Shaft's Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Fucked Up's David Comes To Life: two totally different stories in two totally different settings and genres. One is a Japanese anime about magical girls that takes the genre and twists it towards some pretty dark paths. The other is a punk rock opera about a lightbulb factory worker who finds and loses love, only to discover that the world he lives in may not really exist. There is no way that both Madoka and DCTL could share common ground (other than the fact that they both came out in 2011), and usually that'd be the case when comparing a mahou shojo anime with a Canadian hardcore punk album.
So why, after these last couple years, do I find myself discovering mirrored themes and concepts within these two? And why now, after watching Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion, do these comparisons seem to just keep dancing faster around my head? Perhaps there's more to this than meets one's crazed, overthinking imagination. Let's take a look at how these themes and elements of both Puella Magi Madoka Magica and David Comes To Life can, in odd places, go hand-in-hand.
Like the complicated punk rock opera these comparisons do tend to be all over the place, sometimes not falling in chronological order. In many cases each of the characters in Puella Magi Madoka Magica share qualities of the majority of characters in David Comes To Life. Sometimes Homura acts like Octavio/Octavius, and other times she'll be comparable to either Vivian or even David. The same goes with Sayaka, who starts off a bit like David, only to become someone like Veronica. It's not one character that the magical girls can be compared to, it's bits and pieces of all of them.
For this piece, we'll be going track-by-track of the album, with elements of song summaries from Mike Haliechuck and Damian Abraham of Fucked Up (lifted from Amos Barshad's article F-cked Up Explain the Epic Tale of Love and Betrayal Behind David Comes To Life), then coinciding these songs with the actions that take place in both the Madoka series and films. As the opening track on David Comes To Life, "Let Her Rest," is an instrumental, it'd be tough to compare it like the other songs. However if you were to play the events of the series and films quickly in your heads as the song plays, you'll probably find they can go nicely hand-in-hand.
At this time, it should be noted that this article WILL contain spoilers, so if you don't want to know what happens in the series and films, I suggest you stop reading. If you don't mind and want to find out how this crazy comparison of mine will fare, then by all means continue on! And with that, let us being:
“Queen of Hearts”
Mike Haliechuk: It introduces where David’s life is at: He’s one of these downtrodden, factory-working-type guys; he has no hope that things are going to change, that things are going to get better to him. And as it always does, magically, some beautiful woman falls in his lap and he falls in love with her immediately.
Damian Abraham: It’s about these moments of elation we get when we enter a relationship, when all of a sudden we’re snapped out of the darkest periods. You’re working your day job, and the next day work just seems bearable. Like, Wow, I can do this. Specifically, it’s about meeting someone who awakens a different something out of you, that first relationship that you have with someone cooler than you.
In the beginning of Puella Magi Madoka Magica Madoka Kaname and Sayaka Miki are living ordinary lives, used to the mundane things around them. Although things slowly start to get strange for the two of them when Homura Akemi appears (who warns Madoka to stay the way she is) it's not until Mami Tomoe and Kyubey appear on the scene when the real changes start to come into fruition. Witnessing Tomoe in action as she rids the area of the attacking witches the two friends decide that this new discovery in their lives might be something to look into.
When comparing the song and the anime it's apparent that, in this case, Mami is Veronica, with both Madoka and Sayaka taking the role of David. Veronica is trying to change things for the better in her city of Byrdesdale Spa, UK; in a somewhat similar way Mami is trying to make the city of Mitakihara safer from the evil that keeps appearing. David, the young lad he is, falls in love with Veronica and the cause she is fighting for, and while Madoka and Sayaka just becomes close friends with Mami it's apparent they want to help her in any way they can.
“Under My Nose”
Haliechuck: David is a character who is very negative. He’s experiencing all this good stuff with Veronica, but he’s always worried that something bad is on the horizon. The happiness is tinged with worry.
David, thanks to his newfound love Veronica, now says, "Now I wake up beaming and the world just gleams." In a similar fashion Madoka and Sayaka are enjoying their time with Mami, as it's giving them a special purpose that they've never had in life. However both are not 100% sure yet about becoming magical girls, as it becomes more and more apparent that fighting the witches is very dangerous. As this all happens Homura keeps warning the two of them to not get involved, acting as the song's "harbingers of doom".
“The Other Shoe”
Haliechuck: And then the next song, things start to go wrong for him. It’s set to ruin; he can’t get over the dread that some bad thing is going to happen. Things are getting dark for him. The refrain is “we’re dying on the inside.”
Abraham: You wait for it all to fall apart in front of you, and it has to. You just have to brace for that; you can’t let it control your life — which is what, unfortunately, David does in the records. And all these songs can also be about falling in love with a subculture, or a politician. You have these periods that are so amazing, and then you see the flaws.
As a stipulation for becoming a magical girl Kyubey tells Sayaka and Madoka that they must make a wish in order to transform into one. During one of their battles Madoka tells Mami that the only wish she can think of is to become a magical girl and help those in need. Mami then confides to Madoka that since becoming a magical girl her life has become one filled with fear and loneliness, and is not as wonderful and glamorous as she thinks it is. Being a powerful girl isn't all that it's cracked up to be, as "you can't be comfortable when you know the whole thing is about to fall," which leads to this...
“Turn the Season”
Haliechuck: The narrator is telling the audience that the previous song is true, you can’t have light without dark. And, at the end of the song, Veronica dies.
"I have never been as happy as I am today (but then the seasons turned and the darkness came)." Just after she tells Madoka how happy she is that she's fighting with her, Mami is decapitated by a witch, leaving Madoka completely mortified by what she had just witnessed.
“Running on Nothing”
Haliechuck: He feels terrible. He wonders why he spent any time on love, on another person. He thinks that it was all a waste. She’s gone, and he wasted all this time and emotion on her. He starts to give up.
"They leave, it hurts, if you see it coming, it's worse." Like David, Madoka is in complete shambles over the death of her friend. She's too scared to become a magical girl, and decides to give up on the idea. Kyubey decides to let her be for the moment.
“Remember My Name”
Haliechuck: That’s the narrator telling us: David’s right. He shouldn’t have spent any time on love. It’s better not to have those things then to have them and lose them. You're set up for disappointment.
"Better to let love lie than have to see it die." Here Homura acts as the narrator Octavio, warning Madoka that her kindness may prove costly in the long run, so she might as well not act upon her emotions.
“A Slanted Tone”
Haliechuck: We introduce a new character, this woman Vivian who David has a history with. The story is coming from her perspective, and she’s telling us that you can’t always trust narration. She understands something about the narrator that no one understands yet.
Kyubey then takes on the role of Octavio for the rest of the tale, with Homura becoming Vivian. She knows something that neither the other girls nor the audience has come to figure out about Kyubey, which is exactly why Homura has tried stopping him from turning both Madoka and Sayaka into magical girls. "Don't trust the words you hear in a song."
“Serve Me Right”
Haliechuck: This is the narrator really bearing down into David now, saying not only that he’d be better off without love but that maybe the death of Veronica was David’s fault in the first place. And David is delivering this sarcastic soliloquy. He’s saying “maybe it was my fault, maybe I don’t deserve to be upset about it.”
Unfortunately Madoka finds herself in trouble, and Sayaka is put in a position where the only way to save her is to become a magical girl. Even though it was Sayaka's decision to become one, Madoka feels like it's somewhat her fault that things like this came to be. Because she wasn't strong enough to make a big decision, another person close in her life had to. Unlike David, though, she cannot help but be distraught over it all.
“Truth I Know”
Haliechuck: The narrator now knows that the truth is out about him: He’s not just a passive narrator of the story, he’s got his own motivations. Now he’s making a plea to the audience.
Abraham: This is about the narrator, Octavius, trying to justify his role of being the narrator, and it's indefensible. I certainly have been in this position many times. As a younger child, I certainly was a little more angry. A lot of anger came from insecurity, but it also came from this sort of cool, detached mentality: Straight edge means I’m better than you; punk rock means I’m better than you. As I’ve grown up, I look back upon it and realize that’s ridiculous.
It's because of Kyubey, which turns out to be short for Incubator, that these witches keep appearing. When magical girls turn into witches, Kyubey must find new ones to battle them on, like a twisted circle of good and evil. However, like Octavio, Kyubey reveals to Madoka why he does what he does: for almost eternity mankind and Incubators have gone hand-in-hand for almost eternity, and if they weren't around Earth would never have evolved in the way that it did. It doesn't excuse him for his actions, but in a way it explains what his motivation was.
“Life in Paper”
Haliechuck: This is David shooting back. He’s realizing that they’re all characters, and it's not fair that one guy — the narrator, the figure of authority — gets to have control over the device.
It's soon revealed that Homura has gone back in time to try and prevent the events with Madoka from happening. She tires of seeing her friends being manipulated over and over again, and finds it unfair that Kyubey can keep controlling them with her sugarcoated lies. So with her powers, she keeps trying to change the past, only to find herself failing every time. In a sense, Homura confronts Kyubey the same way David confronts Octavio: the former is upset that the latter has full power over everything, and they want to put a stop to it.
“Ship of Fools”
Haliechuck: A classic side story. David and Octavius are personified by these two characters that are having a brawl. It’s two characters, sparring. You know, David and Goliath. And David comes out even worse.
Abraham: I see myself in all of these characters. Well, maybe not Veronica because she’s an idealized vision of perfectness. But Octavius, I have a lot of negative characteristics in common with. I’m vindictive; I’m jealous.
Sayaka versus Kyoko (another magical girl introduced midway through the series). Homura versus Mami (in the third film Rebellion). And, of course, Homura versus Kyubey. All of these one-on-one battles between (mostly) allies ends with much anger, pain, jealousy, and self-realization. It's only when Homura goes up again Kyubey when you see that no matter how much damage she causes to the familiar, another one will appear and take his place. This and all the other fights between friends are just useless fodder that does nothing to take away from the fact that their fates are already pre-determined.
“A Little Death”
Haliechuck: David feels worse now. He’s lost; his whole world has been transformed. He doesn’t know what’s true. He doesn’t have any objectivity. He feels really depressed and is ready to throw it all away.
No matter how many times Homura goes back to the past, it all ends up the same, sometimes even worse. In the end, even in the best-case scenario, Homura will still lose Madoka. In the third film Rebellion she realizes that she may, in fact, be the cause of it all, going so far as to become the Devil in order to stop these chain of events from happening. Still, even then, Homura may lose Madoka in a different way. Like David she ponders the point of it all, and begins to wonder if what she is doing is just a worthless ambition.
“I Was There”
Haliechuck: Vivian is telling exactly what happened at the moment of Veronica’s death. She’s saying she was there to witness the event, but also that she’s gone through this loss. You learn that Veronica died in a bomb blast. And at the end she’s condemned Octavius for being responsible for the death of Veronica.
Madoka realizes that it wasn't her fault that everything happened the way it did. Because Kyubey never informed anyone of the dangers that come with becoming a magical girl, all blame points towards him. She will always remember Mami, even if no one else does, and above all else she is now determined to make things right.
“Inside a Frame”
Abraham: This is Octavius finally accepting what he’s done was wrong. He’s also realizing he’s done what he was fated to do, and so there’s still reluctant acceptance.
Haliechuck: At this point, all the characters are realizing they’re characters in a play. They don’t have free will. Octavius has been cast as the villain, but at the same time he’s been cast, so it’s not necessarily his fault. He’s saying he’s not as guilty as anyone else: He was just doing his job.
The sad thing about all this is that Kyubey really is just doing the job he was destined to do, the same way Octavio was cast as the narrator. Sure, they're dishonest people, but that's the role they've been placed in. However the main difference here is that Kyubey is indifferent to his role in all of this, whereas Octavio is swamped with guilt by killing Veronica.
“The Recursive Girl”
Haliechuck: This is the point where the characters explain what they’ve learned. Vivian says she was in love with David and they lost their love and she was able to keep going, and she was able to keep their love with her wherever they went. This is a counterpoint to David: She was able to take his pain and that experience made her life richer.
In a similar way both Homura and Madoka have taken their experiences, both joyful and painful, and made them into the people they are at the end of the original series/first two films. These experiences have opened their eyes to what must be done, and like David they must move forward for the greater good.
“One More Night”
Haliechuck: Veronica comes back — I guess as a spirit or something — and they have some words. David says good-bye one last time, and he realizes that Vivian is right: that time with Veronica was worthwhile.
For one last time Madoka becomes David, and is given the chance to see all the Veronicas that suffered due to the story's Octavio. She finally makes her wish: to prevent all witches past, present, and future from ever appearing in the first place. By doing this she becomes part of a higher plane of existence, and in return revisits all her friends who have succumbed. There are no regrets from any of them, as they're happy that there was some good that came out of it. However, because of the wish Madoka will be erased from ever being part of the world, with Homura being the only one to retain any memory of her. Nevertheless, Madoka is happy that no magical girl will have to suffer again, and that her time on Earth, her friendship with Sayaka, Mami, and Homura, and all the choices she made to do things right were worthwhile.
“Lights Go Up"
Haliechuck: David’s now an older person. He’s glad it happened and he wants to do it again. David goes back to the factory, and it’s a second chance. He’s learned what he needs to learn; he’s glad with his experiences. And he goes back and gets to live it again. The record sort of resets.
In a sense Homura has relived these events in the same way David's does whenever you play the record. She has made some mistakes, and every time she goes back she once again makes the same errors. No matter how many times you play David Comes To Life, Veronica will die; no matter how many times Homura went back in time, Madoka still became a magical girl.
With that being said, here's where the album and the anime find their biggest difference. While David learns his lesson, he will always have it unlearned every time the record restarts. In the final Madoka Magica film Rebellion not only does Homura learn her lesson, she implements what she learns the final time she goes back in time. She keeps Madoka from becoming a higher-planed deity, and in the final swipe of things wipes away the events of the anime and the films.
In a way, Homura makes a bigger sacrifice than David does, one that puts all the weight on her shoulders while at the same time keeping things from once again spinning chaotically into an end-of-the-world scenario. David won't be able to not meet Veronica, and he won't be able to keep her from dying in the explosion. David is bound to always be swamped with love, pain, suffering, self-doubt, and understanding, before having it reset for him to make him feel all that again; Homura, on the other hand, might have finally found a way to keep the others from experiencing the pains she had gone through.
While the stories of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and David Comes To Life are completely different, they do share various similar themes and ideas. Both have taken a Kafka-styled story element and inserted it into their narratives, thereby creating a world of love, death, betrayal, and self-realization. These comparisons are given in the most extreme cases imaginable, yes, but the fact that they exist shows that there's a little proof that the characters living in Mitakihara, Japan go through some of the same motions as the ones in Byrdesdale Spa, UK.
Perhaps the troubles of a young girl being pushed to save the world can also be felt by a lightbulb factory worker trying to piece together what's happening in his own state of being. Different scenarios, similar outcomes, same emotions running through the characters. In short, parallel ideas from two non-relatable sources can sometimes pop up in the weirdest places, thereby opening the minds of two separate fanbases and bringing them together in wonderfully strange harmony. As the record plays once more, and as Homura travels back in time to make things right, the characters in their respective worlds will once again see each other as their stories are retold.