Mahoiku v3 or The Deathgame of the Century

Pufure by btrn

Finally. Today I finished reading the second half of Mahoiku: Restart. If you’ve read my bit on the first volume, you should know how much I anticipated this book – Mahoiku v2 was definitely the best thing I’ve read in 2017, and that was a year wealthy in masterpieces. Did it live up to the hype? Before I get to that: first, a little refreshment of memory is in order. I did a re-read of Mahoiku v2 a few days ago (less than half a year after the first reading), and I do not regret the decision to do it – it elliminated the possibility of me forgetting something important.

The death game with magical girls continues. Pfle presents a hypothesis that the villain has unlimited power over the game world. Detec Bell suspects Lapis Lazuline and sets off to investigate her in real life. Snow White visits the Master – the mysterious girl overlooking this Battle Royale. As for beating the game itself, the girls reach the first enemy which could be called a boss – the Great Dragon. Just as they’re about to launch a meticulously planned operation to beat the monster, Genopsyko Yumenoshima, who was supposed to be dead, appears out of nowhere and starts the battle, before anyone’s ready. At this cliff-hanging point, the first volume ends…

Mahoiku v3 starts its shock-and-awe shenanigans even before the actual story starts – the character roster includes a person who wasn’t there in the first volume… And then, the introductory page titled “What is Magical Girl Raising Project?” serves you a sucker punch out of nowhere. A similar page could be found in the first half of the story. However, if you thought it’s just a formality to place a little explanation at the front of the book, it turns out to be much more. Halfway down the bit of text, it turns out to be addressed to the only one of the 16 mahou shoujo who was assigned the role of the villain, the Evil King. Not only is this the ultimate proof of the Big Bad being not an external force, but a participant in the game; it also shows that the villain isn’t an omnipotent executor – the Evil King has to work within the rules of the game, just like all the other participants. In a way, the two sides in the conflict are equal. The bit at the beginning serves one more easily missed purpose: it completely excludes the possibility that the Evil King is unaware of what she is. Hint hint…

As you can figure out from the way Mahoiku v2 ended, the follow-up volume starts with a bang. The battle with the boss, which was supposed to be a coordinated, orderly effort turns into a chaotic mess. At least reading about a dozen superpowered players managing to win the battle and limit their losses in ingenious ways is madly entertaining. Although I started reading for the murder mystery, the SAO angle is well done as well. What follows the boss battle, however, is several tens of pages of character backstories without much relevance to the mystery and descriptions of the girls progressing through the game world – for a while I thought that maybe I’d have to suffer through filler until the resolution of the plot the at very end. I turned out to be man of little faith, however – that was not the case at all.

All the mahou shoujo, now that forming parties has lost its point, reach the very last room in the game, the throne room, where the Evil King was supposed to reside. After a battle with two bosses, the Big Bad’s henchmen, they find a message saying that… the Evil King is absent. Fal tells them the Evil King definitely is in the game and all they need to do is find her. Enraged and exhausted, the game’s participants have no choice but to look for her… Since the girls are dying one after another, the pressure is on. Eventually, Detec Bell discovers a hidden item which unlocks the girls’ sealed memories: all of them are victors from previous magical girl Battle Royales. Now that her memory is back, on page 112 out of 193, Pfle declares that it’s now obvious who the Evil King is…

So, who were you betting on? Out of the entire cast, who’d been the Big Bad, in your opinion? Halfway into Mahoiku v2, I’d decided that the time is ripe to choose one. I was not 100% sure of my pick, but I was of the opinion that even after looking at the character roster and considering the girls’ powers, there was one particularly strong candidate. And I was *kind of* right. I picked the exact same mahou shoujo who Pfle singled out halfway through this book. So, now that the identity of the villain is clear, all that remains is killing her off, right? No. It takes a while to kill the villain – Pechka in particular had an incredibly impressive moment in battle. Remember Tama from Mahoiku v1 and how her seemingly useless ability proved to actually be jawdroppingly overpowered? That’s the trick Pechka pulls off… sort of. She dies anyway. Isn’t it sad how the cover girl doesn’t survive until the end this time? The mystery is explained and the villain’s actions are considered in detail. And yet, after the supposed Big Bad is offed, the game doesn’t end. Three participants remain alive. Have you considered the possibility of Mahoiku: Restart turning out to be one of those classic murder mystery with multiple villains? The Master, who’s been appearing in the novel from time to time, didn’t necessarily have to have any connection to the Evil King, either.

The remaining three players – Pfle, Shadow Gale and Clantail – deduce that the true Evil King must still be among them. Which obviously leads to a three-way death match, with every side fighting reluctantly, since something doesn’t seem right – is it the Master trying to force them into killing each other and leading the deathgame into ending with zero survivors? Or is Pfle the Evil King, even though she had not been aware of being her for the entire duration of the game? On page 181, Pfle has an epiphany – she figures out the truth, in the novel’s most impressive moment. My jaw was on the floor: it was completely possible to deduce and yet I never saw it coming. Neither of the three was the Evil King. The game ends. Three mahou shoujo are left alive. There had been three culprits working independently of each other. Meanwhile, I’m cursing out loud while reading a fucking light novel about silly magical girls. I salute you, Endou Asari.

Although it doesn’t change my opinion of the novel, I need to admit there has been plenty of bullshit in the story, storytelling-wise. Like superpowers suddenly changing the way the work without any way to foresee it: Melville’s power is the biggest offender here. It completely destroys the illusion that the reader could figure out the culprit early on. Also, the story pretends that Keek’s motivation for starting this Battle Royale has ever made sense. And the “mind crush” moment at the end was eyeroll-inducing. Snow White pretty much mentally destroyed her by saying “What you’ve been doing is no different from the behavior you’ve been criticising the entire time”. And she’s right. Keek started a deathgame and trapped a bunch of girls inside of it because deathgames are bad and shouldn’t exist. Good job making sense. Ugh. Her making excuses about being obviously evil doesn’t help her case either. Hurr it’s not me who killed them. Villains should be worthy of hatred, but not like this. One more thing: the number of survivors could easily have been higher, but Endou Asari killed off some girls needlessly. Pechka could have survived. Nonako, too. Nokko couldn’t, but at least the other girls could spare the reader their “it can’t be helped, let her kill herself” lines. In a story about a powergamer trying to prevent as many deaths as possible, going for shock value with silly Battle Royale-style death scenes seems contradictory. In the afterword, Endou mentions that the list of casualties wasn’t originally supposed to look like this. I can only speculate what happened. Also, the reason Shadow Gale is on the cover is: Maruino likes her. That’s all.

Mahoiku: Restart is about mahou shoujo. There’s a deathgame going on. They’re trapped in a virtual world where if you die in the game, you die for real. And before anything else, it’s a “wolf among us” murder mystery – a meticulously constructed, intricate puzzle. If you took a brief look at this clusterfuck of hip LN storytelling gimmicks, you might think this novel couldn’t possibly be any good. And yet it is. As I’ve said before, I have tremendous respect for proper oldschool murder mysteries and their authors. The intellectual effort put into making those leaves me with no other choice but to praise them, especially if you compare them to all those shitty pieces of pop-lit that don’t even know why they exist. It’s so impressive that in the future I’ll probably associate it with the late 2010s in my life and in Japanese nerdy culture. I won’t be surprised if I reread those two books within a year from now. Damn, Mahoiku. Anime when?!

Well then. Read Mahoiku: Restart. And look forward to me writing about the fourth book of the series…

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