Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black Volume 13

Welcome back to Asari Endou’s crazy ride about magical girls in JoJo-esque serialized storytelling where everyone always dies. Just not this time.

As Tetty Goodgrip is on her way to school again, surely no ordinary civilian could hope to guess what kind of school it is – a magical girl school! After the events of the great war against Puk Puck, all three major factions are in a clinch in the battle for influence over the Magical Kingdom and what better way to do just that than to send your own agents to a newly erected school specifically dedicated to raise magical girls? As the various magical girls of Class F, belonging to all kinds of political factions, enjoy their daily leisure of all the ups and downs that come with ordinary and extraordinary school life, a storm is brewing.

And that about wraps it up for the plot introduction of Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black, the newest installment released in the West about Asari Endou’s theme park of magical social commentary death battles.

Anyway, as you have no doubt come to notice, I have soured a bit over this franchise in recent times. It’s one thing that the arcs thereafter never really managed to capture the quality of Restart or Limited but when the last four volumes consisted of three sidestory volumes – THREE! – and Queens, you know you have a problem.

I’ve ranted enough about Queens being a climax to a trilogy without doing anything with most of its characters or subplots but it’s recently occured to me again just how bad exactly it was at that as I couldn’t even remember if Uluru and Dark Cutie had met. I’m positive but not certain they did, through both Pfle and Mana interacting with each other but that in itself is a problem since Dark Cutie ripped Sorami to bits and pieces in front of Uluru and you’d think there’d be any kind of agenda on Uluru’s side or a freakout upon clashing with her but… nothing. You see my problem with Queens sidelining every character motivation? But I digress.

And while I’m still at the stage of complaining about things that aren’t Black-specific, first of all, let me address the issue of Pythie Frederica. Not many will agree but I believe she is, as a villain, a detriment to the individual story arcs, even if she provides the larger story with an overall theme and structure as an overarching villain.

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black Uluru Snow White Deluge Pythie Frederica Shadow Gale Bluebell Candy Fukuroi Marika

Whenever I start a new story arc, my first question is “How is Pythie Frederica going to trick them this time?” and that is not a good thing. Pythie Frederica always has the last laugh. She did in Limited. She majorly influenced Jokers. She killed Micchan in Aces and thwarted the entire premise of Aces on its last pages despite barely having been in it. She fools Hamuel and Lethe in Queens and tosses Fal into space. She pulls the strings in the open in F2P. At this point, I find it hard to get invested with the characters I like because it feels like right before the end, Pythie Frederica, with minimal screentime, will pop up and unleash a plan that kills them or completely upwinds the situation anyway. It feels like the actual events of these volumes don’t matter too much because you know that there is a presence in the background with 1 % of the screentime jinxing things anyway.

Compare that to a villain like Pukin who is charismatic and pulls her own weight in her story. It feels disingenuine to have characters who try their hardest to contribute to the story and survive it get offed by someone on the sidelines barely putting in any effort. Considering that strong characters in this franchise regularly get killed through cheap trickery, some of it with the complexity of “Pfle signed a contract” and “The strongest character got killed because she wasn’t momentarily paying attention”, it doesn’t feel like the playground is even.

Pythie Frederica barely is part of these arcs, thus enjoys being in the safest spot and yet has huge influence on who gets to survive. Why should I then believe in the characters who do play big, active parts in the story? It’s like watching a play unfold and then some dipshit from the midst of the audience storms onto the stage, yells “ROMEO AND JULIET, YOU DIE NOW” and the actors follow suit. It’s like getting hit by a blue shell right before the finish line in Mario Kart except it happens with 100 % certainty – why play then? Why root for your favorite character to survive when the game of survival is rigged essentially? Why care about Osk or Puck or the Magical Kingdom when Pythie Frederica gets to play the “Well, she who laughs last…” card all the time and oftentimes turns out to be in control all along and nobody ever noticed?

And yet, her biggest contribution through all these volumes was writing a supposed main character – Ripple – out of the plot for several volumes. She’s a detriment to the story. She holds it back and smears all over it. She feels like Hunter x Hunter’s Hisoka in terms of personality but Hisoka actually does things. She’s the worst villain by far and even the Magical Kingdom itself would make a better thematic villain. Yet everything that happens happens on the palms of her hands. She’s the stage, the plot twists and the author essentially. You think Micchan ever stood a chance in her battle against Ripple?

With that said, while I do think this is generally a bigger problem with the entirety of the story, it applies less so to Black since the entire gist behind it is that these girls are nothing but pawns sent to the frontline of a social experiment with almost every sponsor behind them having ill intentions and pulling the strings. So Pythie Frederica isn’t an outlier here but the norm and part of the point. That certainly helps the volume a bit.

Anyway, let’s actually talk about Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black itself now! Magical girls at school! Can you believe it? Somehow, it feels like the most grounded and obvious scenario is an outlier in this story about being locked inside games or underground basements or war zones. In a way, this feels like the closest to a traditional magical story we’ve had so far. Everyone is a teenage girl. They go to school. Their daily magical endeavors are hidden from the public yet so very close to it as they lead their secret lives. They have girl talk. They fight over petty things in their banal school lives. And there’s even a magical pet mascot popping up at the end of the book. Wait, I got that wrong, that was just Uluru.

So I guess you can congratulate MahoIku for mixing things up with its arc-based storytelling. It’s not quite at the level of Hunter x Hunter or JoJo but a very far cry from being redundant. So, how do I feel about this one? Truth to be told, the school setting feels a bit limiting. Every character is a student and the locale is already fixed. This erects constraints on the writing that can be worked with but obviously, it’s more of an uphill battle. Asari Endou does use some tricks up his sleeve in terms of character diversity to the point that some of these characters don’t feel like school girls anymore but instead feel reduced to “serious magical girl”.

To elaborate on this, the school setting here also feels rather underused as it’s reduced precisely to what’s necessary. There are magical girl lessons and training exercises. That is essentially it. What about homework, group projects, other kinds of lessons or any of the other stuff you do at school? I remember my own school time to be a lot more diverse than this and contrary to Japan, Germany doesn’t even have school clubs for the most part! As it stands, Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black’s execution of a school setting boils down to “These characters receive lessons in an old building” and that’s it. They don’t really exist outside of it either, even though that’s half of school life. Diko and Ranyi going to a café would be a good example of what I wanted to see more of if it wasn’t only magical girl-related. What’s a lot better is Kana moving in with Mephis. That is two teenage girls (debatable with Kana) not only interacting because of school but also outside of it, engaging in school talk and hobbies. This contextualizes them within the setting and expands their school life far beyond “Student A” and “Student B”.

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Thunder General Adelheid And Princess Lightning

This, however, doesn’t apply to most characters. One could argue that Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black dedicates a lot of time to buildup and less so to spinning an active plot but what do we even know about these characters? Do they have friends, families etc. Precisely because this is a more slice of life-oriented volume set in a non-magical environment, this is the kind of stuff that matters more and can be done easily. Most of the time, these characters are untransformed yet it doesn’t feel like that part makes a lot of difference. Black is largely considered a slice of life story but upon closer inspection, there is very little slice of life in it.

Which brings me to the magical girls themselves. As always, the characters are likable and varied. Well, we’re 13 volumes into MahoIku, you don’t need me to explain the appeal of the franchise to you and that it’s pretty much the only light novel series I’ve read so far that I would actually consider good. You can put one MahoIku character into any seasonal light novel anime and you’d immediately have the best character in that one. The stuff that we get to watch nowadays is a complete embarrassment and it’s nothing short of a crime that MahoIku isn’t as popular as it should be and there still isn’t a Restart anime on the horizon.

Here is where things get tricky however: Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black is set at a school, with a dedicated class of magical girls and while that per se is a good idea, in execution, these 16 students don’t feel like a class and a good part for that is to blame on the screentime distribution. It feels like there are six characters here who matter and 10 who merely exist. The lack of screentime balance and overall group identity is to Black’s detriment – I find it way harder to remember who’s in which group compared to Restart and that had an additional group. Or Limited. Or Aces. Restart had really mastered that aspect. I could name you two arbitrary characters from within the same group and ask you for a specific, substantial interaction between them and you’d remember them. Pechka and Nonako? Their excursion. Melville and Detec Bell? The former implying she doesn’t trust the latter. Pfle and Masked Wonder? Masked Wonder’s very memorable introduction. Try the same with these: Miss Rill and Arc Arlie. Adelheid and Classical Lilian. Princess Lightning and Sally Raven. Sure, they have exchanged lines about a broader or specific topic in group conversations probably but you’d hardly call that a memorable interaction. What are their character moments? These groups don’t feel alive. Restart made me engage in discussions on who your favorite team is. Black doesn’t.

Especially in a book where nobody has had their screentime constricted by death, it’s weird that there’s this heavy imbalance. Even moreso with the slice of life approach that should give these characters room to breathe.

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Ranyi And Diko

What’s equally as baffling is that most of the bigger character point of views are passive in nature, barely motivated, some of them self-deprecating and so forth. Why are there so many characters who don’t want to be part of their story? Tetty Goodgrip, Kumi-Kumi, Kana, Pshuke, Ranyi and Calkoro are all characters who are very passive and mostly just observe the actually lively characters. And once you look at most of the other characters, they’re not exactly social butterflies with lots of memorable moments either. Arlie and Dolly are fun but interchangable and the writing reduces them to “They chirp”. Lightning and Mephis Pheles are really active but they specifically stand out for it. Adelheid and Diko carry presence but feel not too active either. Miss Rill, Rappy, Lillian and Sally Raven are hardly even characters. Once you factor in that the point of views are relegated to very passive characters, this problem becomes amplified. You have this class of very distinct individuals, some of them oddballs and forces of chaos essentially and then… I’m stuck inside Kumi-Kumi’s head. Show me these weirdos, don’t tell me about them through the lense of someone who would rather not narrate her own perspective.

MahoIku is always filled with characters who would really rather not be part of what’s going on and for very good reason, be it Unmarked’s battle royale, Restart’s death game, Limited’s confined urban thriller, Joker’s underground horror survival show… you get the gist. But there is a difference between not wanting to participate in dead-or-alive situations and generating a lot of passive, unmotivated characters. Top Speed doesn’t want to be part of a killing game. But she is determined to contribute her part and survive. Also, for so many characters to be this dismissive and passive in nature across almost all of point of views? In the least dangerous setting by far? Limited had school girls too. Who got dragged into something they really would have rather not participated in. Yet they still contributed, with more or less enthusiasm. Here, it feels like almost everyone follows either the Postarie – can’t do things – or Funny Trick – doesn’t want to do things – lane.

How did Restart have so many colorful characters, so many different perspectives, so many plot twists and how did we go from that to this? If Restart was written like this, we would have four perspectives, namely Daisy not wanting to play the game, Pechka not wanting to interact with her team mates, Shadow Gale not wanting to work for Pfle and Detec Bell not wanting to put in any work. And they would all constantly reiterate that they were transported into a game, that that game was very mysterious and dangerous and that they don’t know the reason as to why all of this is happening. That is describing the premise blurb on the back, not doing anything with it.

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black Calkoro

One big appeal of MahoIku is the way the powers work. They are half of the magical girls’ identity and Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black is not different on that front. I’m just not so sure about the powers this time. It feels like it’s been a while since we’ve seen a truly creative use of these. The JoJo comparisons with this franchise are obvious, especially since Asari Endou is a fan of it and the illustration with Kana and Mephis reading JoJo is telling about that but a lot of the battle writing remains really conservative, being focused on close quarter combat. The Pukin fights were great showcases of true JoJo battles but these appear to be the exception. I just can’t help but feel that a power like Kumi-Kumi’s, to destroy objects and reassamble them, would have seen a lot more creative use in JoJo. Maybe MahoIku needs more 1-on-1 battles with specific scenarios where you follow along at the edge of your seat, wondering how these characters are going to get out of that situation and are amazed at the ingenious trickery pulled off.

There are still some cool displays here however. Miss Ril’s power is pretty neat and feels very cathartic. It makes you root for a character very aware of the almost cheat-like flexibility of her own powers, preparing beforehand for a fight and that preparation catching the enemy offguard and paying off. That mercury trick? Brilliant. Arc Arlie and Drill Dory meanwhile have very simple magic but one that seems very unfair yet can probably also be countered by defeating them fast and simple. Kana’s power is well-suited for investigations and since she herself doesn’t know what she’s investigating, creates an interesting layer of seeing things from her side without revealing too much about what’s going on. We get to explore the setting as she does. She makes for a good interrogation duo with Mephis, although I wish we had seen Mephis actually employ her magic to greater effect. Meanwhile, Lightning and Adelheid both being thunder users is a cool idea – precisely because you don’t see this in entertainment media. Lightning being princess-themed like the other four princesses yet having nothing to do with them is a cool idea and so are Adelheid’s German moves with naming sense refering to German WWI strategies that actually roughly fit the skills employed.

Speaking of Adelheid and Lightning, fan treatment is partly to blame for this but I had different expectations for them. Conceptually, they’re great. Both are thunder users, one is a traditional German beauty, the other is a traditional Japanese beauty and their personalities clash a bit but not too much. I could see the appeal to this pairing but to me, when actually reading the book, there’s surprisingly little interaction between them and none of the above-mentioned trademarks are particularly interaction-defining. Adelheid looks German, has a German name, her magical girl form looks German and her attack names are German but she is remarkably un-German otherwise. Not every character needs to be a national stereotype of course but when you have rather few foreign magical girls, two of them hardly capable of speaking anything but gibberish and the other one being as quintessentially American as Nonako, you do come to expect it to be a bit more of a defining trait for Adelheid. None of her personality, lines or anything reflect her nationality. She doesn’t feel discernable from any of the Japanese characters. Heck, she tries and fails at Japanese humor, something so absolutely incompatible with German humor and she speaks in Japanese dialect. She’s more Japanese than any of the other girls as far as I’m concerned. Granted, as a German, I’m obviously biased here and I do think there will be explanations on her character in the future but when all of her presentation is German yet the rest isn’t, it’s weird. I was expecting a lot more intercultural exchange and teasing between her and Lightning (I saw Asari Endou post a twitter story on Lightning remarking that German has cool-sounding words, that’s what I’m talking about). Sometimes, I find it saddening that these moments and interactions can be found in fan art and on the official twitter only.

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black Adelheid and Lightning

Speaking of duos, you know what I like? Mephis and Kana! This came as a complete surprise to me since on their own, I don’t find them too fascinating as their character roles of being indifferent or constantly mad feel too restricting. But when put together, they flourish and their interactions come to bloom in full force. The key link here is their shared passion of reading manga.

It’s also something the audience can relate to. Isn’t sharing your favorite media the best? Getting to see the other person’s face when they reach that really climactic moment? Exchanging opinions about certain scenes, even the trivial things that others might not notice but resonated with you? And the “got you!” moments that you wait for others to get to in the story? You can feel the fun and joy from this unlikely duo brought together as Kana comes to explore a yet unknown world. All of us can relate to this part, thinking back to our own experiences like that back when we were younger. That is adolescence in its purest form. Fresh experiences shared with others, something lost in society. That right there is MahoIku Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black playing to its strengths. Just as Kana and Mephis finally start communicating, so does the book with us. It’s like Asari Endou telling us “I know you know this feeling.”

This is so much better than any of the vague Cutie Healer references talk. It builds character, creates a new, fun chemistry and develops someone as indifferent and bereft of worldly desires as Kana. It reminded me a bit of Tepsekemei. Truly this is a magical girl raising project and the irresponsible Mephis has become a mother of engaging with fiction to Kana. “If Kana was to get serious about manga, then eventually the time would come when she would have to leave the nest and fly off from this place.” is such a fantastic line. Its humorous, relatable and genuine and for the first time makes the unmotivated Kana have a goal. At the same time, Kana not knowing manga makes the reader suspicious of her – is she from a long bygone era? Perhaps a magical girl whose real body has already passed away? Is she an animal? A recently created artificial magical girl with false memories implanted into her? The first object magical girl in the storyline?

This is what makes the two of them reading manga the best part of Black – it achieves so much with relatively little. Not to mention that Kana, from Calkoro’s perspective, being yet another reason to worry yet she knows she is at least no troublemaker and then Kana coming to see with poorly stitched together delinquent attire and lines that really don’t fit her intonation leads to such a hilarious aftereffect. Calkoro truly can’t catch a break.

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black Kana

It’s very fitting that Kana, who is essentially a bit of blank slate in terms of personality and motivation, is so easily influenced by something as simple as entertainment media, which she has not experienced before. It feels like you’re watching a child being raised… although maybe not by the ideal environment.

Added to that we have the slow-burn thriller appeal of political fractions working behind closed doors so no matter how organic and positive a relationship might seem, we all know that there could always be the looming threat of one political sponsor asking a magical girl to kill her supposedly best friend at school. Not to mention that Kana is such a wild card it feels like a ticking time bomb is about to set off with her once she realizes who she is and what she is set to do and tragedy strikes loose. Others are suspicious too – Sally Raven’s crows could easily spy on the others and both Kana’s and Mephis Pheles’ magical abilities are great for information warfare. With that said, I can’t deny that it became very hard and cumbersome to keep up with who has which outside contact and what their names were. From Halna to the several other folks pulling the strings in the back, there are way too many unillustrated characters around. Speaking of illustrations, there are only six illustrations in this volume, meant to cover 16 characters, both transformed and pre-transformed and that’s just not the case at all. Diko receives a lot of attention in text for her untransformed looks but never gets an illustration showing what she actually looks like. Several characters, take Sally Raven, don’t get any illustration at all. Meanwhile, Kana gets two. When you emphasize groups and the concept of a class but only show about half of it and the story itself also distributes the screentime so unevenly, you’re telling me one thing but showing me another and it makes the class feel even less like one.

The last chapter where things expectedly go wrong is easily one of the strongest parts of the volume and it’s always better to finish things on a banger. You have 16 magical girls collaborating for once instead of trying to kill each other against an overwhelming foe that is both conceptually scary and in execution. It feels a bit reminiscent of the desperate fight for survival against the army of Shufflins in Jokers. The really clever part here is the initial twist with the fencer homunculus, which felt suspiciously peculiar in terms of design until Mephis turns out to be mind-controlled and you only notice after the fact. Such a shocking and clever twist. Leave it to (homunculus) Pukin to surprise the audience with that every time. The mixture of magical girls we knew and didn’t know was also quite appreciated. Always keeps the audience in high alert mode as to what might happen next and not only makes the current situation look bleak but also paints a grim picture of the future if this kind of thing is doable. The Grim Heart homunculus in particular just makes your stomach twist.

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku Black Mephis Pheles

I also appreciate that the writing made it very clear that while some girls did temporarily master the situation with their best efforts, the overall situation at hand would have been completely lost if not for Snow White and her crew storming in and giving the reader a sigh of relief. Even Uluru got to be useful, which came as a total surprise to me and reminded me that her magic can be game-breaking under the correct circumstances.

And I am grateful for Ranyi’s perspective as well, as she, who suffers from an inferiority complex, can’t quite overcome the boundaries of her combat abilities but is hellbent on using them to her absolute limits, enters the zone and comes to realize the greatness of Diko, who, despite realizing it’s futile to attempt to become the next Lapis Lazuline, hasn’t given up on life and thus finds inspiration to achieve a heroic deed herself and becomes completely in sync with her. You go, fish girl!

And yet, as much as I absolutely loved Snow White barging into this desperate situation and saving the day as it felt absolutely cathartic (and probably marked the first time she successfully achieved saving everyone)… you know. There’s a Flame Flamey. There’s a Snow White. Really? Do I need to spell this out?

Where was the fire extinguisher, Asari Endou? Where was it?

魔法少女育成計画
消火器

Anyway, while I am very much prepared for Flame Flamey, let’s hope that Snow White teaches these girls how to handle one of these properly. The fate of the world depends on it.

We’ll see each other in the next lesson then. It better not be maths. For the sake of these magical girls. And my own.

Final Verdict: Good.

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