This review was brought to you by Micchan The Dictionary’s owl. Thank you, Micchan’s owl!
After the events of MahoIku Jokers, series protagonist Snow White is still out there, searching for the whereabouts of Ripple. On her quest, she is summoned by the incarnation of one of the three Sages, Puk Puck, to join her mini family in retrieving their lost member in preparation of an ominious ceremony.
That one magical girl on the run is quite sought after however as neither the Osk fraction with their army of mass-produced new Shufflins sleep nor Princess Deluge; who is now on a quest to take revenge on the Magical Kingdom for killing her friends. Caught in all of this, Shadow Gale gets mixed up and so does the still memories-lacking Pfle, providing her own group of freelancers to the battlefield.
The all-out war is only to begin from hereon.
First of all, let it be said that Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Aces is very much just the prelude to Queens. It’s hard to judge Aces on its own as it fundamentally serves as build-up to Queens. It does play out some sort of story arc but none that really works on its own as the story ends on a cliffhanger. But I’ll try to pass some sort of judgement anyway.
With that said, I am, in fact, the bearer of good news! Regardless of how Queens will turn out, Aces on its own is a step up from Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Jokers and plagued a lot less by its issues. Gone is the pacing wherein the first half of the content deals with inconsequential battles due to misunderstandings and character build-up without payoff. Aces is full-on action from the get-go and immediately expands upon the fraction war of the Three Sages.
Additionally, Aces also recontextualizes Jokers as its prologue, which was a self-serving story but also kicked the many bigger developments into motion while giving us the origin stories of Deluge and Marika, of which the former has quite the impact in this story.
Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Aces very much helps itself out by using the material presented in Jokers as its foundation. Whereas Deluge originally felt just like a footnote despite all the screentime she was given, Jokers now retroactively served to give her context as a prologue to her becoming a sort of protagonist in this story. This helps Jokers a lot since I feel the friendship pathos between the four elemental princesses didn’t really receive any payoff but it does carry over to Aces and Aces does well in making the horrors of Jokers all the more tragic by building upon them. Jokers was essentially the prelude to Deluge’s downfall into insanity… but is she really the insane one?
The point to make here is that whether a character carrying out revenge is on the good side or the bad side ultimately depends on which side they’re on. At the end of the day, Deluge’s intentions and backstory aren’t all too different from Snow White’s — she’s arguably been through worse I’d say even. Yet Deluge revolts against the Magical Kingdom and Snow White doesn’t. It does cement her protagonist status in this volume a bit more that she feels like a mirror’s image to Snow White.
The two of them stem from the same place and the issues of the Magical Kingdom haven’t fundamentally changed. The cycle of revenge never ends, does it?
I do have a bit of an issue in terms of presentation here, namely that Deluge massacring all the fluffy wuffy Shufflin II’s in an insane fit of rage is supposed to be the factor here that makes her look unhinged. I think it does well in framing her extremist tendencies but it’s not Shufflin II being slaughtered after… trying to do exactly the same to Deluge that makes Deluge inhuman. On the contrary, I think what absolutely should be the moral focus point is the killing of Patricia, who was a genuinely good person. I really do hope Queens elaborates on that since it’s THAT what taints Deluge first and foremost, not her mental instability. Also, I’m very very sad that the cute police girl tomboy with the dialect was the first to go. What a waste. I want to be arrested by her!
But come to think of it, there are a lot of well-intentioned extremists in this story, aren’t there? You have Deluge, Snow White and Pfle in the driver’s seat of the story. And they all have in common that they end up discarding their humanity in the process. At least Snow White is not killing innocent magical girls for the greater good but one can’t help but draw comparisons to Keek’s rather warped approach to the supposed betterment of the Magical Kingdom.
On that note, there was a very interesting part at the end of Jokers with 7753 assuming that in the long run, Deluge would be fine and get over her misery just like she herself did. That evidently did not happen and it’s probably rooted in the different degrees of trauma these two had to face. For 7753, none of the people she lost were long time acquaintances. Deluge, however, essentially lost her entire world. After a life of not comprehending friendship and feeling like she doesn’t even deserve it, she finds her promised land… only to have it brutally taken from her. What’s more, a lot of the people 7753 lost in Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Limited had their own agenda and choices to make. Deluge’s friends were killed by a foreign superpower for resource gains with no acting on their part. It’s like if someone came to your house and brutally murdered your family. Of course there’s a difference in trauma. It’s ironic that 7753 with her goggles that can see through anyone can’t see through Deluge but her blind spot most likely results from her own experience of previously having been someone with no closer social acquaintances in life and being a family richer through Mana and Tepsekemei after her harsh journey. Deluge is the complete opposite. What does Deluge have? Clinging to revenge is her only way to not die as a person in life, even if her friends wouldn’t have wanted for that to happen. Deluge feels the injustice of the world crashing down on her, which is something that could not be said for 7753 at the very least.
There is, however, a silver lining of hope for the self-destructive Deluge in form of Bluebell Candy. Much like how 7753 saved Mana from her abyss by extending her a helping hand, Bluebell Candy does the same with Deluge. Unfortunately, our tsuntsun witch Mana was way easier to soften than Deluge is however, who is now just pained by the concepts of friendship and compassion offered to her, while knowing that these are exactly why she isn’t broken yet. Deluge’s fierce whirlwind of emotions is truly like a volcano.
There is also some room for speculation about the nature of Bluebell. As far as memory serves me, there has never been a point of time at which it was specified that Bluebell is Lapis Gen III and her magic of candies that can alter your feelings is a bit different from Gen III’s magic of storing memories but ever since Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Restart, one should be wary of taking these magical ability descriptions at face value and underestimating their scope. After all, memories contain emotions as well and I remember Yu-Gi-Oh! making use of memories to alter people’s emotions. It would make sense for Lapis Gen III to alter her own memories in such a way that she not only forgets her identity but also scope of ability, hence altering the way she thinks or her identity temporarily. Who could be behind this? Maybe Pythie Frederica, Lapis Gen I, or Pfle. Deluge being someone’s convenient pawn, accompanied by Bluebell, would certainly also make sense.
What’s more, Bluebell has several gaps in terms of memory, so that’s a theory worth pursuing. And even if Bluebell isn’t Lapis Gen III, she might still be under that one’s influence. We now know that artifical magical girls exist so one might argue that Bluebell could be one of those, created from scratch, with injected memories holding her together. It would make a good contrast with Deluge; one who has been traumatized by her past and is driven by it; and one who has no past whatsoever and wants to save the Deluge of the present.
Regardless of how this will turn out, I am sure Asari Endou will have yet another twist in terms of identity in store for us. He just loves doing that. It remains to see wether I’ll be fond of that or not however. I am still bitter over Stanczyka being Ripple. Here’s to hoping Armor Arlie gets to be herself for future volumes as well and there’s no other magical girl hiding inside her armor.
With that said, it speaks to Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Aces strenghts that I really like Bluebell. Bluebell is such an incredibly good soul. I’m usually not a fan of the naive, overly caring girl but Bluebell gets something that tends to be annoying across as really wholehearted and I got pretty jealous of Deluge being her person of affection. I need a Bluebell too!
Well, that was a lot of talking about Deluge and Bluebell! Almost makes you think I wouldn’t care about the other characters but you would be wrong in assuming that!
If, like me, you thought that the friendship quartet of Jokers could have done so much better than it did and was lacking in pathos, I’ve got good news: The family trio of Sorami Nakano, Premium Sachiko and Uluru is really well-executed. They are such lovable girls. They really do care for each other. I love how Uluru tries so hard to be taken seriously but ultimately just remains a freckled fluffball as far as I’m concerned. Oh, and Sorami’s hedonistic Harajuku fashion design (for the lack of a better description) is super good too. I especially like how she plays off so well with Snow White behind Uluru’s back.
I wouldn’t call Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Aces the best part of MahoIku, as both Restart and Limited trump it easily but it does have a bonus of being a thriller from start to finish and its characters just being so much fun. There are, as always, a lot of charming or amusing details here like the explanation on what would happen if Uluru got startled by a cat or Micchan remembering some terrorist attack on TV after watching Dark Cutie’s anime and it’s these little moments that flesh these characters out. This is what makes MahoIku special and what you’re here for.
Meanwhile, it’s also fun to ponder whether or not Puk is evil or at least two-faced. You immediately do get suspicious of her very sweet behavior and everyone singing her praises, not to mention, well, this is MahoIku buuuut she also never really does anything bad. With that said, her ability is pretty easy to guess but that doesn’t automatically make her evil, right? Twisted for sure however. I don’t think anything good will come out of her grand plan (which probably revolves around befriending everyone) you can only speculate on but she feels like the exact opposite of Grim Heart and that makes her interesting.
But let’s not beat around the bush any longer! I am a Micchan fan and I gotta stand my ground right here, right now!
My friends, it has often been said that I like Micchan.
My friends, I like Micchan…
No, friends, I LOVE Micchan!
My friends, you all know how much I love Micchan.
I love how one of her eyes has a stilted cross inside and the heterochromia.
I love the side braids of her hair and the way her sideburns curl down.
I love her exposed forehead; a sign of an even bigger brain, all the more charming.
I love her university hat as I am prone to loving all big hats.
I love her black thighhighs so much I fantasize about sticking my fingers inside.
I love her coat, arranged around her neck, not worn properly; it oozes style.
I love the tiny frills at the bottom of her skirt, tied together by a black string.
I love her boundless, pragmatic but also fun and enjoying-life-as-it-comes personality.
I love her intellect and how she is social but also likes going to the library.
My friends, I love Micchan more than any other Aces character.
From the bottom of my heart I love Micchan the Dictionary!
So imagine how annoyed I was when Micchan, an interesting, actually active character doing things and pushing the plot forward was offed by Ripple controlled by Frederica and replaced by Pfle. You know, that’s exactly the kind of predictable writing I don’t like. When you put three main characters and Micchan in the ring, who will get written out of the story? Yup, it’s the girl who puts in effort into justifying her existence in the story. That feels inherently shitty because Micchan is a character who earns herself her role in Aces whereas the other three just idle around in their comfy main character seats. I’m generally not fond of Pythie Frederica acting like she is the author of this story and the sooner she leaves the stage the better.
I have never been a fan of scheming characters behind the scenes who secretly hold all the plot threads in their hands, such as Pythie Frederica or Pfle. It always feels devaluing to the earnest efforts of the actual stars of the show who try their hardest and are then just revealed to be chesspieces of characters who were seemingly unrelated.
Speaking of Pfle, Pfle very much feels like a weak point of this story. This is rather bizarre because she was kept alive contrary to Restart’s initial draft (where she would have presumably been the final villain and man, would that have ruined Restart) for the reason of being a character who can do quite a lot with the story. That I agree with. What followed thereafter, however, doesn’t really match that logic. Simply put, it’s been eight volumes and Pfle never really does anything. All of her influence in the story is told, not shown. Yeah, she has restructured the Magical Kingdom for the better but we never got to see what it was like to begin with, how she restructered it and what effects this had on a grand scale. There were some good bits such as 7753 now having a better work environment and poor Filru losing her job as a result (I really do feel like there was a statement to be made about unemployment in Jokers that got cut out) but these are just anecdotes. We’re always told about what Pfle did but never see it. Likewise, with Limited, it’s revealed in the epilogue that she was responsible for everything, which was a nice twist but boiled down to just a few passive lines attached to an active story. This is the fundamental problem with Pfle: She is a magical girl of legends reduced to stories about her, not with her. When Restart ended, I assumed we would get to see her rise through the Magical Kingdom, the reforms she makes, the political intrigues, her BIG PLAN, you know, things she actually _does_. MahoIku entirely skips that part to tell us about how amazing Pfle is… OFFSCREEN. Cool character you’ve got there. I think the only major character with a worse performance in terms of not doing anything is Ripple. Who, by the way, was originally supposed to die in Limited (which would have completely ruined that one – maybe it’s for the better that Asari Endou takes a gazillion years to release a new book after all).
But let’s not get too pessimistic here, since Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Aces is still a very good book. Aces is easily the most straightforward of all post-Unmarked arcs but it also brings in some very fascinating elements: an introspective anecdote on childhood friendship and how we come to notice the fundamental bits only years later, family bonds, the depths of despair that lead to drug addiction, trauma and what motivates one to commit acts of terrorism.
There is also a very human moment with Shadow Gale thinking about the what-if of her past when she and Armor Arlie – no doubt one of the best character chemistries in the volume, it’s such a minimalistic and yet effective one – start playing video games as Shadow Gale comes to realize that she should have done the same with Pfle; offer her a controller that is, to play with her. Among the many tense battles and high stakes encounters with emotions going rampant, it’s a surprisingly quiet, low key part that captured my heart. And I’m not even a big Shadow Gale fan. So for that to be my favorite part of Aces goes to show just how good Asari Endou’s writing can be.
And, as always, Asari Endou has a knack for reinventing the wheel within the “Magical Girls Killing Each Other” genre and I’ve learnt to appreciate that. It reminds me a bit of how Hunter x Hunter arcs are rather different from one another
Anyway, my favorite characters this time were Micchan, Sorami and Patricia, so… you know, it sure is fun when barely anyone dies in a volume but all your favorites kick the bucket anyway. At least Armor Arlie and Uluru made it through.
There is also a very good cliffhanger here with the re-appearance of Lapis Gen I as a potential string-puller to be feared. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was the old woman dressed in roses who steered the artificial magical girl project that Deluge and her friends fell victim to.
And we’ve also got ourselves another good chapter title with “A Handshake With Me At The Amusement Park”. It’s not as good as “The Miracle Of Meeting You” and “The Magical Girl Within You” but MahoIku is about the only franchise that gets me to remember some chapter titles. Isn’t that so magi-nice?
One big question, however, remains.
Does Uluru or Claintail have the fluffier tail?
Final Verdict: Very Good.