Music in Context: Scene and Score Analysis from Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s 3rd OST

pmmm_ostiii

Album Title: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Original Soundtrack III
Anime Title: Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Artist: Yuki Kajiura
Catalog Number: ANZB-9132/ANZX-9132 (Bundled with DVDs)
Release Type: Soundtrack
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Purchase at: CDJapan

When talking about anime soundtracks, it is worth considering the different ends of music in art.  A popular piece of classical music, e.g. a symphony, takes the focus of the listener’s attention.  In contrast, soundtracks are designed to complement the activity on the stage or screen.  One of the major distinctions then of anime or, more generally, miniseries’ soundtracks is that of track reusability.  While themes may be repeated over the course of a movie, each track in a movie’s soundtrack is often used only once, for a specific scene.  An anime series, by comparison, runs between 5–10 hours but still has a single, maybe a dual, CD soundtrack.  Tracks are typically composed to be thematically appropriate to the narrative without being specifically timed to a particular action on the screen.  So when a track is employed for a single scene, it is particularly noteworthy.

Yuki Kajiura’s compositions for the third Puella Magi Madoka Magica soundtrack fall into this latter category.  Whereas, the first two Madoka soundtracks established the standard library of musical cues for the series, all but two tracks of the third soundtrack are single use only.  Through these tracks we see some truly powerful uses of music, and even silence, to enhance the storytelling of Madoka Magica.

** SPOILERS**

“Nux Walpurgis” is the defining piece of the series as it singlehandedly conveys all the danger, tragedy, and despair of the of the world of Madoka Magica.  From the final minutes of episode 11, the piece leads off with Walpurgisnacht’s unrelenting onslaught theme.  Amidst a flurry of strings, the female chorus is driven on by the crashing cymbals, drums, and bells until Homura is defeated.  The piece then shifts focus to Homura, where the music trembles with her thoughts as they delicately weigh her dwindling options.  The trepidation in each measure grows with her fear of the rapidly approaching conclusion: Homura has failed once more.  The scale tips.

The strings plunge into waves of despair, rolling higher and higher before crashing down still further with all the gravity the scene demands.  If Homura accepts the impossibility of her defeating Walpurgisnacht on her own, this despair will turn her into a witch at once.  But if Homura reverses time to try again, she will only tie the strings of fate tighter around Madoka.  Walpurgisnacht’s female chorus returns, this time almost entreating Homura to join them as a witch.  Indeed, the end of the track could be interpreted as the voices welcoming Homura, the emerging soloist, into their fallen sisterhood.  Because this episode was rewritten after the 2011 earthquake, it is not certain how the full scene was to play out.  Even so, the knife twist is how the track is actually used in the series.

 Nux Walpurgis

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“Nux Walpurgis” is silenced abruptly upon Homura’s tear.  I had already seen the show several times before listening to the soundtracks, so I knew how this scene would end.  Now, with the knowledge of the scene’s musical cue in its entirety, the sudden stop has the effect of a bucket of cold water.  Madoka’s entrance was unexpected, and the music reflected that.  Furthermore, no other music was used during the dialog that followed in the original TV broadcast.  The silence itself became deafening.  (Sadly, this was not preserved on the US Blu-ray release which bled the ending theme into the dialog, ruining the aforesaid silence.)

These two key themes brought to bear in “Nux Walpurgis” are introduced earlier in episode 11 through “Surgam identidem.”  The piece begins when Homura first engages Walpurgisnacht.  The onslaught theme appears, complete with chorus and pounding drums. However, one cannot initially tell if this is because of the devastation wrought by Walpurgisnacht or by Homura herself, who launches her own “shock and awe” campaign. Again, due to script changes, the track is abridged, leaving out an angelic voice surveying the battlefield and rallying the troops for the final blow.  Instead, the first half of the track ends with a sharp flute note as Walpurgisnacht reemerges through Homura’s inferno, in a manner reminiscent of the first angel from Neon Genesis Evangelion.

The second half of the piece picks up with Kyubey and Madoka in the shelter.  As Kyubey explains Homura’s true position, the music takes the form of a muted version of Homura’s despair theme. It’s muted precisely because there is still a glimmer of hope, whereas in “Nux Walpurgis,” there is none.

Surgam identidem

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As a final remark on these tracks, though each piece was perfectly suited for its scene, “Nux Walpurgis” was replaced by the first half of “Surgam identitem” in Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part 2 -Eternal-.  The obvious gain is that the final flute flourish would coincide with Homura’s tear.  Some may like the synchronization, but it diminishes the unexpectedness of Madoka’s entrance.  The music’s conclusion creates an expectation versus the unexpected interruption in the original, significantly detracting from the emotional weight of this critical scene.

In several ways, “Sagitta luminis” is also best understood with respect to “Nux Walpurgis.”  In episode 12, the piece begins when Madoka discusses the uncertain ramifications of her wish with Mami and Kyoko.  What is clear is that Madoka would be alone, yet she is determined to restore hope to the magical girls.  The music thus starts out with a lonely oboe, slowly crafting a new but familiar melody that regularly troughs and crests, but building ever higher.  Once Madoka becomes a magical girl/goddess, the full strings section comes in, complete with gong, to pace the delivery of hope instead of destruction throughout the world.  The second part of this piece is from the scene in which Homura meets goddess Madoka.  At this point, it becomes obvious Madoka’s hope theme is an inverse of Homura’s despair theme, giving both pieces new significance.

 Sagitta luminis

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Returning to witches, “Symposium magarum” characterizes the lair of witch Sayaka.  Because the backstories of none of the witches previously faced were known, the music was appropriately sinister and otherworldly.  But here, especially given the object of Sayaka’s wish, a powerful, though traditional, orchestral theme, complete with drums and cymbals, works brilliantly.  But as mentioned previously, care was also taken when not to use music in this scene.  Once it became obvious that Sayaka would not be returning, the tragedy is allowed to play out through actions alone.

Symposium magarum

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After Madoka’s apotheosis, the world is reborn; but is there hope?  As Homura and Kyubey survey the skyline at the end of episode 12, the strings of “Pergo pugnare” ebb and flow with neither the tumultuousness of Homura’s despair nor the thrill of Madoka’s hope.  Instead, there is a respite.  As Homura explains, the world of Madoka Magica remains dark and depressing.  Madoka was still a child and made a child’s wish.  The tragedy of the magical girls’ remains, and Homura will keep fighting for the end she wants.  There is more to come.

Pergo pugnare

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** END SPOILERS **

Regardless of how one feels about Puella Magi Madoka Magica itself, the care and skill Yuki Kajiura took in crafting its score is evident.  Even without any context, Puella Magi Madoka Magica OST III is highly enjoyable; but when consciously examined in light of the scenes for which it was fashioned, the music becomes imbibed with the emotions of not only the characters themselves but our own as well.  The soundtrack now calls to mind the pain and sorrow, hope and despair, and the steadfast determination that propels Madoka and Homura forward.  And, in the end, isn’t that why people listen to soundtracks in the first place?

MercuryLampe

Jack of all trades, master of none. A research scientist by profession, I also enjoy classical literature, soundtracks, Star Wars, and animation. I play both piano and violin, and my favourite soundtracks closely align with those interests. My favourite anime composers are Jun Maeda, Yuki Kajiura, and Tenmon.

6 thoughts on “Music in Context: Scene and Score Analysis from Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s 3rd OST

  • November 16, 2013 at 9:03 pm
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    Thanks for the great post! Indeed, Kajiura Yuki did a great job for this OST. I enjoy listening to it, and for specific tracks like the ones you shared, I am reminded of the emotions during the scenes which they played along. I hope you are planning a similar post for the movies OST.

    Reply
    • November 18, 2013 at 9:59 pm
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      Thanks a lot! I am indeed working on a similar post for the Madoka movies’ soundtrack. Just when one thought the Madoka score couldn’t become darker or more powerful, . . .

      Reply
  • November 18, 2013 at 3:53 pm
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    That was a great analysis of the soundtracks. I must admit, as much as I like Kajiura, the Madoka soundtracks didn’t really resonate with me, except for the more recognizable. So this was a great understanding of the tracks as a whole. Thanks!

    Reply
    • November 19, 2013 at 5:08 am
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      My response to this soundtrack was certainly heavily influenced by the show itself, more so than usual. For me, the OST has become like those for Kanon or Clannad, where certain tracks now gives me chills because of all the emotional investment in the stories. (This does though restrict playability while working. (: )

      Reply
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  • August 8, 2015 at 3:27 pm
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    Still waiting the Instrumentality’s review of the Rebellion soundtrack!

    Reply

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