Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 20 of
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story (TV 2) ?
Good news, everyone: “You Don't Know Anything” is nothing close to the disaster that last week's “This Is Something Only I Can Do” turned out to be. Sure, there are some awkward and sloppy-looking cuts here and there, especially in some of the dialogue sequences, but this is a functional work of animation, at the very least. I still have some concerns when it comes to the pacing of these final episodes, but man, it could have been so much worse.
The worst thing that “You Don't Know Anything” has going for it is that, aside from the Spooky Tsuruno material that bookends the story, there's an awful lot of downtime to be had for an episode that is coming right before the Season 2 finale. The first five weeks of the season felt so propulsive and engaging – even the chaotic nonsense of “This Is Something Only I Can Do” at least put all of that effort into getting the characters from Point A to Point B. Here, though, the Magical Girls are holed up and stuck, spending their time either catching each other up on whatever exposition they might have missed before, or trying to figure out how on Earth they're going to take on the Uwasa-infused Mami and Tsuruno without killing them.
Ironically, the upside is that some of the episode's best moments come out of all of this dialogue-heavy time killing. I was especially glad to see the Madoka Crew get the chance to properly introduce themselves to the Villa Girls. Kyoko is as charming as ever, shoving handfuls of churros into everyone's faces so they can carbo-load before the final battle. Madoka and Iroha get a moment to bond, too, and there's a certain amusement that comes from having the franchise's two pink-haired protagonists talk shop about Magical Girl Problems while they're stuck in the demented nightmare circus of Chelation Land. My single favorite moment of the episode might even be when Madoka sheepishly asks the girls to explain what Connecting is, which is a funny and effective way to highlight one of the key gimmicks that Magia Record has been trying to promote all this time.
Yachiyo also gets an emotional reunion with Sana and Felicia, which is fine, though it is another instance of Magia Record struggling to make its side characters' drama work as well as that of the main cast. There was a good beat a couple of weeks ago, where Felicia had to reckon with how cruel Magius is being to the Witches she despises so much, but her anger toward Yachiyo here feels a lot more forced and artificial. It doesn't help that, as Felicia points out, Yachiyo's promise to both destroy Magius and protect the girls from their Witchy Fates doesn't actually make a lot of sense the way that Yachiyo lays it out. I'm kind of with Felicia, to be honest—there are only so many circular and vaguely ominous monologues that a Magical Girl can stand before enough is enough.
Likewise, I'm a bit ambivalent about the scenes between Mitama, Mifuyu, and Momoko. On the one hand, Mitama's plight is kind of interesting, as it explains why she is so determined to remain neutral and unattached in her role as a Coordinator, but on the other hand, it once again feels like Magia Record is trying to force the audience to connect with a character whose role and backstory has barely been touched on up to now. Thankfully, even though the Mitama material doesn't really work on an emotional level, it at least gives the plot enough of a nudge to get things rolling again. As Mitama eventually reveals, the power of Connecting is what will save the Uwasa-infused girls, which finally gives our heroines a meaningful and comprehensible goal that also functions as an exciting obstacle.
Plus, even though I can't say that I particularly care about Tsuruno one way or another as a character, she makes for a fun villain! I'm always down for possessed girls that flash creepy smiles and unnatural movements as they try to kill people, and the creepy clown aesthetic helps the battle to stand out. It is also exciting when, in typical Madoka Magica fashion, the girls actually fail in their mission to Connect with Tsuruno and free her from the Uwasa. Other than some refreshingly entertaining action spectacle, all that our heroes have to show for their work is a Tsuruno that has somehow turned into a bloodier and even more broken Uwasa flesh-puppet. The girls get an A for effort, though, for whatever that is worth.
I can't quite give “You Don't Know Anything” the same amount of pity points, but it will earn a passing grade at the very least. I wasn't entirely thrilled with a lot of the proceedings, but I am about five percent more curious to know what will happen next time, so…mission accomplished? I still want to know what the hell is going on with Kuroe, and I'm skeptical of how satisfying the finale can even be with another eight-episode season left to go, but for now, I'll settle for knowing that Magia Record (hopefully) won't devolve into an embarrassing mess again before Season 2 comes to a close.
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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