First Impressions – Mahou Koukou no Rettousei

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This one is a bit of a head scratcher for me.

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.

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29 comments

  1. m

    I take it that you are not familiar with the Mahouka universe, then? Haaah, GE, in a way I really envy you 😉

    Keep in mind that this was not an anime episode specifically designed to catch the viewer's interest. It's one third of the first volume of a 2-book arc. Moreover, it started out as a web novel, so it had no editorial oversight whatsoever. And to top it off, it's the broad consensus of the Mahouka fanbase that the Enrollment Arc is the worst of all.

    Consider it preparation. Like putting the pieces on a chessboard, and getting you acquainted with the rules. That's not overly exciting, but it will pay off in the end. And once you are familiar with the settings, and at latest when the second arc fires off (probably around ep 6/7), those who kept up will be very much rewarded.

    If you want the extra information which was removed from the episode, don't forget to watch the three chibi-theaters which were already released fansubbed, or tackle the LN or manga. Mahouka has some of the best (and fairly deep) characters I know.

  2. R

    Haven't watched this yet (though i did add it to my list for this spring).

    However, that whole brocon thing is really putting me off. Do we really need another one of that? A normal brother-sister relationship would always suffice, so i really don't get the obsession with that extreme.

  3. w

    I'd like to think that the only people who like brocon are those who don't have sisters.

  4. N

    I don't like brocon too and I enjoy the LN. There are a lot of characters more interesting than the annoying sister.

  5. M

    Some of the characters could be compared to some in OreImo(sry for mentioning that blasphemy of an anime on your site GE!),with the our two leads even having the same VAs as Kyousuke & Ayase.

    I was also worried but the characters weren't annoying or anything. Miyuki is like Ayase minus the bitchness aspect which is honestly not bad at all. Best of all though,there's no1 resembling Kirino,which was the source of evil in that show.

  6. t

    for me, it's as simple as that to say – I enjoyed it. that's what it really was for me.
    yes, I am aware of the hype around it since it's very successful LN in Japan (usually on top charts along with Index and SAO) and all SAO haters claim this will be something different and all. it's just that..the fuss is not interesting me.

    the premier was good. production is really on high level, as expected, Madhouse are putting a lot in this project since it's gonna be 2cour and all other reasons.

    to say it's this great?that will be jumping to conclusion IMHO. so far it's good. but LN plot tend to be, as you said, intricate in itself.
    and for now, although there is a nice combination with magic-school and discrimination and other stuff, I haven't fully connected to the characters and I don't know if I will. the sister is a brocon (though not really annoying) and the brother, Tatsuya, still..didn't reach me.

    all in all, this premier was good and enjoyable. production is good and even story has potential. but it's still LN. I hope it can present something unique enough. there is potential to it as I see it. but this is just the beginning.

  7. N

    See the 1st arc as an introduction. It becomes way better later, the generic Bloom/Weed plot is not as important as you may think. If you haven't done it, I suggest you to watch the omakes to understand more.

  8. w

    Yeah, by the half-way point I was asking myself "Why is this so hyped up?!" The second half of the episode was better, but still nothing. The general consensus seems that it'll need a few episodes to get going, but being told it gets better doesn't exactly fill me with hope. The characters aren't doing anything for me, and the exposition isn't that well-integrated IMO. The animation is decent though, and and the world seems interesting fleshed out. But I can smell a cliche harem, and if I see one more brocon imouto…

  9. K

    Successful LN in Japan… Say no more, I will probably be skipping this one lol.

  10. T

    This was something I heard about a while back and even though all I've heard about it gave me a bunch of red flags to avoid this, I figure I'd at least give it a chance to grab me and I have to say this was pretty dull. Even if I have to "wait til it gets good it's way too much of an up hill battle to really be worth my time.

  11. R

    I think an important thing to keep in mind with Mahouka is that hype is hype. Once you start paying too much attention to the Aniplex machine you start getting thoughts in your head that shouldn't be there.

    It's definitely no master piece. It's not a Mushishi or anything close to that. However, sad as it may sound, I think you already touched on one of the best qualities of this work and that is it doesn't throw away its dignity like so many goddamn light novels out there which include tons of garbage tropes upon garbage tropes to tell its story (Including fanservice galore). Unlike a lot of stories out there it cares about its side cast members and tries to develop them in meaningful ways. It's also not quite the harem you're thinking because there are other male main characters who form relations with some of the girls you're seeing on screen.

    That's all I can really say. As you said, it takes time to understand why this work is liked. It's definitely not a case of the 1 volume premise that so many LN's have (running through their entire premise in 1 volume and then stretching the plot as thinly as possible for many novels as possible).

  12. R

    The thing is, even if hype is hype, its still there. And like Enzou I honestly didn't get why there's so much chatter about this series. Unlike Enzou, I've read the manga and read some of the light novel, and even if this was the weakest arc, the rest never really caught my attention either. It was mildly enjoyable and some of the world building interesting, but nothing quite jumped out at me in a big way, characters included. In fact, I'm probably.more complexed than Enzou seeing as I've read further in.

  13. N

    Am I the only one who noticed the "awesome" effort put onto the map? Like East EU in Western Europe and West EU in Eastern Europe? Or "The Great Union of Asian"?

  14. S

    I noticed. Is that in the raw too?

  15. S

    Being totally oblivious to the hype seems to have done me good (I guess Alexander Pope would say that being oblivious is always bliss). I really enjoyed this episode. I never thought about "why would this deserve this hype", I just watched it because somebody out there hopes that his work is appreciated. And I did. The clichés are made with just enough feeling and new perspective that they aren't off-putting (e.g. @16:30 & @18:50). The bro-con stuff doesn't put me off either, I've seen weirder shit in my day

    I have no problems lowering the bar either, and agreeing with anyone who would say "one could argue that simply by not being egregiously inane and insulting the intelligence of the audience it's not a typical LN adaptation". Let's hope they don't fuck it up.

  16. m

    The map at the beginning of the ep where it shows the territory and names of all the worlds countries was so funny. Maybe 7-8 different countries bc most have merged together, and Japan is still its own country….

  17. X

    the hole novel have lot of japan's right wing military believe in it, if you read the novel, you will notice thing such as the the man character comment on the woman dress such as it should be lower than knee cap, amounts other things. as well about how morally lacking our current time the woman are. and the society japan is remolded on the base of pre-ww2 japan with the 4 great family in charge of it. and lot of other things….. ( like keeping it pure by having a brother sister relationship……)

  18. I never even heard about any of that until you mentioned it, TBH – my concerns with the first episode were strictly on merits. But since then it seems there's been a flood of discussion about this all over the interwebs, and it's become quite a controversy. Apparently the novelist has said that all Chinese living in Japan are spies, and should either be "deported or exterminated".

  19. m

    Really? Got a credible source for this?

    Thing is that Mahouka has caused nationalists from China and Korea foaming at their mouth, and this quote sounds more like the invention of a tilting-out critic than something that the author would go on record with – since it would undoubtedly lead to a scandal

  20. No, it's second-hand, that's why I said "apparently". I don't think the first ep dabbled into politics much (although the whole "global cooling" thing dovetails with the right-wing notion that global warming is some enviro-communist secular humanist conspiracy), though it was certainly sexist (and apparently that aspect of the novel is controversial too).

  21. m

    Sexist?!?

    *blinks unbelievingly*

    Can someone please elaborate on that? I'm pretty familiar with the show and the ballyhoo surrounding it. You can make a point that the author is exhibiting certain tendencies which are right-leaning (still, it's a work of FICTION, for crying out loud), but calling the story sexist is borderline ludicrous :)

    Can you tell me what this claim is based on? I'm genuinely curious.

  22. R

    Hoo boy. I never bothered digging into the background of this series, so I'm only going off of what I read in the novel and manga, and while I admit some parts I had to roll my eyes a bit, I never explicitly noticed anything too egregious.

    Granted I was mainly reading the manga and read like, 3 or 4 chapters of the novel maybe? So for all I know it could've gone south in the LN later. Either way, that doesn't make me feel much better about the whole thing >_>;; Personally, I think anything involving Japanese politics in anime is a minefield, so I'm just going to judge the show as the show and not think about that stuff.

  23. X

    mentaromega to answer you question, in the manga/LN there are one where the dialog about the main character and teacher they mention they that the fashion of skirt(the teacher in question wearing a skirt just above the knee),which describe in manga as fashion of time of immoral which is around now… :( and further saying now the current fashion are skirt just above Heel . check the manga (in the manga present day is the past, the manga is set in the future )

  24. X

    but than i am a Chinese, so maybe my comment as a somewhat bias. any one like to know more could do little research on wiki to see if what i said is true.

  25. X

    other than the right-wing militarism. i enjoy the novel and looking forward to find time to see the anime, which look like have a better art style than manga.

  26. m

    Haha that's hilarious dude. Nothing like uptight Japanese morality and it's blatant hatred of women's rights. I love anime and manga but sometimes I do not get Japanese values. Not that all of America has anything less ridiculous. The south for example..

  27. j

    Right wing Japan…oh dear. It really is like the american south in that it keeps the entire country from moving forward since they're such vocal groups

  28. G

    "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."

    Ditto that. I honestly don't have high hopes for the show – the brocon alone is enough to turn me away. To me, it feels like the characters are going to serve the plot and not the other way around.
    It also seems like all the budget went into that one combat scene and rest is quite forgettable.
    I'll give it 2 more episodes, I really do hope they tone down that brocon stuff.

  29. R

    I'm going to just give you a warning since you don't seem to like it very much, but the brocon gets amped up later, not toned downed. So depending on how much of a deal break that is, you may want to brace yourself.

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