By its pilot: The irregular at magic high school

The irregular at magic high school: Pushing weeds
Year: 2014
Director: Ono Manabu
Seiyū: Hayami Saori (as Shiba Miyuki); Nakamura Yūichi (Shiba Tatsuya)

Initial research:
> Nakamura is the eponymous lead of Gekkan-Shoujo Nozaki-kun, another prominent series from this year. Busy man.
> Several impressive ladies—Inoue Marina (Armin in Attack on Titan), Hanazawa Kana (Mayuri, Steins;Gate), and Saitō Chiwa—round out the cast.
> This is the most recent series I’ve Singled thus far, such that no one I know personally has seen it yet. Several have asked me about it but are not curious enough to try it themselves.
> The first arc is seven episodes, so I stopped after the first. I figure that moving on to 2 of 7 would not be much different than seeing 6 of 7: incomplete story-wise, but still too much information for my purposes.

Summary: Blah blah, dystopian drabble, etc etc. The main point is that “magic” is just a form of technology, and the advancement of this technology is now the main focus of all nations; of course, high schools became the front line of this advancement.

Outside a school of magic, Miyuki is arguing with her brother Tatsuya about things he has no control over, in the process letting us in on some more basics. The school divides students into two tiers: Course 1 is more advanced and apparently focused on practical skills, Course 2 less so. Miyuki, at the top of their class in practicals (and thus in Course 1) thinks her brother (who was admitted on test scores alone) is the bee’s knees and shouldn’t settle for being a “reserve”, or Course 2 student. He tells her to worry about her own stuff for once, and she takes this as him hitting on her and it makes her squee a little. Yep. You read that right. Tatsuya’s a bit put off too but not all that alarmed.

Um. . . .

While Miyuki goes to prepare her freshman address, Tatsuya runs into the Student Council President. I guess Tatsuya has seen Death Note because when she so generously elaborates with her name’s spelling he makes special note of it. One of the kanji is a number and this is significant to him somehow.

At the entrance ceremony, the Course 1 students, also known as Blooms (I guess for the flower insignia on their uniforms), sit up front, while their lesser counterparts (“Weeds”) are relegated to the back of the auditorium. Tatsuya meets some friendly girls in the back: Erika (whose family name also has a number kanji) is tomboyish, confident, and likable, and Mizuki is timid, very moe, and has glasses which is also apparently noteworthy.

When the three of them meet up with Miyuki afterwards, she has just finished up a suspicious chat with the Student Council. Though Saegusa again treats Tatsuya kindly, the other council members struggle to maintain civility; you’d think being a reserve was some kind of felony. Then Mizuki makes a comment that the siblings have similar auras, tipping Tatsuya off to the fact that she can read auras. This has something to do with the glasses, it’s not made clear what; but he resolves to spend less time with her so she doesn’t find out his “secret”. So there’s that. (He then proceeds to hang out with her and Erika the rest of the episode. Nice work, dog.) Oh, then there’s this.

They *super* already know your secret.

At home, the siblings discuss “those people” (presumably their parents), who haven’t acknowledged Tatsuya’s acceptance into this very prestigious school. Miyuki is again angry in his stead. As she loses control we witness her freezy powers (which, obvs, her name is Miyuki), and then they get uncomfortably close.

The next day Tatsuya hits the gym/shrine with Miyuki in tow and Tatsuya kicks a bunch of ass. His trainer is not a ninja but a shinobi, so I guess there’s a difference, and also kind of a lech. Then it’s off to school, where Tatsuya attends classes with Erika and Mizuki, and meets his first dude friend, Leo. They all go to lunch together, and Miyuki spots them and wants to join. But other Blooms attempt to stop her from associating with such riffraff. Tatsuya avoids forcing her to choose between him and her proper classmates by making a graceful exit.

But it’s not enough. That evening a hotheaded group of Blooms challenges the Weeds to a magic duel, and though the Weeds make it clear they are not interested, the Blooms attack. Tatsuya manages the situation from afar by turning on his Detective Mode to spy on their spell usage, and while Leo prepares to fight back, Erika performs defensive maneuvers against the suddenly weaponized Blooms.

Asserting her badassery.

They are interrupted by Saegusa and the head of the disciplinary committee. Here Tatsuya elaborates on his superpowers: analysis. He also has quite the silver tongue and talks them all out of trouble; this guy was just demonstrating his family’s ability, this girl’s spell was very low-powered, etc etc. The episode basically drops off right here with the final message that everyone at this illustrious school is either an honors student, or an irregular. It’s the first mention of this word in anything but the translated title.

Genre: high school, sci-fi, magic, WW3
Notable tropes: An Ice PersonAwesomeness by AnalysisBut Not Too Foreign (which I am using here loosely to refer to the setting), Clarke’s Third LawFanserviceIncest SubtextMeaningful NameMeganekko.

The review part: Character art is not particularly unique (Tatsuya just looks like mini Hei to me, especially whilst asskicking) but it’s clean and it works. However their school uniforms are so bold as to be distracting, and the school itself is sterile and dull. The visuals overall are oddly lackluster. All my screenshots share more or less the same palette, which may be why I ended up using so many images in this post, scrambling to find anything that might stand out. Music is above average but forgettable and often totally unnoticeable.

The lore of the world is actually interesting. To scratch the surface, Leo observes Tatsuya using a keyboard and asks what the hell he’s up to, as he assumes keyboards are basically obsolete. Tatsuya explains that with enough practice, typing is faster than their futurey alternative (touch? voice command? brain stuff? it’s not specified). And thermonuclear war was avoided not by mutually assured destruction, but magically assured destruction. (Thanks, magic!) Less overt world-building (yes, there do exist covert qualities in this thing) gives us yet another school campus littered with sakura blossoms. This serves not only to reiterate that it is the start of the school year, but to remind us that this isn’t fantasy. It’s science fiction, it’s the future, and it’s still Japan.

As for Blooms vs. Weeds—the stratification between these groups seems completely absent of an economic factor, which is unique. This world’s population was slashed to three billion after WW3; I imagine wealth is easier to spread around. So instead this stratification is fully skill-based. Segregation is the policy du jour, and these very clear dichotomies are reiterated in no less than three sets of names (Course 1 vs Course 2; Blooms vs Weeds; honors vs irregulars/reserves) and further solidified with insignia vs blank uniforms, seating in the front vs the back. . . . Course 2 students aren’t even allowed on the Student Council.

He can’t believe she’s even looking at a Weed.

For a single episode, the world and several characters are well set-up, especially Tatsuya. Twice he defuses tense situations, the second time even covering for Blooms who were moments before fighting with his friends. Even the bashful Mizuki takes a stand when the Blooms begin their harassment, reminding them that they’re all just lowly freshmen.

As well as Tatsuya’s character is set up, he’s still not all that compelling, and I wonder if it’s due to Nakamura’s flat performance. (Such flatness works in the case of Nozaki-kun, by the way.) I understand Tatsuya is a stoic guy, but even inner dialogue could have some emotional color. There hasn’t been much chance for the actors to show off yet script-wise, so things were, again, a little dull in this department. And while the story is good, the writing is not. That itself may be a testament to the actors’ skills—on the whole they managed to make a bad script fully bearable.

And now so are we.

Cheese factor: Either somebody’s adopted, or this is a straight-up incest story. Either way, squick. The exposition also induced many an eyeroll. Cf. above.
Reminds me of: Ender’s Game (not an anime but you get the idea), No. 6.

Overall: [3]. Some of the characters are really intriguing, most of them at least somewhat. The politics of the school factions are the most interesting part, though that may just be because I’m an anthropologist and that stuff is our jam. The biggest knock against it is that I care more about the side characters than the as-yet unenthralling protagonists.

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