(SPOILER WARNING: This review includes scenes and characters from the light novel and anime series. If you don’t want to be spoiled, please press the “back” button on your browser. You have been warned.)
I really wanted to like “Magical Girl Raising Project” (Mahō Shōjo Ikusei Keikaku). If you read my episode reviews from last year, then you’ll see that I was really excited when this series came out. I don’t have a lot of time to watch anime between raising my son and doing research but this series is one of the few I watched as it aired (thanks, Crunchyroll). I was intrigued by the idea of a Magical Girl Battle Royale, and while the first six episodes had me hooked, the last six tired me out with all the constant dying, dying, and more dying. By episode ten, I was cold and emotionally exhausted and by the end of the series, I secretly hoped that they all killed each other.
My assessment of Asari Endō’s magical girl series hasn’t aged well, and I’m sorry to say that reading the Light Novel, translated by Alexander Keller-Nelson, didn’t make it any better.
The Premise is simple – Magical Girl Raising Project is the most popular mobile game around because it’s free to play and no money is required for any extras. However, the rumour is that there’s a chance that the game can turn you into a real magical girl. This is the reality for middle-schooler Koyuki Himekawa, a sweet girl who has loved magical girl series since she was a little girl. When the game’s mascot, Fav, announces that she has been chosen to become a real magical girl, Koyuki’s delighted. But when it is announced that sixteen magical girls must be whittled down to eight, her dream-come-true suddenly turns into her worst nightmare.
I should preface this review by saying that this is the first light novel I have ever read. Light novel translations seem to be a fairly recent addition to an already large manga/graphic novel market and I’m only catching on now. According to Wikipedia, Light Novels in Japan are marketed to a young audience (teenagers and young adults), and marry anime illustration with novel prose. I clued into this as I read the novel – the prose is quite simplistic and chapters consist of character exposition and Fav’s chatroom messages. It could also be due to the English translation itself. Granted, my Japanese reading skills are always evolving (one day, I will finally finish the first volume of Ringo Naki’s Devi Rock), but the English translation felt abrupt and rough in some places. Japanese-to-English translation isn’t easy in the least, but I felt like some passages could have been expressed clearer.
If the lack of character development frustrated you in the anime, I’m sad to say that the light novel won’t be sating your curiosity anytime soon. This is one of my biggest issues with Endō’s novel – he appears to be more concerned with action than character. Granted, in the anime, if a character was featured in detail, you knew they were going to die. The novel shifts between several points of view, but between the abrupt feel of the text and emphasis on the bloodthirsty aspect of these series, I can’t help but wonder if Endō felt like these passages were a chore despite their necessity.
Calamity Mary is a good example of this. She’s a batshit insane and bloodthirsty magical girl who isn’t even an actual girl. She’s described as a haggard, alcohol, and abusive woman in her 30s or 40s. Her husband left with her daughter after the horrified abuse of the latter was just too much to bear. Yet for some reason, Fav thought it was a good idea to give this woman the ability to transform into a magical girl. Still, when Endō describe her motivations (she wants to humiliate the young-and-hopeful magical girls, tongue-clicking ninja Ripple didn’t bend the knee), it still feels hollow. She wants to mess with magical girls – I get that. But is there a reason why she hates young girls? Is it because she’s old? Was she teased by the so called “magical” girls when she was a child? Endō never bothers to answer these questions because he’s more concerned about Mary causing carnage in N City. Her character development, like all others, is an afterthought.
But Mary is one of the lucky ones – some characters don’t get any development (Sister Nana, the Peavy Angels Yunael and Minael, Swim Swim), yet the reader is tasked with accepting that these characters are the way that they are. As a result, it’s very difficult to get attached to these characters – even Ripple and Snow White, the co-protagonists of this series. Snow White is less engaging – she does nothing but cry about how unfair this situation is. Yes, she is smack dab in the middle of death, but beyond helping people find their keys at night, she doesn’t really do anything. Ripple is too emotionally distanced. By the time a horrifying loss melts the ice around her cold, emotionless heart, it’s too late. I just wanted the novel to end.
I have nothing against the idea of battle royale with magical girls, but if there is no attempt by the author to sell the characters to the reader, the execution falls flat. Instead, it comes off as an way to cash in on the Dark Magical craze while it’s still hot.
The most surprising about all this doe-eyed carnage can be found in the novel’s afterward. Endō proudly states a love for magical girls and an intense delight if they actually existed in this world. Endō then laments upon the unfinished nature of the narrative, which elicited in a dream in which Calamity Mary kicked all sorts of butt because of it. So there is awareness on the author’s part with the issues surrounding this narrative.
I guess I won’t go and buy a pitchfork after all.
Don’t get me wrong – Magical Girl Raising Project isn’t a bad light novel. I didn’t suffer reading it and there were times where I enjoyed reading it. That being said, I do hope Endō addresses the unfinished criticisms he had with this novel in future novels. I’m actually quite tempted to buy the other novels in Japanese to get a better sense of what is being said. The English translation isn’t bad, but again, there is an abrupt, stilted feeling about it that makes me feel like some things didn’t translate well.
If I had to rate this novel on a scale of 1 – 10, I’d give it a solid 7.5. I hope that when I read Magical Girl Raising Project, Volume 2: Restart 1 (it releases on November 14) that Endō addresses his previous criticisms within the narrative. But as far as series’ starts go, this is a good one, yes, but it could have been so much better.
Author’s Note: Most Images courtesy of the Magical Girl Raising Project Wiki. You can purchase Magical Girl Raising Project at your local bookstore, Amazon (US, Canada), Barnes and Noble (US), and Chapters/Indigo (Canada).