No question about it, Mahou Koukou no Rettousei has serious buzz. It’s topping the reader poll at RC, generating lots of discussion, and looks to be a series Madhouse hopes will be a standard-bearer for them. Sometimes I watch the hyped shows and love them; sometimes (often enough to make me sad) I really dislike them. But sometimes I really, literally just don’t get what all the fuss was about. And Irregular at Magic High School is, based on one episode, in that third category.
Let me just clarify – that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I certainly didn’t dislike the premiere, and as a two-cour show it has plenty of time to expound on its charms. But even with a show like Sword Art Online – which I freely admit came to seriously annoy me – I could see at once why the hype machine was so cranked up. With this series I just don’t see yet what stands out so much as to make it a banner property – to be honest, it feels very much like a typical Dengeki harem light-novel adaptation so far. If one were especially blunt, I suppose, one could argue that simply by not being egregiously inane and insulting the intelligence of the audience it’s not a typical LN adaptation. But that’s a lower bar than I care to set.
Madhouse has certainly done a fine job with the production values – this is no Mahou Sensou. The animation is quite fluid (there’s an excellent martial arts exchange that’s clearly the showpiece of the episode) but the art itself isn’t pretty or distinctive. Neither, seemingly, is the story. We have a teenager named Shiba Tatsuya (Nakamura Yuuichi) enrolled at a magic high school in a future where magic has become a recognized part of science (more or less) and where the world’s population has been decimated by a war brought on by global cooling (I hope we get an explanation for that one). He’s smart and physically gifted, but it’s little sister Miyuki (Hayami Saori) who’s mad skilled at magic (there’s a definite sense of danger to her). That means she’s the headliner for the incoming freshman and a part of Class 1 – the “Blooms” – while Onii-sama is relegated to Class 2 – the “Weeds”.
If there’s anything engaging about the story in the first episode, it’s that social stratification and the way it manifests – but let’s be honest, it’s hardly an unusual storyline in anime. As for the interpersonal relationships, there’s not much engaging at all for me. The sister is, naturally, a brocon. Every girl Tatsuya meets (each of whom checks off a box) seems unnaturally attentive to him. Most of the Blooms are douchebags, fond of publicly humiliating the Weeds, and they pressure Miyuki not to associate with them. I do appreciate that none of the named cast seems to be an abject idiot and that the first episode is pretty dignified on the whole (although the music which swells up every time Tatsuya fondles his sister is a bit much), which certainly can’t be said about every LN adaptation. But that’s still not the explanation for the show’s hype that will satisfy my curiosity.
So I guess all I can really say for my part is, we’ll see. Besides being an anime now this property is already five manga series and a game in addition to the LN, so clearly it’s not going anywhere. I have no doubt that the magical system underpinning the story will prove intricate – there’s clearly some intellect behind the writing – but too often in LNs that can be a substitute for a genuinely interesting story or fully realized characters (and for me, inevitably a poor one). The reason, of course, is that complex scenarios are easier to create than interesting stories or characters – and they’re usually enough to make a LN series a hit. I hope there’s a deeper reason why this one is so popular, and I’m certainly going to give it a little while to convince me that there is.