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The Irregular at Magic High School Complete TV Series Blu-ray Anime Box Set

17 min read
© 2016 Tsutomu Satou / KADOKAWA published by ASCII · Media Works

The science and technical side of magic in the future.

What They Say:
Magic— A century has passed since this concept has been recognized as a formal technology instead of the product of the occult or mere folklore.

At the National Magic University First Affiliate High School, A.K.A Magic High School, students are divided into two distinct groups according to their academic performances. The “Bloom,” who demonstrate the highest grades and are enrolled in the “First Course,” and the “Weed,” who have a poor academic record and are enrolled in the “Second Course.” This spring, a very peculiar brother and sister enroll as new students. Older brother Tatsuya is an underachiever with some deficiencies and enrolls as a “Weed,” while his younger sister Miyuki is an honor student, who enrolls as a “Bloom.” Ever since these two have entered through the gates of this prestigious school, the calm campus was beginning to change…

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is standard and straightforward in the best kind of way as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo using uncompressed PCM. Sadly, there’s no English language dub for this release, which could have been fun. The show is one that has a good balance to work here overall with its mix of dialogue and action along with magical effects and it largely carries it off. There’s some good use of the forward soundstage for all three aspects of it in terms of placement and depth, which is fun when the action kicks in since it has a good stage to work within. The dialogue is a bit more center channel oriented, which is to be expected, but it’s balanced with the effects from time to time going on and the swell of the music as well. This builds things in general and adds a good layer to it all, especially when combined with some of the brief but well done moments of magic. Overall, it’s a solid release that comes across very well here.

Video:
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. This set contains the twenty-six episode run that’s set up in the same way as the single volume releases in a two-disc/three-disc/two-disc format. Animated by Madhouse, it has a really good polished look about it with some character designs that have great detail and overall appearance with the color combination used and some of the additional details in the girls outfits. The show is one that doesn’t have a lot of high motion sequences, but when they kick in they’re very fluid and are showcased very well with solid colors and great fluidity. There’s little to really find fault with here overall as everything comes across as clean, crisp and detailed without any noticeable breakup or line noise to be had during regular playback.

Packaging:
The packaging design for this release is definitely appealing as we get a heavy chipboard box that uses the really smooth and appealing textured paper for it that I like, giving the colors some real richness and allowing the detail to come through beautifully. There’s some very slight embossing to the silver text on the black portions that lets it stand out wonderfully without being too overstated. The front panel gives us our two leads together with intense looks about them while the back of the box goes for a group shot of some of the supporting players. The technical grid and breakdown of the premise and extras ia all laid out on top of that along the bottom in a very busy section that covers everything clearly and cleanly. Within the box we get the three clear Blu-ray cases that go for an interesting approach where it’s like a widescreen piece with white stripes along the top and bottom while inside we get a purple or pink solid color piece with a few off-color stars spread out among it. This carries to the back side of it where it’s largely blank while the reverse side just goes for an even split of white and its respective color. It’s minimal in a way that I didn’t expect but it connects well for me even if I do wish there was more material included for fans in some form.

Menu:
The menu design for this release in a sense falls under a kind of normal Aniplex aesthetic in terms of the navigation, where we get the small geometric boxes along the bottom that are tied together and have that kind of science-fiction-y feeling about them. It works, it’s serviceable and it’s easy to navigate both as the top menu and the pop-up menu. But the rest of it kind of left me a bit surprised here as we get a series of character swirls that come into play between just color swirls. This goes on for about a minute or so before it brings up the actual series name along the left and the character artwork from the case cover on the right. When that screen comes up, it has a great clean look about it. But it’s a blink and you’ll miss it moment where otherwise it feels like the bulk of the menu is undefined.

Extras:
The extras for this release are pretty fun in addition to the standard pieces we get. On that front, we get the clean opening and closing sequences as well as a collection of TV spots and trailers. The fun piece we get are the the seven Get to Know Magic Studies! spots, which clock in at about four minutes each. These were streamed during the broadcast where it delves into the technical side more of magic in the series but does it with the chibi sized characters and a good dose of laughter in addition to the education.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novels by Tsutomu Sato that began back in 2011 and have twenty-six main volumes so far and a slew of spinoffs, The Irregular at Magic High School is a twenty-six episode series that was animated by Madhouse that aired in the spring and summer of 2014. The show is one that has a lot of spinoff manga, games and material that seems to really have a good fanbase about it, which makes sense considering the number of novels overall. The release for it is an interesting one that works in ways one might not expect as each keepcase within the box set basically encompasses a larger arc within the overall series. While that may frustrate in that you just want something more “traditionally” complete it does make it easy to revisit a particular arc.

The series takes place in 2095 where it’s been one hell of a 21st century so far. Events plunged badly as the decades wore on and in the 2040’s, the world entered a state of perpetual war for two decades that involved over three billion people dying and a change in resource structure due to dwindling energy supplies. Coming out of that though was the rise of magic, used as technology in a sense, that provided a path forward. Events have moved well since then and we get the sense that there’s some real stability in this population reduced world now but also something under the surface that’s starting to make itself known. The focus turns towards one of the more prestigious schools in Japan known mostly as First High School, where the best of those with magical abilities go.

This introduces us to the pairing of Tatsuya and Miyuki Shiba, two new students there that are quite different. Miyuki is one that’s enrolled in Course 1 because she has strong skills and talent. Tatsuya on the other hand is in Course 2 because his practical magical skills are very poor. But what we see is that Tatsuya is someone who breaks the system in many ways as he’s rather unique, which makes for a challenge and opportunity. Tatsuya’s biggest ability in terms of magic is being able to break down nearly instantly what someone is able to do and how they do it, allowing him to counter it very quickly. But he knows with his practical magic side being weak that he can’t counter with magic as a strength, so he combines it with other things. Primarily it’s some very, very serious kendo training that he pursues with a really talented if pervy instructor. This gives him seemingly magic-produced speed at times and when combined with his analytical skill makes him look like a strong Course 1 performer instead of Course 2.

As one might expect with just seven episodes here, it does go only so far. Titled as the Enrollment Arc, we get the heavy foundational aspects brought into play with it. The introduction to the world itself is decently done at first with a minor infodump, but it helps set the tone for how civilization is to some degree. When it comes to the school, a good bit of focus is on the actual technical and practical side of technological magic, where the precision elements and the fundamentals are explored. Admittedly, it’s kept simple overall but there’s some nice aspects to it that ramps it up from the usual “oh hey, magic, whee!” kind of stuff we get at times. There’s an effort to make it a functional part of things with limits, controls and other design elements so that when it probably does get fantastical later, it does so for a reason and is duly impressive.

Where this set wants to focus in terms of story is in one direction, but it’s one that allows us through Tatsuya to get to know the First High School and how it operates. As one might expect, there’s a lot of friction when it comes to the Course 1 and 2 students as there’s a certain superiority there from the Course 1 kids. Of course, you know that Tatsuya will shake that up because of his abilities and his very intense personality that just drives to the point in a really creative way sometimes, unnerving his opponents. There’s a definite class construct going on here, one that has gone on for some time, but it’s now starting to come to a head in terms of the level of friction. What this lightly introduces overall is that there’s an organization of some sort out there known as Blanch which is intent on changing the balance between those with power and those without. It’s hard to read too much into it in a way because we’re only exposed to the school setting and not the rest of the country or world to understand how it is out there.

What doesn’t help this group’s’ position though is the underhanded way they’re manipulating things within the school to draw people to their cause. It’s something that comes about slowly through a subplot involved a Course 2 girl name Sayaka, a strong kendo member that is intent on basically changing the nature of the school and drawing people to her cause. She’s not subtle in trying to draw Tatsuya in, but as he becomes a part of the Disciplinary Committee in his own efforts to change things, he sees a way to use her. But we see through that action that those who are setting things with Sayaka and others into motion are using hypnosis and other means to sway people to the cause and create real rifts and escalating towards violence, which is what Sayaka doesn’t want. The arc reveals some interesting ideas and explores the class system well while also offering up a very good look at the nature of the school with it all.

After enjoying the first storyline of this series far more than I expected, particularly considering the way a lot of people reacted to the show during its streaming run, it left me a whole lot more open to what’s to come. The second arc focuses on the Nine Schools Competition and runs for the full eleven parts, making it what would initially seem to be a standard if sprawling arc for a twenty-six episode series. When shows focus on tournament material, a lot of fans like myself begin to have visions of the old shounen tournament series from days of yore. That does still happen from time to time out there in the anime world, but this series doesn’t quite go that route. With so much focus given on the technical side of magic the last time around that also makes a big impact here. This feels more like an overly extended sports day of sorts, but between the nine main schools that exist that deal in magic. And that makes it sprawling in a sense yet still contained because the majority of it focuses on our familiar characters. Additions from other schools is kept almost painfully small when you’d expect a lot more interaction instead.

Since these are working off of the series of novels, what we get here is more part of the larger setup that exists for this world. The exploration of how Tatsuya and Miyuki fit into the world is certainly a familiar story point in many series and one can easily see that being used here, with Tatsuya having some sort of hidden aspect beyond being a genius at the engineer side of things, while Miyuki is quite skilled as well with her magics but is aligned towards something bigger when it comes to the Family itself and her place in it. Traditional story elements yet they feel different here, given more weight due to the pacing of the show, the exploration of the political intrigue and the technical of the magic, which makes it far more engaging in a way that has you wanting to dig into it. You get the sense that the novels themselves aren’t the usual lightweights that get adapted and is instead something that commands a better exploration of the foundations of the world.

Not surprisingly, the majority of the focus is on Tatsuya. His being shifted to the engineer side and doing work on the CAD equipment is certainly interesting. It’s made clear that he’s got the skills early on as we see him doing things that are not the norm, such as fine tuning by hand, but as interesting as that is it’s more interesting to see how some are continually attacking him. This goes back to the class structure that exists in the school with the Course sides. Some simply can’t stand seeing someone from Course 2 doing Course 1 work and it has them on the attack, verbally, more than they might otherwise. It’s an understandable angle and some welcome subtext because we continually get the nod from various people that deal with this that someone like Tatsuya is threatening. Someone that can upset the status quo that favors their life and their placement on Course 1. It’s not hugely explored yet having it here and dealt with in such ways adds some real favor to the show.

Tatsuya’s skill level is also noticed right away when the main gathering social event occurs and the Patriarch that’s there of the Ten Clans pulls a fast one. It’s one of those instructive moments from an elder about the use of magic and that it’s a tool to an end, not an end itself. Tatsuya notices the trick of it all quickly, which impresses the Patriarch, and there are a few others that notice as well. This brings Tatsuya into this sphere of influence since he’s being readied for something bigger. Though there are aspects of Tatsuya that are unexplored, this angle begins to show what kind of tool he can be for the powers that be because of his level. And how dangerous he is to remain in the clan that he’s in now as there’s a sense that they’re really tilting the balance of power. Due to various relationships that exist and Miyuki’s presence, it has the right kind of family-political aspect that makes it really engaging, but also one you have to work at to suss out the real plans and motivations going on.

That said, there is a lot of competitive time here. But it’s all done in that sports day kind of feeling where it’s not one thing like a fighting tournament that gets underway. Rather there are something like a dozen different competitions going on with the Course 1 and Course 2 students, where the Course 2 students earn only half the points naturally. These are very fun pieces overall since they’re kept short and the focus is more on the technicality of it (frustrating to some viewers I’m sure) but also the way that trouble starts seeping in and Tatsuya has to figure out how to counter it. Thankfully, and unsurprisingly, he gets called up to the Course 1 side to participate in one of the matches later in the arc – another moment that introduces tension because of his standing – and it gives us another look at just how he strategizes and works himself to achieve his goals. Essentially, every waking moment for him is all about analyzing everything around him as part of his large goals, which is twinned with his goal of protecting Miyuki.

The third arc of this anime adaptation brings everything to a close and it reminds you of how good it is to be able to watch this in full instead of the spaced out release we had before. With the light novels still ongoing (and selling like gangbusters), I found myself really enjoying the first arc as it laid some strong worldbuilding and then digging the second arc as it managed the tournament style pretty well while expanding everything else. With the third arc, I admittedly found myself a bit more frustrated with it because you can see how so much of what we’re supposed to get comes from being aware of what’s going on in the novels. it’s here that it feels like it really needs a whole lot of internal dialogue and some bigger infodumps on how the world works.

The final eight episodes here are really split into two different storylines. The first is one that leads to a new competition that Tatsuya gets to be a part of called the Thesis Competition, which is set up in Yokohama where the focus is on the technical/engineering side. The goal here in representing their school, one of nine participating, is to produce the technical feasibility of a Gravity Control-type Thermonuclear Fusion Reactor. It’s part of that very technical and in-depth hard science fiction side that the show does well, if you really want to dig into. I do enjoy it but I prefer it in novel form as opposed to serialized storytelling as it gets bogged down in a way that just doesn’t flow well. For Tatsuya, he gets to work on this since he’s quite skilled and it provides a new way to go up against the other competitors while keeping to his serious side. It’s done well enough but it also brings in some surprisingly fun action elements since his stepmother draws him into the military side for a while to help because of his abilities. The storyline for this isn’t bad, but it does feel kind of fillerish in a way, designed more to provide something to spice up things while dealing with not only the competition itself but some troublesome students that are getting in the way.

The second half, also taking place in Yokohama, is far more interesting but in a different way and different perspective. The basic premise here is that a dangerous group (that’s really too complex and loosely defined to really connect with) is taking advantage of what’s going on in the area to hit the Institute and grab a lot of data that it wants for its nefarious purposes. This is the big final act setup, which began earlier in this set, and while I find myself completely disconnected from the push behind it I found it to be thoroughly engaging. What this works in becoming is a piece that lets the various students stand firm against a highly dangerous force using their various abilities without compromise. They’re completely and utterly threatened and fight back because so much is at stake. The result is that the show gets surprisingly and disturbingly violent. But it’s this kind of “realistic” brutality that fits, even if you do cringe that it’s all being performed by largely cool and collected high school students. There is such an intensity from some of them that those moments almost become worse than the calm types involved in the fighting.

This arc is both utterly thrilling and utterly disappointing at the same time. I loved that it went big and that it serves up what’s termed the beginning of a new reality for the world – which is what future novels explore. I don’t expect any more of this to ever get animated, so there’s some disappointment there. It goes big throughout the fight and just puts all its cards on the table and runs with it in a really strong way. The disappointing side is that we get to see Tatsuya unlocked. And that’s basically him in god mode here because his super rare ability essentially gets to re-write someone if they’re injured, bringing them back to full health. There’s naturally a cost to it, but that’s just discussed and not really shown because of how he acts. It’s a power that’s just several steps too far and really is the kind of game changer that upsets the balance of this world for me. What makes it even worse is that he’s so much like an automaton during his use of it in the battle that it’s almost cringe inducing. The “mobile suit” and black costume design just makes it all the worse.

In Summary:
This series is one that has its challenges to be sure but it’s also very appealing because of those challenges. It’s the kind of series where, in my younger days, I could see myself really digging deep into it and exploring all the elements and utterly fanboying about it. The show is one that really won me over with its strong worldbuilding and technical approach to what it wanted to do and I thoroughly loved the animation style and character designs. It definitely shows its novel side origins without going into the same kinds of tropes in the same way, even when we do have that whole awkward brother/sister element. It’s almost like it’s there because it knows that’s the only way a good number of fans will check it out. Aniplex really put together some great looking releases here across the board and I’m totally jonesing for more of this to be animated and explored.

Features:
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Get to Know Magic Studies! #1-7 shorts, Textless Openings, Textless Endings, Trailers, and Commercials

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: C+
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: October 16th, 2018
MSRP: $164.98
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.


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