The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor is a Korean light novel about a virtual reality massively multiplayer online role playing game (VRMMORPG) called Royal Road and the efforts of a poor but hard-working guy to become number 1 in the game and make real-life money in the process. The RPG aspects of this series very much resemble those of Sword Art Online, .hack, or Log Horizon, but unlike many of the other MMORPG stories out there, The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor (LMS) is more humorous and light-hearted. It’s a subtle difference, but it significantly changes the way you experience the story…
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.