Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei 01 Review

“Start of school Part I”「入学編I」

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Now THIS is how you do a high school magic anime. This opening episode hit all the right buttons and much, much more. I’m very pleased that expectations have been met and can’t wait for episode 02!

Balance. For an opening episode, Mahouka did really well in balancing so many different elements: the introduction of the world as it is now, magicians as important war resource, the emotional range of characters (and number of them), the theme of discrimination at school between the blooms and weeds and at home between the treatment of Tatsuya and Miyuki, the sibling relationship (still a bit too close for comfort, more on that later), friendship loyalties, secrets preferring to stay hidden, protagonist’s secret past (was he in the army just 3 years ago?), the intrigue of numbers (activation sequence?), hand-to-hand combat (haven’t seen that sort of fluid animation in awhile), magic combat, a cafeteria fight (it’s really only episode 1! Most fights aren’t till episode 2 or 3 usually), an after-school fight, the student council, the disciplinary committee and even a shinobi! Whew that’s quite a list. Accomplishing all that while planting enough hints (just who really is sensei? does she know Tatsuya from 3 years ago?) and mystery along the way to really whet anyone’s appetite for more, damnit production staff you’ve really set the bar high for this season’s animes.

Smooth. This episode was smooth from start to finish. And I’m not even talking about the animation. The script, the scene transitions and editing, the storyline and narrative – everything worked out well to just lightly touch and go on each of the various elements, slowly culminating with that after school fight (ridiculous to you and me, but not so for the blooming idiots who insist the Shiba siblings shouldn’t walk home together) and calming down to a brilliant display of character on Tatsuya. He’s clearly the smart, mature, silent and stoic type and it’s LOVELY to watch and follow him on screen. I love analytical shows and especially the analytical, smart, silent kind of protagonist (Shiroe in Log Horizon‘s my latest fav). When the main character is this fascinating, it goes to show that there’ll be a lot of draw to keep viewers hooked through at least the first half of the season.

Tropes. Or more like, playing on tropes. The brother-complex is without doubts going to be a big part of Mahouka. Thankfully, it’s not reciprocated with a sister-complex, although I must say there were certain scenes I just can’t imagine any real-life siblings ever doing to each another – who touches their younger sister’s face like that? I’d turn red too! Some reviewers may say Tatsuya has a subconscious sis-con but I think it’s simply an older brother looking out for his younger sister (loved it when he rescued Miyuki from Yakumo-sensei) and especially when you think about how it’s just the 2 of them relying on one another, such closeness is borne out of true sibling love (not the incest type mind you!), care and concern – Tatsuya even comments with a very straight face that Miyuki’s misunderstood his intentions sometimes. Put yourself in Miyuki’s shoes though. She genuinely knows she owes her life to Tatsuya (can’t wait till they expend on this more in later arcs) so in her own way and in her own world, her very existence is meant as a repayment of sorts to him. The other play on trope comes in the form of Shibata Mizuki, every anime’s resident 巨乳 well-endowed female character. That bounce is inevitable – most anime DVD sales are from the male target audience. But rather than that, Tatsuya’s more intrigued by her glasses – megane fetish? That’s what I first thought anyway. Nope, the writers are playing on that trope too and wove it into the storyline, revealing more about just how observant Tatsuya constantly is. Really good writing here folks!

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Overall, this was an absolute treat of a first episode. Captain Earth is the other strong contender for best opening episode of Spring 2014 but objectively, I think Mahouka wins hands down. Don’t get me wrong, Captain Earth has the makings of being in a league of its own side by side with the Gundam franchise but its production staff (director, writer) + studio + music composer is the same team that gave us Star Driver, which can be gently felt in Captain Earth – Moco’s mecha design looks straight out of Star Driver and the insert songs even sound similar. On the other hand, the Mahouka team brings its own strength to the table and with skilful direction, creates an adaptation that actually works together so nothing feels familiar even though it’s the most familiar genre out there in anime.

Kudos to Hayami Saori for a Miyuki that’s definitely moe as per Yakumo-sensei – she sounds like a mix of Noto Mamiko and Sakamoto Maaya, but mostly for renditioning a sister that’s strong, brave (it takes guts to speak in front of so many people on the first day of school no less) and knows when to let go of oniisama. Hurray for not being tsundere! Special mention also to Iwasaki Taku’s OST. We got some piano keys and house music all in the same episode – already looking forward to this OST. That’s what I like about Iwasaki. He has a signature style but it doesn’t permeate so obviously throughout all his works (you know I love your works Sawano Hiroyuki but the Guilty Crown OST, Shingeki no Kyoujin OST and Kill la Kill OST all have the same style it’s becoming a bit of an overkill…).

Lastly, I noticed in the credits that KUSANAGI is working on the background art. If there’s any background wallpaper you should use on your computers, it’s KUSANAGI’s. Trust me on this. The guy is background art king – Black Butler, No.6, Shinsekai Yori, Magi, FMA, Gundam 00 etc. his works are really for your viewing pleasure. Combined with the fluid sequences we’ve seen in Madhouse put to task with, my only worry is if this opening episode’s standard is too hard to keep up with consistently for the next 25 episodes.

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