A recent anime that has been turning heads since it started has a small mouthful of a title – Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei, or in English, the Irregular at Magic High School. Commonly referred to simply as “Mahouka“, the anime has been drawing both good and bad reviews since it began in the spring season of this year. Exactly what about it might cause someone to dislike it so, and others to like it so? Before we begin to talk about that however, let’s have a little background information. All images used in this post are from Episode 7.
It is the 2090’s, and magic has been accepted for a very long time now as a technological advancement that is used in many ways, both in daily life and for militant purposes. Shiba Tatsuya and his younger sister Miyuki, who idolizes him, are enrolled into the Private Magic University Affiliated High School, aka. Mahouka in Japanese for short, as first-year students. The school is split into two courses for the students, simply labeled Course 1 and Course 2.
The darker side of this system is revealed in the first episode when Tatsuya, who is enrolled in Course 2, mentions the widespread discrimination against the supposedly inferior Course 2 students by their Course 1 counterparts. Yet, Tatsuya himself is somewhat of a mystery, with his younger sister attesting to the very fact that if Tatsuya were to engage in real combat with anyone in Mahouka, he would likely come out tops. So begins the tale of their not-so-ordinary high school life full of action, magic, and perhaps a little romance.
Now, it is quite obvious that when it comes to subjective opinion, we all have our own varying degrees and views as to what constitutes the good, the bad, and the ugly. This show is no different. Thus, what I may find “good” about this show might come across as offensive to you, or just a neutral point. There is thus no standard we can go by, but what I can do is to give you a look at what I believe the show to be doing well in, and why I believe it is so popular right now in Japan. Several Japanese surveys have put this series at or near the top, so there must be some reason why it is doing so well there.
Let’s begin by looking at what I think are the good points of the show.
Good – Science & Magic
Unlike what we would usually associate with the term “magic”, it is in fact an established scientific routine in the world of Mahouka. This is augmented by the fact that magic is cast using devices called CADs, and that these CADs are just one of many scientific applications and logical routes applied to the world of “magic”. For example, there are many explanations throughout the show as to how magic is applied or created, and these explanations are not of the shoddy kind. They are rather detailed, with a lot of information to be lapped up for those interested in the depth of the world’s background that has gone into making the show feel realistic. As the setting itself is already futuristic, the realism is believable.
What I really like is the amount of detail that goes into explaining every little thing related to magic, and how it works. The application of magic is not illogical, or does not contradict Mahouka’s understanding of science in its day, in most circumstances.
Good – Large Cast
Mahouka is set to run for over 20 episodes, perhaps 24-26. Having a large cast would be detrimental for a 1-cour season, but so far, the cast has been interesting enough on their own to warrant quite a bit of merit. There is the Student Council President Saegusa Mayumi (Hanazawa Kana), who is very kind-hearted but also has a soft spot for Tatsuya; the imposing Juumonji Tatsuya (Suwabe Junichi), pictured above, a very stoic, down-to-earth character; the obvious brocon and female protagonist Shiba Miyuki (Hayami Saori), and our male protagonist Shiba Tatsuya (Nakamura Yuuichi). A myriad of other minor and semi-important characters, such as Tatsuya’s classmates, or the Disciplinary Committee, are also given quite a bit of time in the show, and there is no lack of character uniqueness in the cast.
While, of course, this can lead into generic cast sets, I like how the characters interact with one another and with Tatsuya so far. Further, there is no lack of interesting development potential with respect to the characters, and even now, with the show into its tenth episode, we seem to be getting character development for a character that was introduced recently. This could also be a negative point for some, but so far, the potential has been something that the show has been able to live up to and pull off successfully.
Good – Hot Males & Females
This is entirely subject to opinion, but one factor that may have brought Mahouka into the focus of both males and females who watch the show may have been the character designs. The girls do look pretty good, and quite obviously, Tatsuya would belong to the class of “ikemen“. Tatsuya is, however, not the only one. Some other males follow the same pattern but with distinct character design qualities set apart from the rest, which may have contributed to the popularity among the females as well. At the very least, you could probably come up with yaoi/yuri doujins either way because the large cast and the interactions so far allow for such possibilities. I would suppose the most popular shipping is still the protagonist “couple”, the Shiba siblings. They are related by blood however, but it still does not stop Miyuki from being all lovey-dovey any chance she gets with her brother. Her brother is somewhat oblivious to all this, or is at least pretending to be.
Good – Plot Development
Plot development is not too fast nor too slow, in my view. For a 2-cour season, plot development can really be one of the biggest factors in a show’s popularity or survival. One reason is that with 20+ episodes (2-cour seasons would run for 26), a series has a lot of time to come up with a good developmental pace. Not all series can pull this off, mind you, let alone do it well, but so far, Mahouka has done rather decently in this department. Of course, I balked at the idea that the first arc ran for 7 episodes, but at least they do not throw all the information at you all at once, and they do give you time to sit back and think on things if you so wish. The pace is just fine for me, though the plot is, of course, for such a show, always a little shaky.
Bad – Sword Art Online Protagonist Similiarity
Every series has a downside to them, however small. This one’s main disadvantage, however, and might I add this was also the same reason a lot of more avid anime viewers outside of Japan stopped watching the show dropped it in like the first 3 episodes, is its direct similarity to the now-famous Kirito of Sword Art Online. In other words, Tatsuya can do just about anything by himself. He is that good. Having a protagonist that strong though turns a lot of people off. There is a limit to how strong someone can get in a generic way, and Tatsuya is simply way too powerful for most others. What’s more, his prowess is not really explained, only hinted at, and without logical reasons or a good background or history to back it up, it just comes across as him being just strong because he is the protagonist – a sure recipe for disaster in the eyes of some.
While I am not to the point of disgust with regards to this issue, it nevertheless irks me a little that he should be so powerful and have next to nothing in terms of information to back it up with. It only got better with some hints but it took more than 7 episodes to even get anywhere near. Plus, Tatsuya seems to know all as well, which makes it even worse.
Bad – The Sister with a Brother Complex
Miyuki’s brocon side is not just irritating, it gets right to the point where it can be full-blown annoying. She herself does have such feelings for her brother, though most others do not believe it and only think that she is acting it out. Even so, her devotion to her brother can be quite distracting in some episodes. Some people may like it, but I would say that most would likely agree that, if it happened in real life, a lot of people would find it creepy instead. There are other, better ways to express a brother complex, such as the wonderful Akari Acura in Hitsugi no Chaika (Chaika the Coffin Princess), another anime airing alongside Mahouka. Akari is brocon done right.
Bad – Harem Vibes
It seems like every female aside from those who already have their own boyfriends or just made one (in the case of Mibu Sayaka, who did fall in love with Tatsuya originally) wants Tatsuya to be their aisle partner. It gets to the point where you cannot help but wonder how such an almost-perfect person can exist and be so oblivious to the attentions of those around him. I know such harem vibes can really turn off some viewers, so it helps to know beforehand that if you are planning on picking this up, get ready for subtle I-want-Tatsuya scenes or the like.
Bad – Similar Antagonist
One of the worst things to come out of Mahouka is probably the revelation that the series’ antagonist is a student just like Tatsuya. How is that bad, you ask? By itself, it would be ok, but the real problem is that the antagonist has the almost exact same characteristics. He is also too strong for his own good. While his personality may not be as similar, it is still alike enough that a lot of people would go, “Another one!? Ok, I’m out.” The antagonist has not gotten a lot of time yet in the show, but has a probably prominent role in the current second arc.
Like every other show, Mahouka contains elements that are both good and bad. It is definitely not a show for everyone. What may very well be one of the best shows of the season for one is, in the eyes of another, one of the worst to have been churned out in the same season. All of this is opinionated and subjective, but what is undeniable is its popularity both in Japan and outside of it.
To me, the show is nothing less than a great science fiction series with quite a bit of generic anime elements built in. These elements may detract from the show at times, but they are what define it as “anime”. I am in it mostly for the depth of the magic and technological aspects, and undoubtedly, because of the pretty good seiyuu cast as well as female characters. At least, I am honest about that part. As of this post, episode 10 has aired. The series airs every Saturday night, or rather, every Sunday morning in the wee hours. CrunchyRoll is currently streaming it.