Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
irregular at magic high school
Sub.Blu-Ray 1 - Enrollment Arc
In the late 20th century, magic went from being a mystical force to a usable technology, and now in 2095, after WWIII, mages are referred to as “magic technicians” and attend special schools to hone their skills. There's a clear divide between the magic-using and non-magical population, and tensions simmer just beneath the surface of society. Tatsuya Shiba, a first year student at National Magic University First Affiliated High School, straddles the line between those two worlds: while his aptitude and some magical skills are extremely high, his practical skills are very poor, earning him the scorn of students in the more advanced magical course of study. But there is clearly more going on with both Tatsuya and his younger sister Miyuki than there at first appears, and when the course 1 students begin to protest the advanced course 2 students' treatment of them, Tatsuya's talents come to the fore.
The Irregular at Magic High School is not a series best judged by its first episode alone. Adapted from the popular light novels by Tsutomu Sato, the story is a strange mix of science fiction and fantasy, taking a basic staple of the fantasy genre, magic, and reworking it for a science fiction universe. In this story, magic has been systematized as a technology, leading to its more widespread understanding and usage. Not everyone can use it, but in some ways that's similar to how not everyone can program. The difference is that magic technicians, as mages are known in this science fantasy, still hold the caché that they do in more traditional urban fantasy stories, leading to those who are adept at magic-using looking down upon their less or non-magical peers. In this series, that is shown in the microcosm of high school, with the setting being divided into two courses: Course 1, for the less magically talented, and Course 2, who clearly feel they are the elites. They refer to themselves as “blooms,” possibly a reference to the fact that they have the school emblem on their uniforms, while Course 1 students are called “weeds.” This sets the stage for a storyline that deals with themes of discrimination, as well as the question of whether the “weeds” allow themselves to be put in the “inferior” position.
The story follows Tatsuya Shiba, the eponymous irregular, although he's not actually called that during the show. He's clearly hiding something, but what these episodes appear more interested in is the fact that because he performed poorly on a section of the entrance exam, he's been shunted to the “lower” class of Course 1. His younger sister, Miyuki, is enraged by this, although Tatsuya himself seems fine with it; he's firmly forward facing as a character, and doesn't seem inclined to let a test determine where he wants to go. This is an interesting comment on the flaws of standardized testing, something which the Japanese school system relies heavily upon, with Miyuki, and later other students who see Tatsuya in action, making it clear that the testing system failed him. This, presumably, is where the title comes from – if Tatsuya isn't “standard” (as in, able to pass a standardized test), then he must be “irregular.” This, as well as scenes of Tatsuya's impressive magic usage, helps with the arc's theme of the pervasive snobbery that has taken hold of society in 2095.
Tatsuya himself is a little bit difficult to like as a character, mostly because he plays his cards so close to the vest. As I said before, he is clearly hiding something (or a lot of somethings), possibly even from Miyuki, who appears to be the sole member of their family with whom he gets along. This isn't a problem for other characters in the show, and Tatsuya quickly amasses a following of people much more interesting and likable than he is, notably Erika Chiba, who is the stand-out in this set in terms of both skill and personality. (That Yumi Uchiyama does a great job with her voice doesn't hurt either.) Erika clearly marches to the beat of her own drum, even eschewing the filmy portion of the girls' school uniform, and makes an impression as a firebrand right from her first appearance. Other characters, while interesting in terms of skill, like Mizuki or Leo, are much more cliché, allowing them to fade into the background a bit more. Miyuki, with her severe brother-complex, may be the character the most viewers will have issues with, as she seems to have little personality beyond “I love my onii-chan” and her (impressive) ice powers. Hopefully this will be rectified in future episodes, as I suspect that her past is very important to the plot.
Artistically there's a nice mix of character designs and CG magic spells, and the filmy overdress the girls wear over their uniforms is a beautiful touch, even if the three (four?) different designs are never explained. (My early assumption that they were related to powers doesn't seem to have panned out.) Walking can look oddly stiff and characters can be simplified to the point of looking off-model when they aren't in the spotlight, but fights look nice, and some of the backgrounds, such as the ruined factory, show good attention to detail, with a highlight being lipstick stains on the rim of a teacup. Likewise it is interesting to note that one of the symbols of Blanche, the anti-magic group, appears to be a tricolor bracelet, which conjures up images of the French Revolution, with its bands representing liberty, equality, and fraternity. The major visual issue is that the subtitles have a tendency to switch from the bottom of the screen to the top quite a bit, which could be a problem for slower readers.
This first Blu-Ray release from Aniplex of America contains the first seven episodes of the series, the complete “Enrollment” arc, along with an informative booklet with a very good question-and-answer section with the original author and some art cards, all in a decorative box. It's not quite worth the high asking price unless you're already an established fan of the series, largely because the story doesn't really take off until episode five.
The Irregular at Magic High School's first arc has some very interesting themes about discrimination and self-worth, tempered by a hero who is hard to get to know (or like). While I would hesitate to call it a strong start, it is clear from the interview in the booklet that the author knows the story's world inside-out, so it seems very likely that things will pick up as the series goes on. It's a bit of a slow start, but worth sticking with, and it definitely feels like things will be picking up when the “Nine Schools Competition” arc begins in the next set.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Interesting themes about discrimination and standardized tests, Erika's a fun character. Nice girls' uniform designs, booklet is very informative.
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