Title: Magical Girl Raising Project aka Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 2 Oct 2016 – 18 Dec 2016
Synopsis: Himekawa Koyuki loves magical girls. If given the opportunity she would become one on the spot. And as luck would have it, one day that opportunity comes when the mascot to the cellphone game Magical Girl Raising Project appears to transform her into magical girl Snow White. Her mission is to collect magical candies by doing good deeds alongside the other 15 magical girls of the city. This changes when they get the memo that the number will soon drop to eight and that the weaker ones will be eliminated week by week. At first there is no apparent pressure. However, when the truth is revealed about what happens to magical girls who are eliminated, the others will resort to any means necessary to ensure that they are not next.
Snow White: The most ineffectual and superfluous protagonist in recent memory.
Characterization: Exists in a reinforced steel crate on the other side of the galaxy.
Colors: Muted pallet mutes the juxtaposition of style and violence.
Genre tropes: Plays one straight and ignores the other one.
Exposition and minutia: Egregious.
Swim Swim: The only one keeping the novelty alive.
Caveat: For the sake of fairness, this review will make no reference to what is arguably the greatest anime of the 2010s. Now having said that, Magical Girl Raising Project is atrocious, and it manages this entirely on its own merits.
Starting from the premise of magical girls murdering each other in a Highlander style competition, Magical Girl Raising Project should be a novel scenario. The funny thing is, it’s not, not even in the slightest. From Battle Royale to The Hunger Games, bloodsports have become their own genre with their own stock tropes. And MGRP plays by all of them so straight that the exact order in which each each girl dies can be guessed without any hesitation.
Worse, the bloodsport elements utterly fail at deconstructing mahou shoujo elements, because, well, there is no mahou shoujo series to deconstruct. From its muted color palette alone, the show betrays the aesthetic of the genre. The only thing that remotely captures the mahou shoujo ethos is Snow White’s costume with everyone else seemingly walking in from different shows. But ignorance to the genre goes beyond that. It is not only that nobody’s actions match those expected of magical girls, but their perpetual cycle of plotting, bickering, and murdering don’t even subvert the tropes they are expected to follow. How little MGRP invokes and challenges the genre it is supposed to play off of contrasts with the similar Kamen Rider Ryuki, not a strong series by any measure, but one which expected its cast to play by the rules of a masked hero genre, and punished them for doing so. Here, not a drop of effort is made.
Magical Girl Raising Project may suffer from lousy direction and writing, but then again neither were either of those in the aforementioned Ryuki particularly impressive. Being animation, at least this show has the luxury of portraying entertaining fight scenes sprinkled with unexpected twists. But if so, what makes this one the poor series and the other a decent outing? In short, characters. Both series have their fair share of psychopaths, but this one lacks a single one worth rooting for. Part of this stems from Snow White’s passivity throughout. She is less a horrified observer and more of, well, nothing, a nonentity whose only purpose from beginning to end is to sulk without an iota of growth or agency until the very end. Were she removed from all but the first and last episodes, the show would go on without so much as a hiccup.
The rest of the cast is wholesale unsympathetic, a situation which is made considerably worse by the awkward way by which backstory is dispensed. As far as character development tools go, flashbacks are only slightly more sophisticated than straight up exposition. And MGRP’s flashbacks are by far the least sophisticated ones humanly possible. If they do not pop up minutes before (or seconds after) somebody’s death, their existence is random at best, offering no insights into or influence on the situations they proceed or follow. Characterization and characters are effectively separated by a meter of reinforced concrete, not that the two coming together would make anybody any more interesting. Out of 16 girls, the only character who in any way distinguishes herself is Swim Swim, not on the merits of her personality or arc, but only because of the gruesome sadism that follows her around. At least I can say the show followed through on its promise of presenting magical girls dying in horrible ways.
It’s egregious how limp a series Magical Girl Raising Project managed to be. Insubstantial character arcs, no exploration of the world it creates or its conventions. Hell, there is barely even a world that exists. All vital knowledge is dispensed via long winded exposition, and the desolate environments only further isolate the magical girls themselves from the environment that allows them to define themselves. This lack of substance makes it discouraging to even recommend what little the series does have. If one is jonesing for the sight of magical girls being killed one by one, as wrong as it is to say, there are better options.
The Rating: 3
Reviewed by: Kavik Ryx