I think my ability to feel empathy may be broken. I just watched a series that consisted of nothing but cute characters absolutely murder each other and not a single string in my cold heart was pulled. Perhaps the problem doesn’t lie with me and my inability to feel human emotions. I think the problem lies with the series itself, and its inability to make me feel anything. Yeah. Lets go with that…
The specific series that I am referring to is Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku, but honestly this isn’t the first series to bring these thoughts to the front of my mind. There have been a good few shows that have tried to make me pity their poor, innocent characters as they are brutally murdered. Just last season, Re: Zero finished its adventure through
Suzuki Subaru’s newfound life. Again, I was hardly fazed when characters would drop dead in front of Subaru’s eyes. I will give Re: Zero’s episode 15 a pass on the fell-o-meter though, as there was a great scene where Petelgeuse plays with Rem in front of a helpless Subaru that I found to be quite saddening, but more on that some other time. For now, lets start with what makes a meaningful character death.
The most important thing a show needs to do for maximum impact of a characters death is to make the character relatable. This isn’t even a fact that I believe can be contested with “Well that’s just your opinion!” because if you don’t know the character, why should you care if they die. When I say “relatable” I don’t just mean likable either, since the death of a hated character can be just as meaningful and fill you with emotion (though, the emotions felt are probably going to be vastly different than that of a likable character). All I am talking about is making sure the audience has a good grasp of what that character is like, and some sense of likeness of dislike towards the character.
This is where shows like Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku fail, and it mostly has to do with its large cast. An anime that has a handful of characters has a distinct advantage over a show with a large cast when it comes to getting to know the characters. Each character is going to get more screen time in general, and more time can be spent on developing these small casts over the series run. Take a show like Cowboy Bebop for instance, and its cast of four main characters. If you were to shorten it down to just 12 episodes to put both series on par, I have no doubt in my mind that we would still know much more about Spike Spiegel and his dark past then we know about Koyuki Himekawa (“Snow White”). Most of Spike’s personality could be seen in the first few episodes of Cowboy Bebop, and his past was expanded on throughout the series in multiple flashbacks and conversations. Since Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku has to try and fit 16 characters into its series, we just never get a chance to look into Koyuki’s past or really anything about her outside of her love for magical girls. Her personality is then limited to a single dimension for most of the show (loving magical girls and wanting to do whats right). Near the end of the series when there are less characters to focus on, we get to see Koyuki more and some of the growth she has undergone, but by then it is too late in the series to make anything feel like natural character progression. The problem is much worse in the rest of the cast, since some are not introduced until a few episodes into the series and some die early on. These characters don’t even get the courtesy of letting us to get to know them aside from some basic details, making it even harder to care that they are not continuing on in the story.
What is kind of frustrating with Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku is that it had the right idea, it just didn’t execute it well. The creators obviously knew that to get the audience to care for these characters (and then fall in despair when they were gone) they had to make you feel like you really understood them on some level. Looking at Sister Nana and Winter Prison for instance, we get a series of flashbacks and present day scenes throughout a few of the episodes that show how they met and how they interact with each other. During these scenes, we can clearly see how much they mean to each other. This isn’t really shown in their magical girl forms (you could assume they might be good friends based on how they are always teaming up together, but their relationship is obviously much more than that), so scenes like these are essential to get the audience to understand these characters. If we had gotten more screen time with these two characters earlier on in the series, I could of easily fallen in love with them because of their strong bond. The fact of the matter is that the show rarely got much time to explore their characters, with most of their appearances being in random conversations or fight scenes that didn’t tell us much about them. The same is true for other characters as well, who we only got to explore in short flashbacks that were shown much too late for a connection to be made.
I think if the series had take more time in the beginning to introduce its characters and really let us get to know them I would have enjoyed it so much more. Sadly we never did get to know most of the characters, so I ended the series not really caring about anything that had happened. This had to be my biggest complaint about the show, which is why I wanted to focus in on it. My overall opinion of the show was that it was pretty mediocre, so I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone. Watch Madoka Magica instead, I hear that one is pretty good.