When magic and science meet with explosive results.
Quite some time ago I watched this series I hadn’t heard anything about called The Irregular at Magic High School (or Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei). I hadn’t expected much given the overuse of superpowered kids in school settings in both anime and more recently Western TV shows, and honestly there were a whole pile of things that made me realise not everyone was going to universally love Irregular, and yet there was something about it that I really enjoyed. Fortunately for me I had a friend who watched anime with me at the time and she also kind of loved it, so much so that she made a replica of the school uniform to wear when we went to a convention together.
The first series came out in 2014, I reviewed it in 2017 having watched it multiple times at that point, and I bought the DVD’s when they were finally available in Australia. I also own the first two volumes of the light novel series but haven’t yet got around to reading them. Maybe I’ll bump that up my to do list a bit, however like a lot of things, it is just going to have to wait. On that note, I haven’t yet watched the movie from 2017 so I really should get to these things quicker.
With that context in place, I was very excited on finally venturing back to anime after my break in 2020 to see that a new anime series had come out and was available on Anime Lab (Australia) for me to watch (yes it was available just for me LOL). This is the Visitor Arc and for me there were a few things I definitely hoped this season would deliver.
Visitor Arc is kind of a misleading label on this season for the simple fact that we seem to get two distinct dramas with the 13 episodes. The first is the one discussed in the synopsis you’ll find on MAL and similar sites. Basically one character goes on an overseas exchange and another character slots into the school. Naturally they aren’t what they appear to be and at the same time there seem to be vampire attacks occurring around the city. However that arc is wrapped up, more or less – Irregular is fond of loose ends – by episode 10. The remaining episodes deal with a terrorist incident. Admittedly the motive for said incident is made clear during the previous episodes so there is definitely continuity here, it really is like its own mini-arc and to be honest the climax to the second arc is a bit of a fizzle compared to the first.
Also, they aren’t making any effort to bring new viewers into the franchise through this series. If you don’t know these characters and their pre-existing relationships, you are going to really not get most of their interactions. On the bright side, no long winded exposition dump getting everyone up to speed. Downside, only those willing to watch the anime in order need apply.
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However, siblings Tatsuya and Miyuki are back. Their relationship remains complicated if a little obscure at times. The whole Shiba family remains relatively mysterious in terms of the power relationships at play and that is something I’m hoping I get a bit more of an insight into when I read the books. There is though a warning to those who don’t like any kind of incestuous reference that you are probably going to hate this pair. If that isn’t a deal breaker, there’s a genuine warmth and concern between these two characters that at times excludes all else going on in a scene and Miyuki can go to wanting to encase someone in ice forever to laughingly indulgent with one look from her stoic brother. Over the course of this series they get a lot of screen time as they mull over the events taking place and work together at times to bring them to a close. In that sense, Miyuki gets a far more active role in the action this time around rather than Tatsuya doing all the heavy lifting.
Of course, that doesn’t change that Tatsuya redefines overpowered. Again, those of you who find overpowered male characters who without a single word seem to have an entire harem form around them for reasons that really don’t seem overly realistic, Irregular probably won’t work for you. Tatsuya one-ups the cliché by not even having to scream and shout to get his rule breaking super powered skills going. Whether it is life or death or mere entertainment he remains cool and calm. Now, I find him a relatively nuanced character. It is subtle, but he does emote. However one of the key criticisms of season one was the protagonist being boring. Well, he hasn’t changed much. There’s a small evolution going on but it is again one you have to really watch for. I found it quite delightful seeing the small steps he’s taken and yet how he has remained true to his original stoic character mould that actually exists for a reason, but I get why other people don’t find him quite so entertaining.
Where the main pair retain everything that worked for them (and against them) in the first season, the rest of the Shiba’s classmates don’t fare so well. Mikihiko gets some moments to shine throughout the first ten episodes and the other characters all make various appearances. Erika plays the hot-headed one and Mizuki the shy one. Shizuku is over in America and literally phones in her appearance while Honoka remains head over heels for Tatsuya, though they did at least make that a plot point even if it didn’t make a lot of sense. The student council and members of prominent families Saegusa and Juumonji also return for a few tea side chats but scarcely serve any purpose other than exposition.
The new addition to the cast, exchange student ‘call me Lina’ is a blonde foreigner who manages to keep her cover for exactly zero minutes though they do make an effort at a reveal at the end of episode 3 (I guess for people who still use the 3 episode rule to determine if they’ll continue a series – amazing how many mini-climactic moments or to be continues occur on third episodes these days). She works well enough but at the end of the day this anime was already cluttered with characters crying out for some space and adding Lina plus her colleagues into the mix didn’t really add much other than more clutter.
Okay, that wasn’t strictly speaking fair. They did actually further develop one thing I absolutely love about this series, and that is the world building.
For those who don’t know, Irregular is set in the future where magic and technology are combined in some really interesting ways. The political situation is quite complicated and because we primarily follow high schoolers (even ones as well connected and seemingly as vital to everything as these ones) we never really see the whole picture. Lina did bring in some more of the politics behind the events though ultimately we’re left with only a murky view of the political picture leaving me plenty curious about the world beyond.
That is the one thing Irregular consistently does right. The world these characters are in doesn’t exist simply because they are playing out their story here leaving everything else feel superfluous. Things are going on all the time outside of our character’s control and that even the audience doesn’t really get much of a look at and the world continues to move whether our characters are playing at giving poisonous valentine gifts or out saving the country.
The antagonists in the first ten episodes serve well enough but ultimately their goals are a little on the murky side. As is Tatsuya’s reason for opposing them really. I get his friend got hurt but they all seem to get over that pretty fast, including said injured friend. The terrorist group of the final few episodes provides a potentially cleaner opponent and the foreshadowing for their arrival was nicely woven in through the various conversations earlier in the season, but with barely 3 episodes they end up being largely throw away.
From a technical point of view, The Irregular at Magic High School hasn’t really progressed from its 2014 roots. Crowd scenes are largely stills with panning or at one point some clumsy shaky-cam work while voices are played over the top. Even main characters when not actually speaking seem to be frozen in place with one character left pointing at her own face for nearly three lines of additional dialogue after emphasising ‘me’ in an earlier line. For me this isn’t a deal breaker but for those who are watching anime for some flowing and impressive animation, other than a couple of combat sequences where magic and martial arts get blended quite magnificently largely Irregular doesn’t deliver. The characters are cute though and despite the large number you can distinguish between them visually.
The opening and closing themes are serviceable though aren’t really going to stick in your memory. Likewise the visuals that accompany them. Thematic music throughout the series is more affective with some nicely built up tension in some scenes and lighter moments underscored quite beautifully as well.
I watched the majority of the series in English dub (mostly because I forgot I changed my AnimeLab settings that specify Japanese as my preferred language when watching another show with a friend and I didn’t realise that the Japanese was available until midway when suddenly they ran out of dubbed episodes). Both English and Japanese voice actors do a solid job keeping somewhat lengthy discussions moving along and add enough emotional nuance to at least give you something to pay attention to. My only real issue with the English dub is that the characters sound a lot less like high school students then they do in the Japanese.
For me, the joy of seeing the world again and revisiting with Tatsuya and Miyuki was definitely worth it and both major plot points are given some closure despite deliberate loose ends and sequel baiting. The magic scenes are solid, there’s enough incidental action to break up the conversations, and honestly even though the support cast didn’t get enough room to shine they are all charming in their own way. The only real issues are ones that existed in season one so those who liked this series should be relatively happy with this offering.
Images used for review from: The Irregular at Magic High School: Visitor Arc. Dir. R Yoshida. Aniplex et al. 2020.
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