Reviewby Kim Morrissy,
The irregular at magic high school The Movie:
The Girl Who Summons the Stars
Many months have passed since the events of the first season. The “irregular” elder brother Tatsuya and his talented younger sister Miyuki realize that their first year at Magic High School is about to come to a close, so the siblings and their friends decide to spend spring break at a private villa on Ogasawara Island. Tatsuya and the others make the most of their brief vacation until a young girl named Kokoa appears before them. The mysterious young girl who escaped from a naval base tells Tatsuya her one wish...
When the TV series of The irregular at magic high school first aired in 2014, its highly technical magic system and overpowered protagonist proved to be polarizing. The anime's dry visual presentation and clumsy pacing only made it more divisive. Even the diehard light novel fans would probably admit that the TV series was not a very accessible adaptation of Tsutomu Sato's notoriously dense novels.
The movie is a different beast, however. It tells an original story unconstrained by the exposition-heavy style of its source material, so it works much better in animated form because of that. The technical explanations are short and to the point, never interrupting the flow of the story while still providing enough context that the viewer can understand each major plot point, and every scene pushes the narrative forward to its action-heavy climax.
The result is about what you would expect from a franchise movie—The irregular at magic high school The Movie: The Girl Who Summons the Stars is a popcorn flick featuring some cool action set pieces within a largely unremarkable standalone plot. It would be easy to call it the most accessible entry of the franchise if it wasn't so obviously written with light novel readers in mind.
Anime-only viewers will definitely be confused by some parts of this film. The story is set after volume 11, while the anime only adapted the first seven volumes. Because of that, the film features characters who have never appeared in the TV series, as well as flashbacks to events that only happened in the light novels. The narrative never pauses to explain these new additions, leaving anime-only viewers completely in the dark about some of the film's major plot points.
Given that the film was made strictly with light novel readers in mind, it's probably no surprise that it's filled with fanservice of multiple kinds. Most obviously, the female characters show a lot more skin than their TV anime counterparts. The irregular at magic high school is set within a prudish society, where showing skin is so frowned upon that people normally wear clothes even in the hot springs. The movie completely disregards that aspect of the setting and shows the girls in bikinis. At one point, we even see some full-frontal nudity in the bath. Nobody tells the girls that they're dressed inappropriately either, which I honestly found refreshing. The tendency in the TV series and novels to sexualize the girls for the audience while shaming them for it within the story was always disconcerting to me, so I was relieved to see this part of the setting ignored during the fanservice scenes.
Nudity aside, the film also showcases the magical abilities of all the main characters who aren't named Tatsuya. The irregular at magic high school is always more interesting when it focuses on Tatsuya's friends, who are powerful but not so ridiculously broken that they can't be bested in combat. The narrative contrives to get all the side characters involved in some way (Mayumi and Juumonji in particular are only tenuously connected to the plot), but the hows and whys aren't important for a film like this. Fans of these characters should at least be satisfied with their scenes.
As for Tatsuya, it should only be expected that he gets the lion's share of the action and always wins his battles without any dramatic tension, but there's also some unexpected comedy value to his scenes that make them more entertaining than usual. The penultimate scene of the film is as over-the-top as The irregular at magic high school has ever been, and Tatsuya's clothing choices in this film are nothing short of hilarious. At one point, he shows up looking almost exactly like Darth Vader, causing the audience to break out in laughter. Tatsuya has become almost a parody of himself at this point, but perhaps because the film doesn't dwell on how awesome he is for too long, it doesn't drag down the story as much as expected.
All of this is to say that The irregular at magic high school The Movie: The Girl Who Summons the Stars is a decent franchise film with clear strengths. Unfortunately, as a movie experience in its own right, it's lacking in one very key area; its poor visuals make it difficult for me to recommend. The TV series was never very strong visually, and the film not only retains all of its weaknesses but amplifies them. Outside of the battle scenes, character animation is unexpressive and wooden, and the 3D animation is poorly integrated to the point of distraction. This only looks worse on the big screen, where the images look dilated. Any mid-distance or long-distance shots make the characters look fuzzy and poorly defined.
Even the action scenes, which are of generally higher quality than the rest of the film, are not nearly as impressive as they could have been. Like the TV series, the magic scenes in the film tend to fill the screen with shades of the same color, making it hard to follow the animation itself. The film also has some choppy choreography during its fight scenes, making the sword fights in particular come off as underwhelming.
At least the music during the fight scenes is exciting. Taku Iwasaki's original soundtrack for the TV show shone during the action scenes, and the movie has a bunch of new tracks that are integrated well throughout the course of the story. Even the quieter scenes in the film are stronger music-wise. The TV series was occasionally accused of using bland “elevator music” during exposition scenes, but those tracks are largely absent from this film.
Overall, The irregular at magic high school The Movie: The Girl Who Summons the Stars may be a good fan experience, but it's not a good cinematic one. The music stands out as the only strength in a production that doesn't even rise above TV anime quality. The film is also not worth watching for its plot alone, which is fairly forgettable by the end. Having said all that, it's still the best that The irregular at magic high school has to offer in animated form so far, which may stand as a testament to just how difficult this series is to animate in an approachable form while appealing to the fans of its source material. Even at its best, The irregular at magic high school is not for everyone.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B-
Animation : C-
Art : C
Music : B+
+ Tighter pacing than the TV series, great soundtrack, fanservice scenes work reasonably well
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