Death battles are one of those genres that are good because of how simple they are, since all you need to create a decent death battle is a proper place to fight, a reason for the death battle, the means of fighting, and the characters that are to be killed, beyond that, everything is up to the execution and the skill of the creators. Despite its simplicity, death battles rarely ever go right in the medium of anime, mainly because of how incompetent the creators are. While in the medium of manga, you got plenty of good death battles such as the manga adaptation of the famous japanese novel, Battle Royale, in anime, the studios time and time again have demonstrated that they are unable to create anything decent out of the formula with such titles as Btooom!, Mirai Nikki, Mai-Hime, and Fate/Stay Night.
But I shall not illustrate the non existent quality of death battles in the four anime I mentioned above, instead I will be using a fairly recent example, namely Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku or Magical Girl Raising Project in English, which is a 2016 winter season anime. It is an excellent example of incompetence, because everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong.
Let us start with the basics I mentioned in the first paragraph. The setting for the anime is a modern japanese urban city, the justification for the death battle are the sick desires of two sadists, the means of the fighting is magic, and we have sixteen characters with totally different powers and personalities (more or less as you will see below). Now let us examine the problems with each of these.
1. The setting
Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku pretty much has the same problems that arise from an urban environment that was present in the more famous Fate/Stay Night. Given the flashy, destructive and explosive battles that result from the usage of powerful magic, and considering how much surveillance and population a modern city has, it is essentially a miracle (read: shitty writing) that the existence of magic does not get discovered. Fate/Stay Night justified it via hypnosis, off screen manipulation and bribery, and conveniently never having any people around to witness the death battles, despite the fact that Fuyuki City is by no means a small town.
Magical Girl Raising Project does an even worse job than Fate/Stay Night, one of the rules of the anime was that if the identity of the magical girls were discovered, they would die and that humans cannot be allowed to know the existence of magic. How does the show accomplish that humans do not become aware? It does not, from the very first minutes of the initial episode humans are discussing magical girls in their daily life like it was the most ordinary thing ever. It is also further explained to us that there are entire sites on the internet dedicated to collecting pictures and videos of the magical girls in the city. So much for keeping the existence of magic hidden.
The only effort that the administrators of the death battle make to contain information is automatically blurring out any pictures and videos (via some super convenient magic) that are taken of the magical girls, as well as memory wiping the characters who came into contact with the girls, which does not seem to work, considering the fact that the humans are clearly talking about the magical girls and how they were helped by them, therefore they were obviously not memory wiped. As for blurring out the pictures, why not just delete them entirely? If you can blur every picture and video automatically via magic, then there is nothing keeping you from outright deletion. Not to mention that the administrators are too stupid to realize that even pictures of bad quality can create endless discussions and theories, if they did not, then people would not be talking about the Big Foot or Loch Ness monster pictures even to this day. And despite the pictures being blurred, it is still very obvious that they have humanoid shapes and are flying through the sky. Good job! The creators of this anime have managed to create an even lazier excuse than Fate/Stay Night.
But allow me to be fair for a second, let us assume that the human population of this particular city are just dumb enough to fall for this trick and that nobody bothered to investigate all the rumors of magical girls helping people, due to some supreme disinterest and being busy with Japanese work life. Even if we accept that particular hypothesis, it all comes crumbling down around episode 8, when one of the magical girls, Calamity Mary, begins killing innocent civilians, blowing up cars on the motorway, and then a few more magical girls appear on the scene to try and help the civilians all the while some others try to kill the ones busy with the helping. There are obvious onlookers and witnesses to all of this. Are there any consequences to this turn of events? Do the humans find out about the existence of magic and magical girls? No they do not, the very next episode after the incident, the whole event is brushed off as ‘terrorism’ and everybody goes back to their life as if nothing happened, there are no repercussions at all.
You can only suspend the disbelief of the viewer so far, before he calls you out on your bullshit. The truth of the matter is, there was really no reason for this anime to be set in an urban city in the first place, it could have been set in a more rural area or a secluded place far away from human population, but no the setting was made to be an urban city just so the author could torture schoolgirls, which is a subject that I will touch more later on.
In conclusion of this section, I can confidently make the declaration that the anime did not even try to follow its own established rules and laws from the very first episode, and it lacked consistency because of this.
2. The justification for the death battle
Everything in the anime happens because of the machinations of two unambiguously evil characters. Musician of the Forest, Cranberry and the familiar responsible for magical girl examinations called Fav are united, because the former wants to fight strong opponents and the latter wants to have interesting (read: edgy and violent) magical girl exams. That is all fine and dandy, but the way they go about accomplishing those goals is extremely convoluted, illogical and badly written.
First they develop an android game called Magical Girl Raising Project and start advertising it with the slogan that a select few players will be able to become real magical girls (which will totally not become suspicious when magical girls start appearing all over the city). Then they proceed to select 16 humans over the course of some months, which is a process that I cannot fathom why it was not instantaneous, considering the fact that there was no apparent qualification whatsoever to be drafted, as evidenced by the 16 characters who were selected by them. The selected range from alcoholic housewives, poor girls, psychopaths, university students, an office worker, bullied girls, a girl who just wants to help people, and even a boy. Clearly anyone could become a magical girl in this anime, so there was really no excuse as to why it took weeks for all the victims to be gathered.
Anyway, after their unfortunate victims were selected, they were lead on a wild goose chase that made them believe they were proper magical girls who were meant to help people and not just victims of a death tournament, for what I can presume to be weeks or probably a month. The time of events is not exactly specified within the show, but it has to fall within that time frame considering the activities of the magical girls went on for long enough to develop rumors and urban legends within the city.
There was really no logic behind this wild goose chase and it also conflicts with the motives of the villains, due to the fact I said above, Cranberry wanted strong opponents while Fav wanted interesting exams, but despite these desires, Cranberry lets worthless characters become magical girls, who couldn’t have possibly served as a strong opponent against her, namely the main character, Koyuki and Nemurin, both of whom have meek and weak personalities, and weren’t given any combat oriented powers (again why?), unlike the other magical girls who are mostly combat oriented. And Fav lets this boring game of pretend go on for months without any objection, despite him seeking amusement, which was the motive established for him. The actions and the motives of the villains are clearly in contradiction.
Furthermore, the only reason that the magical girls even realized they were in a death battle is because they figured it out own their own rather than being told that they were participants, which gives us plenty of problems. The only reason they could put two and two together was because they checked the backlog of their chat room where Fav pretends to reveal to Cranberry that magical girls who lose the candy collecting contest end up dying for real rather than just cease being magical girls. This information was obviously purposely left there by the culprits so that our characters could find it, which is clearly retarded, because if the characters did not think of checking the backlog, they would not have realized their situation, which is again counterproductive to Cranberry’s and Fav’s goals, as magical girls would have kept dying without any battles. This retarded plan further depended on the fact that the first magical girl to die, Nemurin’s real name was Nemu, so they were able to confirm her death when the news announced it. If the first death was not Nemurin, but a character who did not morph her nickname from her real name, someone like Magicaloid, then our characters would have been left in the dark.
In the first place the antagonists had no need for any of this, neither the lying nor the pretending, because as it was shown in the anime, they had the power to make characters turn into magical girls without the consent of those characters, and they also had the power to just kill them in an omnipotent manner like they did with Nemurin in episode 2, so there really was no reason for all of this. They could have just forced a couple of girls to become the participants and then forced them to fight against each other to the death by demonstrating their ability to kill them instantly if they do not comply. They did not do it, because the antagonists of this anime are fucking stupid. And this is important because 2 episodes were essentially wasted on nothing happening, which is a lot in a 12 episode anime, especially one that has 16 characters.
It is clear to me that there was no deeper thought put into the setup and construction of this death battle whatsoever, otherwise the author would have been able to detect the same flaws and problems that I did in this section.
3. The means of fighting
The means of fighting in this anime are magic, which brings the typical power levels into play and a whole lot of inconsistencies. The problem with magic in general is that it rarely ever adheres to an objective standard, as opposed to firearms, explosives, melee weapons etc., which all adhere to the standards of our reality. And if something does not adhere to an objective standard, it must then logically follow that it rests solely upon the author’s arbitrary whims. Indeed we can say that whether magic kills somebody or does not, depends entirely on the author’s decision, after all magic is his imaginary invention, unlike with firearms, where members of the audience with basic anatomical knowledge can easily tell when the author made a mistake or is bullshitting us.
In this anime this arbitrariness is best exemplified by the character La Pucelle, who had the power to change the length and size of her sword to ridiculous extents, and due to the super strength that all magical girls within the show possess, she had no problem whatsoever using the sword. In episode 4 her competence and skill with magic fighting was shown when she managed to achieve victory despite being pitted against 3 other magical girls at the same time. Then in episode 6 when she is fighting Cranberry, the author decides to forget all her skill and competence, and makes her act like a total retard by having her move close in on Cranberry who was suffering from a reach disadvantage (her only melee weapons were her fists), and because the author made La Pucelle forfeit her superior reach, Cranberry easily grabbed La Pucelle by the throat and pummeled hear to near-death.
Again, had La Pucelle not forfeited her superior range, she could have easily won, or at the very least, she could have lasted longer, but in spite of being horribly wounded, the injured La Pucelle still manages to inflict a mortal wound on Cranberry by slashing her front open with her sword.
Except Cranberry does not die to the injury, she shrugs it off like it is nothing, keeps on fighting without any hindrance to her movement, and finishes La Pucelle off. Why? Because the author did not want one of the main antagonist to die so early, so he simply had La Pucelle die instead out of convenience to the story. Also while magical girls have all been specified to possess superhuman strength, they do not all possess regenerative abilities (as evidenced by the fact that regeneration was actually the special power of Hardgore Alice, one of the magical girls), so by not having Cranberry die despite such a mortal wound, the author is bullshitting his audience and treating them as if they were stupid, especially because in later episodes magical girls are killed by similar slash attacks, showing that such a wound is more than enough to kill a magical girl. Therefore Cranberry only managed to gain the upper hand because the author on some kind of whim decided to dumb La Pucelle down into an idiot, and also on another whim decided to ignore Cranberry’s mortal wound and treat it as if it was nothing.
The conclusion that can be easily drawn from this, is that all the battles are essentially meaningless to watch since they do not obey the laws of consistency and logic, it comes down entirely to the author’s whims at that particular moment, which lets be honest, is just shit writing, and shit writing does not make for good battle scenes.
4. The Characters
Easily the worst category in this anime, it is its final nail in the coffin, as decent characters could have been the only thing to make this shit show bearable. There are 16 magical girls in total, and all of them are shit. None of them are complex or even relatable, and all of them can be essentially described with a few words. Don’t believe me? Here let me do it:
- La Pucelle – Genderbent Knight Magical Girl
- Nemurin – NEET Magical Girl
- Cranberry – Typical Bloodknight
- Calamity Mary – Psychopath Outlaw Magical Girl
- Minael – Psycho Twin Angel
- Yunael – Psycho Twin Angel 2
- Swim Swim – Emotionless 7-Year Old Psychopath
- Tama – Weak willed girl who tags along with the Psychopaths
- Magicalroid – Robot Magical Girl who scams people
- Ripple – Tsundere Ninja
- Top Speed – Overly Cheerful Witch, Kirisame Marisa edition
- Snow White, the main character – Madoka Clone
- Sister Nana – Lesbian Nun Magical Girl
- Weiss Winterprison – Lesbian Boyish Magical Girl
- Ruler – Smart, but arrogant leader
- Hardgore Alice – Insane X-Year Old Gothic Lolita
This is really all there is to their ‘character’, they are all extremely one dimensional and their personality can be summed up in their quirks and degree of sanity.
I have to comment on the fact that there are obviously too many characters for a 12 episode show, if 5 magical girls were too many in Madoka for the same length, then imagine how shitty the situation is in this anime with 16 magical girls in play. The more characters there are in any given story the more screen time they steal away from every other character, as a result they receive less development than if there had been fewer characters, which is why books with numerous characters typically have larger lengths in order to compensate for this effect, but in anime, where typically an one cour seasonal anime has 12 episodes, each compromising 24 minutes, the studios are vastly limited as to what they can do with the materials given to them.
Still common sense would dictate to restrict the focus onto 1-3 characters only, but this anime did not do that unfortunately. There is no focal point to begin with, the anime literally always tries to show what each of the sixteen magical girls are doing in an episode. Pretty much no one dies off screen, the anime always makes sure to show their downfall just so it can shock the watcher. It is also extremely formulaic in the manner it does things, because whenever a character is about to die at the end of an episode, they will play her backstory in the form of a flashbacks in the earlier scenes pretty much always. After 2-3 deaths, the watcher can easily predict who will die in an episode and who will not based on the flashbacks that are shown to us, which is obviously a bad thing since it leads to predictability, which is one of the worst things that can happen to a death battle, because it will result in the elimination of suspense. (Also, flashbacks are one of the laziest ways to flesh out characters, especially if it is overused like in this anime.)
Overall it is impossible to care about anyone in the anime, because of how little time is given to any character, and how lazily and cheaply the anime tries to make the audience shed some pity for them in their last seconds with its emotion-filled flashbacks that constitute as little more than worthless melodrama. This is not what you want in a Death Battle, if the audience cannot find anyone to root for, then it loses its point, because whether a character lives or dies, will make absolutely no difference to the watcher if he/she cannot connect with them.
Another reason why it is so hard to connect with the characters is because of how psychopathic and abnormal they are. Bear with me please dear reader, because the following will be some really cringe-worthy material that really illustrates just how awful this garbage anime is.
Pictured above is the magical girl called Swim Swim, who in the anime was the magical girl with the highest kill count and served as a villain for most of the anime, she was also the youngest member of the cast with just 7 years to her age. So how come that a child was able to effortlessly kill magical girls older and more experienced than her? The show justifies it by saying “she is not right the head”, meaning that she is a sociopath. Indeed, the 7 year old Swim Swim commits heinous atrocities without any hesitation, murders characters without a shred of emotion, and does not feel guilt nor remorse afterwards.
Everything about Swim Swim is pure cancer, and clearly the worst character within the entire anime. To begin with, why is she even sociopath? It is never explained nor justified. Whenever her human life was show, there was nothing out of the ordinary, all the while many other characters had actual troubling backgrounds yet were far more sane than Swim Swim was. And it cannot even be said that the death battle broke her psyche and made her this way, because Swim Swim was the very first magical girl to consciously kill another magical girl, she was one to start the whole bloodshed by claiming first blood ( Nemurin’s death does not count because it was done by the administrators rather than the participants).
So what is the deal with this character? Why did a seven year old little girl start a killing spree? What is her motivation? Surely there is a reason for all of this? Unfortunately there is no valid reason other than shit writing.
The whole deal with Swim Swim was that she admired her superior Magical Girl, Ruler, who she viewed as a princess and felt a deep admiration for her. Then one day Swim Swim has a dream, and in that dream Nemurin (who had the power to enter dreams) tells her that she can be a princess too. So what is the logical thing that Swim Swim does after this dream? Try to be like Ruler? No. At the very first opportunity she backstabs and murders Ruler in cold blood and usurps her “throne”. That’s right, a 7 year old little girl starts committing vicious murders because of a vague dream she had, that is her sole motivation. (Talk about cancerous writing)
I might be able to look the other way regarding the existence of a single psychopathic character, but the truth of the matter is, about half the cast have psychopathic tendencies for no reason whatsoever. They were not broken by the death battle or traumatized by it, no these characters are often the initiators, meaning they were like this from the very beginning, and do not react like normal people would do in their situation, which is just shit writing and bad characterization.
As I pointed out above when I was listing the characters, Swim Swim, Minael, Yunael, Calamity Mary and Hardgore Alice are all equally wrong in the head for no reason whatsoever. I am under the impression that the author was simply too incompetent to progress the death battle without making half the cast psychopathic murderers.
5. Overuse of Shock Factor
I am a man of principles, so I always try to make a distinction between genuine drama and what is nothing more than cheap shock factor. Unfortunately this anime has only the latter, as it constantly tries to shock the viewer (quite weakly I might add) every episode to substitute for its non existent drama and generate some tension. And like many other shock factor anime (read: edgy) before it, Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku falls into the typical pitfalls of shock factor. I shall elaborate below what I mean by this:
The typical problem with any show that relies on shock factor is that it needs to keep escalating the shock factor in order to retain the effect in the long term, because the more you shock the viewer the more desensitized he becomes to the shock, what shocked or surprised him previously will be far less likely to shock for the second or the third time due to the fact that it has lost its effect. Once this point arrives, stories that want to keep relying on shock factor typically have only one option, and that is the escalation of the shock factor, meaning to show the viewer even more shocking material than previously. For example compare simple murder to something like torture or rape, it is obvious that the latter are usually more shocking than the former, and many edgy stories, such as Mirai Nikki typically tap into this in order to sustain their view/readership.
As murders are a very common thing in Magical Girl Raising Project, it quickly falls into the aforementioned trap and escalates itself to ridiculous proportions. This is how we go from murders to betrayals to torture to increasingly violent ways of murder (such as burning somebody alive or burying them in concrete and throwing them into the ocean) to suicides to the murder of a pregnant woman to the murder of children. Yes you read that right, this anime kills a pregnant mother (done by the 7 year old Swim Swim no less) just to shock its viewer, if that is not cheap then I do not know what is.
Now do not misunderstand me here, Alma Elma is not arguing from the position of a moralist, I am not saying that it is evil or anything similar. In fiction anything can go as long as it is done right, but this is cheap and disgusting, because it was done for the sole reason of eliciting an emotional response from the audience for views, it is emotional manipulation, pure and simple, and therefore I must condemn it harshly, just as I condemned every other shitty aspect of this garbage of an anime.
In the first place there was absolutely no reason for this particular character to be a pregnant mother, it added nothing to the story, meaning that she was a pregnant woman just solely that her eventual death could shock the viewer harder than any previous death. This is yet another story that was written by a butcher who created characters solely that they could suffer and shock the viewer with their deaths.
The anime ends with Swim Swim’s karma catching up to her, as Ripple (Ninja Girl) does not intend to forgive her and goes to take revenge. There is no talk of redemption or anything meaningful, it is yet another edgy fight that there was so many of in the anime, and it ends with the death of the 7 year old Swim Swim, which is only more shock factor on the pile. By the way, our supposed “main character”, Koyuki also survives the whole current of events, by doing nothing at all throughout the entire anime. She managed to be even more useless than Kaname Madoka, the character who she was a clone of. To add salt to injury, this anime ends with an ending that is clearly baiting for a sequel, which it obviously does not deserve.
Let us sum up what we have learned here today.
If you want to create a shitty death battle, then follow the steps below:
A, Have a setting that actually works against the concept of the death battle (in this case urban environment vs magic)
B, Have shitty motivations for your villains.
C, Have your villains’ motivations conflict with their actual actions.
D, Establish rules for your story, only to break them later.
E, Do not obey the laws of consistency. Have every battle be decided based on your own arbitrary whim.
F, Have too many characters for the length and scope of your story. Bonus: Make all of them generic archetypes.
G, Have no focal point, and give screen time to each and every character equally.
H, Make your characters sociopaths and psychopaths, instead of real people that can be related to and have genuine motivation for their actions.
I, Overdose your story on shock factor.
J, Escalate your shock factor the point that you need to kill pregnant women and children to shock your viewer.
K, And on top of all of this, have a shitty ending that is nothing more than a sequel bait.
And if you want to create an actually good death battle, then just do the opposite of these guidelines.