Hmmm. I'm not sure what I think about this one, which probably says something in itself. Do I like the show? Um, sort of. It's reasonably good at what it does, but I'm not convinced it managed to convince me that its bleakness had a point. Girls have to kill each other! Why? Um, because! It's yet another gratuitous Dark Magical Girl anime, which is to say that it's jumping on a bandwagon. (For what it's worth, I loved Danganronpa, liked Yuki Yuna is a Hero, laughed a lot at Magical Girl Apocalypse and never really warmed up to Madoka Magica.)
Firstly, the premise. There's a mobile phone game that lets you play a magical girl. What's more, there's a rumour that every one in ten thousand players will be invited to become a magical girl for real! This rumour is true. The game's run by a cyber-fairy called Fav, who looks like a cross between a goldfish and a rabbit's head. Fav has come from the Magical Kingdom to recruit magical girls to do good and help people! Whenever you help anyone, you'll earn magical candies! You'll get a magical transformation sequence, your own magical superpower and a power level that makes you invulnerable to almost anything. (Note the "almost". Another magical girl could take you out, of course.)
Interestingly, you don't have to be a schoolgirl to be a magical girl. Your real body might be a housewife, a frustrated office executive or a very young child. (Avoid this show if you don't like seeing small children getting murdered on-screen.) You don't even have to start out as female, since your magical transformation can flip your gender along with all the other changes.
Then, at the end of ep.1, Fav explains that he's made a bit of a whoopsie. He's recruited too many girls. The land's magical power is limited and it's being drained too much by fifteen magical do-gooders. The solution: he's going to reduce your numbers! Sorry. There are fifteen of you... no, sorry, sixteen. There will be another one joining soon. That'll mean one more casualty to drop out later, of course, but you can't reset the game's operating system!
At first, the girls don't take this too seriously. They know half of them are going to be eliminated, but that doesn't sound too bad and presumably everyone will be able to stay in touch online afterwards. Soon, though, they're learning the hard way what "eliminate" means and finding creative ways to ensure that it's someone else who drops out this week.
Up to a point, this is quite good. There are sixteen girls, which is a lot for only twelve episodes, but the anime does pretty well at letting you get to know them and making their demises meaningful. There's also a lot of variation in their characterisation and motivations. Some are idealists who just wanted to spend their whole lives altruistically helping people and absolutely refuse to kill anyone. (I'd been expecting the show to be about starry-eyed saints weeping as they're forced to kill each other, but surprisingly there's none of that.) Some are gun-toting psychopaths or sadists whose only motivation is to fight and kill the strongest possible opponents. Some form bloodthirsty little groups and lead raids on rivals. They're an unpredictable mix of "nice" vs. "appalling" (in assorted flavours) and it looks as if Fav's magical girl selection criteria are either broken or malicious.
The show's certainly pulling no punches when it comes to brutal deathmatches. Well, eventually. The girls don't realise everything immediately. The show's problem, I think, is that you might not necessarily care that much. There are lots of characters, obviously, but I think it's more to do with how arbitrary and gratuitous it all is, arguably to the point of stupidity. They're killing each other because Fav says so. They don't want to. They didn't have to. It had all been avoidable. Whether or not he'd been deliberately aiming for this, Fav's an idiot. If you believe what he's saying, then he directly caused the deaths of lots of girls through administrative error. (Recruiting a sixteenth girl even after announcing the elimination game is a uniquely horrible bit of jobsworthiness.) Conversely if a battle royale had been the plan all along, then it clearly hasn't occurred to him that the eventual winner might not like him very much and might not co-operate with his job offers. (That's without considering the likelihood that the winner might have some screws loose.) That's a bit dim, even for an amoral extra-dimensional alien goldfish-thing who's happy to send little girls into a murder game and thinks nothing of personally carrying out executions.
Oh, and the game system's blatantly broken. Its magical candy rules are full of loopholes, its player recruitment algorithm is capable of picking the wrong person and using SPOILER should have been off-limits even for Fav.
This is based on a light novel series, incidentally, so there's lots more available in book form if you like it.
It's a good show, I think. It's a well-made example of what it is. It's got interesting tactics, vile game ideas and a lively range of characters. Some of them are likeable, whereas the ones who aren't are often intensely hateable. You might find a bit of a problem with darkness-induced apathy and not really feeling much impact from the deaths, but equally you might think it's great and decide that all my nebulous complaints were nonsense. The special offer items and their price in ep.6 are a special kind of horror all by themselves. There's potential romance, although I can't promise that it'll end well. Magicaloid 44 is even effectively a Doraemon parody, being ostensibly a robot from the future with 444,444,444 gadgets of unpredictable nature and dubious worth. ("Insect Gender Identifier!") It's fine. It does the job. It could have had more emotional impact, but because of this I wouldn't call it depressing either. That can be a problem with Dark Magical Girl shows, but not here. I'd probably watch a sequel series, if they made one.