Note: This post was originally published as part of the Crunchyroll Newsletter. Check it out, along with numerous other articles, here!
It sucks to be better than everyone else.
That’s what Tatsuya Shiba, who is the irregular at First High School, is finding out. Tatsuya is cursed with the dreadful fate of being smarter than everyone around him, being better than magic than everyone around him (even though he’stechnically bad with magic), smoother-talking than everyone around him and also better at attracting girls than anyone else. And, as is wont to happen when you’re an übermensch, people end up resenting your very existence. Fortunately, Tatsuya is too gracious and too excellent to mind the discrimination he faces. After all, it’s not his fault that he turned out this way.
This is, although somewhat exaggerated, the premise of The Irregular at Magic High School, this season’s entry into the high schoolers and magic genre by Madhouse, the same studio that brought you last season’s smash-hit high schoolers and magic show Magical Warfare. The two shows share some striking similarities: a fantastic OP and ED song, respectively (LiSA’s “Rising Hope” and nano’s “Born to Be“); a similar dull pastel-y color palate; cool, if over-explained, magical systems; weirdly constructed political dynamics; and, most importantly to me, proud collections of hilariously bad line: “I am incompetent,” says the epitome of competence.
It’s these kind of internal contradictions that has made Mahouka a supremely entertaining watch for a writer like myself. It’s not admirable, I’ll admit, but I find a certain amount of fun in giggling as the omnipotent Tatsuya compares bloomers to brooms without a shred of self-awareness or irony.
That is, I think, a good summary of Mahouka. It’s a very silly show that thinks it’s entirely serious. From the complicated political subtexts and in-show debates to the oppressively long explanations about loop-casting, feedback resonance, Casting Assistant Devices, artificially articulated anti-matter ion metapsion convergence-timed fission to the deadpan manner in which Tatsuya verbally or physically dismantles anyone who gets in his way,Mahouka seems convinced that it is grown-up show for grown-up people. But, the sad fact is that rambling on and on about about politics and systems of magic that are entirely contained in the world doesn’t make a show any smarter. If anything, it simply highlights the fact the Mahouka wants to play with the big boys, but just doesn’t know how to do it.
2 thoughts on “Roasting Mahouka”
This was surprisingly positive for something that’s meant to be a “roast”. I agree with your opinions (that it’s fun to watch, despite its incompetence in basic storytelling), just with a few caveats.
There’s a nasty edge at the core of Mahouka, which prevents me from liking it in an entirely innocent fashion. Its attempts to be mature don’t really come across as endearingly precocious so much as horribly misguided. It’s like the cynical teenager who will never profess he is wrong. You could say there was a level of self-centered nastiness in a series like Guilty Crown (the other top pick for anibloggers), too, but it doesn’t come through as strongly as it does in Mahouka.
The presentation and aesthetics in this show also feels clinical and soulless. Part of this is to do with how the setting is a puritan slant of a highly technologised future, but at the same time, you can’t really get the same feeling of earnestness, that the writer put his heart into this story, which you can sense from Sword Art Online – even though that too was a very indulgent narrative.
So, yeah. I like most stories of this genre, which is probably a big reason why I don’t dislike Mahouka, but the things I find myself latching onto are things like the attractive character designs and the cool OP. The show is actually fairly decent when Tatsuya is not onscreen, though. (I think you once described him as a black hole that sucks up all the fun whenever he shows his face? That’s so true!) And the dumb “school life moments” work really well here, perhaps because the rest of the show takes itself so uber seriously you just want a break.
tldr; this show is rotten to the core, but I enjoy it anyway, because life’s too short to get mad over a cartoon.
Well, I did write it for the Crunchyroll Newsletter, which meant I had to try and find some angle to make people at least think about buying a CR membership and watching the show. I’ve sold out, I know…
I do agree that it’s pretty soulless, and when it’s actually doing things like this week’s magic “battles,” it’s entirely dull. The only entertainment comes from watching it trip over itself again and again. It’s got no entertainment value. Like the aptly derided “elevator” music that numerous other anibloggers have criticized, Mahouka just puts on a nice face, smiles and then continue to say nasty things as if they were compliments.
But something about being able to see through that face and hear the ugliness is sadly humorous, as if I were listening, shaking my head and going, “I can see right through you, you know.”