Magia Record – 20 – Giving Their Best

In what are not their first rumblings of disagreement by any stretch, considering their very different personalities, Nemu voices her concern that she and Touka are hurting Magical Girls when they were supposed to be saving them. Touka, who has clearly drunk on power for a while now, says the only way they can do that is by becoming “gods.” If Nemu is going to stop her friend, the window is closing as that storm nears.

The bulk of those Magical Girls Touka is fine sacrificing are locked in battle with their respective friends-turned-opponents: Madoka’s crew dodging Mami’s impossible number of old-timey rifles while Yachiyo’s crew going toe-to-toe with the evil Tsuruno Aqua, who combines devastating attacks with creepy amusement park P.A. announcements.

Thanks to Sana and Felicia providing some cover, the two crews are able to withdraw for a spell, as it’s clear talking with Mami and Tsuruno is useless. When they’re in a safe place to regroup, Mifuyu contacts them via charmed origami, giving them a map of Chelation Land and the location of Touka and Nemu as well as Embryo Eye.

Mifuyu even does them one better and has the origami stream her meeting with Mitama, in which she attempts to get her to break her neutrality. Thanks to Momoko, the two learn that Mitama has been neutral all this time because she’s too weak to fight on her own; too full of shadows and despair. Were she ever dropped into a battle she’d become a witch immediately, but Momoko gives her a hug and assures her that she’ll help her carry those burdens.

Thankfully we check in on poor Kuroe, who is still being chased by Magius girls and is all alone except for her needy Doppel, who wants very dearly to help her out…no doubt at the cost of sanity and control. With only one episode left, it remains to be seen if Kuroe will reunite with Iroha and Connect with her and Yachiyo, as they do in the OP…or meet her ultimate fate in this cour.

Once Mitama tells them the best way to save their friends is to attempt to Connect with them (and Iroha & Co. tell Madoka and CO. what “Connecting” even is) The two groups head back out into the chaotic battlefield to attempt to do just that to Mami and Tsuruno. We’ve got big bold boss music as the projectiles and bodies fly.

But once the dust settles, Tsuruno falls from a great height, her human body is mangled, and the Uwasa she fused with seemingly takes over full control. If the Tsuruno Iroha and Yachiyo love is dead, her body is still being made to move like a marionnette by the Uwasa within.

Combined with the fact Madoka & Co. make little progress with Mami, and the eighth and final installment of Magia Record’s second cour will be a very busy and impactful affair. As penultimate episodes go, this was solid, but not groundbreaking. Hopefully the best Magia madness will be saved for last.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 19 – Not a Bad Fate

While Kuroe struggles with trying to keep her Doppel under control so she can get back to Iroha, Yachiyo encounters Madoka, Sayaka, and Akemi…and it’s just an extremely cool game-recognize-game moment.

This is what good fanservice looks like: pleasing the crowd without compromising the story. And the story is that Iroha and Yachiyo are going to need every independent thinking magical girl on their side if they’re going to stop Touka and Nemu from scorching the world.

After being shaken out of her state of despair and fatalism by Sana and Felicia (who themselves regret letting Magius lead them by the nose for so long), Mifuyu chooses friends and bonds both living, frayed, and dead over loyalty to Magius, and pleads with Touka to terminate the operation before too much damage is done.

But that’s the thing: Touka is determined to involve everyone in the world, as she’s convinced humanity has only advanced to its present state of development on the backs of suffering and dying magical girls. Nemu then siccs the reprogramed, aqua version of Tsuruno on Mifuyu.

Down in the bowels of the hotel she meets Alina, who seems to be neutral now. She’s not interested in “partying” with a bunch of sheep, but also not quite willing to help out Mifuyu more than the minimum, which is to toss her a grief seed.

As they all have people they want to save and know their best chance is to work together, Yachiyo, Madoka, Sayaka and Akemi pile into a pickup truck headed to the absolute bedlam that is the hotel fused with an amusement park. Couintless witches are battling the Magius witches, creating chaos and discord.

But as Yachiyo is busy driving the truck, the O.G. girls show what a well-oiled machine they are, dispatching all comers. When Madoka and Sayaka are sent flying, Akemi stops time and saves them. No doubt that ability, so crucial in the films, will play a pivotal role in the final battles to come.

As for Iroha, who is already inside the gates, she’s not content to wait for Kuroe or for Yachiyo to break through the gates from the outside; she’s going to smash them from the inside. When borrowing Kyouko’s white Magius robe doesn’t work and gets her surrounded, Kyouko saves her out once again.

Rather than retreat, Iroha asks Kyouko to Connect with her, resulting in the fusing of her crossbow and Kyouko’s spear into the perfect gate-smashing weapon. Teamwork inside the gates and out not only makes the dream work, but keeps Iroha’s and everyone else’s wishes alive. The moment when Iroha and Yachiyo embrace, finally reunited again, is definitely the most heartwarming moment of the episode.

That moment is immediately followed up by another one of the coolest and most satisfying: when Iroha and Madoka come face to face. The closest analog I can think of is in Avengers: Infinity War when Thor meets the Guardians of the Galaxy, making the crossover official. Madoka, Sayaka, Akemi, and Kyouko are no longer token cameos, but pivotal players in this newly-merged, exciting, and purposeful Madoka universe.

The good girls are amassing fast, and when Kuroe (who is hopefully okay), Sana, Felicia, Mifuyu, and maybe even Alina join their ranks, tit’s looking like they have a fighting chance, even against two very challenging sub-bosses in the Re-programmed Mami and Tsuruno. That’s not to say it will be easy, or devoid of sacrifice.

But as Madoka said in the back of the truck, if anyone can turn this situation with Embryo Eye and Walpurgisnacht around, it’s magical girls. So she’s glad she’s a magical girl, and her friends old and brand-new concur. It’s time to get to work!

Magia Record – 14 (S02 E01) – Don’t Let Go

We begin this second season of the Madoka spinof in media res with what else, a battle against a weird and unsettling witch. This one has a general spider form, only her legs are human limbs and her web in the sky is made up of clotheslines stocked with sailor fuku shirts. The combatants are a trio of familiar faces: Kaname Madoka, Homura Akemi, and eventually, my avatar, Miki Sayaka, who saves the other two from getting wasted.

Of course, this isn’t the timeline or story we know from the original series; this is an alternate timeline, one of countless Akemi has traveled through in a so-far-vain effort to save Madoka. This episode is the equivalent of the original episode where the girls learned The Truth from the famously blunt and unsympathetic Kyuubey, who will only ever insist that magical girls are getting a fair deal. The Mami Sayaka saw is no longer the Mami they knew.

Sayaka, classically one of the moodiest of the girls, goes home and sits on her bed, depressed, while Akemi prepares to take a train to Kamihara City, where magical girls—and thus Madoka—can purportedly be saved. Before she can depart, the spider laundry witch returns. Madoka, sensing Akemi went off on her own, soon joins the battle, and through telepathy urges Sayaka to join her, with Madoka saying “she wont be coming back”.

Sayaka can’t exactly keep sitting at home when Madoka says this, so she once again arrives just in time to save Madoka, who along with Akemi had been just barely holding serve against the quick and crafty witch. Now that Madoka knows the witch was once a magical girl like them, all she can do is apologize before firing her pink laser arrows.

With the battle stalled, Akemi calls a timeout with her escutcheon, and because she’s touching Sayaka, she can move along with her even though time is stopped. They collect Madoka, touch her so she can move, and then the three magical girls operate as a single entity bound by their arms, with Sayaka in the middle providing transportation around the frozen witch as Madoka looses arrows from all sides.

When time starts back up, the hundreds of arrows find their target, and Sayaka delivers an excellent coup-de-grace with her sword, leading to that ever-so-satisfying sound of the witch’s domain fading away and reality returning. Sayaka, Madoka, and Akemi won the day, but there are no promises for tomorrow, especially in Kamihara, where the witches are much stronger.

While I went into the first season of Magia Record with a healthy dollop of tempered expectations and was ultimately frustrated with how few questions it answered (and how many new magical girls it introduced), I also made clear the original masterpiece bought more than enough goodwill for me to not dismiss the second season out of hand.

I was rewarded for my loyalty to the franchise with a stunning barn-burner, but as with the OG magical girl trio this episode focused on, there are no guarantees for the future. Will we even see these three next week, or will we shift back to Iroha, Yachiyo & Co.? I don’t know, but I also know I want to find out.

Armed with the knowledge there will also be a third and final season in December means there is ample time to set up and execute a satisfying, coherent conclusion. Like Sayaka and Madoka held on to Akemi in the timeless zone, I’ll hold on to hope this is building to something. And if it isn’t, at least it looks and sounds like no other anime currently airing.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion

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I’ve always been more a fan of continuations than re-tellings or re-imaginings, so among the three Madoka movies, this was the one that I anticipated the most. I only skimmed through the first two, which were only recaps of a show I finished watching over four years ago, but which remains burned in my brain as one of my all-time favorites. Heck, Sayaka is my avatar.

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I also recently dropped Sailor Moon Crystal, because a straightforward magical girl tale just never appealed to me as much as a subversion or deconstruction of same, which Madoka is. With Rebellion, the recaps are over, and I finally get to see what happened after Madoka sacrificed her very existence in order to save Homura and her friends. And I have to say, I liked what I saw.

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After Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, and Kyouko dispatch a “nightmare,” Rebellion begins as if a reset button had been pressed. Madoka awakes and goes through the same morning motions as she does in the first episode of the tv show. Then a twin-braided, bespectacled, friendly and cheerful Akemi Homura transfers in, befriends Madoka and the others, and soon joins them in their periodic nightmare battles.

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Even when their classmate Shizuki turns into a nightmare, they’re able to change her back into a normal human without any harm done. This is an ideal world in which everything is too good to be true. Ironically, it’s a world I, as someone who wants these girls to simply be able to enjoy such a life without further hardship, don’t have that big a problem with! Everyone’s alive; everyone’s friends; everyone is working together; and there seem to be no consequences to being magical girls.

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Homura goes through enough of this that she eventually begins to suspect something is very wrong, as memories of past worlds she inhabited begin to surface. In this way, the movie starts with the “Happily Ever After.” But Homura’s returning memories, vague as they are, become a splinter in her mind she cannot ignore, so both the Happy and the Ever After eventually fade for her.

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Homura takes Sakura with her to the town where Sakura says she used to live, yet doesn’t remember much about it. Yet no matter how many times hey take the bus or even walk, they can’t seem to leave Mitakihara City; as if there’s nothing beyond it. In a movie full of memorable sequences, this entire surreal journey to nowhere is particularly goosebump-inducing, with sound and image in perfect strange harmony.

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This leads Homura to believe this is a false city where she and the others are being imprisoned. She suspects Bebe, Mami’s familiar whom we’ve never seen before, of being a witch, but Mami, having no idea what’s going on, intervenes and threatens punishment if Homura hurts Bebe. But Homura isn’t about to let the mastermind behind this plot go.

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That can only mean one thing: Mami and Homura square off with lots and lots of guns and acrobatics in what I’d describe as one of the best one-on-one battle sequences in the Madoka franchise. It wasn’t just the speed and complexity of the battle that excited, but all the twists and turns it took, from Homura threatening to shoot herself in the head, causing Mami to drop her guard so she can shoot her in the leg, only for her target to be a decoy Mami set up. All because these two girls couldn’t talk it out and let tempers flare.

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Sayaka flies in frees Homura from Mami’s custody, while a Bebe in human form comes to explain things to Mami. When they’re alone, Sayaka asks Homura why things can’t just stay the way they are if everyone’s happy. But her knowledge that something isn’t right is proof that while this is the “real” Sayaka, she’s more than just a magical girl now.

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Later that night, Madoka finds Homura drifting in a canal boat (another gorgeous, lyrical sequence), and they discuss what’s eating her: that being the thought that nothing here is real and there was another time when she lost Madoka and tried desperately to bring her back. Madoka assures her those were all just bad dreams; they’re together here and now, that’s all that matters.

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Homura is convinced this Madoka is the real one too, but she wants to test one last thing: whether she herself is even a magical girl. She does this by tossing away her soul gem and traveling past the maximum distance she can be from it (a tried and true method from the original show). When nothing happens, she knows things aren’t right in the world. Then that world starts to deteriorate around her, and the reality descends upon her that she is a witch, and this false city is a construct of her own making.

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The world around her starts to deteriorate, as the reality descends upon her that she is a witch, and this is false city is a construct of her own making. Then Kyuubey shows up and starts talking. More precisely, Homura is a magical girl on the cusp of becoming a witch, due to the despair of losing Madoka and being the only one who remembers her. The Incubators placed her in an isolated space as an experiment to lure the godlike Madoka, the “The Law of Cycles”, whom they hoped to control in order to maximize the energy they can harvest from magical girls becoming witches.

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When Madoka came to where Homura was, she lost the memory of her duty and powers as the Law of Cycles, and became trapped in the false city along with her two assistants, Sayaka and Bebe. While this sounds a little convoluted on paper, in practice it’s perfectly consistent with vulnerability of the damaged Homura the TV show (and previous movie) ended with, and the cold opportunism of the Incubators.

It also makes sense that Homura would choose to complete her witch transformation at the cost of her own soul, in order to keep the Incubators from screwing with Madoka anymore. Because it’s not a self-preserving move, it’s a move they don’t see coming. But the other magical girls arrive and go against her wishes, freeing her from the false city and find her real body in a desolate wasteland.

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It’s a move that restores Madoka’s memories and powers as Law of Cycles back, but at a price: Madoka is once again exposed to the Incubator’s meddling, not to mention the still-alive Homura’s own desires. When she descends upon Homura to clear her soul gem of despair, Homura grabs her and releases the contents of the gem, which isn’t despair, but love, the ‘most powerful of emotions’ and the one Kyuubey is least equipped to understand. This is Homura following through on her promise never to let Madoka go, having been given an opportunity she didn’t ask for, but did hope for.

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Things get more and more out of hand from there, with Homura suppressing Madoka’s godlike powers and transforming into a kind of Anti-Law of Cycles, calling herself a “demon” in contrast to Madoka’s angel-like form. With her new powers, she rewrites the laws of the universe just as Madoka once had, only this time both of them are alive and well in a real world, not a mere illusion caused by the experimentation of the Incubators.

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In this new world, Madoka is the transfer student rather than Homura, and sports a yellow ribbon rather than red, which Homura sports instead. Homura still has all her memories of what went on in the previous universes, and it shows on her universe-weary, glasses-less face. Her love for Madoka is a twisted, possessive love now, borne from pressing countless reset buttons and literally going to hell and back.

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So, all’s well that ends well, right? Well…no. This is Madoka we’re talking about. Homura merely suppressed Madoka’s Law of Cycle powers, and her memory of them. The powers are still there, and even while she’s showing Madoka around the school, a momentary recollection has her suddenly about to transform back into that godlike being.

Homura has to embrace her tightly to stop the transformation, but a time will probably come when she can’t, and the angel and demon will become enemies with opposing goals. In other words, all’s well that ends well for the time being, if you happen to be on Homura’s side. This is very much in keeping with the franchises refusal to hand out happy or even easy endings, preferring qualified, ambiguous, or just plain strange ones. After all that’s happened, consequences and compromises were inevitable. The show doesn’t rule out future problems…nor future rewrites of the universe.

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The post-credits sequence is strange indeed, but again, nothing new for this franchise. Sitting high above the city she in effect controls, apparently content with the way things are (again, for now), and fully equipped and prepared to defend the way things are, whether it’s keeping Madoka from rising back to godhood or keeping Kyuubey neutralized.

If Homura has to be “evil” in order to share the real world with the one she loves by suppressing her true nature, so be it.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 01 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 6 Jul 2011 – Like Bakemonogatari, Puella Magi Madoka Magica immediately establishes itself as a very stylish enterprise. Very architectural, too. Ordinary settings like a house and a school are grand, impressive postmodern cathedrals. The polarizing Akiyuki Shinbo reminds me somewhat of Wes Anderson; with the tendency for his ‘camera’ to hang back and dwell on things and the careful attention to minute visual details. We like it.

We’ve never watched a pure “Maho Shojo” anime before, and it seems with Puella Magi, we still won’t; it’s obvious Shinbo wants to put a spin on the genre to shake it up a bit, while adding his signature (and very noticeable) style(s). The character design is simple, but clean. As discussed, the architecture is awesome and the entire world is bright and hopeful…until a witch shows up and starts bending everyone’s perception of it. The animation used there reminded me of the frenetic, freewheeling opening of (Goku) Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei.

Our protagonist Madoka (Aoi Yūki) and her friend Sayaka (Eri Kitamura) are faced with a choice right off the bat: continue their regular high school lives, or step into the world of magic. It isn’t for the faint-hearted: Homura Akemi (Chiwa Saito), who shows up both in Madoka’s dream and at her real-life school, warns her not to partake it if she loves her family and friends. But of course, she will enter the magical world. That’s what this is all about. We’ll see where this goes.


Rating: 8 (Great)