Can true evil exist in the absence of malice? Can a character really be considered a villain if he is incapable of comprehending morality as we understand it? Is it accurate to say that Kyubey, the closest thing that the hit anime series Puella Magi Madoka Magica has to an antagonist, “loves” being “bad” when he (it?) doesn’t seem to believe in such fundamentally human concepts?
This catlike… creature takes tropes commonly associated with the “magical talking animal” archetype (glimpsed in shows such as Sailor Moon) and twists them into something sinister–closer to the traditional literary depiction of a demon. “I will grant you any wish your heart desires,” he promises countless young, impressionable girls. “In exchange, you’ll just have to become a Magical Girl [which is, in this context, essentially a super-heroine tasked with battling Witches, wraithlike entities that prey upon the negative emotions of mankind].” Of course, as with any supernatural contract, there is a catch: becoming a Magical Girl necessitates the removal of the soul, rendering the victim’s body little more than a reanimated corpse–a vehicle piloted from the safety of a tiny, durable gemstone. More importantly, each and every one of these self-styled “Champions of Justice” will eventually become corrupted by her own hatred and despair–thus transforming into a Witch herself.
And yet… even though he omits these important details from his sales pitch, Kyubey intends no ill will. He compares his relationship with the inhabitants of Earth to that of a farmer with his livestock. From our perspective, cows are a source of sustenance; from Kyubey’s perspective, we are merely batteries which produce massive quantities of “emotional energy.” The suffering he causes is just another necessary cog in a vast cosmic machine, all for the sake of “the greater good.” His actions are motivated by neither malevolence nor benevolence–only the steadfast conviction that he is right.
And that just makes him a more fascinating, terrifying monster.
[Originally written December 23, 2012.]