What They Say:
The last few years haven’t been easy for Takeshi Nanase. His parents are distant, his little brother despises him since “the accident,” and his relationship with his girlfriend isn’t exactly romantic. Even one of the few high points in his existence, studying the Japanese sword fighting technique of Kendo, seems to be a dead end.
He’s got a definite knack for it, but it’s not something that’s likely to have any practical application in a future career – or so he thinks until he runs into an unconscious girl in an unknown uniform and suddenly has his world turned upside-down. In short order, he’s being held at (magical) gunpoint, rescuing damsels in distress, and finding himself facing off with a group of magic users!
But as shocking as finding his life in danger and learning that magic is real may be, what’s even more stunning is the revelation that Takeshi’s been changed into a magician himself! So maybe those sword lessons aren’t going to end up being so irrelevant after all!
The audio presentation for this show is pretty good overall as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the new English language track, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is one that plays to familiar angles as it has a decent mix of action and dialog, but gets to stretch a bit more with the action side. Since it plays within the realm of magic, it moves across the screen more and uses the sound field to good effect, keeping it engaging and creative at times with the depth and overall placement. The dialog gets some of this as well because of the way the action unfolds, but beyond that it moves in generally expected ways without a lot of real impact in your normal scenes. But the dialog itself is clean and comes across well without any problems such as dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episode series is spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by Madhouse, the show is one that definitely looks good with its design and fluid animation as Madhouse largely puts the budget on the screen here. There’s some great digital effects with the magic throughout and the characters have some very appealing fluidity to their movements in the battles and elsewhere. There’s some great detail to the designs as well that lets it feel like it’s stepped up a few notches, resulting in a visually strong show that the transfer captures very well. Colors are solid throughout, detail holds together great and there’s no problems such as line noise or breakup within it. It’s a very good looking transfer overall that brings the show to life.
The packaging for this release brings us a standard-sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs against the interior walls. The cover artwork is one of the more familiar promotional pieces as it has Mui in the center, wielding her gun, while the background has explosions and smoke across it. It does include the lead male character of Takeshi, but he’s behind her and mostly we just get his head coming out from the side, though his sword strikes upwards behind Mui. It’s a curious image overall that would work better without him included, or with more of them lining up alongside her. The color design is decent but with the oranges and the shading of it along the logo that’s placed at the bottom, it just feels odd. The back cover is a bit more traditional with a black background that has a decent block to the left with a red background to it that provides the premise of the show. The right breaks down the shots from the show and a good action image of some of the characters while also laying out the extras for it. There’s also a solid separation strip of shots from the show below it all and above the bottom section that lays out the production credits and the technical grid, both of which provide clear information that’s accurate about the release. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is pretty good overall and is one that definitely plays a good role in setting the tone for the show. The layout works with the majority of it given over to a static image, while the right side has the navigation strip. The navigation is done as a magic symbol piece in black and white with shades of gray across it as it breaks down the episodes by number and title. This also ends up looking good during playback as the pop-up menu, which adds a little bit of a good in-theme feeling. The main portion of the menu though is all about the character artwork and the first disc definitely sets it well with the main characters in action poses with lots of great colors and intensity about it that simply says there’s some budget involved in this to bring it to life. Menus load quickly and easily and navigation is a breeze.
The only extras included with this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Based on the light novel series by Hisashi Suzuki, Magical Warfare is a twelve episode series that aired in the winter 2014 season. Animated by Madhouse, the show is one that got a lot of quick cuts on people’s lists at the time and generally garnered some pretty poor reviews with the first episode, if folks even finished that. So while there was some surprise that Sentai Filmworks licensed the show, there was even more that they did a dub for it. Without much in the way of good word of mouth, it’s a title that certainly has its work cut out for it. Having not watched the simulcast, I got to go into the show with no real preconceptions and just went through and marathoned it, right up until that cruel cliffhanger ending. And I have to admit, I love bad cliffhangers like that for a show that doesn’t have a second season coming. It just feels sharper and more interesting because of it.
The premise of the show is a familiar one, and one where the execution and certain elements are just weird and off-putting when you get down to it. While it takes place in the present, events truly started in 1999 when a select group of wizards decided that they were done with the way of the world and intended to change it. After years and years of hidden persecution and much more of that in the overall history of those with powers, this group decided that their best option was to largely wipe away humanity and start a new civilization based around those with abilities. They naturally met opposition from other wizards, a select group of fifteen powerful ones, and they fought an epic battle that we get a few wisps of. The trick of it all though is that the battle went so big, that the fabric of time and space was ripped, and an “alternate” Earth was created. One that has slowly shrunk to mostly just Tokyo now, where it’s in decay and chaos.
With the leader of those wanting to change the world put into a deep sleep, the fifteen put together the “gift”, which causes any wizard that attacks another in the Existing World to die relatively quickly. When they’re in the Collapsing World, they can fight, essentially treating it as a no man’s land where everything can be settled until the sleeping leader returns. That small group works to expand its power and they engage in some creative ways against the rest of the wizards, but it’s a lot of trickery, plotting and planning going on as opposed to open warfare, at least in the Existing World. There are some brief battles we see in the Collapsing World and both sides loses members in quick and brutal ways. Within the Existing World, magic does exist still, though it’s practiced in secret, away from prying eyes, and within a special academy where those that are touched by magic can learn it and decide which why they go eventually. It’s not neutral ground, but students can be plucked and turned easily enough.
Where the series focuses is on a group of new students drawn into the academy after a chance encounter with wizards that unlocks their own latent abilities. This is your familiar kind of group, but it plays well with some of the sibling aspects of the series and other familial relations that are explored. The main focus is on Takeshi, who helps a young woman named Mui that’s being chased by some of the renegade wizards. His interaction has him getting caught up in it and impacted by magic, revealing his own evasion magic skills. Similarly, his sort of girlfriend Kurumi gets caught up as does their friend Kazumi, the outgoing but serious male of the group. The whole situation is pretty surprising when they first encounter it, but with each of them suddenly sporting abilities, things move fast to move them from their regular school to the magical school. And that does not play well in terms of execution here, making it a very clunky and awkward early part of the show.
With this group learning the ways of the academy, and the war that’s been in a cold but difficult state for so long, there’s a lot of reveals made along the way with how it all works, the nature of the magics at times with its classes, and those that have chosen sides. The core group dynamic is what keeps things interesting for me, as their various threads all work on their own but also have good connections. Takeshi was drawn into all of this because of Mui, and there’s obviously an interest in her by him, but it’s not truly outwardly stated for most of it and over the course of events here, it doesn’t play much of a role. Mui, for her part, is doing everything to find her brother that has been taken to the other side and has little real recollection of her, because part of what the wizards can do is basically mind wipe and reprogram. So there’s a decent arc working towards bringing him back over, and Takeshi becomes invested in it because he wants to help her. And until that’s done, she doesn’t truly express much romantic interest in Takeshi either, which is nice.
Naturally, Kurumi’s not pleased about Mui from the get go, which is what draws her to this world at the start as she views her as a threat to her relationship with Takeshi. What’s really interesting though is that while the two are in a relationship, it’s one where he’s her boyfriend in order to protect her in a sense, because of things that happened a few years ago. Takeshi will keep up the facade for her in order to protect her, but she’s also definitely interested in him in a bigger way. What complicates the relationship is that Takeshi’s younger brother a few years ago was also quite interested in her and was jealous that he went for her and got her. Younger brother jealousy writ large. But when they argued about it at one point, it went badly and Takeshi believed, wrongly, that he pushed him into the road, which caused him to get hit by a car and injured. That set up a complicated relationship for the two brothers going forward, but also bound Takeshi and Kurumi together even more.
With the larger backdrop of the war between the two sides, the show does a rather decent job of bringing us into this world through the new students, a quick run of the basics with some action that proves they can handle things, and a look towards the greater war itself. With the twelve episodes, events do move quickly and there are shortcuts taken without enough explanation in order to really cement some of what’s going on. There’s a lot of character connections that factor into it as it progresses and it does get a little complicated and convoluted, especially as it reveals itself to be a second generation kind of war with some of the relations revealed. But as it progressed, I kept finding myself drawn in more and more by it. The concept isn’t unique to be sure, but the way it plays it in a slightly darker way, not intent on making sure everyone stays alive, definitely helps a lot because it feels like there’s some weight to it.
Where the show really won me over is in two distinct ways. First, Madhouse didn’t skimp here for the most part and we get a slick looking show with a lot of polish to it. The colors are great, the character animation is strong, and the magic comes across well with its effects in some very fluid and engaging ways. It’s not a super high end treat, but it’s a strong looking presentation as it finds its footing and begins to play between the two different worlds. The other is that in the final act, it goes above and beyond the way most shows do. So many series these days really have this sense where while they come to a sense of conclusion, they have it open ended so they can hit up another season easily enough. But if there isn’t one, you get a sense of closure. Magical Warfare doesn’t hold back here as it gives us a big ass cliffhanger, throwing a time trip into it and putting Takeshi into a position where things are about to go south in a big way for him. There’s no easy resolution here or a sense of closure. It leaves you wanting more, and it leaves you wanting the light novels themselves if there’s no more anime. With so many soft endings, I love endings like this when I get them.
Magical Warfare is a hard series to sell in some ways, but it harkens back to a degree to some series of yesteryear in terms of story and structure, and just how far it goes. There’s a lot of familiar aspects to the show here with the characters and settings, but when it comes to both, it doesn’t hold back with soft treatment or light touches. It may not grind them into dust, but the cast has a lot to deal with and no really easy choices to work with. There’s a good level of conflict here within them, some difficult choices that are made and familial aspects that really make you cringe. But it suffers from being more compressed than it should be and that leads to some wonky storytelling at times and a lack of true emotional resonance. But the show takes some good chances and it looks great, making for an entertaining experience overall.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 LAnguage, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: June 30th, 2015
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.