Warning: This review is about a spin-off comic of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, so it should go without saying that there are spoilers for the series (and the comic itself, duh). I suggest you watch the show first or you are gonna be super confused. Plus, it’s a good series anyway.
The Different Story is a comic book set in an alternate timeline of PMMM, product of one of Homura’s many attempts to save Madoka from signing Kyubey’s magical contract.
The story focuses on the two magical girls that got the least amount of screen-time in the original anime; Kyoko Sakura and Mami Tomoe. The latter thanks to having her head bitten off by a clown worm and the former because she entered the story halfway through.
First let’s get this out of the way: The artwork is great. It’s a shame that they didn’t imitate the insanity of the labyrinths of the series in the paper but I guess it was maybe too difficult? Regardless, the art completely takes advantage of being a manga and feels in tune with the kind of story it’s telling unlike, say, the manga adaptation of the series. That one was freaky.
The action is good, never lacking energy or feeling hollow. You can feel the weight of every blow, which is very nice. My only gripe with it is that sometimes I was left in confusion because I wasn’t sure what had just happened between panels. I mostly blame the lack of color making it harder to notice small details. Which is a shame really, because I think it would have elevated an already great art style, but what can you do?
There are dozens of gorgeous shots and really nice imagery that simply wouldn’t work outside the medium so it’s good that the comic doesn’t feel like a watered down version of the series with word balloons tacked on.
Moving on, everyone’s design is represented fairly well in the comics’ style and there are no pointless changes to their outfits although there is a slight detail I will bring up later.
I don’t know how usual it is for this kind of thing but the word balloons have very small tails and sometimes none at all. At times it’s hard to tell who said what and only after reading halfway into a word balloon it becomes clear which character was speaking. These are minor inconveniences though, and it’s usually pretty obvious who’s talking given how the characters are positioned.
Now, real talk. Am I the only one that notices something weird is going with Mami’s torso? And yes, I mean that. There are several points in the comic where Mami’s chest looks significantly bigger in her magical girl costume than in her casual clothes. You could argue this also happened in the series but it’s even more noticeable here because her corset seems to be crushing her internal organs. More than usual, anyway. Then again, it’s not like that would actually hurt someone that’s basically a lich, right?
There’s nothing wrong with the design but it’s funny to think that Mami’s magical outfit includes a push-up bra in this timeline.
As for the story, aside from the first volume, it takes place in an alternate timeline so basically all best are off. Sure, there are some things that obviously need to happen to tie into Homura’s time travelling shenanigans (she can’t die and Madoka needs to die or get turned into a witch) and things that will happen no matter what (Kyoko’s dad killing his family and committing suicide after learning of her wish) but, for the most part, anything can happen and the story takes advantage of that, throwing a few twists and turns along the way.
It’s also nice seeing the two girls that got the least focus together, and it’s neat having Homura and Madoka act as secondary characters for once.
Poor Sayaka has the same role as she did in the series, being the “example” of what eventually happens to a magical girl that doesn’t die in battle. Even then, she still gets her fair share of focus and some aspects of her personality are explored in ways that hadn’t been shown in the series. Related to that is that they also show Madoka’s perspective on the whole ordeal. Mami doesn’t die in this timeline so instead of feeling like Sayaka may have made a mistake, Madoka feels jealous and worthless because to her, Sayaka has always been more brave, strong, and heroic than she has.
Kyoko also benefits from gaining more focus in this story. Her backstory was already established in the show but the comic focuses more on her relationship with Mami and even reveals she had a different power during that time: The ability to create illusions which she mostly used to create copies of herself. She couldn’t use it after losing her family since she subconsciously rejected her wish. This was one of the catalysts for her separation with Mami since without her power, she couldn’t afford to keep hunting familiars with her. And if you are wondering, her current power of creating spikes seems to be born out of her fear and anger.
There is also the nice detail that the story never sides with any of the two protagonists. Of course, Mami has the moral high ground in that you can’t just let people die on purpose to get a grief seed but her attitude is also born out of a sense of duty, that she needs to save people to make her life be worth something. Which is exactly how she acted in the series. Kyoko also gets a few good points by pointing out how Mami uses her students as her emotional support. In the end, it’s understandable if sad that they would drift apart, each having a valid motive to do so and not making the audience feel like they separated because the plot of the show needed them to.
Unrelated to everything I’ve said, there is a scene that caught my eye. Homura mentions that Mami’s fate at the hands, uh, jaws of Charlotte is unchangeable which is funny considering the original timeline had her surviving thanks to Madoka’s actions. Granted, she just could mean that Mami couldn’t survive without Madoka signing a contract but still, it’s amusing.
On a more negative note, the ending feels a bit rushed. After Mami commits suicide because she can’t take the burden of a being a magical girl anymore, Homura manages to get the help of Madoka and Sayaka to defeat the witch Walpurgisnacht yet is still forced to go back in time for unknown reasons. Her and Madoka did defeat the witch in a previous timeline (albeit by pushing their soul gems to the limit) so it’s a bit hard to believe without any evidence that those two plus Sayaka (an admittedly weak magical girl) weren’t close to getting alive. and we never get to see the aftermath of the fight with Walpurgisnacht. Sure, it’s not what the story is about but at the very least having an image of the girls getting defeated and Homura starting all over again would have been nice to close things up.
So, overall, I would say it’s a pretty good story and you should check it out if you like the show, specially if you felt they didn’t do enough with Mami and Kyoko in the original series. And I guess if you are a Mami-Kyoko shipper you will like it, too.