Magia Record – 21 (S2 Fin) – Nor the Battle to the Strong

At first, Yachiyo and Iroha believe they failed to Connect with Tsuruno, but they end up basically inside her head, which takes the form of a theater where Iroha watches the past unfold, including the day Yachiyo and Tsuruno’s friend and comrade Meru became a witch. Because Tsuruno was working at her family’s restaurant, she blamed herself, and resolved to become not just stronger, but the strongest.

But she wasn’t strong. Against the Witches and Uwasa, no magical girl, is strong, really. It’s why they have to band together…though the Wings of Magius took it a bit too far into cult territory. As this episode demonstrates, small but close-knit groups can get it done. Thanks to Felicia, Sana, Mifuyu and Momoko, Yachiyo and Iroha are able to free Tsuruno.

Similarly, thanks to Kyouyko and Akemi, Madoka and Sayaka are able to free Mami. Like Tsuruno, she had been forced into believing she had to be strong enough for everyone even though in reality she wasn’t, leaving her exposed to Uwasa corruption…or something. I’m just glad Tsuruno and Mami are back…though the fact they were freed so easily somewhat blunts all of the built-up stakes.

It wouldn’t be a finale without Iroha Connecting with Madoka, and the two pink magical girls end up unleashing an attack so powerful, it disperses all of the assembled witches at the hotel/amusement park. With no witches their to lure it, Walpurgisnacht changes course for Mitakihara, somewhere Akemi pointedly doesn’t want Madoka to go because she knows it may well be the end of her.

But the OG gang soon says their goodbyes and heads to Mitakihara, leaving the Magia Record gang fully reunited. Tsuruno is a bit out of it but sure looks like she’ll make a full recovery, while all the bad blood between Yachiyo and Mifuyu seems to have dispersed along with the witches, which is good to see.

Less good to see is what becomes of poor Kuroe just as she exits the hotel and sees Iroha and the others celebrating their victory. Kuroe’s Doppel rises out of her shadow and stops her, saying she doesn’t belong with them. This must be at least a little meta, as Kuroe is an anime-only character.

Still, it seems almost cruel at this point for the show to torment Kuroe just as she seemed poised to deepen her bond with Iroha, and perhaps the other girls through Iroha. Her doppel clearly has other plans, though if Iroha & Co. could save Tsuruno, maybe they can save Kuroe too.

The only thing left to do is for Iroha to do what she came to Hotel Faint Hope to do: speak to Touka and Nemu. Touka, for her part, is recalcitrant and doesn’t even seem to recognize Iroha. She’s about to attack her when Nemu stops her. Nemu then reveals that she’s been keeping the truth about everything that’s happened so far from both of them. That said, she seems ready to come clean…in her way.

So ends the middle part of the three-cour Magia Record. This part had a nice focus and rhythm to it along with many satisfying badass magical girl moments, but still managed to end with me scratching my head, like the first cour. Not the worst thing, mind you; as long as the final third of the series helps alleviate that cranial itch with at least some solid answers.

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 – 18 – The Future They Chose

Not content to sleep beside Kaede’s isolation bubble, Iroha sneaks out to meet with Nemu, not wanting to further burden the others with her problems. Once more, it’s great to see Iroha really driving the narrative. Kuroe, poor thing, thinks she and Iroha were only friends in Iroha’s dream, but that’s not the case, and when she follows Iroha and wishes to help her in any way she can, Iroha is grateful for the help.

As Iroha and Kuroe take charge like the blossoming Magical Bosses they are, Tsuruno Rui is slowly losing it, and we also check in on Felicia and Sana, who are naught but grunts performing menial labor for Magius at Hotel Faint Hope. They, in turn, meet Sakura Kyouko from the original series, who’d saved Felicia once before.

While Kyouko is ostensibly there to steal grief seeds/soul gems (one or the other), she along with the other two stumble upon the witch factory none of them knew anything about, especially the scale of it, while Touka announces to all of Magius that “Operation Embryo Eye” is about to commence.

It’s named after their prized “Artificial Witch” Embryo Eye, who ravenously feasts on the farm-fresh witches—the trains going straight into it’s creepy live-action human mouth. Felicia and Sana are not okay with any of this. Yachiyo, having forced the Amane sisters to withdraw, also overhears of Touka’s plan.

So do Iroha and Kuroe, and it doesn’t sound liek the Touka or Nemu she knew. They’re no longer not just bent on liberating magical girls everywhere, but on executing their grudge against the rest of humanity who aren’t magical girls. They will suffer as all of them have suffered, and Touka won’t forgive anyone.

But despite how dastardly this plan is—and how far gone her former friends must be to be going forward with it—Iroha still wants to try to talk with them. And who knows, maybe she can make a difference! Before that, however, she and Kuroe have to get past hordes of Magius security on high alert.

At first Iroha leads the fight, deflecting the feathers’ weapons with her crossbow without flinching. But Kuroe doesn’t want to sit back and let Iroha do all the work, so after her very cool and elegant transformation sequence, she builds a huge wall between them and their opponents, then blasts a hole through the wall for Iroha to escape.

Iroha only leaves because Kuroe promises she’ll catch up to her. When Kuroe says this, she’s not just talking about this present situation; she wants catch up to Iroha in general. If you ask me, she’s already well on her way; she was a rock star this week, right up to when she unleashes her very distinctive Doppel.

Touka and Nemu move Hotel Faint Hope to Daito Ward, then implement the operation. All of the witches in Kamihama City and within a 200-kilometer radius are gathered up to be fed to Embryo Eye, which I’m assuming they’ll use against the “Big One” they end up reeling in, which arrives like a giant typhoon: Walpurgisnacht.

Is this what happens when two of the most powerful and intelligent magical girls ever created develop a vendetta against the world and systems that made them? Was Iroha naïve to think that her visits to them and Ui would be enough to preserve their humanity and morality? It certainly looks that way…but you never know. A lot can happen in the remaining three episodes, plus the third and final season still waiting in the wings.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 17 – Back Into the Lions Den

In a usual cour, there’d be time and space for a cooling off episode, but with only eight episodes to work with, this lean, mean second season of Magia Record has no time to waste. And you know what? That’s just fine with me!

Not only did the entire first season feel more like an introduction and explanation of this world and its expansive cast, but it just makes sense to the flow of the story that once Iroha got caught up on what’s going on, she’d make a beeline for Nemu and not spend half the episode tidying up Mikazuki Villa with Yachiyo and Kuroe.

It also totally tracks that Iroha is almost fanatically eager to do her part in this story. Last week’s dreamy rescue mission got the ball rolling, but this week is where Iroha reasserting herself as the protagonist of this story really picks up momentum. Yachiyo is certainly weary of Iroha jumping right back into the dangerous realm of Magius, while Kuroe is a follow-not-lead sort.

So it’s really quite exhilarating to see Iroha take the initiative, get her friends aligned and on board; she’s both the glue bringing everyone back together and the lodestar guiding everyone to what’s good and right while Kuroe guides them through the fanciful book-filled caverns below Hotel Faint Hope. Unfortunately, in order to get those two through the portal, Yachiyo had to stay behind to keep the Amane sisters at bay.

Fortunately, it’s not long that due either to fate or coincidence—hell, why not both?!—Iroha encounters the ena, who is on her way out after deciding to defect from Magius. She has a very weak and vulnerable Kaede in tow, whose Doppel looks ready to pop out and kill everyone.

Again, alacrity demands that this reunion eschews the usual pleasantries; after all, all four girls are in a hurry with good reason: Nemu says she’s dying, while Kaede looks close to death, or a fate worse than it. But with the portal Iroha and Kuroe used closed, the four decide to team up for now.

What I’m glad there is time for is to check in with the Puella O.G. (including yours truly), who appear to have arrived in Kamihama City judging from the Alina Gray posters and Magius recruitment flyers. Besides it always being great to see these girls, it’s even more gratifying to know that there’s an actual reason for their inclusion here.

They’ve essentially crossed the dimensional barrier to find their beloved Mami, whom we know to be in way too deep with Magius. I like how their fish-out-of-water status is accentuated by the fact their colors are so much more muted than those of “native” magical girls like Iroha & Co. I can’t wait for if and when Madoka and Iroha meet and join forces.

But while on the way to the main exit (Rena and Kaede) and Nemu (Iroha and Kuroe), Iroha follows Little Kyuubey to another inconvenient truth about Magius: they’re farming witches. Knowing full well how fuzzy the line between magical girl and doppel, and goppel and witch, Iroha demonstrates why she’s the beating moral heart of the show, as she declares her distaste for this whole enterprise and questions what could possibly justify it.

Mind you, Iroha is not infallible in her role, and in fact her strong sense of what is right and what just seems wrong clashes with the real-world realities and wholesale suffering not only of less fortunate magical girls who lacked both the strength to defeat Kamihama witches and the support network to make up for their weaknesses. Iroha’s no Yachiyo (no one is) but she’s no slouch in terms of power or friends. Her moral certitude comes from a place of privilege.

But its that certitude and that privilege that make Iroha so well suited to leading the charge. When the girls are attacked by some kind of Uwasa sentry, Kuroe ends up cornered and her soul gem blackened, and almost takes the easy way out by using her doppel for perhaps the last time.

But Iroha won’t let her; instead, she clears Kuroe’s gem, and then the two Connect and their combined power obliterates the sentry. Magius is an organization that is hoping magical girls like Kuroe give up. Iroha’s selflessness and refusal to sacrifice anyone is anathema to them, because it’s explicit proof that their way isn’t the only way.

A new crisis emerges right on the heels of the defeated sentry, as Kaede has hit her limit. Her doppel emerges and goes berserk, and in another positively virtuoso battle sequences, Iroha, Kuroe, and Rena fight together to tame their gentle friend—turned chaotic monster.

As is usually the case with anime like this, stills just don’t due the battle animation the slightest bit of justice. Suffice it to say that in terms of artistry, grace, eclecticism and pure uninhibited style, there are few series out there that can match Magia Record. The benefits of putting 12-13 episodes worth of budget into 8 are on full display here.

Another estranged member of Team Mikazuki Villa, Momoko, arrives with Mitama shortly after the other thee girls manage to neutralize Doppel!Kaede. Mitama seals Kaede a big glass sphere, then wheels it into a gallery absolutely filled with similar spheres: an isolation ward for troubled doppels.

The other girls are not okay with this situation any more than what Magius is doing with witches. But Mitama is unmoved by their outrage, reminding them with almost Kyuubey-esque haughtiness that she warned them not to overuse their doppels.

She also reports that Kaede the other afflicted girls likely won’t wake up—let alone return to normal—until Magius’ “plan has succeeded”—an objective Iroha, Yachiyo, and now Rena and probably Momoko are committed to thwarting.

Again, Iroha serves a focusing and uniting role, corralling and calming the hotter heads and offering a possible Other Way. Even after all that has happened since returning to Faint Hope, her mission is the same: meet with Nemu, find out what’s going on, and find a way to save her.

Iroha has already demonstrated what can be accomplished by bringing the “family” together in a single, clear effort. Why can’t it be so with this? After all, unlike Touka, Nemu remembers Iroha, and the bond they shared. He’s hoping Big Sis gets to meet with her soon.

 

Magia Record – 16 – Will the Real Iroha Please Wake Up?

Shortly after entering the Eternal Sakura, Yachiyo finds herself being woken up in her bed in Mikazuki Villa by Felicia, Sana, and Tsuruno. As soon as they mention Iroha, Yachiyo rushes to her room and finds her sleeping there. But something, of course, is off: for a split-second, Iroha’s face turns into that of her Doppel.

Yachiyo and Kuroe have been absorbed by Iroha’s Doppel, who is holding Iroha hostage after a fashion by keeping her happy and at piece in an ideal fantasy version of her life. In this fantasy, Iroha’s Mikazuki friends all know Kuroe even though they’ve never met IRL. As for “Iroha” herself, she’s clearly under the spell of her Doppel.

When Yachiyo mentions Ui, she and Kuroe are transported first to a train, and then to Ui’s hospital, where Kuroe learns Iroha’s sister shared a room with Nemu and Touka, and where Kuroe tells Yachiyo that Nemu created all the Rumors in Kamihama City. But when Ui is finally presented, she’s not human, but a stuffed animal. Yachiyo determines that this fantasy is neither Nemu’s nor a Rumor’s doing.

Yachiyo goes through an Alice in Wonderland-style tiny door to another part of the dream, ordering Kuroe to stay behind where it’s “safe,” but is really not willing to accept help from a member of Magius. Kuroe learns when Yachiyo isn’t around, Iroha’s Doppel creates one, and sees the appeal of such a peaceful, pleasant dream, which matches the gentle, cheerful nature of the Iroha she knows.

Meanwhile, in a lush flower-strewn meadow, Yachiyo locates the Ui stuffed animal, by far the most suspicious thing in the dream. When another Iroha arrives, it’s clear the Doppel, and not Iroha, is talking to Yachiyo, warning her not to ruin the perfect dream world she created. Meanwhile, Iroha’s Soul Gem continues to darken.

When Kuroe breaks the reality of the dream by asking Iroha why Ui is a stuffed animal, Iroha transforms into a Doppel and restrains Kuroe. The Doppel explains that when Iroha fell to the bottom of a Uwasa, she was filled with fear for her sister as well as despair over knowing the truth of the magical girls, so the Doppel overwrote her nightmares with new and happier dreams.

Yachiyo rescues Kuroe, but despite urging her to stay out of the fight, Kuroe transforms and the two connect their powers to bring the Doppel down. Yachiyo doesn’t care how much work went into this fantasy world; she’s taking Iroha back so they can take back her real sister, the real Mikazuki Villa, and their real friendship.

She and Kuroe succeed in suppressing the Doppel and freeing the real Iroha, who falls to the soft grass at the base of the Eternal Sakura where an elated Yachiyo is waiting for her. The two embrace, join hands, and celebrate their reunion. Iroha mentions that she promised she wouldn’t die, and she didn’t…she just needed to be rescued from a dream prison created by her Doppel to protect her from anger, fear, and sorrow.

Magia Record’s second season’s third episode is by far the most straightforward, as Yachiyo and Kuroe are basically on a simple rescue mission. There’s a wonderful dreamlike atmosphere distinct from either the “real life” of the show or the more textured witch realms, and it’s a clever way to check in with the other members of the villa, even if they were only dream versions.

With Iroha back, could she and Yachiyo help bring the others back from Magius? Will Kuroe’s loyalties to Magius conflict with her friendship with Iroha and now Yachiyo, whom she fought beside to save their mutual friend? And what’s up with that post-credits appearance of Madoka? For now, I’ll do as Yachiyo does and simply revel in the unbridled joy of having the real Iroha back.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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 – 11 – The Timing’s a Bit Off

While the rivalry between Magius and independent magical girls continues to escalate, but for Iroha, this isn’t about factions or loyalties. It’s about her sister Ui. As soon as Sana mentions Nemu, she seeks out Amane Tsukuyo at her school, where her family name is “Akatsuki” and she leads the koto club. Tsukuyo demonstrates the contrast between she views Iroha (a threat who intends to interrogate or even torture her) and how Iroha views her (a someone she can have a calm coffee chat with).

By the time they’ve had their calm chat, Tsukuyo has learned that there need not always be rancor and mistrust between their sides. She can even relate to Iroha’s need to find her sister, being so close to her own. That said, she’s still not ready to say anything about Nemu, and tells Iroha she’ll have to clear things with Miufuyu first.

While waiting for an answer, Iroha joins Tsuruno, Felicia and Sana on another shopping trip, this time to purchase some coasters as a thank you for the personal mugs Yachiyo bought them.

They find some pretty sakura-themed ones, but they’re immediately stolen by a witch, which they make quick work of to secure the gift. They set up a cute plan to surprise Yachiyo, who is coming home late.

What was to be another goodwill bonding exercise to bring the girls of the Villa closer together and feeling more like a family is pretty much ruined with the unexpected arrival of Mifuyu, who strides right in and treats the place like it’s her own home—because it was, for seven years.

Mifuyu dismisses Iroha’s attempts to play hostess and grabs her own mug from the cabinet Yachiyo warned her never to open. But Mifuyu isn’t there for Yachiyo—whom she’s apparently given up trying to convert—but Iroha. If she wants to learn about Nemu, she should consider joining Magius.

Mifuyu also invites Iroha and the others to a Saturday afternoon “lecture” on how Magius is “liberating” magical girls, at a place called the “Memory Museum”, itself home to another Uwasa. Yachiyo comes home shocked to see Mifuyu, and Mifuyu doesn’t hesitate to prick her in the side with a verbal thorn about having “made friends again,” and how it will probably go as well as last time.

This puts Yachiyo in such a sour mood she simply retires to her room, before her roommates can present her with a gift. It’s just not the right mood anymore anyway. But once she’s in her room, she’s greeted by her witch-ified reflection (perhaps her Doppel) thanking her for “bringing more friends” to her. Could this be Mikazuki Villa’s Uwasa? Should Iroha and the others be worried for their safety?

Clearly against Yachiyo’s wishes, Iroha, Tsuruno, Felicia, and Sana head to the lecture, leaving her alone. Iroha asks Yakumo and Momoko for the location of the museum, and Momoko later tracks down Rena to tell her the truth about Yachiyo’s Villa. It’s a good thing Iroha told them where she was going, since the Museum looks more and more like a trap the deeper they explore.

That said, after climbing a wall full of drawers (no doubt containing memories), they are met by a voice expressing surprise they actually showed up. It’s not Nemu, but the other girl who was with Ui in the hospital: Satomi Touka. It may have been a circuitous path, but maybe Iroha will finally get some answers about her sister’s whereabouts.

Magia Record – 10 – Home is Where They Call Your Name

In a dream, Sana reaches out to her parents, but trips and her doll—who looks just like her—falls to the ground and shatters. But after Ai says goodbye and she’s spit back out into the outside world, Iroha is there to grab her hand and not let go. There are a lot of people gathered by the Uwasa exit, including Iroha’s crew, the Twins, and Alina—three parties with different agendas, all in conflict with one another.

Alina, seemingly in this all for herself, messes around with the normally Magius-administered Uwasa controls, releasing the witch. It clones itself and attacks Yachiyo, Felicia and Tsuruno, all in service of what Alina calls her “artwork.” She also unleashes toxic paint that Iroha warns will make you crazy. The thing is, Alina Gray is not that interesting a baddie, at least not yet.

Alina’s performance is cut short by Tomoe Mami, now a member of the Wings of Magius. She covers the escape of the Twins and Mifuyu, whom Yachiyo glimpses again briefly before Mifuyu teleports herself the Twins, and the recaptured witch away. Before withdrawing, Mami tells Yachiyo & Co. that everything the Wings do is for “the sake of salvation”.

With all the excitement over with for the time being, Sana slowly but surely settles into life at the Mikazuki Villa, aided by the kindness of the others. The five girls go on a shopping trip for individual mugs (at a massive and very SHAFT-y mug store), making the house feel like more of a home, and the five of them more than a family than a coven.

Sana makes a quick trip back to her old residence, but sees no semblance of family there (they look more like fast food statues like Colonel Sanders, Bob’s Big Boy and Ronald McDonald), and hurries back to the villa, where she’s not just seen and heard, but welcomed, valued, and liked.

Meanwhile, before we conclude the WoM is an evil cult, it must be said they don’t consider themselves as such. We see the Twins checking in on a gloomy-seeming Mifuyu, and offer to cook her a meal as a break from konbini food. It shows there’s a family dynamic here, and that her break from Yachiyo and the others comes down to methods, because they’re all trying to save the world.

Sana also recognizes the name of one of Ui’s friends in the hospital—Hiiragi Nemu—as the name of a member of WoM. It’s possible Nemu and Touka are the two figures in shadow to whom Mami and Mifuyu report. With Sana now settled in perhaps Iroha can make some fresh progress in investigating her sister’s disappearance—a phenomenon that could be the result of another Uwasa the WoM manages.

Magia Record – 09 – Do A.I.s Dream of Moe-lectric Sheep?

Iroha and her Magical Girl friends decide to open a dialogue with the Uwasa known as Endless Solitude, which is also the name of the realm (essentially a labyrinth) where Futaba Sana currently resides. The Uwasa is being used by Wings of Magius to lure girls in one after the other.

The realm only holds one (hence “solitude”) so when a new girl enters, the other is released. The Uwasa doesn’t want to do this anymore, and wishes to be deleted. Since Iroha was the Uwasa’s contact, she volunteers to leap off the Chuo Radio Tower.

Flash back to a little over a month ago when Futaba Sana first entered the Endless World and met the Uwasa, a former AI that was abandoned as a failure. Sana had become resigned to the fact she didn’t belong in the same world as everyone else, since nor peers acknowledged her existence.

Her “invisibility” was only strengthened when she became a Magical Girl, and made that quality her wish. It was then when Sana heard of the rumor about jumping off the radio tower and was enticed. She was an invisible girl here anyway, so why not try to reside somewhere else…a world just for her?

It was there where Sana met, befriended and named Endless Solitude’s Uwasa “Ai”. She spent her days playing around this fantastical, infinite world, where she didn’t have to worry about seeing or be seen. It was just her and Ai, and that’s where things get tricky for Ai: Sana is content in this world and never wants to return to the real world.

Knowing Sana would never attempt to leave, Ai reached out via radio waves to Iroha, another Magical Girl who’d not only survive the fall, but be able to destroy her, the Uwasa, in order to end the cycle of captured girls. However, she doesn’t tell Sana about any of this.

As such, it’s a huge shock to Sana to finally be face-to-face with a second person in a world that’s supposed to be hers and hers alone. And yet, Ai has already decided that returning to her world is what’s best for Sana, even if it’s painful at first.

Needless to say, Sana isn’t pleased by these events, and asks if this is being done because Ai has come to hate her. Ai responds that the opposite is true: because she loves and cares for Sana so much, this has to happen…and Iroha stands ready to help.

That’s when another magical girl/Wing of Magius (not exactly sure which) appears out of nowhere and is introduced as Alina Gray by Ai, as if that’s someone we’re supposed to know! Alina mixes Japanese with English as she moves to prevent Ai from being destroyed. I was a little confused by this sequence, but I’d guess Alina wants to keep Ai around as her own Doppel.

Ai manages to teleport Alina away temporarily, but they have to act fast to foil her plans, as Alina’s “paint” has already started to affect Ai’s programming. She turns to Sana, not Iroha, to put the proverbial (and later, literal) dagger into her chest, revealing herself as Sana’s Doppel, which explains why they got along so well; they are two sides of the same coin.

Faced with the prospect of Ai being corrupted and stolen from her, Sana does what Ai asks and destroys her after a heartfelt goodbye. Back in the real world, the other girls don’t notice anything happening where they are at the radio tower, but deduce that Endless Solitude’s exit is at the other high point of the city: Kamihama Central Tower, and head that way to await Iroha’s return.

With this, the final character in the promo art is introduced, and it being a bit late, her story feels a bit rushed and shoehorned in with a lot of exposition, while Futaba Sana’s “I’m all alone” storyline has been done to absolute death. At least the Shaft-style visuals keep things relatively interesting during all the backstory.