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Magical Girl Raising Project‘s star Koyuki Himekawa has been in love with magical girls since she was younger. She’s always found them to be classy, beautiful beings with intentions that are always pure of heart.

Because of this, she’s always wanted to grow up to become one, which is a fantasy not unlike what many other young girls in real life have harbored in the past and continue to today.

It’s clear from the beginning of the series, however, that she isn’t able to share these feelings with friends her own age or anyone other than her childhood playmate Souta Kishibe. Her school bag is adorned with a cutesy magical girl keychain and she can usually be found in her room gushing over the latest event in a popular social game: the titular Magical Girl Raising Project.

She’ll never admit in her own words to anyone outside of us, the viewers, that she still secretly wishes to become a magical girl in the real world one day, but it’s a desire that she holds dear. Yet despite the appearance of real magical heroines that descend upon the city–and the real possibility that they could be more than just parlor tricks and pageantry–Koyuki is still sealed inside of her shell for fear of embarrassment and ostracization by her peers.

While it’s true that, in most anime series, the protagonist is meant to be a conduit through which viewers see the events of the narrative unfold, Koyuki is especially relatable in Magical Girl Raising Project. Not only is she smitten with magical girls day and night in her waking life, but she must hide nearly every facet of what makes her unique.

Though it’s a truly innocent desire and one that stems from being able to help those in need, Koyuki feels justified in her decision to keep her thoughts to herself, as she would be ridiculed by others for enjoying something so silly and childish.

From the opening moments of the series where she’s questioned for even playing a smartphone game that stars magical girls (the catalyst that kicks off the entire story to begin with), it’s obvious that she lives in a world not unlike our own where enjoying something as simplistic as video games is looked on as being crude.

It isn’t Koyuki only who suffers from this kind of treatment to the point where she has to keep her interests hidden. Souta Kishibe himself, the male friend she grew up with, also has a rampant interest in magical girl anime, manga, and of course the smartphone game “Magical Girl Raising Project” (which ends up bringing the pair together again after being apart for so long and attending different schools).

As a male, it’s not traditionally “accepted” that he should enjoy such things, so he’s teased relentlessly. It can get so bad that he is forced to make special trips to a store one town over from his to purchase anime and manga where no one knows who he is. And yet, he’s able to connect with Koyuki, because they’re kindred souls. It’s touching to see the pair gush over their shared secret interests, especially if you’ve also been through or are going through a similar sort of situation in the real world.

In this, Magical Girl Raising Project is a lot more than a dark subversion of the typical light and fluffy magical girl genre a la Puella Magi Madoka Magica, but it’s also a study of being comfortable with oneself, the way you are inside and out.

I grew up with series like Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, but it was Usagi Tsukino I aspired to be like. I’d cut out special Sailor V paper masks and shopping bags with rabbit faces on them and wish with all my might a talking cat might one day visit me to gift me with a transformational brooch. My classmates made fun of my behind my back, but unlike Koyuki, I wore my love for anime on my sleeve. Not everyone is able to carry on like this, however. Some people are just as fragile as the dreams they harbor. It’s easy to trample on them and their deepest hopes and desires.

But I don’t get this from Koyuki. I have a feeling that as the series wears on she’s going to blossom into a much stronger, more powerful version of herself as things progress–especially as she unlocks the abilities of her new magical girl self a la the Magical Girl Raising Project app.

That’s why I can’t wait to see where things progress from here. I long to see Koyuki and Souta come to terms with who they really are inside and really embrace that going forward.

Magical Girl Raising Project can be viewed with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.

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