Have you heard? I’m a sucker for a good Greek chorus element in anime.
It’s a rare viewer who will watch Magia Record without prior history of the Madoka franchise. These viewers likely exist — simply because it’s a new anime, looks interesting, and hey, cute girls — but the majority of people tuning in will be Puella Magi Madoka Magica fans. A subsection of these fans will watch any Madoka content regardless. The other group of viewers will be looking for a very specific element, attributed to Gen Urobuchi or Studio SHAFT overlord Akiyuki Shinbo or both, that they cannot define and arguably go into Magia Record already with the idea that it will never live up to the original.
I have a lot of personal hangups with how the original Madoka television series is put on a pedestal, and even more about how it is erroneously credited for adding “dark” elements to the magical girl genre (it didn’t, they were always there and you just weren’t watching those shows and/or looking hard enough). I’m also of the opinion that Rebellion is the only thing in Madoka that approaches anything resembling a deconstruction.
The largest slight against Magia Record from Madoka Magica fans is that it was aired to promote a mobile game — as an aside, the game isn’t available in English anymore after a poorly-communicated closure — and is presumably not a part of the original Madoka canon. “Side Story” is in the full title of the Magia Record series after all. There’s also the fact that neither Gen Urobuchi nor Akiyuki Shinbo were involved with this particular production. I’ve seen a few comments about how Gekidan Inu Curry, a two-man team of Ayumi Shiraishi and Yousuke Anai, was playing in the Madoka sandbox when they took on Magia Record, but even this is a bit unfair since Gekidan Inu Curry played a large role in the original Madoka television series production design, particularly when it came to the otherworldly collages of the witches. For the record, Yousuke Anai (Doro-inu) is credited as chief director of Magia Record.
Magia Record purposefully plays with all of these fan expectations from its opening episode.
“Have you heard? Has anyone told you? That rumor about magical girls?”
–Magia Record, Episode 1
It’s a bit of a stretch to say that Magia Record has a true Greek chorus element structured like Kunihiko Ikuhara’s Revolutionary Girl Utena or subsequent works, but it does bring a repeating fan element into the series from the beginning through faceless girls gossiping. They’re remarkably close to Utena‘s shadow girls and appear later on in the series. Yet, unlike a modern Greek chorus, which would comment on the action with more of an existing knowledge of what has happened in the past, and what is to come in the future, the faceless girls of Magia Record seem to know nothing about what has come before in the first episode (or are commenting very tongue-in-cheek) and it’s the informed Madoka viewer who brings their expectations to the series that give their commentary an added bite. Calling Kyubey a “white fairy,” bringing up whether magical girls fight good witches or bad witches and then answering “Bad witches, of course,” and ending their opening discussion with “Ahhhh I want to be a magical girl too” are all designed to make a Madoka viewer pay attention. They set up somewhat of a pattern with their early-episode remarks, but the truth of that pattern is completed by the viewer’s knowledge. This “chorus” also comments on the existence of other in-universe elements like the second episode’s Staircase of Severance, in a more traditional way.
Ultimately, Magia Record has a lot of flaws that grow as the series progresses. However, I thoroughly appreciated how it never tried to be Madoka, or even a defining part of the Madoka canon yes even with the known guest appearances, but instead played with said expectations.
Do you consider all the ads in the train… Etc as Greek chorus elements? I think there also were some very Utena moments about the introduction of rumors in the late part of the run