Raising A Better Magical Girl

The following is some rambling preliminary analysis/speculation of Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku. Feel free to add your thoughts/theories in the comments. If you’ve read the source LN and already know the answers, no spoilers or hints, please. Thanks!

Five episodes in (and two girls down), I’ve begun to ponder the answer to the question, “What is the Magical Girl Raising Project?” Sure, it appears on the surface to be a cruel, zero-sum death match among sixteen girls, who must either knock out the other girls or die. And it might be as simple as that! Last girl standing wins, The End. Fav has said the field of girls must be reduced by half to eight, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Fav decides to half it again to four, then two, and finally one.

That’s key, because that’s the raising in the Raising Project. With each magical girl destroyed, her power (expressed as candies) is distributed among the survivors. That means the last girl standing will be an extremely powerful Magical Girl. And that seems to be Fav’s goal. The field of sixteen might not even be fully-formed magical girls; only “potentials”, and “raising” the single ultimate girl requires the sacrifice of the other fifteen.

Obviously, I don’t have much proof for this beyond what I feel to be logical sense – and while there’s no reason Fav has to be a logical entity, I can’t think of any other reason Fav (or the person behind Fav’s avatar) would do this, other than for sport, and there are far less time and resource-intensive ways to hold death matches.

I think it’s reasonable to assume Himekawa Koyuki will be the last girl standing. She’s certainly the favorite so far, despite her reticence to participate. I like to think it’s hinted at in the ending sequence above (if YouTube hasn’t removed it due to a copyright claim): One by one, the magical girls float by with their eyes closed, while Koyuki holds a growing plant in her hand. The plant is her, the Ultimate Magical Girl, being raised, nurtured and strengthened by the magic of her fallen peers.

The question, beyond whether I’m right or if the show will have more curveballs, and possibly drop Koyuki early (unlikely), is what Fav plans to do with this ultimate magical girl once she’s been fully raised. Is this a process normal people aren’t aware of, where such a girl must be raised in order to defeat some kind of Ultimate Evil, thus saving the world, only for the cycle to be repeated? Maybe!

If that’s the case, Fav is currently keeping the girls in the dark, perhaps so they stay focused on whittling themselves down. But it might behoove someone like Koyuki to know why she’s trapped in a fight she doesn’t think is right, fair, or just.

She’d still have a choice, but instead of a nebulous goal of “winning”, she’d know the stakes were far higher. Then again, while most would agree that fifteen lives is a small price to pay to save the world, Koyuki might think even one life is too costly.

In any case, we’ll see how this plays out. Also, I really dig the ending theme. The vocals remind me of Evanescence…in a good way!

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Weekly ED: Planetarian

“Hoshi Meguri no Uta” (星めぐりの歌 – Song of Circling Stars)
Composed by Miyazawa Kenji – Performed by MELL

GO TO YOUR HAPPY PLACE.

Weekly ED: Zankyou no Terror

My first thought upon watching the ending sequence for Zankyou no Terror was “Damn, this girl knows how to sing.” I’m no expert on vocalization, but she (that is, Aimer) seems to be doing all manner of interesting things with her voice in this song, “Dare ka, Umi o.” (“Somebody, the Ocean.”), composed by Yoko Kanno.

My second thought ws “Damn, this ending sequence really fits the mood of the show”: a kind of dark, melancholy feeling of being adrift, lost, drowning; trying to find one’s form in the world. The two crows/ravens she espies in the sky are a sign of freedom and hope, but also dread.  Your mileage may vary; I just think it’s a gorgeous song and sequence.

Summer 2013 OPs and EDs

It occurs to us we haven’t done one of these posts in a while, but there are a couple pieces we look forward to almost as much as the episodes they’re attached to. So here’s what we consider to be the best opening and ending sequences this Summer. (Apologizes if the YouTube videos won’t play; that means someone had them taken down.)

Best OP: Gatchaman Crowds

Gatchaman’s colorful, kinetic, awesome opening is our unquestioned favorite. The first frames give you a quick glimpse of just about every member of the cast, then comes back to them all standing/sitting around the city, looking cool, all to the zig-zagging “Crowds” by J-rock group White Ash, blending English and Japanese lyrics fluidly around the music. It’s also dotted with gorgeous CGI of the Gatchamen in their suits kicking ass or flying through the sky.

OP Runner-up: The World God Only Knows – Goddesses Arc

First, we like how the OP is bookended by trippy abstract patterns, and starts off with a very melodramatic ballad-like sound that segues into the original TWGOK leitmotif, before going back to doing its own thing with a happy, optimistic tune as Keima and his conquests are presented. The whole thing is suffused with a divine and angelic tone very appropriate for a show full of goddesses. The theme is by Oratorio The World God Only Knows, with very upbeat English lyrics.

Best ED: Free!

For us, this was as much of a no-brainer as Gatchaman for the OP category. The thumping club-like theme “SPLASH FREE” by STYLE FIVE (composed of the five male leads’ voice seiyus, which is welcome news to us as of this writing) is perfectly complements the little tale of water-loving Nagisa traversing the barren desert in search of water, finding none in town, being mocked by Rei, who has plenty of it, and finally coming across an oasis where he jumps right in with the others.

ED Runner-up: Blood Lad

Both the OP and ED of Blood Lad are highly conventional, and don’t blaze any trails, including the tendency for the ED to be a slower, more morose counterpoint to the fast, upbeat, rocky OP (or vice versa). Still, we think the ED is very well executed, focusing on Fuyumi and Bell and their struggle for Staz’s attention. We particularly like the final sequence of Fuyumi inexplicably beaming very widely; she and Staz set back in the wildly-colored graveyard as Bell peeks her head out of a portal in the foreground, looking displeased.

Fall 2012 OPs and EDs

Another season, another set of opening and ending sequences. How do they stack up?

YouTube links provided where available. Some are just the music. Some are probably dead links :/

Btooom!
OP: There’s something about the girl(guy?) whispering “It’s only just begun…” followed by the rapping that just makes our eyes rollRating: 4
ED: The music’s a little too heartwarming, and the visuals are just beauty shots of Himiko. Rating: 5

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!
OP: Clearly Haruhi-inspired, but not as good – it’s trying too hard. Rating: 4
ED: We like the character names in Roman letters frizzing to the beat, but other than that, but watching Rikka try to dance? Notsomuch. Rating: 5

Girls und Panzer
OP: Utterly average in every way. Rating: 5
ED: Chibi Girls un Chibi Panzer…meh. Rating: 5

Sword Art Online
OP: Not as good as the first season’s, and when we first saw it, all the elf ears really confused us. But nothing offensively bad about it. Rating: 5
ED: Heavy use of Sugu; also pretty innocuous. Rating: 5

Jormungand
OP: The overengineered vocals were fine in the first season’s OP, but there’s something stale and laggy about this new theme.Rating: 5
ED: The first season’s ending theme was a beautiful, haunting piece of music that carried the whole ED. This, like the OP, just isn’t as good, though it does remind us of FF battle music.Rating: 5

Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun
OP: Fairly generic brassy-rock music. The visuals are better, with good colors and layers, a chain motif, and a nice moment of the two leads dancing together. (FWIW, this remains our favorite Romance OP.) Rating:6
ED: Also very generic ending rock music. Girl can’t hit the high notes. Ruins the nice watercolor montage. Rating: 4

Zetsuen no Tempest
OP: We’re really not fans of the English vocals, but the rock instrumentation and visuals are solid. Rating: 7
ED: Syrupy-sweet vocals and very generic rock music with walking silhouette. Neither offends nor impresses. Rating: 5

Sukitte Ii na yo
OP: Very quiet, gentle music and vocals. We like the longing strings. Pretty good visuals of characters, settings and various moments. Rating: 7
ED: Fittingly bittersweet rock piece, blue slideshow, and an animated chibi preview Mei that’s either cute or frighteningRating: 6

K
OP: Stirring rock with really strong female vocals (we like the occasional hesitation as she enunciates the lyrics), perfectly fits the energy of the series. Very lively montage of characters/factions too. Ends a bit abruptly. Rating: 8
ED: Whimsical snowglobe-type song, with a lovingly-animated Neko lounging around nude, looking forlorn. Rating: 6

From the New World (Shin Sekai yori)
OP: There is no OP as such; the show jumps right into those flashbacks, which are awesome. (No Rating)
ED: Electro-pop that gets more rousing as it progresses. Nice use of electric guitar. Really neat, dreamy animation too. I’m a soap bubble…Rating: 8

Kamisama Hajimemashita
OP: Cute vocals, cute visuals, just plain cute…but not in a bad way. Rating: 8
ED: Really nice transition from episode’s end to the credits. Same cute vocals form OP. We really like the underlying strings. Ah, ah ah ah…Rating: 7

Muv-Luv Alternative
OP: Same as last season. Which is fine with us. Rating: 7
ED: Also the same. Also fine with us. If it ain’t broke…Rating: 8

Summer 2012 OPs and EDs

None of the OPs and EDs of the shows we’re reviewing have knocked our socks off, but there are certainly good ones and bad ones. Let’s explore:

Tari Tari
OP: The cast running around like they’re on a sugar high to forgettable music. Rating: 2
ED: The cast sitting on a ledge, followed by panning closeups, accompanied by muzak. Boring! Rating: 2

Accel World
OP: Goofy techno beat (there is good techno, this is not it), generic action/character montage, and naked Haru flying around. Guh. Rating: 2
ED: Similarly underwhelming. Rating: 2

Binbougami-ga!
OP: One-way Two-way Three-way Four-way No way this is a great opening. Kinda catchy though. Rating: 2.5
ED: Shots of the two leads in various outfits. Well-drawn, but random. Rating: 2.5

Hyouka
OP: Very well-animated, but paired with uninspiring music, and the whole “Oreki stuck inside reflections” thing…it’s just bludgeoning us in the heads with its symbolism. Rating: 3
ED: Corny Sherlock/Watson cosplay. We get it, they’re like, detectives! Rating: 2.5

Kokoro Connect
OP: We like the flying logo, but the rest is your standard high schoolish opening, much like Tari Tari. Rating: 2.5
ED: We like how the ending theme plays over the next episode preview, then segues seamlessly into the ED; a novel approach. The music is nice and funky and complements the ‘winding down’ sunset visuals. Not too shabby! Rating: 3.5

Eureka Seven AO
OP: Great Animation, so-so music. Overall, not bad. Rating: 3
ED: In no danger of supplanting our favorite EDs, ‘Tip Taps’, but not bad either. Rating: 3

Sword Art Online
OP: Comely visuals and a theme that gets us pumped up without getting irritating (though we don’t really dig the dissonance in the last sung lines.). Nothing extraordinary, but competently done. Rating: 3
ED: Nice slow, graceful vertical character pans, so-so music. Rating: 3

Rinne no Lagrange 2
OP: We loved the first season’s OP. We just like this. Rating: 3
ED: This actually improved last season’s ED by expanding on it and making it weirder. Very catchy theme. Rating: 3.5

Natsuyuki Rendezvous
OP: Pleasant enough visuals (we liked the multi-burst character portraits) paired with fairly generic music for the genre. Rating: 3
ED: Gorgeous visuals and better music. Rating: 3.5

Muv-Luv Alternative
OP: It’s not the prettiest, but the quirky pulsing techno-rock sells it. Rating: 3.5
ED: Pretty standard visuals, but again the music steals the show, progressing from a smooth and breezy ballad to more urgent battle music appropriate to the series’ harsh setting. Rating: 3.5

Spring 2011 – Best (and Worst) Openings and Endings

Best Opening: [C]: Control: The Money and Soul of Possibility. A very slick, confident, adn frenetic beginning to a show that also possesses those qualities. A virtual camera zooms into a 1000 yen note, a dollar, a Euro, and a black MIdas bill, and the designs on those currencies explode and fly by with impressive depth and detail. I also like how the financial district’s giant spinning coin is presented.

I didn’t include [C]’s ending, because while it was pretty good, the School Food Punishment song sounded too similar the one used for the Eden of the East ending, which had far better visuals.

Runner-up: Deadman Wonderland. The WWE-grade metal lyrics of this season’s runner-up are kind of silly, but there’s nothing wrong with the music itself; it’s harsh, dark, and unyielding, like the series itself. The mostly red palette and multi-layered, highly-textured visuals also match the show’s mood quite well. While hardly subtle, they also show the dual personalities of both Shiro and Minatsuki. Sweet on the surface, but terrors lurk within.

Best Ending: Ao no Exorcist. I discuss the music and visuals of this ending at length here. Suffice it to say, It’s a great concept, very simple and very nicely executed. A really elegant yet satisfying ending. (Sorry, that video was removed!)

Runner-up: Deadman Wonderland. A peaceful shot of a Ferris Wheel glowing at sunset combined with a soothing, upbeat dance track makes for a nice respite from each episode’s pervading darkness and despair. The slideshow of photos – which didn’t mean much the first time we see them, are given more gravity as the series has progresses: they’re snapshots of the character’s pasts. In each case, they’ve all changed quite a bit, except perhaps Ganta and Shiro.

So, what were the worst openings and endings? The World God Only Knows II was a beginning I don’t think I ever watched in its entirety after the first time. They were clearly trying to replicate the novel and IMO very successful opening of the first season, and failed miserably. See it here. The ending is also something I skipped every time.

Hanasaku Iroha has a pretty (if not altogether original) opening that’s hampered by a subpar vocalist. Watch here, but be forewarned: it’s shrill.

Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko though, takes the cake as the most obnoxious vocals by far, and the visuals just seemed a bit lazy and uninspired. If you’re a aural masochist, you may get your kicks watching it on a loop. As for the ending, it’s just a cutesy-cutesy Arakawa-type sequence with Etsuko Yakushimaru’s shy vocals putting me to sleep. Venus to Jesus was infinitely better.

Aside from having one of the dumbest, laziest logos for a series I’ve ever seen, Tiger & Bunny‘s opening and ending are notable only for their crushing genericness. The blatant product placement didn’t bother me so much.

Walking backwards or forwards? Both

I didn’t really notice it the first time round, but I’m watching Puella Magi Madoka Magica through with a friend, and she noted that in the ED, the way the figures are animated, you don’t know whether they’re walking/running towards or away from you. It’s a very neat optical trick, and actually fits well with the idea that Madoka is constantly torn between moving forward (contracting with Kyubey) and backwards (going on with her life as a human and let other Maho Shojo sort out the witches). Again, this may have been painfully obvious to many, but I didn’t catch it until my friend said so, and I think it’s neat, so there.