Mahouka Kouko no Rettousei or the Irregular at Magic High School is a show that I enjoyed at lot for roughly 2/3 of its run time, and had a lot of problems with in the last 1/3. From here on there will be spoilers, you have been warned.
Let’s begin with what I liked. I was a big fan of the setting. A futuristic Earth that had formed a new world order following the advent of widespread magic use, global resource decline and a massive drop in population. The story takes place far enough in the future for new technology to be possible but is still close enough to the present day for many of its problems to have applicability, i.e. they touch on issues similar to our own. I’m also a really big fan of any setting that mixes magic and technology, especially if they do a good job with it. Mahouka does more of an ok job on that front but it’s still a step in the right direction. The visuals are excellent, the landscapes and cityscapes look very nice, and I like the character and outfit designs. The spells look especially good because they actually look like they are completely linked to technology, even if it means most spells aren’t as awesome in scale as traditional fantasy magic. In addition I thought a lot of the differences between attitudes towards magic and magicians was a good touch. The discrimination in school was a bit overblown but it served its purpose, but the differences between Chinese and Japanese magic brought up during the 9 schools tournament and Chinese invasion were particularly interesting. And last but most definitely not least was the action, some of the action at the very end was bad but for the most part the action was handled well. Ok that’s a pretty broad sweep of things to like, so what did I not like so much?
Well the magic needed to be a bit better defined and explained. This is especially true of the Ancient Magics. The modern magic was not explained well but if you pay very close attention then you can see that its principles revolve around simple physics applied at or around the molecular level. Modern magic isn’t broken up by something like element but things weight class, or oscillation class. For example Miyuki’s major ice spell Nilfheim is an oscillation spell that reduces molecular movement in an area to the point where the temperature drops and objects freeze, or something to that effect. But the show doesn’t really explain that, it’s more of something you will only pick up on if you pay close attention, have a head for physics (I don’t, I only pieced this together after looking into it more), and have a good vocabulary. So the lack of explanations is a weakness but I like the concepts behind modern magic. The problems only really start coming in with Ancient Magic. If humans have had access to magic for ages why is it just now playing a major role on the battlefield? If we lived in a world where magic was thing, especially if it was as versatile and tricky as the Spirit magic used in the show, you can damn well bet it would have been made part of the military a really long time ago. Also no Ancient Magic besides Spirit magic is ever explained and I have a hard time believing it’s based on the same magic sequences that modern magic uses to work since it involves using spirits. So how is Ancient Magic understood by Tatsuya as a sequence? Anyway enough about magic, what else do I not like?
The characters are very hit and miss. Some of them are really good, Mayumi is best girl, and others I just have a hard time liking. Miyuki in particular is character who I feel like is too perfect, which bothers me, and then so much of her character is defined by her bro-con delusions I can’t take her seriously. Tatsuya himself is also a problem child. I really liked him for a big chunk of the story, with his focus on unorthodox styles of casting and genius understanding of magic principles and technology as opposed to pure casting strength, these were great ways to make him difficult to fight without making him totally overpowered. But as the show went on he gained more and more abilities and his powers got pretty ridiculous so he lost the things I thought made him such a special and atypical protagonist. If you want more details on my thoughts about Tatsuya, they are near the bottom of this post here. If I were to have one over arching problem with the cast it’s that almost everyone involved is a bit too exceptional. Even the people who are supposed to be weak aren’t really weak, they are just really good at magic in ways that standardized magic testing fails to capture. No one ever really feels like dead weight and there’s not enough interpersonal struggles about differences in magic ability. Even Shibata Mizuki, who never really does anything, has eyes that are invaluable to Spirit mages and pretty useful in general. Is there anything else?
My biggest complaint is how Tatsuya just snowballs but also what that means for the final arc of the show. On the one hand the fights against the Man Eating Tiger and the Chinese soldiers were pretty cool, but that whole conflict painted the creators into a corner. It didn’t have to go this way, but for whatever reason the creators decided to solve the larger scale of the conflict by leveling up Tatsuya’s magic to ridiculous heights. They really shouldn’t have done that. Tatsuya was plenty dangerous before they gave him magic attacks capable of wiping out entire fleets, giving him massive strategic attack spells was the last thing they should have done. Rather than force Tatsuya to be capable of everything, it would have made more sense if he worked with someone who had a lot of raw power and more normal spellcraft. That way the combined efforts of Tatsuya’s genius magic technologies and the immense power of the hypothetical teammate could have collectively been made into a strategic weapon. But it shouldn’t have been all about Tatsuya. What the show really needed was someone who could act as a counterbalance to Tatsuya, and I should note this person can’t be Miyuki because she’s hopelessly in love with him. That way they could have split Tatsuya’s skills between two people and kept the man from becoming OP as fuck. As it is the lack of some kind of counterbalance means the story plays a bit more along the lines of SAO-type power fantasy instead of a more mature and well-rounded story.
Overall I generally thought Mahouka Kouko no Rettousei did a good job for most of its run time. Almost all of my problems have to do with the late parts of the show. Sadly that means the shows ends up on the good side of average in my opinion. But I think it had a lot of potential and had got many of the basic building blocks of its setting and characters right. So if it sounds interesting I’d advise you to give it a shot, who knows you may end up liking a lot more than me. Anyway, thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.