Pufure-sama by Dai-San Oujo
Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku: Restart (1/2) was originally put out in late 2012, but just recently, its English translation premiered, thanks to Yen Press. It’s the second volume of the MahoIku series and although it’s 200 pages long, just like the first volume, it’s only half of the story, to be continued in volume 3. The first volume was obviously too short, I can only speculate why. I guess Endou Asari had to operate under a strict wordcount limit. He didn’t have to put up with such weird limitations this time, his editors be blessed. MahoIku: Restart thankfully had the space to bloom – while the first generation of MGRP was a slapdash Battle Royale clone (but still pretty great), this book aims to be something better. But let’s not jump the shark…
The Magical Kingdom (Mahou no Kuni) is the source of everything supernatural and the originator of magical girls. And a secret society of sorts, with huge covert influence over the human world. Its raison d’etre is the happiness of humanity – a noble, utopian goal. But… you know how it is with utopias. They easily turn dystopian.
Remember what the Magical Girl Raising Project was in the first volume? It was only vaguely introduced – a phone game about magical girls. The details of gameplay were omitted, since the game quickly switched venues to real life and turned vicious. This time, it’s different – the game IS the story. Sixteen experienced mahou shoujo, who had passed their exam and served some time for the Magical Kingdom are forced against their will to play a new, experimental kind of game. Every three days, they’re taken to a photorealistic virtual space to play an RPG of sorts. The girls land in a Mad Max-style desert with ruins where they’re guided by Fal, a Fav lookalike and fight skeletons for magical candy, the game’s currency. And make comedic jabs at Japanese RPGs and phone games. So I guess MahoIku: Restart counts as a “trapped in a videogame” story. And thus, an all-new set of girls with superpowers and silly names will attempt to traverse the gameworld, beat the last boss, test their skills and win some real money while doing it.
Soon after the game begins, the characters form several parties to make the journey easier. The novel doesn’t have a fixed protagonist and gives more attention to a few of the girls. They’re a colorful bunch. You will be looking at the color pages at the beginning of the book, showing all the characters quite often – it’s like a map in a fantasy novel and will aid you in trying to figure out who the culprit is. The novel properly fleshes out the personalities of its cast this time. Pechka (Печка?) is an insecure teen who can turn into a pretty mahou shoujo who cooks with magic and lands in a party with three dunces that suck at the game as much as she does. Magical Daisy is a real mahou shoujo who had even had her own anime series and a social cripple due to her “career” consuming all of her time. Pfle is a rich perfectionist powergamer type on a wheelchair. Melville speaks Scottish and doesn’t stand out. Akane is a homicidal lone wolf who seeks a specific mahou shoujo. Detec Bell is a detective – and not one doing investigations for comic relief. She’s a mystery nerd who tries to crack the game she’s trapped in, both in the gameworld and in real life.
After a while, one of the girls dies in battle, due to a feature suggesting the game’s creator is a callous asshole. If Fal is to be believed, the game is 100% safe and death in the game has no consequences in reality. This event only rouses some suspicions among the players, but… Gradually, the suspicion becomes certainty: the virtual quest to defeat the Evil King proves to be a bloody spectacle set up by some unknown villain for their twisted amusement – even if most of its participants still think they’re just playing a game. Soon, another girl gets murdered. Eventually Fal admits that death in the game equals death in reality. Out of nowhere, Fal announces a “special event”: one of the girls will be arbitrarily killed off.
What I liked the most about this book: it’s a mystery. There’s a high probability that… the criminal is among us! Fal’s master is one of the 16 magical girls. Working your way to the answer to the grand question of “who’s the master, the root of all evil and creator of this insidious game” is what this book is truly about. You and the characters (especially Detec Bell and Pfle) are given facts (like details concerning superpowers, character design, the rules of the game…) to consider and are invited to deduce, speculate and try your hypotheses out. Some leads are dead ends, some might not be. Since this second volume is only a half of the story, the reader won’t yet get that big question answered. I have an idea who the culprit is, but wouldn’t be surprised if I guessed wrong. Towards the end of the volume, there’s an interesting dialogue between Pfle and Shadow Gale, which proves that the master is literally omnipotent and has full control over the virtual reality. Which, sadly, would suggest the murder mystery aspect of the novel goes to trash in the other half. However, it also presents a… multiple villain hypothesis.
Let’s just say I can’t wait to read how this story ends. The volume concludes with the intervention of Snow White, who’s not only alive, but also ready to come and beat the life out of any sicko stupid enough to start a new deathgame. Like the one she survived in the first volume. Reading MahoIku v2 was a blast. If it doesn’t drop the ball in the other half, I’ll be able to recommend it with clear conscience as the greatest deathgame-mono I’ve ever encountered. That book can’t come out soon enough.