Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei – It’s a bit like the real world, but with magic
April 8, 2014 Leave a comment
Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei has to be one of the most hyped anime of the season, with fans of the light novel series proclaiming it as the best thing since sliced bread, and a truly wonderful piece of storytelling. Now while I have absolutely no knowledge of the actual story, the light novels, or any idea of what to expect I have to say that such claims are stretching things a little. Which is not to say that the first episode wasn’t enjoyable, introducing a main character who seems to be rather over-powered in much the same vein as Izayoi from Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sou Desu Yo, although in the case of Tatsuya, rather than flaunt his (apparently) extraordinary gifts he is forced to hide them due to the nature of the society he lives in, and likely pressures from his family.
While others seem to have found the first episode quite dull and bland, I enjoyed it; the characters seem to have significant depth to them, with numerous aspects of their lives, their powers, and the expectations of their families and society playing a part in how they approach life. Furthermore, there is a significant amount of mystery surrounding our main duo, particularly Tatsuya who we first see seemingly obliterating a fleet single-handedly. This immense power come sin stark contrast to his place within society, and particularly at school, as someone who seems to lack the ability to manipulate magic to gain high status in a society that is portrayed as privileging those with the greatest magical powers. The conflict between ‘Blooms’ and ‘Weeds’ at his school, despite sounding utterly preposterous whenever a character mentions the two in the same sentence is also rather fascinating. Other series have dealt with inequality in one way or another, but Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei presents it as one of the central tensions within its world.
Class, for that is what the ideas of ‘Blooms’ and ‘Weeds’ boil down to is a constant part of anime society, be it in Europe, America, or Asia and Japan. Those from the upper classes are privileged by their positions within society, and are generally the most likely to be highly educated and with well paying jobs, whereas those from ‘working class’ backgrounds may end up as manual labourers, and under-educated in comparison. This is a highly condensed, even crude view of class, but much of it rings true in contemporary society. In the world of Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei these aspects of the class system have made their presence known in this first episode through the attitudes that those with considerable magical power demonstrate when interacting with those who are viewed for numerous reasons to have less practical magical ability. We see how the ‘Weeds’ are viewed, and treated as second-class citizens, they exist as extras to fill in a gap whenever someone has to leave for one reason or another.
This does not mean that these students lack abilities, intelligence, or knowledge, many may understand the theories of magic better than any ‘Bloom’, and know how to put them into practical use, perhaps as an engineer if my understanding of the term within the universe is correct. These seconds may also have other, rare abilities that add something to their understanding of magic and its uses. But because their practical abilities and considered low according to the tests set by society (here I am assuming that similar tests are found across Japan’s schools), they are not viewed to be as important, or as gifted as those with stronger magical power that can be used in highly prescribed and focussed ways. It is nice to see such tensions portrayed in such an overt manner within the school environment, as we see how Japanese society is stratified from school up, and that even the privileged few who have the ability to manipulate magic are also forced into a strict, self-regulation hierarchy. Arguably we are able to see this in such detail because of the contrast between Miyuki, a beautiful, and talented magic user, and Tatsuya, who seems to be the exact opposite of his sister, despite the series suggesting otherwise with regards to his true abilities and powers.
Having said that, there are aspects of the first episode that were really clunky, with world building that was pretty poor, and awkward at times in its attempts to set up a serious world with significant conflicts between countries, and within societies. As a premise this is fascinating, but the way it was implemented within the first few minutes of the series left a lot to be desired, and it certainly felt rushed. Sometimes anime rush through these world building elements, cramming what could be a decent story arc into five minutes. Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse set up many of the central conflicts in the series, both personal and political with its initial opening arc, by seeing Yui have to live through seeing her friends be eaten by the BETA, along with the fall of her home we see the reasons behind her drive, arrogance, and stubbornness. We also see how the appearance of the BETA and their seemingly limitless numbers have a tremendous impact upon how countries view their military power, and how political tensions remain even when humanity should have united against a common enemy.
By cramming what amounts to a significant period in human history into a mere five minutes, Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei doesn’t have this world building. Instead of a complex set of reasons behind the worlds current political and social state, along with the reasons behind both Tatsuya and Miyuki’s current place in society, we are left with the suggestion of complexity. By doing this, the elements of class conflict, and the precarious position that the world appears to find itself in with regards to magicians and the power of magic arguably lack the impact that they could have with a prequel arc that could set up the worlds central conflicts in more detail. As it is, the first episode of Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei felt like the audience was being thrown in part of the way through without the requisite knowledge to fully gauge how important the conflict between ‘Weeds’ and ‘Blooms’ is in the broad scheme of things, although much of it is possible to either guess or see how individual characters interact with others and react to their situation. Obviously spoiling the mystery behind the Shiba household and their abilities and background would effect the story somewhat, and maybe spoil peoples enjoyment of finding out, but there has to be a better way of dealing with this opening segment than the implementation that we saw. But after all of this I still enjoyed the first episode, and the story and world have enough to keep me entertained, and intrigued, especially with regards to the way magic and class interact within the world of Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei.