Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story ?
So, Magia Record is going to have to be at least two cours, right? Because there is absolutely no way that this story is going to satisfactorily resolve in just a couple of weeks, and I would really hate it if the series ended on some dumb cliffhanger, all so we would be more motivated to go out and spend a bunch of money on the mobile game. That might make for effective marketing, but it's also the perfect recipe for turning a solid season of television into an underwhelming disappointment.
I don't mean to get all doom-and-gloomy upfront, but I spent much of my time watching “Memory Museum at 3:00 PM” getting a little anxious on the show's behalf. We're almost a dozen episodes into this “Madoka Magica Side Story”, yet Magia Record still feels stuck in the exposition stage of its plot. I wouldn't want to invite unfair comparisons to the original series, except Magia Record's subtitle literally does that exact thing for me, so I won't feel too bad about it. If there's any major difference between this series and Puella Magi Madoka Magica that feels worth pointing out right now, it's that by the time PMMM hit its eleventh episode, the crap had well and truly hit the fan, and all of the character's journeys were set on an irreversible crash course that was impossible to look away from.
Magia Record, on the other hand, is content to dole out the breadcrumbs of its multiple mysteries at a sometimes agonizingly reserved pace. Madoka's own journey might itself have been back loaded to the final episodes of her own show, but the show supplemented that by being stuffed to the brim with riveting drama in every other corner you looked. The girls of Magia Record all of their own problems, yes, but they all exist either as tangential subplots or mystery boxes left yet to be resolved. Aside from Yachiyo and Iroha, every other cast member we've met so far falls into the former category: Felicia wants to avenge her family, Sana wants to make connections, and Tsuruno wants…to make good Chinese food, I guess? They're all solid characters, but their drama is designed to be of secondary concern to the main plot, which is rooted in Iroha's search for Ui, and Yachiyo's mysterious past with Ifuyu, and both of these threads now seem intrinsically tied to the Wings of Magius.
So where does this leave Magia Record's story? Ifuyu has been revealed to be an antagonist working for Magius, which is progress, I suppose, though the groups' intentions are still so frustratingly vague that Ifuyu drops by the Villa to literally invite the girls to a lecture at a local Rumor, the titular Memory Museum, just so the girls can get the low-down on what the hell is going on in Kamihama City. So there's a mystery box that can't be opened until at least next week, meaning that Yachiyo is exactly the enigma as ever, as is Ifuyu, which makes their dynamic a lot less fun than it could be if we cared more about their relationship and history. Then there's Iroha, who is somehow a less compelling heroine than Madoka despite being more active than that first pink-haired protagonist ever was. This week, Iroha even manages to break away from her friends and track down Tsukuyo Amane on her own, desperately digging for information on how Ui, Nemu, and Touka might be linked to Magius. This leads to Ifuyu crashing the party Sana planned for Yachiyo, which leads to all of them taking the invitation/super obvious trap that leads them to the Memory Museum, where they discover that Touka is – you guessed it – a member of the Wings of Magius. There's a difference between plot and story, however, and while Iroha's goals and actions are very much a part of the plot gears that move the events in Magia Record along, a story is more than the connected dots that get characters from Point A to Point Z.
Madoka may have been a largely passive character for a lot of PMMM's run, but her deep and complex emotional resonance with every other character in that show made her a vital thread in the fabric of its story. I simply don't care about Ui, or why she got erased, or what Nemu and Touka have to do with her or Iroha. As of this episode, none of them are real characters, and they have no presence or weight in the story as anything other than bullet points to fill out in Magia Record's plot diagram; they are merely stepping stones of information for Iroha to hop along until she learns whatever big secrets there are to learn at the end of the line. It's the other girls at the Villa that I care about, and I'm vastly more interested to see what becomes of their wants, dreams, and fears in this war against the Witches. With all off this lore having been well and truly dumped, Magia Record is one step closer to solving The Mystery of the Disappearing Sister, but there's still no answer in sight as to why it should matter. If there truly is another season's worth of episodes in store for us, then perhaps Magia Record will be able to make the “whys” of its story just as much as the “whos”, the “whats”, the “wheres”, and the “whens”. If the next couple of chapters are all the show has got to wrap things up, though, then I have a sinking feeling that we'll need to lower our expectations if we don't want the disappointment of it all to sting too badly.
Odds and Ends
• Artistry Alley: It's another weak week for Magia Record's visuals, unfortunately. The Memory Museum gets a decently creative introduction scene, but the place itself feels like lower-tier material as far as the weird dreamscapes of the franchise are concerned. The one Witch encounter we get in this episode is actually a cameo of Gertrud, the Witch from the very beginning of PMMM, so there aren't any points for originality there. I'm torn, because the fan part of me loved seeing those creepy roses and the little mustachioed puffballs again, but I'm also miffed that the whole fight takes place off-screen. We see the girls preparing for the showdown, and then we just cut to them talking about the fight they just did, which is so clumsy and obvious I feel it has to be a joke. A self-referential waste of time is still a waste of time, though, no matter how you slice it.
• Yachiyo is apparently at least a few years older than the other girls, which I should have picked up on earlier, given that she owns an maintains an entire house by herself. Then there's the fact that she has a job as a fashion model and goes to school separately from the other girls – a college perhaps? It doesn't really matter much in the long run, except that I think there's a missed opportunity in examining the difference in perspective that comes from being a Magical Girl that is still in middle school, versus one that has to manage the responsibilities of adulthood alongside the ones that comes with protecting reality from otherworldly abominations on a regular basis.
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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