The Spring 2023 Anime Preview Guide
Mashle: Magic and Muscles
How would you rate episode 1 of
Mashle: Magic and Muscles ?
Community score: 3.7
What is this?
his is a world of magic where magic is used for everything. But deep in the forest exists a young man who spends his time training and bulking up. He can't use magic, but he enjoys a peaceful life with his father. His muscular body will have to protect him from the magic users who are out to get him.
Mashle: Magic and Muscles is based on Hajime Kōmoto's manga and streams on Crunchyroll on Fridays.
How was the first episode?
While the trope is overused in anime today, having an overpowered main character is not necessarily bad. However, the trick is to ensure they have a weakness—something that balances them out a bit. This weakness can be physical (e.g., Kryptonite) or mental (e.g., one's family or friends). It allows for two potential avenues for the story to take. The first is one of dramatic tension. Our hero may be strong, but he definitely can lose. The second path is one of pure comedy. Mashle is the latter.
In a world where genetic cleansing is the norm—where all people without magic are killed at birth—Mash is the purest example of why this is a stupid idea. Though he doesn't have magic, his physical strength is so immense that he is more powerful than a dragon and can literally play with highly destructive spells fired at him as if they were toys. So the obvious question remains: if he is so overpowered, what is his corresponding weakness? Frankly, it's that he is about as intelligent as a box of rocks—and this mixed with his super strength is the core of the show's comedy. This is a young man who has lived in the same house his whole life but can't remember whether to push or pull the front door—leading him to break it off its hinges on what seems to be a daily basis. This is a young man whose response to being hassled by a drunk police officer for dirtying his shirt is to offer him a half-eaten custard cream puff and rip the police officer's shirt half off—you know, to get it cleaned. Sending such a guy to a magic academy—when his very existence as a magic-less human is a death sentence is a surefire recipe for comedy. It basically writes itself.
While this episode was entertaining enough, I worry about the longevity of the show's core joke—i.e., Mash being strong but stupid. Hopefully, the extended cast will help add some variety to the comedy and make the show a fun ride from start to finish.
Poor Mash Burnedead – he was born without magic in a world that routinely kills the “unmarked.” (Magic users have a line or two on their faces somewhere.) Abandoned as a baby, he was taken in by magic failure Regro Burnedead and raised in a wooden yurt deep in the forest, where he developed an amazing physique and a major love of cream puffs. Yes, the cream puffs are important. In fact, if it weren't for cream puffs, we probably wouldn't have a story, so all hail the mighty chou crême, pastry of the gods! They can be chocolate! Custard! Strawberry! The basis of an entire ending theme titled “Shu [sic] Cream Funky Love!” Wow!
Mashle: Magic and Muscles basically has three gimmicks, and this episode introduces them all: Mash's incredible strength, ability to use that strength to combat magic, and cream puffs. He also has an adversarial relationship with doors, which extends far beyond the usual question of push or pull. After this episode, you might be forgiven for wondering whether Mashle's muscles fully extend to and envelop his brain because while he is, as his father notes, largely a good boy, brainpower does not appear to be among his attributes. But then, if you've ever wanted to see a guy who looks like the hero of One-Punch Man with hair beat Harry Potter into the ground, this is your moment, even if Mash's eventual facial marking has more direct ties to that famous wizard, with its distinct lightning bolt look.
As manga readers know, this episode is set up. It's also got a few tonal issues, with Regro's past feeling almost too somber for the rest of the story and the brutal magic police seeming equally out of place until Mash starts repelling their attacks with sheer muscle power. Mash isn't a particularly compelling character right now, but that's also part of what makes him fun; he has no real affect to speak of, even when he's munching on his beloved snack or singing his lyrically limited song about them. This is just good silly fun for the most part, and it should continue in that direction going forward.
Mashle has always existed in a weird gray area for me. I've been reading the manga since it started, and I enjoy it each week, but I have difficulty recommending it enthusiastically. Any given joke or story is just good enough for me to have fun with it, and then it just leaves my brain space. Going by this first episode, the anime adaptation will wind up in a similar state of limbo.
Like yeah, I laughed here a few times, even with jokes I've already seen. While mixing One-Punch Man-style comedy with a direct parody of Harry Potter is odd, it generally works for the comedic setup to goofy moments where Mash temporarily makes the wizarding world run on Looney Tune physics. The anime's done a solid job adapting the manga's idiosyncratic character designs while polishing them for animation. There are some neat cuts of animation and effects work, and the soundtrack is an absolute banger. It might just be that sad old men stories make me weak, but I genuinely liked the backstory of how Mash's dad came to take him in. By the metric of Preview Guide, this was a successful premiere for a comedy.
Yet at the same time, I can't find a ton of enthusiasm for it or think of anything that would win over somebody skeptical of the series at first blush. For every joke that landed for me, there was a punchline or deliberately undersold one-liner that fell flat. Even the jokes that did work got a mild chuckle, but not a lot else. Grading on a curve, I suppose that puts its well above the more annoying and insufferable fantasy comedies this season, but that feels like damning with faint praise.
I don't know, that's where I've been with Mashle for a while, and that's not changing with this adaptation. It makes for perfectly entertaining fare, we'll probably get some great reaction images and memes out of the deal, and I legitimately love the soundtrack. However, I doubt it'll end up on my favorites list.
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