It’s no secret that director Chloe Zhao is a fan of anime and manga. She grew up with these media and wrote fan fiction about her favorite series, stating that her “deep and strong manga roots” played a significant role in developing her blockbuster Marvel Eternals. After watching Eternals, likely, one of the main influences on Zhao Puella Magi’s anime is Madoka Magica – and if she has not seen this show, the unexpected similarities are enough to see it forever.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a dark version of the magic girl genre that took anime fandom by the wind when it premiered in 2011. The original 12-episode TV anime was adapted into movies and manga and received many stories across more media. In this series, magical girls fight with witches on behalf of an alien race called the Incubators. Unbeknownst to the magical girls, the suffering they face transforms them into witches as part of a death cycle staged by the incubators to use energy to prevent the universe from entropy.
Eternals also talks about a group of warriors fighting monsters in the name of secret alien intelligence, the Celestials. Like the incubators, the Celestials orchestrated a cycle of enormous suffering and death in the name of the expanding existence of the universe as a whole. Although the eternal does not become deviant, just as the magical girls become witches, the eternal and abnormal come from the same source.
Then the Eternal, which Mahd Wy’ry developed from remembering every cycle of genocide she was involved in, could be compared to Homura, the magical girl who has gone through several timelines and knows much more than her peers. Even the sphere that the Lord’s ruler can use to communicate with Arishem the Heavenly can be visually compared to the Soulstones that the Magical Daughters receive as the source of their power.
While the themes in Eternals are by no means exclusive to Madoka Magica nor entirely brand new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the expression of these themes seems somewhat closer to Madoka Magica than previous MCU movies. Like Celestials and the Incubators, Thanos also represents a form of utilitarianism taken to a dangerous extreme in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
The most significant difference here is in the opinions of these villains. Thanos’ genocide plan is seen as a once-in-a-lifetime event, grounded in concerns that individual survivors have adequate resources. On the other hand, Celestials and Incubators carry out their plans in a cyclical way and do not seem to care much about individual perspectives but rather about the fate of the universe itself. Thanos is a megalomaniac and narcissist, but Arishem and Kyubey do not work with human emotions. on the whole, they operate with an unwavering commitment to their logical but terrible systems.
Besides Madoka Magica, it is also possible to hear other influences of anime and manga in Eternals. The idea that the growing human population is a time bomb for Earth in the face of alien destruction is reminiscent of two-thirds of the route through the Gurren Lagann. Many fight scenes, especially the one with King’s energy explosions, can also be compared to Dragon Ball and Zhao’s declared favorite, Yu Yu Hakusho. However, it is these magical girls who suffer that the Eternals’ plot is remembered most vividly.