The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Magia Record: A Review and Reflections on the First Season

“Today is the end of the Incubators, the end of a regime that acquiesces to disorder! At this very moment, in a city far from here, Incubators lie to magical girls while secretly supporting the treachery of the Law of Thermodynamics. This fierce machine, which you have built, upon which we stand, will bring an end to the system, to these false gods! All remaining magical girls will bow to the Wings of Magius and will remember this as the last day of the Incubators!” –Satomi Touka’s Final Speech

When Iroha learns the disappearance of individuals in Kamihama might be tied to the rumours that are floating around town, she is put in touch with Tsuruno Yui and learns of the Seance Shrine rumour, which alleges it is possible to meet with long-lost people here. With Yachiyo, Iroha enters the shrine’s labyrinth and comes face-to-face with a false Ui, while Yachiyo meets Mifuyu. They manage to escape, when Iroha manifests an unknown power that destroys the shrine Witch. Mami confronts Iroha and reluctantly leaves after warning Tsuruno not to trust Yachiyo. Later, Iroha encounters Felicia Mitsuki and the Lucky Owl Water: when she reveals what happened to Yachiyo and Tsuruno, the four hunt down the source of the water and discover an Uwasa, physical manifestations of rumours, as well as a mysterious faction known as the Wings of Magius. Defeating the Amane twins and the Uwasa in combat, Felicia subsequently joins Iroha and the other: Iroha moves into the Mikazuki Villa with the others and transfers to Kamihama Middle School. Here, she hears about the Electric Wave Girl rumour, which corroborates with a series of strange messages she’s received on her phone. With the others’ support, Iroha sets out to investigate and discovers the magical girl Sana. She manages to free Sana, who joins their group. When the girls get a mysterious invitation to the Memory Museum to learn about why Kamihama is where magical girls are “saved”, they attend a lecture held by one Touka Satomi, who explains that in Kamihama, she’s devised a system to prevent magical girls from transforming into Witches. Yachiyo arrives and declares that she’s disbanding the Mikazuki Villa team – her original wish was to survive, and people around her seem to meet unfortunate ends. Iroha refuses, and promises to stay with her. Their exit is blocked by Mami, who begins engaging them in combat. Sayaka Miki arrives to buy them some time, but the ferocity of Mami’s assaut causes the museum to collapse. Meanwhile, Tsuruno and Rena have joined the Wings of Magius. This is Magia Record‘s anime adaptation, or rather, its first season, which ended rather abruptly and while there is a continuation to things, the second season’s release date remains unknown at present.

The second season will doubtlessly answer the lingering questions the first half of Magia Record had raised: insofar, Ui Tamaki remains as much of a mystery as the Dyatlov Pass Incident, and Iroha is no closer to finding her. However, despite this, Magia Record‘s first half does a fine job of compelling viewers to stick around for the second act: the shadowy Wings of Magius and their plan to “save” all magical girls from a terrible fate are now explained, and while their intentions are dubious, at least viewers know what their goals are. Magia Record also establishes a rather curious theme in its first half: the Uwasa themselves, borne from rumours and whispers, act as a metaphor for the sheer quantity of misinformation, colloquially “fake news”, that exists in the world. These Uwasa resemble Witches, causing harm to the people who encounter them, and like Witches, are defeated by magical girls. However, there is a caveat: destroying an Uwasa drops no Grief Seeds, and so, the magical girls fighting them, though duty-bound to do so, gain nothing from engaging them in return. This is a vivid and clever representation of the damage misinformation can deal, as well as how fighting misinformation is a thankless task despite the challenges involved. Moreover, as Magia Record progresses and characters begin swearing allegiance to the Wings of Magius, including Momoko and even Tsuruno: while on first glance, what the Wings of Magius offers makes sense, their cult-like tenour and lack of transparency is troubling, suggesting that beyond a seemingly desirable outcome, there must also be some sort of trade-off in exchange for accepting this power.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Iroha’s pursuit of information leads her to Tsuruno Yui, a cheerful magical girl who wields flaming fans in combat and fancies herself as the Mightiest Avenger™. Her family was once powerful and respected, but lost much of that prestige. She runs the Banbanzai Chinese restaurant that specialises in making Cantonese cuisine, and when Iroha arrives, Tsuruno whips out what appears to be Banbanzai’s House Specials: beyond the ramen that Iroha ordered, Tsuruno also cooks chop suey, fried rice and fried wontons for her. Iroha finds their fare to be strictly average, and I take this to mean “comparable to restaurants in Hong Kong”.

  • Just to put things in perspective, weaker Cantonese restaurants in Calgary are on par with Hong Kong restaurants, and the better ones surpass those of Hong Kong. While Tsuruno is unable to help Iroha with obtaining any information on Ui’s whereabouts, she puts Iroha in touch with a close friend and calls in a favour. It turns out this friend is Yachiyo, and she’s investigating rumours surrounding a “Séance Shrine”, where people can allegedly reconnect with missing people. After going around Kamihama searching for clues and engaging a Witch in combat, the girls come up short.

  • Like its predecessor, Magia Record uses repetition in its imagery. If I had to guess, I would say that having the seemingly normal conversations of the protagonists set beside unusual sights, characterised by iteration at scale, is probably a representation of absurdism in social constructs: adults in the world of Madoka Magica, and by extension, Magia Record, have a limited presence and tend to be completely focused on their own problems, leaving no adult guidance for the magical girls. To someone like Yachiyo, then, the world is unreasonable and not to be taken seriously.

  • Upon realising the Séance Shrine is likely only active at night, Iroha, Yachiyo and Tsuruno returns to the first shrine. They successfully enter, and both encounter someone important to them: Iroha finds Ui, and Yachiyo encounters Mifuyu, a friend from long ago. However, both are only crude facsimiles, and it turns out the Séance Shrine is another Uwasa. During the combat, Iroha uses a Grief Seed to restore Yachiyo, but succumbs to despair during the fight as a result of not having purified her own Soul Gem. In the ensuing chaos, a mysterious power awakens in Iroha that allows her to destroy the Séance Shrine.

  • Iroha’s unknown power begins to engage in blue-on-blue, but Mami Tomoe arrives and stops its rampage. She is hostile to Iroha, suspecting her of being a Witch, and warns Tsurono not to trust Yachiyo before disappearing into the night. Mami of Madoka Magica had been presented as being composed and confident, taking Madoka and Sayaka under her wing, Magia Record‘s Mami is much less friendly: her attitude towards Yachiyo is reminiscent of how she regarded Homura, and because her intentions are unclear at this point, it is difficult to determine who’s an ally.

  • While seeking out more information about Ui, Iroha comes upon the “Lucky Owl Water”, which is supposed to grant the user a fixed amount of good luck and must be replenished daily, or the user will face bad luck equal to the good luck they had earlier. It is here that the rumours are given a formal name, Uwasa: while still a threat, they are unusual in not dropping Grief Seeds. After spending a day with Felicia Mitsuki, Iroha and Felicia come face-to-face with the enigmatic Wings of Magius,

  • Kyouko Sakura makes a reappearance in Magia Record, being enticed to hunt the more powerful Witches of Kamihama. In Madoka Magica, she was a lone-wolf who preferred fighting Witches on her own and maximising her reward, as a way of getting back at the world that took much from her. She seems quite unconcerned with the Wings of Magius and the rumours surrounding Kamihama.

  • It turns out that Mifuyu had joined the Wings of Magius; she attempts to coerce Yachiyo into joining as well, but Yachiyo refuses. The remark I raised earlier surrounding repetition as a metaphor for absurdity is reinforced with the Wings of Magius’ appearance, and all of the lower-ranked members are clad in the same black cloaks. By deliberately choosing to frame the Wings of Magius as being shrouded in secrecy and concealment, the viewers’ immediate response is one of mistrust and unease.

  • Felicia is, in a way, similar to Kyouko in that she fights for herself, but her perspectives begin shifting after meeting Iroha. Fighting with a large hammer, Felicia charges into situations that place her and her teammates in danger: she’s motivated by revenge and desires nothing more than to smash every Witch herself for taking her old life from her. Meeting Iroha convinces her that she’s not alone, and that she has a place in the world: she subsequently agrees to lodge with the others at the Mikazuki Villa, and takes up a job at Banbanzai.

  • Yachiyo’s methodical research of rumours and their resulting Uwasa bring to mind the process of someone who is dedicated towards lessening the flow of misinformation. Magia Record, with its origins in a mobile game, dates back to 2017: at that point in time, the problems and dangers associated with misinformation, colloquially “fake news”, had already been a problem; the impact of misinformation is nontrivial, and while both individuals and organisations have used their platforms to spread misinformation since ancient times, the rise of social media and digital communication makes it possible to reach large audiences quickly, amplifying the damage that lies can do. I personally prefer calling misinformation as such despite the increased number of characters taken to type it: the term “fake news” is a contaminated phrase frequently used by a politician I’m not fond of to the point of losing all meaning.

  • Yachiyo bears similarity to Homura in many ways: both have accumulated an incredible amount of experience, and both are taciturn individuals with not a whole lot to say. Similarly, having both experienced loss previously, both are reserved and distant. In spite of this, I found Yachiyo’s character a lot more likeable than Homura’s, and there’s one simple reason for that: Yachiyo is shown to be smiling at several points in Magia Record.

  • When Iroha begins receiving mysterious messages on her phone, she is compelled to investigate, but the others ask her not to do so. The latest rumours to manifest include an unknown space called the “Endless Solitude”, “Invisible Girl” and the “Electric Wave Girl”: all three are connected, and while Iroha is tempted to respond, it isn’t until Yachiyo and the others give her support that she goes ahead with looking into things.

  • In the labyrinth of the Uwasa known as the Endless Solitude, Iroha meets Sana, another magical girl who was so down-trodden at home that she wished to be invisible to all others. Here with the Uwasa, Sana found serenity, but when another magical girl allied with the Wings of Magius appears and begins attacking, Sana and the Uwasa say their farewells before exiting the labyrinth.

  • Back outside, the Wings of Magius have also arrived: twins Tsukuyo and Tsukasa Amane have long made an appearance representing the Wings of Magius. Both are haughty individuals who are utterly convinced that what the Wings of Magius are doing is correct, and appear to have the ability to control Witches. While I’ve not shown any fights here in this post, the fight sequences of Magia Record are detailed and well-choreographed, matching the quality of the fight scenes of Rebellion.

  • On the whole, the visual quality of Magia Record has been consistently good throughout the anime’s run. Environments are incredibly detailed, from cityscapes surrounding Kamihama to the interior of the Mikazuki Villa, giving them a lifelike sense. By comparison, cityscapes and interiors of Madoka Magica‘s original TV incarnation feels positively sterile. The dramatic differences in graphics has one curious side-effect: anime that use a more minimalistic art style in its backgrounds tend to emphasise character growth or their experiences, suggesting that the rest of the world isn’t quite as relevant, whereas highly-detailed artwork sells the idea that the characters are an integral part of their world.

  • Unlike its predecessor, Magia Record has a large number of characters. However, their introduction into the main story comes naturally enough, with everyone being given enough time together to really make them feel at home. With Sana’s addition to Mikazuki Villa, Iroha does feel like she’s part of an established magical girl team, and here, everyone goes out to buy personalised mugs, which would really give the Mikazuki Villa a sense of home. Seeing Yachiyo’s smile here really drives home the idea that she’s happy to have people around again.

  • In a world where happiness is transient, and where suffering is inevitable, such quiet moments accentuate the idea that everyday moments aren’t something to take for granted. As life at Mikazuki Villa settles into a comfortable routine, a gentle and relaxing incidental piece accompanies the scene; Magia Record‘s soundtrack is as enjoyable as Yuki Kaijura’s original compositions, and Ozawa Takumi’s soundtrack accompanies the anime very well. So far, only one of the soundtracks have been released, and I imagine more of the incidental music will release along with the BD volumes at a later date.

  • Witches can strike anytime, anywhere: while shopping for coasters, Iroha, Tsuruno, Felicia and Sana encounter a Witch. They quickly defeat the Witch and are on their way, planning a special surprise for Yachiyo. Sana is especially excited: having spent the past several years alone, she’s come to regard her roommates at Mikazuki Villa as family, stopping briefly at her old home for a final farewell of sorts. While the girls had an elaborate setup for giving the coasters to Yachiyo, Mifuyu suddenly appears at Mikazuki Villa with an invitation for Iroha and the others.

  • Mifuyu is recruiting and attempts to sway Iroha over to the Wings of Magius. When Yachiyo returns, she immediately tosses Mifuyu from Mikazuki Villa: though the two might have been friends once, an ideological distance now separates the two. Magia Record keeps Yachiyo’s past under wraps until the end of the series, and at the time of airing, the only hint viewers really have to Yachiyo’s past was that she and Mifuyu once fought side-by-side until something led Mifuyu to join the Wings of Magius.

  • While Yachiyo is against it, she reluctantly allows Iroha and the others to attend the lecture at the so-called Memory Museum, which is an archive of all the magical girls’ memories. This building resembles the Michigan Central Station in Detroit, which was once a passenger rail station that opened in 1914 and was in use until 1988. The building remained abandoned until 2010, when restoration work began, and in 2018, the Ford Motor Company purchased the building for re-development as a mixed-use site. With its distinct Beaux-Arts Classical architecture, the building has been featured in several films, including Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and in Magia Record, a look-alike of the building acts as the Memory Museum.

  • With the Madoka Magica community so committed to details, I am actually quite surprised that no one has once compared the Memory Museum to the Michigan Central Station. It’s a rainy day that the girls step out into, and while they head off to learn more about magical girls, Momoko reveals to Rena the truth behind Yachiyo: Momoko had once fought alongside Yachiyo, but after the girls became aware that their Soul Gems could be destroyed, killing them, and that spent Soul Gems mutated into Grief Seeds, their faith in Kyubey’s system was shattered.

  • This outcome is common knowledge for anyone who’d seen Madoka Magica nine years ago, but for newcomers, it can be a bit of a surprise. I would liken Madoka Magica‘s contribution to anime as being similar to Halo: Combat Evolve‘s contribution to gaming with its surprises. In both cases, the surprise appeared unexpectedly and comes contrary to expectations. The suddenness of the revelation, that magical girls are fated to become Witches in Madoka Magica, was out of left field and raised the stakes for Madoka Magica, just as the Flood did in Halo. Thus, Magia Record and Halo 2, being sequels, still needed to reintroduce this element, but because viewers and players respectively would’ve been familiar with this twist, it is no longer a surprise and becomes an expected part of the story’s progression.

  • Touka Satomi is one of the girls that Iroha had seen in her dreams. A child prodigy, she directs the lecture that explains the relationship between magical girls and Witches. I found it to be a rather stuffy and patronising lecture – Touka’s presentation on magical girls and Witches is almost certainly done in a way as to satirise the seriousness and lengths that the anime community went towards analysing Madoka Magica when it came out: the underlying principles of the anime are simple enough, and giving a post-secondary style lecture in the show itself is Magia Record poking fun at those who do believe that Madoka Magica and its spin-offs demanded a vigourous academic approach.

  • The feeling of being talked down to that viewers may experience when watching Touka speak, then, is the exact same feeling that more moderate fans of Madoka Magica experience when reading through endless pages of half-baked attempts to tie philosophy and psychology into explaining Madoka Magica. Most of these discussions are incomplete or outright wrong, since those that pulled in philosophical readings and psychology textbooks to try and predict character dynamics and actions ended up lacking the fundamentals to properly use these resources. That is to say, a large number of the analysis and speculation entries on Madoka Magica Wikis out there are unnecessary and won’t help one gain a deeper insight into the series.

  • As such, I’ve never bothered taking the walls of text out there as seriously as their authors demanded. Occam’s Razor definitely applies to Madoka Magica, and contrary to what some think, a graduate degree is not the minimum requirements towards enjoying Madoka Magica: back in Magia Record, Iroha learns that Mifuyu, after succumbing to despair, manifested a Doppel rather than becoming a full on Witch, and upon learning that Touka had created a system to undermine the Incubators, joined the Wings of Magius after seeing the merits of such a system. Shortly after awakening, Iroha demonstrates that she’s improved as a fighter: she is able to one-shot an Uwasa with her wrist-mounted crossbow now.

  • Yachiyo arrives and retrieves Iroha: Iroha refuses to accept Yachiyo’s aim of disbanding their team and promises to be with her always. The two prepare to exfil from the Memory Museum, but find themselves in a confrontation with Mami Tomoe, who has embraced the Wings of Magius fully now. Because she is looking after Iroha, Yachiyo is in no shape to fight Mami, and it is only Sayaka Miki’s arrival that buys the two time to get clear. In the original Madoka Magica, Sayaka is often seen by those same “analysts” as the series’ true enemy, whose altruism cost her dearly, but I disagree with this assessment; the motivation behind Sayaka’s wish is an honest and honourable one, even if it was not well thought-out. In Magia Record, Sayaka is not weighed down by her wish.

  • Realising her purpose and goals have amounted to naught, she succumbs to despair, but Touka’s system prevents Mami from becoming a full Witch: partial manifestations of despair are known as Doppels in Magia Record, whereupon the wielder can temporarily use them to increase their combat output. For Gundam fans, Doppels are equivalent to using Trans-Am or the NT-D. Mami’s Doppel is particularly powerful: since Doppels amplify a given magical girl’s power nine times, Mami’s already-formidable firepower is enhanced to the point of ludicrousness. She fires off a shot with a similar yield to a small tactical nuke, and while Sayaka is able to stop it, the initial impact tears her arms off: millisecond after she comes in contact with the shot, the flesh is sheared off her arms, exposing the bone that is splintered away. Thanks to her uncommonly strong healing factor born from her wish, she’s able to instantly regenerate, and she manages to deflect the shot, where it detonates harmlessly.

  • While Sayaka and Yachiyo engage the deranged Mami, Touka prepares to give her speech about the merits of the Wings of Magius. From a certain point of view, what the Wings of Magius are doing makes sense: Touko’s using her own skill to circumvent, to subvert (take stock, Tropers, this is the correct usage of the term) the system that the Incubators have created. In accepting Touka’s system, magical girls are spared from the curse of turning into a Witch. This is what “magical girls who come to Kamihama will be saved” means. However, this is all we know of the system insofar, and there has to be a caveat of some sort, although what this is remains something to be presented at a later date.

  • It turns out Kanae and Tsuruno have already have joined Touka’s cause, with Momoko on the precipice of joining, as well: when the truth behind magical girls was revealed to her, Momoko was shown as having the strongest reaction. Touka’s speech brings to mind General Hux’s speech from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, and for me, the most sobering aspect of this final speech was the sheer numbers in the crowd listening to Touka. My remarks about repetition in Magia Record stand: the situation that Iroha and Yachiyo, who refuse to join the Wings of Magius, really hits home now, and it becomes very clear that the two now are more alone than ever in their quest to discover the truth.

  • What’s more, Mami has pulled Iroha into the abyss in the aftermath of their fight, and Sayaka extricates Yachiyo from the battlefield, feeling it prudent to retreat now and live to fight another day. Magia Record was a compelling ride throughout its run, and the first season was really more of a first act: while as a standalone season, Magia Record leaves viewers with more questions than answers, knowing there will be a second season to wrap things up helps considerably. As such, since we’re really only half-way through Magia Record, I do not feel it to be fair to assess an incomplete anime with a verdict. Instead, I will note that I will be back, once the continuation airs, to provide a more definitive verdict on Magia Record. With this, all of the series I were actively following for the winter 2020 season are in the books. I will be going through both Bofuri and Nekopara at some point in the future, but for now, I have plans to write about the spring season’s Houkago Teibou Nisshi and Oregairu‘s third season in some capacity.

While Magia Record‘s closing at present understandably prompts a reaction of surprise and disappointment, the revelation that there is to be a second season changes things: the rate of progression of events and lack of focus on Iroha’s main purpose (i.e. finding Ui) are satisfactorily explained by the fact that we are really only at Magia Record‘s halfway point, and as such, criticism turns to understanding. Magia Record had, after all, been a very enjoyable watch during its run, with episodic mysteries to captivate the viewer on a weekly basis. While Magia Record did appear to be losing its focus as it continued to run, that the thirteenth episode is only the first act’s ending means that the choice of pacing and narrative elements to cover make a bit more sense. Of course, the stakes have now been elevated, and the second season must rise to the occasion in properly depicting what happens to Yachiyo and Iroha, especially as their list of allies grows thin, on top of answering the question of Ui Tamaki. However, because the Wings of Magius are gaining momentum, and the fact that key players have now joined them, the threat that the Wings of Magius pose is something that Iroha and Yachiyo will need to find an answer for in next season, before any attempt can be made to find out what happened to Ui. Expectations are therefore high entering the second season, and I am curious to see what awaits both Yachiyo and Iroha, especially since Sayaka’s just forcibly extracted Yachiyo from the collapsing Memory Museum while Iroha’s fate is undisclosed.

2 responses to “Magia Record: A Review and Reflections on the First Season

  1. Fred (Au Natural) April 6, 2020 at 21:37

    My only complaint is that there are too many important characters for this poor brain to keep track of. I need a lineup sheet.

    Like

    • infinitezenith April 7, 2020 at 09:40

      No disagreements there! I’ve found that beyond keeping track of the important characters, Iroha and Yachiyo, and knowing that the Wings of Magius are the antagonists, I’ve not worried too much about the number of characters there are 😛

      Like

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