Magical Girl Raising Project is a popular social game that has an ability to grant players a 1 in 10,000 chance to become a real life Magical Girl with unique magical abilities to help people. However, at some point, Fav, the magical administrator fairy, decides to cut the population of Magical Girls in half. The game quickly changes into a twisted, wicked battlefield as the 16 magical girls get dragged into a battle for survival against each other.
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You may have noticed that I like magical girls. A lot.The first anime I ever fell in love with was Sailor Moon, and I've loved the genre ever since. I've seen pretty much all of the classics: Cardcaptor Sakura, the various Precure series, the Nanoha franchise, Cutey Honey, Tokyo Mew Mew, the works.As should be obvious by now, Puella Magi Madoka Magica has had a profound influence on me. Ever since I first saw it in 2011, it's been one of my all-time favorite series. Like Evangelion did with mecha shows, it tore apart and deconstructed all the standard tropes, and in doing so elevated the genre. So naturally, given PMMM's massive success, there's been a whole host of other series since then that are trying to do their own spin on "magical girls, but dark".This year's Magical Girl Raising Project is one such series.I can already hear some of you: "Wait, you don't like MGRP? But why? It's just like Madoka, isn't it?"No, it is not just like Madoka. There are significant similarities, but there are also profound differences in tone, style, and execution between the two. Having just watched the last episode of MGRP, I can finally give my verdict: Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a work of art. Magical Girl Raising Project is entertainment. A series can be both, of course, but MGRP is not art. Compared to PMMM, it's nowhere even close, not even in the same league.Or, to reduce this whole review to an easily-quotable comparison: Madoka Magica is Harry Potter. MGRP is Game of Thrones. One starts out light, gets very dark and goes serious, and comes out light again in the end, and the other starts dark and stays dark, with little to no possibility of improvement.Lest I be accused of bias, let me open by listing some of the things I do genuinely like about MGRP. Bear in mind that a lot of what's talked about from this point forward constitutes SPOILERS, so please be advised. The sound and visuals. Lerche pretty obviously gave this anime a budget, and it shows. The fight scenes that are the core of the show are all gorgeous to look at, no matter what's happening. It's animated with care when it matters. As for the music, I admit I was pleasantly surprised by how well some of it worked. The opening and ending themes are both on my iPod, and while there wasn't really a standout for me in terms of the BGM, I quite liked the direction they went with it. Lots of orchestral music that fit the scenes well, no pieces overplayed, good instrumentation. La Pucelle. As I mentioned in a previous Blogress Report, La Pucelle is what the original Sailor Moon anime's Star Lights should have been. La Pucelle is a boy named Souta of the same age as Snow White, the main character, who loved magical girls so much that he was chosen to be one. When Souta transforms, he becomes fully female, but outside of one obligatory "checking out the new body" shot, the subject is approached in a pretty tactful manner. La Pucelle could have easily been played for cheap laughs or transmisogyny, or he could have been used like the anime!Star Lights were, as a cynical attempt to raise ratings with poorly-written "OOH, HOW SCANDALOUS" romantic drama. I still have issues with the conclusion of his story arc, but overall, I thought that La Pucelle was one of the series's highlights. Top Speed. Arguably the nicest and most sympathetic supporting character, Top Speed is a former biker girl delinquent turned housewife, who gave up her rowdy lifestyle when she fell in love with a politician. Of the many characters in MGRP who use their magical girl forms as a way to hide their true age or true self for one reason or another, Top Speed is the one who pulls it off the best, I thought. She's also the only character aside from La Pucelle whose death struck me as genuinely sad. Tama. Tama is a dog-themed magical girl with a seemingly useless power. She hates fighting and conflict, is somewhat of a coward, and is needlessly abused by her teammates, yet she actually survives until almost the end of the death game and remains likeable throughout despite being one of the "bad guys". She's cute, and she deserved better than she got. Fav. Yes, he's a shameless retread of Kyubey's "evil mascot" archetype, but if MGRP accomplishes anything, it's really making you hate the bastard. At least Kyubey had arguably good reasons for doing awful things, and couldn't be said to be "evil" because of his completely alien concept of morality; Fav is a horrible little shit who put the events of the death game in motion because he was bored, more or less. Seeing him finally, finally die a richly deserved death in the end was one of the reasons I watched the whole series. This is just a design thing more than about the show itself, but: the last episode is called "File Not Found", signifying that the mobile game that's the crux of the plot is about to end. In ep 11's next episode preview, as the letters spell out the title, the sound and graphics stutter, glitch, and corrupt. I admit, that was an awesome touch, and I applaud whoever thought of it. Now then. Let's examine the three primary reasons I think the show doesn't work.1. Lack of Restraint: Madoka Magica relied on subtlety to deliver its big twists. Everyone remembers the famous Mami headchomp moment, but what's important was that the series spent time building up to that scene. Presenting PMMM as a standard cutesy magical girl show was part of an elaborate deception, yes, but one that was well thought-out and planned in advance. The studio knew what was going to happen, but they foreshadowed it plenty and made it a legitimate plot twist, not a cheap death for shock value. The first 2.5 episodes before Mami's death are essential to setting up what comes afterward... if she had died in the end of the first episode, the emotional gut punch wouldn't have landed nearly as hard as it did. In addition, regarding Mami's death scene itself... if you go back and watch it, you notice how little of it is actually shown. There's the infamous shot of Mami's body dangling from the top of the frame, but then the scene cuts away as she falls from Charlotte's jaws, and we only hear what happens next. That leaves what's happening up to the viewer's imagination, which is always, always going to be far more terrifying than explicit gore could ever be.MGRP doesn't do that, because it has no patience for restraint. The first few shots of the anime are of piles of bloody magical girl corpses, a giant monster, and one obviously traumatized girl snapping as she faces it down and tears it apart. It's the equivalent of screaming "THIS IS GOING TO BE UNPLEASANT" at the audience. Madoka's dream sequence from the first episode of PMMM was also dark and threatening, but it was just ambiguous enough to make the audience doubt what was happening. So after we get that pile of what are obviously corpses in the cold open, the next 21 minutes of MGRP ep 1 don't fool anybody. It's all generic "first episode" stuff as our heroine Koyuki gets her powers and meets the other magical girls, and it's only in ep 1's post-credits stinger that it finally gets around to what the audience figured out from scene one: the stakes are deadly.Afterward, MGRP wastes almost no time in getting to the conflict between the magical girls, and when it gets there it goes for the most extreme violence that its time slot will allow. There are multiple beheadings, severed limbs, impalements, and gallons of spilled blood overall, some of it inflicted on girls as young as seven. La Pucelle dying as he did in the novel, with nothing seen of his last fight but the gruesome aftermath, would have been both sad and frightening. Instead, in the anime, there's an extended sequence of Cranberry making him hurt as much as possible before throwing him in front of an oncoming truck. The setup doesn't work because La Pucelle's death is so blatantly telegraphed ahead of time (Seriously, in a show like this, any time a character shows overt romantic feelings toward another, they might as well have "D.O.A." tattooed on their foreheads). The Cranberry fight itself doesn't work because at no point does it look like La Pucelle has a chance of winning. He's hopelessly outmatched. We know it and the show knows it, so spending four minutes on him bleeding profusely and being thrown face-first into brick walls is just... torture porn. Something similar comes up later when Hardgore Alice's unique power is revealed: she can recover from any injury in seconds. This gets proved to us when she's decapitated, and then her headless body gets up and shoves her fist through her would-be killer's chest. That's quite enough already, thank you, the point has been made. The scene in the following episode where Calamity Mary shoots her multiple times, stabs her, sets her on fire, pours sulfuric acid on her, seals the remains in a barrel of cement, and kicks said barrel into the ocean and yet Alice still won't die... again, that's not using violence effectively, that's torture porn. I'm sure some people will argue this, but to me, that kind of brutality isn't scary. At all. It inspires feelings, sure, but in my case those feelings are depression and nausea, not fear for the characters' lives. PMMM was scary because it made you care about the main characters, and seeing them go through so much trauma when you knew there was worse coming was deeply upsetting. Which leads me to my second point:2. Poorly-Defined Characters: Koyuki is our heroine. She's Snow White, the one magical girl out of all of them who retains her ideals and optimism (at first). She grew up watching the shows and loving the characters, so she has a very pure idea of what a magical girl should be. She's timid and naive and hates fighting. Okay, that's a start. Now where's the rest of it? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller...?PMMM spent the entire series building Madoka up as the kind of character who would believably make a sacrifice for the benefit of all. The story made damn sure we knew who she was, what she believed in, and why she made her choice. Yes, she had a passive role for the vast majority of the series, but there was a very good reason for that.MGRP wants so badly for Koyuki/Snow White to be like Madoka, but she misses the mark. Koyuki is so badly developed that I honestly can't even remember her last name. We never see her family, her school life, or any friends outside of Souta/La Pucelle and the two nameless classmates who appear in the first and last episodes to spout off exposition. What we have in Snow White is a character who essentially sits back and lets the plot happen until the ending requires her to take action."But wait,", you say, "didn't Madoka do the same thing?" Yes, arguably, but we saw enough of Madoka to care about her. She was our on-screen surrogate, of course, but she was constantly in focus, with the plot always tuned to how she was feeling about what was happening.Once Snow White gets involved in the death game, her civilian life effectively ceases to exist. There's no exploration of how the multiple deaths affect her, outside of making her cry and despair. As far as I was able to tell, her family never knows that anything is the matter with their kid, and when it's revealed that Koyuki ran away to be a magical girl full time in the last episode... well, nothing of value was lost. Her mother is an off-screen voice, a footnote at best, so why should we care what she must be feeling?Madoka's mother, Junko, was one of PMMM's high points. In episode 11 when she stops Madoka and demands to know what's been going on before she goes out to make her sacrifice... that scene means so much to me. The fact that Madoka can't tell her, and Junko clearly knows that, but still lets her go anyway... it says so much about the kind of mother she is. I've often thought about writing a fanfic from Junko's perspective, starting from that scene. What's unsaid is so clear: we know that Junko knows she's saying goodbye to her daughter for the last time. Yet she doesn't cry, she doesn't beg her to stay, even though she has every right to, even though her doing so would make sense. Instead, she decides to trust that her kid is making the right choice, and gives her one last push to go out and do what she has to do. That's motherhood, that's good parenting, and that's true badassery. You understand right away that Madoka is doing what she's doing because Junko's set a damned good example. An off-screen voice can't hope to match that.Likewise, with the other characters. We see almost nothing of who they were outside of the events that set up them becoming magical girls. Ripple was bullied at school for her promiscuous mother, and was almost molested by one of her stepdads, which led to her being cold and standoffish. Top Speed was a delinquent who fell in love, became a housewife, and was expecting a child. Ruler was a businesswoman who got no respect... etc., etc. We get brief fragments of these girls' (invariably tragic) lives, usually as they're dying horribly or about to die horribly, but it's almost never enough to make them feel like people. Take Swim Swim, for example. She's the most visible antagonist outside of mascot Fav, she has the highest body count of any of the characters, and she's clearly a reprehensible person. She's got to have an interesting story, right?Well, it turns out Swim Swim is a seven-year-old girl who dreams of being a princess. She looks up to the abusive Ruler with fanatical devotion, and the innocent suggestion that "you could be a princess just like her" makes her go off the deep end and start murdering people en masse once the death game begins. Why? She's obviously not right in the head, but why is she that way? What is she thinking? What's her plan once she achieves her goal? Does she have any self-doubt about the terrible things she's done? Any nagging guilt? Who is she when she's not Swim Swim? Has her family noticed that their daughter isn't well? How about her teachers? Any half-decent writer could come up with compelling answers to these and dozens of other questions... but MGRP's writers don't bother. She's seven, she wants to be like Ruler to the point of sociopathic psychosis, and that's it. As important a character as she is, her surface is barely even scratched. And it's not the "keep the villain's motives a mystery to make them seem more terrifying" thing, either. We know her motives, but she's such a flat character that what motives we get aren't satisfying at all. There are potentially good ideas in play here, but the execution of those ideas is piss-poor. These girls don't matter except as pawns who are going to kill each other to survive.3. Cynicism: This is the big one for me. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Madoka Magica wouldn't be one of my all-time favorites without the final episode. If Urobuchi had gone the End of Evangelion route and finished the story on a dark and depressing note, I probably wouldn't be finding inspiration in it still, almost six years later. The uplift in the final episode, the message of hope in the face of crushing despair, is crucial. That's the reason I cry whenever I watch the finale. For Madoka to have gone through so much trauma, yet still retain enough of herself to come back and save the world, even though it should have destroyed her... that means more to me than I can say. Yes, PMMM is dark and depressing. Yes, Rebellion threw a big fat wrench in the universe and the essential message of the series. Yes, the story has its flaws, but the message is still there. It's still meaningful, dammit. There is light even in the deepest darkness. There is hope. You are not alone.Having struggled with depression since I was twelve years old, PMMM's ending resonates with me on such a deep level that I honestly can't describe it in full, no matter how much I try. Seeing Madoka triumph over despair when it should have been impossible was beautiful. It was healing. It was glorious. And most importantly, it made me think that I can do the same.MGRP? Well, part of my profound disappointment with it is because I read about what happens after the anime ends. I would have been happier not knowing. Snow White, our paragon, the pure and ideal magical girl, becomes a hunter of her own kind, seeking out and killing "rogue" magical girls to prevent massacres like the one she lived through from happening to others. In other words, she gets dragged down into the same filth that claimed the other girls. She becomes a murderer, just like them, even if it's for arguably noble reasons.I like a good anti-hero as much as the next guy, but with Snow White and MGRP it doesn't work. She doesn't come off as the type of girl who would give up her civilian life and devote herself to killing rogue elements, because her personality (what little there is) never suggests that she'd consider it a reasonable course of action. It's more or less, "Oh well, if I have to be a magical girl for the rest of my life, I might as well try to make it not suck for others." Likewise, the sacrifice of her civilian life doesn't work because as far as we can see, she has none. She exists only to be a magical girl and serve the plot, so leaving her life as Koyuki behind is less a noble gesture as it is cutting off excess baggage.And there's the whole concept of this "Magical Girl Hunter" stuff itself. I may sound old-fashioned here, but I think that if you're going to tell a story as grim as MGRP, if you can't have an uplifting ending, you'd better damned well at least convince the audience that it's not all pointless in the end. In the end of MGRP (or at least, the end of this story arc), all but two of the girls are dead, and one of them has lost an arm and an eye. Fav is dead, but the deadly exams continue without him, and the system will keep swindling innocent girls and leading them to their deaths. And Snow White's set permanently on the path to becoming a murdering vigilante, who will be justly feared by evildoers. So what exactly was the point of all the moral struggle? What's the message here? That the world is a cruel place, you have to be careful who you trust, and people will resort to murder to save their own lives? Golly gee, don't stop the presses.PMMM was many things, but I'll argue to the death against it being cynical or nihilistic. Say what you will about Urobuchi, his writing, or his treatment of his characters, but the man clearly has a decent heart deep down. Ending PMMM (again, the series, not Rebellion) on a downer note would have been easy. It would have been acceptable. It would even have been expected, considering that the great 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan two weeks before the final episode was supposed to air. After a tragedy like that, you expect people to go for nihilism in their art. Urobuchi didn't, and to me, that speaks volumes.MGRP is cruel, and cynical, and nihilistic. And in the modern world, who needs any more of that shit? You want a crapsack world where struggle is pointless, turn on the news. Fiction reaches people because it offers possibilities of things being different. It offers hope. That's why I'll always love Star Trek, and it's part of why I'll always love Madoka.MGRP had some good concepts and ideas, it looked good, and it sounded good... but I don't love it. I have trouble thinking of a context in which I could love it, in fact. Now that I'm finished with it, I don't feel uplifted, or hopeful, or inspired... mostly, I'm just glad it's over and I don't have to think about it anymore. Call me naive, call me crazy, call me old-fashioned, but that's not how I think one should feel at the end of a series. If there's another season that adapts the further novels in the MGRP series, I'll be passing on it. Life's too short.- BHS
DISCLAIMER: POTENTIAL SPOILERS To begin, I'm obviously a Madoka fan, yes, but I paid close attention to Magical Girl Raising Project and it was probably the most "cookie-cutter-plot" Mahou Shoujo I had ever forced myself to watch. The idea of the show itself has no innovation besides the handful of characters with a prospective wholesomeness that could have driven the plot but were killed off by a bare maximum of three episodes or less. Not only did this show kill off those with strong potential—I mean strength in personality or temperament—characters that I valued, they didn't boost the main character's progression at all. She simply cried about it—painfully reminding me of Madoka's character, but in this circumstance, Snow White, the MC only seemed to get weaker until the eleventh episode when it didn't matter anymore. So this show just demolished characters after pulling you in with such a badass opening episode that you expect to play out the rest of the show, but it never happens. There's not even shock value in seeing characters die because the plot doesn't allow the viewer to become attached. If anyone tells me that this show is worth watching because of the "character development", they should really rethink what exactly they expose themselves to. Most of all, lite novel-based anime are always cookie-cutter; baseless. Nonetheless, what I did appreciate was the fact that this show openly allowed a male to become a magical girl, that was a very humbling character and of course—they died. Another thing, the basis of characters trying to "figure out" what being a magical girl truly is: ex. helping people, etc. But that itself died with many other characters. This show is just a deadlock of dead characters, where the weak are battling, and yet the weakest still wins unconditionally, because the plot is God, and the plot gets what it wants. I don't care what you tell me, Cranberry did not kill off the "strongest", the plot did.
This anime is what made me lose interest in magical girl deconstructions. Not only because everyone kept trying to mimic Madoka Magica until it became its own stereotype, but also because as a subgenre it is just a placeholder. It doesn’t mean anything on its own; only what you do with it. Basically, I wasn’t seeing it as a cruel take on cutsy mahou shojo, since that’s the bare minimum every single one of these shows is doing so it can be called a dark subversion, or whatever buzzword you want to use in an attempt to make it sound better than what it is. I was seeing it as a twist on the death game formula. Ever since Battle Royale and The Highlander established the basic rules, everybody is copying them and none managed to create a better alternative. The thing that initially attracted me in Raising Project was exactly that. There didn’t need to be only one winner at the end. You don’t win by being the last man standing; only half of the participants needed to die. It doesn’t sound like much, yet it is because it completely changes the character dynamics. If you know you don’t have to kill everybody, making alliances becomes far more crucial, and it’s also permanent since it doesn’t lead to backstabbing each other once the opponent is defeated. Another thing the show was doing a great job at first, was showing actually meaningful character interaction. Every girl was somehow affecting the personality of another girl. They were not stuck in a specific mentality from beginning to end. They were changing based on how others treated them, which is something extremely rare in any show. Snow White: Triggered Hardgore Alice’s protection syndromeCalamity Mary: Turned Ruler into a control freakRuler: Forged Swim-Swim’s cruel mentality Nemurin: Motivated Swim-Swim to turn against Ruler This didn’t last long, since later interactions were far more superficial. It was always about a death making someone sad or taking things more seriously thereafter. Stuff that would have happened anyways in any death game. Essentially, it was the same change for everyone, in a predictable manner, and with nowhere near the gravity and unique feeling of the initial reactions. La Pucelle: Broke Snow White’s perception of good-hearted magical girlsMagicaloid44: Drove Calamity Mary off the edgeYunael: Made Minael use dirtier tacticsWinterprison: Self-destructed Sister NanaTop Speed: Made Ripple cruel Also, a big chunk of the girls was nothing but fodder. They were there just to die without offering anything to the plot. Although expected because of the sheer number of characters, it still poses the question of why did you have so many characters in the first place. Having half of them, doing more meaningful interactions would have made the show infinitely better. Having excess characters that exist only to be killed, came off as edgy, in the sense that they were there just for shock factor instead of somehow being in service to the narrative. Sister Nana: Why couldn’t she adjust without Winterprison?Hardgore Alice: What was her contribution to the plot again?Minael: What kind of anti-climactic ending was that?Tama: Completely needless character Also, there was no time to flesh out 16 characters in only a dozen episodes. The best they were getting was a quick flashback which explained why they became the way they are in the present. It’s better than nothing, but it was also too rushed to make an impact. Especially when all flashbacks happen in the same episode the girl in question dies. Yes, they flesh them out a few minutes before they kill them, the laziest way to try making you give a shit.Also, even the death tournament became less interesting as it went on. The initial battles were about mind games, where they would outsmart the opponent by taking advantage of her character flaws. It wasn’t about superpowers, it was all mental. Later battles said fak it. It was just who had the biggest energy attack or the most broken power. It no longer mattered what their personality was like, it only mattered how overpowered their abilities were. Hardgore Alice: Undying avatarSwim-Swim: Blocks physical attacks, travels through solid objects, uses super bladeCranberry: Titanic strength, nuclear burst The final straw that made me hate the show was when they eventually broke their own established rules and nothing was consistent anymore. Remember how I said only half of them needed to die? It was a lie. It was still the usual “There can be only one” we’ve been getting for decades, and power levels don’t mean anything. Thanks a lot for making me trust you were not one of the same, you lying sack of shit. Snow White: Has the power to read minds, does absolutely nothing with it Swim-Swim: Changes back to human even when not mortally woundedCranberry: Freezes for no reason when seeing a child, and gets owned by the least capable character in the showRipple: Has the ability to never miss a target, wastes hours in direct attacks when she knows they have no effect So yeah, it’s another crappy modern anime, with a pretty damn good start that just couldn’t last for more than a few episodes, because by the end of the day it’s still a light novel adaptation for edgelord otakus. Princess Tutu will forever be the best magical girl deconstruction, because it’s retro, and shame on me for giving modern trash one last chance to not make me be sick of their bullshit writing. Never trust modern, retro always wins.
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