Mascot characters are must if you want to make magical girl series. Sailor Moon has Luna, Sakura has Kero, and Nanoha has her Yuno, mascot characters are self described in their job name, to act as a mascot of the series. Inside the story itself, mascot characters are usually the primeval driving force of a girl’s transformation into a magical girl. They are the trigger of the whole adventure and usually must work double-time as mentor and comic relief character. But as the main audience of magical girl series shift from young girls to creepy otaku, these characters are suddenly viewed as annoyances (take a look a Yuno from Nanoha as example). Suddenly many find mascot characters as obsolete since they have lost their main purpose to entertain (something they aren’t really good at to begin with). Basically they exist solely because of tradition devoid of significant contributions to the story (their presence usually diminish as the series gradually goes on only to reappear in a subplot and return to the back seat again).
And then this bastard came along.
Meet Kyubey. It’s from the anime series Puella Magi Madoka Magica but I doubt you need the introduction if you’ve been actively following anime for the past decade. This critter here is basically just your another mascot character and also attracted the ire of hordes of otaku, tens of thousands strong, by simply doing its job. I don’t want to analyze last season anime just because it’s goddamnd old already but I want to see why Kyubey is such a fascinating character and also alone re-defines he role of a mascot character. Oh, and there’ll be also spoilers yadda yadda (I doubt anyone would care at this point).
Kyubey hails from the dark gritty head of Gen Urobuchi (that alone tells you enough that hell is about to set loose). It’s basically an alien. That actually sounds cute enough for a mascot (keep in mind in Japanland aliens usually mean cute and quirky girls). Oh, and it also wishes to save the universe. Awww, you cute little Mephistopheles. And how can it achieve this noble goal? Why, by using the soul and desperation of little girls of course! Yes, Kyubey’s presence on our planet is basically to nurture us like cattle and harvest those delicious despairs from our most vulnerable group. In other words they’re treating us like chickens.
The existence of Kyubey for me personally acts like a simple revolution in what turns out to be a very tired genre of entertainment. From Sailor Moon to Card Captor Sakura to Nanoha and Pretty Cure, we can expect the same magical girl formula. Girl meets mascot, mascot gives power, girl uses power to fight random monsters and befriends other girls in the same profession and in the end they team up and face the big bad. Okay, I admit Nanoha strays from this path a little but in the end the mascot character is still a mascot character. Kyubey actually helps us to raise a question, these critters basically are giving out powers of great scale to little girls and send them to fight, can their action be justified? I know it sounds stupid to question a wish fulfillment-scenario for adolescents but by the time such question was raised you know it conveys a deeper meaning. Can we justified our young people to fight in battles that are not their responsibility to begin with? I don’t want to make a debate but I just want to show you that such a question CAN be raised by a mascot character. Such is their nature yet we often overlook it just because of their status yet Kyubey reminds us their presence is actually pivotal for the main conflict.
Kyubey is not trying to be subtle in doing its job. Basically it wants a girl to turn into a magical girl and later sacrifice herself (along with her planet) to save THE UNIVERSE. This is very simple modus operandi of a mascot character but with Kyubey we can see how these characters are very insistence in forcing their will with no regard of the girl’s own free will. Kyubey opened our eyes to see how these mascot characters are actually very problematic. Plenty of fictions tend revolve in the concept of ‘the chosen one’. It’s an ancient plot device that can date back to the age of gods. It is a certainty that when enjoying those kinds of stories, we are expected to root for ‘the chosen one’ to manifest her destiny and commit great deeds. But in the end with Kyubey we are forced to re-evaluate our view on such case since it brings back to the old unending problem of ‘whether the end justify the mean’. In this way, Kyubey acts as some kind of shock therapy for us, audience, because despite of its insistence, we as audience, when watching Madoka Magica, can see that this is not what we wish to root for. UroBUTCHER via Kyubey has merged the role of positive driving force and a villain into one mold.
Despite that, we cannot put Kyubey into the archetype of scheming villain who manipulates the protagonist path their own ideals since once again Kyubey lacks their main defining trait that is subtlety. Kyubey is more like someone who keeps screaming ‘THIS IS WHAT YOU MUST DO! YOU MUST JUMP TO ABYSS AND IN THE END SAVE THE WORLD!’ while in the meantime only watch from far away. This kind of character is usually placed as the ally of the protagonist but not for Kyubey. That is why one of the biggest debate among Madoka audience is about whether Kyubey is guilty or not. We tend to identify said role with positivity but take that positivity away and suddenly we are left bewildered.
Now I want to explore Kyubey’s trait that I find to be very interesting personally, that is his obliviousness to human’s nature. Usually we have noble, prideful, and self-proclaimed mighty looking characters for this but (as far as I know) this is the first time such trait is packaged inside a cute mascot. I just cannot describe it. I find it to be very cute (the cute cute not the moe-I-wish-to take-it-home cute) and sinister at the same time. It is not the same impression I get from yandere characters. The best way to describe it is perhaps similar to Mephistopheles from the story of Faustus. You know it is the devil yet it’s not actively trying to make you hate or sympathize. It does its best conveying the feeling that such a devil exists and it is foreign to us as we are foreign to them. This is very interesting for me and that is why I have decided to make Kyubey my avatar.