Anime creator Gen Urobuchi has a penchant for dark, complex themes. (His Psycho-Pass is a case in point). But it is another anime that takes the cake for being more ambitious, of looking more closely at evil. In evil, there may be kindness. In kindness, there can be evil. However, there are shades that may appear as pure evil or pure kindness. Kyubey is the primary antagonist of the now-legendary anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Whether or not the character of Kyubey (or ‘Incubator’) is ‘evil’ depends on the viewers. The character is a litmus test. It is a cat-like creature with a delightful, benign appearance. It appears as a “messenger of magic” to the group of girls. Its motive is to make them “magical girls” who slay witches. But his original unspoken goal is to harvest their energy to ‘save’ the universe.
However, due to its emotionless personality, it appears as a cunning and malevolent creature. It is single-minded in its attempts to fulfill its goals. Its vision is so coldly comprehensive that it simply does not hold a concept of ‘evil’ in typical human terms.
Origin: Madoka Magica & Kyubey
Kyubey is an alien creature without any discernible emotions. It has the appearance of a cat and is just plain adorable. But even that is a facet of its manipulative core. Just one look at it, and you will fall for it. Yet, behind this apparent ‘cute’ demeanor, there are no emotions. It doesn’t have any type of morals or ‘feelings.’ It cannot forge connections beyond what it deems useful. This creature just lives on for their one goal, to sustain the universe in whatever way possible, at the cost of anything or anyone. In order to do that, Kyubey harvests energies from the female sex. They turn young, ambitious, and driven girls into “magical girls” who slay dangerous “witches.” The secret goal is to turn their despair into sustainable energy.
Kyubey grants the girls a ‘wish’ in exchange for their soul. The girls’ wishes come true and they become “magical girls.” They fight and kill the witches which feed on human feelings. However, they realize later to their horror, that their ‘wish’ gives them over to despair and turn themselves into the next ‘witches.’ The overt hope they are given at first shatters and thrusts their souls into eternal darkness. Thus, making “grief seeds” is the goal of Kyubey. These are then used to save the universe from ‘entropy.‘
Even though Kyubey ostensibly works for the greater good, for humans it is evil and selfish. Lack of feelings sometimes can be seen as monstrous and dark. Kyubey is technically ‘evil’ because it doesn’t understand humans and their feelings or the very things it deals with. It just sees humans as livestock or shells that just produce energy. It only wants a constant source of energy and nothing else. The energy that comes not from ‘matter’ so much but the unquantified, unrecognized sufferings of womankind. This lack of feelings makes it unable to understand the ‘stand’ of humans.
It’s like Kyubey is the factory owner and humans are just machines to be grounded to produce goods.
The “magical girls” themselves are but a thinly veiled representation of the “boss-girl” narrative: a facile, unrealistic idealization of corporate feminism. An idealization that has trickled down in many different forms through years of capitalist rhetoric.
Kyubey is present from pre-historic times. It is outside of history. It claims that without them, humans would have never advanced this far. Hence, it feels superior to humans, making it cold and unlikeable in contrast to its disarming appearance. In human terms, Kyubey is evil. But is it really? From our perspective it is. But from the universe’s perspective, it is not. It exists only to prevent the universe from destruction. Its methods may be cruel, but there is a sense of inevitability to its vision. Kyubey doesn’t understand ‘individuality’ independent of the structure, because it is oriented towards history’s big picture and time’s grinding machinery.
If it had emotions, it might have taken a different path. But it was born this way, without any feelings. Like a puppet dancing in the hands of their creator or abstract destiny. Which begs the question: what is more insidious? To have feelings and still behave this way, or to be oblivious to the concept itself?
Symbolically, Kyubey in Madoka Magica stands in for a capitalist-patriarchal framework.
In its own words, it delineates how the universe has used up the energy of womankind for generations to build history. In the process discarding said women to anonymity or ignominy. The very idea of magical girls fighting the witches in a contest of good vs. evil is revealed to be a double-bind. Kyubey reveals that the magical girls themselves later turn to ‘witches’ after being used up and maligned by society. Thereby necessitating the enlistment of new magical girls to fight these erstwhile heroes who have strayed.
This cold betrayal and revelation from Kyubey rightly rank as one of the worst in anime history. For this reason, and because of the sheer impassivity of its facade, Kyubey has frequently been cited as a character anime fans ‘love to hate.’
However, Kyubey gets what it deserves too. Later on, in the movie series of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Kyubey experiences an anomaly. It alters to enable the sensation of feelings and is struck by the overflowing emotions of the magical girls. These emotions take a heavy toll on Kyubey. It experiences grief and despair that damage its mind. Even if it is at the end, and even though out of character, it finally understands something of what humans go through.
“Whenever I tell you humans the simple facts you always react the same way. It makes no sense at all. Why are humans so sensitive about the kind of container their souls are housed in?”Kyubey, Puella Magi Madoka Magica