Mobile game adaptations are a staple of modern anime, with one or two popping up almost every single season. While not inherently bad, they tend to share a series of predictable shortcomings: some, like trouble picking a personality for a blank-slate protagonist or weeding out early gamified repetition, are hurdles that every video game adaptation faces. Others — like having a glut of characters or a meandering narrative — are more specific to mobile platforms. With a few exceptions, most entries in this subgenre tend to be unremarkable at best and deathly dull at worst. That’s what makes Magia Record, an anime adaptation of a mobile game that was itself a spin-off of the juggernaut series Puella Magi Madoka Magica, such a pleasant surprise.
Set in the same universe as the original Madoka Magica (or maybe an alternate timeline? There was a lot of timeline stuff in that series), the series follows protagonist Iroha as she attempts to find her missing sister. She quickly discovers a group of fellow magical girls, and together they attempt to unravel the local mysteries that seem to be turning rumors into reality. While the series does draw from an established mythology, it is mostly designed to be newcomer-friendly, with an almost entirely new cast and a much more action-oriented team vibe than its claustrophobic predecessor. Think of it as the Aliens to Madoka Magica’s Alien.
That name recognition is part of what helps set Magia Record apart from many mobile game adaptations, as it lends the series hefty production resources. But it’s also helped by inventive, engaging fight choreography and a script with a smart eye for rearranging and streamlining story beats initially doled out through dozens of bite-sized dialogue chunks. This leads to some shining examples of what mobile games do best: small stories that revolve around a single character and their conflict (the better to introduce them into the gacha pool). Magia Record’s mini-arcs are haunting and lovely, and it’s downright impressive that the writing suffers only one or two very minor moments that clearly telegraph their origins as game mechanics.
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Unfortunately, because mobile games are meant to engage players through those contained character-related stories and mini-arcs, the main narratives tend to spin their wheels — a trap Magia Record only partly escapes. The abundance of characters means that screentime is often spread too thin, with some characters showing up purely for recognition value while others get forgotten for long stretches of time. It’s also only half-finished. The current season ends on a massive and literal cliffhanger, one limited by its need to stop everything and re-explain the foundational twist of the first series with a slideshow.
The announcement of a second season dulls many of the first half’s potential disappointments: the entire cast now seems to have been introduced, and there are another thirteen episodes to expand on existing character relationships. While those wanting a complete story may want to hold off for now, fans of the franchise and of inventive animation should find it worth their time.