Masters of Tragedy, Part I: Joss Whedon and Gen Urobuchi

Last week, I had the idea of comparing the great masters of tragic character deaths: Joss Whedon, GRRM, and Gen Urobuchi. If we’re talking tragedy that hurts, as a theme for a creator, I could probably add Guy Gavriel Kay to that list. So I’m going to do a top three most tragic works list for each one, in two parts–Joss Whedon and Gen Urobuchi will go first, followed by the novelists next week.

I just want to say that I love all of these works, but wow, did they hurt. Some mild spoilers, except for one video which I point out as having huge spoilers–oh, who am I kidding? If you haven’t seen that episode of Buffy, you’re unlikely to now unless a fan of show forces you, and it won’t matter.

Joss Whedon

3. Dollhouse, Season 2: This was an uneven show, though less so in the second season than the first–it follows people whose personalities have been striped from them so that new personalities can be added or removed as needed by the company they “work” for (known as dolls).

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The second season touched upon some heavy stuff. Right off the bat, in the first episode, we’re introduced to a conflict faced by one of the characters. She’s found out that she’s a doll, and therefore, in a sense, not real. The way this is written and acted is amazing, and makes the ultimate loss of her identity painful, even though it was fake to begin with. And that’s just the beginning, as the end of the season also has quite a few tragic hits. Actually, the only reason this season of Dollhouse isn’t higher on the list is because of how uneven the show was.

2. Serenity: This is the movie sequel to the one season TV show, Firefly, about the crew of a spaceship. This cast of characters is possibly one of the most endearing and fun to watch, as a group, in any TV show I’ve ever seen.

I love every one of the main characters, and you couldn’t make me choose between them. Their interactions and relationships with one another make this crew more than the sum of its parts. It’s entirely possible that if it had been another character to go, the loss would have been just as bad. But it was this character.

1. Buffy, Season 2: Buffy focuses on the titular character and her allies/friends, as they battle demons and try to save people. And this is the doomed love season. This is the season where it all goes horribly, horribly wrong.

The most poignant episode for me, and one that still makes me cry, is “Passion”. The video below is Joss Whedon discussing the episodes, and it contains massive SPOILERS for the episode:

This character was trying to find a way to right the wrongs she’d committed due to her conflicted loyalties, and she’d practically done it. In this episode, I could see a future where she saved who she wanted to save and fixed her relationship with the man she loved. She was doing so well, and that was what ended it for her.

And that wasn’t even the worst part, because the depths of sadism a formerly good character reaches is striking. But of course, that isn’t the last episode of the season, and the show isn’t done making things hard yet. There’s one last sacrifice that changes everything.

Gen Urobuchi

3. Puella Magi Madoka Magica: This show is allegedly a magical girl series, ala Sailor Moon, but don’t believe these lies. While this show is a magical girl series, it takes that basic premise and makes it far less idealistic and far more gritty.

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In fact, there is something seriously strange about this show being the third most tragic thing on this list. It would have definitely placed higher if it wasn’t for the last episode–though the competition is stiff.

It essentially puts these young girls through the ringer, emotionally. It pushes at their weak spots until they collapse. It’s so easy to sympathize with them, and so painful to watch them unable to avoid what’s coming, simply because they can’t be perfectly unselfish. Well, who can?

2. Psycho Pass: This show follows the crime force in a dystopia where people are psychologically monitored for thus potential criminal activity. This is not a nice show. Some of its cases have a high probability of disturbing most people.

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Looking at this gif for too long reminds me of unpleasant things.

As for the tragedy itself, our characters have their beliefs and sense of morality challenged–one concept is losing innocence, and taking a stance regardless. Dealing with loss, and making decisions you can live with (hopefully).

1. Fate/Zero: This follows the contestants of a magical fight to the death, with a great prize to be won–a prize that could be disastrous in the wrong hands. It’s a given that there will be character death, since this is kind of a Hunger Games style match, but with adults. And it follows every contestant.

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Often, for the really tragic deaths, it’s not that they die, but how they die, that makes it really bad. This series is dark. Some of the characters have everything they stand for thoroughly destroyed. Children are not spared from the awful things that happen, either, so be warned.

One character in particular seems to be the show’s whipping boy–he may not have had entirely pure motivations, but he tried to save a child even knowing he would suffer for it. And wow, did he ever suffer–even more than he signed on for.

So–does anyone have any opinions they want to share on these lists? Or want to nominate another creator for creating tragic works?

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One Response to Masters of Tragedy, Part I: Joss Whedon and Gen Urobuchi

  1. Pingback: Masters of Tragedy, Part II: GRRM and Guy Gavriel Kay | Marie Erving

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