Anime: Does It Matter If A Show Is More Style Than Substance?

Feature Style

As we launched into the Winter 2020 anime season viewers saw the return of the Madoka franchise. One that is either beloved or seen as overrated depending on which side of the debate you choose to sit on. However one of the common arguments I heard against the original Madoka TV series from the detractors was the it was a visual spectacle or a caricature of the magical girl genre but lacked substance. Basically it was a case of more style than substance.

I kind of disagreed as I felt the series had enough substance in Madoka’s choice for the run time, but it is one of those arguments that leaves you wondering whether it would even matter if the anime didn’t have any substance and was just stylistically interesting.


Which of course made me wonder when Magia Record popped up whether this newest side-story had anything new to say. As much as I am a fan of the Madoka TV series I’ve never gone on and watched the movies, though I’ve been told they are good. The reason was that I was deeply satisfied with the story the series gave and where it concluded for the characters. I didn’t feel compelled to watch on as I felt that they had made the point they’d set out to make and the story was done.


Yet here we were 9 years later. Magia Record most definitely caught the visual style of Madoka in both the characters and the settings. Yet that first episode felt like Madoka lite. Part of the reason was probably because there was no shock factor to be had in the story with the appearance of the witches or the darkness underlying what it means to be a magical girl.

However, even in the decision to send the protagonists’ family away takes away from an opportunity to show the impact the events in the magical girl aspects will have in the grounded life of the character. Madoka’s family, while given minimal screen time, added to her character arc and made her decisions even more weighted.


However, Magia Record wasn’t the only new release anime in 2020 that had me wondering about whether style over substance was actually a problem. ID:Invaded was a very nice looking anime and it oozed style. Both inside the world of the killer’s mind and in the office the rest of the team works in. Functionality took a back seat to appearance. I mean, we could simply say the detective is a psychic and can meditate his way into the killing intent of murderer and the rest of the characters could just be ordinary police set in the modern world and realistically the opening two episodes wouldn’t have changed much outside of the visuals.

ID:Invaded - More style than substance?

That’s not actually a black mark against the story. Let’s be real, anime is a visual medium. Those cool and compelling visuals are necessary for broader audience appeal and even if we could have the same story set in the normal everyday world it might not be as fun or distinct so why worry about it overly much. Except that it would be nice if all that style served a purpose.

Like I always wondered in Madoka why the classroom walls were transparent as clearly that just opened the possibility for distractions. I mean, it looked cool but it didn’t feel practical. Similarly, the layout of the office in ID:Invaded looks great, but not exactly functional.


However, I am not just poking fun at 2020 anime. Both Magia Record and ID:Invaded had the potential to really do great things with their narrative and characters though neither one ended up being anime that stuck with me much beyond the initial viewing. Of course, they also might not and we might get a visually interesting walk through nothingness and then I’ll have to wonder whether or not that was worth the time.

Even if they turn out to be more style than substance they were interesting at least.


But it isn’t as though this is a new debate or argument. When I watched and reviewed the K anime series I asked then if being cool and looking good was enough for a series. In the case of K, it really was. It was a delight to watch and while the narrative and characters really didn’t make a huge amount of sense if you gave any of it too much thought, the anime was very good at keeping you engaged and distracted enough so that you didn’t sit and pick at some of the finer points. While it might not make for a great work of literature it certainly works as entertainment.

k project 3

I opened this article by asking whether it matters if an anime is more style than substance and honestly the answer comes down to, ‘it depends’. It depends on the viewer and what they are looking for in an anime at the time. It depends on whether the style is engaging in and of itself. It depends whether the story promised more depth and then chose not to go there and instead frolicked in delight at its glorious visuals. It also depends on what you actually count as having substance.

k project 4

Going back to Madoka there are a lot of people who don’t feel it has much to say and yet I found it a very interesting look at the transition between the normal world and the extraordinary and one that is usually overlooked by magical girl stories because the story is in such a rush to have a protagonist who is a magical girl.

That transition phase being extended and having Madoka exposed to the world she was going to enter if she made a wish and seeing the impact that world had on those she met was fascinating and opened up the magical girl genre to trying new things. Admittedly, in the wake of Madoka all we really found were grim-dark rip-offs that didn’t quite understand what made Madoka interesting.


As a viewer, I like things to have some substance but honestly if substance does take a back-seat to style then I guess I’m fine with it as long as I’m still entertained in some way. However, I’d love to know whether you feel it matters or not.

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James

Magia Record Episode 2 Review

Magia2 Episode

Missing Sisters and The End of Friendships

The second episode of Magia Record follows Iroha as she realises she had a sick sister who was once in a hospital in Kamihama city. After school she takes the bus to go and find some clues but ends up on a bus that is hi-jacked by a witch. She then meets three other magical girls and gets embroiled in their all-out-friendship drama before the episode ends with another witch, or maybe a monster, showing up.


Despite a lot going on in this episode, and individual segments being both visually stimulating and interesting enough I kind of felt like this episode was playing it both a little too safe and ultimately didn’t do much to connect me with these characters. The trio of new magical girls we encounter make a decent enough entrance with Kaede, the weaker of the group, running into Iroha when Iroha followed the bus passengers. We then get a pretty decent visual feast as Rena and Momoko work together to take out the witch, though it ends up being more or less a one hit wonder and lacks a lot of the visceral emotions that came with so many of the fights in the original Madoka series.


However, we learn little of them other than Rena and Kaede butt heads and after some really clumsy exposition about a school rumour about a friendship ending staircase we get a petty squabble that ends when Kaede declares her friendship with Rena over and walks out. I’d be more annoyed at this sequence but then I remembered the characters are meant to be around middle school aged and it seems somewhat more believable even if the presence of witches probably should give them some perspective. Still, it wasn’t exactly subtle or even particularly interesting in the way this conflict escalated. Mostly it seemed like an excuse to bring in another witch at the end of the episode.

Affiliate Link – Artbook

Magia Record is giving us hints that it has its own story with Iroha’s missing sister or possible memory tampering, and a younger, different version of Kyuubey who may or may not be on the loose, and yet it feels very much like it is afraid to really head out on its own path. At the same time, what it is presenting hasn’t quite got enough personality to really hold it together. Iroha encountering an entirely new group of magical girls didn’t help as she had no pre-existing relationship or chemistry with them.


On the other hand, the show hasn’t done anything actually wrong. It just isn’t quite as interesting as it could be. The end result is something entirely watchable and reasonably enjoyable without any wow factor or really hook at this point. Hopefully episode three drops a bombshell because this series is going to need something to spice it up soon.

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James

More wish making magical girls facing horrific battle? Check out all episode reviews of Magia Record.

Images from: Magia Record: Mahou Shoujo Madoka☆Magica Gaiden. Dir. Gekidan Inu Curry. Shaft. 2020.

Magia Record Episode 1 Review

Magia1 Episode

The Magic of Franchises

Having paid little attention to what was coming out this season I was somewhat surprised to see a new entry in the Madoka Magica franchise. Doing a bit of reading it turns out it is from a spin off game though apparently Madoka does appear in it. What didn’t surprise me is that once I saw that Magia Record was related to the Madoka anime I pretty much immediately assumed I’d be watching it this season. While I still haven’t gotten around to the movies or anything else outside of the anime series, I really did love Madoka and so going back to that world sounded like it could be quite fun.


This is still done by studio Shaft and character designs and the witches all still look very much the way they did originally. That said, I couldn’t help but feel the direction in this first episode wasn’t as captivating or engrossing as the original anime. Everything works well enough and the animation is gorgeous but there’s no wow factor to it. Part of that is because what might have been the wow factor, the appearance of the witch’s labyrinth, has been seen before in the original anime but I think part of it is that this episode just lacked flair.


But rather than comparing it to what has come before, this episode introduces us to our new heroine, Iroha. She’s a pink haired girl whose parents have conveniently left on an overseas business trip leaving her alone which works well for her because she is pursuing her magical girl duties while trying to remember just what it was she wishes for. Yep, she has forgotten, or been made to forget her wish. The reason she’s fighting the witches in the first place. Admittedly, the mystery isn’t one for long as they visually give the audience everything they need to figure out what is missing even if we don’t know exactly how that is related to Iroha’s wish. I’m guessing this will all become clear eventually.

Affiliate Link – Game Soundtrack

In the meantime, fellow magical girl Kuroe has been hearing rumours and has had a dream telling her that magical girls can be ‘saved’ if they go to Kamihama city. The how and why of that has yet to be determined but both Kuroe and Iroha find themselves in Kamihama city after they are carried their by a witch. Turns out the only thing waiting there are bigger and stronger witches. Again, there’s probably more to this story and I’m sure we’ll find out as the series progresses but for now that’s where we are sitting.


As a first episode, this wasn’t super thrilling but it also wasn’t bad. I am curious about Iroha’s wish and just what is happening in Kamihama city so it did its job at least in laying out some mysteries and hooking me in to watching more. Hopefully Magia Record ends up delivering a decent story and for now I’m optimistic that it can and so for now this one is probably a firm addition to my watch list.

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James

More wish making magical girls facing horrific battle? Check out all episode reviews of Magia Record.

Images from: Magia Record: Mahou Shoujo Madoka☆Magica Gaiden. Dir. Gekidan Inu Curry. Shaft. 2020.