Saturday, September 6, 2014

Is Kyubey Mephistopheles?

Am I cute, or what?
I find that the character Kyubey from the anime series Puella Magi Madoka Magica, not as interesting or important as others , nor do I find him (I assume he's male) the most important aspect about the series (by far!), but I thought that a point should be made about him.

What follows contains spoilers up to episode five, which is a respite from the events of previous episodes and because this is as far as I have watched. Spoiler avoidance is especially important in this series.

So my thesis is that, believe it or not, Kyubey may be Mephistopheles! I do not think he is the Devil himself, but from the evidence it appears to me that he plays a devil-like role.

In magical girl series, the heroines are frequently helped by furry sidekicks. There is Luna and Artemis from Sailor Moon, Kero from Card Captor Sakura, Yuuno from Lyrical Nanoha and surely many more. They serve as keys to unlocking the girls’ powers, constant support and a source of back-story. One would think that Kyubey plays such a role and indeed he seems to be doing just that, but there are some bothersome behaviors that could point to another direction.

I didn't come up with this myself. The seed was planted by some user comment at Crunchyroll  who wrote that he wouldn't trust Kyubey. That put my mind at work and I came up with the following evidence. For the sake of equality, I also give Kyubey the chance to defend himself and show that he has been behaving all along.

You can wish for anything (ep 1-2)

I say: This strongly reminds me of the offer the Devil made at Matthew 4:9
Reasonable Kyubey response: Well, that's the nature of the offer. I can grant anything
I answer: What about wishing for all the witches to go away and for the world to be set right? Furthermore, if you grant the wishes for magical girls, who plays that part for witches? We may not ultimately get the answer, but I think this should be cleared.

The unblinking (ep 1-5)

I say: Notice how he doesn't move his mouth, has red eyes and never blinks. Think of it: Unblinking. Red. Eyes.
KR: I'm a magical creature and you shouldn't go about judging people by their looks
I answer: True

He doesn't volunteer information (ep 1-5)

I say: Being in the thick of things, he certainly knows the risks the girls are getting into, yet he isn't explicit about them. He rather expostulates more on what wonderful wishes can be granted
KR: Nobody asked for more information and wishes are what most are interested in anyway

Waits until the need is greatest: "Quick! Make a contract with me now!" (ep 3-5)
I say: He thrice pushes for the contract in the direst situation, when the chances of refusal are lowest. In the case of Mami he may have been successful.
KR: It was the best solution to the crisis that I could think of at the moment
I answer: It looks as if you want to present the solution, but notice how you are the one who gives them the problem to begin with

The word contract (ep 1-5)

I say: Why use this word? It sounds as too committing, too legalistic… too devilish
KR: What would you have me call it? It seems a better word than treaty, pact, agreement, deal…

Always ready (ep 3-4)

I say: Kyubey has the uncanny ability of appearing just as the girl has made her mind about accepting the contract
KR: That's my job and I happen to be good at it
My answer: That cuts both ways

Homura tries to stop him (1)

I say: The most sensible, though not very likable at first, character so far tries to stop him from making any further contracts
KR: She wants the territory for herself

Hobnobs with the enemy (4-5)

I say: Kyubey socializes freely with the older magical girl which overtly threatens to eliminate the newer one, Sayaka
KR: I check on my contacts regularly just as any socially adapted person does

Encourages further involvement (1,5)

I say: Kyubey lets non-magical girls to get in deeper by agreeing to let them wander in the labyrinths
KR: I think it's a sensible idea to show them what they are getting into
I note: it looks as if you want them to get in so deep, that then they won't be able to extricate themselves unless they make a contract with you. Admittedly, this somewhat contradicts my assertion that you don't volunteer information.

Does not warn Sayaka (4-5)

I say: Kyubey doesn't warn Sayaka of impending attack from the other girl
KR: She didn't ask

Does not help separating the two girls (5)

I say: Kyubey doesn't intervene in the fight even when asked to, adducing that he doesn't have the power to do so.
KR: I really do not have the power to do that
I answer: You can grant any wish but do not have the power to stop the girls? It is as if the Human Torch could not light a match: "I'm only for the big things!"

Cryptic yes and no (5)

I say: He doesn't give a straight answer when asked about his relationship with Homura
KR: We have a complicated relationship, which I have not had a chance to explain as yet

Shoulder switching (5)

I say: He passes from one shoulder to another to be closer to Madoka, even though he's accompanying Sayaka. This feels as if Kyubey is wanting, waiting to make a contract with Madoka and just can't entirely contain his excitement. Else, why should the animators bother with this movement?
KR: I just wanted to be closer to the person I was talking to. Basic manners here
I note: It looks as if you were ready to pounce. What's more, it feels as if you could ditch Sayaka at a moment's notice. Sayaka surely felt as awkward as if her date decided she was the least important person around. Notice her confusion.

After this barrage I find that none of these behaviors by themselves or all of them in conjunction constitute proof of wrongdoing, though they remain highly suggestive. Plus I have not caught Kyubey in falsehood as of yet. Not once.

Now, why do I equate Kyubey to Mephistopheles? Mephistopheles is not exactly the Devil, nor Kyubey is quite like Mephistopheles. Yet, a character or supernatural entity repeatedly offering favors with an opaque agenda  cannot but remind me of him and Dr. Faust. So I pulled out Goethe's work from the shelf (translated by George Madison Priest) , took a look and found, so to speak, damning evidence. Here's what:

On being able grant:

Mephistopheles: "Such treasures I can serve you." Line 1689

Kyubey: "Your wish is absolutely grantable" ep 5

On being careful:

Faust: "Tell me your terms both plain and clear!" Line 1654

To his credit Faust is more careful than the girls asking  beforehand what he's getting into, though, it doesn't help him any better.

Regarding the contract:

Mephistopheles: "But one thing still: in case of life or death, I pray,
Give me a written line or two"
Faust: "What, pendant! Something written do you ask of me?  Lines 1714-1716

On taking the plunge:

Faust: "My action was not rash, I'll not regret it." Line 1709

This echoes exactly what Sayaka tells herself when she sees her wish granted and also implies as much to Madoka after accepting the contract:

Sayaka: "There is no way I'll ever regret it” (ep 5)

On Magic:

Mephistopheles: "… With works of dazzling magic blind you;
Then, absolutely mine, bind you! " Lines 1854-1855

'Bind' is the operative term here 

So this is it. The rest of the episodes will surely settle the matter. But up until now, Kyubey looks shady.

Update 4/29/15

And there's more. Now that I've read the first part of Faust wholly (took me all this time to get around to it), I've found these other:

Mephistopheles.Yet something's wanted from us too.
Faust. One service may demand another as its due.
lines 3032-3033

Mephistopheles.Enchant him with a dream's sweet imagery,
Plunge him into an ocean of untruth!
lines 1510-1511

Mephistopheles. I'm like a sentimental tom-cat rather,
That stealthy sneaks by fire-escapes,
Along the walls quite softly scapes.
So even now, I feel, through every vein
Is spooking glorious Walpurgis Night.
lines 3655-3661

Faust. Treacherous, contemptible spirit, and that you have concealed from me! – Stay, then, stay! Roll your devilish eyes raging the in your head! Stay and defy me with your intolerable presence! Imprisoned! In irreparable misery!
Mephistopheles. She's not the first one.

A Dismal Day. A field [4395-4400]

(You can read my review of the anime series here)

My name is legion

Update 7/26/15

There's also a meeting here of demonological instances: Kyubey may serve as a very close relative of Maxwell's demon.  This has been noted by others as well.


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