The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor
How would you rate episode 1 of
Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Theron Martin (Revisit for the Dub)
So the English dub for the first episode is now out on Funimation's site. Does it actually help make a subpar episode more palatable?
Actually, I think it might. Either that or my opinion of the episode in general is a little higher on a second viewing.
To be sure, the episode still has lots of problems, the biggest of which is a titular character who's every bit as much of an ass as the title indicates. While I'm sure that there was a keen intent to animate the first of the source novels as accurately as possible, this is one case where some adjustment should have been made, as the episode makes the big mistake of not showing any reason to actually like or care about Glenn Radars. He is entirely an obnoxious joke throughout this episode; he shows virtually no redeeming value beyond some humor potential, and since this isn't a straight comedy, that's not enough for a protagonist. The only positive thing I can say about him (and some won't see this as positive) is that at least he breaks the mold a bit on the “walking in on girls changing” scene, although he's still every bit of a jerk about it. Yes, the fanservice scene involving girl-on-girl boob-grabbing is still tired and yes, the girl's uniforms still look like stripper's outfits and no, I can't get past that impression no matter how hard I try.
The English dub mediates the “Glenn is a worthless ass” impression a bit. Josh Grelle is such a natural choice for Glenn that I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't even need to audition for it, and he definitely owns the role. He does an excellent job at promoting the more comedic aspect of the character and doesn't come off quite so irritatingly harsh when he's being a jerk. Based on his work in other series, I don't foresee him being any less impressive in the upcoming episodes, either. By comparison, I felt the original performer Soma Saito overdid it. Other casting choices and performances are also fine so far, with another stand-out being Morgan Garrett as Celica. Rachael Messer also holds her own in the critical role of Sistine, despite this being her first significant anime role.
In retrospect, this episode does provide at least some hints about the chemistry that will develop between Glenn, Sistine, and Rumia. Later flashbacks also suggest that the scene where Glenn wonders if he's met Rumia before is clear foreshadowing. But the possible importance of that matter is still developing, so I'll save that discussion for future episode reviews. I will say that the first episode works better as a set-up for the next few than as stand-alone viewing.
It may be Magic High School Light Novel Anime #15,624, but the show Akashic Records reminded me of most was the widely panned Ultimate Otaku Teacher, which is not a good sign. If there's one thing this episode proves, it's that peppering even the most rote premise in current anime with "new" ideas won't help you if those new ideas are even worse than the cliches they replace. Instead of a well-meaning milquetoast transfer student/teacher, Akashic Records offers up a lazy, incompetent lecher. Instead of the typical haughty princess tsundere who stands above the crowd, we get a more studious valedictorian who dotes on her spacey best friend (when she's not molesting her for the camera, of course). Instead of deadly serious lore-dumps, Akashic Records mostly tells its tale through frenetic comedy sequences, which unfortunately left me wondering what the hell the story was even supposed to be about, as it leapt from one unfunny vignette to another.
But these slight shifts in hue can't really put a fresh coat of paint on the most tired and uninspired anime genre of the late 2010's. Even if it's going for a more "wacky" tone than an action-driven one, Akashic Records is still plagued by bald exposition, forced fanservice, and painfully bland or overwritten dialogue that made each new minute that passed feel like an hour. It was just different enough from the norm, deviating from the standard plot beats in favor of not really defining any plot beats at all, that I was unpleasantly surprised when the inevitable "The princess challenged the new guy to a magic duel!" moment finally arrived. I was so bored that I actually forgot what kind of show I was watching, but that red-alarm cliche woke me right back up. Why does every magic high school anime end their first episode the exact same way?
It gets a small bump up from the very bottom of the barrel thanks to decent (though not good) production values and the surface novelty of trying slightly different choices than the magic high school playbook standards, but I can't really recommend Akashic Records to anyone who's not a glutton for punishment or an obsessive connoisseur of light novel anime. Its Achilles Heel is the absolutely grimace-worthy dialogue and prose. Every new joke was more painful than the last, and I have no idea where it thinks its story is supposed to be going. What a stinker.
You know what the anime world really needed this season? It needed another fantasy high school series with an obnoxiously long title. There just aren't enough of those out there, you know. This one's even helpful enough to take care of all the usual clichés in one fell swoop. The main character's an intolerable scumbag who probably has a super dramatic reason for being a lazy jerk. The girls' uniforms all look like they were attacked by some kind of fabric-eating bacteria. There's even a lady who hangs out on rooftops in a black dress and says cryptic things to no one in particular. I guess there must still be an audience for this stuff.
This episode kicks off with some basic world building and the setup for a reasonably serious story, but those signs of promise don't last very long. It soon becomes apparent that the storyline here is just a convenient mechanism for moving from one fanservice scene to another. Even that would be all right if the fanservice scenes were any good, but they're not. This is the kind of lazy, “sex appeal on autopilot” approach that runs through the same old motions and expects the audience to keep watching anyway. I've said this before, but we really ought to demand more creativity from our boob shows.
It doesn't help that protagonist Glenn Radars is completely insufferable. It's entirely possible for a lazy and selfish main character to be entertaining; just look at last season's Gabriel Dropout or Konosuba for examples of this premise working well. Unfortunately, the writing here lacks the spark of wit that makes those titles fun, and we're left with a hero who is neither amusing nor likable. Even the other characters' stunned reactions to his attitude aren't enough to move this episode into entertaining territory.
The show's saving grace is that it's relatively easy on the eyes, and some of the background art is genuinely impressive. That's not nearly enough to save the weak plot and tired attempts at comedy, however. This is a boring addition to an overcrowded genre, so save yourself some time and move right along. Nothing to see here.
Gee, I'm glad I skipped lunch for this. Akashic Record of Bastard Magic Instructor manages to be the worst of several worlds – it's a magic high school light novel adaptation that throws ludicrous uniform designs, annoying characters, and a teaspoon of plot into a bowl and then stirs it approximately once. The result feels cobbled together, a story that wears its tropes on its shirtfront as if they dripped there while it was eating. Ostensible protagonist (and I use the word lightly) Glenn Rader not only has a name that sounds like it came from a bad romance novel set in Scotland, but he also has the motivation of a slug. He's agreed to become a substitute teacher at the Alzano Imperial Magic Academy, apparently because he's afraid of his acquaintance Celica, a powerful mage. He's disinterested in the work, much to the frustration of both viewers and students – the joke that he gives his class a self-study session so he can nap only works once, and it's used four different times in this one episode. The increasing ire of noblewoman Sisti is understandable, but she herself is such a stereotype of a character that it becomes difficult to get behind her – especially when she indulges in one of my pet peeves, groping her friend Rumia's bountiful boobs in the locker room to “calm” herself.
It feels like there's an effort to make Glenn so awful that he becomes a sort of anti-hero, or more of a reverse protagonist. He's lazy, he refuses to apologize for kicking down the door of the girls' locker room, and he's as conceited as they come, unable to reconcile his inherent laziness with his failure to succeed, as becomes very apparent when Sisti challenges him to a magic duel, which he loses rather spectacularly. On the one hand, there's something to be said for his refusal to be like everyone else. On the other, who he is is so awful that it negates the attempt. Yes, the word “bastard” is in the main title and the episode title, but perhaps it doesn't need to be taken quite so literally.
Added to all of this is the art. We've seen fussy and silly school uniforms before, as well as sexualized uniforms, but the girls' outfits at Alzano are particularly special. The coats appear to function as breast-binders (just for the scene of them being unbuttoned, I suspect) while the skirts combine being incredibly short with special school-designated garters, which inexplicably have a little bow high up on the thigh, as if the skirts are that short with the idea of them flipping up. In addition, the skirts are held up with suspenders that cross the girls' bare hips and torsos, which just looks uncomfortable. When juxtaposed with the boys' suits, the girls' outfits stand out even more, and not in a good way.
That's a good way to describe this episode – it stands out because of its poorer qualities. The story itself isn't inherently bad, but the characters that populate it don't do much to recommend themselves, and the action drags in its attempt to show us just how much of a bastard Glenn is. If there's potential here, it's lurking pretty far beneath the surface, and I think I'll let someone else do the excavating to see if it's really there.
It wouldn't be a new anime season with at least one magical school rom-com. If you've been watching the last few years, you've seen this the variations of this narrative from the girls are actually dragons to the protagonist is deceptively “bad” at magic. Akashic Records of bastard magic instructor is the first I've seen to play that plot device completely straight and in turn manages to put most veteran viewers' expectations on their heads.
The titular “bastard” Glenn Radars probably will still be some kind of magic savant but the show's staff are skeeping that card close to their chests. Instead, we're introduced to the no-nonsense Sistine and her breast buddy Rumia. Just two average girls attending a prestigious magic high school with uniforms that include overly complicated garters. The episode quickly squares up for the ol' protagonist/heroine sexy knockdown but then...it doesn't happen. When he walks into the girls' changing area the episode again subverts expectations by acknowledging its own trope set-up. The episode then closes with a one-on-one duel between Glenn and Sistine, something that's been done a hundred times before. We're led to believe that he'll finally reveal his hyper-competent magic abilities and put the uptight student in her place. Again, the episode plays it straight with no surprises. Glenn really is what he appears to be: a chuuni deadbeat.
I found myself really enjoying the episode once it became apparent that the story wasn't scared to have an actual loser as its lead. Your mileage may vary depending on how funny you find Glenn's ne'er-do-well laze-about ways and his egocentric posturing attitude. Neither is particularly unique but those traits are usually reserved for separate characters. I'm not entirely convinced one character can really be both without it seeming like personality whiplash but I'll reserve judgment on it until a few more episodes.
I'm cautiously optimistic that there's enough in Akashic Records of bastard magic instructor to entertain viewers with more series under their belts. It's hard to say what the show's trajectory is at this point. A comedy about rehabilitating Glenn would be much more entertaining than yet another magical battle harem taking care of a rote fantasy threat. I'll give this one a few more episodes to see where it's going, but the moment Glenn gets a super-powered magic form that will vanquish all his enemies, I'm out.
So here's the first question which springs to mind about this series: who in their right mind thought that the design of the girl's uniform for such a supposedly-prestigious academy was a good idea? (And to be clear, that design was on the cover art for the first light novel, so this is not the fault of the animation team.) With its straps, micro-mini skirt, and midriff-baring top, it could almost be a stripper's outfit. Granted, this is apparently going to be a series which has its fair share of fan service, and granted, magic-users in anime have traditionally been able to get away with wearing whatever they wanted in any era in any world, but in a setting which otherwise seems to be about equivalent to the late 1800s it just seems too incongruous to be credible.
As nitpicky as that is, that's not my only issue with the first episode. Making a co-protagonist a complete bastard and yet still likable is a tricky business, and this series violates one of the most important tenets of that: there has to be something in the first episode which endears the character to the viewer despite his/her obnoxious behavior. This series seems to be banking on his comedic value, and to be fair, Glenn is, at times, funny. (I practically lost it over the early scene where the frog comes out of his mouth.) However, that isn't enough to offset how lazy he is or how much of a pathetic, blame-deflecting jerk he is. I've looked into some spoilers for the light novels so I know that Glenn has a backstory which isn't at all a joke and does actually make him suited to the position that he's in if he'll take it seriously enough, but first-time director Minato Kazuto makes a big mistake here by not infusing at least some hint of that into the first episode.
The first episode does show at least some merits. The artistic effort by Linden Films (Terraformars, The Heroic Legend of Arslan) is actually quite solid, especially in character designs beyond Glenn's, and the light-hearted spirit of the show so far makes for some effective humor when it isn't wallowing in tired fan service scenes. I can also see some worthy character interactions eventually developing here, as blond girl Lumia is immediately likable and the irritation of silver-haired, goal-driven Sistine is well-justified. Basically, there's enough here that I will probably give the series another episode or two to prove it's worthwhile. However, it is not getting off to an appealing start.
You know, I kind of figured we'd escaped this trend. “Adaptation of low-quality fantasy high school light novel” had been anime's most odious staple of the past couple years, but they'd been slowing down in recent seasons, leaving me hopeful these stinkers had run their course. Unfortunately, it looks like the best, or at least most, has been saved for last. Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor plays like a who's who of crappy anime cliches, running down every last hamfisted choice and tired joke without a hint of shame.
The theoretical solidity of Akashic Records’ premise and worldbuilding is destroyed within the first couple minutes, when a fantasy high school setup is quickly undermined by the show's absurd uniforms. In contrast to our “hero” Glenn, who wears conventional modern clothes, and the background characters, who are all dressed up in turn-of-the-century finery, the magic academy's female students wear… miniskirts, suspenders over bare midriffs, and garter belts. Akashic Records’ statement of purpose is thus made clear: this show may claim to offer a full narrative, but it's in truth mostly a vehicle for fanservice and bad jokes.
The bad jokes are certainly plentiful. Protagonist Glenn Radars is responsible for a great deal of that, and is just a generally noxious personality besides. Radars is clearly supposed to fall in the Great Teacher Onizuka vein of seemingly useless but ultimately inspiring bad boy teachers, but all he really comes off as is lazy, entitled, and jerkish at all times. He's bad enough when he simply acts snarky towards his students for no reason, but gets even worse when the show decides to underline gags like “walking in on girls changing” with self-aware commentary. Many other scenes mine for comedy in concepts like “characters shouting” or “characters hitting each other,” but generally come up empty. The only gag I actually found effective in this episode was the predictable ending, where Glenn's dual with a student ends in reasonably executed anticlimax.
Even outside of the humor and the setting-destroying fanservice, Akashic Records is just a tired and poorly told story. There's no secret and no grace in the ways this episode establishes threads for future conflict, or hints at Glenn's unexpected-yet-inevitable link with one of his students. Characters recite their motivations to each other, and sit firmly within established archetypes. You could probably construct a faithful retelling of this episode from pieces of other shows that are also exactly this show.
The one bright spot for Akashic Records is its art design. The character designs are attractive, animation fairly consistent, and backgrounds often quite pretty - as expected, given this show poached Little Witch Academia art director Yuji Kaneko. But talented artists can't really do much to save material this bad. Akashic Records is an easy skip.
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