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