Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 21 of
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story (TV 2) ?
So, Magia Record has put me in the awkward position of having to review a season finale that is fundamentally incomplete. This isn't the kind of situation we ran into a few weeks ago either, when “This is Something Only I Can Do” was rushed out of the door with its scenes barely hanging together through sheer force of stubborn willpower (and a hell of a lot of janky animation shortcuts). No, the version of “You're Not Strong" that has lived on Funimation's website since Saturday, September 25th is perfectly fine so far as its art and animation is concerned; there are even a few showstopping cuts to be found in the final fight.
Instead, due to some combination of behind-the-scenes troubles and communication mismanagement between Funimation and the Japanese production team, this episode has arrived with a significant portion of its subtitles just…not there. Whole sequences throughout the first half of the finale are only partially translated, and since my skills in the show's native language would barely rival that of a stunted Japanese toddler, that means that most of Magia Record's Season 2 finale is literally unintelligible.
The way I've heard it is that the original TV broadcast version of this episode had major audio issues, though Funimation apparently got a corrected version of the master copy of “You're Not Strong”, since I can hear all of the dialogue just fine. However, the translation team must be working on a major delay, since as I am writing this review on September 27th, and the problems still haven't been fixed. Whatever the reasons for these problems may be, the final product of the finale suffers because of them. What's worse is that they primarily affect the scenes where Yachiyo and Iroha Connect with Tsuruno to try and un-Uwasa the poor girl, which lands them smack in the middle of an elaborate showing for Tsuruno's Psychological Deconstruction Theater (a la Neon Genesis Evangelion). This is Tsuruno's big moment to shine, for her scraps of character development to come together into something truly meaningful, and 99% of English speaking viewers won't be able to understand half of what she's saying.
To the episode's credit, it's not hard to get the gist of Tsuruno's inner conflict, which a testament to the effectiveness of Gekidan Inu Curry's sense of visual storytelling, not to mention the simplicity of Magia Record's writing. In short, Tsuruno couldn't handle the pressure of having to be the sunny bastion of strength at the Villa, despite how much the group's turmoil was eating her up inside, and Yachiyo only made matters worse by refusing to empathize with Tsuruno when she needed it most. Thus, once the newly humbled Yachiyo finally “connects" with Tsuruno on a more intimate level, once she fully recognizes and accepts her friend's strengths and weaknesses, the curse can be lifted. It's the standard “Power of Friendship” routine that anime has done to death over the decades, but it works well enough here…or at least, I think it does, since I had to make up almost half of the dialogue throughout this part of the episode just so I could pretend to follow what was going on.
The subtitles are fine in the latter half of the finale, so I feel a lot more comfortable offering a complete critique of how things shake out there. It also helps that, aside from a couple of comically extended single frames, the animation holds up pretty well during the battle against Uwasa!Mami and Uwasa!Tsuruno, especially when Iroha and Madoka do the Connect thing and pour some much needed sakuga into the mix. On the whole, the battle is pretty rushed, as is the whole denouement, but considering how completely fucked this finale could have been, given the circumstances, I was surprised by how satisfied I was by the time the credits rolled.
Certainly, there are a lot of unanswered questions that could easily have been addressed if this second season had the usual 12 or 13 episodes to run its course, and I'm a tiny bit frustrated that all of this Walpurgisnacht hullabaloo seems to have existed largely to give Magia Record and excuse to do a Madoka crossover. The way that Mami is almost instantly saved, and how the superstorm dissipates immediately afterward, was an anticlimactic way to close out this Hotel Faint Hope arc. That being said, I'm genuinely interested to know what big secrets Nemu is going to reveal when Season 3 drops later this year, and I feel much more invested in the new girls' personal conflicts now, even considering how sloppy the last few episodes have been. Plus, Kuroe has some weird shit going on in her corner of the plot, and Magia Record seems to be dropping some metatextual clues about her role as an anime original character, which is the kind of pretentious nonsense I eat right up.
Look, I'll be honest: The first four or five episodes of this season were so damned impressive that I'm probably being way too forgiving of Magia Record's recent stumbles. In a run of only eight episodes, we've had two completely separate and distinct production disasters, the kind of embarrassments that would ruin a lesser show's reputation outright. The Madoka Magica pedigree does wonders, however, and even after all of the faceplants, Magia Record should be damned proud of how high it was able to soar when everything was going right. There was more raw emotion and pure spectacle in any one of those first Season 2 episodes than in anything we got the first time around, and that's enough of a glow up for me to want to plant my feet firmly in the Team Magia Record camp. It's far from a perfect show, and it still hasn't wriggled out of its big sibling's shadow, but this Madoka Magica spinoff has at least earned the right to finish the story that it started.
The only other thing we have to hope for is that, in the future, the crew at SHAFT are able to properly finish the individual episodes, too, and with their mental and physical health intact.
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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