Mahouka Koukou no Reittousei 08 – On Weeds and Blooms
May 28, 2014 Leave a comment
While this week represents the start of a new arc, one focussing on a competition between Japan’s magic high schools, I am more interested in the way the series main characters and their perceived worth within the society of Mahouka. The terms ‘Weed’ and ‘Bloom have been used, to varying degrees, throughout the series so far, denoting a two-tiered class system within the school, and by extension, magic society. One of the key aspects of this series has been the unequal nature of Japanese society that it portrays, with those who have significant magical power given high status, privilege, and power, whereas those without are effectively pushed to one side and told to make do. The entire premise of a two-tiered system at this magic high school is based upon the idea of magic as inherently superior to every other skill or ability. The persistence of status inequality is arguably the major characteristic of Mahouka’s social system, and while there are features within this society that emphasise and promote social integration (such as the ability to attend magic high school regardless of your powers), it is clear that conflicting opinions about the nature of what it means to be a magician, and how that feeds into the national consciousness can have major consequences for the level of social conflict found within the series.
Within the world of Mahouka the ability to use strong magic, coupled with the comparative strength of countries magicians with regards to other countries becomes a key means with which the Japanese state (and by extension other states) creates its vision of a strong, glorious country. In essence the strength of ones magic is of upmost importance, taking place where an army or economy may be viewed today, not only to the individual so that they can acquire high status and privilege, but also the country and national ethos. The school, and two-tiered systems within Mahouka create a clear link between magical ability over academic success and the quality of life and future employment. Thus, high job security, increased economic growth, and a stable society are inherently linked to the power of magic, and how one integrates into this new society. These changes have meant that the link between school success and a stable career is no longer certain, and while we can assume top universities retain their connection to job security, without strong magic ability attending one, regardless of wealth or other abilities may be a less secure investment. These changes serve to reinforce social rigidity, and with the focus so firmly on ones magical abilities, there is little room to adapt to changes in the economic and cultural landscapes of Japanese society, further reinforcing social and cultural inequality.
The terms ‘Blooms’ and ‘Weeds’ are further used to differentiate between those with strong abilities, and those without, they further reinforce the perception of magical powers upmost superiority within Mahouka’s world. Like all such terms, the word ‘Weed’ has a negative connotation, suggesting that those in Course Two are a waste of space, simply there to fill the schools quota, and without any real hope of social advancement. As we have seen during the course of the first story arc, there are those who truly detest being labeled as a ‘Weed’ (as they should), however, the people in power (student council) merely point out that such words are not sanctioned by society, and ultimately it is the fault of those who take the terms seriously, rather than those who use them. There is, however, another side to these particular terms, one that points to a social order that is a little more complicated and far less stable than we might otherwise assume.
Plants only become weeds when they obstruct our plans, or out tidy maps of the world, if you have no such plans or maps, they can appear as innocents, without stigma or blame. The presence of Course Two reminds those in Course One that there are others out there with their own powers and abilities, many having honed them to the point of perfection. They are a constant reminder that while those in Course One currently have the powers necessary to achieve high status, they can always be replaced, or overlooked if the conditions within society change. They are also a reminder that without significant magical powers, anyone in Course One would be considered useless, and barely even noticed, they demonstrate the transient nature of power and prestige, revealing the ease with which fortunes can change. Weeds are also unfamiliar and exotic, they encroach upon everyday lives, and seemingly taking over whiles also bringing life to spaces that are forgotten or ignored. Any person who has grown up in shabby surroundings becomes a weed. They’re the victims of guilt by association and see as sharing the dubious character of the company they keep. Given the impact that those labeled Weeds in mahouka have on their world, its not always obvious that they are a group whose reputation – and therefore fate – is, in the end, a matter of personal judgment, that it’s in humanities gift to demonise or accept them
Ever since Genesis decreed ‘thorns and thistles’ as a long-term punishment for humanities misbehavior in the Garden of Eden, weeds have seemed to transcend value judgments, to be ubiquitous and self-evident, as if, like bacteria, they were a biological, not cultural, category. By labeling Course Two ‘weeds’, the part of society that have their position due to their practical magic ability remove all notions of judgment and personal opinion from themselves, denoting their superiority and others inferiority as self-evident. Yet, even as this distinction between one class and another is used and reinforced, its ambivalence and instability is clear. The ornamental is one place becomes the malign invader in another. The distinction between ‘Weed’ and ‘Bloom’ is an arbitrary one enforced by a school and broader social system that deliberately separates them through shallow and flawed tests. This division is further reinforced by the position magic currently holds within the world of Mahouka, and its link to national strength and social stability.
The arbitrary nature of the value judgments attached to these terms is demonstrated with the existence of Tatsuya and Miyuki Shiba, along with other members of Course Two. It is difficult to tell who is more powerful, Miyuki may have immense magical powers, and appears to be capable of freezing, and even killing multiple enemies, along with other abilities that have been hinted at. However, Tatsuya is also incredibly powerful, and despite his lack of magical powers, is fully capable of taking out terrorists, and judging by the first few minutes of episode one, an entire fleet, on his own. Furthermore, Tatsuya’s intelligence, and his abilities as a magic engineer and theorist are exceptional, and while it is arguably the case that he is almost too perfect, his knowledge and ability to challenge the very nature of magic and what people consider possible is important. Tatsuya and Miyuki might be in different tiers of the school, but for all intents and purposes they are equal, and clearly demonstrate the distinction between ‘Weeds’ and ‘Blooms’ as a cultural construct.
Tatsuya and Miyuki’s abilities, coupled with those demonstrated by Leo and Erika reveal the culturally constructed nature of the distinction between those with high magical abilities and those without. It doesn’t, however, change the way society differentiates between these categories, and how this distinction feeds onto the way the education system, and broader society (we assume) runs. What it does do is reveal the slippery slope that those in Course One are on, and how easily they can be replaced or outdone, despite the social standing that they have as a member of the elite. The existence of Tatsuya, therefore, represents a clear problem for those who wish to continue the status quo, even though he is a very unique individual, and his circumstances and abilities are unlikely to be replicated. His existence, coupled the student councils acceptance of his abilities presents an example of what can be achieved without practical magic. Which in itself is ironic given Tatsuya’s Social Conservative attitude towards social and cultural inequality within the world of Mahouka, as his existence easy shows us how wrong his views are, and how easily they can be turned on their heads.