Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Honor Student at Magic High School
Miyuki Shiba is about to start her first year at First National Magic University Affiliated High School with her beloved (maybe a bit too beloved) older brother Tatsuya. The siblings are very close, but First Magic High is one of three national schools that divides its students into two courses – and Miyuki, who has more obvious talent, is placed in the more desired Course 1 while Tatsuya has been enrolled in Course 2, which the school's toxic social system labels as inferior. Miyuki knows her brother is no such thing, but will she be able to navigate the perilous peer-infested waters of high school and still make it clear that she won't be kept away from her brother?
Did you try to watch the anime version of Tsutomu Sato's The irregular at magic high school but just couldn't get into it because the protagonist, Tatsuya Shiba, was simply too good at everything except having a discernible personality? Then this might be the version for you. A spin-off of Sato's popular novels (which have yet to debut in English as of this writing), The Honor Student at Magic High School retells the story from the younger sister, Miyuki's, point of view. While Miyuki has her trope-clad issues as well, she's also a little more palatable as a character, with a clear set of emotions and social awkwardness that she hides behind a sweet faced facade, as well as a willingness to do what needs to be done. It still has some of the same issues as its parent series, but Honor Student is on the whole a much more welcoming entry into the franchise.
The story begins before the events of the anime, with Tatsuya and Miyuki out celebrating Miyuki's birthday. Providing confirmation of what is broadly hinted at in the animated version, Miyuki's one wish is to have a “date” with her brother, and she makes it fairly clear that she'd like it to be the more romantic variation of that outing – she's thrilled to hold hands, but she'd rather link arms like the other couples she sees, and when a restaurant offers them a “lovers' parfait,” she quickly cuts Tatsuya off when he tries to protest that they are siblings. Miyuki seems blissfully unaware that their relationship really shouldn't go where she wants it to (she makes a comment about how they're just brother and sister for now even as she mentions several times that they are blood related), and you could be forgiven for assuming that these first two chapters are simply fluffy incest fanservice. As it turns out, however, the real purpose is to both explain where Miyuki got her snowflake hair clip and also to show us that she's no delicate flower, despite her looks: when a rogue magician tries to burn down a shopping center, it's Miyuki who makes the crucial moves to take him out, despite it being Tatsuya's job. Interestingly her family tries their hardest to cover it up, partly because of laws against magic use against another person, but we get the feeling that there's a reputation and/or family image issue at play as well. Since Tatsuya is generally reviled by the family, Miyuki must therefore be their big hope, and it looks as if any steps necessary will be taken to protect her and preserve her image.
After this incident, the story shifts to more familiar territory – Miyuki and Tatsuya's first day at Magic High School. Seeing the events through Miyuki's eyes makes the toxic school culture, in which the Course 1 students are held to be superior to the Course 2 students, a little more subtle, since Miyuki is not the subject of the bullying. In fact, she's the queen of the incoming class, her beauty and smarts making her immediately an object of adoration to the other students. And that's really how all but two girls see her – as an item to be attained rather than a person who might have her own thoughts and feelings. That only Honoka is thinking of this is very clear, since the other students think nothing of harassing Tatsuya and his Course 2 friends in front of Miyuki, even when she's obviously going to go eat lunch with them. Even if we argue that there's social conditioning at play – teaching the new girl right from wrong in their specialized environment – it still feels like a blatant dismissal of Miyuki's feelings. She herself seems perplexed by it, which is odd, since she's plainly used to Tatsuya being treated poorly by their own family. This is really the major stumbling block of the book: even though we're in Miyuki's head and seeing primarily through her eyes, she becomes a cipher when the other kids start harassing her brother. It is nice to see what Honoka is thinking, but Miyuki's would be the more useful perspective her, particularly since the first two chapters went to such lengths to demonstrate the level (and type) of love she has for her brother.
Facial expressions in general are not Yu Mori's strength, although the art is pleasant to look at and tones down the pointed shoulders of the boys' jackets. There is a slightly static feel to the artwork, and not much in the way of backgrounds in general, but all of the characters are easily distinguished, which is a major plus in a story with so many of them. Girls' heads tend to be a little too large for their bodies while boys' are a bit too small, but on the whole the book works visually, and the pages flow well in both images and translation. There is a glossary of in-world magic terms in the back of the book, which is helpful, and the story avoids lengthy technical explanations, with really only two small sections delving into that. This makes it fairly simple to get into the story's world, and I hope the series maintains this explanation-light model going forward.
The Honor Student at Magic High School's first volume feels like an easier, more comfortable way to experience Tsutomu Sato's franchise for the first time. It lacks the extensive technical passages of other versions, and Miyuki makes for a more sympathetic character than her brother, if only because she has more visible flaws and emotions. It is a bit off-putting that both Sato's and Mori's commentary in the back of the book makes it sound as if this is somehow a “lesser” version of the story, generally because it focuses on the girls, but in all truth that doesn't actually affect the book; it's simply an irritant for some readers. The art isn't always emotive and the story does drop the ball at times, but on the whole this is a decently enjoyable book that has a much lower bar to entry than you might suppose.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Miyuki is easier to get behind than Tatsuya, story is slightly more subtle from her perspective. Reads easily, glossary of terms in the back is useful.
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