Reviewby Theron Martin, May 2nd 2014
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Different Story
Although fledgling magical girl Mami was taught some important lessons by senior magical girls, she thereafter worked alone for a year until encountering Kyoko, herself a fledgling magica girl, who immediately looked up to Mami as a senpai. Though taken aback at first, Mami decided to ignore the advice she was given to prioritize herself and instead team up with, train, and befriend Kyoko – and a friend who was a magical girl, someone who could understand her and appreciate her efforts to fight off witches, was a glorious experience for both, and eventually they became so in synch that even the toughest witches could not stand before them. However, even Mami's friendship could not stave off Kyoko's biggest potential problem: how her priestly father might react to finding out that Kyoko was a magical girl. As the disaster within her family grows, so does the distance between her and Mami, much to Mami's dismay. Can anything be done to salvage a beautiful friendship?
The Different Story is the first of three manga volumes by Magica Quartet and Hanokage (the same team which created the Madoka Magica manga), a trilogy which, as the name indicates, presents an alternate take on how the magical girl relationships central to the Madoka Magica anime might have developed had circumstances been just a little different. While familiarity with the TV series and/or movies is not absolutely necessary for following and understanding this one, much of the context and irony presented here will be lost on newcomers.
The approach is a sensible one. “What if?” stories have long been popular, and fan-favorite character Mami never did get enough screen time for as neat a character as she was – not even in the movies. Making her into the lead allows us to see the magical girl scheme from a different perspective: that of someone who has become a seasoned veteran but cannot entirely abide the loneliness inherent in being a magical girl, in having no one you can confide in or trust with your secret. It is an aspect that the original story could never deal with much because its central character (Madoka) was also the heart of the story and thus the emotional connection between all of the girls. (And no, Homura does not qualify on this, for a number of reasons.) Setting her up to connect with Kyoko is also an entirely sensible choice, as the Kyoko/Sayaka dynamic, which was arguably the weakest point of the original series, never convincingly gelled. The senpai/newcomer dynamic, and the camaraderie which grows out of it here, is far more convincing.
But Gen Urobochi is still amongst the creative minds behind this project, so things naturally do not stay all fluffy. The Mami/Kyoko connection clearly happens before the original storyline begins, and even association with Mami does not prevent things from going bad for Kyoko; in fact, that Mami ends up having very little impact on what leads Kyoko to be the cynical soul that she is in the original series is the story's biggest and strongest irony. “Friendship isn't the answer to everything,” the story seems to be saying in what is undoubtedly intended as a scathing rebuttal of a core element of many magical girl series. Those hoping for a happier turn of events this time around are going to be disappointed (at least for now), beyond the fact that Mami is, at least, still alive at the end of it.
The artistic effort leaves a little to be desired. It certainly retains the character design style of the anime versions (for better or worse), gives its characters a good range of expressiveness, and chooses its framing well for non-action scenes. However, the distinctive visual style of the anime is impossible to replicate in print form, and the occasional attempts to do so – even in a minor way – just look like cheap abstracts rather than something genuinely artistic. Action scenes are also sometimes difficult to follow and fall well short of capturing the dynamic nature of the animated version. Ultimately the artistic limitations of manga format hold the production back too much; in this case the original animation simply does not translate well to this medium.
For its production of the release, Yen Press opted to keep the original sound effects with tiny translations nearby, an effort which sometimes leaves the translations hard to find. It does include a glossy page with a nice portrayal of Kyoko, commentary on the insides of the front and back covers, and a Special Thanks page, but no advertisement pages. For a hefty MSRP of $13, though, a reader is getting a mere 160 pages, so it is hardly one of the more economical manga out there.
Ultimately this is a mostly satisfying but hardly necessary sidelight to the main story, one which offers just enough new content and alternative angles not to feel just like a straight redo of the original storyline. Madoka, Sayaka, and Homura also do make brief appearances before the end, giving an indication of where the story might go next, but those appearances are not prominent enough to be selling points on their own. While it does offer a little more insight into the world of Madoka Magica, what we get is not important enough to make this a must-buy for franchise fans.
Overall : B-
Story : B
Art : C+
+ Puts Mami in the limelight, offers an alternative perspective, uses further magical girl deconstruction.
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