Magical Girl Raising Project, episode 11, “Server Down for Maintenance” and Episode 12, “File Not Found.” Directed by Hiroyuki Hashimoto. Studio Lerche. Produced by Genco (2016). Two episodes of 24 minutes (approx. 48 minutes). Rated PG-13. Available on Crunchyroll.
I was going to review this earlier in the week, but my Flash player kept crashing for some reason. Anyway, let’s get this over with so I can get back to injecting Sailor Moon S straight into my bloodstream. As I mentioned before, Magical Girl Raising Project gave me a hankering for Sailor Moon S, and then Viz Media turned around and supplied.
I’m a heroine addict, and these distribution companies are my dealers.
Here be spoilers. Since we’re talking about the two final episodes, I assume that’s obvious.
Episodes 11 and 12 are primarily about finishing off the bloodshed. They are, like the other action-centered episodes in the series’ second half, well-animated and quite satisfying. I don’t see any particular reason to dwell on the details: we get more flashbacks to flesh out the few remaining characters, but, as previous, they prove largely pointless since they exist only to create sympathy for magical girls who are about to die anyway.
Cranberry, we learn, is originally human: she became a magical girl during a previous, less violent Raising Project in which magical girl candidates were fighting a ghostly, troll-like monster from the Magical World. The monster went berserk and killed the other girls before Cranberry finished it off. Either this broke her mind or she was crazy already, but either way, she as the qualifying candidate became Fav’s new “Master” in charge of recruiting other girls (shouldn’t that be “Mistress”?). Sadistically inclined, she thus created the Magical Girl Raising Project app and its attendant death match.
Skilled killer that she is, Cranberry figures out Swim Swim’s weakness: although Swim Swim can turn any object to water and is thus seemingly invulnerable, she can still see and hear, which means she has a weakness for light and sound. Cranberry almost finishes her off, but Tama, a doglike girl who can produce holes in anything, swipes Cranberry from behind, opening a bloody hole in her torso. Swim Swim then slits Tama’s throat.
That brings the count down to three and apparently ends the death match, which was supposed to reduce the number to four. Although Snow White tries to dissuade her, Ripple goes after Swim Swim to avenge Top Speed after Fav tells her Swim Swim’s vulnerability.
It isn’t clear if we’re supposed to sympathize more with Snow White or Ripple at this point, but I’m taking Ripple’s side. Swim Swim is a murderous psychopath with powers that would render it impossible to stop her except by killing her, and given the characters’ extraordinary circumstances, the proper authorities, by which I mean the police, wouldn’t be able to capture Swim Swim or even know that she exists. That leaves the task of halting her killing spree to Ripple.
Armed with Calamity Mary’s bag of holding full of weapons, including a flash-bang grenade that can take advantage of Swim Swim’s weakness, Ripple wins, though she loses an eye and an arm in the process.
The show has been trying for tearjerking throughout its run by delivering characters’ backstories just before they meet their bloody demises, but the attempts have mostly fallen flat. However, even though the first half of the series wasted all of the scenes between Top Speed and Ripple, MGRP finally, in the last episode, manages to land an emotional punch. It succeeds at conveying Ripple’s turmoil over the loss of her friend and mentor. The image of Ripple, permanently maimed, repeatedly stabbing Swim Swim’s body while crying in the rain, though gruesome, made me tear up.
In the end, the show does what I was originally hoping for, but not in the way I expected. Once it’s down to just Ripple and Snow White, Ripple gives Fav his just desserts and ends the Magical Girl Raising Project for good (at least until the sequel). I was expecting it to be La Pucelle who finally did for Fav, but I’ll accept Ripple in his stead.
I’ve said a few times that the show seems to lose track of its central heroine, that is, Snow White, who is exceedingly passive. All the other characters are doing things (and killing one another). While she is allegedly the most effective magical girl, who rescues kittens and helps old ladies climb stairs, we’ve actually seen her do almost nothing except sit and talk or cry. A reader makes a suggestion about what the show is ultimately trying to say, and I think it worthwhile to pass that suggestion on:
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.
This is an interesting interpretation, but I think it’s the opposite of what the show is really getting at. Once everything is over, our two remaining girls are still magical girls. But now Snow White is no longer passive, and she no longer does little good deeds like rescuing kittens. Now she fights crime, and her methods are apparently brutal. At the end of the episode, she’s sparring with Ripple to hone her wire-fu skills so she can fight more effectively. She even says, just in case we miss the point, that “small acts of kindness won’t change anything.”
The world is a dark place, and a traditional magical girl with the power of sugar and friendship won’t cut it; what’s needed is a warrior who can resist evil violently. This was foreshadowed early in the story when Snow White, upon learning of the exploits of Calamity Mary, asked, “Why would a magical girl fight the triad?” By the end, she’s changed her tune: fighting the triad is exactly what a magical girl should do, even if Mary was doing it wrong.
I predicted before that this show would follow its predecessors and dodge a nihilistic conclusion in favor of a noir theme in the vein of hardboiled detective novels, in which the protagonist is a “knight in rusty armor” who’s not ideal or faultless but is nonetheless determined to fight for what’s right. In the end, I was basically correct even though I guessed wrongly about the structure of the show and who would survive. The story is about the growth of the noir heroine; Snow White is passive for most of the series. By the end, she has toughened up. She hasn’t utterly rejected her earlier view of what it is to be a magical girl, summed up by La Pucelle as “pure, righteous and beautiful,” but she has built on it.
Unfortunately, this fails to be entirely effective, mostly because Snow White got lost in the mix early on as all the other characters upstaged her. Her final character growth from innocent girl to hardbitten action heroine is quite sudden; only a few scenes earlier, she had been calling Ripple a murderess for her intent to bring down Swim Swim, but now Snow White is personally slaughtering terrorist cells. It’s reasonably satisfying, and it ties up the show’s themes, but it happens too fast.
Paralleling Snow White’s development is Ripple’s. Ripple has spent most of the show scowling and complaining. But after she’s killed Swim Swim, she makes a promise to Snow White to change her ways. It seems the two remaining characters have learned from each other: Snow White adopts Ripple’s tough-mindedness, and Ripple adopts Snow White’s compassion. It’s probably also supposed to be significant that one is dressed in white and the other in black, forming a classic white/black magical girl pair. Hardgore Alice had wanted to form such a pair with Snow White herself, though she didn’t live to have the chance.
I want to mention one thing about this series that I really like. One of the perennial problems in the genre is that magical girls’ powers tend to be vague. This, as with many things, is probably the fault of Sailor Moon, which gives us girls with inconsistently portrayed physical abilities and attack spells with effects that become increasingly unclear as the series progresses.
By contrast, Magical Girl Raising Project is precise about the characters’ powers. They all have super-strength that not only enables them to jump several stories into the air, but also makes them invulnerable to almost anything except another magical girl. In addition to this, each of them has one superpower unique to her. Some of the girls, particularly Hardgore Alice and Swim Swim, seem to be unkillable on account of their special powers, but then others figure out their weaknesses. Some characters seem weak, but their powers in fact give them a special advantage in certain situations.
Magical Girl Raising Project depicts its magic consistently, and the underhanded means the girls find for doing one another in stay firmly grounded in the show’s internal logic. Given the genre’s penchant for deus ex machina and handwavium, this aspect deserves special notice.
That may in fact be the whole point. What if magical girls didn’t spontaneously develop new abilities when painted into a corner? That in turn plays into the overarching noir theme: the world is a harsh place, and the power of friendship, by itself, is not going to save you.
I must also give the show’s creators credit for keeping me guessing right up to the end. Although I find certain aspects of MGRP dissatisfying and even frustrating, I could not guess with any certainty how it was going to finish up. I’ve watched enough anime, or at least magical girl anime, that I know most of the motifs, the foreshadowing techniques, and the basic plot structures, so I’m rarely surprised in this way.
However, it didn’t always keep me guessing for the right reasons. There are two kinds of plot twists, the kind that cause an audience pleasure and the kind that cause annoyance. The former is the kind you find at the end of a good murder mystery: the reason it causes pleasure is because, even though surprising, it looks obvious in retrospect. It ties everything together, but not in the way the audience supposed.
The kind that causes annoyance is the kind that comes out of nowhere, that doesn’t build on what has gone before but gets inserted at seeming random. The poorly executed deus ex machina is of this kind. Also of this kind is the random killing of a major character without proper foreshadowing or purpose. I can’t give examples without spoiling some title other than the one under discussion, but I am sure any reader can think of examples himself.
Magical Girl Raising Project prides itself on being the kind of story where “anyone can die.” I have heard this used as an expression of praise many times in the last few years, but I think the people who say it don’t really mean it. When people say they want a story in which anyone can die, what they really mean, I believe, is that they want a story with good twists, a story that keeps them guessing. They don’t actually mean that they want the characters to die at random.
Magical Girl Raising Project, at least at first, kills off characters at random. I’m inclined to say that anyone interested in the show should watch episode 1 to get the setup and then skip to episode 6. Episodes 2 through 5 dither around building up a character who’s just going to die anyway. Once the show gets going, it’s exciting to watch. The action is everything I want in an action-oriented magical girl show, and the deaths even start to make sense. It’s unfortunate that MGRP takes so long to get up to speed.
If the writing were tighter, this would come close to being a masterpiece. As it is, it’s a bloody mess that takes six episodes to get going and a full twelve to deliver a heartfelt scene.
I quite like a few of the characters, who deserve better than the plot. Top Speed, the motorcycle gangster turned happy housewife turned flying witch, is the biggest waste of potential in the show. I’d like to see an AU version, minus the death match, in which she’s the leader of a magical girl team consisting of Ripple, La Pucelle, Hardgore Alice, and Snow White. They could make a classic Five-Man Band with Ripple as the Lancer, La Pucelle as the Big Guy, Hardgore Alice as … um … mumble mumble … and Snow White as The Chick. La Pucelle would still be Snow White’s love interest, and Alice’s loyalty to Snow White could be expanded into loyalty to the whole team … or she could fight with La Pucelle over her or something. Either way, the show would mostly focus on Top Speed’s harebrained schemes to keep her loveable but slow-witted husband in the dark about her habit of fighting crime and breaking speed records.
No, really. I see potential here.