Monday, May 2, 2016

The Irregular At Magic High School Volume One Review

After it's genesis as a web novel to being adapted into a 2014 Anime that drew wildly differing opinions with some hating it as an overly “talky” Sci-Fi power fantasy with questionable political subtext. To manga spin-offs. The Irregular At Magic High School in its original novel form gets a release in North America thanks to Yen Press. Up front, I am a huge fan of this series's Anime adaptation that I've seen The Enrollment Arc three times. The Irregular At Magic High School set in the year 2095 in an alternate future where magic is now a quantifiable scientific resource replete with its own special training academies for those that show enough promise in wielding it. The focus of the story is Tatsuya Shiba the titular Irregular an often taciturn but brilliant high school student who due to low practical scores on a standardized magic test is put in the “remedial course” known officially as Course Two of First Academy while his younger sister Miyuki is the best student in the “advanced course” known officially as Course One. While also focusing on other students that enter into the siblings lives such as seemingly Coquettish School President Mayumi Saegusa, peppery and feisty Erika Chiba who along with Tatsuya is a course two student and becomes friends with Miyuki. Shy Mizuki Shibata (who also becomes friends with Miyuki and harbors delusions that Tatsuya and Miyuki are a “couple”). Along with a number of other secondary and incidental characters that either become friends or rivals for the Shiba siblings. In between character growth and plot development author Tsutomu Sato crafts the world that makes the technology and structure of the world believable while explanations of magic can be hard to understand at times feeling convoluted or overwriten. While the worldbuilding is the largest part of the novel it never gets tedious instead it gave it a grounded realistic feel avoiding doing things for the sake of convenience or using the future as a narrative crutch to explain away plot holes or improbabilities. While the narrative structure switches between a third person omniscient and second person objective and occasional interior monologs. This was a little disorienting in some the fight scenes as it was hard to tell what character was being focused on until a name was mentioned. It's an interesting writing style mimicking the kind of close-ups and panoramic shots one would see in cinema but feels clumsy in execution in spots although given the perspective of characters and not knowing who everyone is helped add to the realism as the characters would not know everyone else right away. Tatsuya for his part as a protagonist is outwardly inscrutable, cold, and often enigmatic while inwardly he is more a detached observer trying to be two steps ahead while hints of an enigmatic past show up in his almost militant protection of his younger sister. Acting less like a big brother and more like a hard boiled bodyguard while also hinting that they may be the only emotional support the other has. While Miyuki only has eyes for her brother this could make her an annoying stereotype and if implied Incest is a turn off this book might best be avoided. Sato writes her with enough undercurrents of emotion with the almost incestual feeling she harbors for her brother seeming to be made from a much darker place than the usual Siscon fantasies found in other series. While overall she is seemingly perfect this could make her an annoying Mary Sue but that just raises all the old metatextual controversies about the trope and whether a Mary Sue can be written well I'd say Miyuki is well written in the few introspective moments in the novel. I guess it would depend on how obnoxious you find a character that the story goes out of its way to praise as perfect, of course, this could be some kind of irony on the author's part sort of criticism of perception versus reality. As Miyuki is also shown to be violently jealous of any girl that looks to be taking Tatsuya's affections. With Tatsuya haveing to calm her down it's funny in a grim kind of way, though. That gets to the girls in this series Tatsuya becomes the object of the attentions of several girls in the series this ranges from Erika being an acquaintance of his to working under Mari Watanabe the head of The Discipline Council who subconsciously exudes some kind of pheromone-like magic that triggers arousal in Tatsuya but gets shut down by some kind of mental conditioning. Then there is Mayumi admittedly I love this little slip of an imp while Tatsuya for his part mostly seems bemused by the Student Body President's antics when not outright annoyed. Now as to why I love Mayumi it's that prim and proper girl persona hiding a teasing sometimes self-conscious girl that makes me smile. Mari and Erika get probably the only instances of what could be described as fan service in the novel in descriptions of Mari's legs and Erika haveing to readjust her shirt after getting jostled in a crowd. While an illustration of Miyuki in her bra and panties by illustrator Kana Ishida feels like an addition to set the scene. Ishida's illustrations have a young and fresh quality to them with the characters looking young but not so young as to look pre-pubescent. While the future honestly seems like a cleaner Cyberpunk I came up with the phrase “Preppy Cyberpunk" to describe it for lack of anything else. With an outwardly crisp and clean society with burbling social unrest underneath. If the barely hidden classism of some First Course students is any hint I expect later volumes will flesh out the socio-political questions and how it is dealt with. As is this volume sets up a strangely prim dystopia the world where even seemingly elite students are the victims of “soft bigotry” of their own. While the power set of the students hint at everything from enhanced weaponry to psychic ice bullets making it diverse and avoiding the nebulous "ESPer Powers" sometimes used in Scifi in wich nothing is really defined or made tangible. Tsutomu Sato has constructed a world filled with a dark underbelly hiding under its seemingly pristine futurist gloss with alienated families, confused feelings, and unspoken bonds. Engrossing in it's the world and occasionally funny or sad in its interaction with characters. The Irregular At Magic High School is a series that deserves a hearing as it has something to say what that will is will be found out in later volumes as is this a solid introduction to the world a somewhat divisive series.

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