Review: Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Another Story, Vol. 1

Gather round, Madoka Magica fans! We have good news: a new spin-off manga series has hit the shelves, and Twwk and I are here to give you the 4-1-1. So pour yourself a cup of orange pekoe, pull out that slice of cake you’ve been saving, and get ready to curl up in your freakishly well-furnished, spacious apartment during a perpetual golden hour, because it’s time to check in on your favorite magical girls, and one sunny blonde one in particular.

That’s right, I’m talking about Mami Tomoe! Volume 1 of Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Another Story takes Mami as its central protagonist (with very welcome, if all too brief, cameos from Kyoko and Madoka), and follows her as she goes on the hunt for witches, who seem to be disappearing rather mysteriously from the three cities our magical girls claim as their home turf. Mami’s search brings her to Kamihama City where some strange witchery is afoot. There, she encounters (and rescues, in true Mami style) several magical girls, Rena, Kaede and a girl in a hood with the feel of a witch about her. Which may ring a few bells for fans of the PMMM side story, Magia Record… And so it should! As far as volume 1 at least, Another Story seems to be a retelling of the Magia Record pocket universe timeline, only this time from Mami’s perspective. I say “seems to be”, because in terms of the overarching sweep, that’s what it is. But there are a few unusual details that have Twwk and I wondering if it may actually be another story altogether! (See what I did there?) And as ever with PMMM, we know to expect the unexpected—especially around episode volume 3, right?

Is this enough to make the volume worth reading? That’s what we’re here to decide, in full spoilerific glory, below the jump. But for those who want our final TL;DR without spoilers, well then, here it is: If you’re an established fan of the franchise, then this is a new addition that has the potential to become intriguing as the story unfolds. If you’re a fan of the OG series, but were lost by the overwhelming quantity of new lore introduced in Magia Record [raises hand], then this is a more comprehensible route into the world of that spin-off universe. But ultimately, the deciding factor is this: do you want more Mami in your life? If the answer is yes, then this is the series for you.

In honor of Mami and Kyoko’s brief but heartwarming team-up in this volume, we’re going to tackle this tag-team style! So with that introduction, let’s dive in! (Cue Yuki Kajiura transformation music.)  

Let’s kick off with the most pressing question: which timeline is Another Story set in?

Claire: On the surface, this seems to have a pretty straightforward answer. The universe of Magia Record is unique: it is the only timeline in which Iroha Tamaki becomes a magical girl, thanks to a certain little pebble that she kicks on the way to school. So if Iroha is a magical girl in this story, which she is, then we must be in the one and only Magia Record timeline, which falls before Madoka has become a witch in that same timeline, and before she becomes Madokami in the timeline of the original series, thus rewriting the witch-curse cycle. Confirming this, is Madoka’s brief phone conversation with Mami, where it’s clear that she is a magical girl and is as yet untroubled by preparations for Walpurgisnacht. 

And yet, we have a certain Kyoko. A friendly, well-adjusted, generous Kyoko who checks in on her friends, shares a grief seed without a second’s hesitation, and has nothing of the tsundere about her. In other words, we have a Kyoko Sakura we’ve never seen before— except in the spin-off manga from 2012, A Different Story, which follows the fiercely independent, traumatized, red-haired loner before she experiences the tragedy that turns her into the Kyoko we know from the original series; a story that follows her when she has first become a magical girl and is still driven by idealism and a desire to help others; and a story wherein she is able to easily and happily work together with another magical girl, namely, Mami. In other words, Kyoko’s easygoing friendly banter with Mami here in Another Story implies that she may not (yet) have lost her family. But Madoka is already a magical girl, which shouldn’t have happened until after Kyoko’s trauma and subsequent split from Mami. So there’s potentially something odd going on here.

Twwk: I agree. Kyoko is not only acting a little too chipper, but she’s even happy in comparison to the Kyoko in the Magia Record anime. There she appears at a later point in the story, so proceedings in between may have led her to “revert” to her gruffer, original series self, but there are other clues that suggest we aren’t quite on the same timeline as Magia Record—and they involve Mami.

In the anime, Kyubey makes the request to Mami that she investigate the increasing number of witches in Kamihama City, while Another Story’s Mami takes the initiative on her own, with Kyubey expressing ignorance of what’s occurring. This is a slightly different Mami and a slightly different Kyubey, both in action and personality.

More of the same is seen when Mami encounters Yachiyo, Tsuruno, and Iroha in her doppel form. Tsuruno is more aggressive here than in the anime. Yachiyo, more timid. And Iroha… well, Iroha isn’t even awake in the anime.

This all leads me to think that Another Story is typical of other properties that use the “another story” subtitle—an alternate route within the Magia Record timeline. Does that count as the same timeline? Is it its own? And am I relying way too much on the anime and not on the original game (I’ll blame Aniplex for no longer making the game available and my own short attention span for not watching playthroughs)? Am I just way off? Madoka Fandom: what say you?

Next most obvious question: Wait, is this really a Madoka Magica manga?

Claire: Right?! Creatively, I find this volume disappointing. First off, the art. Don’t get me wrong, I think U35 (Umiko) is a very fine artist, and I loved their character designs for Aquatope. They also are a superfan of PMMM, which is a necessary qualification to helm the manga spin-off, in my estimation. But the art style has been run through the typical seinen filter that usually runs the other way, with unique manga art styles being boiled down to a standardized seinen style for the anime adaptation (this happens particularly for nearly every shoujo manga adapted ever these days). In this case, the stripping of unique stylistics goes the other direction, and not just because we barely step foot in a witch’s labyrinth, meaning that that whole side of the art is essentially missing. No, I’m talking about the character design too, with the striking squarish-faced, wide-apart eyes of the original anime morphing into basic manga style and losing that distinctiveness that marks Madoka art out for fans at a glance. It’s not bad art, it’s just… normal. This is a real shame. 

We also need to talk about the writing, which has all the snap and sparkle of boiled spaghetti. The dialogue is repetitive, with a lot of telling rather than showing, almost as if it’s been written for grade schoolers. For a series that, in anime form at least, is renowned for following the Pixar rule of only giving the audience 2 + 2 and never 4, leaving it to viewers to connect the dots, there are an awful lot of 4s being thrown around here. Again, not the end of the world, but nowhere near what I was expecting from the Magica Quartet team.

Twwk: The art is most definitely disappointing, or rather, incomplete. I have to agree with you, Claire, that the characters are less distinctive than what we’re used to, though still beautiful—and in fact, the designs don’t bother me so much as the lack of background work. Madoka Magica does a lot of things right, among them filling spaces with creative and inventive artwork. The primary characters aren’t the only ones to receive proper treatment—so, too, do witches, bridges, hallways, and other scenery. But Another Story looks like exactly what it is: a spin-off. And while this isn’t particular to spin-offs, these manga do typically focus on retaining the character designs and leaving the background art unadorned. It’s especially striking to me, though, because Yen Press’ most recent completed PMMM release is Wraith Arc, in which Hanokage does fill the panels with the type of bold and effusive art I’ve come to expect of this franchise.

Last question: What does Another Story contribute to the world of Madoka Magica?

Twwk: Despite the drawbacks, I’m still grateful for this series. Mami’s death in the original anime still stings after all these years. Even with different timelines, even with consequences reversed, even with spin-off series, I can’t shed the idea that Mami is gone. And thus, seeing her in another series, and her being the primary focus of that series, is something that simply warms my heart. And seeing her in another route where she has both protégés and colleagues by her side? How soothing!

There’s so much to like about Mami—her motherly nature, her courage and strength, and her intelligence. We get to see that latter characteristic shine through in this detective-style story. Mami is so deserving of receiving a series focused on her. The personal aspects of her character along with her character design—for my money, still the most iconic and memorable of all the characters in the Madokaverse (wait, is that a thing? If not, let’s make it one!)—merit more media about her, particularly when combined with her story, which features one of anime’s most memorable deaths.

Claire: You are so exactly right, Twwk! I was overcome by a feeling of nostalgia as I read this volume. In the first chapter in particular, we get the story we’ve never had with this franchise, but which we so long for. It’s the happy times story. I love every moment of Mami being the mother figure to an ever-increasing posse of magical girls. Saving lives and playing it cool, drinking tea and indulging in that slice of cake. (Is she really only 15? Cause I feel like we could totally hit the tea room and snack on finger sandwiches and scones, elder millennial style.) And what’s more, we get not one, not two, but three tiro finales! Whoop.

But the best trip down nostalgia lane for me is Kyoko. More Sakura-san is always a welcome thing, and the writers know it too. That’s why, in an issue with Mami on the cover and Mami playing detective and bridging the worlds of Mitakihara and Kamihama, it is nevertheless Kyoko and a choice apple that grace the first page. But the best thing here is not just the snacks and classic Kyoko poses keeping her true to form, but the happy ending twist to her characterization: Kyoko is well-adjusted, friendly, and generous, and she goes out of her way (while pretending not to) to stay in touch with Mami. This is the happy ending we otherwise never get with Kyoko, and I am here for it—though this is still PMMM, so of course it’s destined to be short-lived. Still, I’m going to enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

Final Verdicts:

Twwk: For Mami’s sake, I’ll be continuing with this series, despite it being a little fluffy, not to mention difficult to place on PMMM‘s already-complex timeline, and perhaps ultimately inconsequential. Having watched [editor: and blogged!] most of Magia Record (three more episodes to go!), I’ve been able to understand the goings-on better than I expected—and as long as I generally know what’s happening, I’ll follow Mami on any journey she takes, but particularly one in which her best characteristics are on full display. What about you, Claire?

Claire: Ditto! Though for me, it’s because of Mami and Kyoko. I always wanted to know more of both their stories and even though these aren’t quite the Mami and Kyoko of the OG series, and even though I have a pretty strong feeling that subsequent volumes won’t keep them in a central role, I’ll still follow along in hopes. Until the bizarre lore of Kamihama City loses me again, that is. Though as you said, Twwk, so far it’s much easier to follow! So I have hope.

Overall, this is pleasant filler while we wait for the final film in the OG series (out sometime this year or next?) and a proper ending for Homura. And maybe Sayaka, Kyoko and Mami too. It’s never too late in the world of Madoka after all, right?

Another Story is being released by Yen Press, whom we thank for review copies!


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