Anime shows of the fantasy/magical genre set in high schools or involving high school students, has always been around. Anime is mostly fantasy after all. They’ll all have the budgets for quality graphics and effects. So what sets a show of this cliche apart from the others thus heavily depends on the narrative/plot (e.g. the genre-deconstructing Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica) and the show’s ability to really let viewers feel invested in its characters (Zetsuen no Tempest) . Does Mahou Sensou live up so far?
In the Winter 2014 line-up, Mahou Sensou competes in this genre (also set in high schools) with Strike the Blood and Tokyo Ravens (both from Autumn 2013), Sekai Seifuku and Witch Craft Works (WCW). This is not an easy genre to stand out from and unfortunately, like so many before it, Mahou Sensou fails to qualify among the greats of the fantasy/magic. I’ve not been following Sekai or WCW but if you’re looking for a bit of high school magic every week then I’d recommend Strike the Blood (and to a lesser extent Tokyo Ravens) instead. I’ve only stayed around so long because Mahou Sensou features Suzumura Kenichi, Fukuyama Jun, Morikawa Toshiyuki and Nakai Kazuya as supporting characters to Miyano Mamoru and Touyama Nao‘s lead.
The story’s the usual regular high school boy Nanase Takeshi (Miyano Mamoru) rescues mysterious girl Aiba Miu (Touyama Nao) and ends up getting himself embroiled in the as titled Magical Warfare. At least WCW tried to play against the boy-rescues-girl trope by reversing it… Moving on. What’s going on in the parallel magic world is a war between 2 factions of mages – one for world destruction and the other trying to save the world. Far too simply for my liking, our main protagonist and his friends Ida Kazumi (Suzumura Kenichi) and Isoshima Kurumi (Seto Asami) find themselves suddenly able to wield magic because they’ve been exposed to the magic fairy dust Miu’s used in the midst of battle. They consequentially enroll in magic school (no questions asked) while Miu, herself a high school student, continues to secretly seek out the enemy because they’ve brainwashed her brother Aiba Tsuganashi (youthful Morikawa Toshiyuki yay!) and she wants him back. Bad guys try to stop her, big brother Tsuganashi is a pain every time Miu whines for him to come back, Miu gets in trouble sneaking out against strict orders from school to not participate in the war since the students are technically too inexperienced, our main characters and his friends of course go help her because they either have a death wish having so quickly accepted their magical powers or they just really can’t stand by and let Miu go on her own. Unimaginative cliche stuff but that’s all we’ve got of the story.
The holes in this anime are staggeringly huge. 6 episodes in and we’re left with way too many questions than a decent plot line ought to have. Why has this war started? Why is the magic school principal herself a student (why are they always…)? How did Tsuganashi go over to the dark side? How are some of the bad guys themselves actually students in the magic school? What sort of magic can erase memories and restore them? How is Takeshi, Kazumi and Kurumi coping with all this information overload and relate to their once normal existence? How is it that there seems to be no issue about changing schools from their families? I know magic’s not logical but how on earth does a kendo wooden bo-ken (sword) stand up to a magic-infused real sword??? These are all basic narratives required in order to have a proper flow of story because without them, there’s no solid foundation for a good story to be built upon, even if the staff decide to answer things in flashback later on. No one even bothers explaining the core magic part of things!
There’s some interest in a Twilight character from the past of whom’s magical sword Takeshi has all too conveniently inherited (who on earth would just leave a sword from a powerful sorcerer in the school’s weaponry warehouse?). Otherwise, the show tries to be dark for dark’s sake. Takeshi’s dark past with his family is neither explained nor used in developing his character as his magical powers grow. Kurumi’s dark past of being target no. 1 of all men is neither explained nor used in showing her character growth with the empowerment of magic. Kazumi’s just… I’m not even sure what his past is (sister-con?) – Suzumura Kenichi‘s just doing his best to give Kazumi some shape every single episode. And Miu! Just… huh? Her brother complex has left her very unfortunately one-dimensional even her (predictable) crush on Takeshi doesn’t lend her any weight in giving her character more sympathy in this war, of which she would have had plenty if we got a decent background to Tsuganashi’s defection.
I’m so dissatisfied with the good guys that I think the only way for this show to turn around is to actually have the bad guys win the war and destruct magic world to start all over again. The art’s standard, the effects far too short to be of worth and the music hasn’t left much of an impression. Nothing’s magical and the action’s hardly warfare territory. The one redemption is the supporting casts’ voice acting as well as Miyano Mamoru‘s serious Takeshi – I’m not a fan of his except during such serious dark roles because otherwise he just sounds too hyperactive for my liking; he does a very good job here compared to his other serious voice used in Nobunaga The Fool. But I’ve come so far and the support of SuzuKen, Junjun (I’ve never heard his voice go any deeper before than he does here, whilst concurrently juggling Chuunibyou & Hamatora no less), Morikawa-sama, Nakai and Miyano Mamoru has so far made the show tolerable. Hopefully things do turn around in the second half so the final review isn’t as much of a rant as this one. Whoever Kazuma is, please wake up soon because as the next new character to be introduced, you might be this show’s hope of a turnaround.