Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story
Episode 8

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 8 of
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story ?

As we settle into the beginning of another episode cycle of a Magia Record story arc, “You Definitely Shouldn't Respond” once again sees the show challenging itself to sustain a full half-hour with little more than mood and crumbs of exposition. It works a little better here, if only because the characters have all benefited from us caring more about their personal struggles by virtue of having spent so much time with them by now. The drawback, though, is that the increased emotional investment has come at the exchange of a concrete plot. In the last table-setting episode, we at least had the benefit of being introduced to Iroha's dynamic with Yachiyo and Tsuruno, along with the investigation into the Shrine Rumor. Here, though, we've already established who the characters are and what their basic relationships are like, and the Rumor-of-the-Week is more of a background force, an investigation that Iroha and the others only make progress with by accident. There's no driving force to stitch together the episode's disparate parts, just a handful of good scenes scattered about a bunch of filler, and, of course, that ever present sense of supernatural unease.

I think the underlying conflict here is Iroha's growing detachment from the world. Beyond what she's already going through with the search for Ui, she's also transferred to the high-school in Kamihama, and it's clear that Iroha has almost nothing in common to relate to the girls in her class that don't already make a habit of battling magical horrors in their spare time. What's more is that Kaede is nowhere to be found, which has Rena in a standoffish way as well, and there's no sign of Momoko whatsoever. Tsuruno and Yachiyo are still around though, so it isn't as if Iroha is lacking in emotional support, which makes our heroine's ennui harder to contextualize. She opens the episode by opining that a piece of her feels missing, but “You Definitely Shouldn't Reply” doesn't do an especially great job of communicating that loss in anything but the broadest of strokes.

The best scene of the entire episode is when Iroha is the one who is called to pick Felicia up from getting busted for fighting. It reveals a maternal side to Iroha when she is able to acknowledge the everyday conflicts that Felicia is struggling with while still acknowledging how she is growing and making progress, having gone from mercenary work to being a nearly functional employee of the Banbanzai Restaurant. It's also possible to read Iroha's laissez faire approach to mentorship as further evidence of her struggle to fully engage with the world when she's so consumed by what is lacking in her own life, which makes it a stronger piece of characterization than all the scenes of Iroha staring off wistfully in the middle of class, or when she walks in on the other girls gossiping about what kind of delinquent she must be.

As for the Rumors themselves, there are two or three different entities to contend with, depending on your perspective, though they all might just end up being the exact same thing by the end of the story. Rena drops in to tell the tale of the “Invisible Girl” – a girl who is so unnoticed by society that she literally becomes invisible – which feels more like a commentary on Iroha's emotional state than anything, as the primary Rumor this week is the “Electric Wave Girl”, whose helpless pleas can be heard through mobile phone static when you listen at just the right spot in the city. Then you have the mysterious texts that Iroha receives all episode, and when the girls finally realize that maybe the creepy messages from the unknown number could warrant investigation, the entity on the other end proclaims that she is being held in the “Endless Solitude”.

It's an appropriately ambiguous name for what will likely just be another Rumor MacGuffin, but while it makes for a decent setup to whatever action we'll be getting in the coming weeks, the formula feels played out by now, and SHAFT's pristine visuals can only do so much for a plot that feels as if its running on a treadmill a quarter of the time. The cast is finally shaping up, though, and the whole “Wings of Magius” mystery is enough to get us to the season finale, I'm sure. Still, if Magia Record cut out the most indulgent of the atmospheric asides this week and allowed the Rumor conflict to fully get started before the credits rolled, I'd wager this episode would be twice as strong, and with only half of the fat. The clock is ticking, after all, and I don't think that Ui is getting less disappeared any time soon.

Rating:

Odds and Ends

Artistry Alley: This is a weak entry for the series, overall. The cutout-puppet inserts that come with the Rumor explanations are cool and all, but the problem with being an outfit as talented as Gekidan Inu Curry, not to mention the rest of the SHAFT crew, is that what looks amazing by the standards of any other anime will still feel a bit stale after so many weeks unless extra work goes into spicing things up. Even the incredibly brief action sequence we get this week comes across as the show just going through the motions and tossing in a fight scene only because it's what's expected at this point.

• The cold-open of the episode has Iroha snoozing while the radio delivers an in-universe plug for the voice actress' real world idol group, TrySail – it even plays the opening bars of the theme song through the phone before transitioning to the full OP. I can't decide if this is cute, obnoxious, or both.

• So Iroha's parents are gone gone at this point, right? We got that one throwaway shot of them in the first episode, but all signs have pointed to her living completely alone, what with her being able to just completely change schools on a whim and all. This is an interesting (and somewhat disappointing) divergence from the original Madoka Magica – I always really appreciated that Madoka had a genuine parental presence in her life, and I think it's a shame that literally every character in Magia Record lives utterly divorced from a familial routine. Everyone's folks are apparently either dead mysteriously vanished.

• It's been explained to me that the translation's inconsistent nomenclature for the Rumors is likely an attempt to replicate the way it's handled Japanese. The word for rumor, “uwasa”, is spelled in either kanji, hiragana, or katakana depending on how it is being used. As such, the subtitles reflect the use of “uwasa” as a general noun (“rumor”), a proper noun for the general phenomena (“Rumor” with a capital “R”), or a specific proper noun that refers to the Rumor (“Uwasa”) in question. I'll try to keep consistent with this convention in the future.

Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story is currently streaming on FUNimation.

James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.


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