My Way or the Anime – The Thematic Failure of Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai
Science versus magic. Uh, science is the glowing dragon monster in back. Really.
For fans of this anime—or in all likelihood, of the source material, since the anime has been rushed—I’m probably about to get into trouble. So let me make this clear: I’m not talking about whether the story of Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai is good or not. I’m not talking about quality. I’m talking about whether it follows through with its central premise, i.e. that guns have taken over from swords and magic as The Most Powerful Weapons In The World™.
In case you haven’t guessed, the answer is no. It fails at its central theme, and here’s why.
Disclaimer: This could easily be a misunderstanding on my part, of missing what the point of the story is. I’ve gotten criticism on my own book because a few readers thought it was going to be about a salesman in a fantasy world (I guess Recettear with door-to-door sales?), whereas I always intended the salesman aspect to be a jumping off point to tell an explodey action-adventure story. But even if that’s so, the misunderstood Taimadou can serve as an interesting case study for thematic failures in anime. Enough disclaimers, rage if you want, on with the post.
I’m going to do something I’m not qualified to do. I’m going to compare a story to Harry Potter. I say I’m not qualified because I’ve never read the Harry Potter books, nor have I seen more than perhaps a fifth of any of the movies.
*holds hand to ear* Can you feel that? That’s the sound of a thousand fanboys and fangirls crying out in rage, only to never be silenced, ’cause what am I, Sith? Bakas. (Don’t hurt me.)
Now before anyone jumps on me for that transgression as well, I have several reasons for why I’ve never read the Harry Potter books, spanning from a preference for hard fantasy over soft fantasy, a serious case of hype backlash when the books were coming out, annoyance when J.K. Rowling when she said she didn’t feel like she had written fantasy (source, though she later realized she had), and ending up to now, where I take perverse delight in people’s reactions when I reveal that I, a fantasy author, haven’t read the biggest fantasy series of recent decades. Also, I’m hella busy.
What’s important right now is that I do know what happens in the books, and I’ve also spent a lot of time on TVTropes. It was there that I discovered one element from the Harry Potter series that I always found to be particularly brilliant.
In short: Gun beats wizard. (Or muggle with a gun beats wizard, if you want to use in-universe terminology. Also, trope!) The first time I read that—even though TVTropes now notes that Harry Potter zigzags the trope—I thought it was fantastic. Younger Stilts was the kind of kid who wondered why Voldemort didn’t just smother the damn baby with a pillow before he ever became a threat, and though I now realize that there were character reasons for why he acted as he did, I appreciate that a gun (or a pillow) would have actually made a better weapon at points. It’s the Indiana Jones gun versus sword scene to me. It just makes sense.
But Harry Potter can flipflop on this trope and it doesn’t break the story, because it’s not he series’ defining theme. For Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai, it is. Taimadou’s premise says that guns, as embodied by the Inquisition, have supplanted magic as the most powerful weapons in the world, which is a great theme. It would be fascinating to see a bunch of gun-wielding mundanes go up against a smaller number of wizards, and for the advances in ballistics technology to lead to the mundanes winning. It could be a magical WWI in anime-form, where the killing power of man’s machines supplants that of man himself.
Only, that’s not what Taimadou does.
By the second episode, it’s revealed that Ouka has magic guns herself, and Takeru makes a pact with a witch, dons some magic armor, and uses it to go toe-to-toe with a summoned creature. Then later on they get a witch on their team, and another of their teammates reveals that she’s science’d herself into having magic, and—wait, what? What happened to the supremacy of guns?
As it turns out, Taimadou isn’t about a clash between competing paradigms. It’s not about magic versus guns. It’s still magic versus magic, like in every other magical-fantasy-action-harem (school) anime—it’s just that one side tends to have a few more guns than the other side. Which is disappointing.
Now, to reiterate: This doesn’t mean the show isn’t entertaining. It doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means that the central theme upon which its world has been constructed appears to be a lie. Perhaps not most of the time, in-universe—I assume that Relic Eaters are rare, and I know that Inquisition-aligned magicians like Mari certainly are—but from our perspective as viewers, it certainly is. When four of five main characters (plus powerful secondary characters, like the Headmaster) have some kind of magic, that theme dies.
Which is a shame, because it could have been a good one. Taimadou could have been similar to Ghostbusters, in a way. Thematically, Ghostbusters was about mankind using science and technology to go up against all manner of the mystical, monstrous, and godly—and the gods getting their asses kicked. (For more, here’s the MovieBob review on Ghostbusters, which I highly recommend.) That’s a fascinating theme, because it banishes the ghosts and monsters of our imaginations before the light of humanity’s science. Taimadou could have been that, only with witches and warlocks instead of ghosts and gods, and kickass guns rather than proton packs.
Not that I don’t understand why author Yanagimi Touki did what he did. Guns are less entertaining to watch, read, and write about than cool magical sword battles. There’s still a certain romance in ancient forms of warfare, a romance which is repellent when mixed with modern war, because we recognize the inhumanity of artillery, cruise missiles, and Predator drones. But swords—swords are more personal. They’re fair. They’re more fun. And magic provides for much more varied challenges than even melee weaponry does.
What this means is that Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai avoided what could have been a truly fascinating take on a magical fantasy story in favor of being yet another example of the usual tropes. And once again, I don’t blame the author—I’ve gotten criticism for not taking the “magical salesman” idea and making that the core of my book, and instead pivoting to an action-adventure story. So I understand why Yanagimi-sensei did what he did—this is probably the kind of story he likes to read, so that’s what he wrote.
What I’m pointing out is the opportunity lost, because the more I can isolate these flaws when I see them, the more I won’t miss my own opportunities the next time around. Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai can still be an entertaining story, even though it’s safe to say that the anime is overly rushed. But it invalidates the central tenant of its world. Guns have not become more powerful than magic, apparently. The gun-wielders are just using magic to keep the magicians down. It’s all magic in the end.
At least Usagi-chan doesn’t need no magic. Usagi-chan don’t need none of that shit.
Stilts note: With the monthlies coming to an end, you may be able to expect more editorials in the future. I’ve got a few topics I’ve been ruminating on, and Passerby may jump in with a column of his own. We’ll give you more information as the situation develops.
My first novel, Wage Slave Rebellion, is available now. (More info—now in paperback!) Sign up for my email list for a FREE sequel novella. Over at stephenwgee.com, the last four posts: $%&@* cuss words, Stephen, what is best in life?, It depends, and Momentum & mental space.