“If you remain weak and don’t change, you’ll continue to sacrifice someone for your own goals.”Yachiyo Nanami
The original anime established that a lot hinges on the third episode of a Madoka Magica series. The common recommendation from evangelizing fans is that anyone giving the series a try ought to hang in there until Episode 3 to get a true feel for the show’s tone. Magia Record has opted to buck that precedent. While some maybe expected heads to roll in Episode 3 of Magia Record, it continues to offer promise for those who are still skeptical about it carrying the Madoka Magica torch. But as a result, newcomers may be confused as to why the property has such a dark reputation.
SPOILER WARNING: There are spoilers for Episode 3 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.
The episode begins with another of Iroha’s dream sequences. This time, she recalls that Ui had two friends at the hospital who were rather intelligent. Toka Satomi is introduced when she successfully creates a perpetual motion machine that drives around the hospital ward, flying over mounds and towers of books. Just as she’s praising herself for inventing something no adult could, the device becomes lodged within a pile of books, overheats, and starts a massive fire. Fortunately, no one gets hurt and the fire is quickly put out, but the books are destroyed. Toka seems flippant about the incident, but the other girl, Nemu Hiiragi, laments the loss of knowledge and information those books offered, causing a rift between them and leaving Ui in the middle. If none of this was feeling ominous enough for you, the only book salvaged from the fire was titled Hope and Despair, two themes central to the Madoka Magica universe.
When Iroha awakens from her dream, she meets up with Rena and Momoko at the Coordinator’s place. There, we’re introduced to Mitama Yakumo, the fabled Coordinator and magical girl who has the ability to enhance Soul Gems and help other magical girls grow stronger. Besides helping Iroha prepare to do battle with Kamihama Witches, the three girls decide to visit the Coordinator in hopes of catching Yachiyo. Sure enough, the blue-haired girl from the first episode soon makes her appearance.
As an almost identical analog to Madoka Magica‘s Homura Akemi, Yachiyo is a shoo-in for fan favorite of this series, and players of the mobile game have been eagerly awaiting her larger presence in the show ever since she made a surprise debut in Episode 1. When she arrives on the scene, it’s all business. She’s a plot train with the sole focus of resolving the current conflict: Kaede is still missing.
Before they leave the Coordinator’s, Yachiyo confronts Iroha, calling her out for being too weak to protect anyone let alone herself. Yachiyo calls her a liability to the others and foreshadows that Iroha’s inadequacy may eventually have dire consequences. This is why we love Yachiyo – she drives plot and tone while being an all-around badass.
The girls decide to try luring out the Chain Witch that abducted Kaede by fulfilling the steps of the Friendship Ending Staircase rumor. They write each others’ names on the staircase and apologize to one another, but it doesn’t work. They find that the rumor will only attract the Witch if they are sincere, and that means Rena needs to apologize to Kaede.
Rena proceeds to lay bare her feelings about Kaede and they are shockingly brutal. She admits that she “hates” Kaede for always being so sweet and innocent because it makes Rena look like the bad guy. She despises that Kaede is always the first one to apologize even when Rena is the one at fault. Rena ultimately lets out a heartfelt apology because she feels guilty that Kaede has been taken away, and that activates the Chain Witch.
Once inside the Witch’s labyrinth, we get a window to Rena’s perspective and learn that she actually hates herself. In a brief shot, we learn that her original wish was to become someone else, presumably because she didn’t like who she’d grown to become. But she was only given the ability to look like someone else rather than be someone new entirely. This scene develops as Rena tries on different faces, grappling with her same ill-tempered personality when eventually Kaede breaks in and convinces her to snap out of it.
When Rena returns from her scene of reflection, each girl is preparing to fight the Chain Witch. Momoko and Yachiyo head to the top to topple the head of the Witch while Kaede and Rena have a heart-to-heart about the future of their friendship. In the meantime, Iroha rediscovers Kyubaby and proceeds to chase it for the remainder of the battle. Once the fight is over, the Witch is defeated and Kyubaby disappears once again.
When the dust settles, Yachiyo reveals that this Witch didn’t leave behind a Grief Seed and would only appear under very specific circumstances, leading them to believe that they had fought something else entirely. This mystery, along with the Kyubaby that only appears near Kamihama Witches is left to be solved in a future episode.
Before the end of the episode, Rena agrees to don a disguise and investigate Ui’s hospital. While no one there recalls Ui, the other two girls were familiar to some of the staff. Toka and Nemu were discharged and no one remembers the circumstances of their time at the hospital, but it’s at least confirmation that Iroha isn’t completely crazy and that her memories aren’t fabrications like Kyubey originally theorized.
The overall arc for Magia Record Episode 3 felt much more complete than Episode 2. Instead of spending all of its time establishing new characters and building up to a cliffhanger, it went nearly all-in on resolving its immediate conflict and even had time to introduce another character: Mitama. While the strength of writing in this episode still wasn’t as powerful or subtle as the first, there were still loads of hints about what’s going on in this world.
By this point of the series, it seems clear that something has happened to the cities’ children. This week, we found chairs and desks piled up on the school rooftop, implying that the school’s population has seen a marked decrease, similar to the scenes at Iroha’s school. Whether it be due to a mystery illness like Ui’s or an increased number of magical girl transformations (and resulting despair) remains to be seen.
The robot from Episode 2 also saw a return, but this time it was tossed in the alley amongst a heap of trash that’s been blocked with caution tape. I had written it off as mere world-building last week, but now that it’s back I’m convinced it has some greater significance. I still can’t make sense of what, but these things really get my tinfoil hat crinkling and I’m going to keep hollering every time I see one until I figure them out.
As has been consistent the entire series thus far, there were some fantastic shots throughout Episode 3, whether it be during Mitama’s introduction, Rena’s confession, or those killer magical girl transformations, the entire thing was eye candy. Studio SHAFT is really showing its color and lighting range to some fantastic effects. If the writing for the rest of the series sinks below par, the art direction would still be reason enough to keep it afloat.
This episode was the first time we got true Magia Record transformation sequences and they were thrilling. But besides their entertaining qualities, they were the first time this series has done its own work toward subverting the magical girl trope. Each girl is displayed in a powerful pose, some even wearing a smug smile as if they’re immune to their foes. Of course, we know they’re not. Madoka Magica veterans will remember that the last person we saw in this light was Mami Tomoe and things got over her head pretty quickly. All I’m saying is that this series tends to invite the audience to let its guard down, so the victorious nature of Episode 3’s ending may be short-lived.
However, while demonstrating quintessential magical girl roots, it’s also worth noting that each magical girl’s transformation suggests a deeper trauma. Similar to her ED theme, Yachiyo’s transformation involves the pouring rain, a somber image of it cascading down around her and eventually rising up through her, overtaking her and granting her power. Momoko’s power is themed around flames and while she seems to be the most grounded of the bunch, there’s a moment when fire erupts around her and she almost seems to be in pain. Rena falls through mirror after mirror with an expression of peril on her face. Now that we know the circumstances of her wish, it’s clearer to understand why she may be dissatisfied or anguished each time she must transform.
Iroha’s magical girl transformation is most interesting though. She casts herself off of a rooftop, diving forward to reach the rest of her transformation falling just ahead of her. It suggests that she is incomplete in some way and that she must strive for that second half of herself, perhaps a nod to her quest for Ui or maybe an even deeper personal mystery. With how she must seemingly commit to an act of self harm to transform, there’s even further foreshadowing for what she must do in order to complete her journey.
So far, I haven’t even mentioned the episode’s biggest reveal. After the ED played, we were treated to an extra scene featuring none other than Mami Tomoe. The inclusion of Mami is exciting for longtime Madoka Magica fans for a number of reasons. As part of the original magical girl quintet, her presence finally places Magia Record in the context of the original series. Since Mami is still alive, this series clearly predates the arrival of Walpurgisnacht. If that’s the case, then it’s also likely that Madoka, Homura, Sayaka, and Kyoko are still around, which inevitably brings into question whether the events of the Madoka Magica finale or Rebellion film will have any bearing on this series.
So far, the first and third episodes of Magia Record have been the strongest with the second episode really only suffering as a bridge. With that said, three episodes in it remains unclear how Ui’s disappearance and the Kamihama Witches are related. For this reason, the main conflicts continue to feel like distractions from each other. The beginning and end of this episode felt like the writers were simply paying service to the primary conflict (Iroha’s search for Ui), a conflict that’s been largely ignored so that it doesn’t become fully apparent before the end. For now, it just seems like Iroha is looking for her lost sister when she finds the time, so here’s hoping the plot can coalesce soon.