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‘Magia Record: Side Story’ Chillingly Depicts Recruitment Into Cults

‘Magia Record: Side Story’ culminates its first season with a strikingly authentic illustration of cult recruitment.

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The following article contains spoilers for the final episodes of Magia Record: Side Story‘s first season.

When the original Puella Magi Madoka Magica premiered in 2011 it took the anime world by storm with its relentless assault on the magical girl genre encapsulated in the avant-garde presentation Studio Shaft is widely known for. So when a follow-up based on a mobile game was announced it’s safe to say that I and the community at large were a little trepidatious. It’s certainly not the blunt force lesson on trauma that is the original, but Magia Record: Side Story succeeds by focusing on other aspects of being a magical girl in this universe. Namely, how it systematically details the wear and tear on the minds of these unfortunate girls and how that weakness can be funneled into a cult mentality.

Straining the Psyche

The girls in Magia Record are the boots on the ground, veterans who have been at the frontline fighting Witches in a repeating cycle with no end in sight. Sure they got a wish out of the deal but whether that wish was worth a literal eternity of servitude vastly differed between each individual.

Fight. Purify. Fight. Purify. Fight. Purify. The process is endless and for what purpose? All to simply continue existing? Being continually exposed to such unforgiving conditions like Witch labyrinths and the chaos they wrought is going to take its toll on anyone’s mind. It’s not surprising then that so many of the girls in Magia Record seek release from the hell they trapped themselves in, and that’s where the Wings of Magius group comes into play.

As part of the season finale it was revealed how the Doppel system developed by Touka of the Wings of Magius is meant to spare the magical girls from their fate of turning into Witches. This “half-transformation” prevents the girls from fulling turning into Witches while simultaneously returning the gleam of their previously muddied Soul Gems. 

Magia Record Felicia

The question becomes then, where do the negative emotions that triggered the process go? With no energy harvesting “Incubators” around in Magia Record do the feelings just dissipate into the air? Or perhaps, the feelings are sucked back inside, compressed, condensed, and shoved into a corner of the mind to not think about. There’s a word for that; it’s called “avoidance” and it’s one of the many destructive defense mechanisms humans turn to in times of coping.

Choosing to not dwell on unpleasant thoughts or to distance oneself from the source of a stressor is the basis of avoidance coping. It doesn’t make those feelings go away, just repackages them to be out of the way and that manifests as a seemingly pure Soul Gem for these magical girls. The murkiness is still there, just shrunk so as to not be visible like gas in a canister. But a container can only hold so much without relief and eventually cracks will begin to form. It’s those cracks that The Wings of Magius prey upon and how its cult is formed.

The Makings of a Cult

There are many definitions for what a cult is, but they all more or less have to do with a group of people that share an unorthodox ideology under a charismatic leader, often with the intention of transcending the limits of life. The Wings of Magius in Magia Record exhibits almost every single hallmark of a cult organization, both in appeal and function.

An article by The New York Times, while old, is still relevant today and covers the destructive trappings of cult mentality. It starts with recruitment, and cult recruiters, unsurprisingly, target the mentally vulnerable. Those under stress from looming exams, recently losing a job, or perhaps girls forced to fight Witches for eternity. The recruiters entice the prospect with the promise of some sort of benefit and for the magical girls whose minds had long been worn away, nothing sounds more enticing than the rumors spreading of being freed from that fate.

Magia Record Touka
Touka exhibits all the traits of a charismatic cult leader

The recruit is then encouraged to attend a lesson or seminar of some sort a la Iroha and co in Magia Record. Once in the cult environment, the prospect is made sure to always be in the presence of other cult members at all times, much like how Mifuyu monitors Iroha the entirety of her visit. The goal of this visit is to confuse and disorient the prospect so that they are put in an even more vulnerable state than when they entered, and that’s exactly what the truth of the Witches does to the girls.

It’s during this “emotional crisis” that the recruit recapitulates their faith and beliefs to align with those of the cult’s; they see that as their only way of survival. At that point, it’s no longer a choice of believing in the cult or not; the recruit has to believe in it at the risk of losing all sense of being and purpose. Tsuruno, Felicia, and Kaede all seem to have fallen victim to this scheme in the show.

From that point on the cult leader instills a “we-they philosophy” into all of their members. “We” have the truth while “they” are ignorant and wrong in everything they do. We, the magical girls, deserve to be freed from our suffering while they, the humans, don’t deserve the ignorant bliss they live on in. It’s by this unification through manipulation that the cult leader, or Touka in this case, can maintain a vice-grip on their followers. What she will wield her followers for will have to wait until Magia Record’s next season.

The Wings of Magius may be a group of young girls wearing frilly looking clothes, but it’s almost terrifying just how much it mirrors that of real-life cult recruitment and mentality. When you consider the fact that there were real-life cults that promised to take its members to Venus or caused the mass suicide of 900 youths, Touka’s doesn’t seem so crazy anymore.  It follows the established playbook down to a T and that makes it all the more bone-chilling to see how many girls caught up in this tangled web in the final moments of Magia Record’s first season.

Magia Record Wings of Magius

Regardless of whether she really does have the solution or not to the Witch problem, Touka’s methods that approach downright brainwashing will result in severe aftereffects akin to PTSD that will linger long after her cult’s influence wanes, if ever. The Wings of Magius may be a fictional group based on a made-up magical system, and Magia Record may very well find a magical solution in line with the Madoka universe, but its principles and methodology are grounded in reality and that just makes the season’s conclusion all the more disturbing.

Heralding from the rustic, old town of Los Angeles, California; Matthew now resides in Boston where he diligently researches the cure for cancer. In reality, though, he just wants to play games and watch anime, and likes talking about them way too much. A Nintendo/Sony hybrid fan with a soft-spot for RPG’s, he finds little beats sinking hours into an immersive game world.

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Anime

Anime Ichiban 33: Coming into Maturity

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Anime Ichiban welcomes our anime waifu overlords, old and new. Join Matt and Kyle this episode as they discuss the return of the Goddess of Anime, Haruhi Suzumiya herself, then hop on over to the new virutal sensation that’s finally sweeping English-speaking nations: Hololive Vtubers!

For this episode of Anime Ichiban, the SHITSUMON! topic will have the duo diving into recently released Aggretsuko Season 3 and The Great Pretender and explore how the two shows work with mature themes.

TIMESTAMPS

0:00 – Introductions and what we’ve been up to
23:33 – The Return of Haruhi Suzumiya(‘s light novels)
37:23 – The Debut of Generation 1 of Hololive English Vtubers
53:07 – Minor news roundup: (Shenmue anime announced; Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel Part 3 movie debuts to huge success; KyoAni fire updates)
58:35 – SHITSUMON! How does anime portray mature themes in its storytelling?

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Anime

Anime Ichiban 32: The Art of Following a Formula

Corporate shakeups and Galapagos Syndrome spell omens of a changing global landscape for the anime industry.

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diary of our days at breakwater

Corporate shakeups and Galapagos Syndrome spell omens of a changing global landscape for the anime industry and that the crew digs into along with how a series can effectively perform within its genre conventions.

TIMESTAMPS

0:00 – Introductions
12:28 – Legacy piracy site KissAnime shuts down
28:45 – AT&T reportedly looking to sell Crunchyroll
43:27 – Galapagos Syndrome: Is anime in danger of losing its global identity?
58:41 – News Reel
1:02:20 – SHITSUMON! How do shows perform effectively and still entertain in genres whose formulae are already well known and expected?

TRACKS

Intro – “Cagayake! GIRLS” by Houkago Tea Time (K-ON! opening theme)
Outro – “Tsuri no sekai e” by Umino High School Breakwater Club (Our Diary at the Breakwater ending theme)

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Anime

‘One Piece: Stampede’ is an All-Star Behemoth Buckling Under Predictability

Does One Piece: Stampede sail all the way to Laugh Tale, or remain anchored in an East Blue of mediocrity?

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As the fourteenth film in Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece saga, One Piece: Stampede was released in 2019 to critical and financial success. As a big-budget commemoration of the anime’s 20th anniversary, Stampede has lots to live up to, from successfully stamping a momentous two decades, to satiating the hype of a passionate global fanbase. Does it sail all the way to Laugh Tale, or remain anchored in an East Blue of mediocrity?

It’s party time at the Pirate Fest!

The Pirate Fest, a grand gathering of the sea’s most infamous individuals, is underway! At the festival, the Straw Hats compete with their Worst Generation rivals to retrieve a treasure of Gol D. Roger. But behind the scenes, festival organiser Buena Festa and legendary pirate Douglas Bullet are scheming something sinister.

Cutting to the chase, One Piece: Stampede soon kicks into an all-out battle against said Douglas Bullet, with Luffy working with friend and foe alike to fell his opponent.

Much like Dragon Ball Super: Broly, also animated by Toei Animation, each frame of One Piece: Stampede is a treasure to behold. Fluid animation and colors spell eye-candy magic, and the odd bit of 3D animation isn’t (too) visually jarring.

One Piece: Stampede nails its mission statement of lightning-paced popcorn entertainment to a tee. Goofy shonen films don’t have to transcend ‘awesome action and silly superpowers’. Rather than shooting for the moon and coming up short, Stampede settles for smashing the sky. With white-knuckle fights and satisfying character moments conveyed with a zippy pace, One Piece: Stampede assuredly brings what fans want. And whilst not as developed or memorable as other film baddies (One Piece: Strong World’s Shiki or One Piece: Z’s titular Z), Douglas Bullet is terrifyingly tough enough to tick the boxes.

Playing It Safe

Whilst the ‘playing it safe’ ethos of One Piece: Stampede succeeds on the surface, the imaginative innovation of One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island is missing, and the excess of characters prevents the possibility of channeling the simplicity of One Piece: Dead End Adventure. Stampede works as anniversary celebratory bombast but isn’t the series’ smartest, and with the core of the film occurring in a single spot and under dull skies, location fatigue rears its head.

For some, the draw of One Piece: Stampede is its constant character cameos. From the instantly recognizable to the deep cuts, it’s a fun gimmick for fans, although the absence of big names like Kuzan and Jinbei are noticeable. Some cameos fall on the side of groan inducing-ly forced, shoehorning a requisite Zoro fight, or overtly shouting to audiences “Remember them?!” Having no effect on the story, these cameos are clunky and break narrative immersion.

Far from the worst of One Piece’s wildly varied films, Stampede is what it needs to be. It lacks the creative spirit of One Piece’s heights and is dampened by its inconsistent cameo execution, but it’s a fine anniversary celebration for one of manga and anime’s, if not the world’s, best works of fiction. For the uninitiated, it’ll be like an avant-garde acid trip, but for those clued-into Luffy’s antics, it’s a barrage of ballistic glee!

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