‘Magical Girl Raising Project,’ Episodes 9 and 10

Let’s get this trainwreck over with!

Magical Girl Raising Project, episode 9, “Notice of New Rules!” and Episode 10, “Super Hot! Back-to-Back Battle Events!” Directed by Hiroyuki Hashimoto. Studio Lerche. Produced by Genco (2016). Approx. 48 minutes. Rated PG-13. Available on Crunchyroll.

Spoilers throughout.

The scenario begun in episode 7 finally climaxes with a battle on a highway and a nearby building. After a superb action sequence in which Ripple and Top Speed team up to take Calamity Mary down, Snow White and Hardgore Alice rescue injured bystanders while Swim Swim and her minions move in for the kill.

More fighting.

When the smoke clears, we’ve lost all but seven of the cast, but then Fav announces that they’re now cutting the total number of magical girls to four, which means the killing has to continue.

But getting even …

I won’t bother to name who’s dead or describe with what blazes of glory or lack thereof (there’s some of both) they go out. At this point, it hardly matters. In all likelihood, only one, if even one, will be standing at the end anyway.

This leads into episode 10, probably third from the last, in which three important things happen. The first is that Swim Swim decides to go a-killing to ensure she survives and comes out on top of the heap. This leads her to challenge Cranberry, which will likely prove to be a big mistake, as we already know from Cranberry’s earlier dispatching of La Pucelle.

Swim Swim cordially invites you to die horribly.

Second, Snow White, ostensibly the heroine though she’s been upstaged by every single other character, has an understandable breakdown. During her breakdown, however, Hardgore Alice says something important, something that will undoubtedly tie into the show’s ultimate theme, whatever that theme is: “As long as you are alive, there is one magical girl in this city.” The idea here is that Snow White is a real magical girl because she believes in magical girl ideals and does what a magical girl is supposed to do, that is, help people. Murderous girls like Swim Swim or Calamity Mary, by contrast, are undeserving of the name.

Though she’s kind of a wimp.

Third, we finally get an idea of what Fav and Cranberry are up to. They come, as magical critters often do, from the Magical World, and they are on a mission to recruit a magical girl, presumably to take her back to the Magical World with them. However, the people for whom they work are unaware of their brutal methods. Fav mentions that he will fake a report to send home, describing the Magical Girl Raising Project as an idyllic test of good girls’ virtues rather than a death tournament.

And another one’s gone, and another one’s gone, and another one bites the dust …

What this indicates is that the world of Magical Girl Raising Project is not necessarily nastiness and nihilism all the way down. Somewhere behind the villains who’ve set up this nightmare in which the girls are trapped, there apparently really is a world of magic that represents the ideals for which Snow White stands. The question is whether she can continue to stand by those ideals and come out alive. In other words, it does appear (at this point) to be shaping up as the noir story I earlier predicted, except I mistakenly assumed it would focus on La Pucelle, since he, like everyone else, had upstaged Snow White. One of the show’s biggest problems is a lack of focus on its central character: Snow White is the weakest member of the cast, not simply in fighting ability but in personality. Yes, we know she genuinely wants to help people as a magical girl, and she’s generically nice, but that’s all we know about her.

We also know she’s not real happy right now.

What this could mean, depending on how it finishes off, is that Magical Girl Raising Project may be planning to invert the basic theme of the stories that inspired it. Although it undoubtedly owes a great deal to Battle Royale, the granddaddy of this story type is Lord of the Flies. The point of Lord of the Flies, which depicts a group of British boarding school kids going savage and murdering one another when they get stuck on a desert island, is to insinuate that morals and manners are really just a thin veneer that will easily fall away under stress, that right beneath the apparent orderliness of civilization lies the chaos of savagery. A similar theme can be found in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, though without the adolescent sneering.

Battle Royale obscures this theme, since it takes place in a fascist dystopia and some of its characters, rather than being prim and proper children, are already fairly hardbitten when the story opens. Nonetheless, it similarly depicts a group of kids willing to do terrible things when under stress.

It is possible, however, that Magical Girl Raising Project is planning to twist things in a different direction, because Cranberry and Fav’s conversation hints that, behind the brutality of the magical girl elimination game is neither a tyrannical dystopia nor the savage impulses of the human unconscious, but a world of magic that actually affirms the ideals that magical girls are supposed to represent. In other words, the Magical Girl Raising Project is not the awful truth that appears when the veneer slips away, but an aberration in which the story’s characters have unfortunately become ensnared.

Somewhere, over the rainbow …

Looking over what we have so far, I think the biggest problem is that the show is structurally a complete mess. It builds very slowly, taking a full six episodes to get up to speed. Halfway through, it kills off the guy it had made to look like the protagonist, and in his death he leaves nothing, no inspiration or life lesson or anything, for the real protagonist, so his death seems pointless and all that time spent building up his character and romantic subplot is wasted. The other characters’ story arcs are jammed in willy-nilly so that individual episodes in the first half lack focus.

Once it gets going, though, by episode 7 it’s a rollercoaster. There’s no denying the skill with which the action sequences are animated. I am particularly impressed by episode 9’s fight between Calamity Mary and Ripple. That is some really good anime wire-fu, with no shortcuts, no still-frames, no screens going all black with slashes of color flitting across them. None of the cheats we allow a cartoon to use to save time and money during the action are present here. And the action just keeps going. It’s well-done, and it doesn’t stop.

Ripple looks slightly irritated about being in an arm bar.

My final verdict must await the final episode, but my opinion thus far is that the biggest problem overall is the structure of the writing. They tried to shove a whole heck of a lot into a few episodes, and it didn’t work. They failed to make most of the characters engaging, they lost track of the heroine, the episodes ended up jumping around, and a lot of plot threads die off abruptly at the same time the characters do.

Ouch. Right in the plot device.

While I’m on the subject of dead subplots, perhaps the biggest waste is not La Pucelle, but Top Speed. Her backstory is that she’s a deliriously happy and pregnant housewife who was leader of a sukeban biker gang before her husband domesticated her, but she now secretly indulges her need for speed as a daredevil flying witch. Can’t you just see that as the basis for a hilarious comedy series? Top Speed is too good for this grimdark morass.

Boom.
  • These are criticisms that I can mostly agree with. It does seem like too much is shoved into the story space available, and part of that is that it spends a good amount of time setting up various red herrings in the first half of the series. I might go so far as to say that sometimes it seems a little like Lost or the reimagined Battlestar Galactica toward the end, where it feels like the showrunners don’t necessarily have an actual plan. I’ll reserve that judgement for after the series is over, though.

    • I think it’s less lack of a plan than an attempt to compress a lot into twelve episodes. This is based on a series of light novels that fills multiple volumes. I’m not sure how many books they’ve tried to pack into the anime, but I suspect it’s more than one.

  • Without spoilers (I’ll wait until you get a chance to see the final before giving my full, if short, reaction to the series as a whole), I’ll say that part of the reason that they seem to lose track of the “heroine” – or, rather, viewpoint character – is because the series preaches a very Taoist message: not doing stuff, when not-done well, is better than doing stuff because the best laid plans et cetera.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. It’s likely enough that it wouldn’t have crossed my mind. I have exactly for this reason thought that Taoism, or at least this aspect of it, doesn’t make a very good backdrop for a story.

      Other stories may have the same flaw without it being as blatant as in this case. Revolutionary Girl Utena loses track of its heroine (even the manga-ka who did the manga version says so), but doesn’t lose track of its narrative. Moby-Dick loses track of its hero and most everything else yet somehow holds onto its plot thread. Magical Girl Raising Project can’t hold on.