The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Have You Heard? That Rumor About the Magical Girls: Magia Record First Episode Impressions and Review

“A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.” –Albert Einstein

Iroha Tamaki is a magical girl who made a wish for her sister to be cured of an unknown illness, but lost her memories of her wish in the process. Together with Kuroe, she fights Witches in her area and lives an ordinary life otherwise. Shortly after Iroha’s parents go on a business trip, Iroha begins to hear of a rumour specifying that magical girls can find salvation in Kamihara. On her way back from school, she and Kuroe find themselves in a Witch’s labyrinth, which pushes them to Kamihara. This Witch proves resilient against their attack, and Iroha briefly encounters a younger Kyubey mid-battle. Outmatched, Nanami Yachiyo arrives and destroys the Witch, saving Iroha and Kuroe. She warns the two that there is nothing for them in Kamihara, and the next morning, Iroha suddenly recalls her original wish. Magia Record marks the first time we’ve returned to the world of Madoka Magica since the Rebellion movie: Magia Record is based off the mobile game and sets viewers in a familiar, yet different setting. Witches, contracts and the cost of sacrifices return in force alongside a brand-new cast whose beliefs, intents and desires are completely unlike those seen in the original series. Even only after one episode in, Magia Record has done a phenomenal job of both establishing Iroha and her goals of finding her sister, as well as reminding viewers that this is Madoka Magica. The original series became a smash hit for completely defying expectations of what a magical girl was: rather than a saccharine, optimistic presentation on the merits of heroism and bravery, Madoka Magica suggested that the power and responsibility associated with being a magical girl came at a heavy cost, and that the duty itself was one that was a thankless one. This resulted in an emotionally-gripping series that left an incredible impact amongst viewers, whose perspectives of magical girls would be changed forever.

Gen Urobuchi’s Madoka Magica ultimately proved an enduring series, with themes and characters far more compelling than most anime of its genre and left an enduring legacy that Magia Record must pick up. However, Madoka Magica‘s success and audience reception means that, for better or worse, Magia Record has some large shoes to fill; during its airing and after the finale, droves of zealous fans spent countless hours analysing every frame in the original broadcast with the goal of deriving meaning from every symbol, motif and word in every sentence. Pixels were scoured by those looking to do a psychoanalysis on how Freud’s Id-Ego theory fit with the characters. Immanuel Kant’s works were referenced as the basis for rationalising Madoka’s choice and Kyubey’s motivations. The legend of Faust was seen as being required reading to understand what Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, Kyōko and Homura went through. Right up until the present, discussion on Madoka Magica never stopped: Rebellion saw Homura seize control of Madoka’s powers and rewrite reality on a scale that matches Thanos’ feats with the Infinity Stones for the sake of sharing a future with Madoka. The outcome of that, never satisfactorily resolved in an explicit manner, resulted in more speculation, drawing on antiquated and even flawed philosophical theories to rationalise why Homura chose this path. It has been seven years since Rebellion played in theatres, and irrespective of how factual or useful they might be, the amount of speculation, some of which ventured into the realm of tinfoil-hat theories, that have persisted is a testament to just how moved viewers were. Thus, with the high bar that Madoka Magica sets, Magia Record now exists in the shadows of a series whose very existence is often associated with philosophy, psychology and other facets of academia: the inherent danger in this is that of Magia Record does not involve those disciplines to the same extent, those fans of Madoka Magica might be more dismissive of what could still stand to be an inspired and enjoyable addition to the Madoka Magica universe.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • One episode is a bit early for one to gain a reasonable measure of what Magia Record aims to accomplish and much too early to assess whether or not the series was successful, but the rationale behind why I pushed a post out this early in the game was to establish my own expectations for the series – that Magia Record present an engaging and meaningful story for Iroha and what she discovers in Kamihara while she searches for Ui, and that even without an extensive background in philosophy or psychology, one can nonetheless enjoy this series in full.

  • Right out of the gates, Iroha is established as already being a magical girl equipped with a wrist-mounted crossbow. She’s seen fighting alongside Kuroe, who uses two batons as her primary weapon. The small scale of their weapons seem to hint at the fact that the two are still novices with the duties of being a magical girl – having seen the likes of Mami and Kyōko, who could summon limitless copies of their primary weapon for combat and engage Witches at an impressive scale, it becomes clear that these two are beginning their journey. In the game, Iroha is an excellent healer and is strong in a support role, lacking the weapons to deal effective damage.

  • Having Iroha and Kuroe save a child’s cat from a Witch’s labyrinth firmly establishes that in spite of their own doubts about the magical girl life, the two are still committed to good and conduct acts of kindness and compassion because they feel it to be the right thing to do. The first episode is set prominently on a train, and the first Witch that Iroha and Kuroe are shown fighting resides in a labyrinth of moving tracks, foreshadowing the idea that Magia Record is going to be about going to destinations that one might not expect.

  • Madoka Magica‘s architecture was very unique, bordering on the realm of the bizarre in some areas, but regardless of where Madoka and her friends went while they struggled to deal with the implications of being a magical girl, the one place in the series that always felt inviting and warm was the Kaname residence. Iroha similarly lives at home, and in Magia Record, I am inclined to say that the architectural style is actually much more normal than that of Madoka Magica; the unique cityscapes in Madoka Magica create an incredible sense of isolation amongst the characters, and as they became increasingly entangled in Kyubey’s machinations, the familiar cityscape gave way to intimidating industrial constructs.

  • It’s been some seven years since the last Madoka Magica work was shown, and the time difference between then and now is quite apparent: the artwork for the landscapes and cityscapes in Magia Record are more intricate and detailed than those of Madoka Magica‘s first run. The series received multiple retouches and remasters; the original televised run featured only minimalistic and rudimentary backgrounds, which were updated for the home release, and by the time the three films came out, the visuals had been masterfully updated.

  • The strong visual quality in Magia Record makes it a thrill to watch, and seeing all of the subtle details in Iroha’s world really gives the sense that this is someone’s home, inhabited by people, all of whom have their own stories to tell. Iroha’s home is quite unlike Mitakihara in its colour palette: Mitakihara was defined by shades of blue, but greens and browns are also present to give a more natural feel to the cityscape.

  • I’ve faced criticisms previously for suggesting that Madoka Magica could be enjoyed in the absence of philosophical and psychological principles. Many talks attempting to bring these elements in would resemble junior undergraduate essays in that, while they did demonstrate a case for the existence of a particular philosopher or psychologist’s principles within the anime, did not take things a step further and explain what its presentation in Madoka Magica meant with respect to what Urobuchi had intended to say. Literary analysis of significance aims to understand what the author was saying about a particular concept given their interpretation of a work, drawing the connection between a principle and how it was portrayed in a work of fiction.

  • Thus, in order for a talk to have academic merit, it is not sufficient to merely parrot the definition of a philosophical or psychological concept. One must sythesise things and explore why those concepts are present, and then explore what the series’ portrayal of said concepts say about them. The other aspect of Madoka Magica I’ve taken heat for was the dismissal of the application of thermodynamics Kyubey uses to justify creation of magical girls. Thermodynamics does not work as Kyubey suggests: in-show, Kyubey claims that the energy released from emotions produces a net gain of energy that can be harnessed to indefinitely stave off the heat death of the universe (itself a concept that physicists believe to be poorly-defined at best), but this implies the creation of energy. Since accepted models of thermodynamics trend towards an increase in entropy, and since emotions result from complex chemical reactions in the body, which result in a net loss of energy, from a scientific perspective, Kyubey’s explanation is, for the lack of a better word, bullshit, and therefore, not worthy of further consideration.

  • Having callously dismissed two of the topics that generate the most amount of intellectual discussion in Madoka Magica, I am considered to be anti-intellectual for my approaches. However, this labeling bears the hallmarks of an ineffectual argument: an intellectual is commonly accepted to be someone who uses reason and critical thinking to explore a concept, and to this, I append “for tangible applications beneficial to others”. Instead, I am strongly opposed to intellectual dishonesty, the act of using intellectual methods for things like deception, intimidation and personal gain (e.g. an increased social status).

  • This inevitably leads to the question of how to gauge intellectual honesty online, and fortunately, there is a simple test. If someone is honest, they will be open to discussion, have no objections to being wrong and maintain a very positive attitude. Someone who is intellectually dishonest will be adverse to being proven wrong, and be quick to point out flaws in the arguments that others present, or else insist that intellectual merit is a necessary feature in any work worth watching. Back in Magia Record, Iroha is shown to be kind and willing to lend a hand to her classmates where needed.

  • Having Iroha interact with her classmates creates a sense of ease: Homura, Sayaka and Homura were shown as being very distant from their classmates, and when the truth behind the Witches was made known, they had no one to turn to. Left to their own devices, Sayaka succumbed to despair and morphed into a Witch, Madoka gave her old life up to create a better world, and Homura would ultimately be driven insane by her desire to give Madoka happiness, creating a new world whose implications were never explored. By connecting Iroha with her classmates, it hints at the fact that she values those around her, in turn increasing her reasons for surviving and finding her sister.

  • Because of subtle differences between Madoka Magica and Magia Record, my inclination is to suppose that the overall themes in Magia Record will differ than those covered in the former. While some messages might make a return, the old themes of sacrifice are unlikely to take the forefront in Magia Record simply because that path has already been tread. A spin-off provides a fantastic chance to explore different ideas, and so, Magia Record has a strong opportunity to delve into facets of being a magical girl that Madoka Magica did not cover.

  • The Witch that Iroha and Kuroe square off against prove to far exceed their capacities to fight. Folks who’ve played the smartphone game will likely already be aware that Iroha was never geared for DPS, and Kuroe’s weapons seem similarly ineffectual. While Iroha and Kuroe seem the counterparts to Madoka and Homura, there are marked differences in their personalities and intentions, mirroring the idea that Magia Record is less likely to focus on sacrifice.

  • Mid-battle, Iroha is entranced by a smaller Kyubey and ceases her attacks on the Witch. Alone, Kuroe’s weapons have next to no impact on this monstrosity, and her fate seems to be sealed until a new Magical Girl enters the fray. This is Nanami Yachiyo, a veteran Magical Girl with well-rounded abilities. Having been fighting Witches for seven years, she’s reserved, mindful of the rules surrounding Magical Girls and in the anime, summons spears as her primary weapon. She was originally more friendly towards other Magical Girls until learning that becoming a Witch was what awaited them.

  • Nanami combines traits from Mami and Homura: at the age of nineteen, she’s BTDT and strikes a fine balance between Mami’s confidence during combat, as well as Homura’s caution and reluctance to depend on others. Despite only making a short appearance in Magia Record‘s first episode to briefly lecture Iroha and Kuroe, the fact that she’s introduced so early on, and that she’s been around the block means that her character will likely return in the future.

  • After one episode, discussions on Magia Record are prominently focused on the characters and the series’ callbacks to the original Madoka Magica, although I’ve caught wind of at least a handful of individuals on Tango-victor-tango asserting that Magia Record‘s cast of Magical Girls is a study in the dangers of Faustian bargains. Colloquially known as “a deal with the devil”, the Faustian bargain entails a trade where one receives their desired benefit at a high moral or personal cost, after the medieval legend of Faust, who exchanges his soul to the devil for unlimited knowledge and ultimately agrees to being enslaved by the devil.

  • Of course, this is not a sufficient case to make: name-dropping Faust into discussions doesn’t do anything useful for the reader, and so, I’d follow up by probing into what Magia Record makes of deals with the devil. Since some Magical Girls make wishes with a less severe consequence than others, the themes of Magia Record is plainly not a 1:1 study of Faust in anime form, and the extent that Faust is relevant to Magia Record, then, can only be determined as the series wears on. This is what motivates my page quote: in my experience, folks who are aware of how much they don’t know are considerably more knowledgable and useful than those who give the impression they know more than they do.

  • The first episode’s literary hook lies in the mysterious rumour surrounding Kamihara: Iroha’s begun hearing these unverified claims, and learns that other Magical Girls have also had strange dreams surrounding the phenomenon, that Magical Girls will find salvation in Kamihara. This stands in direct contradiction to Nanami’s word of warning, that Kamihara holds nothing for Magical Girls. The initial contradiction here is what will drive viewers back to check things out, along with Iroha’s own story, which is only starting its journey at this point.

  • Having come into contact with the young Incubator, Iroha suddenly recalls her original wish: she had wished to heal her sister, who then disappeared. While Magia Record is the sort of series where every episode could have something relevant to keep an eye on, I’m going with my usual format for discussions. Two more posts are lined up for Magia Record: one after three episodes to gauge where things are headed, and then a finale post to see if the series succeeds in delivering a satisfying and distinct story from Madoka Magica.

Because my background is in health sciences and software development, disciplines driven by facts and reproducible, refutable results, I’ve never really had a taste for introducing obscure philosophical and psychological topics into my discussions of Madoka Magica where a great deal of interpretation and subjectivity is present. While Madoka Magica had been groundbreaking for painting the duty of a magical girl in a new light, it actually did not provide a revolutionary outlook on what heroics equated to. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy had succeeded in doing the same thing years earlier, similarly prompting discussions on the philosophy and psychology of Batman; both The Dark Knight trilogy and Madoka Magica were excellent works not because they synthesised new ideas (which is the requirement for something to be worthy of academic consideration), but because they presented a very refreshing perspective of what being a hero meant. The philosophy and psychology, while perhaps somewhat enhancing one’s experience, was by no means a requirement to derive enjoyment from either works, and as such, I’ve not bothered writing thousands of words on how Faust, Kant or Freud is intimately tied to either Madoka Magica or The Dark Knight. Thus, for Magia Record, I enter the series with an open mind – Iroha’s quest to find her sister and get to the bottom of whatever lies in the depths of Kamihara City, in addition to what she learns along the way, and how Magia Record chooses to convey this, matters considerably more to me than how well the series incorporates principles from philosophers and psychologists, or references to literary works, both famed or obscure. Magia Record should stand of its merits, and whether or not it succeeds as an instalment to the Madoka Magica universe will depend on how compelling Iroha’s journey and learnings are.

5 responses to “Have You Heard? That Rumor About the Magical Girls: Magia Record First Episode Impressions and Review

  1. Fred (Au Natural) January 9, 2020 at 11:52

    There are many different versions of Faust. Maybe this will be Goethe’s Faust instead of Marlowe’s. Or maybe Damn Yankees.

    People overthink these things.

    Like

    • infinitezenith January 10, 2020 at 23:20

      It’s unsurprising that people who reference the legend of Faust don’t consider the different versions of the story; some folks out there, especially those of communities like TV Tropes, seem to think it sufficient to be an expert in something when they a superficial knowledge of that topic.

      It’s why I tend to steer clear of overthinking anime: our entertainment should not be forcing us to exert the same effort into appreciating them as we might for the things that really matter in life!

      Like

  2. jsyschan January 9, 2020 at 21:35

    I read a bit of the manga regarding this series. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Madoka, but I do remember that Incubator is target number 1 on the Order 66 list. Hope I have time to watch this series given the chance, though I’m also watching Heya Camp as well.

    Like

    • infinitezenith January 10, 2020 at 23:17

      Magia Record is still early in its game, so I hope you will take the time to give this one a whirl. Kyubey’s actions in the original made him a punching bag for practically the entire community. On Room Camp△, I’m following this one with great interest. It’s a fun dose of easy camping in three-minute intervals, which is great for my schedule but less suitable for my usual posts. I’ll write about Room Camp△ to some capacity, depending on how much material I have after three!

      Like

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