Greetings from the Land of Magic, pon. Today, let’s delve into the world of wonders that is Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Restart. And while we’re at it, this post contains no spoilers for either regular MahoIku or Restart so you can read it safely. Just how magi-cool is that?!
After the events of the original Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku storyline, once again, a Magical Girl Raising Project has emerged. 16 magical girls with varying supernatural abilities find themselves trapped in an MMORPG – their common goal: to defeat the Evil King. The story follows four protagonists this time: Magical Daisy, somewhat famous for having her own TV anime yet depressed with life’s ruthless work culture and her magical girl job not treating her any better. Pechka, a slightly overweight middle school girl with her sight set on a particular boy yet a lack of self-confidence standing in her way. Detec Bell, a detective who went from adoring the dazzling fictive crime solvers of her childhood to being confronted with the reality of a very miserable employment yielding no satisfaction whatsoever. And last but not least, there is Shadow Gale, the disillusioned servant to Pfle, an ojou-sama so outstanding it makes her gag and she can’t quite make sense of her – be it inside the game world or real life. As parties are formed with these various people and many more, the teams are suddenly informed that whoever dies in the game also dies in the real world. At the same time, the story shifts from a mere survival plot to something very different – as player killing ensues, someone or something is out for the magical girls. All of the sudden, we now have a mystery story on our hands.
Back in 2017, we got ourselves a very neat anime called Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku. It’s one of the plenty of dark magical girl we’ve had so far and this one was centered around a death game – 16 magical girls were to duke it out against each other. What I immediately assumed to be yet another poor-in-taste, thoroughly generic battle royale anime with that one evil twist and a boring protagonist hugging up all the screentime turned into a thoroughly entertaining brawl between characters so likable and unique you’d be hardpressed to find them elsewhere. Take Ruler, an office lady dissatisfied with life giving her the lower end while also treating her mutuals not particularly well either – yet occasionally, she also has her sweet moments. Or Top Speed, a very genki witch with a delinquent past yet she’s also surprisingly the most mature of the cast while also being a great emotional support and catalyst for character development for her tsundere ninja partner. Yeah, these are very peculiar characters and I like that they are so diverse and varied.
Frankly, you could take most of the characters from MahoIku and insert them into any other show and you’d probably have a BEST GIRL™ on your hands. Finally an otaku anime where the bishoujos are fun and cool and likable and there’s more to them than what meets the eye. And they were having impressive battles to the death in the meantime! Contrary to expectations even, the conclusion turned out to be surprisingly sweet, with a loving theme attached to the story. I’m a simple man and that pleased me greatly. So I could see the appeal of Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku very easily.
Yet when I read the first volume of the light novel the anime was based on, I was disappointed – it’s a rushed mess with no clear identity. Characters’ backstories were relegated to volume 04 so it was impossible to know who these people were or why I should care about them. With the writing stripped to its barrest fundamentals, the appeal was lost entirely. The anime is so much better it’s not even funny. Regardless, people said to hold out until Restart. That’s where things were supposed to get good. Well, unless we are talking about the manga version, which is cancelled anyway but I took the liberty of adding some images to my article nonetheless. Anyway, when it comes to Restart, did it improve upon the first arc or even best its good anime adaptation?
Turns out it eclipsed both.
Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Restart is very much the kind of sequel story that understands the original and expands upon it. It uses the winning formula but tweaks it just enough to deliver an exciting, new product. The genre mishmash of characters being stuck inside an MMO, a death game ensuing and a murder mystery taking place was a fresh, original idea and made for a joy to read. You get the adventurous fun of the RPG aspect of the story, fleshing out the worldbuilding, the looming threat of a gruesome death game hovering above the characters through traps and enemies as well as the constantly interactive engagement with the story through the mystery elements. Additionally, the slice of life aspects were fun and cute just as they should have been. I genuinely wanted to see all these characters interact with each other and I’m glad the fourth volume is all side stories about these people. These are characters you get attached to and very saddened about when they are taken away from you. So essentially, Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Restart gets the basics right much like its predecessor yet improves upon them immensely and gives the death game angle new dimensions and aspects to toy with.
As far as I’m concerned, MahoIku understands the appeal of a dark magical girl franchise just about right: It’s always twisted but never tasteless. It’s brutal but doesn’t sensationally rever its brutality. It makes you feel bad but it’s not edgy. It’s hard to describe. Let’s just say that there is no torture porn in here. Though you will absolutely come into this for having your soul ripped out whenever a beloved character of yours dies. Needless to say, Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Restart stays true to that formula.
The character writing here is stellar. While there are 16 magical girls around and they are therefore not that fleshed out, their personalities shine through regardless. They are charming and distinctive yet none of them fall into bland clichés or stereotypes.They all feel like multifaceted people playing this death game and not just like one-note characters.
The character writing is also very atypical. Characters you usually wouldn’t see paired up thrive in their dynamics. I think what crystalizes this appeal the most are the fan-favorites Shadow Gale and Pfle. You can never really judge Pfle easily and can’t help but wonder wonder what she’s capable of. A lot of what she does is very dubious and sometimes morally questionable but she also does contribute the most to the game. Is she a good guy? Is she a bad guy? Oftentimes, Shadow Gale isn’t sure either. Heck, Shadow Gale states numerous times throughout the story that she doesn’t like Pfle. Or maybe she does? At the very least, she finds numerous sides about her she utterly despises. That alone makes this relationship a lot more than “actually, she’s just tsundere for her ojou-sama!” and oddly complex. Needless to say, the fandom ships these two like hardly anything else. It’s not hard to understand why fans worship most of these characters actually. They really are out there and I just wish more otaku media would try to take a shot at this.
Oftentimes, I would also find myself making assumptions about what characters were like in real life – how old they were, their professions, and so on. Much like the first volume and unlike the anime, character backstories are not present here and only a few characters have IRL counterpart adventures. Well, obviously, that wouldn’t work in a whodunnit format anyway. Wherein in the prequel, characters were just flat, here, even despite a lack of screentime, they flourished so not having any sidestories on them within restart worked out nonetheless.
The character interactions are also a joy to read and the constant switching between perspectives of the various protagonists helped a lot to keep things fresh. Every so often, you would be forced by the narrative to switch between the various teams and their different goals within the game or approaches to clearing it. No character is like another and subsequently, no team is alike. Oftentimes, parties also interact with one another and I did chuckle when Masked Wonder and Lapis Lazuline found comradeship across teams through their passion for chuuni battle poses. And what adds to the variety is how some characters prefer to dedicate their efforts to clearing the game, whereas others engage more in the mystery side of things.
So the biggest strength of restart are not the mystery or MMO elements – it’s the characters! I loved and suspected almost every character – at the same time! That sure made for some very complicated feelings.
I’ve said that there isn’t much focus on the IRL stories of characters and while that’s true for the cast as a whole, the four protagonists of course are exempt from this. As the death game forces them to log out after every three days anew, the story also progresses in real life and needless to say, being forced to continue playing a game where people die left and right also takes a toll on these characters in their private lifes, thus adding another facet to the character writing.
If I had to pick a favorite team, it’d no doubt be Clantail’s Team or Pechka’s mini family as I like to call it. Consisting of Pechka, who has trouble interacting with others, Rionetta, a sharp-tongued, cynical lolita doll (why hello there, BEST GIRL), Nonako, a foreign girl so weeaboo/10 that her magical girl outfit is that of a miko and she keeps being noisy about how much she loves Japan and cute things and also aforementioned party leader Clantail, who always has her lower body half transformed into an animal and generally keeps to herself and is rather stoic. All of these characters are adorably bad at communicating for very different reasons and nothing alike at all and let’s just say that infighting between Rionetta and Nonako is a very frequent occurrence and Pechka oftentimes gets the short end of the stick for being utterly useless combat-wise yet as the game progresses, they really grow to like one another and form proper bonds as a team. These character dynamics are easily among the most genuine and adorable I’ve seen this year. (Also, let’s just say that, at some point, I couldn’t help but think about Pechka petting different animal versions of Clantail and I’m not the only one.)
Since all of the characters are magical girls, other than being stronger or weaker at regular combat, all of them also still have a special trademark ability reserved to only them and that’s part of the fun. Much like with the prequel, these abilities are as varied as the characters themselves are: Pechka is a weak non-fighter and her ability to make delicious meals out of this world doesn’t help her a lot – yet becomes her saving grace. Magical Daisy can fire lethal beams destroying anything and anyone in her way. Detec Bell can make walls talk, helping her with solving crime – yet her ability doesn’t yield any answers within the confinements of the game. And Shadow Gale is really good at building machinery. And that is just the protagonists.
These abilities play a more central role in Restart than in the first part. Oftentimes, you will wonder about how an ability could affect certain situations or game mechanics. Every now and then, the author even predicts your thoughts and answers to them accordingly. Occasionally, you’ll also go back to the character sheets just to make sure.
Make sure of what? The mystery, that is! It’s up to you to figure out who the culprit is, after all! And, well, the characters of course. Long story short, the mystery part is very nicely done and a core element that centers a lot of Restart’s appeal around it. This time, the magical abilities are deeply interwoven in how the mystery is constructed.
I’m a sucker for unconventional mystery stories like Umineko, UN-GO, Ranpo Kitan, Rokka no Yuusha, Subete ga F ni naru, Mouryou no Hako and so on anyway so this pleased me greatly. With a story like this, I viewed the mystery as a challenge from the author to me and I’m pretty sure that Endou Asari understood that as well while writing Restart.
So, is Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Restart a fair mystery story that you can solve with the clues presented before time runs out? Yeah, it is. Or at the very least, you can make a very safe guess. I had figured out the culprit’s identity too. Well, kinda sorta. It’s complex. Which sums up MahoIku in general I think. Doubting characters, not knowing for sure whether they are good people or bad people suits MahoIku quite well actually. The mystery angle was fittingly chosen.
Overall, I am deeply satisfied with the quality of the writing. A lot of character deaths were really unpredictable. There are also tons of twists that are exceedingly clever and in hindsight rather obvious. The author really does get you good here and there and likes to play with the reader. Oftentimes, you don’t see the curveball coming that he throws at you.
And just like that, at some point, you really do become paranoid and try to read between the lines when it comes to characters’ behaviors – or the MMO’s mechanics even. Death could come from all sides. There is no telling when the culprit strikes again or when the game will cause a death that could have been avoided but wasn’t foreseen by either the characters or the reader. What a complex appeal this story has to it!
In its later half, the game also gets some more context – of which some is baffling. And it packs some immense punches. There were character moments written with such genuinity that I will keep remembering them as emotional highs for me. For a very long time.
I also can’t stress enough how amazing it is how condensed the story turned out to be and what it managed to accomplish within just two volumes. It certainly felt a lot longer than that. Or maybe that was just me as I took several months to finish Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Restart, oftentimes pondering about characters, their relationships and trying to solve the mystery at hand. While this is the kind of story I could see others rush through in sheer excitement, it made for a compelling read on the sidelines for me whenever I felt like it. Can’t say I regret it.
I had a lot of fun. Trying to predict the author’s next move for his mean-spirited death game. Taking a shot at judging characters and guessing their backgrounds. Making attempts at solving the whodunnit. Being confirmed in some of my suspicions but also outsmarted along the way. Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Restart is just that kind of interactive literature.
Long story short, buy MahoIku. It’s totally worth it. Hardly anything gets a physical international light novel release that’s not some fantasy or isekai tripe dedicated towards the lowest common denominator. I am glad this did. Please support the official release so we can get more MahoIku.
At the end of the day, Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Restart was a blast. I had the time of my life with it. So far, it’s been a franchise so tailor-cut for me that it’s hard to believe it actually exists. Where do I find more like this? It has the Zaku Appeal right down to a tee.
I can’t wait to continue reading Episodes and Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Limited thereafter. I hope I’ll have unlimited fun with it. And make many magical acquaintances along the way.
Final Verdict: Very Good.