Often titled as Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei (MKNR), The Irregular at Magic High School is hard to categorize. It is certainly fantasy and alternate history, but the magical background is extremely detailed, systematic, and makes references to modern science to the point that it can be arguably sci-fi. I have actually been eyeing this anime for quite a while due to Tatsuya Shiba constantly showing up Top 10 lists of most overpowered anime characters on YouTube. When I watched the first few episodes, I began with a huge, non-sarcastic “wow!” due to its rich and detailed setting along with pleasing colors, then it become sort of “meh” at the pacing and presentation, which regressed to cringe and “eww” at the incestuous hints and sexual tensions.
I started to doubt if this is going to be worth my time because I have always been spoiled by really good anime. I mean really good ones like Code Geass, FMA: Brotherhood, and Steins;Gate. But I preserved through the barely acceptable, monotonous, action-less first couple of episodes (one episode right before sleep for some days), and then the series started to become acceptable after that, which then progressed to really good for the remainder of the anime. All in all I was pleasantly surprised, even with my high hopes. Minus some less appropriate aspects like incest hints and unnecessary sexual and romantic tensions (I even find some of them cute) and the complicated magic setting, the anime is generally pretty good and not a waste of time.
The anime is about a world where magic is real and a valid area of study, where a pair of siblings Tatsuya Shiba and Miyuki Shiba enrolls in a prestigious magic high school known as First High, but were sorted into two different categories based of performance in a entry test which tests for practical modern magic. Miyuki’s high aptitude made her a 1st Course student,a “Bloom”, while Tatsuya’s abysmal performance made him a 2nd Course student, a “Weed”. However, in actuality Tatsuya is considered a Strategic-class Magician (capabilities comparable to a strategic missile) and an extremely potent individual in combat and warfare, along with being one of the best magical technicians in the world, but enrolled in an education system which does not recognize his prowess to protect his sister, who is potentially the heir to one of the 10 Master Clans, a select group consisting of the most powerful magical families in Japan.
So far, the anime covers 3 main arcs:
-Enrollment Arc where discrimination against “Weeds” and tension between students of the two courses is the main theme, leading to a student revolution supported by an anti-Magic group.
–Nine School Competition (NSC) Arc where First High students participate in a major magical sports event to compete against eight other schools, with interference from outside parties
-Yokohama Disturbance Arc where a magical thesis conference is held, while The Great Asian Alliance stirs up trouble which eventually culminates in a war.
At a glance, MKNR seems like an anime adaptation of Harry Potter. The discrimination theme from the first arc reminds me of the discrimination against Muggle-borns, the second arc is a nod to the 4th HP book The Goblet of Fire, the third arc….can be arguably considered a parallel to the 7th book Deathly Hallows. All in all, its a very different Harry Potter: the protagonists are much more powerful than all the antagonists (powerful magicians versus muggles with firearms and some anti-magic tools, hello?), the main character is the closest thing to being omnipotent, muggles are aware of magicians, and the magic is…much more difficult to explain, BUT the magic school theme is pretty apparent and has an unique sci-fi twist to it. The concepts are very well thought out with little flaws: from small details like student groups to factors leading to huge movements. There is a little odd part where the Course 2 students that Tatsuya is well-acquainted with somehow ends up being some of the best combatants which are almost as good as the elite student magicians.
The presentation of the story is also pretty good, it isn’t mindblowing nor outstanding, but it isn’t bad. The pacing starts off a little slow and boring at the beginning (right after the exciting introduction on the magical world), but it becomes pretty exciting once the first arc begins to escalate. The anime gets really good during the coverage of the second and third arc, and ends a little abruptly at the last episode. It is a given that there will be a Season 2, considering the anime covered less than half of the light novel (which is the most canon source) and the postive reception.
However, the anime does a really sub-par job at explaining the concept of magical phenomena. The series as a whole uses extremely technical terms to describe even very basic looking magic like speeding up or knocking some fodder out, and it is far from enjoyable to have a whole chunk of technical magic terms along with complicated hierarchy and taxonomy thrown at me. The anime did try to present visual and graphical explanations (to be fair they had a lot of screen time), but the sheer complexity makes it insufficient: explanations are lengthy and draggy, yet incomplete. Perhaps there should have been a couple of episodes dedicated to explain what the hell is happening with this entire magic-ology thing, instead of inserting it halfway through the action or conversation. Be warned, the magic setting and framework can be more difficult to understand and off-putting. On another hand, I always have a thing for settings with great depth (I love reading long Wikia entries of fiction works), so this ends up sitting okay with me.
All-in-all, it is very apparent that a lot of effort went into thinking about the story, and it is really one of the most well-thought series out there. The pacing can be stale for viewers who want more action and emotion. The series could have been much longer to explain more of the intricate details for better satisfaction, I wouldn’t even have minded a couple of filler arcs, but for a 26 episode series this is as good as it gets.
Overall, I loved the characters. For such as short series, the anime managed to explore the main cast and a lot of the supporting cast thoroughly. Even the supporting cast has been rather well explored and got a fair bit of screen time for such a short series. It almost seemed like it is going to end up in a SAO-ish sort of harem, where a really boring male somehow attracts multiple simple stereotypical girls. Luckily, the male supporting casts, Leo and Mikihiko in particular, have really decent character depth and development. Same goes for the females like Mayumi, Erika, Honoka, and Shizuku. On top of that, the main character Tatsuya has a enigmatic, mature charm to his character, which is nothing like Kirito from SAO.
Tatsuya is a really unique main cast. He arguably doesn’t have any character development, but he progressively shows more and more of what he is capable of and his attitude to things get expanded slowly but reasonably. He is not capable of growing much, because his capabilities are pretty much maxed out in multiple aspects. Rather he slowly reveals what he is capable of and the multiple surprises he brings to his companions, along with the occasional emotion showcase, makes him rather enjoyable to watch. Tatsuya along isn’t entertaining, but his enigmatic charm and interaction with others as a contrast is a great highlight of the anime. I can see why viewers would not like an overpowered main cast, but along with exceptions like Saitama, Tatsuya just makes viewers curious about how is he going to eradicate his miserable opponents.
On the other hand, I don’t like Miyuki a lot. Not only Miyuki seems to have a little character than any character in the series bar having a brother complex and being a genius magician. On top of that, she has this excessive jealousy over his brother interactions with other females and her small outbursts can get predictable and annoying. In fact, probably due to how likable the other female characters are (Mayumi Saegusa in particular), Miyuki is my second most disliked character after the spiteful Chiaki. While others often complain about Tatsuya’s overpowered-ness making the series boring, I only see that in Miyuki, who is literally unbeatable in any event and has a boring selection of abilities against boring opponents.
That being said, I would give the characters a overall 8/10, especially considering MKNR being a relatively short anime. Most of the characters are pretty outstanding and memorable, and I really look forward to seeing them in future seasons. Admittedly, most of the action is centered around Tatsuya, but unlike most reviews, I am of the opinion that even the others got a fair amount of screen time and got me intrigued about them.
The magical setting is really enjoyable to fantasize about, but not well delivered. As mentioned earlier, the laws of magic are not very clear and will not be clear unless one takes the initiative to read up text sources. It is annoying when viewers cannot understand what is actually going on with the magical effects, but when the logic is clear it becomes pretty enjoyable to watch and fantasize about.
I didn’t like the incestuous hints and sexual tensions. In the beginning this turned me off a lot, and I nearly decided that this is not worth my time. I think it is less about the incest (personally I am not a fan of it, but it doesn’t trigger me), but Miyuki’s over-attachment which irks me a lot, but later on I just decided to bear with it, and it became kinda bearable (small spoiler not in the anime: but it turned out that they weren’t really blood siblings, so its kinda okay). In the end, I found out that the supposed incest is actually somewhat justifiable after I read up more about their backstory, so this doesn’t leave a terrible after taste. There is a substantial amount of fanservice in various forms, but it didn’t escalate to outright obscene nudity, and they don’t happen very randomly or inappropriately.
MKNR has issues in its pacing and delivery. But I don’t think that stops it being a great series. Most aspects are top notch and I certainly don’t regret coming across it, it only left me asking for more of it minus the incest. I could go on more but as of now I will just say that I look forward to future seasons.
The art and design is beautiful. Perhaps this is standard nowadays, but there is something about the art that makes it very appeasing to the eyes. First, the characters’ looks really stand out and the major ones are very memorable. Their hairstyles and facial structures define who are they very much and their traits Second, their uniforms (for all schools) are actually very intricately designed and thoughtful. This may have more to do with the original art from the light novel rather than the anime production, but anyhow it is easy to appreciate the details of these futuristic looking school uniforms. These are the kind of outfit I would wear in MMOs or cosplay events. Thirdly, the magical effects are just decent. They may have been really good, but after watching Unlimited Blade Works I have become much harder to please. Regardless, they are still easy on the eyes. Perhaps MKNR could do with more variety in colors for particle effects, but the shape and structure has a strong and nice sci-fi influence to it, so all in all I am rather satisfied. 7/10 on the art aspect.
This is where MKNR stands out for me. The voice acting is one of the best I have heard. I am not into investigating seiyuus so I can’t comment much, but yes, they sound good and fitting, and I won’t have it any other way. The background music is also pretty top notch.
Finally, this anime has some of the best openings and endings yet. I liked almost all four songs and would give them perfect ratings. Rising Hope by LiSA and Mirror by Rei Yasuda would make it to my all time favorites playlist, followed by GARDiNELiA’s Grilletto. The only lacking one is Millenario by ELISA, but that is probably due to it not captivating enough to stop me from skipping it. 9.5/10 for the sound department.
Have spent too much time and words on this so let’s wrap this up. The Irregular at Magic High School is one quality anime that viewers will have polarized opinions on, either love it or despise it. I would encourage even the latter to stick to the end and be ready for it to change opinions. Bottom line is this, if you are willing to:
-stand the somewhat incestuous relationship between the two leads,
-put up with the bro-con
-accept that Onii-sama is nearly flawless and unbeatable
-take the initiative to read up about the background setting, especially with regards to magic
You will most certainly enjoy this.
Myself? As reflected throughout this little biased review, it has grown on me. Overall, its a 7.5/10 for me.
ps: Future reviews will be based on a better template. I am trying to hit the spot between writing a cathartic opinion piece and a useful review that readers can read and decide if something is worth their time. 🙂 Still working on that.