It’s been a longstanding unofficial column policy to never cover sequels to shows we didn’t cover originally, so consider MAGIA RECORD good enough to be worth bending the rules for. It is a spinoff (based on a mobile game) rather than a true sequel. However, it’s advisable to be at least familiar with the original Puella Magi Madoka Magica to get what’s going on here. Let’s dive in.
Magia Record is in part the story of Iroha Tamaki, a visual ersatz of Madoka herself. However; the world of Magia Record sees the “wish” system from the original series codified into a formal, in-universe structure. Everyone seems to know magical girls exist, and that they fight witches. This is already something of a shift in scope. The original Madoka was mostly about the original cast, other characters only existing on the periphery. Here, Magia Record seems to be trying to draw its circle of focus around a larger group of characters.
The plot, broadly, involves Iroha trying to remember what her wish was. Then, when she remembers it, trying to find out what happened to her sickly sister Ui, who seems to have vanished without a trace.
The scope, of course, is not the only thing that’s changed. Magia Record‘s production is important to understanding what it may be trying to do. Original scriptwriter Gen Urobuchi, a man so infamously cruel to his characters that he earned the half-affectionate/half-disparaging nickname “The Urobutcher,” is out.
In his place, the fascinating duo Gekidan Inu Curry are in charge of adapting the game’s story for the TV screen. Curry are a pair of mixed-media visual artists; animators who often work disparate elements like plushies and paper craft into their work. They designed the witches and their labyrinths in the original Madoka, and their fingerprints are all over the new series.
The witch designs, as one might expect, remain as inventively terrifying as ever. Curry have lost none of their touch in this department over the years. The new series’ Witches’ Labyrinths stack up admirably against the original’s, some might even be better.
Outside of the witches and their lairs, the rest of the visuals are strong as well. In the first episode, we’re clued in that something strange is going on before anything actually happens by way of some subway signage. These morph from standard “don’t litter” fare into sinister commands to keep quiet. Iroha and her partner Kuroe do catch on, but the visual signposting for our benefit is a good touch.
Later on in that same episode, Iroha is haunted by visions of her missing sister. This shot in particular is absolutely golden.
It’s so far been strong visual direction that’s carried Magia Record, but that’s not to say the plot is going nowhere. It’s a bit circumspect, but the central narrative is definitely there. Iroha is drawn to the mysterious Kamihama City. A gathering ground for magical girls, and a place where the witches are far stronger than she’s used to. She’s unprepared for the greater threat, which leads to her and her partner being rescued by the mysterious Yachiyo. Tying this back to the visuals; it also leads us to the series’ first great fight scene.
The second episode shifts the focus. Iroha is taken to a building in Kamihama owned by someone named The Coordinator, but before her quest can be pursued any further, things get messy.
Two of the three magical girls she’s partnered up with are the sweet Kaede and the prickly Rena. They have a falling out in the middle of arguing over whether to help Iroha. The Madoka franchise has always had a dash of nightmare logic thrown into things. It’s consequently no surprise that when one carves the name of the other on a pair of cursed “friendship-breaking” stairs, the two are abducted by a monster made of chains when they try to reconcile. Thus also leading to Magia Record‘s first cliffhanger.
It’s hard, maybe impossible, to grapple with the legacy of something as important to as many people as Madoka. We should be giving Magia Record credit for even trying, if nothing else. However, it is worth noting that so far Magia Record has largely been more of what was liked about the original series. That’s absolutely a fine way to make a “good” sequel, but not really a way to make a “great” one. Time will tell if Magia Record will begin to stand on its own two legs more in the weeks to come.
Even if it doesn’t, though, there’s a million quietly astounding little things that I simply haven’t mentioned. There’s Momoko, firmly a side character so far, who is one of the best-written in the current anime season.
She tries to be the “mom friend” holding her trio of magical girls together, but inadvertently makes things worse when they fight. There’s the show’s architecture, which is wonderfully surreal in the tradition of many of the best Studio SHAFT shows.
There’s the backgrounds and enemies in the Labyrinths, where Gekidan Inu Curry’s hand is felt most directly.
The long and short of it is that it’s a series with a lot going for it. One that is perhaps just two or three steps away from true greatness. Time will tell if it ever actually gets there. Between you and me, though? I mostly wanna know what happens to Kaede and Rena.
All in all; this is one to keep your eye on.