There's an intrigue to this series that leaves it squarely in a take it or leave it case -- adore the darkness or think it's too much.

Magical Girl Raising Project manga volume 1Title: Magical Girl Raising Project
Genre: Magical Girl, Psychological
Publisher: Kadokawa (JP), Yen Press (US)
Story/Artist: Asari Endou, Pochi Edoya
Serialized in: Comp Ace
Translation: Jennifer Ward
Release Date: December 19, 2017
A review copy was provided by Yen Press.

There’s some good news and bad news regarding the manga version of Magical Girl Raising Project. The good news is it’s most definitely a unique spin on the magical girl genre. Incorporating an essentially battle royale environment in what was supposed to be magical girls doing great things? It’s hard to accuse it of not being different for sure.

The bad news is it’s not dark at times to be enjoyable; it’s dark to where there’s little sense of hope. Normally, since that’s a key in the genre and this is twisting that concept, that’s a good thing. But with the glut of characters and lack of well drawn fights, the manga not as engaging as it should be.

Magical Girl Raising Project originated as a light novel by Asari Endou and Marui-no. It was popular enough to get two manga series, and, eventually, it garnered Western attention when the anime aired in 2016. Yen Press picked this series up, and assigned Jennifer Ward (translator of Peephole, Kasane, Love and Lies) and Rochelle Gancho (Letterer of Tohyo Game, Anne Happy, The Witch’s House: The Diary of Ellen) to work on Pochi Edoya’s take on the light novel.

The story begins innocently enough: the popular magical girl game (Magical Girl Raising Project) allowed real girls to become magical girls. For Snow White and La Pucelle, they did not need much convincing to enjoy this life and help the people of N City. However, 16 magical girls is too many for management, so they let the players all know they’re whittling them down to 8. The way for them to stay magical girls is to get the most magical candy each week. If someone happens to have the lowest though, then they’re no longer magical girls… or alive. This eventually leads to girls who decide to steal the candy from others and, ultimately, to a vicious battle within the group.

Needless to say, it pulls off a creative idea. Obviously the most famous example of switching things up was Madoka, but most magical girl works feature a darker side to its largely positive tone. Magical Girl Raising Project exclusively sticks with seeping itself in darkness, and it almost pulls it off. I’m curious to know A) who the 8 girls will be that’ll survive, B) if there will be 8 girls that do survive, and C) the real reasons why the game is this way. As the manga is short (only two volumes), I’ll quickly find out. I’m also curious about who these characters are, their reasons for becoming magical girls, and how some of them can overcome this growing issue.

But sometimes, being dark isn’t that great, and this wallows way too much into that. It’s not that it’s not a good thing. It gives the reader a choice — either you can handle the tone or pass. My problem is it does this and fails to handle this premise well. A good example is the start of the manga. It teases Snow White helping a girl, and that girl wonders why is Snow White, one of the few magical girls chosen by the MRGP game, so sad? It then settles into explaining why she’s so sad, but it doesn’t work as well as it should because I don’t know who she is. What was she doing before playing this game?

A better idea would have been to build up her backstory, show her being chosen to become a magical girl, and then get to the big scene involving their teacher. In fact, it’s no coincidence that the character I liked the most was Ripple, who went into why she got into the game, which made her far more interesting than most of the girls in the manga. Well, some of them. But that’s the problem — too many characters, not enough background info. Combine that with sometimes quick battles that aren’t great to read, add the super dark tone, and the manga can become too much. It’s not executed well enough for its premise to shine.

That all said, Magical Girl Raising Project’s premise is strong enough for me to keep reading. The only major problem is it could have been a lot better, and it’s dreary tone will impress one side and turn off the other. That’s a shame.