3 Ways Magic Can Undermine Good Anime

Magic Undermines

“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Magic is one of those things that most of us take for granted in stories. Given our earliest bedtime stories contain tales of princesses kissing frogs and fairy godmothers who wave their wands and fix all problems it makes sense that we are trained to accept a certain amount of whimsy in our narratives. Those of us who veer into the fantasy and speculative genres further learn to suspend disbelief and embrace all manner of magical systems.

We’ll happily nod along as Ed explains the fundamental rules of alchemy to a layman (Fullmetal Alchemist) and are more or less willing to believe that there are cute little beings from other worlds who can grant wishes turning ordinary girls into magical ones and ultimately creating witches and disasters (Madoka Magica).

However there’s a genuine difference between suspending disbelief and suspending basic reasoning and common sense. Most viewers expect at least internal consistency or a reasonable explanation for how things play out within a story (some don’t but that’s fine). For me, nothing can more quickly undermine a story than the characters coming across a seemingly insurmountable obstacle and then one of the characters simply making it go away with some as yet unseen power or ability and no real consequence for them breaking pre-established rules. Maybe I’m just nit-picky. Okay, I know I’m nit-picky but I really do like things to at least make contextual sense even if outside of the narrative they make little sense.

While there are plenty of anime that I could look at that have at times been guilty of undermining their own narratives through the less than strategic use of a magical deus ex machina I’m going to focus on three examples and then turn the discussion over to you, my readers, for your own examples and opinions on whether it matters that the fictional magic make sense in an anime. Heads up though: spoilers below.

Example One

Sailor Moon S: The Movie has a number of issues outside of its use of power within the sailor moon universe. Basically it is an extended Sailor Moon episode with a villain of the week showing up aiming to freeze the planet and the only real character development comes from Luna’s sudden desire to be human for a day to make a human’s wish come true. However, as a Sailor Moon story it works as it brings all the usual Sailor antics into play including all the other scouts and Tuxedo Mask getting side-lined for the finale so that Usagi can save the day.

Sailor Moon in Sailor Moon S The Movie - using the imperium silver crystal

So far, so ordinary. The scouts transform and make magical fire, lightning and a range of other attacks appear out of nothing all the time. Plus they manage to avoid freezing to death while wearing leotards in a snow storm. Surely that kind of lets them do what they like in terms of magic within the story.

Except, it was well established pretty early on in Sailor Moon after Usagi first took possession of the silver crystal that using it came at a pretty big cost. Something that powerful would more or less make any kind of villain pointless so they needed to limit it in someway. Even within Sailor Moon S: The Movie, the other characters caution Sailor Moon not to use the crystal or she’ll die. The world is getting frozen, the scouts are out for the count, and they are still pleading with Usagi not to do it.

And then she does. Crystal comes out, lots of flashing light, and problem solved. As an added bonus, she wishes for Luna’s wish to come true, and ta-da. Zero consequences faced or explanation as to why she can suddenly just use the crystal to do whatever the narrative needs.

Realistically, this didn’t just make the end of this particular movie seem weak, it actually made most of the events in the Sailor Moon universe seem a little trite. If Usagi can actually wield the crystal without consequence, and make it do more or less whatever she needs it to do, why do the scouts even need to exist? For that matter, why do any villains ever get to attack Earth? Surely Usagi could just create a barrier around the planet and then go and get a milkshake.

This is a case where even a pre-existing magical McGuffin was poorly written within a story and the results were definitely less than satisfying even to a moon maniac like myself. This movie remains one of my least favourite entries into the Sailor Moon franchise.

Example Two

The Irregular at Magic High School has a really interesting take on magic. Rather than characters using spells and chants, they’ve combined magic and science and casters generally use a CAD (casting assistance device) to pretty much instantly produce magic. Essentially the magician provides the magic while the CAD contains the sequence and ensures the correct magical effect is actually produced.

However a CAD can only hold so many sequences and specialised CAD that produce very cool effects are even more limited in the number of sequences they can produce. Not to mention the devices are pretty costly and require fairly regular maintenance.

There’s been a lot of thought put into the system and it establishes why certain characters focus on particular kinds of magic and why casting speed is of great importance to the magicians. It also allows for new magical developments and through engineering and reprograming, tweaks to be made to existing magical effects.

All of that would be fine except that Tatsuya, the central character and the irregular, kind of does whatever he needs to do however he needs to do it. While it is established that he does things his own way early on in the series, his casting of a spell through snapping his fingers in season one and his solution to the final conflict in the Visitor Arc more or less make you wonder why anyone else bothers doing anything when he is around.


His favourite trick is largely just undoing other people’s activation sequences neutralising their magic. But there’s really yet to be any kind of magic or challenge that Tatsuya hasn’t been able to eventually see through or just make better with seemingly little effort. While it is nice to see a relatively self-assured protagonist who gets on with things without all the screaming and yelling, it is difficult to really feel a sense of tension in the story as we know Tatsuya is going to magically make everything all better again anyway.

And there is the narrative drama. Sure his friends might get caught up in situations or injured when he isn’t around. And there’s a whole bunch of political shenanigans going on around him that he has little control over and unless he wants to be a mass murderer all the power in the world won’t fix. But ultimately, once his power is unleashed and he’s decided to do something, it is more or less a given that he is going to succeed.

It will be interesting to see how the story deals with that and gets around him as the story progresses but having such a rule breaking main character has certainly created a few problems in terms of upping the stakes in a meaningful way.

Example Three

Finally, I am going to use an example that is actually a problem from the premise. Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card has always kind of bothered me. Not because of the story itself, because once it gets going it is the usual Cardcaptor kind of thing. Some kind of magical phenomenon occurs, Sakura goes to capture it using cards with powers she’s already captured. She combines them in interesting ways at times, but she’s been doing that since the beginning. Though getting Syaoran wings was a very cool use of her power and he looked utterly adorable.


My issue with Clear Card is that it feels like it undermines everything that came before it. We started off with Sakura collecting Clow cards that she let escape from the box. It was a straight forward issue of being her responsibility to catch them all given she was the one who unleashed them. The next drama involved turning the cards into Sakura cards and making them her own. That all makes perfectly logical sense.

Then to kick of Clear Card, Sakura has a dream and all the cards turn clear. It kind of feels like a fairly poor excuse to make Sakura, once again, go through the process of finding and catching each of these abilities. Once was logical. The second time was a reasonable build on the basic premise and had the added emotional high of seeing Sakura come into her own power. Clear card feels trite. Like next the cards will all turn black and she’ll have to face the darkness to reclaim them. Then they will all glow like rainbows. And so on and so forth to keep the franchise stretching literally forever.

Magic is a wondrous thing and Cardcaptor actually has a pretty good handle on its internal logic within each arc of its story. However, at some point it feels like the writers need to realise the idea has played out and that they need to move on.


Whether it is pulling magical powers out of nowhere without consequence, characters who already exist outside of established rules making tension and buy-in a challenge, or over-stretching a magical concept for the sake of perpetuating a franchise, none of these are complete deal breaks for a narrative. However, they do all show weaknesses of using magic within stories and some of the pit-falls that a story can fall into if the writers aren’t half-awake.

The magic of a good story happens when all of the ingredients work together. Magic isn’t an instant fix or an easy set up for a conflict. It is something that needs to be integrated into the world of the story and as such needs rules and limits in order for it to make sense and to provide satisfaction.

At least, that’s how I feel. But now I’m turning over to my readers and asking for your examples of magic that has undermined an anime or alternatively, situations where magic has been used really well to really make a story sing.

Images used in article from:

  • The Irregular at Magic High School: Visitor Arc. Dir. R Yoshida. Aniplex et al. 2020.
  • Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card. Dir M Asaka. Madhouse. 2018
  • Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal. Dir. M Sakai. Toei Animation. 2014

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James

The Irregular At Magic High School: Visitor Arc Series Review

Irregular Review

When magic and science meet with explosive results in the Visitor Arc.

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.

Title screen for The Irregular at Magic High School (red)
Title Screen-

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.

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.

Image from The Irregular at Magic High School - Tatsuya and Miyuki talk with their aunt
-Miyuki and Tatsuya conversing with their relative, totally ordinary family interactions-

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.

Image from The Irregular at Magic High School - Mikihiko, Erika, Saegusa and Juumonji react
– I think they are just mad because they all realised they aren’t the protagonist here. –

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.

Image from The Irregular at Magic High School - Saegusa offers toxic chocolate to Tatsuya for Valentine's day in typical anime cliché sequence
-Yep, it’s the old ‘beautiful girl offers toxic chocolate on Valentine’s day’ cliché at play-

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.

Image from The Irregular at Magic High School - Explosion shown in prologue and forms catalyst for events
-Pretty explosions as well, though pretty standard for anime at this point.-

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.

Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James