How Kyubey Changes Everything.

Note: This post will be somewhat spoilerrific. You have been warned!

Every so often, an anime character leaves an immensely indelible impression on the wider world of anime, giving us a positively poignant paradigm shift. In an entertainment form typically defined by tropes played straight, and by basic genre synthesis, these characters are a notable rarity. So when they arise, it can be useful to take a step back, and to wonder what impact they might have.

And so I think that it’s important to look at the character of Kyubey, of the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

My position is that Kyubey is the most important anime character since Haruhi Suzumiya, and possibly more important than even her.

That’s because Kyubey will forever change how we perceive certain animes, and how conflict plays out in more action oriented animes.

First of all, Kyubey will undoubtedly alter how we approach magical girl animes.

This image above may soon seem quaint, a nostalgic throwback to sweetly scented simpler times when magical girls were as pure as the driven snow, and their familiars were as trustworthy as angels.

What’s that you say?

“Angels? Trustworthy? In anime?!

Why, yes, that is a good point. Angels are frequently divided against themselves in anime, as they oddly are not always on the side of angels. 😉

One merely needs to look at Disgaea, or Tales of Symphonia, in order to see this, although anime has many more examples of villainous angels than these.

But then, this has not always been the case. Villainous angels (at least of the non-fallen variety) were practically unthinkable at one time. Now they border on the cliche.

Somewhat likewise, the magical girl familiar being a villainous figure was unthinkable at one time, and perhaps as recently as just a few months ago.

But Kyubey has changed all of that, by making the unthinkable reality. He is, as such, a true original. A testament to the fact that even in the era of TV Tropes, there remains room for genuine creative originality.

Unfortunately, though, this may not be apparent on one’s first viewing of Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

While Urobuchi and Shinbo have produced a carefully crafted compelling anime here, the true nature of Kyubey was hinted at too quickly and too heavily given how late the key reveals damning him would come. As such, the full scope of his impact can be hard to perceive simply through watching the anime that stars him.

No, to realize how Kyubey changes everything, it helps to watch an older magical girl anime shortly after you watch the first 10 episodes of Madoka Magica. Or if not a magical girl anime, then something close to it…

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is an eloquently beautiful anime, full of successful heroic determination, boldly bright smiles, and unflinching idealism. I sincerely recommend it to anybody in the mood for classic fantasy, as well as to anybody in the mood for joyous escapism.

Oh, TRC puts its protagonists through trials and tribulations, but there’s always a sense that they will emerge victorious, and better for it. At least, that’s the sense I have 14 episodes into the anime. Perhaps its ending is darker than I expect.

But one thing that I know for certain is the good nature of this cheerfully cute critter.

Say hello to Mokona, star of multiple animes, and cheerleader extraordinaire!

In this Card Captor Sakura AU (which Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is, by the way), Mokona plays the role of the classic magical girl familiar. Ever faithful and true, there can be no doubt that Mokona is squarely behind our heroes, and wants them to be happy and succeed.

In this vein, he is like other magical girl familiars, who always have the best interests of the magical girls under their care at heart. Yes, such familiars can sometimes be harsh taskmasters, as we see in Sailor Moon, but you always know that their heart is in the right place. And this was a safe assumption. A safe assumption that could be made until this guy blew it full of holes…

There was a time when a scene like this would leave viewers in tears, or at least given a nasty jolt. But not this time. This time it no doubt resulted in triumphant cheers!

That is because Kyubey has forever changed the way we perceive magical girl familiars. It is because he does not have the best interests of the magical girls under his “care” at heart. In fact, he wants them to fail. He wants them to turn into their worst nightmare, that being witches, in the case of Madoka Magica.

He is also a coldly unemotional being, hiding behind a facade of chipper support for many a teenage girl.

He is a predator, a fiend, and yet he twirls no mustaches, and releases no laughs. He is not merely a moral inversion of the classic magical girl familiar, he is the complete antithesis of them.

His thinking is on the universal, his morality alien, his goals abstract.

Whereas other magical girl familiars represent a fantastical escape from reality, Kyubey represents a cold hard reality, including even the exploitation of natural resources for questionable ends. He cares about ‘quotas’, whereas other magical girl familiars care about people.

He is as far apart from Mokona as a character can get. He makes one think of Halliburton meets the Borg. Nothing farther from a young girl’s fantasy could possibly be imagined.

And hence, when I look on other magical girl familiars, I now realize how fortunate their respective magical girls are. They were given super powers, with no catch, at no cost, and with the sincere aid of an adorable mascot. Whereas the goodness of a character like Mokona is something once took for granted, it no longer will be so going forward. Their selfless goodness will hence gain greater respect than before, I think, but also, for some viewers, increased disbelief.

And that is but the first and most obvious effect of Kyubey.

The next effect is how he will change the perception of villainy in anime.

Almost all anime villains, even the great ones, fight you head-on. They are like external forces brought crashing down upon you, with their destructive aims made clear.

But Kyubey is different. Kyubey has one core character trait that I’ve never seen define an anime villain before, as it defines Kyubey.

What is this core character trait, you ask? What is this word that you could find Kyubey’s picture next to in the dictionary?

This word is insidious.

In that one word, you sum up everything you need to know about Kyubey. He is incredibly impeccably insidious. Just look at all of the ways “insidious” is defined at that link I provided. Each and every one of them can be applied in one way or another to Kyubey.

Kyubey beguiles young idealistic girls, making them believe in him, and then leads them down into paths of haunting regret.

In any other magical girl anime, this girl above would have been a gallant heroine, a triumphant champion of truth and justice that would make Superman himself proud.

But in Madoka Magica, she is destroyed by insidiousness personified.

Kyubey has hence risen the bar for what counts as effective anime villainy, which is rather ironic given how his goals are not rooted in maliciousness for its own sake, but rather in combating entropy.

The Joker would laugh uproariously at “the jokes” that Kyubey pulls on unsuspecting teenage girls, but the true joke is that Kyubey isn’t even doing it as a joke.

Pure insidiousness.

By being such an effective archetypal character, but also an original one, Kyubey shows what the anime world can put forth when it’s willing to break from convention. He shows the stories that can be told, and the coolly captivating characters that can be created, when anime directors and writers do not feel bound by convention and cliche.

Whereas most recent blockbuster animes, like Ore no Imouto and Angel Beats!, were constructed out of bricks of tropes and mortar of genre glue, Madoka Magica is constructed out of an appropriately alien substance to the world of anime.

And so while Kyubey is the anti-magical girl familiar, Madoka Magica is the anti-anime. The anime that does not honor the established paradigm, but rather seeks to smash it into unrecognizable pieces.

Not all of the above do I write easily, for I do like conventional magical girl anime.

But then anime as a whole has become far too reliant on convention in recent years.

Ore no Imouto, for example, was a shoutout to every anime convention under the sun, a veritable orgy for otakus to take comfort in.

Well, at some point, the human intellect desires more than simple comfort or familiar pleasure. It desires something new, challenging, daring, and interesting.

And that is something that Kyubey has brought us. Given his past record, and given the impact he’s already had, it’ll be interesting to see what else he may ultimately bring to the world of anime…

13 Replies to “How Kyubey Changes Everything.”

  1. Have you seen/read CCS or Rayearth (the story Mokona is originally from)? They themselves were in ways far from center in terms of the magical girl genre. CCS heavily pushed forbidden love themes like relationships between same-sex, teacher-student, and first cousins. Rayearth melded mecha and high fantasy with magical girl tropes, and the end involved a big twist about Mokona itself. CLAMP history is full of creating stories that are seemingly inoffensive and straight-forward, but contain bizarre and head-spinning twists, so I’m leery of using CLAMP as a standard of normalcy. The Pretty Cure franchise might be a better example nowadays.

    1. At the time, Rayearth and CCS were pretty innovative. Now they don’t seem so boundary breaking. While notable, most people won’t blink twice at what they did back then nowadays.

  2. Essentially, Kyubey is the Joker of anime. His motives are incomprehensible, and he’s more interested in your failure. He plans so far ahead, that not even the smartest of heroes can completely figure him out. You can’t defeat him, for even if he goes, his plan will still succeed. He has played you all like violins and just doesn’t understand why you guys are so serious.

  3. I agree with the first commenter. The Mokona seen in Tsubasa might be a happy little critter who only seeks the best for the group, but uh…the original Mokona was kind of a shocker in the end of Rayearth.

    But still all very good points about Kyubey. He’s thrown normal companions out the window. And I can’t even hate him, because his morals don’t match mine.

  4. Wait til Tokyo Revelations, no way will you think Tsubasa is fluffy. AT ALL. I suggest though you drop that horse shit Tsubasa anime and stick to the manga because it is eons better (imo). Watch when Production IG takes over this series and you’ll realize why I can the anime horse shit.

    Well my view on Kyuubey is that he is heartless therefore he is percieved as evil. But he is perceived as evil because well, he does not have emotions. You need emotions to be good i guess.

  5. ”My position is that Kyubey is the most important anime character since Haruhi Suzumiya, and possibly more important than even her.”

    Pehhh pehhh Who interested her. She era has ended…Yui Hirawasa, Akiyama Mio and Misaka Mikoto, Sherly nome popular characters such as when who is Haruhi?

  6. tbh, I never got the whole Haruhi-hype. Maybe I missed something, or rather I didn’t do anything outside of watch the show, but I found it pretty darn lame- bored schoolgirl turns out to be all-powerful. Seemed like just another boring otaku- wet-dream to me (I apologize for any hate this remark might gather. Seriously. Maybe I just didn’t get it).

    Now, Kyuubey on the other hand… you are right, thanks to him, I was looking at the pic of Kerberos above, and it makes me think he must be planning horrible things for Sakura 😮 haha
    We will always be suspicious of familiars now.
    Though it’s true like some said, he isn’t the first to pull of some pretty insidious shit: what with Mokona being a deceiving little critter (but forgiven and glossed over).
    I might also mention Fynn from Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne, who is pretty insidious, considering she played the main character like a fiddle- but again, in the end, glossed over and forgiven.
    The difference lies in how I doubt PMMM will redeem QB like they redeemed those who paved his path 😀
    He’s the one who will leave the lasting impact.

  7. The fact that Kyubey’s species even has a speck of interest in the survival of the universe seems suspect. Entropy is accepted as something that happens and something that all things will conclude at. In that regard, Kyubey’s fighting against natural laws we have accepted as unchangeable. In that regard, Kyubey is much more grounded in fantasy than most. However, while his species’ goals may be lofty, their approach is what is truly evil. He is viewed as antagonistic the same was that Archer from Fate/Stay Night is viewed as antagonist by Emiya Shirou. We cannot believe that hopes and dreams hinge on sacrifices. Or rather, we do not want to accept that sacrifice is needed for the greater good. In Full Metal Alchemist, it was equivalent exchange. In Fate/Stay Night, you sacrificed 1 to save hundreds, 10s to save thousands, and you became a hero to save the world, only killing the minority for the continued existence of the majority. In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Kyubey simply tries to further the existence of the universe and found the answer in the emotional unstable beings on Earth. No one knows how much each sacrifice will have an effect on the universe, but in Kyubey’s eyes, giving up a few people to keep entropy at bay is far more reliable and efficient than any other way.

    To Kyubey’s species, we are the batteries keeping the universe going. And for us, we are the victimized batteries, used to our last drop and then tossed out for the next one in line. And that is what makes Kyubey so easily hate-able. We are the batteries, not the one in charge of switching those batteries around.

    1. First of all, I know how this reply comes a fair while off both to the post itself as well as the comment, but thought I’d just leave a few words for any posterior readers.

      Second, for the author, while a fairly long post you got there it certainly seems to go a bit in circles in trying to make Kyubey seem insidious as it’s described, but not once commenting that in the story of PMMM an objective has been set on him and that the reason why you would automatically hate all that he does is because you may think there is not one greater goal.

      Which leads to the commenter I’m replying to.

      Entropy is not accepted. Entropy is something that is acknowledged but if means would so allow it, it would be entirely destroyed to become less one long term obstacle. In PMMM this very obstacle may be leading the universe to its destruction, although you can debate a few things like if that is the Incubators’ true objective is to find the energy to compensate for the entropy that leads to the universe’s end, at the same time that one can wonder if Kyubey can actually lie or not – He certainly works his deception by omitting information rather than bluntly lie – But at the bottom line if that was the case he could paint an even prettier picture for all the Magical Girls he contracts.

      So, to correct this one problem with the universe a great power will be required. Human girls blossoming with all sorts of emotions. Unfortunately for them they are the one thing that can keep the universe spinning, so to say, and while it’s not perhaps measurable how many lives one young girl’s life will save since the output of energy will vary, it will inevitably help towards saving not one for hundreds, or tens for thousands, but a much larger number that we cannot stipulate. It’s not even just Earth that’s at stake, it’s the entire universe! So, comparing the fact present in one anime to another in this case is a bit moot as sacrifice is still being made for the good of many, many more.

      If anything, the Incubators have the unique ability to actually trigger and tap this power which actually allows it to be used to the end of saving the universe, and if a few sacrifices are made? Some people had to unwillingly give their live for less, and while all the contracted girls are never given the full story they were always told that their lives would be on the line, which is unfortunately the one thing that Incubators need to prey on.

      Certainly there’s no altruism in Kyubey’s actions, because no actual sacrifice comes from himself, but to say that he’s outright insidious it’s like looking at him through the eyes of the very Magical Girls to be who see in him some adorable mascot, and hear his promise of a free wish, along with becoming a Magical Girl like what they see in animations – If they believe that they will be invincible, that is their own delusion and most likely their demise in some cases (The cast present in PMMM seems aware that falling in battle means their end though).

      Still, at the end, it’s a matter of logic that few will contribute to save many; and the only reason this may seem so wicked when spoken by Kyubey it’s the fact that he does so without showing emotions which Incubators are for the most part unable to display. If the little critter would be crying out loud, tears down its cheeks, choked up voice, begging for forgiveness that they had no other way to guarantee the safety of the universe, half the people would just scratch one on the “Poor guy having to do the dirty job”, and not perceive him as evil but instead simply be wondering if there wasn’t some other way to solve the issue just so that he wouldn’t have to carry the burden.

      So, in my opinion, Kyubey is not the character that changes everything. PMMM changed everything by setting an issue that needed be solved and Incubators were the cure to the problem. He’s just the plain character that has to follow a way that unfortunately involves telling half a story to a bunch of girls so that they don’t freak out, but what otherwise he promises he offers. They get their wish, they have to fight evil monsters, if they turn to said monsters when they die? True, but that will hardly be the girl’s concern afterwards, even though some other girl will have to clean that up.

      Plain sacrifice, it’s just done in a different manner. And while Kyubey outright states that he doesn’t understand why it seems so hard to accept that the sacrifice of a few will save endless, it’s not like he doesn’t make the connection that a sacrifice means someone’s death. Perhaps he laments that in his own unemotional way, but it’s a need.

      Not easy being an Incubator; not easy being a human girl bursting with emotions.

  8. Great article and I agree with it for the most part, but I do want to point out that a great deal was given up in order for Syaoran and Sakura to be able to travel with Mokona. Also anyone who reads (not watches) Cardcaptor Sakura and its sequel Tsubasa in their entirety should agree that it is likely the best example next to Madoka Magica as far as magical girl series gone dark.

  9. While i liked the anime, it didn’t strike as that much original. I’ve seen enough anime, manga, comic books, movies, TV series and read enough books that is foreshadowed 99% of the twists several episodes before they happened.
    Sure, Kyubei may be original for a Majokko mascot, but the villainous-because-of-twisted-morality character isn’t new at all, not even in anime. Light from Death Note is equally driven by good purposes and equally deceiving to other characters, just not to the reader/viewer. Maetel from Galaxy Express 999 was pretty deceiving. There’s actually plenty of examples.
    The originality in Magica Madoka is just how it twists a genre that is usually associated with smiling girls and rainbows. Pretty much like Watchmen did with superheroes and Evangelion with super robots.

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