Shaft has always been my favorite animation studio due to their exceptionally unique art style and story telling methods along with creating or adapting several of my favorite series including 3 gatsu no lion, Monogatari and of course Madoka Magica. Ever since finishing up 3 gatsu it felt like Shaft has been on a steady decline as a studio, animation quality dropping and story telling becoming sub par, it was disappointing to see my favorite studio fall so far. When I first saw Magia Records season 1 I could see a low quality gacha game cash grab coming from miles away, but I still held onto my belief that maybe it could be good, but unsurprisingly it wasn’t. This all brings us to Magia Records 2, it was a season that I intended on skipping but I decided to watch when I saw an amazing clip of Sayaka fighting a witch that blew me away. I still set expectations low going in, but this might be it, Shaft might have finally come back to its peak and this review will cover everything done right in Magia Records season 2 compared to its predecessor.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
This review needs to talk about the incredibly strong intro into this season, normally the intro episodes of most series don’t need to be highlighted in a review however with Magia Records it feels like the start in this case set the tone for the rest of the series and essentially redeemed the boring first season all at once.
The first and second episodes of the new season started incredibly strong. The original cast of Madoka was back and we finally got to see how the fight against a previously off screen witch really plays out in one of the most fluidly animated scenes of the entire year. This scene alongside getting to see and hear Madoka again, watching the less capable and confident version of Homura and a still alive Sayaka all team up and perfectly execute the witch after a great set of motivational character speeches, transformation sequences, and the original soundtrack felt the original series all over again. In fact, these 2 episodes might have been even better than the first episodes of the original series for a short moment due to well made the fight was. The fight against the witch also highlighted the general threat level of the world, a witch doesn’t have to be anything like Walpurgis Night to be a threat, normal witches like Sayaka’s witch form or Charlotte are more than enough to destroy the average magical girl. Essentially these episodes were the perfect intro after a messy and confusing first season, the audience basically gets a reset without the use of filler material or recap episodes, the strong introduction was engaging and was enough to let me see this series in a new light and continue watching.
Due to how strong the first episodes were the series became engaging again and this time some how the plot was explained in a manner that was easy to follow and had deeper layers to think about at the same time, there weren’t all that many flashbacks or information drop scenes, yet despite the first season being hard to follow this season was very clear. The story has gotten noticeably better and supposedly the anime is no longer following the game completely and used a decent amount of original content, which actually had greatly improved the story, its still a dark psychological thriller series like before but this time the story is competently set up and given enough exposition so that the audience can follow along and understand the motivations behind different characters and why there is a conflict overall. The mystery element still exists as well but its not as incredibly drawn out, slow, and unexplored like the prior season, it feels like the viewer is finally given steps on resolving the plot and understanding what this alternate timeline is really about. If you did not like season 1, this season fixes pretty much everything bad about the previous story and builds on it in a way that is engaging and suspenseful, its not as good as the original Madoka but it’s a solid story that can stand on its own.
Shaft has gotten back to its peak for the art, every single episode was a display of top quality animation and incredibly detailed background art and particle effects, the only thing that might be a weakness is that some of the fights were a bit hard to follow on the first watch. Despite the weakness in choreography for a few scenes, its still not a stretch to say that this season possessed some of the best fight scenes out of any anime this entire year and that the quality is very close to movie production values. When the girls fight their hair moves in a realistic and fluid manner, their hands move fast and smoothly, the entire background, debris and particles all move alongside them perfectly, the entire world is lively, and every type of motion is perfectly captured. Its very rare to see animation of this quality with character designs that are so detailed, backgrounds that are so unique and a world that genuinely feels alive with all the realistic effects. An example of the detail is shown whenever the environment and battleground are broken up, especially how the rocks shatter and the dust spreads across the battlefield, such aspects are usually ignored in most series or used as a pause sequence, but not in Magia Records where it flows alongside the battle all at once. Some of my favorite Madoka witch designs were also added this season, especially the artificial witch. The art quality gets a solid 9/10 and it can singlehandedly make this show worth watching even outside the improved plot and return of the main cast.
The soundtrack was overall effective, using themes from the original series in the right places when old characters were on screen but otherwise sticking a newer soundtrack for the new main cast. Background music and combat sounds were done very well, and the battles sounded very alive and suspenseful. Even when soundtracks were used from the main series, this season did not just throw them in whenever, they were only occasionally used and only at the best moments. Overall, not much to complain about and the series managed to handle sound noticeably better than the last season where the original series sound track was overly used to get an emotional response instead of the series trying to stand on its own.
As far as the story is concerned, Magia Records season 2 noticeably diverges from the game it is adapting, but its actually a very good decision because the original storyline wasn’t particularly well written as it was for a mobile game revolved around rolling characters, you know the type. The change in the story was focused on making the doppel system a lot darker and giving Iroha and the main cast actual reasons to oppose the system, in the original storyline it barely made since for the characters to oppose a system that could arguably save them, but in this storyline the doppel system has notable drawbacks to its use and many people are being sacrificed in order to even make it work.
Overall this season is a significant improvement and is an 8 in rating, while the first season felt directionless and poorly executed, this season was executed with competence and was overall very enjoyable on multiple levels. From a new improved story to top tier production values, Magia Records 2 is a step up in every way and is a strong come back for Shaft, while not as good as the original Madoka series this show is still worth the watch and is recommended even if you have to get through the first season.