Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Side Story
Iroha has been having strange dreams ever since she became a magical girl. Every night she's in a hospital room talking to a girl she doesn't recognize, accompanied by a tiny Kyubey. Determined to figure out what it all means, she travels to Kamihama City, where she first had the visions. But the witches in Kamihama City are much more dangerous than the ones she's used to fighting on her home turf and the magical girls not particularly welcoming. Will she ever be able to solve her mystery, or will the witches kill her before she has the chance?
That Magia Record is a spin-off of the perpetually popular Puella Magi Madoka Magica is obvious – it's right there in the full title of the book – Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story. What you may not know is that the manga (and January 2020 anime series) are also adaptations, in this case of the game of the same name. Released in Japan in 2017 and in the US in 2019, the game is for mobile phones and is best described as an RPG with fighting elements where players “collect” magical girls and form parties to defeat witches. This may explain why the transition from game to manga feels relatively smooth; by their nature, role-playing games have fairly developed stories but without the heavy narrative constraints that can backfire on visual novel adaptations. In fact, without the knowledge that this was based on a game, it would otherwise simply appear to be another manga spin-off of the main series, which in this case is intended as praise.
The story follows Iroha, a fifteen-year-old girl who became a magical girl at some point just before the plot begins. We're not privy to her initial meeting with Kyubey; although we do learn what her wish was about half-way through the volume, the fact that she is a magical girl almost feels like window dressing to her quest of figuring out why she keeps having strange dreams. Most nights since a visit to Kamihama City Iroha has dreamt of a girl a little younger than her in a hospital room with a tiny Kyubey on her bed. Iroha and the girl seem to know each other, but she can't remember who the girl is, nor can she hear what the girl says to her. The fact that there's a Kyubey present indicates that this may somehow be related to her transformation into a magical girl, but other than that, Iroha has basically no idea what's going on – and she really wants to.
To that end, she returns to Kamihama City in hopes of either finding the mini Kyubey or some other lead she can follow. Almost immediately upon arrival she proves herself a magical girl in the traditional mold – she senses another magical girl in trouble inside a witch's wards and so flings herself headlong into danger. The problem, she quickly learns, is that she's drastically underpowered for fighting in the city; the familiars she thinks are really strong turn out to be among the weaker of the familiars the other magical girl has come up against. Although she's told to leave and not come back, Iroha's determination to do anything but once again marks her as an old-school magical girl; unlike the girls of the main series or the others in this one, she hasn't ever really come face-to-face with death by witch or any sort of vicious corrupting influence. In Iroha's version of being a magical girl, faith, trust, and pixie dust (plus a dose of “no one left behind”) is all you need – it's as if Wedding Peach suddenly found herself in Magical Girl Raising Project or something. (Nurse Angel Ririka is probably the only old-school magical girl who would stand a chance in a modern magical girl show.) As readers/viewers of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, we know that she's going to have to do more than get her gem powered up in order to survive, but as of the end of this volume, Iroha still seems convinced that if she just tries hard enough and believes, things will turn out all right.
It's that knowledge on our parts juxtaposed with the certainty on Iroha's that makes this interesting. A good spin-off needs to bring something new or worthwhile to the table, and Magia Record does look like it's going to do that. Iroha is a little more innocent than Madoka and her form of determination seems a bit different as well, but there are some distinct parallels being drawn between the two girls that are worth keeping an eye on. The fact that both are archers certainly doesn't feel like a coincidence (although Iroha uses a small crossbow), and as you can see from the cover, they share coloring as well. Iroha's costume is much more practical, for a given value thereof, than many of the fluffier variations in the original series, and that may say something about her inner strength, although that's just as likely to be a liability if it keeps her in places she lacks the skill to survive. There's also the question of her wish and how it may be twisted to be used against her; we do learn what that is partway through the book, and the fact that there's no evidence of it having come true in a desirable way is probably the most dangerous element of the story thus far.
Artist Fujino Fuji does a good job of remaining faithful to the base character designs of the franchise, and the art is generally attractive. They definitely have some issues with foreshortening and the balance of limbs (both with each other and against the torso), but overall the art does a good job capturing the mood of the story. Backgrounds are a bit lacking, but tones, although heavy, are well-used.
Obviously the appeal of Magia Record is going to be greater for die-hard fans of the original series or players of the game, and you do need to be familiar with PMMM in order to really understand this. Fortunately, if that describes you, this is an interesting volume, and thus far it's intriguing enough to merit reading book two when it comes out.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Interesting parallels between Iroha and Madoka and Iroha and classic magical girls. Art is attractive.
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