If Magia Record‘s fourth episode was a slow-drip of information and atmosphere, its fifth is a shotgun blast of the same. This isn’t the show’s most hectic episode, but it’s definitely its darkest and most dense. There is a lot to unpack here; about Yachiyo and Iroha’s pasts, about the nature of witches in this version of the Madoka universe, etc.
Under The Half-Moon
The episode starts with a series staple: a brief flashback providing some limited context for what we’re about to see.
This is Mifuyu, introduced as Yachiyo’s former partner (possibly in more than one sense) who has mysteriously gone missing. Mifuyu is the first confirmation we get of a pretty major character fact.
The magical girl says, during this flashback, that she is searching for Mifuyu to “remind her of the reality of her disappearance”. It’s an interesting turn of phrase, and one that recurs later in the episode. Yachiyo, if you’ll remember, is the one who said “days that are lost can never return” only one episode ago. The implication of all this that Yachiyo, somehow, knows that her search will ultimately be fruitless. She continues to search to impress upon herself that wherever Mifuyu has gone, she isn’t coming back. The one who tells others not to get stuck in the past is trapped by her own.
This all, of course, is immediately undercut by the jump back to present. Miyufu is clearly right there, standing in the bizarre world of the shrine. The shrine that allegedly lets you see people you’re missing.
The astute or savvy might have already guessed the actual reality of the situation. In both Mifuyu’s case, and that of Iroha’s sister Ui, the person present in the shrine is an illusory double. It’s never explicitly spelled out, but how the illusions seem to work is by being constructed out of what the shrine visitor remembers of the person they’re trying to see.
Yachiyo, who it’s becoming increasingly clear, is consumed by her search for Mifuyu, remembers her former partner as clear as day. Iroha on the other hand has had Ui mostly wiped from her memory. This means that she catches on more quickly, as the illusion of Ui is….less than perfect.
The illusion of Ui, in fact, mostly just repeats a line from earlier in the show. You probably remember the whole bit about Kamihama City. She certainly does, at any rate.
The illusion continues repeating herself. The message eventually degrading down into just “Kamihama. Magical Girls. Change. Fate.” That’s either impressively clever foreshadowing (because what do magical girls do if not change fate?) or sheer coincidence. It is, either way, really quite creepy. The shock is enough to blacken Iroha’s soul gem. If you’ll recall from the original Madoka Magica, a soul gem going completely dark turns it into a Grief Seed. That, in turn, turns a magical girl into a witch.
Yachiyo isn’t as easily able to see through the illusion as Iroha is. She actually falls for it for a while, until the thing slips up and phrases something strangely; sidestepping the question of if she’s the actual Mifuyu.
It’s not a long journey from that to “I can’t leave the shrine and want you to stay here forever.” We get some great imagery here, too. Illusory Mifuyu trying to ‘hypnotize’ Yachiyo with a windmill being my favorite example. The small symbol of simple nostalgia is turned sinister in context.
The most chilling part of all of this is that the illusion almost works. She suckers Yachiyo for long enough that she’s able to briefly disable her. It’s a little upsetting to see the strongest magical girl in the cast brought low by someone hitting her emotional weak points that well.
What’s even worse is that the illusion actually seems to buy its own lies. It gets worked up enough when Iroha tells it to leave Yachiyo alone that the two end up fighting in a brief but effective scene. We do also get to see Mifuyu’s magical girl form as a consequence, and it’s quite neat.
Iroha isn’t strong enough to hold her off on her own. Yachiyo, thankfully, recovers in time enough to land the finishing blow. Said blow just so happens to be her throwing her halberd at the illusion from behind; thus literally stabbing her friend in the back.
She doesn’t exactly handle the shock well, and briefly breaks down as she frantically tries to remind herself that she wasn’t fighting the real Mifuyu. It’s worth repeating; seeing the strongest, most collected magical girl we’ve seen on-screen so far losing her grip like this is just upsetting.
It’s all just generally a lot, and we’re not even quite at the halfway point of the episode. It says something that the witch controlling the shrine world, a weird elephant-dragon-thing, seems a bit peripheral.
Through The Black Glass
The stress of not actually finding Ui then starts to get to Iroha. We get a shot of her soul gem going black, and get a deeply unsettling sequence of the witch transformation process from the perspective of the victim. It’s probably a column cliche at this point to single out specific sequences of Gekidan Inu Curry’s work in a given episode that stand out, but it’s clearly this in episode five.
Tsuruno arrives on the scene as this is happening, but not soon enough to actually save Iroha. Our protagonist’s witch form is really something to behold.
Yachiyo and Tsuruno attempt to fight the witches off, but before they can make any headway, Iroha–still in witch form–brutally pecks the shrine dragon to pieces with its “beak”. The shrine world dissolves in an instant, and back in the real world Witch Iroha almost immediately starts going after Tsuruno. However, before anyone else can do anything, we’re met with an unexpected guest.
Bolt From The Blue
Mami Tomoe, everybody.
She blasts Witch Iroha, and quite surprisingly, our protagonist returns to normal, albeit knocked out cold. This is not something that was even ever implied to be possible in the original series (where witching was permanent), and all but confirms that the witches here run on somewhat different rules.
Mami’s appearance here, rescuing our heroine aside, is a pure fan-joy moment. She got relatively little screentime in the original series, and it’s nice to see her return in Magia Record. Even if, as we soon learn, she appears to be in a somewhat antagonistic role.
Mami has to be talked down from popping Iroha again in human form, and seems to be convinced that she’s a witch “in disguise”. It’s not clear at this point how founded that suspicion is, but she only backs down with extreme hesitance. This is all markedly different from much (though not all) of how she’s portrayed in the original, where she was something of the team older sister. Over all though there’s no other way to put it; this entire scene is just really cool.
Mami also leaves Tsuruno with this little comment about Yachiyo.
These bombshells dropped, the show fast-forwards to several hours later. Iroha having been carried by Yachiyo to the latter’s home to recover. We get to see her having nightmares, but otherwise this is mostly a comedown from the delirious overload of the prior 15 minutes. Iroha even briefly has a relatable moment of panicking that she has school in the morning before remembering that it’s Saturday.
We also get Yachiyo putting in words what many will have intuited earlier.
That strange, melancholy note is the end of this week’s episode.
Well, except, of course, for a post-credits sequence. A sequence that again raises far, far more questions than it answers, and ratchets the tension right back up.
What it appears to depict is Kaede, of Momoko’s gang, losing a fight against a powerful witch, who may also be Momoko.
She then….well it’s kind of not clear. The framing seems to imply that this is either a nightmare, or, that like Iroha, they all somehow recovered. But she also has “paint” on her hands, and seems disgusted with herself.
Whatever any of this is getting at is a question for next week, though. This is probably the strongest episode so far of a series that has on the whole been great from the word “go”. It’s true that it does require the investment of Having Seen Madoka, but it’s more than worth it. Magia Record continues to be among the strongest anime of the season.