What’s it about? There’s a rumor that if you make a pact with a certain creature, it can grant you any wish. But in exchange, you must become a magical girl and fight against Witches. There is also another rumor, heard in dreams: “magical girls who go to Kamihama City can be saved.” Iroha is one such magical girl, who can’t even remember her own wish.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is to the 2010s as Neon Genesis Evangelion was to the 1990s: a hugely influential mega-hit that birthed multiple spin-offs, a host of disappointing copycats, and prettier but even more disappointing movies (will I ever miss a chance to dunk on Rebellion? Not this day). It also became a topic of discussion that most anime fans will nope out of hard because they don’t want to be there when the lore discussion starts eating its own entrails (again). It is, at this point, as likely to enter your brain through cultural osmosis as purposeful engagement.
Which is all to say that I’m not sure the theoretical complete newcomer to franchise spinoff Magia Record exists. That said, if your base grasp of the concept is “spawned the Dark Magical Girls subgenre,” this show does its very best to ease you into the concept. It’s certainly a marked improvement over the few hours I played of the mobile game, concisely summing up its premise with a cold open and moving into the story of its new heroine with nary a mention of the old cast.
It’s impressive how fresh the world feels almost a decade on. The uncanny movements of the Witches in all their Jan Švankmajer-esque glory still have the power to unsettle, and the episode overall feels appropriately like a spooky story told by the campfire. It evokes what the original series did best: not the much-quoted moments that were a Grand-Guignol of suffering, but the sense of sickly unease at something just out of sight.
That’s not to say this episode isn’t chomping on any other flavors, though. We once again have a pointedly pink-haired protagonist, so similar in design to Madoka that when I initially saw the game’s marketing material I thought they were the same character; and a taciturn, more experienced dark-haired magical girl who’s an antagonistic but no doubt Has Her Reasons.
Some of the best visuals are also strongly reminiscent of Ikuhara, with ominous propaganda and wishes plastered all over the backgrounds of shots and the aforementioned cold-open that feels akin to the meta-commentary of the Shadow Girls. But if you’re going to steal, as they say, it might as well be from the best. And there’s no doubt Magia Record looks as breathtakingly composed as its predecessor.
The show’s already been confirmed for a luxurious 26 episodes, which gives it plenty of time to soak in the atmosphere and introduce us to the other new characters in the opening. The brief flashes of original series characters in that same opening mean that this could get more tangled in connected universe lore down the line, or that it will have a bit too much time to fall into the worse habits of misery porn for which the dark magical girl genre became infamous. But for now this is an impressive welcome back for new fans and an intriguing new story for curious newbies.