Spoilers about Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku, or Magical Girls Raising Project: the TL;DR is that it’s a story with consistent and overarching thematic points that make sense, despite seemingly underhanded ploy to appeal to emotion through relatively cheap tricks (of killing people). More details after the jump, but it is at least something I can deal with mentally after it’s all said and done.
The jist of it is that the notion of a “magical girl” story only has to conform to some superficial elements. This is part of the reason why a lot of people think it similar to giant robots in anime, which have been made into all kinds of other genres (in the more traditional sense–sitcom, comedy, action, adventure, romcom, romance, horror, etc). To better understand magical girls we have to go all the way to the prototype era examples–The Minki Momos and Creamy Mamis at the very least, and understand why Madoka is landmark. Comparing them to Rayearth or Mai-Hime is missing the point, in the sense that a Sailor Moon is magical and, say, Strike Witches is an entirely different genre altogether despite having many similarities.
So, it’s worth identifying the things that makes magical girls anime magical, and it’s more than a girl having a transformation. It has to do with ideals, and identity. These thematic aspects are what actually defines a show being magical girls as a genre.
First, we have to have some sense of being an ordinary girl. This is the whole point of the genre on its inception. We want kiddy anime about normal kids so normal kids can identify with the said magical girls. Of course, with otaku anime this is kind of a moot point now, but it sets the floor for the transformation. This is where Strike Witches fails the test, actually. To an extent this is also where Rayearth and Mai-Hime fail the tests, because their protagonists are heroines in the more standard sense (the correct genre for Rayearth is “transported to another world” I mean com’on ANN quit being dumb), although in Mai-Hime some characters could pass this.
Second, we need to have a transformation. This happens not just in the physical, but in the social and relational as well. The OG era magical girls often played the roles of normal adults after transformation, may they be a TV star or just a very suave human in a time of need. The power is identifying this gap, and there’s generally no set way this could be done. If anything, this gap is the trademark of the magical girls concept. It may be as much an internal difference than an external difference. [And arguably moving the focus of magical girls concept to its externalities is how this genre de-feminizies itself, becoming a much more male-friendly concept. We may see how Nanoha becomes Gundam, but we do not see how she changed from an average JS to the JS with a heart of steel. This way we avoid having to spend weeks and weeks of character development in which the protagonist is just moping around, as a lot of people don’t want to watch that. In other words, we can avoid some of this by adjusting the floor, or the definition of what passes for ordinary. Is Nanoha an ordinary girl that other, real human ordinary girls would identify with, or a trope-defined ordinary girl that is good enough for the otaku to suspend his beliefs, that she passes for an ordinary girl for genre definitions?]
Third, we need to have some sense of idealism. Another way to explain this is having a sense of “purity” as often seen in shoujo narrative. It’s often described as a sense of justice or how things are. In Mahouiku, Snow White is not only someone who tries to be a good girl, but she is seen as an ideal. The story in Mahouiku revolves around how different people engage in their notions of ideals. It might be endless booze, money and power as ideal in one case, or the fact that you can entertain yourself with Battle Royale: Magical Girls Edition, taking pleasure in a good challenge. In Creamy Mami, it might be how it empowers women to become whatever that’s not a 100% housewife (but you still would want to get married). That’s hella radical for 1970s Japan, you know. The freedom to pursuit happiness is an ideal as well. It can be the emotional fulfilment of deep longing needs, or the conclusion of deeply-held beliefs as grudges, unrequited loves, and seeing some wish fulfilled.
So the main difference between Madoka and Mahouiku is their thematic tilt. Mahouiku still treasured its ideals, as Snow White played the Survival Game only because she had to, not because it was what defined her powers and role in life. In fact, the different girls in the show all cling on to something to keep them going. The survival game format only honed those motivations as they push through those difficult times–it could be Top Speed’s sense of motherhood, or Swim-chan’s ideals as ruler, or even Nemurin’s absolute stance of non-conflict. Madoka, on the other hand, signed up to become her own worst enemies as we see a corruption of the magical girl ideal–being magical girl is actually suffering, because the ideal was a lie in which by becoming a magical girl, she also became the most dangerous thing she was fighting against.
So they’re two very different works! One just kills them for dramatic effect where the other does it because that was the point of the story…
PS. Isn’t it grand that Snow White’s buddy is actually a guy who turned into a magical girl? This is probably the most novel thing about Mahouiku, except unless you untangle the idea from the wretched plot and see it thematically, it doesn’t even click.