Magical Girl Raising Project is not a Magical Girl anime. It’s an anime which happens to have Magical Girls in it. But that’s an important distinction. It’s just too hateful to qualify.
It’s hard to pin down what exactly defines a Magical Girl anime, beyond a few genre mainstays; Magic, flashy transformation sequences and pretty clothes, friendship, love, justice and all that good stuff. But none of these things are really unique to the genre. I’m honestly not qualified to make big sweeping statements on what makes a genre, all I can talk about is what it means to me.
I love Magical Girl shows, and I haven’t seen enough of them. The dubbed version of Cardcaptor Sakura was one of my first encounters with anime. I’d never have admitted to watching it since the implication that you like girl stuff is social death when you’re about 8 years old. But I still sat down to watch it every day before school, and loved it. It more or less fixed my ideal example what the genre should be.
And then I kind of just left the genre alone for years. Sailor Moon didn’t air on terrestrial TV here and my parents didn’t see the point so I never got the chance really. Besides, by that point girl things were very definitely out. Since actually getting back into anime in my late teens I’ve dabbled in Magical Girl shows. As much as I’d like to claim otherwise my watching habits leaned more towards the dark and gritty, so pretty colours and friendship were definitely not up for consideration.
And then that show aired. It’s kind of impossible to talk about Magical Girl shows these days – particularly darker ones – without Madoka Magica making an appearance. Love it or hate it (I’m very firmly in the former camp) it had a huge impact on popular perception of the genre. It certainly wasn’t the first Magical Girl show to embrace dark elements by a long shot, but it was the first to really capture attention for it. Madoka was a BIG deal for a few years, its star may have dimmed over time but it’s still one of those shows which, even if you haven’t seen it, you probably know by reputation. It also brought that one troublesome term to the table. Deconstruction. Arguments raged back and forth, was it a deconstruction of Magical Girl anime? A reconstruction? An overrated pile with no meaning? It’s still a touchy subject in some circles. Regardless of where you fall on that, Madoka Magica is undeniably a Magical Girl anime.
It was too popular though, and it changed how studios approach the genre. Dark Magical Girl shows existed before Madoka, but suddenly it was shown just how popular they could be. And output changed to match this. It feels like every new Magical Girl show that comes out these days is instantly branded a Madoka rip-off. 9 times out of 10 this feels unjustified. But it does feel like there’s a kernel of truth there. They’re dark. The idea of a darker take on the genre is nothing new but it feels like they take up more and more of the genre space every year, to the point where the idea of a straightforward magical girl show where things aren’t secretly terrible is almost a twist in itself nowadays.
This isn’t all-consuming of course, there have been some great straightforward Magical Girl shows in the last few years; Mahoiku itself aired in the same season as the stellar Flip Flappers, Houkago no Pleiades was a delight, Precure will always exist primarily to sell toys to children (so we can safely assume that’s not going to take a dive into abject misery and suffering any time soon) and there’s been a surprisingly strong showing in the shorts department (I don’t know why Gainax’s MO shifted to “niche Magical Girl shorts” for a while but it was pretty great).
Ultimately what defines a Magical Girl show for me is how it’s presented. Magical Girls are aspirational. Even when things get dark, there’s always a speck of hope. Magical Girls aren’t special because they’re magical, they’re special because they do good things. They might lose their way at times but ultimately they’re a force for good. So much media these days feels overly cynical, straightforward positivity seems naive in the world we live in. But it’s important to remember that hope exists, there’s good in the world even when things seem bad. Magical Girls are aspirational figures, even if you don’t have magic of you still have something special you can contribute to the world.
Magical Girl Raising Project is not positive. It’s hateful. Mahoiku isn’t a Magical Girl anime because Mahoiku hates Magical Girls. It’s undeniably upfront about this. The very first scene is a bloodbath, with a lone girl surrounded by bloodied corpses in frilly dresses. They made no attempt to hide what kind of series it was ahead of airing, I should have known what I was getting into really. And yet I went in with something resembling cautious optimism. I thought it seemed too upfront, surely there was something hiding in there, some positive message to be extracted. It’s always darkest before the dawn, so maybe the sheer grimness of the premise would lead to an even greater light. The first episode came and I honestly liked it, it was just an episode dedicated to introducing a whole bunch of potentially interesting twists on the Magical Girl formula.
Even going into the second episode things looked good, La Pucelle, mentor to protagonist Snow White was reveled to be her childhood friend Souta. This was presented in an entirely non judgemental way/ A boy who grew up loving Magical Girls got to achieve his dreams. Anyone can be a magical girl if they truly want to.
And then they killed Nemurin.
Nemurin was the single best thing about Mahoiku, and she was obviously doomed from the start. A lazy, kind-hearted girl more interested in hanging out with her friends and giving people sweet dreams than interacting with the real world, she was the obvious choice for first elimination. She left in high spirits, hoping to turn her life around and resolving to engage with the real world once again. And then the arbitrary rules of the game killed her. Nemurin’s death was mercifully quick, the very fact that they didn’t draw it out or make her suffer for no reason felt like a positive, maybe the death game approach wouldn’t be pure sadism. Except there was one last twist to this, they let her have a swan song. In the last minutes before her powers (and life) ebbed away, Nemurin visited one last dream.
Inside this dream she found a young girl. This girl was enthralled by the idea of princesses, whilst at the same time unable to value herself. Reduced to an extra in her own dream she could only play the role of a mob character, admiring her beloved princess from a distance. Nemurin’s final act was to offer this girl encouragement, to try to spur her on to become what she admired instead of wallowing in self-doubt. A fitting final message from a character too selfless to exist in Mahoiku.
And then they turned it into something terrible. It was revealed that the girl in question was another Magical Girl – Swim Swim – the princess she admired so much was Ruler, a tyrannical magical girl who ultimately only formed a team with other girls for her own gain, treating them as meat shields in her feud with the aggressive hedonist Calamity Mary. Taking Nemurin’s kind words to heart, Swim Swim set out to become a Princess, by deposing the current one. In one of the show’s few well executed twists she secretly worked to turn Ruler’s plan to kill off Snow White against her and assume the role of group leader. Motivated by incomprehension of mortality, her desire to be a princess and a warped interpretation of what that meant thanks to Ruler’s teachings, Swim Swim went on to become one of the series main villains, killing more of the girls than the other two combined. Nemurin’s final act of kindness turned a child into a murderer.
And that’s what Mahoiku is about. No good deed goes unpunished. Over and over any attempt at a positive outcome is stomped into the ground. La Pucelle’s heroic principles are crushed before her brutal murder at the hands of Cranberry. The idealistic Sister Nana’s attempts to bring the girls together in the face of adversity result in the death of her beloved Weiss and a spiral into depression leading to suicide. Even late arrival Hardgore Alice, who has regenerative powers rendering her functionally unkillable only lasts a few episodes before Swim Swim murders her in her human form on the way to school. Her only purpose in the series being to be subjected to a drawn out and brutal murder scene at the hands of Calamity Mary before regenerating and delivering a plot coupon to Snow White. Mahoiku sees the idea of light coming forth from the darkness and laughs at it.
Eventually it’s revealed that one of the girls, Cranberry is the lone girl from the massacre at the beginning of the show and is secretly pulling the strings. Collaborating with cheerfully amoral mascot character Fav to turn what should be a non lethal selection process into a death game. Why is she doing this? Purely for her own amusement. When her own selection exam went awry and the summoned monster went berserk, killing every other participant she became obsessed with fighting strong opponents. With the position of test master and nominal control of Fav defaulting to her when the previous examiner was caught up in the masacre, she set about rigging future games to give her new opponents to fight. And that’s Mahoiku’s big reveal. The whole thing was pointless from the very beginning all the suffering and heartache was just so that Cranberry could have fun getting her murder on.
In a way it’s a perfect metaphor for the show itself. Mahoiku is empty. The audience viewpoint character for the show isn’t Snow White. It’s Cranberry. The only reason to watch it is because you want to see Magical Girls murdering each other, because that’s all there is to it. This could in and of itself provide an interesting angle. They made no pretense of the show being anything but a bloody battle royale ahead of airing, and yet we watched it anyway. In a way the viewer is complicit. By choosing to engage we’re no better than Cranberry, willing to watch something just for the blood and suffering. Except nothing is ever done with this angle, the show just careers on into yet more death and misery.
Cranberry is eventually killed in self-defense by Tama, Swim Swim’s last remaining reluctant follower, mere moments before Tama herself is executed by Swim for the crime of catching a glimpse of her human form.
Swim Swim is ultimately brought down by ninja girl Ripple, although Ripple is killed in the process. And then Snow White shows up.
You may notice I’ve not talked about Snow White much yet, despite her ostensibly being the protagonist. Snow White is an archetypal Magical Girl, her gimmick is that she doesn’t really have one, she just wants to help people. In theory this could make for a compelling character; trying to hold on to her ideals whilst everything falls apart around her. But the show doesn’t present it this way. Snow White is – for want of a better word – useless. Snow White’s response to the madness she’s been swept up in is to cry and sulk, letting others do the fighting for her. Her refusal to enter the conflict isn’t some noble gesture, she’s just ineffectual. By choosing not to fight Snow White lets her friends and allies be killed in her place. Because in this world a true Magical Girl is worthless. Swim Swim’s rampage isn’t brought to an end by ideals, it’s ended with more killing.
Showing up late for the final battle, Snow White finds the bodies of Ripple and Swim Swim along with a gloating Fav, congratulating her on her bloodless victory and encouraging her to take up the position of master, continuing the cycle. Even her refusal is half-hearted, as she’s ultimately unable to destroy Fav, leaving the deed to Ripple, brought back from the dead by the plot coupon Rabbit’s Foot that Hardgore Alice existed to deliver.
After a several month timeskip it’s revealed that Snow White has finally seen the light, although too late to save her friends she’s embraced a more proactive style, directly taking the fight to organized criminals and terrorists. Because she was wrong after all, true Magical Girls can’t achieve anything.
The easy way out is to call Mahoiku a deconstruction of the genre. “How would Magical Girls react if faced with the threat of their own immediate deaths, they’d be no better than a normal person”. Except “[Thing] is bad actually” is the least exciting take in the universe, and Mahoiku can’t even manage that. Deconstruction implies intent and meaning, breaking something down into its components and looking at how they fit together. Mahoiku has neither. Much like Cranberry’s twisted game there’s ultimately no point to Mahoiku beyond its own sadism. There’s no statement here. The show is content merely to trample the genre into the ground for the sake of it, not because it has anything meaningful to add to the discussion. It’s rare that a piece of media will make me genuinely upset, but Mahoiku manages it. Because Magical Girl Raising Project isn’t a Magical Girl anime. Nor is it a deconstruction of the genre. It’s Genre destruction.
If there’s one positive thing to come out of this hateful show (Aside from Nemurin). It’s made me want to watch more actual Magical Girl shows, to engage more with a genre I love but have seen so little of. So thanks for that at least Mahoiku.