Remember how triangles can be similar or congruent? Anime side stories should be neither, in my opinion, but closer to the former if anything. Magia Record is far too close to a copy of the original Puella Magi Madoka Magica for my tastes. It doesn’t particularly add to the world created in that show. That being said, copying a great work can hardly result in a bad final product. So while this show is too similar to the original, there’s some things about it I really like. We are talking about Shaft here, who I’ve never seen produce anything subpar. So I enjoyed this show and the handful of little surprises in it, and given how it ended, I suspect we’ll get a second season at some point.

I’m gonna shorten “Puella Magi Madoka Magica” to “P3M” occasionally just so I don’t have to type that whole title every time. I’ll refer to it fairly often throughout the review.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 6

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Similarity Number One: The MC has pink hair and a primarily pink color palette overall.

The cover image above says it all. Madoka isn’t even in this show, and she’s featured on this artwork.

This was a big foul to me right away. So I say to myself, says I, “What if they’d made an MC with a different hair color? What would I have thought then?” I wouldn’t have thought the main character looked like a copy of the P3M main character, that’s for sure! This choice by the authors instantly causes the viewer to focus on the similarities between the two shows. Viewers will naturally look for anything to connect the side story with the original anyway, but usually that has an element of fun to it. I’ll mention this more below, but when we see some of the characters from P3M appear in this show, it adds interest. But as I’ll continue to point out in this review, these similarities make this show feel almost like a copy of the original. And seeing the MC with pink hair tunes me in to this right away.

P3M Similarity Number Two: OP and depressed secondary character with dark hair.

There really can only be one version of any character voiced by Chiwa Saito. Of course I’m referring to Homura Akemi from P3M, and her counterpart in this show, Nanami Yachiyo (not Saito-san, but another famous VA, Sora Amamiya, known for Akame ga Kill!, Tokyo Ghoul, KonoSuba, etc.). As you may recall, Homura befriends Madoka et al. after Madoka has become a mahou shojou, and thereafter dramatically travels back in time innumerable times trying to save Madoka and defeat Walpurgisnacht. She has to fail at this just as many times, watching Madoka die each time. This has a profound effect on her personality, and is very heartfelt for viewers. In Magia Record, Nanami Yachiyo has lost many friends during her time as a magical girl, and one can reasonably understand how this makes her gloomy. However, this is where that first similarity, the pink-haired MC, really has a major effect, as it keys me in to other similarities between the two series. I naturally will notice the similarities between Akemi and Yachiyo. And primarily, I compare the tragedies they’ve suffered through. And in this light, Akemi’s suffering seems much worse, and it cheapens Yachiyo’s travails. Yachiyo has gone through heart-wrenching sadness, but because the comparison is so forefront in my mind, it doesn’t have the impact it should.

There’s a familiar face we love!

P3M Similarity Number Three: Character Development Follows the Same Path

I’ll touch on this more in the Story section below, but as I watched this, and the number of obvious similarities were mounting, I saw the mystery behind Yachiyo building. And predictably, Yachiyo’s backstory is revealed right at the end of the series and is predictably tragic. Exactly the way Akemi’s backstory is handled in P3M.

These similarities have another unfortunate effect. They cause me to compare every character and role to P3M characters and roles. An odd extension of this is that when a character falls outside any obvious comparison, that character gets overshadowed. Consider Rena and Kaede. They feel completely undeveloped to me, despite them receiving a fair amount of screentime. As a result they’re not as readily memorable to me. But I remember Kaede more than Rena. Why? Because she plays a similar role to Sayaka Miki from P3M. Rena doesn’t have an obvious counterpart from the original series. I guess another way to say this is that the characters don’t stand on their own, always needed the comparison to P3M to feel memorable. At least this is how I end up remembering these characters.

So other than Yachiyo and Iroha, who are the most memorable characters? Unsurprisingly, the most memorable character moments in this show come when we see characters from P3M appear in this show. Mami Tomoe, Sayaka Miki, and Kyouko Sakura all make appearances. Mami has the most time, as she’s a primary member of the Wings of Magius group. And I actually really like getting to see these characters again here. If the show had avoided including any original characters in this show, it would have felt very forced. Of course I’m happy to see them all again too, as we may remember the fates these characters suffer in P3M.

Unfortunately, I will remember the characters in this series primarily as echoes of the main characters from P3M. When S2 comes out we’ll see how I react when I see all these characters again, but for now they all live in the shadow of the original series to me.

Artwork

Rating: 8

P3M Similarity Number Four: Everything about the artwork.

I’ve made these comparisons all seem like negatives up to this point. But I cannot complain about this particular similarity at all. For one thing, this is a Shaft production again, and that means that the art will have certain recognizable aspects. But also, it’s reasonable for the art style to be exactly the same as the original show here. I would hardly expect it to be different in a spinoff. Imagine Darkness from KonoSuba getting a side story and the artwork looking like Berserk. Yeah that wouldn’t work at all. So seeing the same styling here makes sense.

If anything, it’s a little more Shaft-like than P3M. We see the school desks piled on top of each other in a heap at one point at least, reminiscent of Monogatari of course. We get a handful of noticeable closeup flash frames on some of the characters, something I remember seeing only with Kyubey in the original series. We see several instances of the never-ending staircases, both in reality and in the labyrinths. The labyrinths themselves are as garrish as those in the original show, if perhaps a little less threatening and unsettling here. And of course I have to mention the head tilting. We associate this mostly with Monogatari, and rightly so, but it usually pops up in every Shaft series to varying degrees. Interestingly, we don’t see much of this in P3M, and only a little here in Magia Record. Even when we see it the characters aren’t breaking their necks doing it, but it’s still noticeable. You’re like “There it is!” What can I say, Shaft created a monster, and we can’t escape it.

So it’s Shaft artwork, and I have always appreciated that styling. So while it echoes the original series for better or worse, Magia Record has predictably excellent art, as I’ve come to expect from this studio.

Story

Rating: 5

P3M Similarity Number Five: Storyline essentially identical.

I can hardly think of a difference between the main thread of this storyline and P3M’s. The main character meets a cold secondary main character, and encounters new friends and various adventures along the way. Ultimately she and her friends discover the truth that the cold secondary MC already knows, that magical girls become witches if their Soul Gems become completely murky. This has a predictably depressing effect on them, and they deal with this in various ways based on their individual personalities. This is far, far, too similar to the P3M storyline. It unfolds at almost the same rate even. As I’m watching this story develop, and all along the way I’m keyed in to comparisons between the two shows, I’m seeing the same things happen again in the story and subconsciously I’m predicting what will happen next. When it happens, that takes away from the impact of the story. Part of the power of the original story are the tasteful and impactful plot twists. We don’t see them coming and they tear at our hearts when they happen. Seeing a near-copy of the story and its development here, that impact is completely lost.

So I’ve busted up lots of things in this anime for their similarity to the original, and now I’ve included the story in that. It’s inescapably obvious, and the effect obviously inescapable. But that being said, the subtle differences in this story are one of the most noticeable thing about it. And partly it’s the similarities that bring my attention to those differences, a drastically different effect than the effects that the similarities in the characters and artwork have on me. I’ll note some of these aspects that were most apparent to me.

First, every character is already a magical girl when we first meet them. It’s a little less than half-and-half in P3M. The element of exchanging a wish for a Soul Gem is still very central of course, but we don’t see anybody stressing over what to wish for here. In fact, the story here is partly premised on Iroha’s inability to remember what her wish was. We still don’t know for sure what that wish was by the time the first season ends.

How could Mami ever lose?

Remarkably, in this show, a murky Soul Gem does not always transform into a Grief Seed. This is the most glaring difference between the two stories. While it is presented as an inescapable fact that murky Soul Gem equals Witch transformation, through the happenings with Iroha and the Wings of Magius slowly unfolding their research knowledge to us, we see that there’s a way for a murky Soul Gem to not only not turn a mahou shoujo into a witch, but after the “doppel” effect subsides, the Soul Gem is completely clear. This gives a measure of hope to the members of the Wings of Magius, and it’s a remarkable surprise to the viewer. The one thing I can’t figure out about this element of the story is why Yachiyo is so bent on keeping it concealed, saying it’s deceitful. We clearly see its effect at the end of the show, when both Iroha and Yachiyo assume the doppel form and overcome the madly raging Mami Tomoe. I suppose this will be explained in S2.

Connected to this is the Wings of Magius themselves. If Kyubey is the antagonist in P3M, Wings of Magius plays that role here. But it’s unclear if they really are the antagonist. Initially, there’s the rumor about magical girls being saved by coming to the city of Kamihama. We find out they’re more or less behind that rumor. We find out that Yachiyo is at odds with them, disagreeing with this assertion. Eventually we discover that one of Yachiyo’s friends, Mifuyu (perhaps a reference to wintertime here? an odd name), is one of their leaders. Much to the surprise of Yachiyo, who is both happy to see her friend again but unhappy that she’s a part of this organization. Finally, we see that they’re behind the appearances of some of the witches in this city, though we’re not really sure by the end of S1 what they’re doing with these witches.

Mami wins.

So their role is unclear, as is their status as an evil organization. If they’re trying to save all magical girls, wonderful! But if they’re trying to do it by turning some of them into witches during their experiments, obviously that’s a bad choice. Mifuyu is portrayed as if she’s left the path of righteousness. Then we see Mami Tomoe as another leader in Wings of Magius, and we even more wonder how they could possibly be the bad guy here. As you recall, Mami is an important catalyst in P3M, and is the first tragic death we see in that show. Why would Mami be associated with an evil organization? I say to myself, says I, “Maybe they’re not an evil organization after all.” But the writers couldn’t let us make up our minds. Mami eventually goes into berserker mode, and we’re led to believe these Wings of Magius members are being brainwashed into participating in whatever this scheme is. So this organization’s role is very ambiguous by the end of S1.

The last major difference I observed is the premise of Iroha searching for her younger sister, Ui. I have no idea what role this plotline is playing here. Obviously it sets everything in motion, and we see Ui’s one hospital friend appear as another leader in Wings of Magius. But it’s never resolved, and I cannot see where this is headed. It seems very central until suddenly it’s not anymore. Still, it’s a very different kind of element from P3M’s story, so whatever works out in S2, it attempts to distinguish this story from the original.

Do I like this story? I have to refer back to the similarities between the two shows once again, and therefore say this element overshadows even the story. While the differences are highly noticeable, the similarity is also noticeable. That and all the other noticeable similarities between the two shows have an effect even on the story, and I can’t help but see it in that light. And P3M’s storylines are very good, one of the best things about that work. The authors leave themselves lots of ways to fail by attempting to recreate any part of that story here. So ultimately, the story doesn’t stand on it’s own very well either, and I can hardly evaluate it as a unique tale.

Overall: 6

One of the foremost thoughts you’ll experience in this show is trying to figure out where this fits in the timeline from P3M. Since Mami Tomoe is present, obviously this occurs somewhat before the majority of the events of that story. But we also know the two overlap, as Maki makes an appearance at the end of the show, and she doesn’t make it past halfway or so in P3M. And Mami herself refers to the MCs from that story once. Hence the term “side” story I suppose, as we’re not quite parallel to the original tale itself, but squarely within its timeline.

Not that all side stories are that set in the same time. We’ve got a good example of that going on as I write this (March 2021) with Yashahime. A spinoff of InuYasha, it occurs well after that series concludes. I bring this show up for two reasons, one of which I just addressed with the timing of side stories not always coinciding. The other reason is, you guessed it, similarities.

I’m not saying there won’t ever be similarities between side stories and main stories. There must be some, or it would hardly be a side story. I mentioned this above, but imagine turning an original into something completely different for a side story. What if Yashahime looked and felt like Jojo? What if Kagura-sama: Love is War spun off a side story that had the appearance and tenor of Your Lie in April? What if Noragami spawned a side story with the themes of Psycho-Pass? What if DBZ merged with Fairy Tail, or Naruto? I tried to pick slightly similar shows there, but even these are impossible to imagine. In most of those cases you don’t even want to imagine the result! The point is there has to be some similarity.

Usually, we expect to see that in artwork, genre, or, to a lesser extent, how the story is handled. Yashahime is going to be bright and pretty in a classical style, and it’s going to be mythical adventure, just like the original InuYasha. What I wouldn’t expect from Yashahime is for the characters to all be searching for some mythical item and bickering in little lovers quarrels, which is what happens in InuYasha. And while some of those elements are present in Yashahime, they’re not undergirding everything. The only basis for that story is that it’s in the same world as InuYasha and we’re following the next generation. The similarity mostly ends there, and it stands alone as it’s own creation.

Magia Record does not. Go through what details I will, I’m left feeling like this is a copy of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, arrayed with similar characters, similar storyline, but dissimilar emotional evocation. This is the danger of creating such a near copy. You cannot twice evoke the kind of response we experience in P3M. Lightning can’t strike twice, as they say. Unfortunately, that’s where Magia Record leaves me.

I make it sound like I disliked the show. I didn’t. I thought some of the familiar Shaft cinematography (for lack of a better word) took another step forward at times in this series actually. There were moments were I looked at a frame and really thought there was a lot of creativity here. And it kept me engaged, the level of degree aside. But I never could stop referring back to P3M, and this made it difficult to follow this show with full interest. Apart from that even, the show ends abruptly and we’re left wondering if a S2 will explain everything. At least with P3M we know where things stand at the end, even if it’s a little bizarre. Everybody’s plotlines are satisfied. Not so here.

So decent overall, if overshadowed by the inevitable comparisons to the original excellent work. I wait to see what S2 brings.

I’ll be back…or will I?

5 Comments »

  1. The show was originally a mobile game which is historically not… so great as an anime. Usually the games change to fit the game play and that’s not really there in an anime. And mobile games are basically just fan service extension so it does feel a lot empty. Visually it seemed good as you mentioned since its Shaft but I definitely agree the writing was not as good as the originals.

    Like

    • Yeah I hear you about games and anime evolutions. Steins;Gate always stands out in that regard to me, but there I think they let the game serve the storylines and character development well. But typically you’re right, anime-following-game is a tough path to tread.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah I guess visual novels like Steins;Gate actually works quite well. They have been adapted to animation pretty frequently so they must be easier to build off of compared to normal games.

        Liked by 1 person

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