After seven episodes of blood, gore, shock, tears, and intense hatred of Swim Swim, the roller coaster ride know as Magical Girl Raising Project is gearing up for its final episode, to air on Saturday. While there are several fans who have written off the show as a Madoka Clone, fans of the series have been treated to their own version of Game of Thrones hell. Furthermore, fans have shed rivers of salty tears as their favorites have met with a swift end, one after another. Crunchyroll, which streams the series, was kind enough to post a video recapping those who have died and those of have survived – making things even saltier.
My friend Ness (not her real name) have been chatting about the series since it began several weeks back. We are both fans of magical girl series and I consult with her on all sorts of things should the need arise. But this past Saturday, after the airing of the penultimate episode, she slipped this statement in the middle of our conversation, cursing that seven-year-old psychopath named Swim Swim for the upteenth time.
“I kinda laughed at Ripple’s henshin sequence,” she told me. “Like, this doesn’t even feel like a maho shojo series anymore.”
Whoa. Wait a second. Did she just say that this show doesn’t feel like a magical girl series?
But it’s in the title – it’s called Magical Girl Raising Project for crying out loud. How can it not be a magical girl series when it’s named that way?
The short answer is – she has a point. But at the same time, whether or not it’s a magical girl series depends on your personal definition.
Personally, I see her point. Before the show began to air, I had high hopes for it. Even though it was already giving off a Battle Royale vibe, I was still curious to see how it would play out. Now, I have to agree with her. This show doesn’t really even feel like a magical girl show. It doesn’t even feel like a deconstruction of the genre, either.
Generally, magical girl series follows a formula – a young girl (not a little girl, not yet a woman) is determined to be worthy enough to gain the power to become a magical girl, usually by some otherworldly creature (think Sailor Moon) or she was born with her powers (think Sugar Sugar Rune). The magical girl is tasked with helping others and saving the world from and evil foe, navigating twists and turns along the way. The formula deviates depending on if it’s marketed to a female or male audience. Series such as CardCaptor Sakura and Tokyo Mew Mew feature the emotional interiority of the protagonist, hints of romance, and the power of friendship. On the other hand, series such as Kill la Kill and Brave Witches feature intense action sequences, violence, fierce yet beautiful young girls, and fanservice.
Though Koyuki is the quintessential magical girl of the series – her special power allows her to hear the thoughts of those who are in danger – Magical Girl Raising Project really deviates from the usual formula. First of all, there’s no “big bad” that must be vanquished – while there are dark characters that we all want to tear apart, there’s no figure head that everyone sees as the evil that must be destroyed. Even Cranberry and Swim Swim, who everyone hated, are just shades of gray in a spectrum that is neither black nor white. Each character has their set of flaws that add spice to the events. Yes, Fav could be considered the “big bad” of the series, but he’s simply a figurehead. He and Cranberry provided the gunpowder for the fireworks, while the actions of the other magical girls lit the match.
Now before you go all “But Madoka didn’t have a big bad either” yes it did. Sure, all the characters save for Madoka (maybe…) had grey shades. Mami was motherly but very lonely. Homura…well, Homura is Homura. Sayaka thought she was doing the right thing but lost her mind and became a witch. And Kyoko, who started off as a real B, turned out to be one of the more emotionally aware characters and altruistic in the end. But Madoka Magica had concrete villains that had everyone’s attention. Walpurgisnacht, supposedly the be all to end all, was really a front for Homura’s repeated bouts of insanity. And then there’s that emotionless, manipulative little sh*t named Kyubey, who helps to prove time and time again that the kawaii characters are the ones who will cut you in your sleep. But overall, despair was the big bad, as it is despair that created those dangerous witches in the first place.
On the other hand, Magical Girl Raising Project feels more like a cautionary tale of what happens when emotionally unstable people have these amazing powers and the shoe drops. Or what someone does when they are bored with the status quo and try to make things work. I’m not saying that the show doesn’t have a plot – it does, even though it’s been revealed rather slowly. It’s been a idealogical clash of innocence and greed – Snow White’s pacifism and purity versus Ruler’s selfishness, Calamity Mary’s craziness, Swim Swim’s coldness, and Cranberry’s blood thirst. There was a reason all of these individuals were chosen for the game, it wasn’t due to their ability to be ideal magical girls, either. Fav chose these people specifically so that something like this – the last seven episodes – would happen.
A game featuring magical girls was the perfect way to do it. Everyone loves magical girls. They are cute and powerful and they fight evil and save the day. But what happens when there is no evil to fight? Well, according to this series, they start fighting each other.
This is not a essay decrying Magical Girl Raising Project – if my research has taught me anything, it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all for magical girl series. Revolutionary Girl Utena is considered a magical girl series (how?). Aikatsu Stars is considered to be magical girl (need more information). Kill la Kill is a magical girl series (and people are shocked by that). As dark as this series has been, it’s no Madoka clone. I don’t even think that it’s even attempted to be a Madoka clone, chosing outright violence rather than visceral mind games. In the end, for me, it’s a loose interpretation of a magical girl series rather than an outright deconstruction of it.