Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story ?
“Why Is This So Unbearable?” presents an interesting conundrum that I knew Magia Record was going to have to address sooner or later, and whether or not it ends up being an issue at all depends entirely on your familiarity with the Madoka Magica franchise. If, somehow, the anime series based on a video-game that is a spinoff of another anime series/film franchise – the one that is even subtitled “Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story” – is your very first experience with the world of Magical Girls, Witches, and Kyubeys, then I imagine this twelfth episode of Magia Record worked remarkably well as both a lore-dump and high-falutin drama. We have the big reveal of Yachiyo's sordid history with Mifuyu, the culmination of the Wings of Magius' mission to recruit our heroes to their side, and a veritable avalanche of secrets uncovered about the true nature of the war between Witches and Magical Girls. If Magia Record were able to exist as something that wasn't a giant, well-oiled fanservice machine for one of the most influential anime of the last twenty years, then “Why Is This So Unbearable?” would probably make for an unqualified success.
But of course, this is not a standalone story, and the show's subtitle explicitly prevents us from even hypothetically entertaining such an idea. Magia Record, both as an anime and a game, is meant to function specifically as a piece of supplementary media for folks who have already engaged with (and spent their hard-earned money on) the original run of Puella Magi Madoka Magica media. It expects you to have seen the shows, watched the movies, read the different manga series, and so on and so forth, and never once have I gotten the impression that the series is catering to anyone coming into the franchise cold. Ironically, I think Magia Record would work much better in many ways if you saw it before seeing anything related to Madoka's adventures in The Land of Incredibly Sad Magical Girls, and “Why Is This So Unbearable” is a perfect example as to why.
Last week, Mifuyu promised the girls a lecture on the reality of their existence as Magical Girls, and she and Touka certainly deliver on that promise. The entirety of the episode is a literal, in-universe lore dump for the edification of our heroines, one that serves a two-pronged approach: It reveals the specific details of Yachiyo's backstory (which fans of PMMM have likely inferred much about already), and it shows the whole Mikazuki Villa gang what they've really been fighting for this whole time. Meanwhile, Momoko, who was also one of the Magical Girls who used to reside at the Villa when Mifuyu was still around, spills the same details to Rena and Kaede, so literally everyone in the cast is up to speed now. As a personal drama for the specific girls in question, this episode works fairly well. They are suitably shocked by what Mifuyu and Kaede have to tell them, Yachiyo's distant emotional state is further clarified, and the stakes have been raised even further in regards to where our heroines fall as either allies or enemies of the Wings of Magius.
The problem is that, in theory, almost none of this information is new or meaningful to the audience, which creates a huge disconnect between what we are feeling vs. what the characters are feeling – this is usually not a good thing, unless that disconnect is being intentionally played up as dramatic irony. Most, if not all of Magia Record's viewers already knew about the girls' souls being confined to the Soul Gem, that they will die if their Gems are destroyed, and that all Magical Girls are doomed to becoming Witches. As Iroha watches Yachiyo's past unfold before her, she sees a girl named Kanae get killed in battle, and later on another of Yachiyo's allies, Mel, is transformed into a Witch. Yachiyo, Mifuyu, and Momoko are all broken by these revelations in different ways, and one must assume that the rest of the Villa Gang are going to have their own opinions on this news. For us, though, this is old had. Even Kyubey's ominous commentary, which once felt so shocking and coldly menacing, is tossed off here as little more than a pre-requisite. It's as if Magia Record is shrugging its shoulders and saying “We had to include the twist, the Kyubey monologuing, and all of the angst – it's required for a Madoka Magica story!”
Is it, though? I concede that the dark truth of Witches and Magical Girls is indeed a necessary component of what makes Madoka Magica work – it's the gimmick upon which the whole series is founded. The setup of the Magical Girl arrangement literally makes it impossible to ignore: Eventually, every Magical Girl becomes a Witch, so every single character in this show had to find out eventually, it was going to be a big deal, etc. Did the big “twist” have to be dragged out across twelve episodes, though? As we've established, Magia Record never operated under the pretense that most every member of the audience already knew this was coming; would it have been so wrong to get it out of the way just a few episodes in that there were Magical Girls already aware of what was going on underneath the surface, and that the Wings of Magius were operating to defy the fate that Kyubey demands they all accept. That's been easy enough to infer, but inference will only get you so far after twelve-weeks of dragging a plot along in laboriously slow bits and pieces. That kind of pacing might work when you're trying to fill out time within the schema of a free-to-play mobile game, but it kills the momentum of a weekly series. After four long months, the cast of this Madoka Magica spinoff now know everything that the audience has known from episode one. So can we finally move on?
Thankfully, in what is easily the most intriguing development yet, Magia Record seems to be telling us “Yes, let's do something different for a change.” It's been a strangely long time since the show addressed its biggest shakeup to the Madoka Magica mythos: The ability for girls like Iroha and Kaede to somehow return from the supposedly irreversible transformation into a Witch. Touka reveals to Iroha that this new being is called a “Doppel” (as in “doppelganger”), and it is the ace up The Wings of Magius' sleeve. They have discovered that it really is possible for Magical Girls to defy their fate, and now that Iroha and Co. know the truth, why wouldn't they fight for Magius? To do otherwise would be to embrace oblivion, and to knowingly engage in the destruction of their former friends and allies. This truth has destroyed many a Magical Girl in the past, and has even compromised the fundamental structure of reality a time or two. So, knowing what she knows now, where does Iroha stand?
I have never been so excited for where Magia Record is going as I am now. I figured the existence of the “Doppels” would eventually lead to interesting developments for the Madoka Magica universe, but I'm exceptionally happy that The Wings of Magius have laid all the cards out on the table, at least for now. Sure, Kyubey would argue that to support the Wings of Magius would be to fight in favor of the heat death of the universe, but Kyubey has been proven wrong before – just ask the girl whom the franchise is named for. And if he can be wrong about the irreversibility of the Magical Girls' fate to become Witches, what else might he be wrong about?
Odds and Ends
• Artistry Alley: I've really come to appreciate the surreal design of the Memory Museum, especially the hybrid gondola/2001: A Space Odyssey mind trip that the girls find themselves on for much of the episode. I also loved the twisted, collegiate aesthetic of Touka's lectures, which makes sense, since so many of the Wings of Magius are of college age. Gekidan Inu Curry's aesthetic has gotten a bit overplayed in Magia Record, but gonzo settings like this one remind me of how drop-dead gorgeous and unique this whole world really is. While Gen Urobuchi's original concepts and story were rightly praised in the original series, I think the GIC aesthetic is what really made Madoka Magica such a landmark in the medium. For whatever problems I've had with Magia Record's story, I'm still glad that my eyeballs have been able to enjoy a new dose of this multi-media nightmare diorama every week.
• Touka claims that not only does she not remember Ui, but that her lack of a memory indicates something more complicated than a wish to erase Ui from existence. Maybe she's wrong, maybe she's lying, maybe Ui is actually Magius, or maybe she's secretly just another side of Iroha's personality, or something. I find it difficult to express how little this mystery matters to me, if I'm being honest. Hopefully, whatever reveal we do eventually get isn't a total letdown.
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story is currently streaming on FUNimation.
discuss this in the forum (85 posts) |