Friday, September 30, 2016

The Irregular At Magic High School Volume 2: Review

With the fight stopped in volume one Tatsuya now works to figure out what caused the clash between the Kendo and Kenjutsu club while a movement to outlaw or fight for the suppression of unfair treatment and perceived discrimination against course two students and Non Magicians that looks to be fomenting political action and uses Tatsuya's classmate the Kendo club member Sayaka Mibu to recruit Tatsuya into this organization all these political actions lead to an open debate between the student group known as "The Coalition" and The Student Body President Mayumi Saegusa. Only to have the true intentions of the protesters revealed leading to revelations of political gamesmanship, terrorism, and shadowy conspiracies. Volume two draws "The Enrollment Arc" of The Irregular at Magic High School to a close and this is probably one of the more controversial volumes in the series. When the Anime originally ran from April 6, 2014, to September 27, 2014, it was a not too uncommon criticism to pillory the series as being Fascistic or promoting precepts found in Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophical movement (I would say Objectivism is a cult but I digress). Which is frankly baffling to since Rand's philosophy is based on a belief in what she termed "enlightened self-interest" and Mahouka seems more grounded in a philosophy of equality of opportunity and personal responsibility while promoting some kind of Meritocracy . The few speeches Tatsuya gives about equality and it's seemingly ephemeral nature seem pointed at those that want equality without defining what that would look like or take into account difference in ability. Not so much an attack on the concept of equality itself but more the hazy ill-defined use of the term. Philosophical questions about the nature of equality aside. The story itself has more of Sato's penchant for ornate almost byzantine world building with long stretches of the novel dedicated to describing the technical minutia of the magical system which can be soporific for those who would want a more action oriented novel as most of the novel is about Tatsuya trying to cobble together who the enemy is why they are the enemy and finally Tatsuya and his allies eliminating said enemies these parts can feel like they can take you out of the story I think it contributes to the realism of the world and really appreciate that Sato has put in the effort to continue to ground his world in its own fictional reality. In short, it's a very inward-looking and cerebral volume filled with unspoken interior dialogue and perception versus reality being a big theme in the book. With Tatsuya outwardly still being cool and aloof outwardly but inwardly often prone to snarky comebacks and hiding how he actually feels. Which makes me think that some undisclosed future revelation in his past is causing him to hide parts of his personality. This thankfully helps humanize Tatsuya even if it only feels incremental and the only real emotions he shows are towards his sister Miyuki or in bits and pieces with his school friends, in short, he still feels like a man apart craving normality but unable to attain it and driving him ever closer to his Sister. The few "slice of life" moments in the novel are actually my favorite parts of the novel. Be it Tatsuya ordering a cake for Miyuki and both of them enjoying it or the impromptu lunch between Tatsuya, Miyuki, Erika, Leo, and Mizuki in the practical magical test area giving an respite from the dark undertones of the series. While Miyuki is still almost perfect in every way and honestly I like her from her pouty little bouts of hero worship over her brother to her easy friendship with Erika and Mizuki to even the thinly veiled dark side she keeps hidden if anyone dares threaten her beloved Onii-sama. It makes for good layering of her character beyond the Yamato Nadeshiko tropes associated with her. Again this could make her a really flat character but it's this unwavering devotion to Tatsuya and his ideals that make me like her because it seems structured out of a place of for lack of a better term guilt instead of just weirdly obsessive love. The few comedic elements in the novel also help from Mari teasing Tatsuya about "dominating" Sayaka Mibu only to have Tatsuya retort by referencing Mari's boyfriend causing Mari to flusteredly defend her boyfriend. While Mayumi tries to control her laughter and Miyuki starts "leaking" ice magic out of jealousy. Mayumi gets probably my favorite moment in the novel where she shuts down the anti-magic discrimination coalition's arguments using facts, logic, and charm to defeat the ill-defined arguments of the opposition. Also, Sato has thoroughly improved his grasp of writing a fight scene gone are the confused close ups and jumbled descriptions with the fight in the final half being a tense almost execution in an abandoned factory or the school invasion of terrorists with Leo's fight with his close quarters CAD being particularly well wrought as it flows well with descriptive dialogue and action feeling seamless. Sato also has some odd stylistic quirks in his writing such as using parenthesized question marks in sentences. Which at times throws off the flow of the story or simply feels confusing I have no idea why it's done but I find it more baffling than actively bad. Also, a few typos where in my copy which is depressing for a professionally translated and released novel to have but editors and proofreaders are human so it's not that egregious and I'm more bemused than angry about it. While the end of the novel also introduces probably the biggest change in the world of Mahouka with the introduction of The Ten Master Clans a shadowy cabal of Magicians imbued with powers beyond those of the police or the state all while the clans are kept as a kind of stockpile of living human weapons. So while they may wield unprecedented power it is within a context of being trapped in a gilded cage and tied up in internecine political intrigue within the 10 clan system. Making for some dark elements outside of the battles and school days setting of the first novel. In conclusion volume two wraps up The Enrollment Arc neatly while also developing the world more than some would find bearable. Other than the misgivings about the political or philosophical points the novel tries to make I think the world building would be the biggest deal breaker for most as it can feel like it brings any story progression to a screeching halt so things can be explained in depth. Along with the cold almost clinical detachment of the narrative voice. In conclusion volume two of The Irregular At Magic High School improves in crafting action giving Tatsuya more interiority and the few quirky punctuation choices by the author aside. This makes for a smoother reading experience with a less jumbled or confused handling of dialogue. One final note while I normally adore Kana Ishida's illustrations a few of the illustrations included in this volume feel misproportioned.

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