MAGIA RECORD is usually allergic to straightforwardness. That’s not news to any longtime fans; SHAFT don’t really make shows that are easy to get your head around. This, though, might be the simplest episode of the series yet, if only because it has a clear through-line and resolves a plot point. This is all relative of course; even here we get some swerves, more gloriously weird directing, and a couple asides that’ll likely be relevant later. Madoka is as Madoka does, one might say.

Perpetual Motion

The episode begins with a flashback. We see Iroha’s now-missing sister, Ui, hanging out at the hospital with two of her friends. A pair of child prodigies by the names of Nemu and Toka. A recurring theme of the little mini-arc that began last week with the chain monster episode is toxic friendships. True enough; this flashback sees the two have a falling out after Nemu assembles a perpetual-motion machine–that’s a shot of it up there–and then accidentally sets fire to the hospital’s library. 

Spare a thought for Ui, here.

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We don’t get to learn (yet anyway) how this particular conflict resolves itself. The show is much more interested in drawing a parallel between Nemu and Toka’s conflict and the conflict between Kaede and Rena that capped off last week’s episode. If you’ve forgotten; it saw Kaede abducted by something called the Chain Monster after the two tried to reconcile after a fight. Why? Because Rena had written the pair’s name on a pair of cursed stairs that end the friendships of anyone whose name is written on them. So far, so weird (and, consequently, not that weird for Magia Record).

Squad

Our girls know they can’t just fight this thing head on. So they tap some of the other magical girls in the area for help. One is Yachiyo; the monstrously strong but aloof mahou who rescued Iroha and her buddy back in episode 1. The other is a new face, and she’s…odd.

This is Miitama Yakumo, the mysterious “Coordinator” briefly mentioned last week. We don’t get to see her do much here, but given how she’s able to get Yachiyo to help Momoko’s team on their search, we can bet that something’s up with her.

We also get some great moments of Yachiyo being Powerful And Aloof. She here offers the girls some info from a book she just happens to have on this very subject. The character will need more development going forward to keep being interesting. But for now? I find it hard to get tired of Yachiyo just being completely done with everybody all the time.

That search itself is the meat of the episode though. There’s a quartet of genuinely gorgeous transformation sequences that give last year’s examples from Symphogear XV a run for their money. A good chunk of the plot here though is devoted to our girls puzzling out how to summon the Chain Monster and how to defeat it when they do. The former turns out to be surprisingly simple; Rena just has to be apologetic and mean it. But, Rena is the stubborn type, and in what is probably the bleakest sequence of this episode we get a literal look inside her psyche as she tries to figure out how to say “I’m sorry”. It isn’t pretty.

Cracked Mirror

There’s some absolutely great directing here. On par with the best stuff from both the original Madoka and fellow SHAFT visual powerhouse Bakemonogatari. The best–and saddest–bit is when we see, visually, what Rena thinks everyone thinks of her. This entire sequence is incredible; from Rena’s dead-eyed stare at an idol concert on the TV in her bedroom.

The almost noir-y lighting as she flashes back to the night before where Kaede tried to apologize to her.

The film grain effect as the other characters literally enter her mind on their way to the realm of the Chain Monster. The J-Pop music still pumping out of the distorted TV–washed-out, like it’s playing through an old radio.

Rena using her powers to shapeshift into Momoko, putting her own self-loathing in her friend’s mouth to make it seem real. The scene visualizes the mind of someone who is convinced of their own worthlessness in a very clever, but more importantly, very resonant way.

She yells out that she hates herself with enough force to actually crack the screen.

Then; Kaede reaches out, and the sequence ends. Rena apologizes in a roundabout way–saying she’s sorry for forcing Kaede to be her friend. It’s messy, and doesn’t cleanly resolve Rena’s self-loathing, but it’s earnest.

This, of course, transitions into the fight against the Chain Monster proper. It’s a good sign that the show is so in command of its own strengths that it knows to let a sequence like this breathe. It doesn’t actually take up that much time–a few minutes at most–but it sets up the stakes of the Chain Monster fight, giving us a reason to really root for our girls if we weren’t before.

Chainbreaker

Gekidan Inu Curry knock it out for the second time in almost as many episodes as far as the monster and lair design go. The Chain Monster is a bizarre thing made of twisted shadows, a literal staircase, and a giant bell that seems to spit out the kanji for “ding-dong” as it rings.

Ouch! Right in the dome.

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In a serious rarity for this franchise, the episode ends on a pretty unambiguous happy note. Rena and Kaede reconcile (again, more or less) and the Chain Monster is defeated….but, well, this is Magia Record, and this is Madoka, so it’s not totally devoid of some final “wait, what?”s

For one thing, the bizarre Baby Kyubey reappears. We’re given no more indication as to what the deal with it is than we were when it first showed up in episode 1.

Yachiyo notes that the Chain Monster doesn’t drop a Grief Seed, the “heart” of a Witch, and an important resource for magical girls. This leaves it quite ambiguous as to what the thing actually was.

But the biggest revelation? That’s saved for the post-credits sequence. A tiny little thing, only just over a minute long, that, at least if you’re like yours truly and are going into this show blind, changes everything.

What are we getting ourselves into?

With only 3 episodes down and so much more to come, we can be sure that Magia Record will remain one to keep an eye on.

 

 

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