For general information on this series: The Irregular at Magic High School entry
~A guest review by Aaron~
Since its genesis as a web novel, The Irregular at Magic High School went on to be 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. Along with manga spin-offs, the original story’s light novel form has gotten a release in North America thanks to Yen Press. Up front, I am a huge fan of this series’ anime adaptation and have seen the Enrollment Arc three times.
The Irregular At Magic High School is 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 who show enough promise in wielding it. The focus of the story is on the titular Irregular Tatsuya Shiba, 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. Meanwhile other students enter into the siblings’ lives, including the seemingly coquettish school president Mayumi Saegusa, the peppery and feisty Erika Chiba (who along with Tatsuya is a Course Two student and becomes friends with Miyuki), and the shy Mizuki Shibata (who also becomes friends with Miyuki and harbors delusions that Tatsuya and Miyuki are a “couple”).
In between character growth and plot development, author Tsutomu Sato crafts the world that makes the technology and structure of the world believable, though the explanations of magic can be hard to understand at times and feel convoluted or overwritten. The narrative structure meanwhile switches between a third-person omniscient and second-person objective, with the occasional interior monologues mingled in. This was a little disorienting in some of 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 close-ups and panoramic shots one would find in cinema, but it feels clumsy at times.
Tatsuya for his part as a protagonist is outwardly inscrutable, cold, and often enigmatic, while inwardly he is more a detached observer always trying to stay two steps ahead. Hints of his mysterious 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–but also hinting that they may each be the only emotional support the other has. Meanwhile Miyuki only has eyes for her brother, which could make her an annoying stereotype–and if implied incest is a turn-off then this book might best be avoided. Sato writes her with enough undercurrents of emotion that the almost incestual feelings she harbors for her brother seem to stem from a much darker source than what is found in most siscon fantasies of other series. Overall she is seemingly perfect, which could make her an annoying “Mary Sue” — but I’d say Miyuki is well-written in the few introspective moments she has in the novel. This could be some kind of irony on the author’s part–a sort of criticism of perception versus reality. Miyuki is also shown to be violently jealous of any girl that appears to be taking Tatsuya’s affections, and his subsequent efforts to calm her down is funny in a grim kind of way.
Kana Ishida’s illustrations have a young and fresh quality to them with the characters looking young but not prepubescent. And as for the future portrayed here, I came up with the phrase “preppy cyberpunk” to describe the series’ general style, which features 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 some socio-political issues and show how they are dealt with. As this volume sets up a strangely prim dystopia, the story portrays even elite students becoming the victims of “soft bigotry” of their own. Meanwhile the powers of the students encompass everything from enhanced weaponry to psychic ice bullets, making it diverse and avoiding the nebulous “ESPer powers” sometimes used in sci-fi in which nothing is really defined or made tangible.
Tsutomu Sato has constructed a world filled with alienated families, confused feelings, and unspoken bonds. With an engrossing world and occasionally funny or sad interactions between characters, The Irregular At Magic High School is a series that deserves a hearing. As a solid introductory volume to the world, this somewhat divisive story has something to say that will surely be expanded upon in later volumes.
Aaron’s Rating: Highly Recommended