Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica: The Different Story
It might be equally as tragic as the main series it complements but Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica: The Different Story is one heck of an awesome spin-off, as it actually adds to the main story rather than simply using its setting and characters. You actually get to understand some more about some of the character’s actions in the anime, mainly Mami and Kyouko. Not to mention how this can even be considered canon due to a certain plot device whoever has watched the anime is familiar with and the lack of inconsistencies.
First of all, here goes a little warning and disclaimer: If you haven’t watched Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, do not read neither this manga nor this review, for it has spoilers on the anime. And if you haven’t, rather than reading this review you should just go watch it. Like… right now! The review is free of any relevant spoilers for the manga itself, though, so it’s a safe read or all who haven’t read yet. However, if anyone would like an analysis on the story, character development or ending, feel free to request so. After all, PMMM is one of my little obsessions.
So, here’s my story. I have a problem with spin-offs. I’ve never been able to shake off the feeling that spin-offs are just some half-assed effort of leeching off of the main series’ popularity. And for the most part, I still think that’s the case. However, a while back, a certain manga series proved to be an exception and made me more open to reading this kind of stuff. And being a huge fan of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, I obviously had to read the manga spin-offs. And I have to admit, I wasn’t very impressed with the other either Oriko Magica or Kazumi Magica. However, The Different Story proved to be yet another exception to my “spin-offs suck” generalization.
The Different Story was written under the premise of what would have happened in the story if Mami didn’t die so early on, or in other words, it tells us how the writer imagined the anime story would have gone like if she hadn’t been beheaded by Charlotte in the third episode. However, although that’s its basic premise, almost half of the manga takes place way before the anime begins, establishing Mami and Kyouko’s backstory.
Speaking of which, Mami and Kyouko, the less explored character’s in the anime, are actually the most explored characters here. This manga actually manages to do something like reverse the screentime, being that the least screentime a character got on the anime, the more such character appears in here. Actually, about half of the manga takes place before the events of the anime. The first volume establishes how Mami and Kyouko got to know each other, being that the the later had went to Mitakihara Town in search for a the first witch she had fought against, one that she had let escape, and Mami ends up saving her after stumbling upon her by chance. Surprisingly, Kyouko doesn’t turn out to be like the other Magical Girls she had met before, only caring about harvesting Grief Seeds and staying alive, while seeing other Magical Girls as rivals (you know, exactly the type of Magical Girl Kyouko IS in the anime). That’s when there starts to develop a really sweet tutor – apprentice relationship.
Still in the first volume, we get a really good grasp of Mami’s ideals regarding Magical Girls and their duty, and the reasons for her loneliness, some of which come from the very fact that she had yet to meet someone who would share her views until she met Kyouko, whom she ends up growing apart from. The best thing? This all happens before Homura’s checkpoint, so it can be considered as a constant in any timeline, including the one shown in the anime. This is what makes these first events so relevant towards the characters’ actions in the anime. Their previous relationshop and the way they grow apart from each other explained the fact that Kyouko came (in this case “came back”) to Mitakihara Town. Besides this, the events of the first volume also explain very well Mami’s dislike of Homura (which comes directly from her idealistic vision of being a Magical Girl and dislike and distrust towards whoever doesn’t share them), as well as her reaction to most events, including her snapping in episode 10’s third timeline, where she tries to kill everyone after knowing the fact that they’ll all turn into witches if their Soul Gems become tainted.
The rest of the story focuses on what would have happened had Mami didn’t die when she did and can be regarded as canon due to the indefinite number of resets Homura’s crusade to save Madoka makes possible to have existed. As expected, knowing that this is yet another unsuccessful time reset, this also goes down the tragic route, having, however, a downer ending, contrary to the bittersweet one the anime delivered. And while the story in itself is rather interesting, the characters really are what shines here.
I’ve never really understood what people saw in Mami. I mean, some still claim her as their favorite, while she had the least development and was pretty much a living plot device who fulfilled her role as such by actually dying. Yes, with her breakdown in episode 10, rather than thinking it was just something random, I actually saw potential in her character, but I couldn’t care less because it was a potential I would never have seen developed. Well, turns out that I did after all. This manga really changed my opinion of her, as she was the most developed character here. We get to see her ideals, her fragile psyche, the facade she puts up to conceal her feelings of guilt and loneliness and how her unconditional help creeps everyone out. Through her reactions and change in mindset you really get to understand her character way deeper. And I really grew to love her.
As for Kyouko, what we really get is an extension about what we already knew from the anime, the story about her family is extended in this manga, and her reaction and feelings towards it are explored deeper. Her interactions with both Mami and Sayaka bring out the best and worst she has to offer and we once again end up seeing the amazing selfness in her apparently selfish persona. Sayaka also gets quite some development, even if apart from some very interesting interactions with Mami, her story and development don’t go very differently from the anime. Understanding both her as well as Madoka and Homura requires knowing the characters from the anime, but this being a spin-off that’s only understandable rather than off-putting. The characters never act out-of-character, being still the ones we knew – Sayaka’s pride and ideals still get on the way of her mental health, Kyouko still has a rather violent way of expressing her desire to help others, Mami is still the loving tutor putting up a strong facade, Homura still only cares about Madoka and Madoka is still… well, Madoka. Either way, the fact that Homura, Madoka and Sayaka, while still acting consistently, require knowledge from the anime on their personalities and motives to properly understand them is but a strength, as it allows a more centered focus in the main duo, which results in them being developed further in these 12 chapters. Though the reason I really don’t mind it is because Homura still steals the spotlight on every single one of her appearances. ❤
Another point that sets this apart from the other spin-off is actually the art. As you can see in the images above, unlike Mahou Shoujo Oriko Magica, The Different Story uses the character designs from the anime, which I actually really appreciated. The weapon designs are also the same as the anime, unlike Oriko Magica’s simplistic designs or the manga adaptation of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica which had pretty cool yet different ones. The backgrounds range from quite detailed and beautiful ones to simple white, depending on the locations and the nature of the panel itself. When they are drawn in detail, they can be quite good, though. The human designs stay consistent and proportional throughout, and the fighting scenes were rather spectacular, so the art was always a plus and never an issue for me.
In the end, this is a really good spin-off, almost at the level of the anime, and it gets extra point for actually being able to complement it in every way, but specially regarding the less developed characters. There were some interesting twists, really nice fight scenes, specially a certain one between Magical Girls, and an ending that’s actually really creative, interesting and satisfying in every way. If you didn’t like Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, you might as well ignore this manga, as it brings you the same atmosphere and characters, but if you’re a fan or you have at least found the anime to be “good”, then this is a must-read, for it brings you a newer perspective of the series.