Even before Madoka Magica became the sensation that it was, the so-called "Magica Quartet" who serve as the masterminds of the entire project were clearly aware of its potential from the start, allowing for the creation of a pair of spin-off manga series set in the same universe. Now, courtesy of Yen Press, those two series are coming to the west, starting with Puella Magi Kazumi Magica, subtitled "The Innocent Malice".
Needless to say, the star of the series is Kazumi, and right off the bat we meet her in a rather unique set of circumstances - naked, suffering from amnesia and dumped into a suitcase as part of what appears to be some kind of kidnapping. Unsure of who or where she is, and in a slightly disturbing case of Stockholm Syndrome, Kazumi comes to befriend the would-be terrorist who has somehow ended up with her in a trade gone awry, assured that her "captor" isn't a bad guy as he's the kind of person who always clears his plate come mealtime. Clearly, the justice system is doing something wrong - why bother with expensive court cases to decide upon a person's innocence or guilt, just send them to the canteen and see what happens!
In the ensuing series of events, Kazumi comes to meet a pair of girls who just so happen to be friends and housemates of Kazumi, and thus she's slowly reintroduced to the old life she's forgotten. Aside from the mundane information about where she lives and with whom, Kazumi has also forgotten something very important - that she's a magical girl, destined to fight and defeat so-called Witches alongside a group of fellow magical girl friends who refer to themselves as the Pleiades Saints. In the midst of these happy reunions and some sticky situations encountered by the girls however, there are clearly some dark undertones bubbling beneath the surface....
On the surface, this first volumes of Kazumi Magica is - and I have to be blunt here - not very good. Much of the plot feels rushed and cobbled together, the characters feel weak and underdeveloped, and the whole endeavour feels distinctly unsatisfying as its narrative jerks from one story beat to the next. This isn't particularly helped by the artwork for the series - yes, character designs are distinctive and make a clean break from those of Madoka Magica, but as soon as there's any action going on in a panel things tend to become an indistinct and hard to follow mess which is a far cry from the clean and well thought-out manga adaptation of the mainstream series from which Kazumi Magica hails.
The only real saving grace that prevents this series from falling entirely into a black hole of monumental proportions is the fact that, in spite of its clumsy first steps, it still feels like a series that can offer up some interesting additions to the Puella Magi universe. There's clearly a lot going on beneath the surface of the largely frivolous going-on in this opening volume, and if that's handled in a more accomplished fashion then there may be more reason to give future instalments at least a passing glance. Who knows, maybe the art can improve alongside it and really create something more worthy of discussion?
Of course, we can't make recommendation based on "what if?" scenarios, so at this point in time it's hard to recommend picking up this first volume of Puella Magi Kazumi Magica - it feels so far removed from Madoka Magica at this early juncture that it can't boast to function on the level of that megahit and it certainly doesn't do anything impressive to strike out in its own direction, leaving the entire endeavour feeling insubstantial and more than a little rushed in its implementation. Massive fans of Madoka Magica might want to give it a look simply to acknowledge the existence of this spin-off, but we'd recommend steering well clear - for now, at least.