This Week in Anime
Does Magia Record Live Up to Its Predecessor?

by Andy Pfeiffer & Steve Jones,

Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story has some big heels to fill. As the anime successor to the genre-defining Madoka Magica, can the series step out of the magical girl behemoth's shadow? Does its gacha game roots give it a handicap or does its have its own story to tell? Andy and Steve sign a suspicious contract to find out.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Andy
Hey Steve! The season is drawing to a close, and after seeing what a good job you did on Eizouken I was really interested in checking out something fresh and original. So I logged into Funimation but all I got was this:
Steve
Sadly, some things never change, and it turns out that almost an entire decade later (and wow does that make me feel old), being Meguca remains a recipe for suffering.
I think you mean a recipe for that sweet sweet GACHA FEVER.
Gacha is also pure suffering now that I think about it. In that respect, Magia Record is the chocolate-and-peanut-butter of things explicitly designed to induce pain.
Just what type of pain might be where we differ, because as you said we've now got a decade of scar tissue, imitators, and some inheritors to the Throne of Dokes. Personally even Rebellion felt superfluous, so the idea of the tie-in gacha game getting an anime isn't the most inspiring. Especially when the opening character designs scream, "Remember the old characters that looked like this?"
Oh you mean our plucky pink-haired protagonist clearly in over her head is not a wholly original conceit?
Look, old Madoka looked up to her mom. New Not-Madoka doesn't even know what her mom's face looks like. Completely different characters.
But obvious jokes aside, it is indeed difficult, if not impossible, to separate Magia Record from the franchise's legacy, and anyone expecting the same lightning-in-a-bottle reaction is going to be disappointed. Being a Madoka spinoff is vastly different from being the "next" "Madoka," and Magia Record at least seems pretty self-aware about that.
It definitely has completely different priorities, and that priority is to use what's left of that bottled lightning to light up cell phone screens with tiny jpegs. That said, Shaft is continuing their efforts to at least make sure every Madoka thing they make is still animated to hell, and that any resemblance to a normal world is completely eradicated. It was a little funny when all the settings in the show got cranked to 11 for no reason for the movies, but you lose a bit on the Witch dens being so weird and different when you think a normal trip to the store to buy a mug looks like this:
Shaft is gonna Shaft, and lucky for them I'm a huge mark for the Shaft house aesthetic and all of its extraness. Give me all the baroque architectural futurism you can muster.


Like, those shots are all from the first episode, and each subsequent one goes at least as hard with its settings and their abstractness, so there's plenty of that to go around. Hell, the school chair pile from Monogatari also makes a special guest appearance.
Why is it there? Cause it looks neat! Sadly for me I've never been that big on Shaft's regular look, or Dokes' character designs in general. The thing that made the original show stand out and resonate so hard with me in the first place was the music, the witches, and of course the Booch's knack for storytelling.
Of those things, the absence of the Urobuchi punchiness can definitely be felt the hardest. For better or worse, he made Madoka Madoka, and I really can't blame anyone for approaching this property with the cynical eye one directs towards a shameless cash grab. That said, however, I do want to credit Magia Record for not trying to one-up the Urobutcher with shock value and instead investing in a slower burn. I think that's as correct an approach to something like this as you can get.
I really want to appreciate what Magia Record is trying to do, but at some point I became unsure what that even is. The first episode itself sets up a conflict of Iroha, our new Madoka, being a Magical Girl who can't remember her wish. That mystery is thrown out by the end of the episode. Then the gacha seeps in, and you spend episode after episode with characters that show up expecting instant pathos out of you because they don't have time to develop a cast this large in 13 episodes. There's totally a feeling that you have to have played the game and already know who they are, because they check in and out for episodes at a time to make sure everyone gets on screen.
Weirdly enough, the larger cast and focus on these mini-arcs actually made Magia Record feel like a more traditional magical girl series, with a monster/conflict-of-the-week format that has to be solved by our heroes. Arguably, that probably isn't what a Madoka fan in particular is looking for, but I think it's kinda ironic that the gacha structure would lend itself to that.
The monster of the week sometimes turns into Monster of the Minute. I laughed out loud when an episode has a big sequence of a witch appearing, and then after its title card immediately cuts to "and we killed it offscreen."
A witch from the original series no less! I'd never forget these little mustachioed troublemakers.

I think what's extra funny too is how exasperated the girls are when the Witch shows up. Like, literally "not this shit again." Genuinely feels like Magia Record taking the piss out of itself.

I'm clearly not the target audience for this kind of thing, because each time something from the original shows up, like that hastily discarded witch, the original soundtrack, or of course when this happens

My brain just can't help but wonder why you're refusing to move forward, even though it knows the entire thing is meant for nostalgia. I really do wish the new crop of girls got the time they deserve instead of being exasperated at this old hat stuff.
From what I've heard, the game is even more egregious about incorporating the original characters, so I guess I can credit the adaptation for showing some restraint?
All I know about the game is that this food crime monster is even more uh, touchy feely than in this, the show where her first appearance is making a magical girl squeal behind a sheet.
Fascinating. But I'd agree I'd much rather devote more time to the new girls. It's weird, for instance, that Momoko, Rena, and Kaede more or less drop out of the show halfway through, just as we were learning more about them and their struggles. I wouldn't have minded spending more time with Momoko in particular, because look at her.

She shows up and I was like, ok I'm here for new Mami being a fiery swordslady, but then she gets replaced by another fire girl? And old Mami comes back? By episode 11 she's relegated to re-explaining a PowerPoint to one character while a lecture is currently going on for everyone else.

That lecture being: Here are the twists from the old show. The audience gets to hear these for the second time as they're told to Iroha, and a third as Momoko tells them to Rena. Note: this is the entirety of the penultimate episode of the show. All this to setup why all the girls in the gacha game also have Hollow forms. If this is to blame for Bleach getting a new anime then we really need to sit down and have a talk.
What got me is that, yes, of course, we as the audience already know about the Big Twist, but it was never clear whether or not all of these characters were in the know from the get-go. Obviously now, in the penultimate episode, everyone is getting caught up-to-speed, but I kinda already thought Iroha at least had an inkling of the Magical Girl-Witch connection after her own run-in. Of course, Magia Record retains some sense of mystery by introducing new enemies and powers like Uwasa (Rumors) and Doppels, which are both Witches But Not. Not the most creative innovation, but it's something I guess.

It's unfortunate for Magia Record that it's in the same season as Hanako-kun and In/Spectre. It's so weird that this point in time was the one that everyone decided to go with concepts of Rumors and Ghost Stories, and Magia playing it fast and loose in that respect in favor of Gacha lore really hurts it, because it really is the most interesting thing in the show. Which I guess is a good lead in to talk about that time Microsoft made a Twitter AI that the internet immediately turned into a racist and was hastily taken down.

Truth is literally stranger than fiction sometimes. But this fiction here does deserve some credit for being my favorite arc, just because it's the most out there in the show, plus I'm a sucker for sad gay robot stories.

I do appreciate the best chess match ever animated, take that Code Geass.
War never changes.
And while the emotional impact of "AI you have to have a name, so I will name you Ai," was a bit too dumb for me, I did really like the arc of this quarantined program learning to be nice and good from a depressed girl who really wanted a friend, and seeking its own destruction to free her to make them.
Oh it's super cheesy, but it's sincere and it works. And whereas Madoka's Witches were tragic in the sense that they lose their sense of selves, Ai's tragedy stems from her gaining a sense of self that prompts her own feelings of love and selflessness. It's a bittersweet inversion of the original's formula that stands out as Magia Record's high point, imo. This is also the arc that introduces Alina, who is both A Lot and here to remind you that you're watching a Shaft show.

Ah, the what I assume is a gacha boss who has uncomfortable Italian fascist vibes and throws her Joker juice everywhere. She absolutely obliterates any sense of tone the episode, and maybe even the entire show, has in both audio and visual terms.
Worst of all, she destroys my favorite new character: Antenna With Legs
I respect your fav, but for me the best original character is Owl Fountain thanks to its strong Fujiko vibes and snappy bow tie.
I respect the bow tie. And while we're on the subject, my favorite returning characters are the Utena shadow girls, who apparently haven't changed much aside from discovering Instagram filters.
They keep with the times!
Also, this is a small thing, because the original Madoka certainly had its fair share of indebtedness to Utena, but Magia Record really feels extra blatant at times when it comes to riffing on and/or ripping off Ikuhara imagery. Like, come on people.
That's the biggest fault of the show in a nutshell. It absolutely refuses to stand on its own legs. It splits its runtime borrowing from itself and only branches out to borrow from others. There's potential to dig into any of the new characters or concepts they bring but they prefer to use shorthand to sidestep that effort. A whole arc could've been built up on how the older girls dealt with the trauma of losing a friend and how their relationship fell apart, but instead we get a DVD copy of her last moments with some bonus commentary by the director and it's a shame that one of the best designs they've got is wasted in this way.
It's nothing short of criminal that we don't get to know the punk rock Meguca.
GIVE ME THAT SHOW!
Please. And I do like that Magia Record seems concerned with interrogating the premise and themes presented by the original, and seeing whether or not it can come up with a a better answer, or at least a different answer. BUT, on the other hand, it's taken us an entire season to actually begin making progress on that angle, and it's definitely not something that's going to be covered adequately in the single additional episode we have left.
Yeah it's hard to think of a way this ends that ends up satisfying either the mystery aspect or the character arc, much less both. Maybe I'll be proven wrong and by some miracle the last part of the PowerPoint is a comprehensive restructuring plan that they then fully implement, but seeing how they spent half the episodes explaining nothing, and what has been revealed is:
Step 1 - Get Hollow Powers
Step 2 - Kill the remaining Witches
Step 3 - Now there's no new Witches
Probably has a serious flaw in that Step 3 does nothing to explain how what they've been doing helps Step 1? Or requires the 'necessary' human sacrifices? Or has any real momentum or adversary set up in the final moments?
From what I've heard, there's enough material in the game to support another season, so I imagine we won't get anything too conclusive in the finale besides a teaser for season two. There are just too many open questions, and I'm hesitant to even speculate where things are going thematically given how little that angle has been properly explored. Are the Magius just replacing one vicious cycle with another? Is magical girl revolution a pipe dream? Will we ever learn why I am overcome with the desire to throw baby Kyubey straight in a garbage can time every time it's on screen? Who knows!
The best I can do to encapsulate what I felt is that someone out there knows there's a gnawing feeling of wanting another Madoka inside those that loved it, and this is the response to that emotion.
I'm one of the handful of people who genuinely like Rebellion, and my desire for "another Madoka" was still around this number.

I think Madoka said what it wanted to with the space it had, and it's perfectly okay to leave things at that.
The reality is that the place to find more Madoka isn't in more Madoka. Rather we should look towards other shows with Pink Protagonists and sidekick Homuras, that have their own stories to tell, and maybe add cool robots. In fact, maybe everyone should go watch GRANBELM instead of anything else they're doing.
Yeah, my response to Madoka fans looking for more has generally been to recommend other magical girl series, even more traditional ones. There's a lot of good, meaty stuff out there predating Madoka, and plenty of Madoka-inspired shows doing their own thing with the formula. Magia Record doesn't quite stand on its own, but it's pretty okay for what it is. It revels in the aesthetics of the original, and honestly that alone goes a long way towards justifying its existence. Sometimes you just wanna see Gekidan Inu Curry throw a bunch of yarn on the screen, and that's valid.
There are some interesting things to look at for sure.
If nothing else this show has a big affinity for livestock, and as I midwesterner I can appreciate that. So good job Magia Record, that's one in your book.
Bovine rights!
More like Moogia Record.

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