[Anime] The Irregular at Magic High School Review – OP Protagonists, Awesome Battles, and Weak AI

The Irregular at Magic High School 1

The Irregular at Magic High School, also known as Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei, tells the story of a pair of gifted siblings – an older brother and younger sister (a la No Game No Life) – who enroll in First High School, an elite academy for magicians.  Upon enrollment to the school, all students are tested in regards to magical ability and sorted accordingly. Those showing promise in magic are sorted into Course 1, and are known as “Blooms” by the student body. Those with less fortunate results on the practical magic examination are sorted into Course 2, and are known as “Weeds”. Naturally, there is a natural pecking order in this school, and Weeds are at the bottom. Miyuki, the younger sister, becomes a Bloom because of her extremely large magical potential, whereas Tatsuya, who scored well on the written examination but did poorly on the practical exam, is designated a Weed.

Based on this premise, you might expect some sort of an underdog story. Perhaps you might think that this anime will be about Tatsuya’s gradual climb up the school’s magic-based hierarchy, something similar to Mx0. Or maybe it’s about the struggle faced by the two siblings as they try to navigate the intricacies of a school system hostile to Bloom-Weed interactions.

Nope. Neither of those is even close to the actual focus of The Irregular at Magic High School. Unlike the protagonists of typical shonen anime, the siblings aren’t gifted in that they have latent magical potential or seemingly useless but powerful abilities that they have yet to master. They’re gifted in that they’re insanely powerful, so much so that they’re heads and shoulders above everyone else in terms of skill immediately upon enrollment. Miyuki has tons of magical energy and can cast spells that not even high-level pros can cast, and Tatsuya is a super-genius who, despite not having lots of magical energy, is capable of very amazing feats (not to mention all of his hidden abilities…). Because they are so powerful, most of the anime is dedicated to creating situations that allow the viewers to see just how awesome they are, which may make the show hit-or-miss depending on what you like.

The Magic System

Let’s start with what I believe to be one of the highlights of the show. The magic system is extremely well thought out and logical. Every magician has a certain, fixed amount of magical energy (called psions) that they can channel to a personal spell-casting device called a CAD. The CAD then initiates the intended spell’s activation sequence, which is a series of codes that make up the spell, and once the activation sequence finishes running, the spell is cast.

Miyuki Casting Magic

Miyuki casts a spell

The spells themselves must also adhere to certain rules. Each spell is comprised of basic components, and the more components there are, the longer it takes to cast the spell. Even a simple spell to move an egg from one place to the next, the anime explains, is comprised of several components. Four steps to be exact: a component to begin motion, a component to accelerate in the intended direction, a component to decelerate, and a component to stop.

Having such a well-defined magic system in place definitely makes the show more interesting to watch. We have all seen shows where magic seems to be a black box and where it seems like there’s a spell that can solve virtually any problem faced by the protagonists, even if they’re supposedly backed into a corner. The magic system allows for a lot of complexity in the fights between magicians. Unfortunately, we hardly ever get to see the full extent of its complexity because…

The OP Protagonists

Yes, the characters, specifically the two main characters, are so overpowered that the rules of the magic system might as well not exist. The sister, because of her huge reservoir of magical energy, can cause huge explosions and freeze groups of people effortlessly. The brother, using his peerless intellect and hidden talents, almost seem to bypass the limitations of the magical system altogether.

Tatsuya preparing a special move

Tatsuya preparing (yet another) special move

The characters are awesome but alas, they are also one-dimensional. Being the awesome sibling pair that they are, the main characters do not really have to change or undergo character development. That’s understandable. However, what’s more unfortunate, and a little less understandable, is how flat the side characters feel.

From a skills perspective, no one in their school or even outside of it can come close to the talents of the ridiculously OP siblings. And personal development is virtually non-existent. All the side characters are pretty much completely overshadowed by the awesomeness of Tatsuya and Miyuki. Here, I have to note that a commendable attempt at character development is made for Tatsuya’s classmate Mikihiko, but it ended up falling short. Very little time is spent detailing his personal struggles or development, and we never really understand what his conclusion was or how he reaches it.

Weak AI

And if you’re not Tatsuya’s classmate or part of his circle of friends, then you’re not even portrayed like you’re a competent human being. Let me explain what I mean using the Nine Schools Competition (NSC) as a case study. The NSC is an Olympic-style competition between a number of well-renowned magic high schools, First High School included. It is comprised of a number of different events, including an ice-pillar breaking event and magical variations of skeet shooting and wakeboarding. From these events, we definitely see how resourceful Tatsuya and his friends can be. We see them creating an underwater explosion in the wakeboarding event to delay the other wakeboarders, and we see them use creative techniques to break their opponents pillars in the ice pillar event.

The NSC is kind of like a high school track meet, but with magic and violence.

The NSC is kind of like a high school track meet, but with magic and violence.

The events are fun to watch, but after a while, you notice something strange. Where are the strategies developed by the other schools? We are told that the elites of each school have been chosen to compete, and we know that this competition is a big deal for everyone involved, so why is it that only the students from First High School are using magic in creative ways? Sometimes, it can seem like the other schools aren’t even trying to win.

For example, in the battle board (magic-powered wakeboarding) event, it is specified that racers may not use magic on their opponents but that they are allowed to use magic on the water itself. We know from the underwater explosion demonstrated by the First High competitor that casting magic on or in the water is a super effective method of gaining an advantage, so why do we never see the racers from the other schools even attempt to cast magic on the water? Maybe it’s just me having unreasonable expectations but I have to ask: where’s that school with the student whose main tactic is to freeze the water behind her, or where’s that competitor from last year who can mysteriously move her board twice as fast as other racers?

The answer that the anime seems to give to these questions is that these opponents don’t exist. The other competing students are simply sitting ducks whose sole purpose for being there is so that Tatsuya and co. have a target for their brilliant strategies. This made watching certain episodes feel like playing the tutorial level of a video game. It’s cool seeing what the main characters can do, but it’s no fun if there’s no challenge.

Animation and Sound

Animation and sound were great. The spells were flashy and fluid, and the accompanying sound effects were always on-point and rarely ever annoying. The music was well-done, too. I am not aware of any instance throughout the season where the music did not fit in with the onscreen action, but conversely, nothing about the music stood out to me as exceptional.

Summary

The Irregular at Magic High School seems to have been created as the answer to a thought experiment: “What if we stick a couple of insanely overpowered students into a magical school setting typical of the shonen genre, and see what happens?” The result is a season filled with seemingly difficult obstacles just waiting to be stylishly and effortlessly steamrolled right over by the Tatsuya-Miyuki duo. Overall, the anime is fun to watch, and there is a sense of awe that fills you upon seeing a powerful enemy being defeated in a matter of minutes, but it would be much, much better if the siblings actually fought opponents who are on their level. Here’s hoping to a potentially much more epic second season.

Overall Rating: 7/10

[Light Novel] Mushoku Tensei – Isekai Ittara Honki Dasu

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Summary

After the death of his parents, a 34-year old NEET is chased out of the house by his siblings. Homeless and penniless, he is filled with regret at accomplishing nothing in his life despite being born into a good family and blessed with above average intelligence. At this low point, he saw a truck heading at full speed towards three high school students. Mustering all his strength, he pushes them out of the way of the truck at the cost of his own life, and ended up being reincarnated as Rudeus Greyrat (Rudi) in a world of swords and magic.

Read Mushoku Tensei (english translation) here.

Read Mushoku Tensei (manga adaptation) here.

The Good

The premise of this story is just plain awesome to me so when I first stumbled upon the newly released manga (only 2 chapters thus far), I just had to go read the much more developed light novel. Whenever I read Chinese online novels, I basically always focus on the “modern day character crosses over time and space to another world” storylines because I find that 70% of the time, this guarantees a smart and epic main character that I can empathize with. Now think about this. Normal young adults in today’s world (like me) live an average life as long as they possess no particular skills that they are experts in and people can look up to them for. Nevertheless, they still dream about being super awesome, winning at life and taking over the world.

How can they actually fulfill this dream? Simple. If they can’t change themselves, change their environment. Place them in a world where their “average” knowledge is enough to give them a huge edge in life. Ergo, you take them back in time. If I could go back ten years, for example, I would invest all my net worth in Apple and automatically become a millionaire in 2014. But financial power is not enough for these dreamers. They also want to take over the world, which is kind of hard in the 21st century where people are all enlightened and democratic. So you take them back to the age of empires. But that’s still not enough. Back then, if people aren’t born into the royal family, they might never become king despite their intelligence and contributions to society. Moreover, even kings are far from infallible. Dreamers don’t want to be kings; they want to be gods.

So you take them to a world where personal might can decide the ruin or prosperity of continents, some kind of supernaturally powered RPG-esque society where level-cap characters can just change the laws of nature at their whim. And you not only displace them, but you also reincarnate them so they arrive as a baby and can build their character from infancy. This…is the good life. This is the story of Mushoku Tensei.

{Complex Magical System – Checked}

{Intelligent/Tactical Main Character – Checked}

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The Bad

“Amateur handling of character control” (I can’t find the right word exactly so be patient with me here) is my one high-level criticism of this light novel. Granted, I do recognize that Mushoku Tensei is a light novel so I can’t expect some “serious fiction”-level of character control but the element is a true failing of the series by detracting from plot realism. By character “control”, I am referring to the way the author balances between the main, side, and background characters in the series. The author focuses on several main characters, writes occasionally from those characters’ POV, but fails to color in any side characters for anything else in this fictional world to seem real aside from Rudi’s story. When I read and imagine the story in my head, everything about Rudi’s in-the-moment life and interactions is colorful and 3D but the setting, background, and larger world is black and white and 2D.

The author does a good job at developing the main characters. However, as he is creating a whole new world, he also has the responsibility of fleshing out that world. Additionally, his wacky character control also means that character development is unrealistically linear. Rudi starts out by knowing only 3 people: his parents and the maid. Those three gets fleshed out in several initial chapters. Then Rudi gets a home tutor, who gets fleshed out in the following chapters. Then Rudi gets a best friend, who gets fleshed out in the chapters after the home tutor spotlight series, and so on and so on. I might be nitpicking here, but this pattern of introducing characters to the storyline is just … unreal. Nobody meets the important people in their life one at a time, like they’re in a line waiting to meet you. Nobody gets to know each one really well, adapts to the person’s presence, and then immediately meets another important person once the first relationship is settled. Nobody’s life is this systematic.

The Ugly

And… the reason why character introduction is systematic in Mushoku Tensei is highly likely because the genre is “harem.” Anyone who has any exposure to harem plot lines should know that the girls (or guys in reverse harem cases) are always introduced linearly and never together because authors want to take their time to flesh out the importance/storyline of each girl and thus magnify the impact of focusing all their adoration at one target of envy. But this light novel’s harem genre is not the “ugly” of my review. I am perfectly fine with harem plots as long as they are done in a classy manner (i.e. Shokugeki no Souma, The World God Only Knows).

What I am vehemently averse to in Mushoku Tensei is Rudi’s utter creepiness and perversion. I feel that the author has gone overboard in trying to portray the main character as a social failure/NEET that he overplayed the otaku/hentai stereotype. I understand that MC has spent 20+ years as a hikikomori developing unsavory habits/instincts but I did not feel comfortable at all reading the first chapter about a baby delighting in burying his face in his mother’s chest and smiling creepily. And let’s not talk about the reference to the baby’s reaction to breast feeding. Just one mention of that is too creepy for me. And when he’s five and stealing his home tutor’s underwear? No, that’s not ok.

To be completely fair, this is just my personal reaction. Rudi’s mental maturation and transition is a focus of the author’s plot for the first volume. Rudi is reincarnated with a determination to turn over a new leaf and correct all of his past bad habits. As such, it is very realistic that Rudi was the creepiest as a baby (when he was just a NEET a day or two before) and his perversion decreases quite a lot over three to four years as he works at being a “better” person. Nevertheless, I have severe difficulty reconciling Rudi’s physical age (young child) with his X-rated thinking. I don’t like that he’s already mentally assigned his same-age best friend into his future harem and put the moves verbally on his much-older home tutor when he’s younger than ten.

My Ratings

Ok, I got a private comment that the harshness of my review for Big Money didn’t match well with the 5/10 rating that I gave the show. Reading this review again, I realize that I gave Mushoku Tensai a 6/10 rating but criticism took up 2/3 of the page, which seems contradictory. However, I stand by my rating because I am just a very critical person. I tend to overanalyze flaws in the material. Elements that irritate me stand out and I feel very strongly about them.

To me, Mushoku Tensei is appealing on multiple levels: the premise, the character development, the intelligent (“genius”) MC, the interesting magical system. However, the harem/hentai play docked points off in my book. The story would have been much better without that element so in conclusion, Mushoku Tensei is only slightly above average.

Rating: 6/10