Tag Archives: Time Travel

Science Fiction Masquerading

… as a magical girl anime. From left to right, those are Kyoko Sakura, Sayaka Miki, Mami Tomoe, Homura Akemi and Madoka Kaname, and they make up the main characters of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a anime series from, you guessed it, Japan. On the surface, you might lump it together with shows like Cardcaptor Sakura or Sailor Moon, but that likeness is only a facade. PMMM is not a light-hearted friend making show about fighting ambiguous evil without asking critical questions about why or how. It’s a science fiction series that might border on horror. Central to the plot are aliens, time travel, zombification, as well as questions about morality, free will and the nature of the soul. These characters are middle school students. Mami is the only upperclassman.

reaction animated GIF


The character of Kyubey, the cute kind-of cat-like creature you see here, was designed with intention of being both cute and dark. That is our alien, though the characters do not know this at the start (with the exception of Homura, but her start is a crucial exception – we’ll get back to that). It is a perfectly rational and amoral monster called an Incubator. Incubators offer young girls the chance to have any wish of theirs granted in return for engaging and eradicating witches. In other words, become magical girls. The ultimate goal, however, is for these girls to devolve into witches themselves. Incubators harvest the emotions of humans to counter entropy in the universe and have discovered that there is not greater release than that which occurs when a girl transforms into a witch.


When we’re talking about witches in the context of PMMM, however, we aren’t talking about a magical woman. We’re talking about a sucking black hole of despair that infects people to destroy themselves. The first witch that Sayaka kills has infected so many people that they’ve gathered together and are about to commit mass suicide, one of Madoka and Sayaka’s uninvolved friends included. They create chaotic and irrational labyrinths to protect themselves and trap victims. (On a side note, the mixed-media collage style of this animation is super cool.) The mixture of unlike elements reflects much of what we’ve looked at so far in class – at the construction of monsters by creating this which fits into no classification, at the extreme otherness that goes on.

Did I mention that this is not a children’s show? Even after Mami is killed by a witch, Sayaka makes a wish to heal a boy she likes and becomes a magical girl and attempts to take over and protect Mami’s territory, which leads to conflict with Kyoko. The redhead is another veteran magical girl whose after the abandoned territory. In the middle of one of these conflicts, Madoka steals Sayaka’s Soul Gem and throws it off the bridge in a fit of desperation. Unfortunately, this causes Sayaka to drop – temporarily – dead.

Kyubey reveals the true nature of being a magical girl. As soon as the contract is made, it rips the girls soul out of her body and transforms it into a compact, easy-to-carry Soul Gem. From then on, their body is nothing but hardware. They have become near invincible zombies. Sayaka’s Soul Gem is returned to her by Homura, but by then the truth is out. Sayaka takes the news badly and spirals into irrevocable despair. She refuses to clean her Soul Gem with the Grief Seeds that are dropped by defeated witches (This is to force magical girls to continue fighting witches if they want to live) and it becomes entirely corrupted. Sayaka is turned into a witch that immediately attempts to kill both Madoka and Kyoko. Kyoko sacrifices herself to destroy Sayaka.

The most important factor for this story is Homura. Each magical girl has magical abilities that differ from one another. In Homura’s case, her ability is directly connected to her initial wish and her power is time travel. When she became a magical girl herself, she was a diminutive girl fresh from the hospital who was befriended by Madoka in particular. In this time line, Madoka became a magical girl first. When the worst witch of them all, Walpurgisnacht, threatens to destroy the entire city, Mami, Sayaka and Madoka all take it on. Mami and Sayaka are killed and Madoka’s Soul Gem is corrupted by using too much magic. She persuades Homura to kill her by destroying her Soul Gem before she turns into a witch. Homura then makes a contract with Kyubey to allow her to save Madoka. Hence, the time travel. However, she ends up watching Madoka make a contract and die or be killed something like thirty times?


Kyubey is persistent in its attempts to make a contract with Madoka because her magical potential is exponential as a result of the multiple time lines now tied to her. She would be the best magical girl, then become the wickedest of all witches. The energy release would be unpredictably high. When Walpurgisnacht comes and Homura is facing it alone (again), Madoka makes her decision. She abandons her family, finds Homura and Kyubey and makes her wish to stop all magical girls from becoming witches. The granting of the wish requires the rewriting of the universe and Madoka is transmuted into the Law of the Cycle, in which she appears to any magical girl at the point of transformation and destroys their Soul Gems. Homura is the only one who remembers that Madoka ever existed.

If we ignore the Rebellion story line (which is mostly Homura becoming the antithesis of the Law of the Cycle), it’s a happy ending, but it certainly isn’t happy getting there. What we find in something like this is just another example of how flexible and involved the genre of science fiction is, and that it can present itself in a myriad of forms by pretending to be something else. Everything’s a masquerade for something.

You’ll create a Time Paradox

From Rene Laloux, the creator of ‘Fantastic Planet’ and Isaac Asimov, the most renowned Science Fiction writer of our time, comes an epic vision of the future.

“My quest began with a riddle. In a 1000 years, Gandahar was destroyed. 1000 years ago, Gandahar will be saved. And what can’t be avoided, will be.”

I hope you like time travel and paradoxes because this might get confusing. Now, the above quote is from the opening narration of  Light Years, the English release of the French film Gandahar and it is weird.  I could write several essays on the film but for now, I’ll be focusing on the mechanics of time travel and paradoxes.

I’m going to avoid as much summary as possible. If you’re curious, the ever accurate wikipedia provides.

What you need to know for the context of this post is that the protagonist averts a bad future and returns to the present and lives happily ever after. Anyone familiar with time travel stories will be able to spot the paradox. If the bad future never occurred, then the protagonist had no need to time travel which means they never averted the bad future which means the bad future happens again. So on and so forth, ad infinitum with the universe stuck in an eternal cosmic loop.

Offhand, there are a few ways to avoid this.

  • A reality shattering paradox occurs and ends existence until another big bang or theological equivalent. I don’t like this one; it ruins the narrative by killing everything ever.
  • Don’t write a story with time travel. I also don’t like this one; what’s the fun in that?
  • Create an alternate timeline. I don’t like this on either; the original time line happened and there is no changing it.
  • My favorite and the one I will be focusing on. Ontological Inertia. In other words, things will keep existing until a physical force acts against them, like a gun or a bulldozer.

  If someone travels back in time and shoots the inventor of time travel, there is no reason for the time traveler to cease existing unless there are time police or some embodiment of time that will erase them. People do not maintain their existence because they were born by their mother. They maintain their existence by eating and sleeping and doing human things. Simply because someone stops having an origin, they don’t stop living.

Now, this argument is discredited in a few different ways.  Firstly because it is built entirely on logic and philosophy as opposed to mathematical principles and quantum theory. Secondly, this doesn’t work if the future can be observed. By definition, the future doesn’t exist but if it can be known, then the entirety of the future was planned out before life even began. That means any time travel shenanigans had already been accounted for and the future would be redrawn accordingly. If the future has already happened from something’s perspective, then it cannot be changed because all that time travel has already happened and made its impact resulting in one continuous, unblemished timeline.

Clarifications? Counter-arguments? Comments?