Warning: Madoka spoilers ahead
We finished our second watch of Madoka two days ago and have spent well over 10 hours analyzing and thinking about the show since then and the more we think about it, the more we feel Homura is the character we relate to most strongly from any work of fiction. She is plural, just like us. She is a hardened ancient warrior, just like us. She is someone who will push herself greatly to get what she wants, just like us. There are so many details to her character and the deeper we dig, the more similarities we find. Drawing from our understanding of ourselves and own experiences, we are going to analyze and try to understand Homura’s character and actions.
During the first timeline, Homura watches Madoka and Mami fight again and again. She is unable to do anything to help and ultimately watches them both die to the Walpurgis Night and makes a wish to be someone who can protect Madoka. In the second timeline, Homura learns that mahou shoujo become witches when they die. In the third timeline, Madoka and Homura successfully defeat the Walpurgis Night and lay in the rain, nearly dead. Homura is inches away from fulfilling her wish, becoming a witch, and near instantly being killed by Madoka, saving her from the sorrow of being a witch. All Madoka had to do was use the grief seed on herself and Homura would be released from her wish. Instead, Madoka chose to place a curse on Homura, as always, blissfully unaware of how her actions affect others.
By using her grief seen on Homura, Madoka dooms herself and forces Homura to continue living, trapping her in the time loop. Immediately after, she increases the scope of what Homura must do to protect Madoka by asking Homura to prevent her from ever making a contract with Kyubey. As a final blow to Homura’s mental health, Madoka asks Homura to kill her. Homura complies, ending the life of the person she worked so hard to protect.
To survive the trauma she has just experienced, Homura becomes plural, partitioning off her emotions so she can focus on her mission, on survival. Most people would collapse after having seen their friends die again and again and after many months of fighting be so close to achieving your goal, only to have it snatched away at the last second. Sayaka does not have the capacity to become plural and collapses under far less. Homura splits herself in two, separating herself from her emotions, transforming into the hardened ancient warrior. This is visually portrayed through her hair – her warrior self wears her hair down while her emotional, vulnerable self wears her hair braided. The separation is not perfect, there are times when Homura breaks down into tears around Madoka, but the separation serves its purpose. Homura is able to continue fighting well beyond the point where she should have hit her psychological limit. Our own plurality has allowed us to survive years and years of trauma and survive well past the point where we should have completely shattered so we identify very strongly with Homura here.
Homura fights and fights, traversing the timeline over 100 times for a total of over 12 years spent in the time loop. In most timelines, she must explain the truth to Mami and feel her pain as she learns the truth about mahou shoujo. In any timeline where Sayaka forms a contract, she must watch as Sayaka’s descent hurts Madoka. No matter how hard she tries, there is no way for her to save Sayaka so she must harden herself and watch from a distance, knowing Sayaka’s eventual fate. Homura sees all manner of fighting between Mami, Sayaka, Madoka, and Kyouko from Mami killing Kyouko to Kyouko and Sayaka fighting to things we are never shown. Homura alone sees all of this, learns the paths which others will follow, and most painfully of all, learns which paths are immutable and cannot be changed by any actions she takes. With these, she must learn her emotions and partition them away so she can continue to survive after watching the other mahou shoujo destroy themselves again and again.
And she continues to try to protect Madoka. In every one of the 100 timelines, Madoka makes a contract with Kyubey. No matter how hard Homura tries, no matter how many paths she sees where she can stop the wish from being made, Madoka makes a wish every time. The fourth timeline is a powerful example of this. Homura manages to get all the way to Walpurgis Night without Madoka making a wish. Even then, Madoka makes a contract with Kyubey at the last second and becomes a witch. As usual, Madoka represents innocence and never has to face the implications of her actions.
At the end of the main timeline, Homura finally decides to release herself from the wish she has cursed herself with and become a witch. Once a witch, she will be killed and completely released from the burdens of this world. As her soul gem grows dark, her eyes show an ancient warrior who has finally accepted her fate after 12 long years of fighting. This is the second time she nearly fulfills her role in this world and moves on to the next. Instead, Madoka makes her wish to eliminate all wishes, resetting the universe and forcing Homura to continue her fight, more alone than ever.
All this sets up Homura’s mental state for Rebellion. By the start of the movie, Homura has suffered immensely over 12 years, nearing escape from her fate twice, but being denied this escape both times by Madoka. The one she swore to protect has vanished and she has no external sources to help verify Madoka ever existed. On top of all her other suffering, she must be gaslighting herself wondering whether Madoka ever existed because she is the only one with any memories of Madoka. Homura’s state would have deteriorated even further since the end of the series as she continues to fight, both wraiths and her own memories. Homura explicitly says she was “so lonely and sad” in the world where she was the only one who could remember Madoka while talking to her in the flowerbed. This is the fate Madoka left to Homura at the end of the series.
Even now, when Homura realizes what the incubators are doing, she continues to fight to protect Madoka. Knowing the despair it would bring her, Homura decides to curse herself and become a witch. She does this with the understanding that Mami and Kyouko will kill her in her labyrinth and she will never be able to see Madoka again. Despite all the pain Madoka has caused her, Homura continues to fight to protect Madoka at any cost to herself. Even as the others try to break the incubator’s seal and free Homura, she begs them to stop and insists that she has to die in this world. Instead, Madoka prevents Homura from being released from this world for a third time.
Once Homura learned of the incubator’s plan, she quickly considered the possible paths she could take to prevent this. The path of cursing herself to become a witch being included reveals just how much of possibility she was willing to consider. In this state, many, many paths which normally would not an option would be considered very real possibilities. This is the state she was in when Madoka came to rescue her.
After traversing the timeline over 100 times failing to save Madoka and Madoka denying her death three times, it is completely understandable Homura would react the way she did. By denying Homura death the third time, Madoka made it incredibly clear that Homura would be unable to do anything to protect Madoka while she exists as MadoKami. Homura resorts to any means she can use to continue to protect Madoka, splitting her from the Law of the Cycle and stealing pieces of her power. She uses this power to extend her labyrinth across the whole universe, finally gaining the control over the worlds she needs to be able to protect Madoka. Just before she grabs Madoka’s hands, her smile reveals the depth of acceptance she has reached in her role as an ancient warrior.
Homura no longer cares what anyone else thinks about her path, she has chosen it for herself. By this point, she has reintegrated the emotions she felt during her 12 years of suffering and finally understands that even pain is dear to her. Embracing her dark feelings and using them to continue to pursue her wish, she transcends beyond mahou shoujo or witch, becoming a godlike entity. Referring to herself as a demon, she solidifies her position as existing beyond the judgement of any living creature.
Her conversations with Kyubey and Sayaka finally allow her to release her frustration at all the pain and suffering they have caused her over and over. This is the first time she is able to talk to either of them with the other having the full context of their actions. Sayaka has the knowledge of MadoKami and can see the pain and frustration she caused Homura by repeatedly contracting with Kyubey and having no chance at redemption once the contract was made. Finally, Homura has power over Sayaka and can release some of her pent up emotions. As such, her threat to destroy the world must be looked at in this context and the possibility Homura said that purely to hurt Sayaka must be seriously considered. Saying that just to cause pain isn’t right, but is understandable after the 12 years of pain Homura endured.
Homura talking to Madoka in the skyway solidifies the extent of her acceptance. Bent over, emotions flooding through her, Homura asks Madoka if she considers stability and order more important than desire. When Madoka says yes, Homura stands and says that Madoka will one day become her enemy. She finally has accepted Madoka’s core nature will result in her sacrificing herself over and over and understands this will one day force Homura to choose between creating a world where Madoka is happy and one where Madoka can act according to her nature. The tears in Homura’s eyes show the depth of this understanding – even in a world Homura completely controls, Madoka’s nature will still result in her making a contract to protect others.
The epilogue is one of the most powerful scenes in the movie and it gives a deep look into Homura’s mental state after all events have passed. The Homura first take audio is far more powerful than the final recording. The scene shows Homura on a chair on the edge of a cliff leaning over the cliff already. She is humming to herself until she hears a sound in the grass and turns in surprise, presumably because she does not want any of her friends to see her in this state. When she sees it is only Kyubey, she continues humming, twirling and dancing in the grass with her soulgem spiraling around her in the air. With a sigh, she catches her soulgem and falls off the edge of a cliff.
This whole scene demonstrates the fragility of what remains of Homura’s attachment to this world. Years of wandering through a maze of time and being broken a hundred times by the events which took place have shattered her. She became plural and partitioned off her emotions to allow herself to continue functioning under these conditions. Three times she accepted death and was prepared to leave and three times Madoka prevented her death. She finally has complete control of the universe and can do as she pleases, her best chance at fulfilling her wish to protect Madoka. After so much fighting, the ancient warrior finally has what she has wanted all along. Now that she no longer must fight for survival, she can finally allow her emotions to return to her and begin to process the damage those 12 years did to her. 50 seconds of Homura humming to herself, alone, overlooking the city reveals the frailty of Homura’s mental state after all that has happened to her.