Desiring Futures

Hope, Technoscience, and Utopian Dystopia in Puella Magi Madoka Magica


  • Leo Chu The University of British Columbia



magical girls, feminism, utopia, technoscience, hope, neo-noir, shojo


In this paper, I analyze the animated television series Puella Magi Madoka Magica based on a variety of literary critical methods: neo-noir criticism, feminist epistemology and studies of technoscience, and discussion of utopia/dystopia imagination. My focus is on the depiction of desire and hope, as two interconnected but potentially conflicting concepts, in Madoka Magica which presents different philosophical edifices related to them as one central narrative tension. On the other hand, the feminist methods I utilize will demonstrate how the “genre subversion” the series introduce can be read alongside with not only magical girls’ struggle against their fates in the fiction but the real power structures and asymmetries in (post-)modern society. By highlighting the difficulties to resist a future and ethics imposed from the standpoint of dominant social groups as well as the attempt to solve such impasse by the series, the paper argues that Madoka Magica, while not committing itself to the creation of a radical alternative to the existent political or economic systems, has nonetheless affirmed the possibility and importance to have hope for futures that are yet to be imagined.


Adams, Vincanne, Michelle Murphy, and Adele E. Clarke. "Anticipation: Technoscience, Life, Affect, Temporality." Subjectivity 28, no. 1 (2009): 246-265. DOI:

Abrams, Jerold J. "Space, Time, and Subjectivity in Neo-Noir Cinema." In The Philosophy of Neo-Noir, edited by Mark T. Conrad, 7-21. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007.

Barad, Judith. "Blade Runner and Sartre: the Boundaries of Humanity." In The Philosophy of Neo-Noir, edited by Mark T. Conrad, 21-34. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007.

Berger, Douglas. “The Murder of Moral Idealism: Kant and the Death of Ian Campbell in The Onion Field.” The Philosophy of Neo-Noir, edited by Mark T. Conrad, 67-82. Lexington, The University Press of Kentucky, 2007.

Butler, Catherine. "Shoujo Versus Seinen? Address and Reception in Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)." Children's Literature in Education (2018): 1-17. Accessed August 18, 2019. doi: 10.1007/s10583-018-9355-9 DOI:

Cleto, Sara, and Erin Kathleen Bahl. "Becoming the Labyrinth: Negotiating Magical Space and Identity in Puella Magi Madoka Magica." Humanities 5, no. 20 (2016): 1-13. Accessed August 18, 2019. doi:10.3390/h5020020. DOI:

Dollase, Hiromi Tsuchiya. "Early twentieth century Japanese girls' magazine stories: Examining shōjo voice in Hanamonogatari (Flower Tales)." The Journal of Popular Culture 36, no. 4 (2003): 724-755. DOI:

Galbraith, Patrick W. “Seeking an Alternative: ‘Male’ Shōjo Fans Since the 1970s.” In Shōjo Across Media: Exploring “Girl” Practices in Contemporary Japan, edited by Jaqueline Berndt, Kazumi Nagaike, and Fusami Ōgi, 355-390. Berlin: Springer, 2019. DOI:

Grosz, Elizabeth. "Thinking the new: Of futures yet unthought." symplokē 6, no. 1/2 (1998): 38-55. DOI:

Grosz, Elizabeth. "The time of architecture." In Embodied Utopias: Gender, Social Change and the Modern Metropolis, edited by Amy Bingaman, Lise Sanders and Rebecca Zorach, 265-278. New York: Routledge, 2002

Haraway, Donna. "Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective." Feminist Studies 14, no. 3 (1988): 575-599. DOI:

Haraway, Donna. "A manifesto for cyborgs: Science, technology, and socialist feminism in the 1980s." In Coming to Terms: Feminism, Theory, Politics, edited by Elizabeth Weed, 173-204. New York, Routledge, 1989.

Harding, Sandra. "Is There a Feminist Method?." In Feminism and Science, edited by Nancy Tuana, 18-32. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

Hartsock, Nancy CM. "The feminist standpoint: Developing the ground for a specifically feminist historical materialism." In Discovering Reality, edited by Sandra Harding and Merrill B. Hintikka, 283-310. Berlin: Springer, 1983. DOI:

Howard, Christopher. "The ethics of Sekai-kei: Reading Hiroki Azuma with Slavoj Žižek." Science Fiction Film & Television 7, no. 3 (2014): 365-386. DOI:

Krutnik, Frank. In A Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity. London: Routledge, 2006. DOI:

Mohr, Dunja M. "Transgressive utopian dystopias: the Postmodern reappearance of utopia in the disguise of dystopia." Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik 55, no. 1 (2007): 5-24. DOI:

Rappleye, Jeremy, and Hikaru Komatsu. "Living on borrowed time: rethinking temporality, self, nihilism, and schooling." Comparative Education 52, no. 2 (2016): 177-201. DOI:

Sugawa-Shimada, Akiko. “Shōjo in Anime: Beyond the Object of Men’s Desire.” In Shōjo Across Media: Exploring “Girl” Practices in Contemporary Japan, edited by Jaqueline Berndt, Kazumi Nagaike, and Fusami Ōgi, 181-206. Berlin: Springer, 2019. DOI:

Tran, Sharon. "Kawaii Asian Girls Save the Day! Animating a Minor Politics of Care." MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 43, no. 3 (2018): 19-41. DOI:

Wylie, Alison. "Why standpoint matters." In Science and Other Cultures, edited by Robert Figueroa and Sandra Harding, 34-56. New York: Routledge, 2013.