I’ve been thinking a lot about fanworks lately.
More specifically, I’ve been thinking a lot about fanfiction and how frequently it’s written off or denigrated publicly, but this also somewhat applies to fanart and other methods of engaging with a media property outside of the recognized canon.
Part of this is because of the recent Star Wars canon (I’m using this word very loosely here) post-The Rise of Skywalker, part of this is because I’m a fanfiction writer myself (compartmentalization comes remarkably easy to me), and part of this is because Magia Record aired today.
Magia Record is a mobile game spinoff of the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which in turn received its own anime adaptation, Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story. You don’t have to have watched Madoka Magica or have played the mobile game to understand Magia Record but, like most stories that are part of a larger franchise, it plays with the expectations of an informed viewer who has already watched Madoka Magica in its entirety.
The original 2011 Madoka series, and series composer Gen Urobuchi played a lot with audience expectations of what a magical girl story should be. Although I can rant all I want about how it wasn’t that much darker than a lot of other magical girl series, Madoka Magica celebrated the existence of the magical girl and has been one of the more influential anime series of the past decade. The expectations of a viewer watching Madoka Magica as it aired were that of lighter and fluffier fare. Madoka Magica played this up and then did away with it entirely in its third episode.
Instantly popular, Madoka Magica gained viewers by the week. Watching it and discussing it became an entire experience complete with an online water cooler courtesy of social media. Then came the movies — two reworks of the original series’ narrative and an addition called Madoka Rebellion. Rebellion relied on preexisting Madoka knowledge and then undid the entire series’ canon in the most perverted way possible. It was panned by critics and a large portion of the Madoka faithful, written off as a fanciful fanwork brought to life by a rabid fanbase and a desire for all involved to make as much money off of the Madoka franchise as possible. Early announcements of Magia Record were met with similar derision.
Magia Record plays with all three aforementioned stages of Madoka knowledge: a set perception of magical girl series generally, set perception of Madoka Magica the anime, and a set perception of Madoka Rebellion. Gekidan Inu Curry and their team’s visual style takes a lot from the original SHAFT production while poking at the viewer through similar imagery to the first series and brief winks via lighted train signs.
“Have you heard? Has anyone told you? The rumor about the magical girls?” an unseen chorus of young girls chatters over the opening fight. They finish their conversation with “Ah~ I want to become a magical girl too.” A sage Madoka viewer will know that this too is a perversion of the original Madoka message (and a massive part of what Rebellion purposefully undoes). When Kuroe tells Iroha Tamaki that magical girls can be “saved” if they go to Kamihama City, it recalls both the original series and the warped version of Madoka Kaname’s hometown, Mitakihara, present throughout most of Rebellion. That same viewer can’t help but ask where Magia Record will fit in this established canon and whether Madoka’s wish remains in effect in some way.
We already know what Iroha and her magical girl counterparts of Magia Record don’t — that the wishes are a horrid monkey’s paw. Shots like Kuroe holding her soul gem call to mind the sacrifices made unwittingly by these young women. So many other shots in this first episode are meant to purposefully call to mind Madoka Magica or Madoka Rebellion. The question is of where Magia Record will go next, and whether there’s a place left to explore beyond the anime series and movie trilogy in a creative manner. Thus far, Magia Record‘s first episode says a hesitant “yes.”
For some, only Gen Urobuchi’s Madoka Magica is canon. For others, Rebellion is their favorite part of the franchise. Magia Record will likely be compared to a fanwork, but it’s playing with established narratives in an interesting way. It’s also another marketing arm of a very successful franchise. Although these two pieces (established spinoff of Madoka and an interesting anime) seem mutually exclusive, they don’t have to be.