An episode with highs and lows, but very little Yachiyo.
The first episode of Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story was a solid reintroduction to this magical girl universe and a deep dive into protagonist Iroha Tamaki’s subconscious, exploring her profound loneliness and longing for a person not there. Where Episode 1’s clever and subtle storytelling informed us of our main character in ways she may not have been able to express herself, the second episode opted to be less personal and more focused on side-tracking the main conflict with new characters and their accompanying drama, but not without dropping a few breadcrumbs for careful viewers.
SPOILER WARNING: There are spoilers for Episode 2 of the Magia Record anime series ahead, as well as the Madoka Magica series. However, plot points explored by the Magia Record mobile game that have not yet been reached by the anime will not be spoiled here.
Episode 2 of Magia Record begins just about where we left off – in Iroha’s dream. When she awakens, she clearly remembers that she made a wish to cure her sister Ui. With that sudden realization, she wastes no time researching her sister’s last location: a hospital in Kamihama city.
Without a single moment of consideration for the cautionary advice given to her by the powerful, blue-haired magical girl from Kamihama near the end of Episode 1, Iroha ventures into the city and immediately dives into a labyrinth. There, she runs into a trio of Kamihama magical girls who don’t appear to be the most cohesive team. Kaede, a small and meek girl, runs into Iroha while fleeing the Witch, while Momoko and Rena (clearly more capable combatants) try to take it down themselves. However, before we see the battle conclude, Iroha gets knocked unconscious. When she awakens, she finds she’s been brought to “Coordinator’s” residence.
This mysterious Coordinator is unfortunately away, but the calm of this place allows the girls to become better acquainted with each other. Iroha explains her quest to find Ui, and the trio explains that they’re looking for a creature known as the Chain Witch, a particular Witch that seems to be linked to the Friendship Ending Staircase (more on that soon).
The conversations that ensue from their chance meeting appropriately establish the dynamic amongst the trio of magical girls. Momoko is a leader, seemingly older, kind, and with a cooler head. Kaede comes off as somewhat shy, but with pure intentions. Rena is obstinate and selfish but seems to value her friendships… to a point. While discussing whether to help Iroha investigate the hospital for her missing sister, Rena flatly dissents from the rest of the group, and lashes out on Kaede, causing an apparently all-too-common rift between the close friends.
All of this early interaction was great. I felt properly introduced to each new character and enjoyed the mix of action, exposition, and drama. Although we as yet have little reason to care about these recent cast additions or their quarrels, the infighting seems to parallel the magical girl conflicts from the original Madoka Magica, perhaps hinting at a darker tone in the future.
The events at the end of the episode also suggest that the plot is about to take an unhappy turn. First, we learn about the Friendship Ending Staircase, a convoluted rumor from the trio’s school that suggests two friends whose names are written on the sixth and seventh steps of a certain staircase will have their friendship end, and if one of those parties apologizes, they’ll be taken away to a staircase that they’ll be forced to clean for eternity. Momoko, Iroha, and Kaede begin searching for Rena, who has been in hiding for some days following their feud. When they finally catch up to her, Kaede apologizes for fighting with Rena only to discover that Rena wrote their names on the staircase.
The Friendship Ending Staircase plotline is predictable. As soon as it gets mentioned, it’s obvious that either Kaede or Rena are going to write their names down as a result of their fight. It’s also very convenient that the exact people who are investigating the Chain/Staircase Witch (the characters suggest that the two may be related and they are unsurprisingly related) fall victim to it. It’s also just plain annoying that they fall victim to it when they should know better than anyone the dangers at play.
So, the episode ends when Kaede apologizes to Rena and is consequently taken away by the Chain Witch. I get the impression this is setting up for a high-stakes third episode similar to Madoka Magica‘s Episode 3 turn, but if that’s the case, it already feels unearned. By Episode 3 of the original series, we’ve been following the main cast from the beginning. When Mami dies, it’s surprising, but it’s also impactful because we’ve had time to bond with her. We know the extraordinary conditions of her wish and we see her take near guardianship of the other characters. In short, we care about her. At this point of Magia Record, I feel almost no connection to Momoko, Rena, or Kaede, and their plight feels like a distraction from Iroha’s quest.
What’s perhaps more intriguing than the immediate conflict at hand are the under-explained phenomena of the episode. At the beginning, Iroha dreams about when she made her wish, but the scene has a few more sheets than when we first saw it. White bedsheets billow in the wind, hung by clotheslines at the top of the hospital, adding dramatic flair to a significant occasion: the moment Iroha wished to cure Ui and became a magical girl – the moment that may have left her without any memory of her sister or the wish itself. However, in Episode 2, Iroha has to climb out of sheets strewn across the rooftop.
There are a few ways to interpret the sheet imagery. First, we can take it as a scene transition: Iroha was embracing Ui atop a bed and emerges from those bedsheets without her atop the hospital. We can also consider the sheets a symbol of lucidity. Iroha is awakening to the reality that her sister exists and that she had to make a wish to save her. The reimagining of the scene could also be conveying that this dream has been recurring ever since Iroha ventured to Kamihama, developing new details in strange and incomprehensible ways, as dreams are wont to do (this might also explain why the second viewing of the scene appears to be in the clouds and why Kyubey, though difficult to see, appears to be a small golden idol). However, it could also be informing us of the state of Ui’s hospital when Iroha finally made her wish.
We don’t know the specifics of Ui’s illness, but it’s possible that she wasn’t the only one ill. If there were other children with Ui’s ailment and it was incurable (unless you’re Dr. Kyubey), then maybe it was an epidemic of sorts. Maybe a lot of children died, leaving the hospital with empty beds and dirtied sheets. Maybe those pure, white sheets represent the innocence of life lost, and that in turn decimated the population of children in and around Takarazaki. I admit it’s a stretch, but it might explain why Iroha’s school looks so empty.
Also of note were the glimpses of the blue-haired Kamihama girl. Players of the mobile game know her as Yachiyo Nanami, although she hasn’t been granted a name in the anime just yet. While Momoko is explaining the rumor of the Friendship Ending Staircase, she mentions that three girls had already fallen victim to it and we see brief shots of Yachiyo. Yachiyo’s scenes are delivered without any further explanation, but it’s possible that Yachiyo is in some way connected to this schoolyard rumor, if not also to the disappearances.
Lastly, I feel I just need to point out the robots. What’s the deal with the robots? When Iroha is at the hospital, she’s greeted by one at a self-service kiosk and then speaks to a human nurse. When she’s getting food for Momoko, Rena, and Kaede, a robot behind the counter takes her order. Both androids appear in short succession and look similar, which feels significant, but I have little idea how or why. I recall bizarre elements from the original Madoka Magica that indicated the world these characters occupied was not quite our own or at least more advanced. It’s possible that these bots are just that or that they’re a piece of the puzzle that doesn’t have a clear place yet.
There’s still plenty of reason to continue watching Magia Record. Even though Episode 2 wanders somewhat from the main conflict established by Episode 1, it still offered plenty to ponder and a lot of promise for the future of the series. As was to be expected from a series based off of a gacha game, there have been (and will continue to be, if the OD is any indication) a number of characters introduced in a short amount of time. Maybe we’ll even get the chance to grow attached to half of them before the series’ 13 episodes have run.