Oh, she may be weary,
Them young girls, they do get wearied.Otis Redding, Dictionary of Soul
SPOILER WARNING: There are spoilers for Magia Record anime series through Episode 5, 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.
If you’re a fan of the original Madoka Magica, then you’ve likely been waiting for Magia Record to take a darker turn at least since Episode 3, if not sooner. While it certainly can’t (and was never going to) live up to the shocking turning point of the original series, Magia Record Episode 5 made some startling twists and depicted them in some unsettling scenes. Along with the coalescence of the show’s plotlines and a significant amount of action, it turned out to be one of the better episodes for character development so far this season.
Instead of picking up right where we left off, the episode elected to provide some more context to answer the audience’s most burning question from the previous cliffhanger: Who-The-Fuyu? It turns out that some time ago, Yachiyo was part of a magical girl crew, led by Mifuyu Azusa. Mifuyu was apparently the original owner of the Kamihama Rumor Files now kept by Yachiyo, and she was investigating how magical girls might be saved by these Rumors. Mifuyu eventually left Yachiyo behind under mysterious circumstances and Yachiyo has been searching for her ever since.
After this flashback, we resume with Iroha and Yachiyo as they’re about to approach their respective loved ones in the Labyrinth. When Iroha and Ui meet, Iroha embraces her, but she soon realizes this is not actually her sister when Ui doesn’t respond in kind. All Ui does is repeat the message that magical girls being saved in Kamihama. In contrast, Yachiyo and Mifuyu’s reunion involves far more conversation as if Mifuyu is a real person and not some doppelgänger presented by the Rumor.
I found this difference between Yachiyo and Iroha’s experience indicative of a couple possibilities. First off, the Rumor likely summons a doppelgänger by collecting whatever the participant knows about the person they’re looking for. Perhaps the Rumor couldn’t gather enough information from Iroha’s spotty memory to make a convincing Ui double. However, as I’ve speculated in previous episode analyses, it’s also possible that instead of searching for her sister, Iroha is searching for a lost piece of herself. If Ui has never existed and instead acts as Iroha’s mechanism for coping with her own traumatic memories, then the Rumor wouldn’t have had much material to work from. It would have had to create a facsimile of an imagined person, a copy of a concept.
While Iroha is grappling with the revelation that she has not actually found Ui, Yachiyo seems far more convinced that she is standing before Mifuyu and nearly succumbs to this Mi-faux-yu before Iroha arrives to call it into question. Mifuyu reacts to Iroha’s interference with hostility, but before she can land a decisive blow, Yachiyo strikes the double through the chest and Mi-faux-yu disappears. I fully expected Yachiyo to snap out of the charm before things got too far, but I’ll admit that I was surprised when the fake Mifuyu fell. It was an exciting scene, turned heart-wrenching moment when it was revealed on Yachiyo’s face the toll that act took.
The entire affair (likely including the killing blow) leaves Yachiyo deep in despair. Noticing she doesn’t have enough Grief Seeds to purify her Soul Gem, Iroha springs to offer her own, much to Yachiyo’s chagrin once she realizes Iroha has done so at her own peril. Shortly afterward, Tsuruno makes her way into the Labyrinth and all three girls encounter the Rumor’s Witch.
Despite their best efforts, none of the three girls are able to make a dent in the Witch, and soon Iroha’s Soul Gem grows weak. When it becomes apparent that she can’t continue fighting, all three girls flee. Yachiyo slings Iroha over her shoulders to make an escape, but Iroha’s Soul Gem is too far gone. We watch as Iroha falls into despair and transforms into something else.
What transpires afterward is equally terrifying and fascinating for Madoka Magica veterans. Iroha encounters a distorted version of herself in the depths of her despair and a Witch bursts out of her body. In this patchwork raven Witch form, Iroha descends on the Séance Shrine Witch and makes short work of it. What follows is a gory, silhouetted shot in which the two are entwined amongst viscera. When Iroha disposes of the Witch, the Rumor’s Labyrinth disappears and all of its captives are released. However, Iroha is still on the loose.
Just as Iroha’s Witch is about to turn on Tsuruno, Mami Tomoe leaps onto the scene. Performing her signature Tiro Finale move, Mami blasts a hole through Iroha’s Witch, but that somehow knocks Iroha’s body out of the creature and into Yachiyo’s arms. This moment is significant in the Madoka Magica universe and a meaningful departure from the world established in the original series. When a magical girl’s Soul Gem becomes too corrupted, she transforms into a Witch, but that should effectively be the death of her. The fact that Iroha survived that experience means that something is very different about Kamihama. Mami’s reaction is understandably cautious.
When Mami approaches the three girls, she levels her gun at the thing she was just fighting: Iroha. Mami seems convinced that Iroha is not the magical girl that she appears to be. After a brief debate with Yachiyo, Mami decides to leave, but not without offering a word of caution to Yachiyo and Tsuruno about Iroha, saying, “that person is hiding something.” Perhaps she’s simply pointing out the obvious, that Iroha’s ability to transform into a Witch and back to a Magical Girl is highly unusual, but it seems more likely that Mami is alluding to something else. Maybe she senses something else lurking within Iroha.
As an audience, we’re accustomed to believe we know our protagonist. Certainly, after five episodes of Magia Record, we’ve gotten a good impression of Iroha’s character. She’s humble, kind, loyal, and dedicated to pulling her own weight to a fault. She’s a good person, but that perspective doesn’t account for how little we know about her past. She herself remains blind to many circumstances of her wish, and the extent of her clouded memory only brings into question how much else she (we) doesn’t know about herself.
As Iroha comes out of her despair spiral, she proceeds to have a dream in which Ui repeats herself, as she did in the Labyrinth. When Iroha awakens, she finds herself in a bed, and discovers that her Soul Gem has been purified. When she wanders out of the bedroom, she finds Yachiyo cooking in the kitchen. Observing that it’s grown too late for Iroha to go home, Yachiyo invites her to spend the night at her house and Iroha graciously accepts. Shortly afterward, Yachiyo checks in on sleeping Iroha and it’s revealed that she and Mifuyu once shared this house. Iroha is actually sleeping in Mifuyu’s bed.
In the post-ED scene, we find Kaede standing before a Witch and beside her fallen allies, Momoko and Rena. The condition of the two magical girls is unclear, but their still bodies indicate nothing good. In this moment, Kaede has a reaction similar to when Iroha fell into despair. She communes with a darker version of herself and transforms into a Witch/Magical Girl hybrid powerful enough to vanquish the Witch that bested her friends. When she awakens from this form, Kaede finds that both of her friends remain motionless before her. By her horrified reaction to the stains on her hands, it seems that Kaede is hit with a sense of guilt and a fear of what she’s become. For some reason, Mitama happens by the area, but when she reaches Momoko and Rena, Kaede hides from view and flees into the night.
This final scene establishes that Iroha is not the only magical girl who can awaken an inner darkness to summon a Witch and survive. There are a number of elements that telegraph the similarities between the two situations. Kaede seems taken completely by surprise by this turn of events. When her Soul Gem becomes corrupted, she encounters an uncanny duplicate within herself that forces this dark creature to emerge. And when she’s released from the Witch form, Kaede notices that her Soul Gem has been purified. Each parallel here communicates that this ability is not unique to Iroha.
Magia Record Episode 5 reinforces the themes established by the very first episode, but now it’s apparent that they don’t apply solely to Iroha. At the start of the episode, we learn that Yachiyo wasn’t always a lone magical girl, and it ends by suggesting that she may decide to no longer be alone. When Yachiyo returned home with Iroha, she chose to put her in Mifuyu’s bedroom. Whether that was a conscious decision or not, it seems that Yachiyo is not only grateful for Iroha’s prior selflessness, but she is perhaps developing a fondness for Iroha that might be akin to how she felt about Mifuyu. Perhaps that will also go some way towards curing Iroha of her own loneliness.
Although not quite as literal as Iroha’s memory loss, we learn that Yachiyo too is desperately trying to remember someone else. On no fewer than three different occasions throughout Episode 5, Yachiyo says that she searches for her lost friend “to remind [herself] of the reality of [Mifuyu’s] disappearance.” Although Magia Record is largely depicted through Iroha’s perspective, it’s also Yachiyo’s story. If that fact wasn’t impressed upon you by the anime’s opening and closing themes independently featuring both magical girls, then Episode 5 hopefully did the trick. At the conclusion of the episode, Yachiyo completes her train of thought by saying, “I’m more a prisoner of the past than anyone,” yet another parallel to Iroha.
If it wasn’t already clear from previous episodes of Magia Record, Iroha and Yachiyo have deep similarities to Madoka and Homura from Madoka Magica. Both sets of characters possess similar demeanors and appearances. Iroha has a naïveté about her that likely stems from her memory loss, but it feels reminiscent of Madoka’s childlike innocence. In a way, Madoka also has a past that she doesn’t remember, albeit from a different timeline. Yachiyo has a cool, experienced air, much like the hardened personality Homura developed after several trips through time and tragedy. In fact, Yachiyo herself seems to be no stranger to tragedy, something that’s been hinted at by references to the ties that she once severed with other magical girls. Since the beginning of the series, Iroha and Yachiyo have been orbiting each other, almost fated to meet again and again.
It’s tempting to chalk these parallels up to fan service: giving the audience an experience like the original anime without affecting or accounting for the events in it. But I’d like to believe that these similarities and callbacks to the original series (sometimes going so far as to give these characters reminiscent lines of dialogue) are purposefully driving us to an relevant conclusion. I want to think that these references will in the end mean something more than convenient coincidence.