(WARNING! There be spoilers here! If you don’t want to get spoiled, turn away now!!)
I’ve been keeping my eye on “Magical Girl Raising Project” (魔法少女育成計画, Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku) for a while now, even before the Anime began airing earlier this month. The premise, which reminded me very much of The Hunger Games, struck me as yet another deconstruction (actually, I think of it more as a darker spin on the formula, but I digress) of the magical girl genre a la Puella Magi Madoka Magica:
A social game called The Magical Girl Raising Project allows one in tens of thousands of people to be a “magical girl” — possessing extraordinary physical capabilities and looks, as well as special magical powers that set them apart from the rest of the human race. But one day, in a district containing 16 magical girls, the administration announces that it must halve the number of magical girls to solve the problem of magical energy. At first, the 16 magical girls race to collect more “magical candy” than their competitors, but the rules quickly become twisted, and it quickly becomes a murderous battle for survival among them. – Anime News Network
Now, if anyone knows me, they know how much I love Madoka Magica. On a Fall day in 2013, I binged watched the entire series online. Touted as the Magical Girl Evangelion, I wanted to see how a series with such adorable heroines could mess with the heads of so many people.
Episode 1 – seems like a normal series.
Episode 2 – it’s a little dark, but hey! Cute outfits, cute magical pet, nothing weird here.
Episode 3 – I really don’t see what the big deal is – OH MY GOD!!
While I won’t spoil things for you (Madoka Magica and its subsequent movies are available on various streaming services – I use Netflix), I will say that the series me with a series of shocks that I have yet to recover from. The series was unique in its hodgepodge of moe, darkness, and violence – but that’s to be expected from writer Gen Urobuchi, who is known for his grotesque and violent works (Saya no Uta, anyone?). The combination of large, doe-eyed innocent heroines mired in betrayal, violence, obsession, and psychedelic insanity is a formula that has been reproduced since then (Yuki Yuna is a Hero comes to mind), but never fully replicated.
I’m happy to say that four episodes in, Magical Girl Raising Project is its own story. Yes, it’s a dark story, but it’s a story that has its own objectives and asks its own questions. Protagonist Koyuki, who is selected to become a magical girl, is the quintessential fan on the genre. She’s always wanted to be a magical girl since she was a child and her motivations appear to be truly altruistic – she wants to help others with her powers, has no desire for personal gain, and she stands for purity and goodness. So when the game’s mascot, Fav, turns her into Snow White, she’s excited for the opportunity. Even her special power is altruistic – she can hear the distress thoughts of those who require assistance, making it easy to help them out.
Of course, you realize though, that the more pure and innocent a heroine is, the more crap she is fated to go through.
However, unlike Madoka Magica, which was centred on how Madoka weathered the storm (despite the Kyoko/Sayaka side story and Homura being Homura), Magical Girl Raising Project is very much an ensemble story. Even though Snow White is the main protagonist, the anime makes it a point to provide backstories for the other fifteen magical girls of N-City. This makes sense to me -since the amount of magical girls must be halved from 16 to 8, they are the ones most affected by the change. As a result, by delving into the minds of the characters, discovering their motivations, the tension rises as we see how they react to the change – especially know that if they do nothing, they will die.
Unlike Madoka Magica, the pacing of Magical Girl Raising Project is slow, but I think that’s a good thing. The loss of the first magical girl – the sweet dreamer Nemurin – kicked off the tension that will (hopefully) reach a fever pitch by the last third of the series. Snow White, due to her ability to gain lots of candies, already has a target on her back. Betrayals are inevitable – and have already happened. It sort of makes you wonder what this project is really about…
I also like how the magical girls in this series are not of the usual variety – it’s like the series is asking the question “How does one become a magical girl? Can only girls be magical girls?” While magical girls tend to be young (think between 9-14), many characters are much older. One particular character is affectionately called a “Trap” – La Purcelle – a magical girl who control the length of her sword – is actually Koyuki’s childhood friend Souta Kishibe, a young boy who loves magical girls.
I find that this cast of characters makes for an interesting contrast. While La Purcelle and Snow White tend to be idealistic, other characters, such as the haughty and self-centered Ruler, are in it for themselves. At the same time, not every character wears their true self on their sleeves, making things even more interesting. As such, I’ve decided to abstain from picking a favourite character for fear that they will die just as I’m growing to love them. Better for my heart that way.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how this series plays out. I’m already planning on buying the light novels to brush up on my Japanese. While I won’t be writing individual episode reviews, I will come back with another entry once I’ve watched episodes five through eight. In the meantime, I really do think Magical Girl Raising Project has potential to be a good series and finish out strong and I’m glad that it’s not a passionate attempt to be a Madoka clone!