Anime series come and go—even popular and impactful ones don’t often stand the test of time. However, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a series that so intensely captured popular and critical imagination almost a decade ago, some of that based on a surprise twist (and thus would seem to be among series that have been dismissed or forgotten), has remained steadfast, allowing for Side Story, based on a mobile game offshoot of PMMM, to dive into a story without the need to establish a new world. And so it is in episode two of Side Story: Magia Record, as the series progresses into its main story with a foundation already set.
Iroha, who remembered the image of a young girl in the intial episode (one who was connected to her wish), regains a fuller memory now—of her relation to the girl (her sister, Ui), her wish (for her to regain health), and the hospital at which Ui stayed, which is located in the ominous Kamihara City. So despite warnings not to return to the witch-plagued community, Iroha goes back almost immediately in hopes of retrieving information from the hospital and tracking down the “young Kyubey” of her dream. What she finds instead as she’s drawn into a witch battle immediate upon arrival is what the main characters from the original series eventually became—a magical girl team.
The team consists of de facto leader (and Mami lookalike) Momoko, the emotional and kind Kaede, and tsundere shapeshifter Rena. I think there’s a purpose to putting a team forth in the series—it’s fan service. While PMMM carefully and slowly brought its team together, it functioned best only in alternate universes (and in the films), but here, we have a full-fledged team without the awkward building stage. It’s like how the sequel to Alien was Aliens: more = more fun.
But Rena isn’t having any fun. She doesn’t like Iroha getting in the way of their mission. She also just has a bad attitude in general (it’s later revealed that she has no friends outside the magical girl group). Rena wants the girls to continue their mission to track down a rumored witch called the Chain Witch, who seems to be at the center of what’s occurring in this story. Though the primary mystery at this point has to do with Ui (by the way, there’s no record of her ever being at the hospital), the larger mystery remains what’s happening in Kamihara City.
But first…friendships must be tested. After all, this show still fits in the magical girl genre! As the episode ends, Rena, who has gotten into a tiff with the other girls, evokes a sort of curse that not only threatens to break apart her friendship with Kaede, but which feels far more sinister. What exactly this curse is, I don’t know—it has the power of a witch, but not the countenance. I’m eager to see what happens in the next episode, for this series doesn’t seem to veer as dark as the original series, but could I be wrong? Could this fan service team be set up only to become Tomoe-d?
Probably not, but the past certainly helps put suspense in the present.
There’s also a nice discussion about forgiveness in this episode. While there’s blame to be spread for the argument, there’s no question that Rena is too prideful for her own good. Obviously deeply hurt by her lack of social connections, she attempts to sabotage one of her few friendships, and even uses her shapeshift power (another piece of fanservice in the form of a magical girl power hitherto unknown) to try to escape her teammate’s eyes. But Kaede impresses upon her how much she wants to reconcile, even with a girl too stubborn to admit any fault.
Two episodes in, Magia Record continues to deliver. As I mentioned in my first impressions, the series seems to be made to fail—it’s predecessor too good, surprises too expected, and for something from a mobile game to be made into a strong series is just unlikely. However, animators continue to wisely use what we know of Madoka, both in story and art, to create the atmosphere for a current detective story of sorts, setting a smaller bar but one that it continues to clear each episode.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story: Magia Record can be streamed on Funimation.