「入学編I」 (Nyuugaku-hen I)
“Enrollment Part I”
A complex world filled with highly competent characters. They opened up a lot of questions, which leaves me wanting to know more.
A Complex World
One of the most enduring impressions I had while watching this episode was the feeling that there was an answer for everything, and everything was happening for a reason. It feels like there’s no “just because”, no “because I [the author] say so”. Everything seems to follow logically from the foundations laid down before it–or so I feel will be the case in time. I don’t know if that’s true yet because this first episode raised a lot of questions, and it only had time to give us answer to some of them.
First of all, a suggestion – there are some three-minute specials (three of them so far) called Yoku Wakaru Mahouka that explain some of the mechanics behind the world. If you’re confused, I suggest you watch them, because they may give you the foundation upon which the rest of the series’ world building will lay. I’ll be the first to admit that having to watch chibified exposition shorts before diving into the series proper isn’t an ideal situation – ideally everything would be in the series itself – but we’re dealing with a series which is, if not as “impossible to adapt” as my beloved Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon, is at least in the ballpark, so if things are liable to be left out, anything they can do to fill in the gaps and keep the story moving is fine in my book. Plus, with director Ono Manabu on the job – he was the director for both seasons of Kyoukaisen – if he thinks they were important to make, I’m going to believe him. He probably learned a thing or two from his previous gigs. I personally think the shorts helped, even if they too raised a few additional questions that are still unanswered.
Highly Competent Characters
Anime is filled with endless variations on the ordinary high school student (trope!), at least in part because of the idea that having a protagonist who is “like the audience” makes it easier for us to empathize with them. I disagree. I prefer characters to be interesting, and if that means they are highly competent, that’s fine by me. Take Mondaiji – and I’m hoping, this season’s No Game No Life – where the protagonists were anything but ordinary, but they were interesting, so who cares? Here we’re seeing more of that, with a main duo who are not in the least bit ordinary.
Our male lead is Shiba Tatsuya (Nakamura Yuuichi), and he typifies this. Though he’s “no good” at magic – an assertion I don’t believe for a second – he’s already proven himself to be extremely perceptive, cool-headed, and a master at martial arts. I can’t say I can empathize with him a lot – I can’t yet step into his shoes – but so what? I’m interested in what he’s hiding, why he has a secret agent vibe, and what his agenda is. Same with his imouto Shiba Miyuki (Hayami Saori). So far her competency has been hinted at more than shown, but I want to see more. Ordinary is overrated. Give me the geniuses and the irregulars any day of the week.
Huge Cast ‘o Characters
Once again, the chibi versions helped me remember all the characters, since I’ve been introduced to most of them twice now. There’s definitely a large cast here, but their characters designs and personalities are pretty varied, so I didn’t have much trouble remembering the major ones. I also appreciated how they all seem to be competent as well, even the “weeds” – a slang term for the bottom 100 of every class, who don’t get practical magic lessons like the “blooms” in the top 100…watch those chibi shorts, people! – if Shibata Mizuki’s (Satou Satomi) perception, Chiba Erika’s (Uchiyama Yumi) speed, and Saijou Leonhart’s (Terashima Takuma) sheer balls are any indication. I also got the feeling that Student Council President Saegusa Mayumi (Hanazawa Kana) sees more than she’s letting on, which once again captures my interest. Questions, questions, questions, I have so many of them!
Incest, Wincest, Wow!
If you read my Selector Infected WIXOSS post, you might expect me to be down on the heavy incest vibe in this series. You would be wrong. Time to add a little nuance. In that post I said:
While I’m all for using forbidden love to add spice to a storyline, I have to say that the incest thing has gotten out of control lately…
But it doesn’t bother me here. Why? Because here it seems to be a central part of the story. The main protagonists are a brother/sister duo, and I heard about the invest vibes from early on, so when they showed up I wasn’t surprised; it was all according to keikaku, you might say. Here it has the potential to add spice to the story – or at the very least, it’s important enough to the characters for it to be there – while in WIXOSS it seemed like it was just tossed in there. I’m fine with incest in a story when there appears to be a point, but when it’s tossed in there for the hell of it, it’d better be a comedy or I’m going to roll my eyes. That wasn’t the case with WIXOSS, whereas in Mahouka it not only seems to be important, they also mined it for comedy to boot. That’s fine with me, especially since I having a feeling that Miyuki’s reactions to Tatsuya’s just-barely-short-of-realizing-how-much-of-a-brocon-she-is obliviousness are going to be hilarious to watch.
Mahouka could well be the ur-example of what I call hard fantasy. Some people think magic and fantasy ought to say “Damn the rules!”, and that logical consistency is for sci-fi. No, I say! It’s fine either way, but I prefer hard fantasy, where A follows from B, and, once you learn how it all works, you can begin to understand the setting as well as the characters do. I prefer magic with rules (trope!). That’s what this is to a T.
The idea of codified magic is also an interesting one because it gives a feeling similar to one of the reasons I believe the Harry Potter series was so popular – it feels like this could really happen. There could be wizards right around the corner living in some invisible city, or magic could be out there just waiting for us to figure out the science of it. It’s a fantasy that doesn’t seem as far off, like you can almost reach out and touch it…and that’s what makes it attractive, at least in part. The other part is that with enough information we’ll be able to understand and anticipate character’s actions, but we’re a while from that. It took probably two-thirds of Log Horizon before we knew enough to do that (also, until we had a good battle we could do it on…Rudy!), so it’ll take some time here as well.
Another of my great loves is combat magic. I write it, in fact – did I mention I wrote a book? I need to finish this post so I can get back to editing. But I digress–I’ve never been one for wizard-types standing back and slinging spells at each other when they can get up close and try to shove those spells down each other’s throats. It’s so much more visceral that way, which is fun. So it should come as no surprise that I really enjoyed the fights this episode, especially the martial arts brawl at the dojo. Madhouse did some impressive work with the animation there, which is nice since Madhouse has been kind of sucking recently. (Note: This is why I’m starting to pay far more attention to staff than the studio – the studio doesn’t mean jack half of the time.) I’m hoping to see more of this as the series progresses.
Looking Ahead – More Exposition
To be fair, this was a dry first episode. A lot of introduction, a lot of exposition, and a lot of questions that haven’t been answered. I’ve heard a few people say it was boring, and fair enough – if the questions the series raises and the world it’s building aren’t interesting to you, there isn’t going to be much here. It’s a specialized taste, or perhaps an acquired one, like the love of a delicious Russian Imperial Stout. (That’s a style of beer, for the uninitiated.) It’s well in my wheelhouse though, so I’ll be looking forward to finding out more.
I don’t know whether I’ll be blogging this or not. I really don’t want to pick up another Saturday show, much less a story-rich 2-cour series that’s going to take extra time to write about, but if the series keeps being really interesting, I might go full masochist and do it anyway. I’ll probably cover Episode 2 at least, to keep my options open. Thank you for bearing with me, and thanks for reading!
tl;dr: @StiltsOutLoud – A lot of exposition reveals a complex world full of highly competent characters. Also, a veeery brocon imouto #mahouka 01
- Once thing I don’t understand is why so many people were likening this to SAO, other than the hype (I totally understand that). So far it’s nothing like it. About the most I can see is that they both have protagonists who could be called overpowered, but so far Tatsuya feels more like a Raishin (Unbreakable Machine-Doll) or Izayoi (Mondaiji) than a Kirito. It’s okay if a protagonist is powerful as long as it’s earned or makes sense; it’s only when the story starts bending out of the way so the protagonist can look cool that they enter overpowered/Gary Stu territory. Then again, Kirito didn’t feel overpowered in Episode 1, so we’ll see.
- I forgot to mention, but I ended up liking the character designs/art. I was worried because they didn’t look that good to me in the promotional art, but they worked better when the characters were moving.
- It was interesting how quickly the kettle heated back up after the magical ice faded.
- I wasn’t so sure about this magic thing until I learned that you could use it to clean your clothes. Laundry done in an instant? I could save so much time! I’m in! Where do I enroll?
- It’s rare to see people using just the keyboard. That’s interesting because A) it hints at a different, more futuristic kind of text interface, and because B) you call that fast typing!? If that was fast, they would think my speed is like lightning!
- Yup, I’m definitely shipping Chiba x Leo already.
- Disclaimer: Please do not post spoilers in the comments. If you want to talk about something that’s going to happen later, make sure to both enclose it in spoiler tags and identify (without spoiling) what it’s about beforehand, so other readers know whether to click on it or not. Also, if I ask a question in any of my posts assume it’s hypothetical unless I specifically mention otherwise. I don’t want to be spoiled, I just think aloud sometimes. Thank you for your understanding.
Check out my blog about storytelling and the novel I’m writing at stiltsoutloud.com. The last four posts: Useful lies; Missing the point; You don’t get credit for the words you don’t write; and Right, not best.
OP: 「Rising Hope」 by LiSA