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by Rebecca Silverman,

A Returner's Magic Should Be Special

Season 1 Anime Review

A Returner's Magic Should Be Special Season 1 Anime Review
Shadow Realms, little alternate worlds of doom, have been popping up for years, and to save the real world, they must be dealt with. Desir Herrmann and his teammates are on the verge of defeating the final Realm when the unthinkable happens, and they all die. Or do they? Because no sooner has his heart stopped than Desir wakes up in the past, about to enroll at the elite (and elitist) Hebrion Academy, the start of his tragic journey. Can Desir, armed with knowledge of the terrible future, ensure that this time, things will work out?

Writing off A Returner's Magic Should Be Special would be very easy. On the surface, there's nothing remarkable about it: a standard magic academy, a basic time loop story, and characters whose names are way too on the mark. But somehow, the execution of the piece manages to rise above all of these basic tropes and clichés, resulting in a story that's still familiar but also somehow much better than it should be.

The structure of the series follows a standard time loop format. It opens in an alternate world known as a Shadow Realm in a terrible future. Desir Herrmann, who appears to be in his twenties, is on the verge of working with a team to conquer the realm by defeating a dragon with the ludicrous name of Boromir Napolitan when everything goes suddenly, horribly wrong. As Desir is dying, he thinks about his friends who didn't survive as long as he did, and when he opens his eyes, he's back at the start of the path that led to his death: about to enroll in the prestigious Hebrion Academy. Desir realizes his dying wish has been granted, and he has a second chance to ensure everything goes right this time.

As years of anime have taught us, Desir retains his memories of the terrible future and his skills from over ten years of fighting in Shadow Realms when he returns to his teen years. Naturally, this makes him overpowered, but it feels like the right kind of overpowered. He doesn't use his skills to show off or to overtly stick it to the elitist jerks who populate the academy; he instead almost single-mindedly uses what he's learned to help his friends grow stronger themselves, all with an eye to them not dying this time around. The biggest hurdle he faces is getting them to buy into his plans because, at this point, neither Romantica nor Pram have a clue who he is or what will happen. As far as Romantica is concerned, Desir is just some weird guy who gets too emotional when he sees her and keeps asking her to join him in their training and practice. She comes around, especially once Pram enters the picture, but she's understandably wary at first, as is prodigy Azest, who clearly just can't get a read on Desir.

For his part, Desir works very hard to overcome the issues he knows will lead to both Romantica and Pram dying. He recognizes that Romantica will have to be forced to rise above her current level (which is already a pretty good one), and he consistently uses her competitiveness against her. He does much the same for Azest, who enters the school believing that she's plenty powerful as-is, with her status as nobility making up for anything she might think she lacks. Pram is easier to help because the poor kid is just screaming for someone to care for him, and although he also finds it tricky to figure Desir out at first, he defeats the issue much more quickly than the girls. If Desir comes across as preternaturally mature to his teammates, they at least learn to appreciate it, and from a viewer's standpoint, he does an excellent job of balancing his urgency to keep them alive with how he's supposed to act as a new student.

That doesn't mean he'll just sit back and allow the school's highly discriminatory practices to stand, though. Hebrion divides students by social class, assuming that commoners have zero aptitude for magic or anything else needed to close Shadow Realms. This is, in part, what likely led to Pram and Romatica's deaths in the first loop, and Desir will not stand for it this time. He's still less overtly confrontational about it, choosing instead to use the overweening egos of the nobles against them and helping Romantica to let her own ego go, making a case for skill and hard work over bloodline in ways that yelling at the school would not have. Desir puts his money where his mouth is; even if not everyone wants to see it, he makes his point.

The series adapts roughly one volume of manhwa per four episodes, ending at about the same place as Ize Press' current release of the books. (Much more of the story is available on Tappytoon if you don't want to wait for season two.) It's a good pace, although the final three episodes are weaker than the first nine, mostly because they rush to a specific point. I feel like episode ten, when the gang hangs out at a modern mall, could have been shortened or left out to give more time for the battles in episodes eleven and twelve. The art is a little patchy, with hair colored like an oil slick on water and the arms occasionally being too short; there's also some impressively bad CG in episode eleven. The tarot imagery in the opening theme, with Pram as the Hanged Man and Romantica as the Wheel of Fortune, shows some attention to detail, however, and the magic system is easy to understand, including Desir's unusual power of "inversion" (nullification, essentially), although that is better explained in the manhwa. The art often ignores opportunities for underwear shots, with the fanservice relegated to the ending theme alone. The biggest issue, really, is Pram's hair antennae, which fluctuate in size and mobility to the point where they become distracting.

On the whole, A Returner's Magic Should Be Special is one of those series that feels like it has no right to be as good as it is. It's not breaking any molds, but it is consistently engaging and entertaining, and the stakes feel appropriate for the plot and characters. If you wrote it off after episode one, it's worth giving it a chance to show you that even if it's not innovative, it is still a fun viewing experience.

Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B

+ Better than it feels it has a right to be, Desir manages to be OP without being obnoxious.
Coloring for hair is kind of odd, Pram's antennae are out of control. Romantica and Azest can be annoying, patchy art quality.

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Production Info:
Director: Taishi Kawaguchi
Series Composition: Takamitsu Kōno
Script: Takamitsu Kōno
Music: Kenta Higashiohji
Original creator:
Character Design: Hiromi Kato
Art Director: Eiji Iwase
Art design:
Tomoyasu Fujise
Akihiro Hirasawa
Kazushige Kanehira
Yasuhiro Okumura
Sound Director: Takatoshi Hamano
Director of Photography: Hideki Imaizumi

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Returner's Magic Should Be Special (TV)

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