Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Different Story
Sayaka has fallen. Mami sees this as yet another instance where she cannot save anyone but herself and determines that she will die alongside her failed disciple. Kyouko isn't pleased when she learns of this decision, and sets out to try and convince her one-time mentor not to do it. Meanwhile Kyubey waits in the wings for the inevitable fate of all magical girls to come to fruition...
Warning: contains some spoilers for the original Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
Hanokage, the artist and apparent originator of this spin-off of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, says at the end of the volume that her idea was to see what would have happened had Mami not died so early on in the original series. Back in volume two we could almost pinpoint the place where that would have occurred, and as it turns out, Mami's survival brings out the insecurities that have plagued her since she first made her contract with Kyubey. If you remember, the wish she used to become a magical girl was for her survival as she was dying during the car crash that killed her parents. Almost immediately after the wish was granted, Mami began to wonder if perhaps she had been selfish – why did she only wish to save herself when she had the chance to save everyone? We know from Kyouko, and to a lesser degree Sayaka, how such apparently selfless wishes can go wrong, but Mami's decision is by this point eating her alive.
Guilt is a powerful emotion, and one that can take us in many directions. For Mami, guilt is the parasite that drains her of her sense of purpose, a bloated tick of an emotion watched over by Kyubey, who clearly knows what's going on and is perfectly pleased about it. The little creature actually plays a very small role in this volume, mostly just popping out of nowhere to listen in to conversations, but his vaguely smug face shows the total level of unconcern he has for Mami and Kyouko as they move towards a showdown. Perhaps the image on the back of the book best shows his role – Kyubey sits with his tail encircling five soul gems, holding them in shadow. At first glance, he is protecting them. When you think about it and read the book, however, he is hoarding them. While we could say that he is ultimately thwarted by the story's ending, there is still something upsetting about his blank neutrality in the face of the emotional turmoil around him.
Madoka herself plays the largest role she has in this series with this final volume. While her decision remains the same as in the original, her motivation is somewhat different, and Kyouko calls her out on never really having wanted to be a magical girl. When she does make her ultimate choice, we can see it as being motivated by the same sort of selflessness that Kyouko and Sayaka were trying to exhibit when they made their wishes, which may color the final results of her transformation, leading us to speculate that perhaps this is not the actual world of the original story, but one of the many that came before. That Homura has been at this for a long time when the series takes place is evident; nothing, however, really says that this is when the best-known iteration of the story happens.
It really is crucial to have read or seen the original before reading this series, something that has become increasingly obvious as the three books went on. With this final volume, if you do not remember the first series' ending, you are likely to be somewhat confused at this one, as it relies heavily on Madoka's choices and behaviors from that first. Homura, too, will make little to no sense if you're not up on the original, though the others are largely fine. As a spin-off, the conclusion does give it a reason to exist, with Mami's end being on her own terms rather than dictated by the laws of magical girls. For a fan favorite character, that's especially nice to see. Hanokage's art can get a little confusing at times, particularly during fight scenes, when speed lines and the fanciful wards can hide the action, and shots of girls based solely on their eye/forehead/bangs region can at times make it difficult to tell who's who, but largely is reminiscent of the anime while still maintaining its own look. Her joke manga on the inside covers are kind of lame this time, not that they've ever been especially funny.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica:The Different Story ends on as high a note as it can while still being pretty depressing. Getting to know Mami better in some ways makes it a little worse, but the question of selfish vs selfless is an interesting one to explore in a magical girl story, where ultimately the heroine's selflessness saves the day. For Mami it comes down to a simple issue: do you save everybody or do you save yourself? Since sometimes the former means that the latter can't happen, Mami's story is perhaps a way to see what happens when being human wins out over being a magical girl.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : C
+ Interesting look at the basic selflessness of “successful” magical girls; we get to know Mami as a character rather than a tragedy.
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