Magia Record – 15 – Sakura Forever

Sorry to go right into a metaphor, but Magia Record reminds me of a traditional American fruitcake. Incredibly dense and rich, and beautiful with its golden brown color and speckled with red and green fruits like gems.

Like most Shaft works, Magia Record delves into extremely complex narratives but does so while serving up a sumptuously baroque visual and aural banquet. But as episode two marks a return to the “standard” world and vast ensemble of the Madoka spinoff, the bottom line is pretty simple: Nanami Yachiyo is too strong to escape her despair.

In the original wish that made her a magical girl, to survive, all of the members of her idol unit were sacrificed. Like countless other magical girls, she was duped by Kyuubey, never reading the fine print because she never asked to see it and Kyoobs didn’t bother to disclose it.

Yachiyo really is a great magical girl. She’s clearly one of the strongest ever. But that is the underlying tragedy of her existence: her strength thus far has only allowed her to survive, to endure, like Arwen in Elrond’s story about how she would linger long after Aragorn died; utterly alone. What good is surviving if you’re always the only one left?

Yachiyo didn’t wish for anything every other magical girl wished for to become what they now are. The difference is, a good number of them ended up becoming witches, or out of fear of becoming one, joined the monolithic, cultish Wings of Magius. Yachiyo didn’t wish for anything more or less than they did, but she’s so goddamn strong she’s been able to weather them…despite not really wanting too?

She believes her latest victim to be Iroha, but a part of her still clings to that friendship and to Iroha’s promise that she’d be the exception to the rule: she’d survive beside Yachiyo; she’d prove that being Yachiyo’s friend isn’t a death sentence. Yachiyo is not above blaming herself, but there’s plenty of blame to go around, and a good portion of it belongs to Magius, whom she’ll never forgive for their role in the sacrifice of Iroha.

Meanwhile, Satomi Touka has Big Plans for Magius, and isn’t about to allow Yachiyo’s destruction of rumor after rumor delay those plans. The bedridden Hiiragi Nemu, who creates all the Rumors, assigns Magius rank-and-file Kuroe (from the very first episode of Record) to find one of them, called The Eternal Sakura. It isn’t long before Kuroe encounters a Little Kyuubey…as she was clearly meant to.

Meanwhile, Yachiyo waits in the dark for the Coordinator Yakumo Mitama at her awesome elaborate office, and after receiving a mini-lecture about the nature of Doppel Witches (as much for our benefit as hers) demands that Mitama tell her where Magius HQ is so she can go wreck up the place.

Mitama insists her neutrality precludes her from disclosing that information, but in any case the entrance to Hotel Faint Hope is ever-changing and only accessible if escorted by a Magius member…which she isn’t.

Turns out Little Kyuubey leads Kuroe right to Yachiyo, just when Yachiyo is looking for a member of Magius and in a particularly sour mood. Kuroe doesn’t help her case by running from her, and when Yachiyo catches up and corners her, it looks very much like Yachiyo’s going to do whatever is necessary to gain access to Magius HQ.

That’s when Kuroe is rescued by Mifuyu, who tries to deescalate matters but only makes things worse with her defense of an organization Yachiyo has already decided to be unforgivable. Mifuyu says Iroha’s death was an accident, but Yachiyo isn’t ready to accept Iroha even is dead, even as she’s harboring a vendetta towards the group she believes had a hand in killing her. In short, Yachiyo isn’t thinking straight.

When Yachiyo and Mifuyu fight, it demonstrates just how overwhelming Yachiyo’s power is, and why Mifuyu and so many other magical girls like her sought safety and salvation in Magius, formed of, by, and for weak girls who may well have otherwise died or become witches. Yachiyo can’t empathize with them because she has no idea what it is to be weak.

Another case in point: rather than give into her anger, frustration, and despair, Yachiyo is able to suppress her own ridiculously powerful Doppel Witch mode and stop herself from killing Mifuyu in that fit of rage. Just as very few magical girls would even be able to summon such power, not letting oneself get completely consumed by that power makes Yachiyo rarer still.

Mifuyu lauds Yachiyo for that strength, but there’s also pity in her voice, because she knows her old friend will never understand what the girls of Magius are trying to do. Since there can be no understanding, she withdraws. Kuroe is in the teleportation bubble with her until Little Kyuubey runs off and Kuroe steps out of it, leaving her alone with Yachiyo again.

The chase continues as if Mifuyu had never intervened, but this time Kuroe follows Little Kyuubey into an Uwasa Barrier. Yachiyo follows her in, and within that psychedelic realm lies the very Rumor Nemu instructed Kuroe to find: The Eternal Sakura, Laputa-esque great tree that will bloom only when the three girls (herself, Ui, and Touka) leave the hospital and reunite with the “older girl” who’d visit them, and the cherry blossoms that bloom shall never fall from the branches.

Naturally, that older girl is Iroha, and Yachiyo and Kuroe find her there in some kind of doppelly-witchey form. Now that she’s finally found Iroha in some form, can Yachiyo summon that lingering faint hope that Iroha was telling the truth, that she can and will survive beside her, and not leave her alone like everyone else?

I have no idea, because this show is all over the place! But it’s still impressively compelling, and achingly stylish and beautiful to boot. Did I mention…I freaking love fruitcake!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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

Magia Record – 13 (Fin) – Disbanding the Team

Yeesh…that was rough. Even though I felt my expectations for a Puella Magi Madoka Magica “side story” were sufficiently tempered, I wasn’t prepared for an ending this awkward and frustrating. It’s a shame, because we finally learn why Yachiyo is so aloof—her wish was to survive, but that means everyone she teams up with eventually dies—but it’s too little too late.

The fact that Yachiyo’s need to self-isolate is so deep-seated makes it that much more implausible when Iroha pulls her out of the witch, takes her hand, and tells her she’ll defy the effects of that wish and stay alive by her side. Even having lost comrade after comrade, both to death and the Wings of Magius, Yachiyo is convinced.

That’s when things start to fall apart, both literally and narratively. Touka sics Tomoe on Yachiyo and Iroha to prevent them from leaving. Perhaps Tomoe has been overwhelmed by grief over losing her own comrades, but seeing her character reduced to a glorified attack dog is disappointing to say the least. I also wish I could say I was excited by the sudden appearance of Miki Sayaka…if only I had the slightest clue how she got there and what she was doing there!

The episode doesn’t bother explaining Sayaka’s presence, because it’s too busy setting up an interminable battle between the team of her, Yachiyo and Iroha (who both go into Doppel Mode), and a totally berserk Tomoe.

The battle has some cool moments but is undercut by several issues, among them choppy frame rate, half-baked CGI, bits of sloppy animation…and an almost complete lack of emotional investment on my part. This battle felt like it only existed to run out the clock on the season, while the technical shortfalls prevented me from enjoying it for its own sake.

Barely ten minutes after promising she won’t die, Iroha ends up being dragged into an abyss by the defeated(?) Tomoe; Sayaka only manages to save Yachiyo, who is again alone and apparently the victim of her wish to Kyuubey. Baby Kyuubey, whose nature and motives were notably never explained in these thirteen episodes, dives in after Iroha.

From there, we get a The Force Awakens-style address by Touka before thousands of Magius followers, which include the newly-converted Tsuruno, Felicia, Kaede, and even Kuroe, a character who was only in the first episode and then forgotten. Sena and Momoko remain robeless, though one wonders how long.

And that’s pretty much that! I would say that at least there’s a second season on the way, but this episode couldn’t make me less excited about it, except to see if it can pull itself (and Iroha) out of the hole it dug. Magia Record was only ever a pale shadow of its subversive predecessor, and its first season little more than a lengthy prologue to the real battle between Magius and “free” magical girls.

In the end, Magia Record was a show primarily concerned with not saying as much as possible, and employing nostalgia and fanservice to string us along. For proof, look no further than the pointless final battle mostly between two characters from Madoka.

I’d like to say I won’t get fooled again, but I also won’t dismiss a potentially stronger second season out of hand. The first Madoka series and its movies built up a lot of goodwill Magia Record didn’t fully expend. But season two will have its work cut out for it.

Magia Record – 12 – Class is in Session

In the latest blow to Iroha’s eternally troubled investigation, Touka tells her that not only does she not remember any Tamaki Ui, but she never had any memories of her to begin with, because they never met. We and Iroha have no reason to trust Touka, but perhaps something even Touka isn’t aware of stole her memories of Ui, along with everyone else’s.

Meanwhile, at the Villa, ghosts of Yachiyo’s former roommates—and friends—ask if it’s really okay to let her new friends be. Yachiyo protests that Iroha & Co. are not friends—she’ll never make friends again—but as fellow magical girls, she still has a duty to protect them, so she heads to the museum.

Touka is the lecturer for a series of lessons, starting with the basics: When a magical girl’s soul gem shatters, the girl dies, even without any physical harm done to her. That’s because the gem is their soul, and a person cannot survive without it.

This is what happened to Yachiyo and Mifuyu’s former roommate and friend Kanae in a battle with a witch. She was the first casualty on Yachiyo’s road of misery and regret. Tsuruno, Momoko, and third magical girl Mel eventually moved into the villa, and life slowly returned to some kind of normalcy.

Tragedy struck again when the second way for a magical girl to meet her end happened to Mel: witchification. In a witch battle in which Mel protected Yachiyo, her soul gem became murky, turned into a grief seed, and Mel became a witch.

That was probably the beginning of the end of the Mikazuki Villa, and Yachiyo had to endure the unendurable: not only was a second good friend and comrade gone, but she had been transformed into their apparent “enemy.” Kyuubey tells the girls that this is just the way it is, and in the long run it’s good for humanity.

Touka rejects Kyuubey’s system, and preaches a third way: the Doppel. It already happened to Iroha on accident earlier, and she watches it happen to Mifuyu in another recorded memory: the soul gem is murky and she transforms into a witch, but only temporarily. She can return to being a magical girl essentially at will, in direct defiance of Kyuubey deemed a one-way-only road with no U-turns.

In light of all these revelations and clarifications, we can be happy this third way exists, because it mean Iroha could come back from witchification. But one wonders…what is the catch? Why is Yachiyo so opposed to the Wings of Magius? Is the ordinary order of human life now interrupted?

I don’t know, and with only one episode left, I hope there’s a second cour to explore this further. All I know is that Kaede has already gone to her side, which clearly troubles Rena. Will Yachiyo be able to make it in time to offer the other girls the case against conversion?

Magia Record – 07 – If You Can’t Join ‘Em, Beat ‘Em

Felicia is escorted by Black Feathers to a pair of higher-ranked White Feathers of the Wings of the Magius, Amane Tsukuyo and her twin sister Tsukasa. True believers in their organization, they are committed to the “salvation” of magical girls, though let’s be honest, that could mean anything!

Nevertheless, their goal of destroying all witches is very much enticing to the vengeful Felicia, as is the prospect of free room and board for an essentially homeless orphan. Kyouko also likes how all of the things she’d rather not worry about are taken care of, freeing her to do what she loves: defeat witches and collect grief seeds.

However, the longer they stay in the company of the Wings of the Magius, the worse and worse the deal looks. Yachiyo has a GPS fix on Felicia, so she, Iroha, and Tsuruno follow after her, prepared for anything. They are blocked by the Amane twins, who are polite and inviting, but also very clear that Felicia and Kyouko are now new members, while the other three are intruders.

With Kyouko already questioning why she’d have “no need” for Grief Seeds (I guess as long as she drinks the Owl Water her luck will keep her Gem clear?), Felicia suddenly feels betrayed when the Amane twins unleash a huge group of captive witches on Iroha, Yachiyo and Tsuruno. She doesn’t care if the Wings “control” them with magic or not; she hates witches!

When the witches are mostly defeated, the Amane sisters’ gems become very murky, but they were apparently hoping for that, and undergo a transformation similar to what happened to Iroha, when a witch-like version of herself emerged from her gem and went berserk. This happens to the Amanes, and then it happens to Iroha, who manages to defeat the Uwasa’s core all by herself.

Turns out she’s not so weak after all…but controlling her “witchy side” won’t be easy. As for the Amanes, thy seem worried about how their boss will react to their failure, and that boss turns out to be Mifuyu, the real version, not the Seance Shrine echo. She claims to have been “left behind”, insinuating Yachiyo and the others had something to do with it, but Yachiyo has no intention of joining the Wings, so they part ways with the rift intact.

With the consequences for running out of luck now gone, Iroha offers Felicia a place to stay, even though she’s about to move herself. Yachiyo offers a room at her empty boarding house, and Iroha cooks everyone a nice meal; Felicia’s first. Then the last lucky happenstance occurs: the boarding house Iroha’s parents assigned to her is…Mikazuki Villa, Yachiyo’s house.

This episode ends with the magical girls learning a bit more about their Wings of Magius rivals and in a comfy, amicable new living situation that’s conducive to further cooperation and bonding. It’s a shame Mifuyu may be lost to the cult of Magius, but at least Felicia seems to be on firmer ground, now that she’s starting to understand that she is her own most important client for her “mercenary” work.

Magia Record – 06 – Dark Wings, Dark Deals

After waking up to breakfast at Yachiyo’s sad, lonely, empty boardinghouse, Iroha decides to do a little more exploring around Kamihama before heading home. Her unyielding desire to find Ui literally leads her down the wrong road, in this case a sketchy underground market populated by witch-like beings.

Yachiyo warned Iroha to be cautious and hide her magical girl identity, but within a minute of arriving at the market, she meets another magical girl, Felicia Mitsuki, and the two drink a mysterious “Lucky Owl Water” offered for free by the beings, which they market as a “distillation of joy” to anyone who drinks it.

The Felix Felicis-like bevvy sets in immediately, with Felicia easily dispatching a witch, Iroha treating her to ice cream, and both of them getting good luck messages on the sticks. They hit the arcade and casino to let that good luck ride, winning at everything they play and raking in the cash.

Cash that Felicia needs, by the way, as she was orphaned by witches and must take care of herself. She labels herself as a mercenary, offering her not inconsiderable witch-hunting skills in exchange for cash money. As the two celebrate their luck, numbers everywhere gradually count down from 24, portending doom.

Meanwhile, there’s another new old face in Kamihama: Sakura Kyouko, from the original series. She’s still fond of perching on roofs and is looking to kill some witches. Yachiyo, who encounters her, tells her there’s plenty of witches to hunt as long as she abides by the rules: no harming other magical girls, and no poaching.

Both Felicia’s on-again, off-again party and Yachiyo learn through Yakumo of a new rumor of Lucky Owl Water, as well as the catch: after 24 lucky things happen to the drinker, they start experiencing bad luck, at least until they drink more Owl Water. It’s basically an addictive drug, only instead of affecting your body or mind, it affects your luck.

Yachiyo and Tsuruno meet up with Iroha and Felicia in order to find a way to cancel the effects of the water, which Yachiyo believes can be achieved by destroying the main body of the Uwasa, or rumor. But first they have to find it, which means returning to the market where Iroha and Felicia first encountered the water pushers.

Predictably, they offer nothing but more Owl Water as a corrective, and Felicia loses her temper and lashes out at them, causing them to disperse. Yachiyo laments that Felicia didn’t just drink more water for now, in order to buy them more time to find the Uwasa.

Instead, Felicia and Iroha are down to 13 lucky events before shit starts going down. The quartet are soon surrounded not by witches, but mysterious girls in black cloaks who all finish each other sentences and call themselves “Wings of Magius.” Like the magical girls, they want to destory all witches, but they go about it in a very different way.

When these Wings fail to recruit the magical girls, they appeal to Felicia’s constant need for income and offer to hire her as a mercenary. Her reward will be what her wish to Kyuubey probably was, but is naturally yet to be achieved: revenge.

Iroha had already hired Felicia to help her find Ui, offering her a home-cooked meal, but I think she just got outbid, and Yachiyo is proven correct about the dangers of getting involved with someone who puts their own desires before the safety of her peers.

Magia Record – 05 – The Ones They Lost

Unsurprisingly, the Seance Shrine isn’t so much a means of reuniting with someone you’ve lost as it is a magical girl trap. “Ui” looks like Ui, but the moment she starts talking the illusion is broken for Iroha, as the girl can only string together a few words in various combinations over and over again: “If you want to change your fate, come to Kamihama City.” Iroha is understandably disappointed; her search has hit a dead end.

Meanwhile, “Mifuyu” is far more convincing to Yachiyo, to the point Yachiyo is entranced. But while Mifuyu can draw from the memories they share, she is singlemindedly dedicated to making sure Yachiyo stays put right there, assuring her she’ll perfectly fit the hole in her heart. The whole time both Iroha and Yachiyo convene with their lost people, the chaotic visual cues of witches dance on the margins.

Iroha is able to break Yachiyo from Mifuyu’s hold, but when a witch arrives and neither they nor Tsuruno can easily defeat it, Iroha fights too hard, her soul gem becomes murky, and she transforms into a second witch and fight viciously attacks the first. This felt like a huge deal when it happened, and like the protagonist of the show was going to die in the first five episodes.

Iroha is “rescued” by none other than Mami, marking the first time characters from the two shows meet. Only Mami had no intention of saving Iroha, but to finish her off, assuming she’s a witch in human form. Yachiyo is able to get Mami to stand down and take her leave without further harm to the unconscious but unharmed Iroha, but not before warning Yachiyo and Tsuruno not to trust Iroha, as she’s still “hiding something.”

Iroha comes to at Yachiyo’s house. It’s too late for her to catch a train home so Yachiyo suggests she spend the night. Iroha take her up on the offer and returns to bed to rest, grateful for the hospitality (it’s apparently been a while since anyone has cooked for Iroha—I guess her own folks are too busy).

When Yachiyo checks in, she notices Iroha has been crying, and has a short vision of Mifuyu, whose room this likely once was. I imagine that despite her initially cold attitude towards Iroha, Yachiyo is happy to be hosting someone in that big lonely house.

That brings us to a post-credit sequence that is all over the map, with Kaede encountering both Momoko and Rena passed out while she takes the form of a witch. She isn’t any more sure what’s going on than I was, which is comforting, but it’s clear trouble is brewing for this magical girl trio.

Magia Record – 04 – The Price of Miracles

Iroha is worried she’s already put out her fellow magical girls, but Mitama, Momoko, Kaede and Rena are happy to continue helping in her search for Ui. Turns out the aloof Yachiyo is the exception and not the rule in Kamihama magical girls. Iroha is sent to the restaurant owned by the family of Yui Tsuruno, who is also a magical girl eager to help, but she does know someone who could.

Demonstrating that the network of Kamihama magical girls is a small world, Tsuruno introduces Iroha to…Yachiyo, who has a lead on a new rumor: the Seance Shrine. The three team up to search the nearby Mizuna Shrine, which has a legend of tragic love in which a woman sacrificed an entire town to be reunited with her lover.

However, their stamp-collecting circuit turns up no further clues. Yachiyo still uses the time to impress upon Iroha the importance of becoming stronger, for the times when more powerful magical girls aren’t around to bail her out. She also asks Iroha and Tsuruno to help her out with a limited-time sale at the supermarket.

In the middle of their shopping trip, a Witch’s Labyrinth appears, and the three are locked in a battle. Iroha is overeager and very nearly gets herself killed, but she’s saved by Yachiyo (she may not like Iroha much but she’s not one to let a fellow magical girl die needlessly).

Tsuruno ends up defeating the Witch with authority, demonstrating why she has a strong claim to the title of “mightiest magical girl.” When the Labyrinth is dissipated, Iroha finds that her Soul Gem is starting to become corrupted. Yikes!

On a hunch, Yachiyo decides to give Mizuna Shrine another chance, this time at night, and sure enough, it and Seance Shrine are one and the same. She and Iroha write the names of lost people they wish to see and then pray; Tsuruno is harassed by a Witch for not writing down a name so she can stand guard.

Then Yachiyo and Iroha are transported to a dreamworld full of bridges where they each encounter the one whose name they wrote down. In Yachiyo’s case, a girl named Mifuyu whom both she and Tsuruno knew (perhaps the three were once a team together). In Iroha’s case, Ui. But even if it’s the real Ui, there’s sure to be a not inconsiderable cost to seeing her.

Magia Record – 03 – My Friend Whom I Hate

As Iroha finds herself witnessing a friendship of three girls strain against deep-seated resentment, she has another dream about Ui, this time with her two friends Toka and Nemu. The three are very smart and build amazing things together (which also make amazing messes) but Ui is constantly the glue holding Toka and Nemu together; the Momoko to Kaede and Rena.

Before Iroha can investigate the lead her new dream has provided, her new Kamihama friends Momoko and Rena have a more pressing problem: Kaede is trapped in a Staircase!

The three visit Coordinator Yakumo Mitama, who offers to “adjust” Iroha’s Soul Gem to possibly awaken more power, and also connects them with Nanami Yachiyo, the unfriendly magical girl who already warned Iroha not to return.

Yachiyo puts aside her animosity for Iroha (whom she believes to be so weak as to be a nuisance) and agrees to help the others rescue Kaede. The four have their Magical Girl transformations, all of which are very cool and very stylish. Yachiyo’s sandals and Iroha’s sheer top are particular fashion standouts.

 

Yachiyo and Momoko attempt to draw out the Witch by writing their names on the steps and then apologizing, and when that doesn’t work, Rena tries to apologize to Kaede, but it’s insincere. Finally she goes off on a rant about how she actually hates Kaede, and she’s sorry for “making” Kaede her friend.

That brings for the Witch and an elaborate Labyrinth of branching staircases. They find Kaede, and she and Rena eventually reconcile, promising to compromise in their relationship so that Rena isn’t always made out to be the villain.

Momoko and Yachiyo detach the Witch’s core (in the form of a bell) from the Labyrinth’s summit, and Rena and Kaede combine their powers to eradicate it. But oddly, there’s no Grief Seed, which means the entity they just defeated might not be a Witch.

Rena disguises herself to gain access to the medical center, and learns that while no one remembers Ui, they do remember her friends Toka and Nemu. They were eventually discharged, though they don’t remember where. It’s the first concrete proof Iroha’s dreams aren’t just dreams. They contain truths about the past.

That brings us to a post-credit sequence in which a Magical Girl from the original Madoka series makes an appearance: Madoka’s mentor and friend, Tomoe Mami. Kyuubey has summoned her to investigate the strange goings-on Kamihama City—including the phenomenon that renders him unconscious whenever he tries to enter.

We know that Iroha interacts with a “Baby” Kyuubey in Kamihama of whom “Adult” Kyuubey isn’t aware. It seems inevitable that Iroha will cross paths with Mami at some point. As mysteries continue to be revealed and twist together, my enthusiasm for this new series grows.

Magia Record – 02 – With Friends Like These…

Iroha keeps dreaming of her little sister, Ui. Kyuubey questions if Ui is or was even a real person, wondering why anyone would bother erasing her. But let’s not forget: Kyuubey is a trickster and can’t be trusted! Iroha’s apparent wish was to cure Ui, a wish that might result in Ui being cured, but doesn’t preclude her from disappearing, both from Iroha’s physical world and her memory.

There’s a medical center in her dream that’s a real place in Kamihama, so she sets off in the off-chance Ui is still a patient there. Her bus ride is interrupted by a Witch, who charms all of the passengers and lures them into a Labyrinth. Iroha transforms and follows, but again she is outmatched, as is a red-haired magical girl Akino Kaede. Fortunately Kaede has friends in Togame Momoko and Minami Rena.

Momoko, ostensibly the Mama Bear of their Kamihama trio, offers to help Iroha find her sister. Iroha supports Momoko, but Rena is opposed to any activities that deviate from their mission to investigate and stop the Chain Witch.

Iroha inadvertently serves as the catalyst for a huge dust-up between Rena and Kaede that leads to the latter saying their friendship is over, and Momoko only makes things worse trying to smooth things over. It’s clear that it’s hard in any universe for magical girls to get along, let alone maintain amicable friendships.

The thing about Rena is, she can shift her form to someone else, making a search for her the next day difficult. Momoko and Kaede want reconciliation, and so does Rena, but she’s held back, be it from pride, shame, or regret.

That’s when the infamous “Chain Monster” arrives, fulfilling the urban legend about writing your name and the name of a friend on a certain staircase to formally end your friendship. Just two episodes in and things get dark in a hurry, as the most cheerful and innocent of the magical girls is swallowed up by chains and dragged into the staircase. Rena and Momoko can do nothing to stop it.

The question is, is the Chain Monster the same as the Chain Witch, is the staircase a Labyrinth? If so, perhaps they can go in, rescue Kaede, and defeat the witch in one stroke. Or maybe Kaede is gone, forever. You just don’t know with this show!

Magia Record – 01 (First Impressions) – Changing of the Guard

Same system, new universe. Magia Record’s English subtitle is quite clear: this is a side story, starring a new pink-haired protagonist in Tamaki Iroha (Asakura Momo). She’s an independent, reliable, somewhat lonely low-level magical girl whose school friends are unaware of her double life. Once in a while a Witch will interrupt her elevated train commute and force her into a trippy Labyrinth where she must do battle.

Lately Iroha has been trying to determine what her Wish was—the one Wish granted by Kyuubey in exchange for becoming a Magical Girl—but she’s forgotten, possibly due to part of the wish itself being for her to forget. Meanwhile, a number of Magical Girls are having the same dream about a mysterious girl telling them they’ll be “saved” if they go to Kamihama City.

Iroha’s comrade Kuroe (Hanazawa Kana) intends to visit the city to see for herself. Iroha misses her stop and accompanies her, but on the way they’re enveloped by another Labyrinth and attacked by another Witch, this one too powerful for either of them. In the ensuing fracas, Iroha encounters a tiny, apparently younger version of Kyuubey.

Madoka Magica’s trademark radical shifting of visual styles carries over into this series, and I can say with confidence that whether inside or outside of a Witch’s Labyrinth, this first episode looks like a million bucks. Iroha’s hometown of Takarazaki with its skinny, towering apartment blocks and hanging gardens are among the standout vistas to which we’re treated. The Labyrinth also blasts the girls high above the clouds at dusk. Gorgeous.

Iroha and Kuroe eventually come down to earth, crashing into a huge arcology-like skyscraper in none other than Kamihama City. Their savior is a dark blue-haired witch whose powers vastly surpass theirs, but more than anything she’s miffed to find two interlopers operating in her territory. She tells them that contrary to the dream, Kamihama is no haven for Magical Girls. There are more of them, and they’re more powerful because they have to battle tougher Witches.

Iroha and Kuroe return home with a warning from the third girl not to return, and to discourage any other girls from attempting to visiting; they’ll be considered enemies. Iroha ends up having another elaborate dream as she watches scores of seemingly brainwashed girls headed to Kamihama, luggage in hand, assured of their salvation. Then she remembers her Wish to Kyuubey: to save Ui, an ill girl who may be her sister.

With a stylish presentation, super-cool wardrobe, stirring soundtrack, and cloudy mysteries waiting to be tackled, Magia Record looks to pick up where Madoka Magica left off, showing us the darker sides of Magical Girldom in a new setting with new players. I for one am full steam ahead on this one!

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 – 12 (Fin)(Retro Review)

Originally posted 25 Apr 2011 – And so, the best series of the Winter 2011 season ends – in late April – and not with a whimper, but with – what else – the re-making of the entire universe. Madoka can make any wish, so she decides to wish there were no witches, ever. This pisses off Kyuubey (AKA Incubator), but it happens. Of course, there’s a price to be paid. That price is: no more Madoka. Aside from episode 10, this is the only time Madoka is a maho shojo, and she’s nothing like any other; as her newly-gained godlike powers allow her to free the souls of maho shojo from soul gems all over the world, so they’ll never become witches. No maho shojo, no witches.

Of course, even though Madoka makes sure to be as explicit and detailed with her wish as possible, the universe proves just as devious as Incubator. The new universe she creates still has Maho Shojo, but they fight “magical beasts” rather than witches. Ah well, close enough! Kyuubey is still around, but it seems he’s more of a friend than a trickster. Also, in the realm/void between the end of the old universe and the birth of the new one, Madoka and Homura say their goodbyes, and Madoka gives her her hair ribbon. The result of this is, Homura is the only person who remembers Madoka. Even for her brother, Madoka is just an imaginary friend. While Madoka is now free of her fate, Homura can’t be all that happy her best friend had to sacrifice her entire existence in order to eliminate witches.

While this series has never been shy about highly abstract settings, especially when dealing with witches, the whole end-of-the-universe transition was a little sudden and overwrought, with whispers of End of Evangelion. The Naked Space Madoka and Homura bordered on silly-looking, and their tearful goodbye, while earned, bordered on sappy at times. Despite these issues, the series ended strong, and now complete, we laud it for its entertaining twist on the maho shojo genre. It’s also perhaps Akiyuki Shinbo’s finest non-comedy series. Don’t be put off by the girly opening and frilly costumes; this series has true grit.


Rating: 8 (Great)