The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

The Irregular at Magic High School

Title: The Irregular at Magic High School aka Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Aniplex/Madhouse
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 6 Apr 2014 – 28 Sep 2014

Synopsis: It’s the year 2095. After a devastating world war, mankind has adopted magic into its military and through genetic manipulation has cultivated a small but powerful group of magicians. A new system of schooling has been created for those with the potential to cast magic. Among those is the prestigious First High School. The siblings Shiba Tatsuya and Shiba Miyuki are two new students of the school. Miyuki has scored the highest on the entrance exam and Tatsuya has scored among the lowest. With this discrepancy in skill, the two siblings must overcome discrimination and contempt as the elitists in the school try to tear them apart.

The Highlights
Pacing: Far too slow to be engaging, far too fast to cover the intricacies of the Light Novels.
Characters: Interesting once you understand their personalities, but actually caring might take a while.
Visuals: As expected of Madhouse.

Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei is an adaptation of a light novel about a young man who joins a magical high school as a second class student often bullied as an “irregular.” The show draws on cliches as if it’s going out of style, crafts an intricate web of relationships that’s hard to understand, and spends exorbitant chunks of each episode teaching the physical laws of magic in its universe. As if there weren’t enough things going wrong, the show distastefully flaunts hints of incest and seemingly tilts toward Ayn Rand’s views on exceptionalism.

Mahouka has an affinity for glorifying the gifted members of its society, and as a result, it has even been called out for having elements similar to the novel Atlas Shrugged. In truth, this is a gross misunderstanding of the core focus of the show, which is simple power fantasy. Tatsuya is not so much a Randian hero as he is a wish fulfillment of social misfits. The core engagement of the character is derived from the fact that he is a social pariah in high school who is constantly mocked, but he shatters everyone’s expectations in increasingly ridiculous ways. By having Tatsuya prove everyone wrong, the show provides viewers who have suffered unjust prejudice a kind of catharsis by proxy. The “problem” is that the author never actually stops Tatsuya’s upward trajectory and basically creates Superman without kryptonite by the end of the series.

It’s obvious in virtually any story that the protagonist will win, and it’s the job of the writer to make the conflicts as engaging as possible, but in Mahouka, Tatsuya hilariously outmatches everyone he meets. It’s like putting Roger Federer in a college tennis tournament in an alternate universe that doesn’t know who Federer is. Imagine watching Federer smash the egos of people who spent years honing their craft and then laugh maniacally as all the other contestants choke back tears at their crushed hopes and dreams. This is the kind of dominance Tatsuya constantly displays, and it’s exceptionally entertaining in a twisted kind of way.

Mahouka creates a massive cast that has a ton of lore and important surnames and titles that requires an encyclopedia to keep straight. Even worse, the way the show presents these characters is rather obtuse and does not emphasize their importance (or lack thereof) until many episodes after they are introduced. The characters themselves are strong personalities that would make for interesting centers of drama but for the fact that their individual conflicts are hard to understand and appreciate until a second viewing. Until then, the characters just seem like a bunch of talking heads who pad out the run time despite the fact that the many little interactions are supposed to be meaningful.

Mahouka is reminiscent of Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere in that it thrives on cliches but creates an interesting product by super-stacking the cliches into such meticulously crafted structures that it starts to look astounding. The show has a bad habit of being wordy with its explanations, and the logic applied can get quite arcane at times, but they are indicative of an author who obviously cares deeply about the inner workings of Mahouka’s universe. When it comes to the physics of the magic and the complex (by sheer volume) social interactions of characters who represent their clans across different social strata, there is a kind of internal consistency and careful planning that feels rare.

Ultimately, though the ideas explored are more potent than in most other anime, they are approached in such an utterly predictable manner that they lose any kind of strong impact. The extraneous lore, setting and systems involved are interesting, but the actual narrative is basically a high school slice of life series with tilts towards shounen action. Watch this show for a well thought out setting that lacks the proper up-front traits to make it actually engaging, or read the light novel and watch this show to see all the key scenes animated.

The Rating: 5

Reviewed by: Shadowmage

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