I’ve got nothin’

The old inspiration well is running a bit dry at the moment, so… uh… Saturdays will be Kill la Kill liveblogs starting, not this coming Saturday, but the one after. This Saturday’s apparently my birthday, according to Facebook and my sister, and she’s taking me out. (My sister, not Facebook. So far as I know, Facebook, treated as a gestalt entity, is neither taking me out nor has a gender identity.)

This Saturday I’ll probably post an Utena thoughts dump for the first five episodes, and then pick some other day of the week to do that going forward. I have more Bakemonogatari thoughts to dump, too, but I’m not somewhere I can access them at the moment so they’re not today’s post.

Other than that, uh… what would you like to see? Keep in mind that I’m currently doing two large analysis and one large fiction post a week, so time-consuming things are unlikely to happen remotely regularly. But aside from that, anything in particular you’d like to see me do?

Against Madoka (Rebellion)

Spoilers! Rebellion has still not had a wide theatrical or home-video release in the U.S., so I will continue to put all Rebellion-related content behind a cut as a courtesy to those who read my site through feeds and don’t want to be spoiled.


Also, sorry for being a bit late on this.

The enemy. Obviously.

Names have power. 

There is an interesting pattern to the people Homura draws into her labyrinth: the magical girls make sense, as the main figures in her life and, at least in the most recent timeline, her teammates. Madoka’s family are slightly more of a stretch, but they are people important to Madoka and therefore to Homura. Still more of a stretch are Hitomi and Kyosuke, but again, Hitomi is important to Madoka and Kyosuke is important to Hitomi, so it’s not entirely unreasonable. But what possible reason could she have to bring in Kazuko (the homeroom teacher) and Nakazawa (an apparently random classmate)? And she does draw them both in–Nakazawa and the other magical girls are the only people seen to have normal faces when Homura begins doubting the reality of the people around her in math class, and both Nakazawa and Kazuko are shown unconscious on couches when the labyrinth is finally broken.

The answer lies in folklore: a witch who knows a person’s name can use it in workings of magic against that person. Consider again who Homura brings into the labyrinth, and then consider the series a a whole; setting aside witches, does any other character even have a name? Homura has drawn in everyone who can be drawn in, everyone who was a name. (Admittedly, Madoka’s father’s name is not spoken onscreen, but Madoka calls him Papa, and as there is no other living father in the series, “Papa” functions well enough as a name.) 

Names have power because, in magical logic (which is, by and large, narrative logic), there is no signifier-signified distinction. The name is, in some sense, the thing named, and so to manipulate the name is to manipulate the thing. It follows, then, that if two things have the same name they must therefore be in some sense the same, that one can stand in for the other.

All I which is a roundabout way of saying that, when Homura grabs Madoka’s arms and tears Madoka-the-girl out of Madoka-the-abstraction, it is an act of rebellion not just of Homura against Madoka, but of Rebellion against Madoka Magica.

And why shouldn’t the film rebel against the series? Once, if a person wished to tell stories, they got up and told stories. Spoken aloud, these stories were ephemeral, changing with every telling. There were traditions, to be sure, but storytellers could be confident that their creative departures would not be seen as errors or betrayals but as the embellishments of a virtuoso performance.

Mass literacy struck a mortal blow against this form of storytelling, and radio, film, and television finished the job. This kind of storytelling lives on (as no art form ever really dies), but only as a curiosity, something to gawk at at a Renaissance festival or take your children to at the public library. Mostly, when we want a story, we reach for a packaged one, a book or a DVD.

This creates a challenge when an author wants to tell a cycle or series of stories, reusing the same characters or setting. The author wishes to explore and create, and in the age of oral tales was free to do so–no one particularly expected that the  tales of Renard the Fox must be consistent with one another or complained, “Hey, when he seduced Leda, Zeus was a swan, how come he’s a golden shower now?” After all, if the story of Leda can change with every telling, why expect it to still be the same when you hear a completely different story? 

Oral tales are living, growing, changing things. By contrast, a written or filmed tale is dead, nailed to the page or screen, unable to change or grow, fixed permanently as it was in a single telling. The audience is permitted to change and grow, so that their perspective on the tale can alter with time, but the actual creator of the tale is denied that. Even when it comes to crafting a sequel, audiences–“geek” or “cult” audiences notoriously so–demand continuity, which is to say they demand fealty to the tyrannical reign of dead stories. It is a wonder that more creators don’t rebel! 

So Rebellion pays lip service to the series. All the events of the series clearly happened here and are given what the continuity-obsessed consider “respect,” which is to say the letter of the law “Thou shalt not contradict the events of earlier entries” is slavishly obeyed. Even the structure of the film apes the structure of the show: it splits neatly into three parts, the first of which establishes a pretense of being a “normal” magical girl show that abruptly falls apart in a violent confrontation with Mami. The second (which, admittedly, has a stronger overlap with the first than in the series) then follows a magical girl as she slowly comes to the realization that she is what she fights against, and has been a witch from the start. Finally the third involves a tremendous battle against a city-scale witch, after which reality is rewritten and a new order established.

However, where the series followed Madoka, the film follows Homura, and therein all the difference lies. Madoka is a patient, careful, but very optimistic character–she waits until the very end of the series to act, but when she does so, it is decisively, and with every intent of ending what she sees as the primary problem of her universe absolutely and with finality. Homura is cynical, headstrong, and confrontational; she flings herself into conflict after conflict, until finally her own mirror of Madoka’s actions is to create a world in which Homura’s primary problem–Madoka’s penchant for self-sacrifice–must be dealt with continually and continuously.

This does not necessarily imply that, for most of the film, Homura is in conscious rebellion against Madoka’s order. Homura is initially positioned, just as in the series, as the one questioning and disrupting the status quo, true, but that status quo (as always, represented and defended by Mami) is Homura’s own dream-realm. Homura is trying to return the state of the world to what she remembers, which is to say the world of the series. She only begins to rebel intentionally after Madoka tells her that, to her, being separated from her loved ones is tremendously painful–in other words, after Homura realizes that Madoka’s self-sacrifice entailed actual sacrifice. To Homura, of course, the sacrifice of Madoka is unthinkable and unforgivable, even if it is Madoka herself performing the sacrifice.

Even then, however, Homura does not act on her desire to undo Madoka’s sacrifice until very late in the movie, because up until that point she has no opportunity to do so. The character who is actually in rebellion against Madoka, and therefore against Madoka, for the majority of the film is Kyubey, who has orchestrated the entire situation in an attempt to usurp control of the Law of Cycles and bring back witches. It is worth remembering here that in many respects Kyubey is an (unusually unflattering) authorial stand-in, and as such it makes sense that his rebellion against Madoka is the creators’ Rebellion against Madoka.

Kyubey’s rebellion, however, is unsurprising–he is, after all, the villain of the series, and an unrepentant villain who is still around in the sequel can be assumed to at least try to resume their villainous role. Homura, by contrast, is spectacularly, obsessively loyal to Madoka, and so the film takes pains to meticulously lay out all the elements of her rebellion: She has motivation, in the form of her conversation among the flowers with Madoka and realization that she “never should have allowed” Madoka to sacrifice herself. She has inspiration, when Kyubey reveals that Madoka can choose to re-enter the world after all, and Sayaka reveals that Madoka’s Buddha-nature, her memories and powers as the Law of Cycles can be held in storage by another. And she has opportunity, when Madoka descends to take her life and prevent her from becoming a witch in the “real world”–as Kyubey says, that which can be perceived can be interfered with.

And so Homura rises as a devil-figure, tearing “God” from her heaven and bringing her down into the world. She is the ultimate bad girl, identified by Paradise Lost-quoting graffiti and Nietzsche-chanting, tomato-throwing familiars as Satan herself. She has claimed the labels “demon,” “evil,” and “enemy” for herself, and made clear that she plans to act them out–which brings us to yet another rebellion. But that’s another article for another time…

Possibilities for Saturdays

So, currently the Saturday slot is empty, since ponies are off the air. There are a couple of possibilities:

1. As I briefly did with Supernatural, I use them to post up my episode-by-episode thoughts on the current Mark Watches project, Revolutionary Girl Utena. These are not precisely liveblogs, and also not as in-depth or organized as my analysis essays, just things I’m thinking about and ideas I have in regards to each episode. Each Saturday would cover five episodes.

2. Liveblog something else. Kill la Kill is the first thing that comes to mind, since I have promised to eventually watch it. These would work basically the same as the pony liveblogs, one episode a week, watched live in a chat. I’m open to suggestions as to what to watch, but I’m giving Sylocat veto power since it’s his chatroom.

3. Make them just another whatever-I-feel-like day.

What do y’all think?

No, me! Stay good! Don’t do it!

So there’s a fanfic I have in my brain that I have sworn never to write because (a) it’s a fanfic, and therefore unsalable, and also (b) it’s really freaking big and I have a terrible track record with such things.

Specifically, it’s an MLP AU fanfic, and as we all know, AUs are barely one step above crossovers.

But Thursday night, the bug got me, and I did the worst possible thing I could do, the one thing that makes a world sufficiently real to me that I can start writing it…

…I made a map. Label colors indicate fealty to different rulers. The green areas are temperate climate, the gray tundra/glacier, mustardy-brown desert (And yes, I know, the desert should reach right up to the mountains and the rain patterns implied by the river and desert placement make no sense. It’s still better than the official map in that respect.) You will probably have to click the image to open it bigger, and then rightclick to View Image to make most of the labels legible, I was deliberately working very zoomed in to make room for future details.

Doom, in PNG format.

Guest Post by Spoilers Below: “Resistance Is Useless!” (The Great Rainbow Caper)

Sorry this is a bit late. Spoilers Below got this in with PLENTY of time, I’m just a procrastinating suck.

Patriarchy.jpg

The Letter: Dear Princess Celestia,

it can be hard to admit that you’re not capable of doing something on your own, and sometimes there’s a strong temptation to pass someone else’s work off as something you did yourself. But a real friend would never do something like that! Not only would you not get away with it, but your friend would know never to trust you again, and if you can’t trust your friends, who can you trust? If you work hard, your friends will always support your efforts, and working together is always better than working alone.

Your faithful student,
TS

What is it? The first single episode story of My Little Pony ‘n Friends, and an exercise to see how much story they can tell in such a short time.

What’s it about? Two evil monkeys kidnap Danny and Surprise to force Megan into giving them the Rainbow of Light.

Is it worth it? Eh. It’s short, so you’re not losing much there. What else are you up to for some random 11 minute stretch? It’s not bad, but you also wouldn’t be missing much by skipping it either.

What else was happening? 3 October 1986 – TASCC, a superconducting cyclotron at the Chalk River Laboratories, was officially opened, and a bizarre solar eclipse occurs, visible only for a few moments in parts of the Atlantic ocean, between Greenland and Iceland. We haven’t advanced a week, so the movies and music are the same as they were with The Ghost of Paradise Estate.

Strangeness and science make for a good segue into the episode, because that’s the theme at work in these 11 minutes and 16 seconds. A tight episode, slotted into the now usual pattern of a 4 part story for Monday through Thursday, with a 1 shot on Friday to finish out the week.

Episode author Diane Duane is better known for her Star Trek and her Young Wizards series of novels, and will end up with dubious honor of being one of the highest profile authors MLP ‘n Friends will have. At the time, though, Star Trek: the Next Generation hadn’t begun airing, so the new wave of fans hasn’t quite started battering down the doors, but let’s talk about Star Trek anyways for a moment, because it gives a little lens into the episode. An inherently optimistic and utopian program, Star Trek envisions a post-scarcity future wherein the universe is patrolled and defended by a voluntary military force who do what they do simply because it is the right thing to do. They are called, and they serve. No one uses the world socialism out loud, because Americans have a kneejerk reaction to it, but what else do you call a planned society in which everyone is given tasks that they are qualified for after rigorous testing, where there is no economy because science, via the replicator, has made commerce essentially obsolete, and where a great deal of time is spent exploring the rest of the galaxy looking for other societies which are ripe for uplifting and integration into the federation once they have passed certain benchmarks? Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, arguably the best of the films, states outright that “The needs of the many outweigh…” “The needs of the few…” “…or the one.” Endless numbers of “redshirts” are slaughtered throughout the various episodes with barely any acknowledgement by the rest of the crew so that the wheels of progress can keep turning, and the technocratic engines can continue to absorb and uplift and improve the rest of the galaxy. It will be found and understood, because that is the technocratic impulse that drives the Federation. Duane has already written the novel The Wounded Sky, parts of which will be incorporated into the script for Where No One Has Gone Before, postulating a hypothetical end point to this exploration, literally the outer rim of the galaxy, where reality and thought become one and the same thing.

But reality (those philosophically loved and despised “things-in-themselves” our senses always are interpreting for us) and human thought are different. And science is constructed from human thoughts.

Because despite the protests of those who would demand otherwise, science does not control the world;  that’d be putting the cart before the pony. The universe does not “run” on mathematics, nor does it “think” in terms of laws or theorems. The cosmos isn’t a big computer, nor a large formula, though it helps us conceptualize to think of it as such. Best as we can tell, atoms move; that is all. Science, once you get into the theoretical aspects, is a system applied onto the world by mankind to make the world intelligible and predictable. Atoms move like this under these conditions, and so if we do this, then…. To mangle Karl Popper’s definition, science consists simply of those likely theories which have yet to be proven wrong. It is never infallibly Right. It is simply not wrong yet. It may be highly unlikely, and when one properly understand the rigors of testing and evidence necessary to even present a theory as likely, it does seem highly likely that certain scientific theories will never be proven incorrect. But we do not have enough hubris to say never. Should not, rather.

And so, when science encounters something which it cannot properly explain, science must change to accommodate it. The world will not change to allow a pretty or convenient theory to continue existing for our sake.It is the nature of science to build around things it cannot yet understand. It is additive, absorbing the world, building boxes to encompass any new information and throwing out its old frameworks if they cannot accommodate the new information. Good bye, Tychonic system with your pretty epicycles, hollow Earths, luminiferous aether, spontaneous generation, miasma theory of disease, telegony, phlogiston theory, Aristotelian physics, electron clouds, emitter theory… We thought the universe used to be like that, but it turns out we were wrong. Maybe we got it right this time?

Needless to say, science is different from magic. To steal a quote from Lawrence Miles’ This Town Will Never Let Us Go:

A scientist points a device of death (let’s call it a laser-gun) at a victim and fires. He knows every atom in the path of the beam will be incinerated, the target’s skin will boil and burn away but those parts of the body left outside the beam will remain intact, and anything which happened to be around the victim will also suffer. Much of the floor is bound to be singed, not to mention the walls.
On the other hand, a magician points a device of death (let’s call it a wand) and fires. She knows that the victim will vanish or turn to ash in his entirety, leaving everything around him intact, maybe even his clothes. That’s the real difference. Magic is the art of meanings. The universe doesn’t know where a human being ends and the clothes begin. The laws of physics only know atoms, not complete shapes. Only a magician’s weapon recognizes the target as a target, and only magic understands context. Magic is context. (p.233)

Mad Larry is talking about weaponry here, but it would work for any sort of magic, not just the violent kind. We’ll be back to science vs. magic in just a moment. Now, the Rainbow of Light is one such powerful magical item. Its central importance to this era of ponies is on par with later years’ Elements of Harmony. And at the opening of this episode, we find Megan snuffing out the clouds with the Rainbow’s magic as easily as the aforementioned magician destroyed her victims, so the ponies can pick cherries to make cherries jubilee without getting rained on.

The weather is such a highly complex system that predicting it with any accuracy even seven days out is terribly difficult using our most advanced technology, let alone actually changing it. Could you imagine the power of a device that could simply destroy clouds in an instant, then summon them right back again? The present reader’s mind, of course, jumps ahead twenty-five years to the weather factories of Cloudsdale and the teams of Pegasi that patrol the skies with the utmost efficiency, keeping Equestria’s weather managed to the most predictable moment. Their Rainbow is the element of loyalty, who, despite her brash demeanor and lazy attitude, is simply so good at her job that she has more than enough time to relax. But right now, back in the past, it’s stuck in a small, easily stolen locket, and Megan is outraged that Danny would even consider engineering on that scale. “Portable weather, great idea, huh Megan?“ No, it isn’t, and she makes him put things back the way they were. Which, in this case, means back to the way they were when she was changing things to suit the needs of the group, not simply obeying the whims of one malicious malcontent.

Enter the Gizmonks, Gonk and Glouda, a pair of advanced tool using apes who view the miraculous Rainbow of Light from afar on their steampowered television set, much like we viewers at home. After capturing Danny and Surprise with a falling cage, they come within one word of uttering the catchphrase that the Borg would a few years later. (So close, yet so far.) The two have already imprisoned numerous creatures, create fantastic devices that they don’t understand, and seem to desire acclaim from their peers for their inventing prowess. It’s implied that there is a society of Gizmonks, who trade in inventions and receive praise for creating. A magical item like the Rainbow of Light would work as a wonderful shortcut to said acclaim. But really, it would never work for them. Not if their society works anything like they say it does. Look at all the latest tools and gadgets they pass over in Danny’s bag (“Not the walkman! No, it’s a computer, don’t!”). Could they credibly pass any of them off as their own? Of course not. Who’d believe they were capable of creating something as brilliant and powerful as the Rainbow of Light?

Because, when you actually consider it, what these Gizmonks are doing isn’t science. They even admit outright that they have no idea what some of their inventions do, and they create them with no specific tasks in mind, and no idea about their potential outcome. The throw things together and hope that they work. While many inventions are the result of lucky accidents or as the unintended side effects of trying to create something else (plastic, penicillin, pacemakers, microwave ovens, ink-jet printers, the slinky…), actual science requires a formal hypothesis tested rigorously under controlled conditions, with variables accounted for, reproducible results, and lots and lots of math. Even the brute force style inventing of Thomas Edison’s laboratories  had a lot of rational thought and engineering put into trying parts that could work, and was being tested to see what worked best. Though inspirations and ideas may come from any number of sources, there are no accidental scientific theories. Einstein didn’t wander onto the stage not realizing that it wasn’t the patent office banquet he was supposed to be giving a toast for and start making up a story about looking into mirrors while travelling at the speed of light to get himself played off stage to applause without looking too embarrassed.

The Gizmonks want science to be magic, and it never will be. They don’t even understand magic. Because magic requires thought and intention. Magic is context. And that context, as we know, is friendship. It’s doubtful the Rainbow would work for Gonk and Glouda even if they acquired it. Magic isn’t a shortcut or “the cheat codes of the universe” any more than science is. It isn’t a bypass on the easy road to happiness. Magic — understanding context and significance, why certain things are the way the are because of the situation they are in and why an action can mean totally different things depending on what surrounds it and when it happens —  takes work. So does maintaining friendships. There’s a difference between using the Rainbow to clear the skies to pick cherries with your friends, and using it to change the weather to suit your personal whims and pick on your sister. I’d even go so far as to argue that while intent may not be magic, context is magic, and is in fact the only way in which certain things can ever be understood.

Oddly, there isn’t even time for the ponies to confront and reject the Gizmonk’s worldview. As with many episodes, the philosophical quandary is already resolved by the time they arrive, as Danny and Surprise have already busted the place up and come rolling out of the glass domed tower in a Trojan horse-like contraption that immediately falls to pieces. The ponies’ hedonistic naturalism and lack of interest in controlling the world around them need not be questioned. Megan keeps them safe and innocent. She’ll bear the weight around her neck for them.

Notes:

— I am, of course, being completely unfair to Star Trek up above. That Kirk and Picard and Sisko and Janeway are in almost constant rebellion against the directives from above, that they regularly encounter people and societies which desire no interference whatsoever from the Federation, and that the Federation’s “conquering with kindness” impulses are mirrored darkly in the anonymous hivemind of the Borg, the xenophobic imperialism of the Romulans, and the cloying sadism of the Cardassians is very much the point. It’s a fascinating and frustrating and wonderful series of programs and films to lose yourself in. If you need a guiding text, Josh Marsfelder is doing wonderful work here: http://vakarangi.blogspot.com/

–”The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities — perhaps the only one — in which errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time, corrected. This is why we can say that, in science, we often learn from our mistakes, and why we can speak clearly and sensibly about making progress there.” –Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: the Growth of Scientific Knowledge

–I hasten to add, for the benefit of myself and because I’ve actually had people somehow come off with this impression when I talk about science and history and doubt, that no, I absolutely do not believe that, for example, the stars suddenly realigned themselves and quit moving in loop-de-loops and that the Earth suddenly shifted in place however many billions of light years to quit being the center of the universe (if such a place is even correctly thought of as existing) when the observations and theories of Copernicus and Galileo gained traction amongst the general human population. Yes, I used to play Mage: The Ascension too, and I read that one JLA story where Wonder Woman’s lasso breaks, and I’m quite familiar with the idea of consensual reality. I also happen to know how to separate the quite fictional trappings of a role playing game or comic book from quite genuine doubts I have that we are presently at the zenith of all knowledge and that there will never be anything ever proven to be false or incomplete ever again. I’m as sure as I’m going to be that black holes exist. I don’t know enough to make any confident assertions regarding dark matter. If, for some reason, the Earth stops rotating and the Sun doesn’t appear to rise tomorrow morning, I’ve got a heck of a lot more problems than figuring out a new model of physics. All that said, vaccinate your kids so they don’t die, global climate change is real and a major problem, and yeah, it totally sucks about Pluto and the Brontosaurus, but that’s how things go sometimes. The old scientific theory is only discarded in favor of one that works better, not skeptically jeered at in advance just in case because you’re afraid to admit you were wrong some day.

–And lest you think I’m some crackpot, no, obviously magic of the kind wizards and sorcerers do isn’t real. Well, aside from the kind of telepathy I’m practicing right now, wherein I sit in a specific position for hours at a time, staring into a brightly lit screen that changes colors occasionally, moving my fingers across a board covered in symbols, and concentrating really hard on just the right words and ideas to send my thoughts all over the world and into the heads of interested parties who have screens of their own, who will see the symbols and know what they mean and may hear what they imagine my voice to sound like in their heads…

–Oh, and the magic context that makes the example you might be thinking of okay is “Hey, want to see my impression of what a racist/sexist/transphobic/etc. jerk sounds like? You do? They sound like this…”

Next week: Magical Mystery Cure, pt 2.

Transgender horses, the Doctor, and real names

Moffat-era Doctor Who gets a lot wrong about gender. “Susan the horse” in “A Town Called Mercy” is a great example of how badly it’s handled as a matter of course–let’s deliberately raise the existence of trans* people so that we can make a joke about how funny it is that they exist! While also suggesting that it’s a choice! (This Tumblr post covers it much better than I ever could.)

But very rarely, it gets something right. Susan’s chosen a name for herself, and it tells you quite a bit about her (which the Doctor deliberately ignores in calling her “him.”) That becomes important in “The Name of the Doctor”: “The name I chose is the Doctor. The name you choose, it’s like, it’s like a promise you make.”

A person’s real name is always the name they choose to be known by. Just because most people default to the name their parents picked doesn’t make that their real name. Just because the government may insist they use a particular name on forms doesn’t make that their real name. A person’s real name is the one they introduce themselves with.

Against Love and Salvation (Rebellion)

Ah, young love. Isn’t it a beautiful thing?

At the end of Madoka Magica, Madoka ascends to a higher plane of being, sacrificing not only her life but her entire existence to save the other magical girls from becoming witches. As becomes clear from both Homura’s explanation to Kyubey in the final episode of the series and comments by Nagisa and Sayaka in Rebellion, the magical girls so rescued continue existing in some form outside the universe, with Madoka. Whatever form they are in, we know they are in some sense aware and able to make decisions, and it appears are simultaneously magical girls and witches (which, of course, they always were).

That this is presented, within the series and initially within Rebellion, as a positive development and more-or-less happy ending is perhaps puzzling. Arguably the entire point of Sayaka’s character arc was coming to realize that it was a mistake to try to sacrifice herself to save another, while Homura’s attempts to save Madoka were similarly depicted as making things continually worse for them both. It is not particularly surprising, then, that Rebellion calls that salvation into question.

The first segment of the movie, in which the magical girls are happy and get along, and the opponents they face are challenging but conquerable, serves as a parody of both worlds that can be understood as “Madoka’s world.” As a new enemy representing human misery, the Nightmares are a twisted reflection of the Wraiths. Like the Wraiths, the Nightmares are oddly similar to one another, but where the Wraiths are fairly creepy, attenuated humanoid giants, the Nightmares wear bear suits and fire stuffed animals from their arms. Defeating a Wraith earned many small rewards for cleaning the magical girls, Soul Gems, making magical girl teams viable, unlike in the prior, witch-infested timelines). But in Homura’s fantasy world, defeating a Nightmare creates a diffuse glow that  purifies the Soul Gems, making magical girl teams actively preferable to intercept more of that light. In addition, where the first we see of the Wraith world created by Madoka is the death of Sayaka and mourning of her teammates, Homura’s dream world preserves both Sayaka’s life and her wish, by pairing (or at least heavily implying a pairing) her with Kyoko to allow Hitomi and Kyosuke to be together. Homura’s fantasy world is, simply, happier than the one Madoka created!

It is also sillier, and not just because of the bear suits. The juxtaposition of the mundane and the eerie is the province of surrealist art, and it is here that the Wraiths, and by extension the city they haunt, largely fall. Faceless men are, for instance, a favored subject of Magritte. Likewise, the witches, though more playful, are juxtaposed with extreme violence, both by the witches against humans and magical girls, and by magical girls against the witches. This combination of playful, often childish, imagery and violence forms a sort of brutalist surrealism. 
There is, however, no violence against the Nightmares. They destroy property, seemingly, but there is no trace of damage when the magical girls are done, and against them the magical girls will deploy traps and bindings or fire weapons to drive the Nightmare into a trap, but never attack the Nightmare directly. The actual defeat of the Nightmare seems to involve actions that are at once highly ritualized, yet seemingly arbitrary–a banquet catered by the magical girls in the cold open, and a nursery rhyme-like chant or game about food against Hitomi’s Nightmare. 
Meals, food, nursery rhymes, games, the nursery–these are all common features of nonsense literature, most famously the Alice books. At the core of nonsense is an interest in alternative logics, in circumstances (such as games, meals, etiquette) where ultimately arbitrary, yet internally consistent, rules guide behavior; like a dream, nonsense substitutes one set of arbitrary rules for another, and lets the consequences play out logically. And yet within this nonsense, all five magical girls are alive and happy and thriving; it seems, a world of nonsense is better than the world of Wraiths Madoka created. 
Madoka’s “pure land,” her heaven, is also depicted inferior. As I have argued at length elsewhere, Madoka’s “afterlife” is inferior to even Homura’s dream world because it is a deathless world that contains no decay, no suffering, no putrefaction; both Sayaka and Nagisa chose to reify themselves alongside Madoka because they sought something that only existed as a consequence of decay and death, namely Sayaka’s relationship with Kyoko and, for Nagisa, cheese. 
Homura’s dream world is also more directly a parody of Madoka’s “heaven,” in the sense that Homura snatched magical girls (as well as at least five, possibly six ordinary humans) into her world without their consent and now keeps them there, trapped and cut off from the universe, but artificially happy. She has “saved” them because she has grown to care about them by extension, as the people Madoka loved–and at least in the case of Kyoko and Mami, whom she ultimately trusts to kill Homulilly, come to respect and possibly even like, as well.
To want to save someone is necessarily to want power over that someone. By becoming a knight protector, Sayaka made herself a judge (and in the case of those two misogynists on the train, likely executioner as well). By wishing to be the one to protect Madoka, Homura ultimately put herself I a position to repeatedly try to take the choice of becoming a magical girl away from Madoka. And by wishing to save all magical girls from their destiny of becoming what they fight, Madoka set herself up as a goddess. 
To be a savior (as always, as opposed to helping, which involves the consent of the one helped and places the helper in a temporarily subordinate, rather than dominant, position), in other words, necessarily entails being a little bit of the tyrant. Since the savior is acting without the consent of the saved, they are very likely to get it wrong, as Madoka does with Homura. Look at the opening credits: Homura is depicted as a grey, troll-like figure lurking while the magical girls dance. She is not capable of joining their happiness; the closest she is able to come is as the weak and shy “pigtails” version of her character during the first segment of the movie, and even then she is able to sense that something is deeply wrong. Once her hair is again loose, she is never genuinely happy again for the rest of the movie, for the simple reason that her untold ages of suffering, and the fact that she and she alone remembers them, have warped her emotionally to the point that she very possibly cannot be saved. 
Instead, she acts in parody of Madoka, snatching people up and placing them in her labyrinth. But is it really any different from what Madoka did? Is Madoka’s sacrifice an act of selfless love while Homura’s is selfish? And which is the greater sacrifice–your existence or your soul? Is it worse to never have existed, or to become the enemy of all you once held dear?
The answer, of course, is that it’s a silly question. All value is relative, so it is entirely a matter of perspective which is worse; very likely, each of the two girls feels their own sacrifice is the greatest they could make, since Madoka cares deeply about her connections to others, while Homura is more focused on her cause. 
But, seeing in Homura’s actions a twisted reflection of Madoka’s, we see Madoka’s in a new way as well. Can an act truly be considered selfless if it gets you everything you ever wanted? Madoka gets to be with, in her own words, “everyone”; all her loved ones are safe; she gets to defeat all the witches; she gets to become a magical girl; she gets to matter, quite possibly more than anyone else who ever lived. By contrast, Homura’s choice to become a “demon” devoted to keeping Madoka in the world costs her the only thing she values, the chance to be together with Madoka in the end; now they must eventually be enemies. Isn’t it therefore Homura who is selfless?
Of course not, because selfless love is an oxymoron. That is the point in depicting Homura’s possessiveness, and through it revealing Madoka’s selfishness. To love someone is to want to protect that person, possibly from themselves. It is to want to spend time with that person. It is to want that person to want you. Expressed in a healthy way and reciprocated equally, of course, love can be a wonderful thing; romantic or otherwise, it is the ultimate bond between two people. But like any bond, it can be use to entrap, to control, to assert dominance. It is no accident that the people most likely to claim that “pure,” “selfless,” “giving” love is better than the messy, reciprocated, collaborative love of an actual relationship are such upstanding members of society as moe fanboys, people with Nice Guy Syndrome, and authors of “Christian” purity-culture marriage handbooks that read like guides to creating an abusive relationship.

Throughout the series, we saw magical girls torn between acknowledging what they genuinely wanted and what they believed they should want. Mami tortured herself for wishing to live, rather than wishing to save  her parents. Sayaka and Kyoko wished for others’ benefit, rather than wishing for those others to appreciate the help, and suffered tremendously as a result. This is why Kyubey targets girls, because from the moment they are given their first doll they are indoctrinated to take care of others, socialized to think of themselves as caretakers, responsible for the wellbeing of others. Society has done Kyubey’s work for him, creating girls who will wish for what social pressure tells them they want instead of truly wishing for what they desire. (Not that it matters in the end, of course; the wish alone damns the magical girl to become a witch or die, though a poorly chosen wish makes the hope-despair cycle faster.)

So, of course, Homura sees no way to wish for what she truly desires, to be with Madoka. She wishes instead to take care of Madoka, first in the series at the end of the “original” timeline shown in the first part of Episode 10, and then in Rebellion when she becomes a “demon.” In both cases, she ultimately sees no hope but to become “evil.” Rebellion thus closes the largest cycle in a series full of cycles: the evolution of Homura Akemi from a dark, seemingly villainous character who disrupts the status quo to a dark, seemingly villainous character who maintains the status quo. More than ever, she is now Mami’s dark mirror.

“Rains of Castamere”

Game of Thrones is getting increasingly clever in its use of the rather mournful “Rains of Castamere” as a leitmotif for the mounting tragedy of the Lannister clan. Best use to date, I think, was the most recent episode, where the “And so he spoke, and so he spoke” part, played on cellos, emerges out of the mostly unrelated background music immediately after Tyrion’s (amazing, potentially Emmy-worthy) speech at the end of his trial, leading into a full, cello-heavy instrumental version playing behind the ending credits. Ramin Djawadi, the composer for the series, doesn’t get anywhere near enough credit, in my opinion.