OP: 「ごまかし」 (Gomakashi) by (TrySail)
「やぁやぁ、知ってる？魔法少女のその噂」 (Have You Heard? That Rumor About the Magical Girls)
It’s been a while since Puella Magi Madoka Magica opened up a world of magical girl despair. Though several similar series have tried, none has surpassed the original. Magia Record comes in with high expectations, especially with the original studio Shaft and Shinbo Akiyuki back as animation supervisor.
Based on a mobile game, Magia Record takes place in an alternate universe, although how it links to the original is unclear. I admit I had shivers when the theme song started playing, and then witch labyrinth appeared! Shocking!
Witch Labyrinth!! That means in this timeline, Madoka’s wish doesn’t exist?! What is going on?
Mystery upon mystery, especially since magical girls Iroha Tamaki (Asakura Momo) and Kuroe (Hanazawa Momo) are well aware of the sacrifice necessary to have your wish granted. That all the girls know what soul gems are and how to form contracts with Kyuubey makes the wish-granting even more interesting, especially since Kuroe’s story seems to run parallel to Sayaka’s.
Like, at which point do you willingly and knowingly decide that yes this person is worth sacrificing your life for? Or maybe it’s a “it can’t be as bad as it seems” thing and turns out that killing witches is the worst form of grinding?
Watching Magia Record is like peering into a mirror world, a parallel version of a well-known story sliding sideways down the side of a spoon. There’s a pink-haired magical girl, but it’s not the same pink-haired magical girl we know. There’s witches and labyrinths and mysteries to be solved, but it’s not exactly the same. Just enough of the original Madoka seasoning to make us want to learn more.
There’s a lot of great animation going on here, everything just feels expensive. Iroha practicing her fight moves with a school mop has to be one of the cutest things in this episode, along with Kyuubey eating her second bento.
And then the atmosphere!! The unsettling quiet of something lurking just beneath the surface, those gorgeous long shots of stillness and afternoon light (perks of animation, every hour is golden hour). Initially I thought Shaft would go for the bizarre architecture from the original Madoka, but the decaying buildings crumbling next to the futuristic trains is both jarring and beautiful to watch.
The surreal sequence where a train slowly collapses into itself and the tracks twist up into a giant CGI ball that meteors right into Kamihami City, the rumoured place where magical girls can be saved. I really enjoyed the ‘Sand’ witch fight scene, the pastiche and collage art flows well and then the sudden appearance of another magical girl (Homura 2.0).
The use of rumours and repetition is a clever conceit. Anime adaptions of mobile games tend to either go all out with apps, or completely forget about them. Magia Record’s repetition of ‘Have you heard…?’ is a subtle one hint to its smartphone origins without actually showing an app. In one of the final scenes, with all the girls sharing their dreams and traveling towards Kamihami City, it feels like you’re a magical girl, and all the other magical girls (all the players) are sharing their wishes and dreams. It’s a super effective storytelling.
Already we can see how the series is building towards a familiar theme of sacrifice. Whether it’s a sacrificial wish given away to a special person or the lifelong sacrifice of being a magical girl; the trade-off is that you have to fight witches until you die. It’s a decision that haunts many magical girls, as with great sacrifice, comes bitter regret.
Sequels, prequels, alternate timelines are always a difficult balance, and I think Magia Record pulls it off with an interesting episode 1. Instead of rehashing characters, it takes the worldbuilding of Madoka and expands upon it to create something both fans of the original and a new audience can enjoy. I’m not sure what I’ll be covering this season, but this is definitely a top contender.