The new heroine of Magia Record is Iroha, a magical girl on the hunt for her missing sister Ui in Kamihama. Also in Kamihama is Madoka, who's searching for the similarly-missing Homura. (Source: Crunchyroll)
This is an anthology series set in the Madoka universe. Okay> >
But believe me, I wanted this to be another impeccable entry in Madoka Magica’s ever-expanding library of consistently high quality spinoff titles (except for Suzune). I wanted this to be a bonafide 10/10 for me.
Sadly, as you might see in many reviews, this series suffers from pacing issues that unfortunately buries any of the genuine Madoka-esque greatness that is there to people who aren’t as passionate for the brand. While this story isn’t nearly as bad pacing-wise as the original Oriko Magica, nor does its narrative and characters stoop to be as collectively shallow as Suzune Magica’s, there are undeniable flaws in the first half of this series’ guaranteed 25-ish episodes that I’d be remiss to ignore. And yet, I could say the same for those so blinded by dissatisfaction that they look away from what Magia Record does right. Because it does do quite a bit right – it does many elements of a higher quality than most.
Let’s break it down by the element, with the final entitled “STORYTELLING/PACING” preceding my overview and going more into detail about the aforementioned problems. However, if you wish to know why, despite these flaws, I still rate this a strong 8/10, I implore you to read my full review leading up to the final overview.
The biggest draw of any Madoka spinoff, especially those involving the OG girls, are the characters: who they are, what their outfit says about their self-perception, how their magic and weapon relates to their wish, what their wish says about them, what their Witch form says about them, what they believe in and prioritize, all of it. These aspects have always lent a big hand in giving even the original girls the depth and nuance that hardcore fans love them for.
Thankfully, I feel this aspect of the storytelling is one of the strongest points in Magia Record’s favor. I don’t know about you, but my favorite part of the original Madoka was what the characters left unsaid, and how that characterized them. For example, Mami’s nice but lonely apartment spoke of her accommodating nature and desire to provide a comfortable space in the sadly-unlikely event of guests spending time with her. Kyoko’s astonishment at having forgotten why she became a magical girl in the first place – that being the belief that she herself can make miracles happen – says much about how seldom introspective she became as a defense mechanism, until Sayaka crashed into her life and reminded her of the same beautiful, naive optimism she long-since stuffed down.
In much the same way, Magia Record uses these subtle cues to characterize its massive cast of girls. The main heroine, Iroha, comes off as polite and dainty in the first episode, as well as compassionate in the way she prioritizes saving a cat. But in that same episode you realize how docile she is around her magical girl partner, as well as her classmates. You realize that isolates her from her peers, how she’s used to being servile because her parents seem to always be away, leaving her to care for a sickly little sister who, until she was forgotten by everything, was Iroha’s only purpose for living.
Her boldness in later scuffles characterizes Iroha as not only desperate to attain this familiarity again, but to achieve a semblance of autonomy and spirit to make up for being so weak—a facet brought up in virtually every fight where, despite boasting an impressive machine-gun-crossbow, her painfully weak yet persistent attacks speaks of Iroha’s feeble, distancing behavior, as does her docile-seeming priestess attire: a follower, not a leader to be sure, one who used her only wish to heal her reason for being: Ui Tamaki.
The main five girls (and you can tell who they would be by their numerous focus shots in the opening) are all given this treatment. Some are stronger than others, while Tsuruno – a gutsy yet chipper girl with delusions of grandeur – spends the majority of this first cour being an extra body in fights with only two brief moments of hidden pain in her debut episode (#4) that isn’t hinted at again before the finale.
This sort of characterization is a necessity, as this story boasts a hulking cast of at least 20 named characters, including the OG five. Half of them are just villainous mooks as of right now, though still characterized by what’s around them and how they act, what they verbally prioritize. Others like the mysterious Coordinator, Mitama, are hardly shown and when she is we only ever learn that she has strange taste in food, and that’s disappointing.
Not every character needs to be rich in depth, however, especially characters like her and Momoko—a big-sister-type to two, stronger-written girls. These ancillary characters serve their role as needed by the narrative, while having just enough to them that they don’t feel like plot devices, but people with their own stories and self interests that just aren’t important to Iroha’s story. After all, it’s important and preferable for minor characters to feel more like real people instead of plot devices, so any characterization is good characterization. I would have a problem if we were given Momoko’s backstory despite how little time we actually spend with her.
Speaking of which, while some might feel the inclusion of the original five girls is unnecessary fan service, as of now only three had any real involvement, and all of them feel necessary for the story and logical for their characters. In this sense, I think they are used well in a story where their absence would honestly feel more jarring, given the stakes looming in the background. Not only do they feel like active players swapping information behind the scenes (as their dialogue implies), but their roles stand as testament to the spinoff’s overarching theme (which has its own section below).
The story takes place in Kamihama – a large city that only recently has been luring witches from all over, with copies of them cropping up everywhere inexplicably (though surely intentionally). It’s explained in the first episode that Kamihama witches are, for whatever reason, stronger than normal, and more abundant. This status quo requires the girls to fight in teams—a fact that, for some, may suck the tension out of ultimately pointless fights, but for me these random scuffles serve in displaying the girls’ powers, their motivation, or some other characterizing element, all while being a constant reminder of what being a magic girl in Kamihama is like. Plus it pays to show us these details instead of leaving it to exposition.
As it stands, Kamihama is a more interesting setting than Mitakihara from the old series, which was indeed little more than a city. Here, Kamihama encourages consideration of its setup: you have Mitama in the center of it all, something of a healer, a safe zone and a bounty hunting board in one, and the city is split into wards run by different magical girls living in the area. There are unspoken rules and codes of conduct when it comes to witch hunting. These all serve to make the setting dynamic and rich with character without actually showing any. However, you see this in action with an evident abundance of magical girls making background or verbal cameos from the game this is based on. They aren’t obtrusive and are brief, serving to lend weight to Kamihama as a setting more than anything.
The first episode makes it clear visually just how full Kamihama is of magical girls, by displaying a spectrum of wishes plastered all over the town in what’s obviously meant to be surreal imagery and not something literal. One of which desires for the destruction of Kamihama, making me wonder if that specific wish was the cause behind everything going on, if not the reason behind these stronger witches.
As discussed in my section on characters, the animation does a good job of bringing them and the witches to life. Visually, the Labyrinths and witches that dwell within them are as surreal and symbolic as ever, offering abundant discussion that invites analysis for those as into this sort of art direction as I am.
In terms of the quality, however, that’s another story. Distant characters in the background look blobby and odd, however brief some shots are, and fight choreography—save for that within the last two episodes—is quite poorly choreographed and stiff-looking. There’s not much weight to the girls’ attacks, as conceptually impressive as they are (Yachiyo can fire volleys of spears and Tsuruno’s fans emit fire—moves that look impressive but don’t have any punch). Outside of these hiccups, however, the girls and colors generally look sharp and clean, moreso than they did in the original series.
SHAFT continues to confound viewers with its seemingly random imagery. Much like the abundance of chairs in the original Madoka, some of that imagery leaks into Magia Record like a stack of desks on the school rooftop made to give the scene an eerie feeling. However—again, just like in Madoka—there are times when that imagery does genuinely mean something. My favorite is when a shape-changing girl evidently made her wish to become a different person, but hates herself knowing deep down she’s still the same nasty girl. Her inner turmoil and desire is characterized by her changing into the older girls she looks up to for their personalities and likability—and later, on that same roof with the stacks of desks, we get two alone marked with cruel writings and facing one another, indicating them as belonging to this girl and her best friend, both of whom are alone but together in the face of a peer group that clearly dislikes them.
The music does a great job at giving this series a Madoka feel, without just outright copying the old stuff. There’s one specific track that plays whenever the dread ramps up, and it sticks out in my mind as having the most character to it. Another track plays when an Uwasa, one of the new threats, is on display – an instrumental of a little song that’s sung about it in the first episode. Music does its job otherwise, and is nothing outstanding.
I like the OP better than the original. It shows off all the girls, even flashes of minor players, in shots and poses that give them character. It’s timed well with the song and is nicely colored. It changes gradually over the course of the series, specifically in deuteragonist Yachiyo’s apparent happiness, the witches and Uwasa on display in the windows, and the crowd of girls in the OP’s final shot.
The ED is a beautiful song with visuals that blend animation and real-world footage. It displays Yachiyo’s buried depression and grief through imagery relating to drowning and elevator shots. There are also beautifully drawn endcards, following a still from the episode, featuring a relevant magical girl.
The voice acting is superb, even the dub. Every girl puts their all into their emotions and makes you really buy what they’re feeling, which goes a long way in a story this big and crowded. In both the sub and dub the voice each girl has fits them perfectly in the language they’re speaking.
I would actually recommend the dub for this show over sub. I feel the story sometimes shoves too much information at you while stimulating your eyes. Plus I feel a lot of the translated lines come across more naturally and clearly in the dub. I cite episode three as a fitting comparison, and the last scene of five before the ED.
For me, the most important stories are the ones that have something to say. Even if the message is atypical, it’s all in how the story uses that theme and presents it in the narrative. Nothing is worse than a story about nothing, right?
And Magia Record is undoubtedly a story about friendship—and while this may seem cliche for a magical girl show, the way it handles this theme reminds me fondly of what Madoka said about the genre and its application to reality in a unique, compelling way.
Because virtually every character in Magia Record is not unlike the girls of the original setting: they’re deeply hurting and alone, and are doing what they can to stay true to themselves and their responsibilities while tending to that pain however they can. Magia Record takes this idea and comes up with an answer, a cure, one that’s impeded and challenged by the true antagonistic threat of the story (who isn’t formally introduced until episode #6). And yet, it’s an idea that is constantly given alternate, unhealthy answers in the forms of mysterious “Rumor Witches” called Uwasa (rumor in Japanese) – new creatures which embody urban legends, whose victims are all people who wished to believe them with all their aching hearts. A surprisingly compelling one on the thematic level is a rumor about good luck, and you just have to enslave your life to it if you want to never have a bout of bad luck, despite its inevitability – another fact of life given a healthy answer by Magia Record’s “point.”
These rumors all have to do with attaining peace and satisfaction with something that is lost, or is annoyingly present in some cases. In each of these encounters, Iroha meets new girls who, in some shape or form (either literally or philosophically), are challenged by the comfort and contentment these rumors offer. Some almost fall for their allure, many others do, while others reject them outright. And yet, instead of roiling in misery or sacrificing others for these Rumors, the girls find strength in each other and the ability to smile again by one anothers’ sides.
Yes, the power of friendship is a cliche theme in this genre. However, I feel that Magia Record analyzes it well by providing a real, grounded answer to why it’s such a prevalent theme in storytelling throughout history: it gives us the strength and support needed to face the darkness of life.
And for a magical girl, a victim of Kyubey, that’s what you need more than anything.
If you haven’t gleaned this already (which, given my lack of derision and insults, would be understandable), this story just isn’t as good as the original Madoka’s, neither in terms of content nor quality.
Conflicts happen on an episode-by-episode basis until the crew is assembled by episode 10, giving this show a monster-of-the-week feel, lack of consequences included, all of which is tethered together by the narrative throughline of Iroha searching for her lost sister. All the while a dark and enticing force is evidently building in the background, clearly the source of the weirdness the setup establishes, but isn’t entirely explained until the climax of the cour.
Now there is something to be said about the emotional weight of a scene. That’s a big driving force behind one’s emotional investment. Sadly, because it’s very clear that the girls don’t know the awful truth about magical girls, the situations don’t feel as terribly dire as they should. But that makes sense because of the girls’ attitudes in combat, save for Yachiyo who is known as the oldest magical girl and clearly hides a lot of pain. Ergo, the execution of a scene largely depends on the gravity the characters feel.
For MR, however, because some of these issues driving each arc are somewhat small and inconsequential compared to the truth bombs of MM, there’s disconnect between some viewers who can’t bring themselves to be invested in such stakes that, in most scenarios, feel very kind compared to dying. That seems intentional to the grander narrative, however.
Speaking of which, I mentioned before that SHAFT doubles down on trippy imagery this time around. What I didn’t say was how well it uses these for the sake of visual storytelling, and selling an emotion with a single image.
Some of these off the top of my head include:
A character who lost her parents in a fire thinks of them and only sees a burnt photograph stopped at their faces. She likely carries it around, which is unusually sentimental of her. Her character ties to the luck rumor, who almost falls for the convenient chance to fulfill her deepest wish, but realizes family is more precious to her as she thoughtlessly saves her new friend – the only person since her parents to show her any kindness and patience.
A character who hates herself and how she treats her friend seems to imagine message boards and group chats talking about or at least alluding to her. This is later used to voice her honest feelings in brief flashes, seeming to indicate that these images are an allusion to the idea that everyone talks about her behind her back and how she wishes she can be fearless when talking to her only friend, and perhaps has gotten close through texting but chickened out. We see these thoughts written in notebooks meaning this character dwells on these regrets a lot. It’s a sad and realistic image given how horribly interconnected teenagers are now.
Half of Iroha’s bedroom is bare, even in the oddest places. It feels wrong and sad, selling me on the feeling Iroha does when she thinks about her sister’s erased existence.
You get the picture.
While I can sit here and say it’s your fault if you aren’t grabbed by this premise or visually rich storytelling, I can also fairly fault the anime for not doing as good a job as it could’ve. I don’t quite mean cutting characters for time, because it’s clear that everyone will be involved in a meaningful way in the future. Rather, I mean that the story itself does more to confuse viewers than engage them. And instead of it being in an ingenious way that invokes speculation, it’s more done in a “oh, you thought these characters were important? Well here’s a random-feeling sideshow involving three more and a new mystery!” That’s sort of how all of the sideshows feel until the crew is assembled, and you take a step back to consider themes, at least for me.
However, I don’t think this is as bad as some make it out to be. And that, of course, falls into what you consider important when engaging yourself with a story.
It should go without saying that this isn’t an anime you can just shut your brain off while watching and expect greatness to fall into your lap. Heck, while Madoka told a genuinely compelling and masterfully crafted narrative by comparison, its depths weren’t evident in every crevice of its writing until you went back with a fine-toothed comb.
That comb is what naysayers, I feel, are disregarding with Magia Record—and let’s be honest here, it’s probably because the lack of Gen the Butcher must mean it has zero possibility of depth.
And yet, if you read up to this point, read what I had to say about the symbolism and imagery and character writing, you’ll know that this is one of those stories that asks YOU to put the work into appreciating its depths. It asks that you have your finger on the rewind button, because believe me, some important character information like wishes and emotions are given in flashes of the environment, sometimes with text piled on the subtitles (again, plugging in for the dub). It’s impossible to catch everything on a single, vaguely-interested viewing.
Can this be considered bad to some? Of course. But not every show is for everybody, and personally, I like a story that trusts me to use my brain instead of me expecting it to explain everything. Better yet, much like the OG series, Magia Record benefits greatly from a rewatch.
By the end of the thirteenth episode of the first cour, you have a more complete view on the girls that going back, perceiving their actions and behaviors with new information, offers a different story and emotion than they did on a first watch. That kind of rewatchability is one I can appreciate a great deal. It really is the fuel that keeps a finished show alive in discussion boards.
Magia Record is not a perfect anime. It is, compared to Madoka Magica, sadly disappointing. This is reflected unfairly, but understandably, in the MAL score.
However, I feel that if one can remove their nostalgia goggles and allow themselves to become enwrapped in this story and its characters, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. For all its faults, Magia Record tells a trippy and at times heart-tugging story about sad, broken girls trying to find hope in a world without Madokami. It does so through a combination of direction, dialogue, character and creature design.
When I score an anime and add it to my list, I consider the number I’m giving it and compare it to others. I ask myself, “would I recommend this as much as I do these shows?” I also compare it to those in a score above and below my considered number.
I was dancing between a 7 and an 8 for a long time. When I consider what makes a 7, and an 8, however, and heeding my personal system of comparison, I came to realize what my honest feelings are.
If I were to give Magia Record a 7, that would be putting it on the same personal level as Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU season 1, Angel Beats, MHA season 1, Death Note, Love Live!, and Jojo parts 3 and 4 to name a few. These are all solid series I would recommend to anyone the genre appeals to, but did not give an 8 because I felt there were too many little flaws culminating in a lumpy whole, or just an idea that wasn’t executed as well as I felt it could have, either in being bogged down by half-baked ideas or simply not being anything profoundly special.
You can see why Magia Record may fit here, I hope.
And yet, then I considered what makes an 8 for me and why I’ve given what I have such a strong score. For me, an 8 is basically “a 7 but better.” No shit, but looking at my list I, personally, can pick out specifics that separate entries in these two scores. And for me, an 8/10 is a show that is at the very least considered “good” in every aspect. But it does more than that—in more than one of these aspects, I found myself deeply invested in them and craving to see more of them, whether that’s in theme or dialogue.
These reasons are why I gave Aggretsuko’s depressingly grounded characters and setting an 8/10, or Shield Hero’s characters and themes of trust and forgiveness, or Parasyte’s philosophy and endearing main protagonists, or Yuki Yuna is a Hero’s theme on sacrifice, its worldbuilding, voice acting, and lovable characters.
Even if a show as a whole didn’t have anything meaningful to say, I can identify a quality package within the confines of its genre and see why I find it to be so well-made: like in Dragon Maid and K-On! Season 1, which is undoubtedly some of the best of the Slice of Life genre for a great many, greatly strong reasons.
For similar reasons, I couldn’t help but give Magia Record an 8/10. I’ll be honest, its pacing issues almost gave it a 7, and I’m sure many judge it for that a lot more harshly. And yet, the more I consider the way it handles its characters and theme, the less I look down on that issue and more see it as an unfortunate necessity for the kind of story it wants to tell.
Because Magia Record, for all its faults, tells a subtly poignant story about friendship and processing grief, in a unique and naturally compelling setting rife with interesting and endearing characters, all of whom interact on an episode-by-episode basis with symbolic imagery intent on driving these ideas home.
Don’t just give this a watch. Give it your time and patience, give it your heart and you’ll find yourself in the midst of a tale that, I feel, has something it wants to say.
Even if it takes 13 episodes to blatantly get there.