Mia Baumann has a purpose. She’s dedicated her life to finding the cure for Demon Claw—a crippling autoimmune disease both highly contagious and indiscriminate in its victims—after her mother was forcefully separated from her and placed in a sanatorium quarantine a decade before. Alongside the other major, mysterious disease of her home country, Angel Tears, the two illnesses are the only things afflicting the otherwise peaceful Isea Kingdom’s residents. With only the well-wishes from her deceased mentor and the scant letters previously received from her mother as encouragement, Mia enrolls as a pharmacology student at the prestigious Royal Academy with dreams of developing medicine. When she finds herself ostracized after helping the most popular boy at the Academy (as well as multitudes of her fellow first-years) and her ambitions for finding a cure are crushed in bizarre and insidious ways, she comes to realize her dreams might be much more complicated than she could ever expect.
Mia and the Forbidden Medicine Report is a single-volume shojo light novel of the type that publisher Cross Infinite Worlds specializes in. Like all of this publisher’s books, Mia is a digital-only release. Written by Fumi Yamamoto, translated by Charis Messier and including illustrations by Nikata, the story sticks to many (if not all) of the expected tropes of the genre, but surety in the story, mystery, characters and larger setting allows much to be forgiven. There is possibility and opportunity for a sequel, but this book is self-contained.
Shojo light novels are a rarity in the current pool of titles being licensed and released in English. In a market filled with male power-fantasy isekai, NisiOisiN and not much else, it can sometimes be easy to forget the breadth of titles available in Japan. Although relying on pretty basic shojo tropes, the depth of the world-building that Yamamoto has dedicated to the steampunk-infused magical society means that you barely get bogged by it. Trying to explain anything in this book in simple overview will do it injustice, but I’ll give my best attempt.
First and foremost is the Royal Academy. The standards used for structures and the function of any generic ‘private school’ in fiction is nowadays common, and with the inclusion of a society that has magic the comparisons with Harry Potter seem inevitable. As such, the Royal Academy is broken into four schools:
- Law, the most respected and oldest school. Only the children of the wealthy have a chance to join, and many are expected to become future leaders of the country. Their tie color is purple.
- Magic, established to hone the skills of mages. Closely linked with the royal magical army, their ties are red to match (and hearken to) the red-irised eyes of mages with strong magic.
- Medicine, established in a knee-jerk attempt to understand the terrible diseases throughout the country. This school requires the highest grades and hardest work, but is still regarded as lesser than the previous two schools. Their ties are blue.
- Pharmacology. The least-respected of the four schools, the students study medicine development and uses. They work closely with the Medicine school, and are often regarded as a pair. Their ties are green.
Despite the similarities to a plethora of ‘magic academy’ stories, Mia and the Forbidden Medicine Report personally reminds me much more of Snow White with the Red Hair than Harry Potter, in both the writing and the character interaction. The motivation and single-mindedness of Mia in her goal is unwavering, and it’s wonderful to see a new light novel license lead by a head-strong young woman. Her personal convictions are understandable, even if they sometimes waver into irrationality, and motivate both the reader and her friends into supporting her cause.
The story starts with her enrollment. The ceremony is interrupted by a magic student afflicted with Angel Tears wielding a knife, and in the aftermath she is the only one to respond immediately to aid the injured. Years of working in a medical clinic under her former mentor taught her useful skills, and she sets about helping anyone in need. Amongst those is Felix—a Law student both handsome and smart—unhurt by the knife, but crippled in a major panic attack. Without missing a beat, she helps him re-steady his breathing as he regains himself, and her kindness and patience instantly endears her to him.
His friendship and attention brings along the hatred of the other girls in their year though, and the forced isolation finds her constantly bullied and berated by the entirety of the first years across all four schools. Things come to a head when others learn of her personal goal. When Mia announces her plans on finding a cure for Demon Claw as the topic of her Grand Plan (thesis, basically) for the next several years, she’s only met with disgust and horror from her fellow pharmacology students. Unlike Angel Tears, which has decades of research put behind it and moderate cures, Demon Claw is considered dirty and abhorrent. So contagious it can be spread by touch alone, the stigma is enough for most to recoil from. By admitting her mother’s condition, Mia effectively becomes a leper herself, and without anyone to join her research group, she despairs at the injustice.
The only exceptions to the social discrimination are Henrick, a serious medicine student whom Mia met during registration; Mathias, a hulking mage from the magic school and close friend of Felix; and Felix himself.
The four band together for the Grand Plan submission, and from there even more trouble arises—Professor Reuger denying each paper they submit, rising disagreements and jealousy within the group, and a physical attack on Mia from an unknown source are just a few of the troubles the four encounter. With every passing day the realities of researching Demon Claw becomes even more dangerous, but she’s dedicated to following through. Self-reliant to a fault, there are also personal struggles Mia needs to overcome, and it’s only after (properly) accepting the help of the others that the group uncovers a conspiracy far beyond what any of them would have realized on their own.
That barely scratches the surface of everything simmering in this story, but the minutiae of detail that has gone into the book is overwhelming—which is amazing, as nothing ever came across as confusing or convoluted whilst reading it. Early on, there are several exposition passages that slow down the pacing in order to explain the world, the politics, the expectation, but they become non-existent the further along into the book you go. I wouldn’t say the writing was particularly riveting—with several instances of describing characters’ features or outfits in unnaturally fine detail, or obvious twists and character actions being used as if unexpected—but there was never a time I was particularly bored reading it. In fact, the most inconsistent part was the tone of certain mysteries. Felix and Mathias’ identities are a secret to Mia, but not the reader (or, not really), so the level of subterfuge they sometimes emphasized seemed farcical, especially when Henrick would break any doubt pretty immediately afterward. If it was a tactic by Yamamoto to show off Henrick’s intelligence, it backfired—especially with how lackluster both Felix and Mathias seemed about being secretive for most of the book.
In that sense, Mia and the Forbidden Medicine Report seems suited to a younger subset of readers than myself. The story has a moderate level of interesting aspects in regards to the setting, but fans of mystery may find this a little too obvious—this isn’t Christie, after all. Anyone familiar with male characters in shojo will recognize aspects in the three of our male leads, but I did appreciate the additional depth, vulnerability and genuineness that Yamamoto gave Felix to elevate him from just ‘the popular guy’. Neither Mathias or Henrick really had the opportunity to show much range of character, but they performed their roles sufficiently. If we ever see a second book, I’d be interested in knowing more about those two.
Mia and the Forbidden Medicine Report isn’t a must-read, but it does give a welcome break from the usual. Shojo and otome fans, or people looking for a female-led book, will likely enjoy this particular story filled with magic, dedication and intrigue, and the characters are endearingly genuine. Mia is a heroine you can’t help but want to support throughout the events, and the satisfaction of the ending is well-deserved.
Gee’s rating: Worth a look.
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