Cute Girls Kill Each Other (MGRP Review)

-Introduction-

Middle School student Koyuki Himekawa has always dreamed of being a pure-hearted Mahou Shoujo (Magical Girl) who does good deeds and helps those in need. She begins playing an online social game called Magical Girl Raising Project, and one evening, the game gives her the option of becoming a real Mahou Shoujo. She accepts and finds out that it’s true: the game does turn certain selected girls into heroes with real magical abilities.

Koyuki’s Mahou Shoujo name is Snow White. She sets off at once to help people with her ability to hear the thoughts of those in need. However, Koyuki is discovers that the world of Mahou Shoujo is nothing like she thought. A death match begins among the city’s 17 Magical Girls, with the aim of cutting back their numbers, by order of the game’s strange admin and mascot, Fav.

Magical Girl Raising Project was animated by studio Lerche, and based on the light novel series written by Asari Endo and illustrated by Maruino. The 12-episode series aired in Fall 2016. Raising Project is the story of a battle royal and/or death match and/or survival game. I consider this its own genre these days; it’s called Sabage or Survival Game. Examples of Sabage series include Danganronpa, Mirai Nikki, Btoom!, Fate/Zero, and Juuni Taisen. Other genres for Raising Project are magical girl, fantasy, thriller, and horror.

Appeal, Structure, and Quality of Story: 5/10 Average

Manga and anime about Mahou Shoujo were originally light-hearted, cutesy, and appealing to younger age groups. Ever since the deconstruction of the genre in Madoka Magica, however, certain audiences have reacted positively to darker and more violent shows featuring Magical Girls. Raising Project is aimed specifically at those audiences, the ones looking for death and violence (but only in anime). This is a show that focuses on slaughter without a moral or hopeful takeaway message. In that sense, it’s very different from Madoka Magica.

After reading a few reviews, it’s clear that there are two main groups of reviewers. Those who rated Raising Project low didn’t expect a violent, sabage anime without deeper meaning. They see no point in watching cute female characters suffer. Those who rated the show in the middle scores or higher went into it expecting a blood bath, and enjoyed the series for living up to that. Therefore, whether or not you like this show will depend on what “camp” you are in: those looking for a death match or those looking for a meaningful story. I enjoyed Raising Project, but I’m not going to give it a high rating it doesn’t deserve. I guess that means I’m in between.

Considering the simplicity of the main plot, the writers did a decent job making the story structure original. Unlike Danganronpa, it isn’t strictly structured, with one character murdered and one character proven guilty each episode. In MGRP, the story follows each of the mini-plots of the specific girls, and results in many of them dying on some episodes, and none in others. What little original plot there is follows individual characters’ goals and battles. What was not done well at all was the frequency of occasions where the flashbacks or backstories of characters predicted who would die next. That got really old really fast.

This series is severely lacking in world building. We don’t learn much about “the magical world” that Fav refers to so often, and the show isn’t clear on the purpose of creating and testing Mahou Shoujo. It’s implied that it’s like a game or sport to those in the magical world, watching a death match with one girl left standing. This is never stated or confirmed, though. Furthmore, the ending was abrupt and too convenient. It seemed like it was cheaply contrived at the last moment, and it did not feel climatic in the slightest.

Art-style and Character Designs: 8/10 Excellent

The animation in Magical Girl Raising Project was actually more stylized and less cookie-cutter than I anticipated. Borrowing from the tactic used in Madoka Magica, this series uses a ridiculously cute style. Characters are almost chibi, with oversized heads, and huge, sparkling eyes. The style allows for quality facial expressions. There is a lot of blood and dying in this anime, but it was presented with a realistical enough style for audiences to take it seriously. (At least, compared to humorous disasters like Corpse Party.)

One thing I liked about MGRP was that it uses two art-styles in one, in a way. First, there’s the animation for how the characters look in their normal human form; then, there’s the way they look as Magical Girls. In the latter form, the eyes and hair of the girls can be different colors than in their human form, and they can take on the body of someone older or younger than their real human selves. Nemurin and Hardgore Alice both appear to be young teens in their costumes, but in reality, Nemurin is in her twenties and Alice hasn’t started middle school.

Each girl’s costume has its own theme, and I thought each was well done and detailed. For instance, Cranberry is supposed to look like a woodland elf, Sister Nana like a nun, and Ripple like a ninja. I believe La Pucelle is supposed to take after a dragon. The action scenes were good in Raising Project, too. So overall I’d say the art and animation were excellent.

Voice Acting and Music: 7/10 Good

The voice acting in Magical Girl Raising Project was good, but nothing astounding. Most of the seiyuu I did not recognize. There are some exceptions, including (most notably to me) Sister Nana’s seiyuu Saori Hayami, now known for diverse talent in roles like Shirayuki (Snow White with the Red Hair) to Yumeko Jabami (Kakegurui). I’m a big fan of Yuu Kobayashi, who played Winterprison, but some people find her sometimes hoarse voice annoying. Kobayashi is known for playing Sasha in Attack on Titan and Ruka in Steins;Gate.

Koyuki is voiced by young seiyuu Nao Touyama, whose performance as a lead character in “Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san” (2014) was excellent. I was impressed with La Pucelle’s seiyuu, Sukura Ayane. She is a newer VA who has mostly played minor characters but is known for playing Nao Tomori in “Charlotte” (2015). I thought Ayane delivered the perfect image of her character, and I look forward to hearing her in new anime in the future.

The opening song for Magical Girl Raising Project was impressive and amazingly sung (by Koyuki’s seiyuu), but it just wasn’t my style. On the other hand, I absolutely loved the ending theme, “Dreamcatcher” by Nano and West Ground. Parts are in English and parts are in Japanese, and unlike many anime songs that incorporate English, neither the wording nor the pronunciation were “off.” The song “Dreamcatcher” starts soft and mysterious, but builds up to beautiful and inspiring female rock song with a powerful vocalist.

The OST has not been released to western audiences and if it exists in Japan, I am not aware of it. Therefore, it’s difficult to discuss the instrumental scores in MGRP. When I watched it, there weren’t any astounding tunes, but a few stuck out at me, and the music did a fairly good job helping the plot and emotion overall.

Characters: 6/10 Fine

With sixteen mahou shojou and only twelve episodes total, it’s only natural for the character development to be somewhat lacking. The majority of the characters are one-dimensional, defined by one main interest or by their magical power. Top Speed takes pride in being the fastest Magical Girl, and is quick to laugh, retort, or speak up. Ruler is obsessed with controlling others. Magicaloid 44 just tries to cheat people of their money. Snow White always wants peace and lives to help others. Etc., etc.

Characters who received a little more attention included Ripple, who is forced to put up with a pedophilic stepfather, Calamity Mary, whose alcoholism and child abuse drove her husband and child to leave her, and Winterprison, who shares a special (gay) bond with Nana. The most interesting character was Swim Swim, because she sparks my interest in childhood onset of Antisocial Personality Disorder (sociopathy). Second most interesting was La Pucelle, whose real identity is a boy and not a girl. I like characters who challenge gender stereotypes.

Enjoyment: 7/10 Good

Overall, I enjoyed Magical Girl Raising Project. The anime was recommended to me when I was looking for death match type series like Mirai Nikki. At times, the unique but awkward pacing frustrated me. There is no real battle or treachery, for example, until episode 4, and the show really didn’t get rolling until around episode 6. As I mentioned, the ending was too cheap and convenient, but nevertheless, I was satisfied and even impressed with the actions and the fate of the main heroine Koyuki.

Many of the fight scenes were intense and exciting. I loved and supported the bond between Sister Nana and Weiss Winterprison. I liked La Pucelle quite a bit– especially because her human identity is the young male, Sou. The magical world and its purpose for creating and testing magical girls has the potential to be interesting if it’s developed in the novels or in a second anime season. When it comes to anime, I can be bloodthirsty, so Raising Project was right up my alley. I don’t resent it for being something of a ripoff of Madoka Magica, because the anime seemed stayed within its own zone of… violence and mediocrity.

Overall Score: 6.6/10 Fine

I only recommend watching Magical Girl Raising Project if you like dark mahou shoujo shows. By now, that’s become something of a cult sub-genre, with shows like Magical Girl Site in 2018 and Magical Girl Spec-ops Asuka in 2019. Well, stay strong all you magical girls and boys!

Note: I do not own any of the images or the gif used in this post. Credit to original creators.

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