A pic by Edoya Pochi (@pochi_edoya), the creator of the MahoIku manga
Sup. Today, I would like to write about my favorite anime of Fall 2016: Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku, also called MahoIku. It was based on a novel by Endou Asari and illustrated by Maruino. Before my customary “watch all first episodes of the season” bonanza in October, I hardly knew anything about Mahoiku apart from it being a dark mahou shoujo story. It formed a vague cluster named “Madoka clones” in my brain, together with works like Mahou Shoujo of the End or Anti Magical. I had no way of knowing that it would turn out to be this season’s number one for me. (SPOILERS AHEAD)
Ominous music. Bloodstained bodies of dead girls litter the floor while one living girl stands among them. A monster appears, only to be slain by her…
MahoIku doesn’t hide what kind of show you’re in for – the first scene tells you that at the very beginning.
Then the OP plays and after that, you’re treated to a ridiculous PR video – an adorable mascot introduces you to a smartphone game, the Magical Girl Raising Project, and the fabulous adventures it has in store for the protagonist. Wouldn’t it be great if a game like that actually existed?
The girl then closes the app and goes to school, listening to her bitchy classmates talk about a game that turns people into real mahou shoujo. After coming back home, Fav the mascot informs her that she was chosen to become a magical girl and the game will continue in real life…
Her name is Himekawa Koyuki. She looks awfully plain, but then again, everybody does in MahoIku – until they transform into a mahou shoujo. Koyuki’s new alter ego is called Snow White. She fits into the role of the protagonist perfectly. Snow White is an adorable (her voice being Touyama Nao helps) good girl – so much that some might call her boring. I like her a lot, though. Hers is a standard mahou shoujo personality, inherited from the likes of Sakura or Madoka.
There are 15 more magical girls other than Snow White, each with a real-life identity, an alternative name, a superpower, and a showy character design. The definition of a mahou shoujo is rather vague in MahoIku: they’re very varied – age-wise and aesthetically. There’s busty La Pucelle, who’s living proof that even males can be mahou shoujo – off-duty, he’s Koyuki’s childhood friend, sharing her admiration for mahou shoujo. Ripple the misanthropic ninja – closer in appearance to Taimanin Asagi than to American Ninja, though. Top Speed, a witch on a broom, and a former girl-thug. Haughty, narcissistic Ruler. Swim Swim, with water-related superpowers and a swimsuit. Angels Yunael & Minael (even their voice actresses are twins). Tama the clumsy dog-girl. Brooding Weiss Winterprison and her cute girlfriend, Sister Nana the naive nun. Nemurin the jobless girl. Magicaloid 44 the robot. Calamity Mary the cowboy (cowgirl?) with Inoue Kikuko’s voice. Hardgore Alice the gothloli. And Cranberry the minstrel girl.
As soon as she joins the game, Snow White becomes the scoreboard leader thanks to her superpowers and forms a duo with La Pucelle. Everything seems fine and dandy. Unless you recall the bloody scene from the episode’s beginning. If you do, you will be asking yourself “friend or foe?” each time Snow White interacts with another girl…
At the episode’s end, Fav announces that the number of mahou shoujo is too high and will need to be decreased. The plot thickens…
The rules of Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku are simple: the girls collect Magical Candy by helping people in need and each week, the one with the least Candy is eliminated from the game. As Fav makes his announcement, Cranberry smiles knowingly. Being crossed out from the list of magical girls must be sad, but at least everything happens in a regular, orderly fashion, right?
The mahou shoujo of the week this time is Nemurin – jobless and lazy, she earns Candy in her dreams – so in actuality, she doesn’t earn any candy at all. When the time comes for one girl to leave the game, Nemurin… dies. It turns out that’s exactly what being “eliminated” means.
Fav then announces a new feature to make the game more interesting: trading Candy is now possible. Encouraged by that change, Ruler and the group of henchmen she gathered around her comes up with a plan to rob Snow White of her Candy – her power is perfectly suited for helping people, so she undoubtedly has the most…
Turns out that off-duty, Ruler is a dissatisfied office lady with overgrown ambitions. She sets her plan to steal Snow White’s Candy in motion only to die, cheated by Swim Swim and her other underlings… Thus, Swim Swim takes her place. She soon proves to be a serious candidate for the game’s winner…
A fight breaks out between Cranberry and La Pucelle. The latter dies in battle: Cranberry uses her sound-manipulating powers to win. And thus Snow White loses her partner.
Cranberry says some things that make you think that she’s different from all the other participants. She says she doesn’t care who wins. Later, the viewer can witness a dialogue between Fav and Cranberry, which clearly shows that the two are co-operating. If that’s not enough, they call the game senbatsu shiken – an elimination exam.
After La Pucelle’s death, Fav announces that a participant’s death means that nobody will be eliminated from the game this week. Therefore, Magical Candy stops being relevant. Therefore, the game’s changed: it’s all about killing competition now. Therefore, the Magical Girl Raising Project’s true nature has finally been revealed: it’s a battle royale – a chaotic, bloody free-for-all…
At the end of the episode, Magicaloid, encouraged by Calamity Mary, goes to kill Snow White. Before she tries, though, she makes the error of attacking Hardgore Alice, who kills her… a moment after being beheaded.
Swim Swim and her henchmen (henchgirls?) decide that the strongest opponents are the ones who should die first. And the strongest one is Calamity Mary, the Kiriyama Kazuo of this battle royale – a lone gunwoman and a trainwreck of a person in private life. Mary attacks Hardgore Alice only to discover her amazing regeneration powers that make her practically immortal.
Swim Swim invites the duo of Sister Nana and Winterprison. Upon their arrival, it turns out they’ve been lured into a trap. A fight breaks out, in which Yunael and Winterprison die.
Calamity Mary challenges Ripple and Top Speed. After a long battle, Calamity Mary finally dies, but… as soon as that happens, Swim Swim appears to pick up the pieces and kills Top Speed.
Meanwhile, not having any reason to live any longer after Winterprison’s death, Nana hangs herself.
Swim Swim wants Cranberry as her next target, until Minael comes up with a plan to kill Hardgore Alice…
Swim Swim learns of Alice’s true identity and kills her in her untransformed, civilian form. Fav and Cranberry have one more conversation explaining the death game’s true nature: the two are agents from the World of Magic (lol), in charge of recruiting new magical girls. Meanwhile, Swim Swim’s gang prepares to take Cranberry down…
The long, twisting and turning fight with Cranberry leaves three people alive: Minael gets killed by Cranberry. Cranberry is killed by… Tama, whose superpower proves more useful than anybody expected. Tama is killed by Swim Swim.
Now that Cranberry is dead, Fav forms a duo with a new, reluctant master, Swim Swim… Only to change his mind outrageously fast. He manipulates Ripple into avenging Top Speed by killing Swim Swim. He’s hoping that the fight will end in mutual destruction and result in Snow White becoming the last one standing.
The last doubts about the death game being Fav’s intentional work are dispelled – the story reveals its last secrets only at the very end. Ripple wins the duel. Snow White uses her superpower to discover that Fav can be killed. Thus, the battle royale ends with Ripple and Snow White alive. Fav’s social darwinist ways are completely disgraced: the Magical Girl Raising Project was not won by the most competent mahou shoujo, but by one who never killed anyone. Fourteen girls died for nothing. MahoIku has some sick, grotesque sense of humor, if it even can be called that. (END OF SPOILERS)
Fav da, pon♪ by momomilkychoco
“Time to bid farewell to everything, pon!”
Don’t you like Fav? Isn’t he adorable? He’s a cute little bouncy ball saying “pon” after each sentence with Mamiya Kurumi’s voice. Doesn’t he bring a smile to your face? Don’t you want to give him a hug? In episode 6, he has one more thing to declare: the app underwent an update, adding buyable items to the game. Their number is limited to five and you pay for them by… sacrificing years of your remaining life. Because MahoIku charges no money! Around that time in the story, there should be no more doubts about it: MahoIku is a death game and Fav is a malicious hellspawn who’s merrily throwing more fuel into the fire of this battle royale by “updating the game”, only to watch it burn brighter. His previous actions might have been suggesting that he maybe is a tempting, warmongering little pest, but at that moment, his mask definitely hits the floor. What he does is hurling sophisticated tools of torture into the arena at regular intervals so that the gladiators can deal pain to each other in increasingly entertaining ways. How do you feel as the plebeian watching a show in the Colosseum? Personally, I love it. And have always loved experiments with mixing cuteness with deranged sickfuckery.
“I’ll have you kill each other for a bit”
When I read Battle Royale around 2011, the most memorable thing about the novel was its structure. You invent the rules of a game, preferably a high-stakes one, and then describe the progression of one session of that game – that’s what Takami Koushun did. Isn’t that easy to do? Shit writes itself! The “battle royale story” is an easily replicable convention – the coming of F/SN spinoffs telling stories of alternative Holy Grail Wars were an inevitability. The later volumes of the MahoIku series being accounts of more mahou shoujo deathmatches are not a coincidence. Magical Girl Raising Project certainly follows a convention that could be called classic at this point… but is there anything wrong about that?
The other work that MahoIku brings to mind is undoubtedly Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, the 2011 juggernaut written by Urobuchi Gen, responsible for making the term “mahou shoujo” something taken for granted even in fictional worlds – no more calling them mahoutsukai or majokko or whatever. Some people seem to think that evaluating anything higher than Madoka is blasphemy, but I will say it: I like MahoIku more than Madoka. Why? The thing I pay most attention to in works of culture is storytelling. Storytelling-wise, MahoIku is a much more classically made, focused work. One knowing exactly what it wants to do and not resorting to any questionable gimmicks. A perfectly round ball without any protruding threads. That’s what I like – stories striving to be The Ultimate Story. That’s exactly why MahoIku is one of the best shows of 2016 and the best dark mahou shoujo narrative ever. Also… Kyuubei might have been an interesting, original villain – an emotionless alien who makes girls work for him to fight entropy until their death, usually premature. Fav, instead, is an evil fucker, deceiving the girls with full knowledge of what he’s doing – like the wealth of similar bad guys in the history of literature. A classic villain. There’s a reason why those classic tropes are popular: they work. They bring out an emotional response from the viewer. Screw Kyuubei, Fav is who I truly love to hate.
It’s also great in the production values department – it might not be pushing the envelope in terms of what the medium of animation can accomplish, but I don’t think there’s a single moment when MahoIku looks bad. Good job, Lerche. And it certainly sounds good. The OP, Sakebe by Numakura Manami (the voice of Ripple) and the ED, Dreamcatcher by Nano are both great songs – I like the former one more.
If you still haven’t, give MahoIku a go. I don’t think you will regret that decision. I not only don’t, but plan to buy the novels as soon as Yen On puts out the English translations. I’m a fan now. Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku gets an overwhelming WATCH THIS! from me.