Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! In this volume’s review of MahoIku, we’re going to check out what heroism, self-sacrifice and happy ends mean and why being a magical girl might be tied to suffering after all.
Following the events of Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Aces, our various groups of magical girls are trying their hardest to make sure that Puk Puck’s plans don’t come to fruition. As the Osk fraction now gets involved, Hamuel reluctantly joins Osk’s remaining No. 01 Lethe on her mission to vanquish Puk Puck’s doings. Meanwhile, Snow White cracks under her heroic pressure and Pfle advances her forces to the battle field, with Deluge questioning her own believes and sanity more and more with each passing hour.
Will Puk Puck once and for all prove that friendship is magic, will Shadow Gale undo her brainwashing, will Deluge find fulfillment in her quest of vengeance as a magical girl terrorist and will Uluru’s fluffy tail finally be touched?
As these various characters with their very own circumstances gather on the battlefield, an all-out war begins to erupt.
First of all, let me talk about what works in Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens. Namely that, at this point, it has become all too apparent what Snow White’s role in all of this madness is and nothing drives that better hom than Himekawa Koyuki’s fundamental state of being broken as a result of finding herself in a constant state of falling.
Snow White’s magical power, at the beginning of this entire story, was just to hear people in trouble. Contrary to the expectations of her former happy-go-lucky and ever-so-helpful self, this is not a magic that makes her happy as she is more and more surrounded by the misery of this world. At the end of the day, conversely, the more people Snow White tries to save, the more she ends up killing Koyuki Himekawa. Because while this world looks up to Snow White, the world doesn’t need Koyuki Himekawa and nobody certainly knows the girl behind the broken heroic facade anymore either. For the sake of her health, Snow White should just get rid of Ruler. It looks like it weighs a ton. But Snow White laying her weapon down would be the death of Snow White. Meanwhile, Snow White not laying her weapon down is killing Himekawa Koyuki. This is a one-man army who has become more a machine than man. But is that really so?
Very early into this volume, we see the emotional collapse of Snow White in response to all of the hopes and responsibility pinned on her after a long quest as a magical girl of minimizing damage and managing disasters as those around her perish over and over again. It’s the first and only time we see this seemingly cold girl become human again as she finds herself simply unable to carry out her designated role as she carries the weight of the world on her back. Heroes are meant to protect and serve but oftentimes, they can’t protect themselves. And then, as Snow White steels her resolve to make things right, she falls victim to Puk Puck’s charming mind control powers. And for the first time in many years, Snow White can finally be happy again.
The desire to be liked and happy is all too human. And when you look at the overall state of the Magical Kingdom, it becomes very evident that these magical girls are far from living fulfilled lives – or actually even being human. This is an overarching theme in MahoIku and very fascinating because not only do Snow White’s actions in Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens mirror a very content Ripple’s under Frederica’s mind control but are also a lot like Deluge who kept herself sane through Bluebell Candy’s happiness pills much like through a magical drug addiction while essentially being controlled by her. These are some of the toughest magical girls out there but the sweet allure of escapism, a feeling of happiness they wouldn’t be able to obtain otherwise, gets them all. Why is that so? Happiness becomes a tool for control in a world where “actual” happiness has become sparse. And so the twisted chess masters move their fundamentally broken pawns because while they won’t offer justice, they have something for the individual behind these desperate magical girls that the Magical Kingdom strips them from.
If you want to live virtuously and work for the greater good in the Magical Kingdom, the system works against your mental well-being. It’s like a perverted abuse of glorifying individual self-sacrifice as heroism instead of those in charge systematically fixing the larger issues. And nobody represents this better than Snow White, who stands at the very center of this process. “Magical girl”, in essence, has become a term to enslave people with.
This is best exemplified through the “Magical Girl Hunter” Snow White, who is a person of legends yet broken beyond belief. This is what happens when ideals of solidarity are replaced with singular idols.
The problem in all of this is that with the term “magical girl”, which might as well be a substitute for “hero”, comes exploitation through glorification. These people sacrificing themselves for the greater good comes across as a given, an implied natural order of things. But that is not natural. It’s the result of a man-made system artificially upholding a very damaging status quo and Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens consequently sees through with it.
The idolization of the heroic few contributes to their burdens, not their deeds; it makes things harder for them, not easier. This can be seen especially when Snow White reaches a breaking point and screams about how she never wanted to be a magical girl hunter in the first place. The girl inside the magical girl comes through there.
It’s something seen way too often in society, no matter where you tread in life. Charities help the poor wherever the government simply doesn’t. Online headlines glorify people willing to give their own lifes in times of crisis instead of condemning the larger picture that has given rise to these crises. Over here in Germany, when this entire corona madness unfolded, politicians gave a standing ovation to medics, nurses and clinical personnel, all while not lifting even an ounce of the burdern these people are being plagued with, refusing to pay higher wages, even going as far as shutting down hospitals, letting go of medical staff and so on. If you have the generous gesture to clap but don’t reach out a helping hand when in need, you don’t care about heroes. You just use them as a convenient means to an end. Likewise, is the man who puts in overwork so his company can make ends meet a hero who saved the system from collapsing or just a pawn of the system to be exploited so it can achieve more with less? Or maybe both? Snow White feels like a salaryman working himself to death to achieve… what exactly?
The burden is placed on the individual instead of questioning and changing the system at large. These are not heroes in a sense; they are scapegoats. People showered with praise, because praise is just about cheap enough. And of course Snow White is expected to shoulder this burden, she’s a magical girl, that’s what she’s supposed to do.
Fal stating that Snow White hasn’t been happy ever since he has met her is the greatest damnation of the system at hand. It’s the most direct statement you will ever find in media that a magical girl suffers from depression. Snow White couldn’t possibly be happy because she lives in a world that cares about the results she achieves, not her happiness. Has Snow White’s burden even lessened over the years? Have circumstances actually improved? Has the Magical Kingdom contributed to making the world a better place? Or is it just systematically draining Snow White of her happiness so she can fix the symptoms yet not the causes of issues of a deeply flawed system?
It’s no coincidence that the overarching antagonist, Pythie Frederica, wants to craft a narrative of Snow White in how she thinks what a magical girl *should* be like. I think this is what the title is about ultimately – it’s not called “Magical Girl Raising Project” for nothing. She wants her to grow up through hardships as a way to polish a rough diamond.
There is a good passage at the beginning of Restart where Magical Daisy wonders whether being a hero should really make you miserable or not. As it turns out, that is very much the core concept behind Snow White.
Snow White represents the individual in its battle against larger, systematic failure and evil. Will she endlessly beat down the represantations of the three major fractions spawning new successors all the time whenever something new shady happens? It doesn’t seem likely. As we all know after all: the faces change, the game doesn’t.
Now let us move on to talk a bit about leadership because Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens presents us with a very interesting contrast. I believe it was very smart of Aces to introduce Puk Puck through the perspective and story of Sorami, Uluru and Premium Sachiko and establish family ties between the four of them as well as to occasionally show Puk Puck’s side of things wherein she was concerned and did shed tears for them. This gives us the knowledge that to these three, Puk Puck is special. And to Puk Puck, these three are also special. However, what’s contradictionary is that these are technically not mutual feelings since to Puk Puck, everyone is special. In Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens, it’s no longer about these three. Puk Puck now has an army and it turns out that she is inhumane insofar as that she simply likes everyone, friend and foe alike. Everyone is special to her. And very much so special that she wants to turn them into unified goo. If you value everyone equally, you have no moral compass. Puk Puck is so warped she would probably never understand what’s wrong with her logic.
On that note, if your leader is charismatic enough, how much bullshit can you put up with? Turns out, a lot. Puk Puck has a cult following in the field of magical girl politics. It’s quite amusing and saddening how Puk Puck essentially doesn’t treat her workforce well but through superficial measures and symbolic gestures, keeps it going. It’s a bit like an exploitative boss offering free vegetables and reciting on how in his company, everyone is part of a big, happy family while at the same time, people individually are just miserable from overwork. Puk Puck puts this to an extreme and she herself knows best that she has to regularly check in with the people slaving away for her to motivate them further. She essentially “maintains” her “friendship” with these girls. If that isn’t artificial and manipulative (even if Puk Puck’s feelings themselves are genuine – in their very artificial ways) I just don’t know what is.
Contrast this with the relationship between Lethe and CQ Angel Hamuel and it becomes very apparent that they are like night and day. Hamuel isn’t fond of Lethe and Lethe isn’t what anyone would describe as a loving, compassionate boss. In fact, she’s a very draconian superior. But she does see individual value in people and will point it out, even if only as a result of pragmatism. Every compliment from Lethe is hard-earned and this is what makes her relationship with Hamuel infinitely more genuine and rewarding than Puk Puck’s Wonderland of Fake Happiness could ever be. And Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens does well with spinning these subtexts interwoven in its narrative.
Now, if you’re wondering why I am mostly talking about the themes of this book rather than the actual content – it’s simply because there just isn’t much there in general, sadly. Thematically, Queens is fascinating. When looking at the mere plot progression, it’s a disaster. It feels like for at least half of the volume, nothing really happens or moves along. The pacing is such a mess it makes you wonder how this could be written at the same time as F2P, where something significant happens every chapter. Or why the conclusion to a trilogy would be so utterly slow. This is supposed to be the climax to Jokers and Aces, stories that were far faster and supposedly smaller in scale. Yet I can’t even attribute the slow pacing in this volume to build-up because nothing is being built.
There are some big issues with Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens and they lie within its characters and their actions. Remember when I said that characters like Ripple or Pfle were essentially confined to either being offscreen elements or doing things offscreen, hence robbing them off development and us of an emotional attachement? That really applies to almost all characters in this volume which is so hellbent on being about a war that consists of a select few characters giving orders to hordes of faceless magical girls or Shufflin IIs that pretty much no character ends up actually doing anything or having memorable character moments. Most of these 14 girls contribute less to the volume than Uttakatta did in Jokers. Wanna go through them just to make sure?
Puk Puck: She fares better than most of the rest but ultimately ends up being less of a character and more of a power tool keeping characters from progressing with their mission. She’s essentially a roadblock. Her side of things is about nameless magical girls and Shadow Gale working on an unspecified device… most of the time offscreen. Puk Puck’s entire role in this book is to stall for time. The entire point of Grim Heart was that she was a passive force of nature and even she felt more involved.
Snow White: There is thematic strength to her being happy by being mind-controlled but after being gone for several volumes and when onscreen, being distant to the reader thereafter due to Fal just narrating his impressions of her, she now gets the mind washing treatment, which eradicates her as a character in this volume.
Uluru: Keeps pondering over whether to trust Puk or not. None of this brings any revelations with it apart from the obvious. And even that is done in the most generic way. This is not the fascinating tale of a girl breaking free from her cave of predefined thinking by any means.
Pfle: Don’t get me started. She hasn’t actively done anything in the plot since Restart. She hasn’t had a proper character moment with Shadow Gale since then either apart from Shadow Gale remembering their past in Aces. She feels like a passive element dragged into active involvement. She mostly just gives orders in Queens.
Mana: Gets dragged around by Uluru. That’s it.
Dark Cutie: Was likable but one-note in Aces. Remained that throughout Queens with no purpose. Never even appears on an illustration either.
Glassianne: Has a neat Micchan flashback that was thematically important. Other than that, gets offed with no character moments otherwise due to being a plot device solely defined by her power.
Princess Deluge: Literally wonders what her purpose in all of this is. Her being a terrorist in Aces was better character development than that turning out to be the effect of mind control of sorts. How can Deluge be such a side note in the conclusion to a trilogy of which a very big part was centered on her?
Bluebell Candy: Same issue. Had genuine character moments in Aces with Deluge but mostly exists as a plot twist in Queens. She does get better at the end though.
Armor Arlie: Don’t get me started on this one.
CQ Angel Hamuel: Hamuel is the sole character to have a strong inner narration and her relationship with her superior is both complex and sincere. Alas, most of that vanishes without a trace when she becomes more of a speaker giving orders and less of a character due to the war ensuing.
Shufflin II: Remember when Shufflins were a threat? And the Joker Shufflin’s pragmatic and ruthless personality? This one just exists as an army, devoid of any personality.
Shadow Gale: I remember when Pfle and Shadow Gale had an interesting and dynamic relationship in Restart. Ever since, she has been solely defined by her attachement to Pfle and doubt of her and there has been nothing on that front past Restart. Bonus points for also being mind controlled so she doesn’t even function as a character here for the most part.
Lethe: Very charming and despite being a harsh superior, she’s a fair one. I really liked her interactions with Hamuel. She does suffer from becoming a mere commander giving orders but her battle with Puk was great and her having a human moment of regret and being able to pass on peacefully were very welcome. Pretty much the best character here.
Ultimately, there are two good characters here (with both of them being hindered and not supported by the plot), namely Lethe and Hamuel and that’s simply not enough.
This is the issue with Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens: the war doesn’t draw any of these characters to the forefront, it suppresses their personalities instead. It doesn’t express them and doesn’t add to them but subtracts from them, it doesn’t change them since they remain completely static. How can war be static to anyone involved?
As such, while Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens devotes ardeous amounts of pages to describing a vague outline of the war, it hardly really shows it. There is no war actively happening, just a few characters giving commands. You could go with some really tense fighting scenes between named characters or have commentary on the cruelty of war but all Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens delivers on was mostly banal military talk. There isn’t even a mid-plot character death that leaves an impression on another character, something that every war fiction does. Tear out my soul. Make the characters reflect on the brutality around them. Can someone please watch Band of Brothers? The war here fails on every front. The reader is so uninvolved with the war going on that reading Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens feels like looking at dots from within a control room. Yeah, there’s technically a war going on but absolutely no experience to be drawn from it. Where is the constant, desperate back and forth? The characters we know and care about engaging in a brutal all-out battle? Every named character just stands by idly at the sidelines as Shufflin II fights against Shufflin II in vaguely described terms. Where are the various strategems employed? There is a bit of that with Puk Puck’s screens for instance but even that amounted to little more than “unnamed magical girls and Shufflin IIs are now fighting against other unnamed magical girls and Shufflin IIs”. Where is the cool magical girl mass warfare? Interesting abilities that come to flourish under very different conditions from the usual 1 vs 1 battles? Every unnamed magical girl has just generic abilities like “shoots things”. This is the antithesis to what makes MahoIku work. How is this even war fiction when it’s so uninterested in its own war? Most of it feels like filler.
It’s not just a matter of the plot coming to a standstill for most of Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens. It also feels almost impossible to name noteworthy smaller character instances on more than one hand. Where are the moments like Pechka noticing that Nonako is not loud per se but just energetic? Detec Bell suspecting Lapis Lazuline of being the culprit and then ending up in a karaoke bar with her, unleashing all her pent-up frustration? Pukin and her friends visiting a sushi bar? Why don’t we get these fresh moments that flesh out the characters anymore?
I’m sorry, but the mere line of “Mei’s lamp is pretty.” is infinitely more character-expressive than the entirety of the war in this volume. How can there be a war with no people and their perspectives of it? Why would you depict a war not as a struggle of characters and an abhorrent evil rather than a chess match of moving pieces from A to B? And even to that end, Lethe and Pfle versus Puk Puck never feels like a battle of wits between Light Yagami and L. Heck, read some Ajin and find out how a war within a single building can be thrillingly told. Or watch Hellsing Ultimate for a very overpowering depiction of it.
Pfle stands representative of this entire mess as a character kept alive to not really do anything in the story on screen. We never got to actually see her change the Magical Kingdom, there never really was a bigger flashback on her past from her side of things, the entire matter of her being directly responsible for killing the girls in Limited just never had any consequences (with Mana right in front of her no less) and the list goes on. She also wasn’t that smart in this volume. I’m not sure how she didn’t think of the possibility of brainwashed Shufflins trying to get rid of their own forces. This is the girl who restructured the Magical Kingdom (offscreen) yet her only two moments of trickery in this volume are making Shadow Gale sign a contract as a means to killing Puk Puck and employing word play on her to deceive her with words that are technically not a lie. Am I supposed to be impressed by that? It’s rather cheap actually. Every JoJo battle has more wits than that.
Then you have Hamuel’s death. Hamuel dies thinking that it’s not over yet. That doesn’t feel like a personal thing but like a death dedicated to the greater cause. Now one could argue that this is character development as Hamuel was introduced as rather self-centered yet becomes very involved but I was hoping for something to back up that statement. Some hidden sleeve. But there just wasn’t anything. I was surprised by her death because there was absolutely nothing to it. It just happened for the quota. Her living on with the late Lethe in her mind would have made more sense. Even her having a grander death contrasting her change in character would have made more sense. Micchan’s death was short and pragmatic because that’s the way she lived, accepting results as they come. That made sense. Hamuel gradually becomes a warmer, more developed character throughout the story and then just gets written out like that. Give her a human moment in her passing minutes at least.
I take issue with a lot of the character deaths in this volume. Compare that to, say, Detec Bell’s. Detec Bell dies but manages to pass on the most valuable item to her dear friend, culminating in a great, moving death, leading to a mind-blowing twists. Nobody in this self-proclaimed war story does anything even remotely close to that. The best you get is Lethe dying to vaguely stall some time and it’s not like we’re seeing a clock here or anything anyway. I will admit that the very stoic Lethe having a supremely human and ultimately peaceful death was very good however. It also shone light on Lapis Lazuline III.
Dark Cutie, meanwhile, survives, which I like, but she also hasn’t had a proper role so far and nobody even seemed to notice that she never even appeared on a single illustration in either Aces or Queens. I suppose that speaks volumes for the treatment of characters here.
Puk Puck dies anticlimactically because Shadow Gale signed a contract. I don’t mind scheming as a way to kill a character who couldn’t be killed otherwise but that does disservice to a character who has been a major threat for two volumes. Pfle dies anticlimactically in a rather predictable way. The aftermath with the brainwashed Shadow Gale is good and I like the brutally ironic yet also gently sweet way in which she exits the story but Pfle herself remained a weak character nonetheless. Fal gets thrown into space. That I can like depending on future developments but we’ll see. Cut to the epilogue, everyone is un-brainwashed now, Snow White doesn’t even seem that concerned about the loss of Fal or have any emotional setbacks from anything even though this was MahoIku’s one big opportunity to give her the necessary character development after a breakdown but she just continues on like that, Pythie Frederica was YET AGAIN doing her scheming nonsense without having actually been involved in the plot and the two Lapis Lazulines keep cackling over their villain stuff. This whole book feels like the plot never actually starts and the end part has no payoff. There is one good takeaway at the end however, with Deluge, a character who just didn’t do anything during the entirety of Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens, coming to realize that the end result that she was presented with was as bitter as the coffee she drank. That is the kind of introspective character development that can happen within a few pages that MahoIku excels at yet hardly featured this volume.
Yet another aspect I liked was Pfle betting on Shadow Gale’s biggest misfortune being Puk Puck’s death, thus killing Puk Puck but one might ironically interpret that even in her mindwashed state, the contract’s downside worked in such a way that she ended up killing the person actually the dearest to her and the one she was supposed to protect, namely Pfle. This is similar to Restart’s final battle actually where Shadow Gale commits the error of attacking Pfle and ends up regretting it heavily. That is petty good indeed.
Another strong moment is Glassianne reminiscing about Micchan and what her motives to doing this kind of work might have been. It’s very obvious that Micchan, despite her rather frolicking attitude, is, underneath all her pragmatism, a somewhat bitter person about the path she has chosen in life and there is the implication that she is very much stuck in this part of the system. Micchan is easily the best character to have come out of Aces and Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens adds another very intriguing dimension to her. That, in essence, is enriching a character with very little text. It also adds more to Glassianne as one of the few strong character moments in Queens.
So there are parts in Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens that work. Mana’s seething hatred of Pfle solidfied her even more of the good girl I think she is. And Uluru and Mana being mirrors of each other, both having lost precious family, is a nice detail. Even though both of these characters amount to very much nothing of what’s going on.
And yet, when all evens out, it doesn’t change the fact that a war just happened and then ended with all the fanfare of “just like that” and the entire aftermath gets reduced to Mana doing bureaucracy. Which is amusing enough and it’s cute to see the Shufflins full of energy and personality but none of it felt cathartic or hard-earned.
It really does feel like I have to fish out the nuggets in this story myself. So let’s talk a little bit about a relationship I found to be really quite engaging.
It might be ironic that out of all the characters, Lethe and Hamuel, who are relatively serious and stoic, are my favorite ones then but they do slowly warm up to each other and that is a subplot subtly told. Lethe remains a harsh, demanding, occasionally unreasonable boss figure throughout but she does come to appreciate Hamuel more and tells her when she is correct about things, not to mention that while she appears indifferent about the state of affairs and cares much about her appearance to others, we do get to see her human side in her battle against Puk Puck and she is filled with regret upon her death. Her showing a very human moment towards the end goes to demonstrate that she’s not just a stoic magical girl with no feelings attached.
Likewise, Hamuel is introduced to the story as incredibly calculating with ulterior motives in her mind. Of course, her personality doesn’t do a 180 but when she secretly prays for her comrades in arms and hopes for Lethe to survive in the back of her mind, a character she had initially considered a competent tyrant at best, you can tell that she has actually become engaged to the situation and attached to her commander, something that she wdevelould have never done in Aces. This is the kind of subtle character development that I love MahoIku for and I would take it over war any day.
Also, Lethe sitting on a plastic chair like a leader figure might look ridiculous and indicate that she’s too cocky to even realize that but I like to think that she does realize and doesn’t really care compared to her task at hand. It certainly makes for a striking contrast to Grim Heart who had her throne carried anywhere for her. She would have never settled for a plastic chair. Lethe does and though it might just be a tiny detail, it makes all the difference.
Whereas the Joker Shufflin and Grim Heart was a purely functional master-servant relationship and it originally might have looked like Lethe and Hamuel would turn out to be the same, ultimately, they did not.
In a way, Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens is also a book of self-sacrifice. Pfle stands very representative for that in the wonderfully titled chapter “All For You”. Snow White is yet another obvious case. But it goes a bit beyond that. Lethe knows there is a very real chance that she is going to die in her battle against Puk Puck but is willing to do so for her comrades. CQ Angel Hamuel is a character who should have just minded her own business but decided not to, to strengthen the faceless masses she previously did not care about.
This all feels very similar to Premium Sachiko’s contract insofar that yes, you will achieve your result but that result is tied to a sacrifice too big to call anything to come out of it a “happy end”. And what’s the point to magical girls if they can’t make people smile and achieve happy ends?
As such, one thing to take away from Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Queens is that Snow White couldn’t possibly ever have resisted Puk Puck’s all-encompassing love because she gave her the very thing she would never be able to obtain otherweise. Puk Puck, Keek, Pukin, Pythie Frederica and Lapis Lazuline control others by giving them artificial, fake happiness. If that isn’t the most damning statement of the sorry state of affairs for everyone’s reality then I don’t know what is.
Pain can be withstood by strong-willed magical girls such as Snow White. But none can withstand the power of being loved.
Maybe Puk Puck’s power in a Magical Kingdom that didn’t make its inhabitants as miserable would have been nowhere near as powerful. And isn’t that inherently tragic?
Final Verdict: Decent.