Reviewby Theron Martin,
Magical Girl Raising Project
Complete Series - Blu-Ray + Digital
Koyuki Himekawa has been fascinated by magical girls since she was a little girl, and unlike most of her friends, she never grew out of that interest. As a middle schooler she takes to playing the app game Magical Girl Raising Project and is overjoyed when one rumor about it proves true: she is selected to be an actual, empowered magical girl called Snow White. She's even happier when she discovers that her trainer, the magical girl La Pucelle, is actually Sota, a boy she knew in elementary school who shared her passion. Most other magical girls in her city initially seem amiable as well, until a problem arises: there are too many magical girls for the area's mana supply to support them, so their number will be culled by half based on rankings in a magical candy-earning competition. What the girls find out too late is that losing magical girl status is also fatal. As the competition to stay alive becomes more cutthroat, the darker side of the current magical girl system starts to reveal itself.
Although this 2016 series is listed primarily as a magical girl series (which it unquestionably is), a more accurate way to describe it might be as a hybrid of magical girl and survival game series, as it has nearly as much in common with a King's Game or Darwin's Game as it does with darker-skewing magical girl series like Madoka Magica or Magical Girl Site. Hence while it's clearly made for fans of the latter, it could hold just as much appeal to fans of the former who are not necessarily also magical girl fans. At the very least, it won't come up short against any of these titles when it comes to bloody mayhem. That's both one of this series' selling points and one of its biggest problems.
Before even considering that, this series stands out amongst its peers in one significant way: the majority of the cast is not the traditional selection of elementary/middle high school girls that these series normally draw from. Some still are, including main protagonist Koyuki, but of the 16 named magical girls who appear, one of them is a boy who gender-swaps when he transforms, at least three are adult women (one as old as 39), and five are college-aged; Cranberry is also implied to be older, but her human form is never shown or described. The outfit designs for the magical girls are also vastly more diverse than normal. Snow White's modified school uniform look is probably the closest to traditional style, with the rest ranging from a ninja, nun, dragon girl, and witch to an android, Goth loli, pair of angels with single wings, and sexy cowgirl.
Beyond those aspects, the series is a roughly even mix of its genre components. The most interesting twist here is that the game at the heart of the story is not even supposed to be a death game; it's just become that way because of certain parties meddling with what is supposed to be a far less dangerous selection process to make it more thrilling. That turns game mascot character Fav into one of the biggest pricks in anime since Madoka Magica's Kyubey, the character he was very clearly modeled after; the only real difference is that Kyubey was amoral because of an utter inability to understand human emotions, while Fav seems to specifically get his jollies from screwing with the magical girls and manipulating them into thinking that they have to kill each other for survival, all because he was bored rather than because of any grand evil plot. Standing diametrically opposed is Koyuki/Snow White, who survives to the end essentially because she stays truest to the magical girl ideal, a fact that is not lost on the other magical girls. As the end of the series shows, however, what she goes through in the process ultimately has a big impact on her.
The plot more or less plays out in a standard death game progression: as participants start to realize that they can die as part of this game, peace goes out the window. More pacifistic types try to form factions to help everyone them through, while more opportunistic types start attacking to get advantages and take out perceived threats or (in one case) just get a good challenge. Background stories and looks at the “normal” lives of the magical girls other than Koyuki periodically pop up, often in accompaniment with the character dying or as a death flag for a character; predictably, these stories vary between Koyuki's generally content life and a happy lesbian couple on one end and some pretty awful circumstances (some of them self-induced, some not) on the other end. The order in which the girls die is not entirely predictable, with the biggest surprise being that the magical girl who looks like she's being set up as the final boss ends up getting whacked rather suddenly by an unexpected culprit, but picking out who the other last survivor is besides Snow White probably won't be too hard. To help them along, each of the girls also has a unique power, which in most cases is keyed to their personality or magical girl identity: the former thrill-seeking biker is a super-fast flyer, the knightly La Pucelle can manipulate her sword's size, Ruler can compel people to action, Snow White can sense the thoughts of those in trouble, and so forth.
The death game aspect assures that there will be a lot of battles, and the staging of those conflicts is a strong point for the series. Action animation, while not gloriously-detailed, is at least above average and lively enough to keep the fights tense and interesting. These scenes can also, at times, be almost shockingly graphic; in particular, Hardgore Alice's name should be taken to heart, but plenty of blood gets spilled by and from others. Three of the magical girls have outfits which show off prominent cleavage, but the series is practically devoid of fan service beyond that. In general, the visual technical merits are solid without being particularly flashy. Audio technical merits do well with sound effects but impress much less with the soundtrack, with both the opener and closer also being wholly unremarkable.
Though the series aired in 2016, Funimation streamed an English dub for it starting in the summer of 2018. It is a decent effort overall, with some performances being dramatically better than others. At the top of the scale is Madeleine Morris's chirpy rendition of Fav; she never allows the character to break its upbeat tone even when saying some pretty evil things, and Fav comes off all the more despicable because of that. Lindsay Siedel also had a stand-out performance as the perpetually-energetic (but never quite over-the-top) Top Speed. On the downside, the Western drawl Mikaela Krantz tries to use for Calamity Mary doesn't quite work, and Macy Johnson seems very limited by Hardgore Alice. (In fairness, she didn't have much to work with there.)
Funimation is providing the physical release in Blu-Ray form only, with access to a digital version included. The case comes in a slipcover with interior artwork featuring a duplicate of the cover art and a rendition of Nemurin, the dream-based magical girl. She also pops up in an on-disk Extra called “Nemurin Messages,” which is a trio of short holiday-themed greetings for Christmas, New Year's Day, and Valentine's Day. Other on-disk Extras include only clean opener and closer, a promo video, and web previews.
Although the series does a lot of other things at least relatively well, it is ultimately limited by problems with its tone. The story traffics in some very dark topics – terrorism, suicide, attempted molestation – in addition to its graphic and even grisly content, but even at its darkest it rarely feels as dark as it tries to show. Its night scenes are a little too bright, and the cute aspects clash with the darker elements in an unfavorable fashion. A series like this makes me appreciate even more just how delicate a balancing act Madoka Magica pulled off by successfully integrating the cutesy magical girl aspect with its grimmer elements. It doesn't kill the concept by any means, especially with the twist about how things ending up bloody is not part of the original intent of the project, but it keeps this from being a memorable series. Fans of the source novels generally regard this story arc as being the franchise's weakest, but with several more novels existing and no word of a sequel in more than three years, this is probably all we're going to get in animated form.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Some good action scenes and story twists.
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