Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story ?
It's always refreshing when a show pulls of an exciting and compelling episode that succeeds primarily because it has sidesteps the story's own main characters and central plot. Iroha has exactly one thing to do this week, and that is to listen to the spooky voice coming from her phone and jump off of Kamihama's Radio Tower so she can enter the realm of Endless Solitude. The other girls can do nothing else but sit around and wait for Iroha to come back, and Iroha herself is little more than an observer whose presence bookends the episode. The real story here is of two different creatures, each of them doomed to be lost and alone by their very natures, who find in each other a humanizing and transformative kind of love.
What Iroha learns is that the girl known as the Invisible Girl, Sana Futaba, has been trapped in Endless Solitude by the Radio Wave Girl, who is an Uwasa named Ai that also happens to be an AI, as in “artificial intelligence”. I have questions about this revelation, and whether or not the presence of a completely artificial magical being kind of breaks the lore of the Madoka Magica universe, but Magia Record doesn't really want us to think about that right now. What's more important is that this agent of Magius has become independent and sentient, and she is in fact asking the Magical Girls to come and destroy her, so that Sana can be freed from her realm.
Iroha obliges, and this is where we get into the story at the heart of “A World Just for Me”. It tells of how Sana came to Ai's realm out of desperate loneliness, and we can hardly be surprised to learn it was borne from a wish gone wrong. When Kyubey approached Sana, she wished to become totally invisible to the world around her, as her life with her oppressive and judgmental family was too much to bear. She would rather have been seen by nobody at all than continue living as she did. Of course, being completely unable to connect with any person is a hell in and of itself, so when Sana found out about the rumor of a place where nobody else could ever find out, she gladly leapt from the top of the Radio Tower to find out. There, in Endless Solitude, she met a nameless artificial intelligence who had claimed the lives of many girls before Sana, though she had never before met anyone that was glad to see her, or to bee seen by her. This Uwasa, which Sana would later name Ai, would be fundamentally changed in the month or so that Sana spent by her side, so much so that she would be willing to betray the Wings of Magius and destroy herself in order to give Sana a second chance at living.
The whole “human friendship teaches a robot how to love” angle is a tiresome trope at this point, but the depth of feeling that Magia Record imbues it with makes it work like new. For what feels like the first time, the mixed-media approach to Madoka Magica's otherworldly visuals don't just feel like a remarkably effective gimmick; they become necessary fabric in the tapestry of two completely different lives that are being woven together. In combining Ai's Rumor with Sana's fractured worldview, the show allows Gekidan Inu Curry to truly revel in their aesthetic, tying the visuals into the emotional core of the narrative in a way that the blink-and-you-miss-them Uwasa fights from episodes past just couldn't. The episode's imagery supplements the script instead of serving as its crutch, and that makes all the difference.
This is only the middle chapter of the Endless Solitude story, though, so Iroha eventually arrives to free Sana, and one of the Wings of Magius predictably arrives to muck things up. Alina Gray is her name, and though it's too early to tell whether her “wacky artist” shtick is going to wear itself thin in the end, you can color me intrigued for now. In fact, my enthusiasm for the entire Magia Record formula has been given a hearty shot of enthusiasm; it's amazing how much more mileage a story can get when it makes efforts to get its audience invested. Last week, it felt like Magia Record was wallowing in atmosphere for its own sake, which is all well and good, but the whole effect is just so much more impactful when the script proves it can walk the walk and talk the talk.
Odds and Ends
• Artistry Alley: I loved most everything about the visuals this week, especially the way the 4:3 aspect ratio was used to highlight the mood of Sana's flashbacks. The way you could just make out the shifting images in the black bars on either side of the screen was a killer effect. Ai's world also had a lot of neat visual touches to it, like the swirling paint that served as the background a lot of the time, or the photographs of colored sand used for the interstitial cards.
• Alina Gray is exactly the kind of sassy and overdesigned original character I would expect to find in a Madoka Magica fan-fiction, and I say that with great love and affection for both fanfiction and OCs that are just a little too extra for their own good.
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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