The Irregular at Magic High School
(Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei)
Gods Amongst Students
Warning: this review does contain a few vague spoilers.
The Irregular at Magic High School (魔法科高校の劣等生 - or "The Poor Performing Student of a Magic High School") is an anime based of the light novel by Tsutomu Satō which follows Tatsuya Shiba as he enrols in a futuristic magic high school with his sister, Miyuki.
Normally the main character of an anime (aside from the dramas) is someone special, often with a secret power that differentiates them from the other characters. Well, The Irregular at Magic High School takes that idea and cranks it to the max. Most of the other characters are powerful, especially Miyuki, but Tatsuya is so powerful that he makes the others look like insignificant ants at times. Actually, the best way I can describe Tatsuya is by thinking of him as a creator of a video game with a maxed out character, with some special custom god-like abilities, slaughtering everything in the tutorial area, but pretending to be a novice.
Although, while battles do have a very important part in the series, they are only a small part of it. The bulk of the series is more of what you'd expect from your typical school-based anime – the students working together to overcome assignments and conflicts. It is during this time that we really get to see the characters actually bond and grow. The problem is, outside of Tatsuya and Miyuki, we don't actually get to know much about the other characters outside of what they can do and their involvement with the Shiba siblings. So much of who they are, and the families they are from, are glossed over resulting in a massive cast that feels like they exist just to give the main two characters people to associate with. Sure, they do get involved in the big action scenes and show off their unique abilities along with the main characters, but they never seem to be more than powerful friends, allies or enemies. We are given a glimpse into their personalities later on at least, but it's not enough. The opportunity is there for them so much more, but the series just rushes past them.
The bulk of the characters may not feel special, but the best features of this anime is the magic the characters use and the main story.
Above everything else, I loved the magic system in The Irregular at Magic High School the most. There's something about a series making magic unique that feels refreshing. Maybe it's because for so many years the same type of magic was repeated over and over again, and is still mainly used in other anime series. It also helps that we are shown so much of how the CADs (Casting Assisted Devices) work, thanks to so much time being spent on a certain engineer.
It probably wouldn't be as good if the technology behind the magic wasn't still in its infancy, too. The CADs are constantly changing as new advancements, both in hardware and software, are constantly developed throughout the series. These upgrades frequently alter the playing field as characters who are written off as being weak at the beginning become stronger thanks to obtaining a new CAD. I'm sure if this series took place years later, when all the flaws are fixed and the advancements are complete, things would feel very similar to other magic-based anime with everyone just being powerful in their own way. Let's just hope that the main story wraps up before we get there.
Through 3 story arcs, we're given a taste of a massive war still loose upon the world as everyone fights with new powers, and over new ones still being developed. That sounds like a great plot for a series, but that's not what The Irregular at Magic High School is about. The world conflict, as well as the problems the characters are facing at school, are only the backdrop for a much more personal story of family. Okay, for the most part it's a sibling love story.
Yeah, there is obviously some incestuous themes at work here, but it never reaches a point where most viewers would feel uncomfortable... yet. Instead, it focuses on their deep sibling bond, and how it allows them to pull on each other's strengths to overcome insane obstacles. Their largest one being their family problems, but even after this first season, it feels like that one is just getting started.
Surprisingly, with the unique magic system, and the fantastic story of the two siblings, this anime still doesn't feel amazing enough that I can say that it's something everyone should watch. I think they should have spent more time focusing on the family problems that are driving their choices instead of the 3 conflicts that they were pulled into. Sure, everything that is covered in this first season is likely just building the characters so they are ready to deal with their real nemesis, but there should be more details on the larger plot by now. A second season hasn't been announced at the time of this review, but, if it's given the green light, it definitely has potential to be better.
The animation isn't anything special, either. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that this is a poorly animated series, but it doesn't really do anything that leaps out as special. Everything about the way it looks is just... average.
I can't even say the music is above average, either. I really liked the first opening song, "Rising Hope", but none of the others compel me to add them to my library. They were good songs, but that's about it.
Even as is, I think that most anime fans will still find this series entertaining. Sadly, if it doesn't continue, I can't see any reason why The Irregular at Magic High School will a memorable series. It's a good anime as is, and it has the potential to be so much more, but it needs a bit more work to become the phenomenal experience it could be.