Review: Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Another Story, Vol. 2

Another story, another volume, another favorite magical girl takes the cover! That’s right, volume two has arrived and Kyoko Sakura, who played a small part in the initial release, is our cover girl, receiving a full-color insert page (playing with kittens!) and gets to play the prime role. Discouraged from investigating Kamihama City by Mami in the last volume, Kyoko is standing aside and contenting herself with fighting the few remaining witches elsewhere. Yeah, right. This is Kyoko we’re talking about, so full steam ahead into witches, rumors, and Kamihama City! And wait, who are these other girls who keep popping up? Are they magical girls too? Why do they seem to do things so differently?

We ended our review of volume one concluding that despite the drawbacks—namely the art style and the somewhat expert-level knowledge of Magia Record needed to fully comprehend the goings on—we were intrigued by the story and happy to see more of Mami and Kyoko, so we would continue forward. Did we make a good decision? Let’s jump in and see!

Plenteous spoilers ahead.

Before we get into the specific themes and intrigues raised in this volume, let’s revisit what is, of course, the most pressing question for any Madoka Magica spin-off: what timeline is this, Mr. Wolf?

twwk: I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure this out, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this story is indeed within the Magia Record timeline, but it’s not the canon route. Instead, Another Story is an alternate route—though I’m actually also not sure which would be considered canon: the original Magia Record game or the Magia Record anime? 

As for what the Magia Record timeline is, the Madoka Wiki explains it well:

Magia Record, technically takes place between the events of the original series and Rebellion, after Madoka becomes a deity and before Homura rewrites the universe. Magia Record exists in a pocket universe, untouched by Madoka’s rewrite; the events inside this universe take place before a timeline where a Magical Girl Madoka, on the brink of becoming a Witch after defeating Walpurgisnacht, asks Homura to kill her and prevent herself from becoming a Magical Girl in the other timelines…

claire: There are a few unique things about this storyline. For instance, we saw in Volume 1 that Madoka is already a magical girl, but nowhere near witchdom, as she instead is just getting on with slaying and having fun being magical. Kyoko too seems to be in an odd place: last time, I even theorized that perhaps Kyoko hadn’t yet lost her family—she just seemed so much happier somehow. Friendlier. Her smile less infused with self-mockery. Well, that guess was wrong, as this volume reveals. Kyoko has indeed already been orphaned, an event that, in the original series, saw her become disillusioned and cynical about her identity as a magical girl. In this timeline, though, Kyoko is better adjusted. Yet we do see a sore spot coming up for her in this volume: at some point, she stopped being willing to work with others, and that plays out as a major theme in this second installment.

twwk: I like that this story keeps Kyoko’s painful backstory in place but leads her down a more encouraging and healing path. And not surprisingly, it seems that this way forward is connected to her magical girl relationships. Which brings us to our first proper question…

1. The Old Crew & their relationships: What is this series doing with the OG magical girls’ dynamic?

twwk: The entirety of volume two really revolves around Kyoko’s friendship with Mami. It begins with Mami instructing Kyoko to stay away from Kamihama and ends with Kyoko explaining to Mami that she did not. In between, a number of flashbacks serve to show the dynamics of their relationship. All this Mami and Kyoko friendship goodness helps make this volume more compelling than the first.

claire: I agree. There’s a mystery here too, because there clearly has been some kind of break between the two magical girls, at least from Kyoko’s perspective. Whether that was simply her losing trust in humanity writ large, due to family trauma, or specifically a breach of trust between Mami and herself, is not yet clear. Though there does seem to be some disappointment possibly between them that Kyoko is kind of ignoring, and kind of not. Mami is definitely out of the loop as to what is going on in Kyoko’s mind though; she’s left guessing. Or rather, she’s left heaving a giant sigh of resignation at Kyoko’s frustrating propensity for rule-breaking and reckless action. Kyoko gonna Kyoko! 

All that said, what we get here is a fundamentally happier Kyoko. She’s still that same trouble-maker with the devil-may-care grin that we know and love, but the closed-down demeanor she shrouded herself in during the OG series has largely crumbled away (or never settled onto her shoulders), and she seems more curious about the world around her and the people in it, even if she does still keep people at arm’s length with her biting humor, which is played to great effect in this volume. For instance, after eavesdropping on the Magius Wings soliloquy for a couple of panels, Kyoko intones what is possibly the most astute observation in the entire Magia Record spin-off franchise: “Damn it… this crap they’re going on about makes no sense.” Exactly, my girl. Couldn’t have said it better myself. This Kyoko is edgy but without the angst, and I like it.

twwk: And why is Kyoko like that now? Maybe we’ll be given more information in the next volume (or maybe we won’t), but based on what we have seen—it seems to be because of Mami. The friendship Kyoko has with her, which also features Mami in a mentor role, has apparently changed the course of Kyoko’s life. While the two are feeling a bit fraught with how the relationship is in a rough patch right now, it’s still quite an improvement on the original timeline of events. If only they knew!

2. The Magia Crew & their place in the series: Is this really a Magia Record story or is it Another Story altogether?

twwk: If putting Mami on the cover of volume one and showing the events from her perspective in that volume wasn’t confirmation enough, doing the same with Kyoko in volume two is: This is a story about the OG characters and not the Magia Record cast, though it takes place in their “pocket universe.” It’s kind of a fun flip on the anime series, with the Magia Record girls relegated to cameo-like appearances and the PMMM heroines taking center stage, instead of the other way around. Even so, because I was always confused by the multitude of characters in the Magia Record universe, having them pop in and out here had me in a bit of a daze.

claire: Good point! Speaking as someone who can barely remember all the Magia Gang, I’ll admit that I didn’t pick up on the initial pair of cameos, Iroha and Felicia, and had to flip back to reread that scene later. But Kyoko’s interaction with the second pair of cameos, Rena and Kaede, was a genuine highlight of the volume, due exclusively to the playfulness with artistic tropes we see in the dialogue here: as the two Magia Record girls are trying to figure out who Kyoko may have encountered, it is Kyoko’s descriptions of their hairstyles—not their personalities or clothing—that enable Rena and Kaede to identify their friends. Fan theory confirmed: anime/manga girls can only ever style their hair one way! (Haruhi Suzumiya being the exception that proves the rule.) Hair worn down? Gotta be Iroha. Low ponytail? Most likely Felicia!

I will add though that I didn’t feel that my failure to catch on to the cameos compromised my enjoyment of the volume. My focus was on Kyoko (where it should be), and it was plenty engaging to discover this strange city and its doyennes from her perspective. That said, there were a few little details about the Magia Record crew, or rather Yachiyo specifically, that I found intriguing: Yachiyo is SO open in this volume, to the point of being out of character. Approaching Kyoko and suggesting that they team up?! Who is this girl and what happened to lone-wolf kuudere supreme Yachiyo?

twwk: Oh, please, let there be a team-up! But if it’s just OOC, it might also suggest other changes in this alternate route that are more optimistic than in the main story. Or maybe this is all just out of character, meant to create a happier story for our long-suffering girls without any deeper analysis required.

3. The relationship between the Old Crew and the Magia Record Crew: What is going on here?

twwk: One thing I noticed was that, despite Kyoko saying something to the contrary, she and Mami seem to be far stronger than the Magia Record girls, with the exception of Yachiyo. 

claire: YES. Especially given that the Kamihama girls have been up against these super-witches for a while now. Why so weak and feeble? There’s an interesting message coming through in all this: fighting on your own makes you stronger; fighting together, though effective in the moment, traps you in perpetual weakness, capping your growth. You’ll never fight alone if you keep relying on a partner. It’s a message that runs counter to the vast majority (if not all) of manga and anime, right?

twwk: Oh, that’s so good! And if any series in animanga would put forth that message, it would be Madoka Magica! The tension between being a loner versus being a member of a team is heavy throughout the original series; it’s there in Magia Record, too, though now I wonder if something can be said about how the magical girls of that series let everything grow totally out of control because they relied too much on “the power of friendship” instead of just getting the job done.

claire: There’s also some interesting intertextuality going on here between the two crews, paralleling their dynamics in ways that may be revelatory in subsequent volumes. Let’s consider the cover art: The cover of the first volume juxtaposed Mami and Iroha, with the latter being visible in the reflection of Mami’s weapon. In the volume itself though, their only interaction was brief and hostile, as Mami sensed Iroha’s doppel nature. Now, this volume pairs Kyoko and Yachiyo, and they do have a bit of an interaction—and a surprising one at that, as mentioned above. But there’s no consistency between these pairings, and they don’t make any sense at all in the wider world-building…unless it’s a comment on their pair dynamics, that is, in Magia Record, Iroha had to work hard to win over Yachiyo; Mami is going to have to work hard to win back Kyoko, who is currently hiding some kind of hurt from her. 

twwk: Could be! Or could it be that the two pairs will come to blows in another volume? I’m not sure that Kyoko convinced Mami that Iroha isn’t a witch (Kyoko isn’t the best communicator? Shocking!)—I could see Mami attacking Iroha again. And Yachiyo and Kyoko may be calmer and happier than their counterparts on other timelines, but I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see them erupt into fisticuffs. I’m kind of hoping that happens, actually—that would be a fun match.

More likely, though, is that the editors decided that the covers needed to show something related to Magia Record. If there’s no deeper meaning there, nor in some of the other items we discussed, I wouldn’t be too disappointed. After the confusion of the Magia Record TV series, I’ve been delightfully surprised at how fun and engaging this manga has been.

claire: Although I’d love to see some deep, thought-provoking complexity in this series, I think you’re right to emphasize editorial expediency as the likely explanation for a lot of the details and potential inconsistencies we’ve noted here. And at the end of the day, I agree that it’s all good fun even if our wild speculations prove not to have any substance! 

Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Another Story is published by Yen Press.

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