise girls… i think. There are so many mistakes my wife and I can make. I don’t even know where to begin.

    To be happy is boring.

    As a happily married couple I think we’re some of the most boring people I know. Suffering and drama makes us interesting people, the mistakes we make, make us interesting people. But would I trade this happiness for my angsty post-adolescence? No. It’s enough that I was interesting for a few years.

  3. dieta says:

    The characters have a special touch to them, notably Madoka’s mother Junko. Early in the series they establish a female empowerment vibe through the character. In Madoka’s family her Mother is the “salary man” and her Father is domestic, her Mother is obviously confident, intelligent, motivated, and responsible all positive qualities to inspire in young women. Early in the first episode Junko is preparing to leave for work and kisses both her Husband and her son goodbye, but delivers a strong high five to her daughter. Seeing such masculine elements in the Mother-daughter relationship is odd but certainly welcome in a medium that normally features female characters as thin as tissue paper.

  4. Hikaru says:

    It’s been a while since I saw the series, but I remember feeling like Junko had changed because, even though she doesn’t remember it, she lost her daughter. Doesn’t she say something to that effect? So it’s more like she’s grieving, only she can’t quite tell who for.

    I agree with you 100% about all the negative messages aimed toward girls. It’s really sad.

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