Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story ?
I try not to let Magia Record's status as a mobile game adaptation affect my reaction to the show, but episodes like “This Isn't the Past” make it difficult to ignore. This is by no means a bad episode of television – Shaft's production values and the combined directional talents of Yukihiro Miyamoto and Gekidan Inu Curry all but guarantee that Magia Record will always be fun to watch, at the very least. The script and overall pacing of this week's story betray the show's origins, though, meaning that the visuals have to pick up the story's slack even more so than usual. It feels like padding, in a lot of ways, a combination of all the story-scenes and random encounters that come before a game chapter picks up in its climax.
This feeling isn't limited to any one scene; it pervades the entire episode. Take the introduction of Tsuruno Yui, for example, the over-eager Magical Girl that Iroha meets when she visits Chinese Restaurant BanBanzai, which Tsuruno's family owns and operates. Tsuruno is a decent character, exactly the kind of anime archetype you'd expect to see in the less ambitious spinoff of a cultural phenomenon, but a good portion of this episode is dedicated to giving her screen time, which is and all of it feels too long by half, and lacking in the spark of character and drama that Gen Urobuchi brought to most every scene in the original Madoka Magica. The first half of this episode, where Iroha recaps her mission to find Ui and teams up with Tsuruno and Yachiyo, smacks of the kind of over-written yet under-plotted stuff you'd see in the visual novel sections of a game that is trying to fill out time between gameplay sections. Tsuruno bugs Iroha about providing a review score for her shop's mediocre Ramen, the episode takes another five minutes to reintroduce Yachiyo and the concept of local rumors, etc. It's rather flavorless exposition, which I'd expect from many other mystery/action anime, but not a Madoka Magica story.
Things pick up somewhat once Yachiyo agrees to help Iroha and Tsuruno investigate the show's newest mystery: The Séance Shrine. Iroha has been looking for rumors that specifically involve disappeared people and long lost friends, and wouldn't you know it, Yachiyo has been digging into a local story about a shrine that will reunite people with anyone whose names get written on a special votive plaque. The catch? All of the folks who posted about going to try the Séance Shrine haven't been heard from since. In theory, this sounds like another opportunity for spooky procedural fun times, like with the Chain Witch, though in practice it amounts to the three girls taking a stamp tour around town and chatting about local history. The legend of Mizuna Shrine's tragic love story is told with the franchise's usual visual panache, but it also makes it obvious that Mizuna Shrine is going to be the Séance Shrine, even if Yachiyo writes it off initially.
It doesn't help that the Witch Labyrinth of the week is tossed in as an afterthought. I liked the detail of Yachiyo being especially concerned with getting all the good deals at a grocery store sale, but I was very disappointed when a Witch just randomly showed up and was then destroyed by Tsuruno in a minute or two. There is perhaps a certain dramatic irony to be had in the show having the Magical Girls treating Witch battles like everyday random encounters in an RPG, given what we know about the true nature of Witches, but an episode is going to need more than a middling fight scene to maintain audience interest.
Admittedly, my interest was piqued once the three finally made their way into the Labyrinth of the Séance shrine, though that comes right before the credits roll. Not only does Iroha see Ui in the distance of the Labyrinth's fog, but Yachiyo sees someone named Mifuyu, which can only mean double the drama come the next episode. It's a shame that we had to wade through so much table setting just to establish the stakes of future stories, but I suppose its to be expected. Maybe there's a virtual currency we can buy to skip more boring cutscenes and get to the good stuff…
Odds and Ends
• Tsuruno has some unspoken bad blood with Yachiyo, which the show telegraphs by having both of the girls constantly talk around their not-quite-friendship. They also apparently both would have written Mifuyu's name on the Séance Shrine's plaque. Twenty bucks says she's a Magical Girl who used to work with the two before dying horribly.
• Tsuruno might be more annoying than anything, at the moment, but I do appreciate her family's joy in having the most reliably mediocre Chinese food in the city. You have to take pride in what you do, I suppose.
• There was an odd cut where Iroha and Co. pass by the other three MGs, and Momoko freaks out about it. I'm pretty sure it's because she doesn't like Yachiyo, though the scene makes it look like she's angry at Iroha (Update: As a correction, I was informed by a number of readers that these girls are not the team from Episodes 2-3, but a pair of girls from the mobile game that made a cameo appearance. Thanks for the heads up, everyone! I'll keep an eye out for similar scenes in the future).
• Wikipedia tells me that Momo Asakura (Iroha), Sora Amamiya (Yachiyo), and Shiina Natsukawa (Tsuruno) are all members of the musical group TrySail – they're also the ones that perform the show's OP, which is neat, I suppose.
• Artistry Alley: The Grocery Store Witch wasn't Madoka Magica's best offering, but it's candy colored visuals had some interesting tidbits nonetheless. I always like trying to figure out the psychological explanation behind some of the Labyrinth visuals – this one had a creepy stuffed rabbit open its skull to reveal a human pelvis, which has some unsettling connotations. The paper-puppet style of the Mizuna legend flashback was also on point.
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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