Mahouka Koukou no Yuutousei is an anime I approached with great enthusiasm.
After all, I had loved The Irregular at Magic High School and thought Miyuki’s character had a lot more to say than she’d been given the opportunity for when playing support to Tatsuya’s overpowered main character.
However as a spin-off it is inevitable that Mahouka Koukou no Yuutousei would be compared to its parent story. And even outside of that, the approach taken here of shifting an action fantasy into a more cute girls kind of story with a bit of magic thrown in had been done before by Index/Railgun only I kind of feel that franchise understood its audience a lot better and what would make for a more interesting story.
Which ultimately meant that while Mahouka Koukou no Yuutsouei, or The Honor Student at Magic High School, is perfecty watchable, there’s little here that would lead me to recommend this over the original. Even people who enjoyed Irregular would probably do better rewatching that as there’s little in this iteration that is done better, not so much added, and a lot of world-building and the aspects that make the magic high school franchise so interesting just feel lacking here.
Is Mahouka Koukou no Yuutousei worth watching?
At thirteen episodes and covering the Enrolment arc (including the attempt by terrorist group Blanche to attack the school) and the Nine Schools Competition Arc, Mahouka Koukou no Yuutousei packs in content that was covered across 18 episodes in Irregular. When you also consider that episode 1 is essential before the story of Irregular starts you really only have 12 episodes to cover this content. It was inevitable that something was going to suffer from this.
And by and large, what suffers is the world building itself and the context for the various sub-plots.
While Irregular had Tatsuya finding out who was behind the various plots and foiling them in order to keep his sister safe, Mahouka Koukou no Yuutousei follows Miyuki and her friends and the various plots only kind of brush past them while they involve themselves in school activities. Not to mention we lose a lot of the information about how magic in this world works and how Tatusya excels at engineering spells.
For viewers who have watched the original series, you can fill in the gaps just fine and see how the events here run parallel to the events there and support the overall narrative.
For new viewers I kind of feel like this would feel like Lord of the Rings if you only saw Aragorn’s story and never followed Frodo, Sam, or Gandalf. Don’t get me wrong, Aragorn is a cool character and gets some very solid moments. However ultimately Frodo and Sam get to Mount Doom and Aragorn is essentially playing decoy. He isn’t the main event.
Miyuki is very much like Aragorn in that she has some amazing moments, her magic is very cool (quite literally at times), but while she’s competing in the Nine School’s Competition, Tatsuya is the one foiling another terrorist plot only in Mahouka Koukou no Yuutousei we barely see Tatsuya’s contribution which makes the story feel a little incomplete.
The other core problem that Mahouka Koukou no Yuutousei ends up suffering from is it is hard to really surprise your audience when they already know how events play out. There’s little or no tension during the enrolment arc as we know none of the main characters suffer harm from it. Equally, the Nine Schools Competition has little bite when you already know the outcome of every event.
At times, this spin-off is actually up to the challenge of finding other ways to draw the audience in.
For instance, during the enrolment arc they have Eimi teaming up with Shizuku and Honoka to play detective in a previously unseen side-story about the girls wanting to help out Tatsuya without letting Miyuki or Tatsuya know. The girls are charming as a group and the sequence is fun and energetic and even knowing they weren’t going to really solve the case or get into real danger they managed to make this scene engaging and as the girls find themselves in some peril it really drew the audience in.
If nothing else, this sequence firmly establishes why these girls are such big fans of Miyuki going forward.
Furthermore, when we get to the nine schools competition, clearly they knew they couldn’t rely on tension with the outcomes already shown in the original series. Instead, they worked on upping the emotional stakes for the competitors themselves and nowhere was this more effective than in the competition between Shizuku and Miyuki for winner of Pillar’s Break.
The audience will probably all know exactly how this competition ends but they really made us care about it and this was perhaps the pinnacle achievement of Mahouka Koukou no Yuutousei. Too bad it wasn’t actually the climax as it was certainly the highest emotional point the series reached.
Which probably brings me to a positive I should mention. While the theory behind magic and how it has been blended with technology is only very loosely explained in Mahouka Koukou no Yuutousei, the actual use of magic by characters in the events of the Nine School Competition remains very impressive. The versatility with which the characters use the various magics makes for some visually very interesting sequences and ultimately one of the things I always loved about this franchise was the thought behind the magic system here.
Not to mention, totally beautiful.
The other real positive I am taking away from Mahouka Koukou no Yuutousei is the additional screen time given to the girls from Third High. It was kind of nice to see another school humanised this time around and while those characters didn’t get quite enough screen time to really become favourites, Airi and Shiori certainly gave the competition their all and by the time the series ended I kind of wished the spin-off had just jumped from first to third high and given us a totally different take on this world.
Actually, I’d watch that spin-off. Airi and Shiori at third high, convinced they were the strongest of the new generation magicians and then coming smack up against the Shiba’s. It would be awesome to see what they do next.
Equally, it would have been good if we’d had a couple more episodes to get to know these girls before the competition started as they could have been really stolen the show I think.
As I said at the beginning of the review, Mahouka Koukou no Yuutousei is watchable. There’s some fun moments along the way, some great magical feats, and the competition is enjoyable enough with rival characters given enough substance to be entertaining.
Ultimately though, it doesn’t do enough to break free from the shackles of feeling like it is just filling in cracks in the original. I almost feel like the best way to watch Mahouka Koukou no Yuutousei might be just to figure out where each of these episodes fit in conjunction with the originally series and alternate between the two perspectives.
That said, for fans of this franchise, this isn’t bad. While you might, like me, find it a little lacking in punch, you will get to spend time with the girls from the first course and you will certainly get many more moments of Miyuki and Tatsuya together.
As always, I’d love to know your thoughts on the series if you’ve watched it so be sure to leave a comment below.
Images from: Mahouka Koukou no Yuutousei. Dir. Hideki Tachibana. Connect. 2021
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