With the Madoka Magica mobile game Magia Record getting an anime adaptation in 2019, I thought it was about time to revisit this franchise that spawned its own subgenre of dark, edgy magical girl stories. Towards the end of the TV series, one of the images of the other magical girls throughout history that really stuck with me was where Joan of Arc is shown tied at the stake, about to be burned alive for falsely being called a heretic. Puella Magi Tart Magica: The Legend of Jeanne d’Arc takes this image and idea of the legendary French figure being a magical girl and puts its own fantastical spin on her life and her mission to restore King Charles VII of France to his rightful place.
The manga places a large focus on certain “flashpoints” – defining moments of the life of Joan of Arc – and thrusts in witches and magical girl plotlines to create a story that can satisfy both audiences this seems to be aimed at: Madoka fans and people interested in Joan and the history of France in general. Without having too much in-depth knowledge of the 100 Years’ War, I can say this is an absolute success as it is both highly entertaining, seeing these famous battles that were supposedly instigated by a rogue troupe of magical girls working for the English forces, and highly informative, giving you enough background information to understand what is going on and making you interested enough to drive you towards other material about the era. There are small boxouts of exposition at major points in the series, but they never felt like they were getting in the way. They do make it a bit wordier, particularly early on, but once the majority of the exposition and scene-setting is out of the way it develops a nice flow as it follows Joan’s journey.
It’s not just Joan travelling by herself either, as she’s joined by a memorable cast of characters that includes new magical girls and French historical figures. While not as lovable as the original Madoka magical girls, the girls featured here are built around the same stuff – Riz for example feels a lot like Homura, a lonely hero who will sacrifice everything for her friends, Elisa is fiery and headstrong like Kyoko, and Melissa is actually very similar to Madoka, being innocent and loyal. Some might consider this a strike against originality, but they are character archetypes that have been proven to work well together, and each does get a different spin here and their true values take a while to build. There are several plot elements that revolve around each girl, and most don’t resolve themselves until the final volume, giving a great pay-off.
The historical figures present in the manga are largely well done and it’s clear a lot of research has gone into using them, but a lot of creative license has been used all the same. King Charles often comes across as a little insane, for example, long before his reported ill-health at the end of his reign; often being misled by his close aide in Wormtongue-fashion. Meanwhile, Étienne “La Hire” de Vignolles is portrayed as a staunch general as well as being Mellissa’s father, while in real life he died with no children from the information I can gleam online. Still, for those of you interested in French history, it’s definitely interesting to see how different people have been brought into the story. There’s a lot less attention given to the opposing English and Burgundian forces, with only John Talbot and Isabeau of Bavaria herself getting any real action, and even then, they aren’t very in-depth characters. Talbot is rather amiable and often feels like he’s off for a spot of tea and scones, while Isabeau is always marked as villainous and inhuman, particularly with how she treats her family. I would have liked the same attention to detail given to the French to have been shown to the English.
This approach does clear the path for the three rogue magical girls; Minou, Lapin and Corbeau; to be the true villains, and although they are tied into a greater plot, they are nasty pieces of work and have some unique powers that really give them an edge. While the franchise has done ‘evil’ magical girls before, these feel the most real as they are more about being manipulative and nasty rather than the stereotypical “let’s kill everything” or “I want to conquer the world” types. They see the war as a battle for survival, and they want to live together happily just like the rest of the cast – they’re just choosing a different means of achieving that end result. Although, one of them may fall into that more stereotypical category as she vies for power, but overall, I really liked how they were written and preferred them to the big bad.
While the story and characters are very strong, the art by Masugitsune and Kawazu-Ku isn’t as good as I’d like and is particularly inconsistent early on. It’s not bad per se, but the artists seem to struggle with certain situations, like drawing crowds for example, where characters drawn further away from the camera will have empty shaded-in eye sockets giving them a ridiculous appearance. Action scenes can also get a little difficult to process when there is a lot going on, where they use a lot of black or draw in special effects. For those familiar with the style of the anime and the other manga works in the franchise it does generally stick to the brand’s style and trappings, but having read Kazumi Magica, this work does seem a lot cleaner than that was, so it’s definitely a lot easier to read. The quality of the translation feels good, although it wasn’t clear whether the Incubator in this story, Cube, is different from the well-known Kyubey or if it was a translation error. To be fair to the translators, the Incubators as a species lack imaginative names so this confusion is more on the story’s part than anything else and the decision not to have consistent naming across the franchise. Either way, there are quite a few references made to the original anime in the manga that are sure to please fans, and its conclusion ties things together nicely with no loose ends.
Overall, Puella Magi Tart Magica: The Legend of Jeanne d’Arc is arguably one of the best of the Madoka Magica spin-off manga. I really enjoyed this as an alternative take on history, telling a story I had been intrigued about since seeing the titular Jeanne d’Arc in the anime. While it has its weaknesses in its inconsistent art and an underwhelming main villain, its main strength is in the way it uses the historical events to create an entertaining and engaging story. Whether you are an existing Madoka fan or just interested in the history, this manga is definitely an enjoyable read.